Homemade Hits Threaten the Music Biz

If afforded the opportunity to follow your dreams without having to get out of your pajamas, wouldn't you hop on the chance?

That's what hordes of aspiring musicians have been doing, as advances in audio production technology are allowing songsters to lay down tunes in their own bedrooms.

Gone are the days of longing for a big record deal in order to get studio funding. Now are the days of making a top 10 hit while donning a bathrobe.

Case in point — Daniel Bedingfield, a pop-savvy 23-year-old Brit who's scored two top 10 dance hits off his album Gotta Get Thru This — a work entirely developed at home on his computer.

"Here I am, a little kid able to write my own stuff, do it all in my bedroom, put it on vinyl and give it to a DJ to spin in clubs all over the world," Bedingfield said.

His first hit single, the dance jam "Gotta Get Thru This," was a club staple before any record exec uttered the name Bedingfield, thanks to the accessibility of MP3s, digital recording equipment and Bedingfield’s prowess in crafting a hit.

"There’s no excuse for any musician not to get their demos done anymore," Bedingfield said, citing that all you need is about $1,500 worth of equipment. "If you get a summer job and work your [expletive] off, you can make a great demo."

Already crippled by the file-sharing onslaught started by Napster, the record industry now faces another hurdle — artists who no longer need labels' financial backing and distribution.

"I'm going to take my ball, go home and build my own court," said Blake Morgan (search), president and producer of Engine Company Records in New York City. That's exactly what he did by creating his own production studio with the low-cost, high-quality software and equipment now available.

"They [musicians] can really do it on their own terms and without a bunch of slimy little weasels telling them how to do it," Morgan said, referring to record execs.

Digital editing software like Adobe's Cool Edit Pro ($249) and recording rigs like the Pro Tools (search) systems (starting at $500) are any home recorder's bread and butter, but scores of other programs and pieces of hardware can also be bought for what you'd pay for a few hours in a high-tech studio.

Jason Levine, music director for Cool Edit Pro, says it’s all natural progression.

"[In the past, musicians were] finger-painting and cassette recording," he said. "Now they're Photoshopping and making master tracks in their bedrooms."

And they're able to make money on their records without a million-dollar publicity budget.

"With the new economics of being able to record brilliant records from home, you can make more money selling 1,000 records than selling a million copies on a major label," Morgan said.

Another key benefit of this new technology is the ability for musicians to record as soon as an idea chimes in their head.

"If you have a studio in your basement, you go throw an idea down, and it may or may not stick, but you have a moment of inspiration, and home studio is great for that," said Tom Bramer, a St. Louis musician once on a major label. 

But there are audible pitfalls in the digital revolution.

“If you ask 100 different people who record regularly, 99 will say that digital sounds terrible compared to analog,” Morgan said.

That theory was reason enough for The White Stripes (search) to ditch computers altogether for the recording of their new release, Elephant.

"No computers were used during the writing, recording, mixing or mastering of this record," Elephant's liner notes boast — explaining how the band achieved the raw analog aesthetic partly responsible for making it critically applauded.

Bedingfield sympathizes to an extent, and said, "the more you do on one computer, the more it will sound the same." But he added that varying hardware and software will lend songs depth.

Despite some complaints about inferior sound, digital recording is another slice to the Achilles heel of an already hobbling record business. 

But while equipment may be more accessible, pure musical chops are something a computer can't create.

"So everyone has a Pro Tools rig in their closet, big deal," Morgan said. "Just because you own a car doesn’t mean you’re a race car driver."