How has music recording changed and where is it going?
By Naughty Mickie
The NAMM (International Music Merchants Association) trade show, is the nexus to chart evolutions in the music industry. From trending genres to the latest gear, the ebb and flow was evident along the aisles during the event at the Anaheim Convention Center Jan. 19-22 and one area of the industry that is of interest is recording.
“Earlier people didn’t have access to home technologies so if you wanted to record your own music it was a bigger drama- you had to go into a studio, you had to pay money for somebody else to record you,” Bobby Borg said. “Now you can, with tools on your laptop computer, with Abelton and ProTools and Logic, you can sit down and record song ideas relatively well if you know what you’re doing.”
Borg, an instructor at Musician’s Institute and UCLA and the author of several music business books, said it’s important to embrace and appreciate the tools that are available for recording, but you should also take advantage of opportunities to learn by taking classes and workshops and using online tutorials. You also need to be honest about your skillset and find a producer to work with if you need help putting out a professional product.
“I think that certainly with all the software that’s being developed and all the classes that are being developed you’ll see people looking into these platforms and learning them and maybe a producer may feel he’s getting less calls than before. But I think it’s going to balance out at some point because there’s always going to be people that need the advice of somebody who has 20 years more experience. You can’t take experience away from people,” Borg said.
As the producer for artists like Kings of Leon, Tom Waits, Norah Jones, James Bay and Modest Mouse, Jacquire King understands the value of experience.
“There’s always something that someone can offer you as a way of perspective and advice and help,” King said. “It’s knowing when it’s done enough. Nothing’s ever perfect. It’s when you strike the emotional balance and put it all together so it reflects the intent of the song.”
King said that computers and digital work stations have held a significant role in the recording process for the past 20 years, but only in the last five year has in-the-box computer technology become affordable and user-friendly, making it as good as other options.
At NAMM King was participating in demonstrations of Universal Audio Plug-Ins, hardware he employs to help with the mixing process. The line has a wide array of products (at $150 and up) depending on what sound an engineer or producer may be seeking.
“The business has changed. I think the artists make more money off of performance than anything else. Of course there’s still very successful records, a tremendous amount of money, but it’s not the same as it was. The record labels are making less money, they partner with artists more. Things keep getting smaller,” King said.
Having the ability to make records and sell the music is good because an artist doesn’t have to go through a big label to have a career but it’s also diminished the pot of money to go around. Still, King feels that the industry will keep growing.
“There are so many people that are passionate about making music and there’s so much resource now to teach people how to do it that I think it’s going to continue to grow. I think that the industry is going to become less of a super power, like there will be fewer big players,” King said.
New products make recording more accessible
Yamaha purchased Steinberg 12 years ago and the union has led to an established line of products for producing music not just for professionals, but for the DIY musician as well. At NAMM Yamaha was spotlighting the Steinberg UR22mkII Recording Pack, an entry-level kit with all the basics needed for a home studio- an audio interface, headphones, microphone and music production and editing software. It works with a desktop, laptop or iPad and has a street price of $250. But what makes this a standout is that all of the programs in the kit are compatible with the ones used in professional studios.
Steinberg Nuage district manager David Lees believes that the industry will be seeing more home studios, as the products have become more affordable, but like Borg, he said that if people need a recording done right, they will still consult a professional.
Lees notes that the biggest change in products is in how consumers are making their decisions.
“It used to be that you would go into your dealer and find the expert and he would help you make your decisions,” Lees said. “Most people go online instead and do all their research there and of course there’s the problem of all the disinformation that’s there too.”
David Reid, the Pasadena-based North American Marketing Manager for Ableton, said that in the last 10 years there has been a move back towards hardware.
“More musicians seem to be incorporating hardware into their setup because a lot of the musicians we deal with are electronic musicians,” Reid said. “I think the idea of getting away from the computer has become a really big thing. Then again a big part of the concept is being able to make music and forget that the computer is there.”
Ableton, originally a software company boasting only one product, has responded to this change by creating partnerships with other brands, moving into hardware and in 2013 releasing the Ableton Live 9 and Push. Live is a software music sequencer and digital audio workstation. It is like a sketchpad, allowing a musician to capture his ideas bit and piece and arrange them later.
“A big part of the content was to make it accessible for people. That’s what’s happened in the last 10-15 years in the recording industry, everything’s become much more digitized, accessible and anyone who wants to make music at whatever level now has the means to do it,” Reid said.
Live 9 comes in three versions, Intro for $99, Standard for $449 and the professional Suite for $749. Ableton also makes a hardware instrument called Push, which is available for $799 and includes the Live Intro software. Push features a grid of 64 pads that allows you to program or play beats, melodies and harmonies with a variety of sounds.
Reid said that the future is still open, but making music on mobile devices is a really big thing at the moment. Ableton is answering this movement with Link, a program that allows you to synchronize multiple music-making apps across devices, thus making it easier for people to play together. The next challenge is how to make it work well for live performances, Reid said.
Women are in the house
“Everyone’s recording music in their homes instead of the studio,” Erin Barra said.
Barra, an associate professor at the Berklee College of Music and electronic musician, writer and producer, was at NAMM serving as the moderator for the panel, “She Who Dares - Women in Music Tech,” and demonstrating Roli Blocks.
Barra said that number of women in the music industry is growing, but not everywhere.
“The studio scene, it’s a little bit harder for women to slip into that scenario because it’s not meant for us,” Barra said. “It’s a boys’ club and not a comfortable situation for a lot of people so even when they get in it doesn’t resonate the way it should. You can’t feel as comfortable as when you’re at home or in a situation that you’re in control of.”
However, women are important to music product developers and manufacturers, such as with Roli Blocks, a modular music studio that allows you to make music with hand gestures on a series of devices that connect together. The core product is $179 and it comes with a free app download.
“I like that Roli Blocks are expressive. Technology a lot of times can make you less creative. I find that Roli’s products tend to have the opposite affect, the technology makes it more creative, just the way that it functions and you can put your hands on it. You can’t do that with a lot of technology, you can’t connect to the sound with your gestures,” Barra said.
Barra thinks that the opportunities for women will increase, along with more people recording on their own and more tools for recording on the market. There will still be many producers in the industry to offer their expertise as well.
“There will be more bedroom producers, more people doing it on their own, but there’s also people out there who were meant to help other people see their vision from beginning to end,” Barra said.
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