The ability to make hits in a home studio is the promise of the revolution in recording technology. Just about any home producer has the tools to do this.
Of course, having the tools is a long way from producing the hits. In my experience, making great recordings is actually exceptionally difficult, and I’ve had an intense learning curve along the way. While we continue to acquire gear and spend time messing about with our DAWs, we rarely get any closer to making great records.
With that knowledge, I’m pleased to share this Sound on Sound article about the Smeezingtons, the production team at the backbone of records by one Bruno Mars (apparently, he’s a big deal). The article is a few years old at this point, but it contains some shockingly fresh ideas.
First off, there is a considerable lack of gear in their studio. One mic, one preamp, a small stable of synthesizers, a mixer (not used for mixing), an old Akai MPC and a computer make up the heart of the studio. And producer Ari Levine is in no hurry to expand:
“No, as I said, we like the studio as it is. We’re not planning to change anything. The studio is not too big, so there is not much room to expand. And we don’t want to go somewhere else. This place has a lot of character. It has a really great work vibe — we are here to work, not to sit around and watch TV and eat candy. Maybe I’ll buy a Minimoog, because I love it, and there aren’t any really good soft‑synth alternatives. Our studio is very good for doing work, and while I like working with Pro Tools, I don’t really think it matters what program you use, they all do the same thing. I know people who have made hits on Fruity Loops. It’s about the person controlling the software.”
With a gear collection that rivals most home studios, the Smeezingtons have managed to make a good name for themselves, hitting the top of the Billboard charts and finding steady work, doing what they love. What’s their secret?
They focus on making songs perfect. It can take months for them to get a song down perfectly, and they’ll sit on them until they feel right.
They also have an old school approach to recording that relies on performance, not hours spent programming and editing MIDI information. This could be a key to their productivity, since playing synth parts is almost always faster(and more persuasive) than laborious programming.
Whether you like Bruno Mars or not, you should be able to see that his songs are well crafted, with simple, powerful melodies and uncomplicated arrangments. It’s this focus on songcraft and a strong work ethic that keeps the Smeezingtons busy. Not buying plugins.
Does this mean you can do the same? Absolutely. If you have the patience and drive to work on songs, to make good music despite whatever technology you have available, you can make great records. But this isn’t something you’ll find inside a DAW. You have to truly want it and take charge of your own education.