July 2004

Alone Again, Virtually
The ups and downs of all-in-one production

By Paul D. Lehrman

Just as millions of Americans have come to believe that “You can have it all,” in our industry the new mantra is, “You can do it all.” It's hard to open a magazine, go into a music store or get through the security gates at a trade show without being bombarded by this-is-all-you-need workstations and software from Pro Tools to Garage-Band. And it's true that what you can buy these days for very short money is absolutely mind-boggling and — this month bringing Summer NAMM — it's about to become more so. In a couple of weeks in Nashville, the art and science of stuffing more functionality into smaller, cooler-looking and cheaper packages will no doubt take yet another quantum leap.

Of course, the one-man-band recording concept is nothing new. When Les Paul invented multitracking, he didn't do it for a band, he did it for himself. On Paul McCartney's first solo album, the former Beatle played all of the instruments by himself. Part of the draw of electronic music from its earliest days was that the composer had complete control over the finished product. I first tried it during my freshman year of college: To get out of writing a term paper on William Blake for an English class, I set a bunch of his poems to music and wired two stereo tape recorders together so I could layer several instruments and sing harmony with myself. A few years later, while on a mercifully brief songwriting binge, I walked into a high-end 8-track studio in New York with all of the money I could scrounge up and managed to come out with a pretty decent four-song demo on which, like McCartney, I overdubbed all of the instruments: guitars, bass, keyboards and even drums. Unlike McCartney, however, my efforts went nowhere.

The rest of this column, along with 56 more, is now available in The Insider Audio Bathroom Reader, published by Thomson Course Technology PTR.

Copyright ©2006 by Paul D. Lehrman