The Evolution of the Recording Studio: Sean Spuehler

It’s been 35 years since Full Sail University opened its doors and started training students in Recording Arts. Since then, things have definitely changed: Software storage has improved, analog has made room for the digital format, and physical studios have gotten smaller and more portable. We asked four Recording Arts grads who graduated in four different decades to share their thoughts on the evolution of recording. Below, 1995 grad Sean Spuehler weighs in.

Check out the other installments of the Evolution of the Recording Studio series: Dusty Wakeman (Recording Arts certificate, 1987), Inderan Bailey (Recording Arts, 2009), and Arthur Luna (Recording Arts, 2013.) 


sean-spuehler-inlineSean Spuehler (Recording Arts, 1995)

Sean, a 2011 Hall of Fame Inductee, has worked as a Pro Tools operator and engineer for a number of artists, including Madonna, No Doubt, and Beck. He’s a music editor for Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, and he just launched his own music library label, Primary Production Music.

At Full Sail. I got a political science degree and worked for a couple of years until I had the, “What am I doing? What I really want to do is get into music” epiphany, and decided to go to Full Sail. I remember on the very first day of class one of my teachers brought a razor blade in [which is used to cut tape in the studio] and said, “This is going to be obsolete soon. Everything is going digital.” I just happened to be at Full Sail for the sort of beginning of the [digital] transition. It wasn’t completely clear yet that the shift to digital had taken root, but we were bing told that was the trend and that it was going to happen. Pro Tools was new then, and I was most interested in that.

Recording in the ‘90s. There were no Pro Tools systems in any studio in the ‘90s in Los Angeles. It was being used by certain producers outside the studio, but everything was still mostly tape-based. I was an assistant at a place called Music Grinder in Hollywood at first, but I ended up working for a producer who was trying to do everything in Pro Tools, so it was like a Pro Tools boot camp. I was very excited about digital. I’m a keyboard player, so I was really getting into MIDI too. I got very lucky and pretty much became a Pro Tools guy straight off the bat. I’d be able to go from session to session as a freelancer and bring my rig with me and be somewhat of a Pro Tools doctor.

What’s Changed Since 1995? The digital shift was slow at first, but everybody could see the writing on the wall. For years you would have to bring your Pro Tools system with you to the studio. They weren’t in the infrastructure of a place until around the early 2000s. There was a huge shift when recording sessions went from using Scuzzy [hard drives] to when firewire came online. Before that, when working on records with Pro Tools, every megabyte was precious; you really had to manage your hard drive space. You couldn’t just keep recording and recording. When it went to firewire and all of a sudden you could just plug in this drive and have 500 gigs, it was pretty revolutionary.

I think the biggest change has been that you can now do the majority of your work in a garage or in a bedroom, or you can just use the studio for a couple of days and finish the rest at home. I think you’ll always get an amazing sound in a proper room, and that’s what bedrooms and garages lack, but it’s amazing that I can set up my Pro Tools and my MIDI gear and can really do almost everything in a small space. Studios today have to accommodate to that.

What Won’t Change. Music itself. I’m an advocate that it’s all about the song. I think even in the analog world people can get very tweaky about how things are done and that they’re done properly. And yes, you need to do things properly, but it always comes down to the song.

The Future. I think the next big thing is going to be when engineers are able to seamlessly collaborate online. It’s already here, but as Internet speeds continue to grow people will be able to collaborate in real time around the world. It will be a sort of globalization of collaboration. Soon we won’t even think about it, it will just be more commonplace.