I was reading the other day a list of abilities, skills and talents required by a recording engineer. Close to the top of the list was the ability to work effectively with computers and software.
Yes, by all means know how to create a new file, store it in a specified location and back it up. Really that's all the skill with computers you ought to need. The rest should be all about sound and recording.
But as we all know, you need the skill to know why your computer is misbehaving, understand the process of editing the registry, back up your system including all your applications and application data, without using software that will compromise the normal running of your computer (and not a lot of people know how to do that)… The list is endless.
It's a minefield. And then if you're going to be a really top person in the industry, you're expected to know both Windows XP and Mac OS X – and probably Linux too in a couple of years.
Oh, then we have audio interfaces – USB, USB-2, FireWire – which is best and most reliable? What about PCI and PCI-Express?
Before you start thinking that this is just another rant, not that I'm known for that of course, there is an alternative. The problem is that no-one is making it yet…
The 'Recording Appliance'.
Now what exactly is a recording appliance? Simple – it is a box with audio inputs and outputs, hard disk, USB or FireWire connector for data backup (or Ethernet port), DVD writer for making audio CDs or further data backup, and software for recording audio.
It is not a computer! It has software as powerful as Pro Tools (perhaps it could be the Pro Tools recording engine). It doesn't have an operating system because it doesn't need one, or if it does then it is only has 1/1000th the complexity of Windows XP because it doesn't need any more than that.
This recording appliance is totally reliable because all it does is audio. And the manufacturer has designed the hardware and software to work hand-in-hand – there is no third party involved to issue 'updates' with a new round of incompatibilities, bugs and problems.
Yes, you do control it from your computer. But you're using your PC for what it is good for – its display, mouse and keyboard. The recording appliance doesn't have those, because they are the things that would inevitably lag behind the computer industry in general.
You could say perhaps that a standalone workstation is a recording appliance. It isn't. At least not in the sense proposed here. A true recording appliance doesn't need faders, knobs and buttons – it runs from the screen of your computer. Although it could have a separate physical control surface if desired, a kind of glorified mouse. Also, the problem with a standalone workstation is that they are all hamstrung by the lack of a decent display and fine editing interface. That's why the recording appliance doesn't have those but delegates display and control to the computer.
So, the Recording Appliance. It is something that the world of recording desperately needs. Imagine a totally reliable recording system, immune to 'upgrade-itis' and compatibility clashes. Yet it offers the power and flexibility of a Pro Tools, Pyramix or any of the top-line computer-based digital audio workstations.
Wouldn't that be heaven?