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Digital Subscriptions > MusicTech > May-16 > Complete guide to computerless recording

Complete guide to computerless recording

Working ‘in the box’ is far from the only way for producers to make music nowadays. Here’s our complete guide to taking the computer partly – or even entirely – out of the equation

The ubiquity of computers in our everyday lives makes it easy to forget that things were not always like this. Anyone over about 30 will probably have experience of making music entirely without computers.

They were things you played games on, typed letters on and later, connected to the phone line using a modem. But they most definitely were not up to the task of serious music production. Indeed, it was only in 1979 that the first cassette-based tape Portastudio was released by Tascam. And if that’s earlier than you would’ve guessed, at the time it still cost 1,200 Canadian Dollars, putting it out of reach of many people.

It would take until the late 1980s for Portastudios to make recording available to a much wider audience, and even then, it was distinctly lo-fi by today’s standards. If you wanted something to sound great, you still had to go to a studio, where the setup would include professional tape, DAT or perhaps hard-disk recorders. For a while, in the later 1990s and much of the 2000s, computers became more dominant as they became more powerful and cheaper, and software started to become the default way to synthesise, program and record music. Working ‘in the box’ was much cheaper and could be done in a spare room at home, rather than requiring racks of outboard.

NI’s Traktor Kontrol S8 has a futuristic workflow designed to make sense to old-school DJs and progressive producers

A decade or so ago, however, the pendulum began to swing back towards hardware in many areas of music production. It hasn’t been a decisive or dramatic shift all the way back to hardware, but instead has become more of a rebalancing of the way people approach production. The reasons for this are manifold, and touch upon several different factors. As software has become incredibly powerful, the mouse has been exposed as a less-than-perfect way to interact with instruments and DAWs with all their new functions. Hardware controllers have evolved to mesh perfectly with software: NI’s Komplete Kontrol and Ableton’s Push are just a couple of examples.

Nektar’s Panorama combines a vast range of MIDI options, DAW shortcuts and transport control into an all-inclusive creative tool

This is partly down to the fact that this stuff has only become technically possible in the last few years. Touch screens, velocity-sensing pads and tablets have all fallen in price, making it possible for manufacturers to include them in products that don’t cost the earth. Some people also perceive hardware as being more authentic or credible than software. Not just in the sense that it’s preferable to have a real Moog than a software one, but also because having a physical product is somehow more tangible.

Again, more accessible prices have increased the appeal of hardware from when it mostly consisted of the kinds of mega-synths you couldn’t possibly afford a couple of decades ago. So even if you’re not a hardware junkie, we’re at a point now where hardware is most definitely re-established in music production – often in conjunction with software, it’s true, but it looks like it’s here to stay.

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About MusicTech

Make a track today! That's the focus of the May issue of MusicTech as top producers reveal their secrets and top tips to starting, arranging, mixing, finishing and mastering your music. If you've ever needed inspiration, had trouble taking a tune beyond its initial ideas, never known how or when to stop, or needed a pro mastered sound, this is the issue to get! On top of this massive set of features there's a huge studio interview with the legend that is Gary Numan, 1.22GB of free samples and all the latest modular synth and music production news.