The Recording Studio’s Heritage & Demise

The music industry of today finds itself split into two distinctive camps. The industry has often been found in this precarious position. It was once the battle of the radio versus the vinyl. Then it was the cassette versus the CD. More often than not, evidenced by the aforementioned struggles, the divide is that of technological preference. Through the massive overhauls in music recording, distribution, and listening, the losing side has always been those that resist change until they’ve dug in so far they are incapable of bending to prevailing market forces.

There are a few areas that we could examine. Those are:

  1. Recording
  2. Distribution
  3. Personal Use

This installation on the DT&L blog will focus on recording. The issue of recording preference and strategy is at the core of the music industry for one glaring reason: it IS the music. The two camps of today are: analog and electronic. To put it more simply: that’s difference between the compositions of Aerosmith and Skrillex, respectively.

 

Analog:

The aforementioned divide in the music industry today is not only born out of practicality, that is to say what method of recording an artist or studio feels most comfortable with, but also of style. Analog, put most simply, is any type of recording that is not electronic. The most recent heyday of analog recording was the “classic rock” era of the 70’s and 80’s. Picture the fabled rock stars in the smoky and ambient recording studio with their dedicated team of engineers. The members of this camp cling to the “old ways” as much for comfort as they do for heritage. Unlike other industries such as Healthcare or Personal Computing, the music industry does not relish the idea of immediately relinquishing technology as soon as its successor comes along. In fact, it does the exact opposite. The “legends” of the industry recorded in analog settings. Recording studios, like The Magic Shop, in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City, have been the birthplace of some of the most well-known songs in our pop culture. Notably, these purely analog studios are becoming somewhat boutique in current days and many are facing issues staying open as their clientele dwindles. Many studios are beginning to straddle the line between analog and electronic systems. Purely analog studios are slowly becoming part of a niche of performers that refuse to relinquish the past.

One such studio is Akron Analog, an analog studio in Akron, Ohio constructed from the ground up by Indie-Rock group The Black Keys lead-singer Dan Auerbach. Auerbach was quoted as commenting as follows:

“Most of the equipment is analog. I’ve got tape machines that I use, and my console is custom-made, 1950s tube style. The room was built from the ground up and it’s acoustically correct, you could call it. After I built the studio, I could really record stuff the way I wanted it to sound.”

The studio is boutique in nature and caters to a select group of artists, many of which are brought in selectively by Mr. Auerbach. In 2009, the studio was the birthplace of Auerbach’s 2009 solo album, Keep it Hid. Although it was recorded in-house at Akron Analog, the album require partnership with a larger label, Nonesuch Records, to propel it into view of a larger audience.

Electronic:

Electronically produced music requires a word of clarification before it is fully explored. Upon seeing the word “electronic” in association to music, the tendency is to gravitate toward the idea of electronic or EDM (electronic dance music) music. While Skrillex, an EDM artist, is cited here as the example, it is extremely integral to realize that all genres of music can and are being produced electronically today. That is because the capacity of today’s personal computers makes it easier than ever to record sound and “bounce”, or transfer it, from production software to a shareable medium.

There are multiple electronic platforms that allow artists of today to work. Whether the artist be pre-established or just beginning, the widespread availability of electronic production tools has significantly lowered the barrier of entry to the music industry. Instead of playing every night in small venues and hoping a producer would hand one a break, artists of today can flood platforms like Tumblr, SoundCloud, and iTunes with their original, self-recorded pieces. Software like ProTools and Ableton allow artists to easily record their pieces, master them, and then share them. The implications of these practices are huge.

Namely, it is cost effective at both ends of the process. Electronic recording, especially in a non-professional setting, saves on studio and equipment rentals, engineer costs, mastering costs, and distribution costs. Furthermore, if an artist elects not to tangle with a major label, they aren’t going to loose 60% of their profits to the label. The fan experience is also altered in intense ways. Streaming becomes increasingly easy and an artist’s ability to reach out to a fan base with new material is more efficient than ever.

 

 

Ultimately, the difference between analog and electronic production is that of style, an interesting characteristic of the music industry not shared by any other industry that is examined with the DT&L Blog. A likely trend that we will see continuing is the decline of serious analog recording studios and a rise in boutique, stylized analog studio. However, that rise is what will keep the analog studios around, as most major labels are switching to electronic methods to cut their cost. Electronic production will increase competition within the music industry, as increasingly user-friendly production software is introduced.

Thank you very much for visiting the Disruption Technology and Law Blog. I would encourage the reader to explore the other industries represented here and to look out for increasingly macro takes on the trends of technology within the United States and globally.

Sources:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/11/nyregion/a-beloved-recording-studio-may-be-priced-out-of-soho.html?ref=nyregion&_r=0

One Response to The Recording Studio’s Heritage & Demise

  1. Paras Patel November 15, 2015 at 9:30 pm #

    In a market flooded with music to satisfy virtually every musical preference, it is becoming more and more competitive for artists to get their music to the masses. The internet is creeping its way to every corner of the world and with it, it also brings access to music. With an expanding audience, artists are trying to share their music with everyone while still trying to make a living. In our time alone, we’ve seen music go from CD’s to MP3 players to cloud streaming. Before that, there was vinyl and cassettes. Studios have gone from an equipment filled room to a computer (or tablet) with recording and editing software, some which can be used for free. There is less and less a need to have the backing of a label with a royalty tradeoff when an artist can record or make music in their own bedroom and distribute it on an open platform like SoundCloud.
    A great point that Caroline made was that “we will see continuing is the decline of serious analog recording studios and a rise in boutique, stylized analog studio.” There’s some genres that consumers simply demand studio work, such as jazz. I’ve seen a rise in electronic music utilizing jazz sounds, but that’s different than purely jazz. Also, it depends on the artist’s preference; older artists might be too accustomed to studio recording and any deviation from that process might alter their production.
    We see electronic production thriving with young and newer artists, most of who are on a very limited budget. Studio time can cost anywhere from $50 to $500 per hour, which includes a music engineer. Anyone interested in the industry can instead use that money towards a computer, such as a Mac which comes preloaded with GarageBand software, and produce their own music. For example, we’ve all at least heard of mixtapes from rap artists. Artists can make a beat on their own or find an instrumental online and easily record over that with just a computer and a microphone. There’s no need to shell out cash when that money can be put towards your own laptop and software. Something that I have seen is a lot of big name DJ’s and EDM artists making wherever they are into a studio. They can be in the airport or airplane, pull out their laptops, and work on some music. The studio itself has been disrupted and compacted to mobile formfactor. In addition to that, artists are in full control of their work and have it readily accessible. If they have an idea for a song, they can add it in on the go and then send out the track instantaneously without waiting for a middleman.
    The mobile studio is truly a good disruption within the music industry, especially for artists. In a day where artists are always complaining of being cheated out of royalties from streaming services like Spotify, this allows artists to take their business and products back into their own hands. With a rise in boutique analog studios, artists that still rely on this method still have them available.

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