Recording studios provide a much-needed service for artists and musicians, bands and record companies alike. Most musicians are familiar with world-leading recording studios such as Abbey Road and Air Studios in London, and Capitol Studios in Los Angeles.
Today’s recording studios feature state of the art mixing and sound enhancement equipment. Plus, they can have hundreds of different channels or audio sources. But have you ever wondered about how they started out?
What are recording studios?
In a nutshell, recording studios are specialised facilities where artists and musicians can have sound recorded, mixed, and produced. Recording studios range from small in-home studios through to large studios that can cater for full ensembles of orchestras.
The first-ever recording studio was set up in 1889 by the New York Phonograph Company. Around two decades later, several professional recording studios began setting up around the world.
As you can imagine, recording studios have plenty of uses. Yes, they are mostly used for recording music and vocals. But, they’re also used for film and television production, and voice-over artists for recording commercials.
A typical professional recording studio will have a control room where sound engineers and record producers operate mixing consoles, computers, and effects units. They can digitally manipulate and record sound on a virtually unlimited number of tracks.
The studio or ‘live room’ is where artists, musicians, and others sing or play instruments. The sound produced in the studio gets recorded in real-time inside the control room. Sometimes there are also ‘isolation booths’ which are smaller rooms for the loud instruments.
In a professional recording studio, the live rooms and isolation booths are soundproofed to keep out external noises. Doing so ensures that sound engineers can master high quality tracks.
How have recording studios changed over time?
As you can imagine, the technology in use at today’s recording studios wasn’t always available. These days, a typical recording studio uses a lot of digital equipment for mastering perfect recordings. That wasn’t always the case.
The journey into the evolution of the recording process dates back to the 19th century. In 1877, Thomas Edison invented the phonograph – a device that mechanically records and reproduces sound.
Pretty basic by today’s standards, but the phonograph marked an important first step towards recording sound. Alexander Graham Bell built a similar device named the graphophone which evolved from the phonograph.
The graphophone used lateral recording techniques, unlike Edison’s phonograph which used vertically-cut grooves.
Both devices recorded sound onto spherical cylinders. It wasn’t until 1887 when the gramophone (which used flat discs) was built by Emile Berliner. Those discs inspired the vinyl records that we all know and love!
In terms of sound quality, the cylinder produced better sound than flat discs. But, mass production of recordings was easier and more cost-effective with flat discs. In 1912, those flat discs became the global recording medium of choice.
Magnetic tape recordings
In 1928, a German named Fritz Pfleumer invented a magnetic tape for the purposes of recording sound. His invention used a long strip of paper coated in ferric oxide, and its design was enhanced by AEG.
It wasn’t until 1933 when AEG developed the familiar ring-shaped tape head for these magnetic tapes. Sadly, the technology did not become general knowledge until after World War II as Nazi-controlled Germany wanted to keep the development a secret.
The magnetic tape invention spurred numerous tape-based recording formats, most notably reel-to-reel and the compact cassette. The former was a popular recording medium in any professional recording studio for decades.
Reel-to-reel tape machines enabled multi-track recordings, a significant step in the evolution of recording studios. They were better than vinyl recordings in that studios could record a broader range of frequencies and decibels.
Both vinyl recordings and magnetic tape recordings are analogue methods of recording sound. Nowadays, all sound gets recorded digitally. In a modern recording studio, you will find computers hooked up to digital mixers, microphones, and even instruments.
Digital recording of sound is far superior to analogue because it allows producers to create perfect tracks with no problems such as wow and flutter. Also, sound stored in a digital format doesn’t degrade over time unlike with analogue vinyl records and magnetic tapes.
The digital recording revolution took place in the 1980s thanks to CD technology. Music and other sounds got recorded (and get replayed) using lasers. These days, many people prefer to listen to music by streaming it digitally over the Internet.
Others might prefer to listen to recordings on portable computing devices such as USB flash drives. The sounds get stored in digital files such as MP3s. CD technology has largely fallen out of favour due to streaming technology.
The rising popularity of home studios
There was once a time where artists and musicians could only have their songs and music recorded at a professional recording studio. As you can imagine, there is a significant cost involved when opting for professional studio recording.
Nowadays, many artists and musicians alike are building project studios in their homes. Cost is a leading factor for doing so, alongside convenience! More of today’s rising stars started their careers by recording their songs and music at home.
These days, setting up a DAW (digital audio workstation) to record and mix tracks is affordable and an option open to most people. Artists and musicians can also use electronically-produced instruments to save time and money in their recordings.
What’s more, home studios give their owners the option to upgrade and progressively build upon the equipment used. Home studios are popular with singer-songwriters and bands alike.
Recording studios have evolved a lot throughout their 130+ year history in the music industry. Sound engineers and producers alike have taken advantage of a variety of recording mediums. Today’s recording studio makes use of the latest in digital technology for creating perfect results.