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The axeman cometh for recording studios
May 20, 2011 6:29 AM   Subscribe

"You want how to make a million in the studio business? Start with two million." Abbey Road is safe, but with Olympic, Townhouse, The Hit Factory and Eden all overtaken in recent years by the developments in digital recording, what's to be done with all that history?"A museum? A doctor's surgery? A Wedding venue? Flats? Or chop them into little pieces and sell them to your fans? (video in Spanish, scroll down for English text)
posted by RegMcF (46 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Those buildings should just go on tour and flog tee-shirts.
posted by three blind mice at 6:51 AM on May 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yeah, that sort of thing was inevitable. New bands just don't need music studios, or even music labels, anymore.

A top-of-the line Mac Pro, a few really good microphones, Logic Studio or Pro Tools and all of a sudden an entry-level professional recording studio now costs around $10k, less than a used car. This equipment used to be really expensive, really professional-niche stuff, and now it's just... not anymore.

The fascinating thing is that this is about to happen to movie studios, too, and movie theaters. An out-of-the-box, entry-level movie studio can be had for less than $25k now.
posted by mhoye at 7:04 AM on May 20, 2011


Producers who remember the days when records were played rather than assembled are candid about what they see as a decline in standards. Eddie Kramer, who engineered Jimi Hendrix's records, told me "if you want to make a record like they did in the early ’70s first of all you've got to be really really really good players, in a way that nobody is any more."

Oh shut UP. Seriously. Just because today's musicians don't have to spend eight hours dicking around in your analog playground doesn't mean they're not as good as the musicians of yore. I understand his need to defend the old guard but what a trite, short-sighted view.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 7:10 AM on May 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


This is from a couple of years ago:
Mick Fleetwood Speaks Out to Save the Record Plant in Sausalito

An ABC report from 2010

Looks like the campaign is still ongoing.
posted by mrmarley at 7:10 AM on May 20, 2011


mhoye: "Yeah, that sort of thing was inevitable. New bands just don't need music studios, or even music labels, anymore"

Pretty awesome isn't it? I love being able to sit at my crappy desk with nothing but a PC, an audio interface, a guitar, a pot of coffee and churn out some pretty spectacular sounding shit. Granted I won't be winning a Grammy or anything but still. Twenty years ago, I'd have to pay out the ass to some guy with a full-blown studio just to get to hear my music.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 7:15 AM on May 20, 2011


Locally, the big one was Pachyderm, now for sale.
posted by kingbenny at 7:23 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


In the end, it doesn't matter where or how music gets created - just as long as it's good. But...I do think the recording environment makes a difference. Case in point - Talk Talk's "Spirit of Eden", which was recorded during long sessions in a dark, candle-lit studio. Not sure the same record would have emerged if they were jamming into a laptop.
posted by davebush at 7:28 AM on May 20, 2011


I'm not going to look at these because they're just going to bum me out.

What's happening is that a huge number of decent jobs - creative jobs that paid well and were satisfying - have been destroyed by all this technology I love, and nothing has replaced them.

It's funny, when we first anticipated automation many years ago, we thought that it would be the lowest-paid jobs that would go first, but it turned out that it was the middle-of-the-road jobs that went, the ones where you made a "decent living".

Imagine, you're a smart, bookish person, an artist or a musician or a writer. How do you live these days?

It used to be there were a host of jobs you could get - you could work in a book store (mostly killed by Amazon) or a record store (killed by the net), write for newspapers or magazines (the net), taking phone orders (off-shored) - if you were a musician, you could get session work (gone), you could teach (still there but much less because people buy instructional DVDs), you could get paid to play standards in a jazz band, a wedding band, a cover band (generally replaced by DJs), you could get a technical job in a recording studio, you could be a music copyist (which meant making charts, copying and transcribing music - all done by computers these days)...

It's not like there are no bookstores, newspapers and the like, or even that they'll all go away, but there are always going to be a few less, and people just aren't going to give up the jobs they have. Oh, and there are always a small, constant number of jobs in academia.

But otherwise, we're told as musicians that the only way we can make money is by writing original music, touring it, and selling merchandize while we do. But that's no way to live! It's fun for a while, but it's extremely hard work, it's dangerous (note how many famous musicians have died in transportation accidents getting to gigs - but you have huge financial risks too as you are carrying $$$ in gear and merch which can get stolen or damaged or simply not sold, and more, you probably have no enforceable legal guarantee of your gigs) and you can't sustain relationships or work on large projects unless you are one of the very few who is "successful".

There are still rich, hit-the-jackpot, amazing jobs for creative people - but all the "good" jobs are going.

I used to know people like bassoonists and colour correction specialists. Not only are they not in their fields any more, and the organizations that hired them gone, but in the colour correction case, the building itself, which used to have dozens of "post" houses in it, is now used for completely different things.

All the money's still there - except it's been concentrated in the hands of a tiny number of ultra-rich individuals. There are really only two possible roads forward from here - either a continued separation between the rich and everyone else working as modern serfs or villeins, or a guaranteed decent minimum income funded by taxing the tiny number of ultra-rich.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:35 AM on May 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


As someone who really enjoys close listening under headphones, I'll miss hearing the telltale sound of the studio itself in the recordings. The room is an instrument, too, and recording projects were often planned based on being able to schedule into a particular studio. Yeah, you can add a generic "room sound" digitally, but some of the great old studios definitely had a sound that was very unique, like a fingerprint.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:37 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


>> "if you want to make a record like they did in the early ’70s first of all you've got to be really really really good players, in a way that nobody is any more."

> Seriously. Just because today's musicians don't have to spend eight hours dicking around in your analog playground doesn't mean they're not as good as the musicians of yore.

"Good" is a subjective thing. What his quote means is something else, an objective thing.

If I'd written some songs and wanted to record an album in 1973, say a funk album, I'd hand it to arrangers and copyists and get a set of "sides" for each song, which is sheet music for each part individually, and at least one overall score for the conductor or band leader.

And then I'd literally be able to hire professional musicians who would be able to walk right through the door, pick up those sides, and not just play them, but play the shit out of them and give memorable, legend-quality performances without a rehearsal.

Consider, for example, that Miles Davis wrote at least one of the songs on the Kinda Blue sessions in the taxi on the way to the recording session...! And consider the quality of the performances...

These musicians were paid top dollar for this skill - which they got by basically practicing their instrument as a full-time job and studying multiple styles of play.

This pool of talent is basically gone - yes, there are still some session musicians, I know some myself, but it's a shadow of what it used to be even when I first came to New York (mid 80s). I myself can't name one person I know personally who plays four hours a day who isn't some form of academic.

So you literally cannot record an album like you could in the early 70s. That's just a fact - it says nothing about whether musicians then were more or less "good" than they are today.


Oh, and this quote:

> Just because today's musicians don't have to spend eight hours dicking around in your analog playground

Actually, people got albums done a lot faster back then than they do now - it's quite the other way around. Studio time was expensive, musicians had chops, players would be handed sides, read them and hit them right on them on the first or second take.

It wasn't just "session" musicians - most of the tracks on the Door's first album are first takes...!
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:13 AM on May 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


[...] The Doors' first album [...]
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:15 AM on May 20, 2011


And think of the candlestick makers!

But seriously, where is this entitlement coming from? Why does someone deserve a job doing color correction? Sure, a lot of semi-creative jobs have been destroyed, but the advances in technology have correspondingly made it that much easier for someone to make their art in their free time with a minimum capital investment. Such that, sure, I don't get to work in a recording studio, but I can finance my musical hobby on a barista salary.
posted by modernserf at 8:16 AM on May 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


modernserf - I totally agree that inexpensive recording technology is a good thing for artists. I also think a studio can lend something to the creative process. This doesn't mean the studio approach is always better, but for some, it could be the best option.
posted by davebush at 8:31 AM on May 20, 2011


> But seriously, where is this entitlement coming from? Why does someone deserve a job doing color correction?

Who said they did? I was saying not that anyone deserved anything, but that it was a good thing that talented, creative people could make a comfortable living that way, and it's a shame that these interesting creative jobs have just vanished.

Might I ask you why you seem to think it's a good thing that all these jobs have gone? Do you think that barista is a better job than recording engineer or session musician?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:38 AM on May 20, 2011


And if you must bring up "deserve", then I think, yes, absolutely!

Some intelligent, law-abiding guy "deserves" a job in a bookstore, as a music copyist or as a colour correction specialist a lot more than our Wall Street masters "deserve" the trillions they have stolen from everyone else - and I think this society would be a lot happier and a lot healthier if there were a lot more civilized middle-class jobs and a few less billionaires.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:45 AM on May 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


The old Island Records studio in Hammersmith, West London now houses a rather good architecture firm, Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands. They are looking after the place.
posted by Flashman at 9:03 AM on May 20, 2011


I"m with lupus on this, and it's something I've thought about a bit from time to time. So many creative or intellectual jobs and crafts are disappearing and I find it disturbing. I feel like automation was supposed to free us from manual labor, but technology and changes in social values seem to be eroding creative/intellectual jobs even faster these days.

I mean, I love being able to publish a book on demand or record music in my apartment, no doubt. But it's also sad to me that it's harder and harder for someone to make a living doing investigative reporting or getting the awesomest possible sounds out of a drum kit.

Also, I'm not that old, but I think part of the divide on whether one is sympathetic towards the loss of these jobs is whether one is old enough to have had one or known people who had them. It's much harder to be, like, "suck it up, newspapers the internet is the future" if you have reporter friends who were forced to take buyouts. Or the same with friends who used to be able to run a small recording studio.
posted by snofoam at 9:15 AM on May 20, 2011


As an economic proposition, large-scale recording studios are of limited use (enough of them are needed for recording orchestras or large bands), and there are a lot fewer jobs for copyists, sound engineers and studio technicians. Perhaps such roles will survive in an artisanal role, much in the way that economically unviable handcrafts have survived in boutique niches. One function of recorded music is as a badge of cultural values, in particular the somewhat problematic value of "authenticity", and it could be that "recorded in a big old digital studio with a SSL deck" could be the new "recorded on 1960s-vintage analogue equipment" or "recorded in a log cabin in the woods". Meanwhile, if the romance of old-school recording, from the age when it took a million dollars to make a record and rock stars lived like gods, is strong enough, enough such studios will be preserved or reconstructed by volunteers and hobbyists, in the same way that steam railways have been. There'll be a class of enthusiast willing to devote themselves to mastering the old technology and curating it, even if there's no economic case for doing so.
posted by acb at 9:32 AM on May 20, 2011


On of the weird things for me about reading TapeOp* is that I came to recording during the modern digital-driven home-workstation DIY era and have spent almost zero time in an actual studio, and so it's all a bit like reading science fiction at times.

Among other stuff, the magazine is chock full of interviews with people who worked for one period or another in the older studio-heavy system, who were engineering in the 60s and 70s, and so you get all these different views into both how shit used to work and how shit has changed, and what the perception of that is from folks who watched it happen or lived it. As someone who is cheap and self-taught and has no personal context for that, it's a mix of sort of tedious inside baseball (I do not give fuck one about how they tweaked a $3000 ribbon mic) and really fascinating personal looks at the growth and development of working technology and studio technique and business forces and so on.

And part of the whole experience of reading this parade of interviews with folks from the old system as well as folks who are newer, younger engineers and artists, is seeing this sort of aggregate portrait of two separate things: the collapse and winnowing down of the old system to remnants currently, and the fact that people who really care about making music are still totally capable of making great music even as the times change.

I think there's plenty of room for genuine nostalgia and a sense of loss for the old system, and insofar as the studios are landmarks as much as they are working rooms its got to be sad to watch a lot of them go. But music is still happening, and the guys who really, really want a studio to be running the way they want it to be are making it happen. Really great engineers are still doing really great engineering. Equipment built 40 years ago and discontinued 30 years ago still gets used and repaired and in a number of cases cloned from the metal up by young boutique fab shops.

In the mean time, the basic process of making music has been wildly, powerfully democratized by the development of technology, and that means more people are able to go from "I have a musical idea" to "I have a recording". As someone who is more emotionally invested in the idea of being able to pursue my creative ideas than in the existence of a system I would not have been able to afford to use when I was cutting my teeth on songwriting and recording, I get the nostalgia but I can't really personally muster more than historical curiosity for something that I never knew and probably wouldn't have known even if it'd been my era.

*If you are at all interested in the business and history and technique of music recording, you should read TapeOp. You can get it for free, even, if you're in the US.
posted by cortex at 9:46 AM on May 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


A top-of-the line Mac Pro, a few really good microphones, Logic Studio or Pro Tools and all of a sudden an entry-level professional recording studio now costs around $10k, less than a used car. This equipment used to be really expensive, really professional-niche stuff, and now it's just... not anymore.

You know, this is the view that seems a little short sighted to me. Your amateur gear is not vintage professional gear. Your $100 soundcard is not a $10,000 tape machine. Your $60 microphone is not a $5000 microphone.

Of course I think easy, cheap access to recording gear is a good thing but we shouldn't act like it's actually the same thing as what you would have gotten in literally world class environments like Olympic or Abbey Road...
posted by anazgnos at 9:47 AM on May 20, 2011


I think there's plenty of room for genuine nostalgia and a sense of loss for the old system, and insofar as the studios are landmarks as much as they are working rooms its got to be sad to watch a lot of them go.

There is probably a genuine loss of a certain kind of process, probably a level of craft (and plenty of elitism) that goes out the door when recording technology, or any creative technology, becomes cheap and easy to access. I guess it's probably the loss, by degrees, of a real hands-on approach, as recording becomes more and more abstracted from things like scratching wax cylinders or cutting tape with razor blades (and of course the process of creating music mirrors this abstraction). I think some monkey part of us needs to touch in order to create, needs knobs and tools and texture, and responds creatively to that kind of stimulus.

It reminds me of the story of how Dark Side of the Moon was mixed -- the band, engineers, and anyone handy gathered around the mixing board, riding the channels up and down, performing the mix in real-time, because that was the only way to do it.

There's something to be said for doing things the hard way.
posted by swift at 10:13 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Your amateur gear is not vintage professional gear. Your $100 soundcard is not a $10,000 tape machine. Your $60 microphone is not a $5000 microphone.

I defy anyone but the very most experienced engineers and recordists to tell in a double-blind test the which audio is from my nice $150 condenser mic and a $5000 mic.

And I can tell you right now what the difference between my "$100 soundcard" and a $10k tape machine -- my soundcard is quieter and doesn't color the source material.
posted by chimaera at 10:14 AM on May 20, 2011


> In the mean time, the basic process of making music has been wildly, powerfully democratized by the development of technology, and that means more people are able to go from "I have a musical idea" to "I have a recording".

I loved the idea initially, but I have to say that I don't think it really worked out well - we simply got more music, by a huge array of artists most of which I never hear from again, but much less developed, mature work - except from artists who were already famous before the digital age.

It's not like I don't listen to a lot of new music - listen to my radio station! - but I'm so sick of getting one or two promising albums from a band and never hearing from them again - this has been going on for a decade now and it's maddening...

More, my relationships with some of the artists I really do love are made sad by the fact that they barely make ends meet and I know that they'll soon be quitting (like Dufus and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum did earlier this year).

Who are the great musical "voices" of our age? Does that even make sense any more? Are we better off with a lot more lesser voices?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:23 AM on May 20, 2011


Hey, I recorded at The Hit Factory! Yes I surely did! I'd almost forgotten about that! I also recorded at the old Radio City (yes, that Radio City) studios. A huge room, where the enormous mic boom stands, like little cranes, still stood: the ones you could swing out over the string section of an orchestra. And I remember asking our engineer about the huge wooden planks that were leaning against one of the walls. He said they were used by the Rockettes (!) to record their stepping and stomping bits. Deep history, man, deep history!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:27 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh shut UP. Seriously. Just because today's musicians don't have to spend eight hours dicking around in your analog playground doesn't mean they're not as good as the musicians of yore.

This is an ill-informed comment. Sure, some very successful rock musicians could spend time "dicking around", but the vast majority of sessions had to happen quick, and indeed the level of musicianship had to be higher, on average, than it is today, in many, many recording situations.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:31 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


> I defy anyone but the very most experienced engineers and recordists to tell in a double-blind test the which audio is from my nice $150 condenser mic and a $5000 mic.

I disagree. I think if I used your mic to record a kick drum close to the head, a snare drum, an opera singer in a live room, and an opera singer in a dry room, and also recorded each of these with the correct mic, and presented it to your average interested musical listener they could easily tell - because your $150 mic would distort on the kick and snare and sound boomy in the big room and flat in the dry room.

I'd think that even if we're just talking a vocal mic, the range of detail that can be picked up by, say, a Neumann U87 (a $3K+ vocal mic that's an "industry standard") as compared to your $150 condenser mic is considerable. I think even your non-expert could tell the difference between the two mics in a minimal recording (say, something that's primarily voice and acoustic guitar). Have you tried one? The difference is extraordinary...

> And I can tell you right now what the difference between my "$100 soundcard" and a $10k tape machine -- my soundcard is quieter and doesn't color the source material.

People like that coloration. They like the subtle compression and the additional harmonics, and yes, even the hiss! This was a surprise to me but it's true - there's something about having absolute silence between notes that people find a little harsh perhaps?

Personally I think you'd be nuts to use tape these days - the digital simulations of tape are aren't the same, you can make them sound much the same as a tape recorder but you can't make it operate the same, but the hassle! The expense! The inability to undo!!
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:38 AM on May 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think it falls more to a middle-ground space where, yes, there's a difference between a $100 condensor and one that's $5000, and there's a difference between an inexpensive USB interface into a consumer DAW and a Neve to 2", but it's a difference of such narrow degree that it's going to be the limiting factor only on one in a thousand recordings.

Put Jimi in front of a decent couple of $100 mics into Garageband with someone who knows how to place mics and mix, you'd get a Jimi recording that was 99% of Jimi at Olympic. That 1% both matters and it really basically doesn't.

Put a Jimi-alike who isn't that great in Olympic and you're not getting getting anywhere near 99%, period.

You want to talk classic recording, you've got to acknowledge that nobody pines for the studio system recordings of all the bands who just weren't very good back in the day. There was lots of crap then, there's lots of crap now. In the mean time, the cost for very technically solid if not literally world-class recordings has plummeted, and if the cost for that is the old studio system drying up I respect the nostalgia but wouldn't have it any other way.
posted by cortex at 10:50 AM on May 20, 2011


I defy anyone but the very most experienced engineers and recordists to tell in a double-blind test the which audio is from my nice $150 condenser mic and a $5000 mic.

And I can tell you right now what the difference between my "$100 soundcard" and a $10k tape machine -- my soundcard is quieter and doesn't color the source material.


This is really similar to when people angrily insist that nobody can really tell the difference between mp3s and uncompressed audio. It's like, if I encounter somebody who even thinks there's an argument there, it's a signal to not even try to have that argument.

There's just such a big leap between "this is good enough for me" and "this should be good enough for everybody" and it always surprises me when people are eager to make it.
posted by anazgnos at 10:53 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


flapjax at midnite: "This is an ill-informed comment."

It would only be ill-informed had I not experienced both ends of the spectrum. I have spent a ton of time and unfortunately a ton of money dicking around in studios. The musicians I played with in 1985 would be smoked by the musicians I've seen lately. I did a session in 1985 where two separate guitar players had to be used for one song because one was a "rock" guy and the other was a "blues" guy. It was stupid then and would be stupid now. Most of the studio musicians I know now, would have no problem in either genre if the session called for it. It's their bread and butter and give them a leg up on jobs. Two years ago we did a four song demo in Nashville at a real live studio. We walked in and out with a master in four hours. That included rearranging on the fly by a bunch of incredibly talented young musicians. I shudder to think how long this would have taken in ye olden days unless the Wrecking Crew was involved.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 11:05 AM on May 20, 2011


Put Jimi in front of a decent couple of $100 mics into Garageband with someone who knows how to place mics and mix, you'd get a Jimi recording that was 99% of Jimi at Olympic.

I find myself really torn between moderately agreeing and violently disagreeing with this.

Yeah, on a certain level when you have incredible talent and material, that will tend to come through, and it shouldn't need to be magicked into existence through arcane production processes. People love hearing grotty Beatles demos, and I'd probably back away slowly from anyone who wished, say, Guided by Voices had done Bee Thousand in a "proper" studio.

But at the same time I feel like it's an incredible shame to not place any value on the idea of quality, or best practices in recording, or to regard it as only making a 1% difference.

I mean I'm the first person to reject outright either too much reverence or mystification of the 60s (and I can see why people are cracking on Kramer for that) or audiophile snakeoil appeals to "magic" or "vibe" or hoodoo about 500 year old wood or whatever. BUT...without overgeneralizing, we don't exactly live in the Age of Quality. Or even just the age of stuff sounding generally good. I think it's an incredible shame to turn away from the practices and ideas and approaches that really truly resulted in some deathless stuff at a time when those things need to be valued and appreciated and preserved.
posted by anazgnos at 11:17 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


It was never the equipment that made Abbey Road. If anything, they were significantly behind American studios- Leon Russell had an 8 track recorder in his HOUSE before Abbey Road did, hell IIRC Atlantic studios had 8 track before the Beatles were a band. It was the rooms and the expertise. Sorry, the 'anyone can buy Pro Tools' argument is such rubbish.
posted by tremspeed at 11:19 AM on May 20, 2011


It was the rooms and the expertise.

And the microphones. Don't forget the microphones.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:22 AM on May 20, 2011


I defy anyone but the very most experienced engineers and recordists to tell in a double-blind test the which audio is from my nice $150 condenser mic and a $5000 mic.

I'll take you up on this any day of a week. Or to better contextualize with the article: how about the same equipment in an actual live room vs your podcast basement?

I can rattle off dozens of home recorded works from the big studio era that sound better and are every bit, if not more ingeneous than today's home studio stuff. The democratization myth is bunk. Great underground stuff was made then, great mainstream stuff too. That's only 50% true now.
posted by tremspeed at 11:31 AM on May 20, 2011


And the microphones. Don't forget the microphones.

Yes except back then, there basically weren't shitty mics. Even the sound reinforcement companies (EV, Shure) made passable gear that is still used professionally. With the market for recording equipment being big studios, none of this stuff sucked that much. Same reason they had awesome compressors- there was no budget market to cut corners to satisfy. With home/project recording becoming the norm, this equipment is basically being cranked out cheaply and disposably like cell phones and DVD players. Mics from the 50s/60s are still being used. Your Oktava and C1000s and Digi001? Not so much.
posted by tremspeed at 11:43 AM on May 20, 2011


anazgnos: "BUT...without overgeneralizing, we don't exactly live in the Age of Quality."

I agree wholeheartedly. I'm on my second M-Audio interface in as many years. I don't think I could see that happen in the seventies or eighties where there wasn't a ton of this type of gear being cranked out. I've run across my share of U-47s and even old 58s that have stood the test of time.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 12:05 PM on May 20, 2011


This was a surprise to me but it's true - there's something about having absolute silence between notes that people find a little harsh perhaps?

I was talking about this a few months ago with a friend who sings (and occasionally records) with an acappella group. I was mentioning that I'd learned some of the James Bond themes from the 60s and 70s for karaoke and how useful it was to be able to hear the singers breathe between syllables so I knew where to breathe. Apparently when they recorded their most recent album, which came out late last year, whoever was producing/engineering had digitally cut out all the breathing noises.

I guess I'm old fashioned, but I do like something other than silence between notes.
posted by immlass at 1:01 PM on May 20, 2011


Flapjax, lupus, cortex et all all have good points. Here's what I got:

mild rant=[on]

To say that studios and sweet fancy gear have zero usefulness is dumb.

But to say that you can't make good stuff on cheap gear is also dumb, or that 'computers and editing are unquestionably the devil' is also dumb.

The question is whether expensive facilities and/or gear and/or really good musicians (!) are absolutely necessary for the kind of art you want to make.

As a result, I have found that there's a two-edged-sword problem to the 'holy crap affordable decent recording for everyone!' - yes, it's wayyyyy cheaper and easiest to make something that fidelity-wise, is at least passable. That is rather good. But also, that means, anyone can make recordings of 'music' to put on the intarwebs, and raise the din of the competing abyssmal. (Not to mention when you see that band who can't perform live, on stage. Because it didn't occur to them they might have to actually play the stuff. Oops. But that's a whole 'nuther thread).

Still! although lupus is sad that he hears one or two promising albums from artists he never hears from again - I'll take that. It's better to have loved and lost, eh?

And also - who the hell even puts out two, entire, good records that you/I like? If you consider the sheer magnitude of people making music every day, you'll realize that just isn't that common. I think the majority of my record collection consists of a single record from nearly every artist's catalog that I own.

But maybe I'm just a huge, picky bastard when it comes to content quality. ; )

mild rant = [off]
posted by bitterkitten at 1:05 PM on May 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


And also - who the hell even puts out two, entire, good records that you/I like?

Any artist worth listening to, I think. It's true that a long, satisfying and varied career arc is rarer than it should be, but if something is such a flash in the pan that the artist can't even sustain it a little bit, it really makes me question the value of the first thing a lot.
posted by anazgnos at 1:16 PM on May 20, 2011


Reminds me of a long brand-new article about Vig and the Foos making an album with no digital, "with only 32 channels on the console."

I’ll go back to my garage, ’cause that’s what everyone thought we shouldn’t do. It diffused any of that expectation. If we have songs that mean something, and you hear them once and they stick, and they’re recorded so it sounds like a beautiful explosion and it feels like human beings making music, then we’ve accomplished everything that we’ve wanted to do.

I heard a story about these guys who found all these cast-away 303s and 505s and 808s in thrift stores for a few dozen bucks and made a new genre out of them.

I just saw Pirate Radio last night. Heard any songs that good lately? Most done on 8-tracks or less?
posted by Twang at 5:04 PM on May 20, 2011


It ain't about equipment at all. It's about soul.
posted by Twang at 5:08 PM on May 20, 2011


I worked in the retail side of the business, from the meteoric rise of the conversion from analog to digital in the late 90s/early 2000s through the spectacular collapse of the entire music industry from 2004 to the present. The store I worked for experienced a 70% decline in gross sales, because audio gear had been commoditized. The race to zero is complete. Improvements in manufacturing have lead to stuff like Miktek mics outperforming $8,000 Neumanns, even to the hip audio guys who want the badge. They're broke, and they stopped caring about brand loyalty about the time their incomes fell off a cliff.

Forget a Mac Pro. Most of the guys working on demo material to finish later have a 13 MacBook Pro, or even one of the new 15s with quad core processors that pretty much perform on par with a Mac Pro in Pro Tools, and almost in Logic. Our base system used to sell for $25,000 before you got into mics and channel strips, and now you can pickup a 27" iMac and a really good interface, channel strip, and mic for about $6,000. If you've already got your instruments and a halfway decent analog mixer for gigs, or if you're working solo, you don't need anything else. Most consumers are going to listen to your music on YouTube or digitally compressed and through their cell phone speakers. So people don't bother to waste money on truly high fidelity equipment. You work on the hook, and fuck the rest.

And tape machines? OTR-90s that sold for tens of thousands new, and five years ago near eight thousand, are worth more as scrap today. No one can get the heads right. The tape they manufacture now is absolute shit and shreds all the time. That's if you have a machine room to put it in, and chances are, this stuff is going in your basement. If you park it on the same slab as your main monitors, there's no point. Buy an Ensemble or a Symphony I/O and be done with it.

Furthermore, the guys who say the session players are gone are absolutely correct. There's no reason for them. Even when you want one, you can hook them into your session over the internet, or just send them a two track to lay down to, and they'll e-mail you back. Or just do the take yourself a million times until you accidentally nail it.

Other things lost on most new albums? Groove. Everyone's on a click. Takes are nudged and digitally synched until they are perfectly in time. Music sounds robotic and soulless because it is robotic and soulless.

Originality. Most people are too lazy to sample anything new, and they've all go the same terabyte of loops they draw from to mix new sound.

From a larger perspective, I think the feeling you get from the old timers about the magic being gone are true. The 50s through the 70s were a revolutionary time in music, not only with rock, soul, R&B, etc, but with the technologies that for the first time were allowing regular people to listen to radios and records. TV was old news, and there was new music paired with social revolutions paired with the ability to get your friends together and listen to a record.

All of that being said, there are people still who love to record, who still buy the best gear they can afford, and who still want to make good music. Additionally, since the days of making money from record sales are essentially over, there are more musicians able to make a living since there are more bands on tour. It may never be the same, but that's a good thing. If it was the same now, the good old says wouldn't be special. I was born in '81, and I really feel like I missed it.
posted by notion at 8:27 PM on May 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm a pianist, of sorts. When I'm bored or sad I'll sit down at a piano and fiddle around with some Federico Mompou or bang out some Liszt for an hour because when you're playing music it's pretty hard to be miserable. However when I talk to some guy my age or younger at a party now and they say they're a musician I find they'll talk about computers and samples, or even playing rock band, and stick them in front of a piano or hand them a guitar and they really don't have a clue. I'm all for new recording technology being better and cheaper than ever before but the world would not have been a better place if the devil had given Robert Johnson a Macbook at the crossroads, rather than the ability to play the slide guitar.

Records from the sixties may have been recorded with the equivalent of a rusty nail but they sound alive to me in a way modern recordings just don't. Maybe it's the analogue thing or the groove of real musicians (often not the rock band members!) playing together in the studio but Blonde on Blonde or Kind of Blue have a vitality which refreshes you every time you put them on to play. Maybe it's the difference between being moved by a battle scene from the 1950s, where there really are 5,000 extras rushing at each other over the desert, and the CGI cartoon films of today where the splendour of the animation is surpassed only by their inability to move anyone at all.

In the end though, it doesn't matter. Pop music was the dominant art form in western society from the mid fifties to perhaps the late eighties but it's going the way of heroic narrative poetry or, let's be honest, the novel in terms of impact and relevance and public perception. This is the age of the online computer game, of social networking and, for good or bad, whatever comes next. It doesn't matter what microphone you record your song on, no-one's listening any more. The only people who read poems now are would be poets and they only read yours hoping you'll read theirs and it's getting that way with music too.
posted by joannemullen at 10:33 PM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


However when I talk to some guy my age or younger at a party now and they say they're a musician I find they'll talk about computers and samples, or even playing rock band, and stick them in front of a piano or hand them a guitar and they really don't have a clue.

I think this is one of the most interesting developments of the last couple decades in music, is that there are now creative new ways of being a musician that mustn't necessarily include playing an instrument. You don't have to be a guitar or piano player to sample things and experiment with the samples and find some of way of arranging and manipulating the sounds and samples musically. The result is music, and the creators are musicians. Why not?
posted by Evstar at 11:06 PM on May 20, 2011


This is definitely one of those "don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone" things, but there’s nothing to be done about it. The business isn’t viable, we’re entering the age of the moderately talented amateur.
posted by bongo_x at 2:00 AM on May 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


It doesn't matter what microphone you record your song on, no-one's listening any more.

A sobering thought for us musicians.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:22 AM on May 21, 2011


If you're having trouble seeing what these old-timers are talking about, get a copy of the DVD Classic Albums: Steely Dan – Aja, and just marvel at what can be done with real session musicians in a studio.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 9:14 AM on May 21, 2011


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