Scots bedroom producers hit high notes 10 years after Harris

Calvin Harris performs at the King Tut's Wah Wah Tent during the 2011 T in the Park festival in Balado. The DJ began his career as a producer working from his parent's home in Dumfries. Picture: Jane Barlow/TSPL
Calvin Harris performs at the King Tut's Wah Wah Tent during the 2011 T in the Park festival in Balado. The DJ began his career as a producer working from his parent's home in Dumfries. Picture: Jane Barlow/TSPL
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TEN years after global megastar Calvin Harris signed a record deal on the back of songs he recorded in his bedroom, Scots musicians are continuing to establish careers by making music at home rather than in commercial studios.

When Glasgow indie legends The Vaselines taped their debut single, Son of a Gun, in 1987, it was the first time the band had ever seen a recording studio.

Oliver Sabin, aka electronic musician Unicorn Kid, at work in his bedroom studio in Leith, Edinburgh, in 2009. Picture: Jane Barlow/TSPL

Oliver Sabin, aka electronic musician Unicorn Kid, at work in his bedroom studio in Leith, Edinburgh, in 2009. Picture: Jane Barlow/TSPL

But, just as the internet has drastically altered the way people consume music, new technology has radically changed how it is made.

Setting up a rudimentary home studio has never been easier - or cheaper.
Established commercial studios, such as Green Door in Glasgow and Chem19 in Blantyre, are responding to this growing DIY trend by offering expert tuition on recording techniques.

Harris is perhaps the most famous example of a bedroom producer who went on to become a musical giant.

Following an unsuccessful attempt to establish himself as a producer while living in London, the DJ returned to his hometown of Dumfries. It was from there his solo recordings - uploaded to streaming website MySpace - first gained industry attention, leading him to sign a deal with major label Sony BMG in 2006.

A lot of musicians that come up from the underground or DIY scenes are finding affordable technology to record with

But access to a home studio is no substitute for songwriting or recording expertise. Julian Corrie, a Glasgow-based producer who also records under the name Miaoux Miaoux, insists it takes time before you can deliver professional-sounding results.

“An experienced engineer or producer will get great sounds out of pretty basic equipment,” he said. “There are countless home studios stacked with amazing and expensive equipment which people don’t know how to fully use.

“I guess that’s half the fun for most people though, learning how to use it - it certainly is for me, and the more I learn the more I realise I don’t know.”

For Adam Stafford, an award-winning filmmaker and musician from Falkirk, the appeal of recording at home is obvious.

“Time and money is the simple answer,” he said. “A lot of musicians that come up from the underground or DIY scenes are finding affordable technology to record with and the software is getting easier to use.

“In the 1990s, when we used to self-record, it was on four-track cassette tapes with cheap microphones - now there’s an app on your iPad that can re-create that kind of crapiness.”

On a practical level, home recording is best suited to solo artists, particularly those making electronic music.

“There are so many amazing sounding sample sets - programming a drum kit is a million times easier than recording one,” added Corrie.

But for bands based around live percussion or electric guitars, the best recording choice is still often a professional studio with the required space - and soundproofing - for them to play live as a group.

The Green Door Studio in the west end of Glasgow markets itself as allowing bands to do just that.

“We get musicians to play live as a unit,” said Emily MacLaren, studio director and one of three in-house engineers.

“We offer bands the ability to play while looking at each other. With the modern way of recording, a lot of engineers tend to prefer to record individual parts, and build songs up, layer by layer. That method is much easier to replicate in a home studio.

“We do things together. It’s old-school, recording on to tape through a mixing desk. That requires technical know-how.”

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Green Door does not feel threatened by DIY producers, however.

“It’s something we applaud,” MacLaren continued. “We offer lessons in home recording. Given the demise of the commercial music industry, we try to help new artists become as self-reliant as possible and foster a DIY spirit.”

So what does the future hold for commercial studios?

“I think we could see more multi-use spaces - good recording facilities being built into existing acoustic spaces like concert halls, for example,” Corrie said.

“You can’t record an orchestra or big band in your bedroom. But people still want to record in studios. Recording with a competent producer or engineer is fun and easy, and as a musician you can concentrate on your performance.

“But then it’s cheap and I’ve learned what to do and what not to do through experience, so there’s value in that too.

“I don’t think anyone thinks for a second that running a studio is an easy life, or you’re going to make a lot of money. The love for it has to run deep.”

This is a view echoed by Stafford.

“People will still pay top dollar for a decent engineer - who knows how the room sounds and who knows how to best record knee-drumming - and that experience,” he said.

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