Wired 13.07: PLAY

02005-08-03 | Uncategorized | 3 comments

Legendary rooms like NYC’s Hit Factory, Los Angeles’ Cello, and Sheffield, Alabama’s Muscle Shoals all went out of business this year. The reason? Home studio software has democratized the recording process – low-end versions of Cubase and Pro Tools retail for less than $350. Sure, these apps offer great sound if used properly, but most musicians are no match for a seasoned engineer who understands why things like mike placement matter.

Great article in Wired about music and sound. Simple, this is what democracy does. The brilliant and benevolent despot will always reach greater heights, but then people have to suffer through generations of not brilliant and not benevolent despots.

It’s a shame about all those great recording studios going out of business, but I think that might have as much to do with the general changes in the music industry than with people being satisfied with lower quality. Bands used to get signed because they performed a lot and found a loyal local following. Eventually an A+R would hear about them and offer a deal. Many of those bands knew nothing about recording and had never set foot in a studio. So they were assigned a producer and an engineer who booked a studio and helped the band create a recording. There was a system in place. It worked, but it was far from lily-white… Producers had their favorite studios – and who would notice if the studio kicked back some money to the producer for bringing all those bands to the same place…

Come to think of it, the reason I never used these studios was because they were so damn expensive. I have a hard time relaxing into creativity when a day costs more than $1,000 in studio time alone – and then you have to pay the engineer, and the band’s hotel…

Yes, the days are probably over, when a band like Guns and Roses locked out a fancy studio (locking out means that they pay to have no other artists use the studio during that time) for months at a time and dragged a drum kit around the room for two weeks, just to see where it might sounds best. But is that really a loss? I mean, doesn’t that sound as ridiculous as reading about the exploits of kings and czars?

Nowadays bands often start recording before they ever hit the stage. A singer/song writer will record his songs, because it is easy enough to do, before s/he will contact other musicians to form a band. Now the tables have exactly turned, many bands who get recording contracts have experience with recording, but none with performing live….

Digitally recorded, produced, and distributed music suffers sonic degradation at every step, meaning the new wave you listened to in 1981 might actually have sounded better than the nu-metal of today.

Well, this statement is total crap IMO. The early CDs sounded incredibly awful. It took quite a few years to make CDs sound good…

Taking a long view, I think it will be exciting to see what artists create who are used to working without an engineer and producer. Producing yourself is quite different from writing a song on a guitar in that a producer has to be able to step back and listen to the whole. Does the bass fit, do the drums sound coherent, does the chorus fit etc.

I think with more people producing themselves and figuring out that there is a big picture to music – as opposed to the small picture of “isn’t this a cool guitar part” – we will hear some very interesting music. Add to this view that technology moves forward, and we might find that the average laptop recording by a musician a decade down the road might sound better than any studio recording with a team of engineers and a producer did in the past…

Come to think of it… not a great article in Wired, merely interesting, and probably written by somebody old enough to have fond memories of the olden days…


  1. Borya

    I remember how much CDs were being discussed in the late 80s when I bought my first which was a Dire Straits’. Indeed CDs weren’t welcomed what the quality of sound was concerned. Nonetheless, in this case I had jumped at it immediately back then. CDs were the most handy for me. Maybe I’m getting old, ha! :)

  2. Eno

    Can’t tell you how glad I am that cd’s are being phazed out. I must have bought Opium at least 3 times.

    I’m really happy with the way that the whole industry is shifting right now. All the power and control is going to the artist. Means a lot more work for the artist because essentially you have to build your own company now and run it!

    But at the end of the day if someone is serious about making a career there is no longer the whole luck of being discovered, now it’s a matter of putting in the time and effort to build it…and with that they will come(sounds very american I know).

  3. stretta

    I too, feel sad about the studio closings. However, it seems that we’re discovering that much of the recording that was historically done in recording studios did not actually need to be done there. You don’t need a full blown recording studio to cut a vocal track. How much recording studio business was based upon close-miced overdubs with digital reverb or room ambience added later? A lot, I suspect.

    Gear is irrelevant today. In the past if you wanted to record at home, you needed to buy an array of relatively expensive components of dubious quality. Recording on a computer eliminates all that, and now you can focus those funds on two channels of studio-quality signal path. The only remaining reason to use a recording studio is a great sounding room. Drum kits, real piano, orchestral sessions, small ensembles playing together. Basic tracks are usually cut fairly quickly, and with the meter running, clients are anxious to get out of the studio and record overdubs at home.

    Digitally recorded, produced, and distributed music suffers sonic degradation at every step, meaning the new wave you listened to in 1981 might actually have sounded better than the nu-metal of today.

    While this statement may, in the strictest sense, be true, the same can be said of analog. Personally, I feel that at any price point today, digital offers a more accurate representation of the signal than analog can. Don’t take my word for it, though. Listen to recordings from 1981 and compare them to 2005. You tell me what sounds better.

    But, whatever. Consumers don’t buy music because of how it was recorded, they buy it because they dig the music.


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