Network: My Technology: Down to earth in the studio

When Rick Wakeman had to update his specialist music software to make his new album, he chose VST
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Music technology has developed at an incredible rate in the last decade. Up until the late-1970s, you could say that musicians were ahead of technology. In other words, we often wanted to do something that the technology couldn't. One of the most important developments for me was the sequencer.

Sequencers appeared in the early 1980s. They meant a mistake could be repaired without having to redo an entire recording. This was a particular problem for me as a solo artist. The solo keyboard section is one of the hardest things to do on record because, in essence, it stems from playing live. Everyone would look forward to recording it, yet some of its magic would be lost if a mistake was made - and a second recording made it more of an arranged part. As a result, you would tend to play it safe towards the end of the solo, to preserve what had gone before.

After the synthesiser, the technology was so incredible that it ruled the music. I would say that lasted for at least a decade. It seemed that there were more technicians who could create great sounds but not many people making great music. With plenty of toys in a recording studio, people went mad to use this or that - a "must use it all" mentality. So it wasn't until the 1990s that we realised that all this wonderful technology has a purpose.

Last year I needed to update my recording studio, which mostly used Steinberg software that had undergone 20 years of upgrades, and was nestled in an old coach house near my home. We were pretty up to date there, but I needed to look into getting a big enough computer to cope with the large project that was my new album, Return to the Centre of the Earth.

I realised that this computer would need a stunning amount of memory, and as with the solo keyboard section, it needed to be very quick to catch the creative moment. Plus the various software had to work across different systems because parts of Return to the Centre of the Earth were to be recorded all over the world.

I planned to use the London Symphony Orchestra, who I could hardly offer anything other than highly professional equipment. So I went for a pretty high-specification computer and VST software. The computer had Intel Pentium chips, and their support team was also incredibly supportive, really excellent on all fronts. Thanks to them, we were able to break new ground with the equipment.

When the time came to have lunch with David Snell, the LSO's conductor, and run past the test scores with him, his reaction was quite interesting. He thought I had used Sibelius software rather than the cheaper VST. But he approved of the test scores.

When we recorded Patrick Stewarts' voice, obviously, it went straight on to the hard disk. However, if one word or one note clashed, I used a package called Pro Tools to arrange it back into synch on the computer. This technology is really for polishing the sound. It appears to be a trivial millisecond here, but over 76 minutes these packages have enabled me to do at least 100 tiny bits of tidying and touching up. The overall difference the technology has made to this album is enormous.