Who isn’t recording music at home these days? And why wouldn’t you? The most basic equipment that you’ve got to record at home in 2016, is already way beyond what The Beatles were using back in the 60s. Depending on the equipment, home recording generally checks all the boxes for our tech savvy generation – it’s affordable, comfortable, portable and if you’re lucky, your precious little domicile might even sound half decent on record! The fact is, whether you record at home or not these days, for the majority of artists it seems to be a matter of preference rather than being your sole choice (as it might have been in the past).
You’ll find plenty of high-profile artists indulging in the art of home-recording as well as those who are continually arguing over it’s pros and cons, the quality of sound, and the ‘real’ value of music etc. For one, David Byrne (Talking Heads) has made some key points on this topic in his interview ‘When to Resist Technology.’ To sum it up… It’s the song that matters, not the technology; but then again we haven’t quite figured out if the term, ‘home recording’ still applies if your home happens to be a 16th century mansion.
There are currently infinity musicians recording at home at this very moment in time; so here are our favourite home-recorded albums that we currently know about and that you may or may not have already heard.
Bruce Springsteen/Nebraska (1981) – Basically, this album is a diamond. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like it. I’m not just talking about the songs which by the way are an undeniable weapon of grit, sentiment and passion; but the mood and essence of the recording screams volumes and might as well have just taken a giant shit-kicker boot to the cojones of the whole modern digital music revolution. This entire album is a home-recorded cassette tape demo that Springsteen took into the studio in the hope of working on with some other musicians. He didn’t like the final studio result, so he ended up releasing the demos as the official album instead. Respect.
Daniel Johnston/Songs of Pain (1980) – A cult favourite, you’ll either get it or you’ll hate it. Musicians/artists can get a tad wrapped up in themselves and their talent, or whatever sometimes. What you get here though, is a passionate kid at home recording and giving it everything he’s got with a tape recorder, piano/guitar, and voice. Despite the very lo-fi quality of the recordings, Johnston’s raw and emotional tunes are as good as you’re bound to find in the pop/indie-folk genre.
Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band/Trout Mask Replica (1969) – Home recorded and produced by Frank Zappa, this highly influential album is among one of the 20th centuries greatest in terms of Modern Jazz, and Avant-garde musical theories. It not only went on to influence many other genres and experimental artists but was also important for its unusual musical structures, using polyrhythms and atonality influenced in part by Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg.
Miles Davis/Walkin (1954) – Recorded by a much younger Rudy Van Gelder in his parent’s living room, ‘Walkin’ is the debut recording of the influential Jazz composer and trumpeter Miles Davis. Given the date and quality of this home recording, it’s stood the test of time for a good reason. Obviously the talent and musicianship here is extraordinary, and ‘Walkin’ lives on today as a debut classic from one of the 20th centuries most acclaimed musicians.
J Mascis/ Several Shades of Why (2011) – The debut solo album by Dinosaur Jr frontman, J Mascis was recorded at his home in Amherst, USA with a bunch of other musician friends including Kurt Vile, members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Band of Horses, Broken Social Scene and released on SubPop Records. Wielding his acoustic guitar, there’s a very organic/unpolished sound to this album, but Mascis proves yet again why he’s so good at what he does.
Daft Punk/Homework (1997) – Given the title, this debut release by French house/electronica artists was written and recorded very quickly but was certainly good enough to find the duo in a bidding war with a number of major labels. It still holds strong today and is widely regarded as a critical work that shone a refreshing light on the French house scene. It is an infectious head-bopper with an optimistic and robust feel throughout. Influenced: The Avalanches, MGMT, Justice
Johnny Cash/ American Recordings (1994) – Cash’s 81st album was recorded and produced by Rick Rubin in his living room, bringing a minimal folk feel to this album and given life by the late great iconic songwriter. It is performed with a hauntingly tender touch as equally as it is produced, and a uniquely impressive Cash album with minimal need for decoration.
Bert Jansch/Bert Jansch (1965) – The Scottish Folk revivalist/Jazz guitarist gives away very little on his debut album cover but his talent is undeniable. Producer Bill Leader captures the beautiful sentiment of Jansch’s first album with his Revox tape recorder (for 100GBP), throwing in the egg-box soundproofing for free, and shoving the artist in the wardrobe; all making this a classic folk record worth spending your time and a few glasses of highland whiskey on.
Ween/The Pod (1991) – Along with many of Ween’s early lo-fi albums, ‘The Pod’ was recorded on a Tascam 4-track cassette recorder while band-mates apparently suffered from mononucleosis in their apartment giving the album a gloomy, broody sound. ‘The Pod’ was remastered by Elektra Records after the success of later records, ‘Chocolate and Cheese‘, and ‘Pure Guava‘. The guitars are textured, sometimes ambient, fueled by various drum-machines, and samples while the vocals and lyrics are often humourous, spontaneous and free-spirited.
PJ Harvey/4-Track Demos (1993) – Consists of 8 demos of songs from her critically-acclaimed second album, ‘Rid Of Me‘, as well as 6 more previously unreleased demos. The passion and energy of these bare-knuckle demos are really all Harvey would have needed. I’d nearly consider some of these demos better than the final album versions. Recorded at home with a Yamaha MT 2X 4-track recorder before Island Records famously gave it away as a promotion.
Honourable Mentions –
Boston/Boston (1976) – Recorded in Tom Scholz basement
Bon Iver/For Emma, Forever Ago (2007) – Recorded by Justin Vernon in a cabin in the woods (myth?!)
Imogen Heap/Ellipse (2009) – Recorded in the basement of her house
Steve Vai/Flex-Able (1984) – Recorded in a converted shed.
***Further Reading :