When Thomas Edison uttered the first recorded words, “Mary had a little lamb ... ” to test his phonograph invention in 1877, he had no idea how much it would change the world.
Indeed, it is hard to imagine a world without all the recordings that have been done since with ever-changing technology.
I can remember in the 1960s when, if you wanted to record with any quality, the closest studio was in Spokane. You had to travel and pay the studio $50 an hour to record on a four-track recorder.
You can now record on four-track with your phone or iPad.
Early recordings were done with two-track recorders. The Beatles used two four-track recorders to do some of their early albums. That is how my friends and I started recording in the early ’80s before going to an eight-track system.
As equipment developed, if you had a lot of money you could buy up to 32-track recorders and spend thousands on tape. Just the recording reel tape for a four track cost was over $50 per reel. That would record just a few songs.
Times have changed, and for the better — from the four-track recorders to unlimited tracks today.
For very little money you can have the equivalent of a million-dollar studio from the 1980s for the price of a computer, some software and a couple of good microphones. Of course there are many options and new toys to buy. It is endless and a lot of fun.
It is also great not to have to buy tape reels. Today’s gear just uses hard-drive disc space that is very inexpensive, not to mention the advantages of effects and editing.
A few years ago a high-end spring reverb may have cost $10,000. You can now just select that option in a large file of effects.
It is easy to forget that music is an art that lets you express yourself. The more you learn, the more you can, it is hoped, express yourself in ways that matter to you. It is really not what someone else likes; it’s what is in your heart and what you want to create and express.
Artists look for sounds. Tom Waits used a set of car brake drums for that certain sound on a song on one of his CDs. Music is like life; it’s what you make it.
It does not need to be in the words; it can be in the notes and how they are played. When playing a song that someone else has written, or in creating a song of your own, if you think it would sound good to put a harmonica or kazoo solo in the song, that is your choice. It is yours to experiment in any way you want.
Years ago I wrote a song in about a minute for my two children and they wanted to be included in the recording. At the time, they were about 5 and 8 and did not play an instrument. I had them get their little slide whistles from their room and we created a song they could play together. Simple words, and they had a blast.
“Sliding up, sliding down,
The whole world goes round and round,
We may disagree, but we’re together you and me”
They are now in their 30s and I just sent them a copy of that old recording. You can imagine their surprise.
Also, at that time, we recorded the Walla Walla Home Grown album that was given to Jim McGuinn at Hot Poop. As always, Jim does things in a special way. He ran the LPs in Red Vinyl. It was a real challenge recording 10 different bands with very different music for one album.
That is why I enjoy recording so much. It can be saved forever.
With the gear of today, you can record like a multimillion-dollar studio and have a great time. With the Internet, and sites like CD Baby and iTunes, you can get your music out to millions at very little expense.
It seems you never stop learning. We recently completed a CD for a longtime friend, Jimmy Lloyd Rea. It is the fourth CD released. This two-disc set includes many of the past recordings with a full disc of new songs. He plays from the heart and plays what he feels. That is a big part of creating music and not just playing, note for note, someone else’s songs.
Many times the process of deciding what to record can be the most challenging and entertaining.
Jimmy Lloyd Rea can sit and not say a word about what he may want to sing for a couple of hours, and then out it comes: “Play a boogie shuffle in E and counts off 1,2,3,4.”
We all jam it out, he sings what is on his mind and it is a take. Other times it may be part by part, and experiment for months on a song. Him playing from the heart is what makes it work.
So many can be a part of a recording.
For example, I am now working on a CD with friends I played in bands with back in high school on songs I have written in the last couple years.
Craig Tarwater, Glenn Ayers, Ken Melhus and others are all working on the project. With Sonja Baer running the recording system and sound board, friends I have known for more than 50 years are creating music right at home — what else can you ask for?
And unlike many sports, we can play music until we go to the Hendrix band in the sky.
How can you get started? A cellphone or a iPad will do. Just realize that when experimenting with music and sound, that there is no right or wrong — and the toys are endless.
Terry Martin grew up in his family’s Martin Archery business in Walla Walla and has an abiding interest in music.