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Opinion: Are high-quality home studio kits threatening the role of the pro audio professional?

Increasingly affordable audio equipment is allowing novice producers to record near-perfect sound in their bedrooms. MI Pro editor Laura Barnes asks if the popularity of home studio kits is threatening the role of the pro audio professional…

The musical instrument and pro audio industries have always had a close relationship. Many audio brands dip their toes into each pool, some MI brands realise their tech can be fully utilised in higher-end setups, other times, pro audio brands grasp the opportunity to encourage musicians and novices to delve deeper into the world of producing, engineering and more. A raft of new products that have sprouted up recently suggest the lines are becoming even more blurred between these two innovative industries.

Today’s ever-increasing advancements in technology have meant that musicians and beginner bedroom producers are able to get their hands on incredibly powerful tech and software to help them produce professional-grade projects. This means that a compact studio set-up, a DIY PA setup in a coffee shop, or a wireless microphone system in a local theatre no longer need to be of a sub-par standard – or require the expenditure of a significantly large amount of money to sound surprisingly professional.

There have been a few portable mixers unveiled this year that showcase some impressive technology, one being Soundcraft’s new Notepad Series, which hit the UK in September.

The Harman brand has introduced three new compact models aimed at podcasters, singer-songwriters and audio professionals who require small format mixing solutions. In the home studio department, there have been some interesting kits from the likes of IK Multimedia and Audio-Technica. IK’s ‘Advanced Room Correction System’ enables users to mix in an environment capable of an exact representation of the audio being produced, regardless of the acoustic characteristics of the room.

Audio-Technica announced in September that it had joined forces with Audient to create the ‘Essential Studio Kit’. The kit comprises a microphone, interface and headphone bundle ideal for budding producers and musicians in home studios or on the move.

Moving out of the studio, there’s also some interesting wireless microphone systems and portable PA products from Adam Hall Group’s LD Systems brand, that are available in various configurations to appeal to smaller stages and spaces, including the U500 Series microphone range and the MAUI 11 G2 and MAUI 28 G2 PAs that are specifically designed for medium-sized gigs or fixed installations.

Cause for concern

So if there’s more ‘pro audio’ equipment out there aimed at people who aren’t professionals, should you be worried that the industry might be engulfed by the MI market? Will those working as pro audio professionals find themselves competing against near-future technology that will make their roles redundant?

Personally, I don’t think there’s a need to panic anytime soon. While these products show just how quickly audio technology is advancing, no matter how great they are, they will always be ‘compact’, ‘portable’ or ‘amateur’ versions of their bigger brothers. And of course, it doesn’t matter how powerful the technology is at your fingertips, if you don’t have the skills to properly utilise it, you’re not going to get the results you hoped for.

The situation reminds me of some MI industry news that I covered back in August when supermarket Aldi announced that it has launched a musical instrument range – with very cheap price tags.

I spoke to MI retailers, distributors and manufacturers to see how much of a threat they thought these beginner instruments to be, and, a large majority of their responses were very positive. They said that there is room in the market for all price points, and the people buying these cheap instruments aren’t typically going to be the ones walking into an independent guitar shop.

They also touched on the fact that the people who do buy these cheap instruments will get a taste for making music and inevitably end up visiting a ‘proper’ music shop to upgrade to a more professional instrument.

If there’s more pro audio equipment out there aimed at people who aren’t professionals, should you be worried that the industry might be engulfed by the MI market?

Laura Barnes

As those interested in pro audio are able to get their hands on more compact and affordable gear to experiment on, I imagine they will follow a similar path, and end up investing in bigger pieces of kit.

The DIY musician

While we could argue that this increased interest in DIY is possibly taking jobs away from pro audio workers, I would argue that this new wave of small-scale products will probably get more people interested into producing, engineering, working at live venues, and discovering the wide range of ways they can make a living out of their passion for music that the pro audio market offers – rather than just the pipe dream route of becoming a world-famous rock star.

With this interesting fusion of MI and pro audio gear showing no sign of slowing down, it will be interesting to see what powerful bits of kit will be modified for bedroom producers in the future, and how they will shift the goal posts of what’s considered ‘pro’.

Follow Laura on Twitter @RoraDrum.

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