Today, you can record a song in whatever setting you want. If you want a record to sound like it was recorded at the beach, you can take your laptop to the beach and get it done. If you are in the car traveling cross-country and have an idea you want to turn into a song, you can pull out your iPhone and record the idea then and there.
Technology has made it easy to record and produce music, and it has been doing so since the late 1960s. Though many people recommend recording in a treated room, one that has been maximized for the recording environment, there is nothing quite like capturing a live performance on location somewhere. In the late 1950s, the first mobile recording studio was developed by engineer Wally Heider, though mobile recording had been practiced by some as early as the 1920s. Back then, lesser sound quality was a major trouble. Today, it’s not so much a problem. By the late 2000s, mobile technology was firmly a part of modern music making. The use of laptops, higher quality microphones, better algorithms, and more advanced software made it possible for the artist to record a hit in whatever environment they wanted.
Throughout the past few decades, advances in technology have been used to capture the hop and skip of a live jazz performance in a small club, folk singing in a small country home, and rap in a small bedroom. Tech has permitted imperfect conditions to create some truly beautiful sounding tracks, humanizing the recording process in a way that is not possible in a perfectly treated recording room. That said, is mobile recording and the easy transportation of recording equipment a positive thing – that’s the question.
Many say, yes. There is a freedom in technology that anything can be recorded anywhere. As imperfect as the sound capture may be, after undergoing editing in a DAW, all of the imperfections can be hidden amongst the swirling sound of a professional production. The mobility of technology has also made it so that anyone can produce a ‘hit’ for next to nothing. Naturally, one would think that this would result in better music and more powerful hits. Now that there are hundreds of millions of songs being produced every year, is this any better than the limited output of decades past – this is a matter of debate.
Some of the world’s biggest selling hits, such as Beyonce’s Lemonade (2016), Jay-Z’s 4:44 (2017), The Weeknd’s Starboy (2016), Kendrick Lamar’s Damn. (2017), Katy Perry’s Witness (2017), Lorde’s Melodrama (2017) are all firmly rooted in contemporary technology, using iPhones, laptops, and mobile mixing and recording to produce these tracks. No matter what one’s opinion is on the impact of current mobile technology towards music, it is undisputable that it is now inseparable from today’s biggest artists. As more studios face financial crises and are disappearing, more mobile studios are opening than ever before, with almost every major label artist having some version of a recording studio in their own home.
As long as technology continues to impact the way in which music is made, the sound of music will continue to change. Today, it is up to the artist to decide how they want mobile recording to impact the development of their own tracks. For financial reasons, some artists may be dependent upon mobile recording to get them to where they need to be. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing – though there’s no doubt that others may disagree.