Studio On The Go

Recently, while talking to Michael Johnathon of Public Broadcasting’s  WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour, I asked him to comment a bit about his SongFarmer Album that showed up in the AR office review bin a few weeks back. The album is a likable mix of singer/songwriter selections that glide real easy into the ears. However, this is not just another great sounding mix of music. The album collection holds the distinction of being the first nationally released album of music to have been wholly produced using an Apple® iPhone® cellular telephone device. That’s right. You read that correctly. Here’s the story.

Was It Really A Phone?
Our question to Michael was this, “Did you really use your cellular telephone to record a music album? His reply was, “Yep. We also used a few pieces of special equipment but here is the point. We are living among the first generation in human history that gets most of its music as a flat two-dimensional form. People who listen to music today do not even have an album cover to hold. Everything is downloaded and very few folks ever listen to music on stereo music systems any more. They listen to music from a cellar telephone connected to crummy ear buds or they are listening to crushed MP3 music files. The listeners today are not even aware of what a stereo system sound like. Or, they are listening to music in a car going down the freeway which certainly does not give good phonic quality. CD sales have tanked; record stores have closed, and as recent as five years ago, no one would have dreamed that one of the biggest retailer of CDs in the US would be a restaurant chain—the Cracker Barrel®. Nevertheless, most of the audience does not listen to music recorded on CDs anymore, so I thought if the listener was going to be listening to the music from a cellular telephone through ear buds that was how I was going to record my album.”

Sort Of A Protest
He told us that he thought doing this would be a polite way of protesting in favor of a wonderful community of recording engineers who are losing their jobs and their studios because folks can no longer afford or want to afford to go into a studio and record a beautiful concept album that has been mixed to perfection and that will then be listened to through ear buds connected to an MP3 device. Having said that, he went on to tell us how he went about producing this album, which, by the way, sounds great when played through something grander that an MP3 device that is driving some ear buds.

While it might sound trite to say a recording was produced on a “cell-phone”, it is important to realize that the Apple iPhone 6® when used as a recording platform exceeds the capacity that famous recording engineer, George Martin, had at his disposal when he recorded those Beatles concept albums in his Abby Road studio in the early 1960s.

The complete equipment setup that Michael Johnathon used to record his acoustic folk album consists of the following equipment:

·A new Martin® 0000-28s guitar and a long neck VEGA® banjo,
·Extremely high end Ear Trumpet® microphones,
·An Apogee Quartet AD/DA interface device,
·Multi-track Maestro and MetaRecorder software applications that are written for this purpose,
·One unadorned rustic log cabin to serve as the studio,
·One talented folk singer and instrumentalist.

Michael connected the microphones to the interface device that he in turn connected to the telephone. He downloaded and installed the special application software on the telephone and he was in business. Michael told us that he recorded with four tracks but had the ability to record with up to 32 tracks if the need arose. He used his cabin in its natural wooden state without any sound proofing material. The subtle echoes and vibrations that one can hear on the album were desired as they created a sound that one can hear on late 1950s-early 60s folk recordings.

Identifying The Problem
Johnathon did want to be sure I understood this last point, “Do not think I am doing this to compete with the recording engineers but rather to call attention to their plight that we are losing a community of skilled audio artists. We are never going to hear epic works of recording and mixing art again such as Pink Floyd’s The Wall, or the Beatles’ Sargant Pepper. The people who know how to do such projects are no longer in the business. These small pieces of electronics that I used replaces all of the complex technical equipment one once found in a professional recording studio.

“Here is the problem,” he continued, “While technology gives us convenience, we are losing the experience and knowledge of the engineers that knew how to use all that complex equipment. Further, not every artist is skilled in using these new tools and thus there are some not so good music albums being recorded in amateur home studios. Listeners are getting accustomed to hearing poor quality music and we are loosing the richness of the music.”

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