One of the biggest stories at the Grammy Awards this year was how 18-year-old artist Billie Eilish and her brother, 22-year-old producer/engineer/artist in his own right Finneas O’Connell walked away with five Grammys each. For O’Connell, that meant taking home trophies for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical and Producer of the Year, Non-Classical, as well as three shared with Eilish for Record and Song of the Year (“Bad Guy”) and Album of the Year for when we all fall asleep, where do we go?
When we profiled O’Connell in our June, 2019 issue, he shared how he recorded the album in the bedroom he grew up in, using a modest production setup: Apple Logic Pro X, a Universal Audio Apollo 8 interface, a pair of Yamaha HS5 nearfields with an H8S subwoofer, and an Audio-Technica AT2020 cardioid condenser mic on his sister’s vocals. It’s not beginners’ gear, but it’s still a far cry from some of the multi-million-dollar facilities that spawned Album of the Year winners in the past.
In the wake of O’Connell’s Grammy wins, many on social media seemed inspired that after years of being told “Today’s audio equipment allows anyone to make a record at home,” someone had the Grammy Awards to prove it could be done at a pro level. The empowering aspect of “anyone” is really key here, because the pervasiveness of entry-level, portable recording equipment has made it so that, for the investment of a few hundred bucks, far more people can try engineering on and see if it fits them.
Does entry-level gear sell beginners a dream? Maybe, maybe not, but either way, there’s nothing wrong with following your aspirations; it’s what recordists do at every level, from amateurs to pros. You should always chase that dream of recording a masterpiece … unless you’re chasing it in a semi pushing 90 on New Year’s Eve.
That’s exactly what happened on Dec. 31 in Kennewick, WA. According to a Twitter post by Washington State Troop Patrol District 3’s public information officer Chris Thorson, a trooper stopped a tractor trailer truck that was hammering along Interstate 82, going 17 miles over the 70 m.p.h. speed limit. That alone is horrifying, but worse, once the trooper looked in the cab, he discovered the suspect had apparently been recording music while barreling down the road.
A photo posted with the tweet shows a rudimentary recording rig inside the big rig, based around HyperX Cloud II gaming headphones and Cakewalk recording software on a computer screen in the passenger seat. While the headphones sport a boom arm mic, another microphone was dangling from the ceiling of the truck cab. Thorson told The Washington Post, “The driver admitted, ‘Yeah, I produce music while I’m driving down the road.’ He does it all behind the steering wheel.”
Despite all that, the suspect wasn’t arrested for rocking the mic while rolling, but instead for something else entirely: suspicion of DUI and drugs, due to the smell of marijuana, a bag of white powder and other paraphernalia in the truck cab.
The jokes write themselves: He puts the “semi” in “semi-pro engineer.” He was covering “Truckin’” by The Grateful Dead. His favorite plug-in is iZotope De-Pothole. But we can make jokes because thankfully nothing tragic happened.
Today’s pro audio manufacturers offer entry-level equipment that’s portable, affordable and inspirational for anyone with big dreams and a small budget, but clearly, there’s one thing they still can’t sell you: common sense.