Home recording is the practice of recording sound in a private home instead of a professional recording studio. A studio set up for home recording is called a home studio or project studio. Home recording is widely practiced by voice actors, narrators, singers, musicians, podcast hosts, and documentary makers at all levels of success. The cost of professional audio equipment has dropped steadily as technology advances during the 21st century, while information about recording techniques has become easily available online. These trends have resulted in an increase in the popularity of home recording and a shift in the recording industry toward recording in the home studio. The COVID-19 pandemic and its related lockdowns resulted in a dramatic global increase in the number of people working from home throughout 2020, which is anticipated by experts to remain a permanent shift in the field of sound recording when the pandemic ends.
Until the late 1970s, music could be recorded either on low-quality tape recorders or on large, expensive reel-to-reel tape machines. Due to their high price and specialized nature, reel-to-reel machines were only practical for professional studios and wealthy artists. In 1979, Tascam invented the Portastudio, a small four-track machine aimed at the consumer market. With this new product, small multitrack tape recorders became widely available, and grew in popularity throughout the 1980s. In the 1990s, analog tape machines were supplanted by digital recorders and computer-based digital audio workstations (DAWs). These new devices were designed to convert audio tracks into digital files, and record the files onto magnetic tape (such as ADAT), hard disk, compact disc, or flash ROM.
The way the room sounds or reverberates can change dramatically the way music is mixed, written, and recorded. Untreated rooms have an uneven frequency response, which means that any mixing decisions being made are being based on a sound that is ‘coloured,’ because sound mixers can not accurately hear what is being played. Acoustic panels and bass traps can improve the sound in the room.
Impact on professional recording studios
Professional recording studios have been heavily impacted by the growth of home studio technology over the last two decades. The advancements in such technology along with the moderate to low budgets of up-and-coming and even established artists have put many commercial studios out of business. Many professional engineers have moved from these commercial studios into their own homes to be able to work with their clients at a more accessible cost. Artists have also set up their home studios to self-record and produce their own material and not have to deal with high budgets and expensive studio time. Lack of album sales in recent years and major record labels cutting their budgets to fund their artists and producers to record in these high end studios have done a significant amount of damage as well. Some of music's iconic studios have been forced to shut their doors for good due to these circumstances. The list of these studios include The Hit Factory, which was located in New York City and home to albums such as Born in the U.S.A by Bruce Springsteen and Graceland by Paul Simon, and Sony Music Studios, which was also located in New York City and where Nirvana recorded their MTV Unplugged session. Another studio that was forced to close was Olympic Studios in London where works by Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones were recorded.
Even though these commercial studios are able to produce a quality recording for the artists that record in them, many of the recording software used in home studios can emulate what the consoles and tape recorders are able to do. As mentioned in the Los Angeles Times, according to NAMM, the trade group for music retailers and manufacturers: "The total computer music market went from just under $140 million in sales in 1999 to almost a half-billion dollars in 2008". So while album sales have significantly dropped in the past decade, which has forced recording studios to cut costs, the sales of computer software and technology related to music have significantly increased as well. Maureen Droney, senior director of the Recording Academy's Producers & Engineers Wing, spoke to the Los Angeles Times and reflected on what the recording studios have come to be in today's music industry with the following statement: "In some ways we've come full circle ... We've gone back to being small and entrepreneurial. People still look to commercial studios when they have something to offer that they can't do at home. But, as it is, the recording studio business started with people starting small, funky studios, oftentimes in bedrooms and garages."