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I'm a great believer in getting out of the studio once in a while. No, more than once in a while - often! Particularly if you work alone a lot, even the best set up studio can give you a bad case of cabin fever after a while...

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I'm a great believer in getting out of the studio once in a while. No, more than once in a while - often! Particularly if you work alone a lot, even the best set up studio can give you a bad case of cabin fever after a while.

What I like to do is drive off to a rented vacation home ('country cottage' in the UK, 'gite' in France), taking a basic studio set up with me and laying down the basics of some great tracks.

Obviously, I don't take my drums with me.

Take last Christmas. I wanted a break from serious work so I thought I would have a go at writing a Christmas song. After all, seasonal songs can sell really well, and for a long time if they catch on.

Since the whole point of recording like this is to get away from the endless quest for perfection that the process of recording can often become, and just to work on the inspiration part, I took only an acoustic guitar and a set of sleigh bells as my instruments. Well, it was Christmas!

For the recording set up, this is what I took...

  • AKG C414 microphone and stand
  • Oram Octasonic 8-channel microphone preamplifier (only one channel used)
  • Digidesign Pro Tools system with 888/24 audio interface
  • Apple Macintosh G4 Titanium 400 MHz laptop computer with Magma expansion chassis
  • Behringer Powerplay Pro headphone amplifier
  • Sennheiser HD 480 headphones
  • Fender Vibrochamp combo guitar amplifier as my 'nearfield monitor'!

The Digidesign 888/24, the preamp and the headphone amplifier all fit into a 6U SKB rack with a patchbay and XLR input panel. The Magma expansion chassis goes in a 4U SKB rack with an acoustic foam lining to reduce the noise it makes. The rest is just carry-on.

When I first started doing this several years ago, I hadn't planned such a compact system and I would take a mixing console, a 17" computer monitor (damned heavy, and I once had to carry it up a narrow spiral staircase) and more bulky stuff. I would literally have to rip my studio apart, and then put it back together again when I got back. Added together, that took the best part of a day.

Now, I have designed my studio so I can just slide out the SKB racks, put the lids on, and I'm away!

I suppose I should say how the song went - well to be honest, my musical inspiration didn't really make it this time. But technically, I used a strummed acoustic guitar as the basis of the arrangement, I stamped the floor for a kick drum track, added a couple of decorative guitar lines, a bass was produced by pitch-shifting the guitar an octave down. And I got my kids to sing, which was the most fun part. And for a rough recording, it had all the excitement and feel I could want.

My conclusion is that recording this way is great fun, and relaxing too when you don't put any great pressure on. Then when you're back in the studio, you're full of energy and ideas and really ready to go.

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By David Mellor Wednesday October 4, 2006
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