History Music Production Part 4d – Digital Project Studios become the platform for contemporary DIY music-making?

AE Project Studio
(MIDAS 2014)
This blog is a continuation of a series. See here (Page 2015a) for the previous blog.

The changing field of music production

Portable Studio

With the development of laptops and handheld microphones such as the Zoom H4, the project studio got smaller and more mobile. Coined as portable studios, anyone with musical aspirations could compose and produce in a studio one moment, and then move outside to into nature, or even the extreme, “on the beach of a remote seaside island under battery power” and continue to compose and produce (Huber and Runstein 2013, 78). Such flexibility of recording environments enabled the composer producer the choice of using actual instruments (acoustic or digital), virtual instruments, purchased sample libraries, or creating their own sample libraries directly from the environment they habituate using these portable studios. The laptop, particularly the Apple MacBookPro, was an integral part of this technological development enabling the portability of music production.

Making Mirros_Goyte

(Goyte, 2011)
Discussing the music production process of his 2011 Grammy Award winning “Making Mirrors” CD, Goyte reinforced choice with “some songs I sang into the mic of the MacBookPro – for whatever reason it sounded really good in that room and I left it in the final mix” (Holder 2011). Hewitt concludes that such choice and options of practice allows aspiring music producers “a significant degree of creative freedom”, to “produce highly accomplished soundtracks”, of a standard where “some of these tracks … can literally be sent straight to the record company for final mastering” (Hewitt 2008, xv). Certainly, the portable studio became a new environment for music production (Huber and Runstein 2013, 78). Specialising in the Post-Production stage of the Music Production process, Grammy award winning Mix Engineer Leslie Braithwaite mixed the Grammy Award winning song “Happy” entirely within a digital audio workstation (Tingen, 2014).
BraithwaiteSoS..201405(Tingen 2014)

Contemporary music-making practitioners challenging traditional industry standards?

Technology has continued to develop at an exponential rate, with increasing “interest and wider adoption of DIY cultures and practices through 1) easy access to and affordability of tools and 2) the emergence of new sharing mechanisms” such as the internet having a prolific effect on the widespread interest of music production (Kuznetsov and Paulos 2010, 295; Wallis 2001,10). Numerous companies commenced manufacturing to fill “a tremendous need for good and affordable sound equipment”, entrenching the “prosumer or home-recording market” (Music Group 2015). Continuing technological developments influenced the increase of music production setups in the home, based around a personal computer, a sound card, and some form of digital audio workstation to either record or arrange the music. The technological developments have afforded multiple benefits, such as decreased production costs and increased convenience. With project studios, “the hiring of expensive studios was no longer a requisite” (Izhaki 2013, xiiii). More major artists were being recorded in these evironments [1]. Other professionals[2] such as Braithwaite moved their workflow entirely within a digital audio workstation.
Live rig_20160131
(AE 2015)
As Leyshon highlighted, “the recording studio sector is not a particularly profitable or efficient part of the musical economy overall” (2009, 1315), and therefore from an industry perspective, it was positive that alternative options evolved. The development of the digital audio workstation, along with virtual instruments and sample libraries, provided resources ready to include into productions (Gilreath 2010). The project studio now had virtual technology accessible by both novice and professional producers alike. This “brought about monumental changes in the business of music and professional audio”, with music producers able to “select from a wide range of tools and toys to generate specific sounds – or to get the particular sounds that he or she likes”, without needing to have that instrument or musician capable of playing that instrument, on hand (Huber and Runstein 2013,76). In an article on best practice within the music industry, Wallis (2001, 13) observed that access to user-friendly technology has “resulted in many creative artistic talents achieving a high degree of IT literacy, leading to the emergence of the combined studio producer/ writer role. Max Martin from Sweden…is such an example”. Today, continuing technological developments have further opened the field and discipline to an even broader market. Music production technology is now accessible to anyone who has a degree of interest in the creation and production of music, irrespective of their background {social status or professional role}, their musical or professional audio training and/or experience, or the genre of music they may be interested in attempting to produce, making for a truly diverse and eclectic music production society (Burgess 1997, 34; Rogers 2013).
Historically, the music and audio industry’s standards have addressed economic and technical criteria. Both of these criteria are included in annual industry award events, well known and usually televised events the public engages in with interest, as they make up the consumer market for such music and audio artifacts (ie songs, mp3s, CDs, albums). The Grammy Awards (The US), the British Music Awards (the UK), and the ARIA Awards (Australia) acknowledge publically released artists and their music, in terms of specific criteria such as: commercial success (song sales via record companies and formal distribution channels such as i-tunes); popularity (via radio play which may or may not transfer into song sales[3]); with a few categories acknowledging the technical and creative expertise of the engineers and producers behind the artists[4]. “A successful record producer is, by definition, someone who has had multiple hits” (Burgess 1997, 162).  Artists such as Lorde are taking greater control of their creative careers by proactively tasking aspects of the music production process themselves. Lorde writes her own compositions, and has achieved  global success in part by engaging in informal distribution channels such as ‘Soundcloud’[5], However, Lorde remains produced by an external professional[6], and therefore does not fit entirely within the definition of contemporary DIY music production practitioner (Bockstedt et al 2005).
Different Motivation?
The limitation of such an industry standard such as the awards listed above is two-fold.  Firstly, these awards acknowledge only publically-released music through formal distribution channels. Secondly, the awards are predominantly for non-DIY artist producers, where the artists contract the professional services of an external producer.
Perhaps motivated by the power imbalance and limited access to studios in the 1970’s and 1980’s, aligned with the broader social and cultural developments of DIY culture from the 1970s, with music-makers in the new era of project and mobile studios, emerging as a new generation of prosumers – both producers and consumers (Theberge 1997, P3; Hracs, 2012). The ever increasing access to technology appears to be attracting a diverse range of aspiring practitioners to he process of music creation and production. Burgess has observed the diversity of DIY music production practitioners has expanded from the previous music producer list several decades earlier of artist/musician, audio engineer, songwriter, entrepreneur and multipath, to now include: DJ, self-taught/school-trained and discoverer (2013, 29). In addition, as Rogers in his 2010 study on local musicians in the Brisbane scene found, there are now varying levels of professionalism found amongst the participants: professional, semi-professional, emerging and several non-commercial aspirational levels – including amateur or hobbyist practices (Rogers 2013, 168). By far, the largest group is the amateur category. I adopt the term amateur “not as a reflection on a hobbyists’ skills, which are often quite advanced, but rather, to emphasise that most of DIY culture is not motivated by commercial purposes” (Kuznetson and Paulos 2010, 295) . The “status and position of the amateur have been redeemed and a new, less aristocratic, breed of amateur has emerged .. (who) .. are technologically literate, seriously engaged, and committed practitioners” (Prior 2010, 401). A contemporary DIY music production practitioner is not likely to be motivated by economic motivations, and less likely to release their music through formal distribution channels. In fact, they are likely to deliberately choose to release their music through alternative informal independent DIY music channels in line with DIY ideals (Purdue et al 1997).
DIY Image
DIY perspectives are particularly influential in music production, in many ways redefining the field today (Kealy 1982; Hemphill and Leskowitz 2012; Frith 1992; Watson and Shove 2008; Watson 2014; Kuznetsov and Paulos 2010; Ritzer and Jurgenson 2010; Purdue et al. 1997), traditional standards of effective practice, which have played a central role in the music production industry, are now being challenged. Music and audio industry’s standards of commercial sales and technical criteria (Burgess 1997, 162; Grammy Awards 2015; Gibson 2006, 42; Recording Producers and Engineers Wing 2008) appear to be less valued by contemporary DIY music production practitioners. Breaking with previously accepted industry practices (Hracs,2012), the notion of ‘effective practice’ appears to be actively disregarded due to the prioritizing of other motivations such as creativity, emotional connection, networking, and free-spiritedness. That is, creative practice, affective practice and social practice, with a preparedness to reject accepted effective practice (eg: technical or genre standards) as the contemporary DIY music production practitioner sees fit (Montana and Charnov 2000,12; Robbins et al 2009, 313; Griffin 1996; Rogers 2013, 168; McWilliam 2008, 38; Davie 2012, 41).

In summary

Prior to my own research study and planned interviews, what I have discovered about the likely profile of a contemporary DIY music production practitioner is: They appear to be proactive, resourceful, tenacious and rebellious practitioners with eclectic backgrounds, musical tastes and skill levels. They most certainly possess a just do it spirit as the Nike slogan has encouraged since 1971. They are likely motivated by creative, affective or social practice, rather than effective practice, making aesthetic choices over technical standards, and working in what could be once considered, ineffective or inefficient workflows. They are more likely to be passionate hobbyists, who want to create, express and be heard, using project or portable technology as either a studio or an instrument, probably in a way that was not originally intended by the manufacturer, and yet creating unique sonic qualities or textures, influencing new genres to emerge (Wallis 2001,13; Burgess 2013, 29; Huber and Runstein 2013,76; Izhaki 2013, xiiii; Gilreath 2010; Watson 2014; Burke 2011; Doyle 2008; Wallis 2001,11; Kuznetsov and Paulos 2010, 296; Spencer 2005, 226-273; Moran 2011, 1; Rogers 2013, 168; Kuznetsov and Paulos 2010, 295; Watson 2013, 334; Prior 2010, 401; Watson 2013, 331; Braithwaite alluded in Tingen 2014; Theberge 2012, 6; Hracs et al 2013, 1144).
[1] In 2005, Stuart Price used his home-based project studio, based around an Apple computer with a range of analogue outboard hardware and synthesizers to produce Madonna’s commercially successful ‘Confessions On A Dancefloor’ album, achieving commercial success reaching the US Music charts (Doyle 2008).
[2] Grammy award winning Mix Engineer Leslie Braithwaite mixed the Grammy Award winning song “Happy” entirely within a digital audio workstation. He explains his recent change of workflow to a DAW-only workflow: “With my workload increasing and me also trying to meet the demands for smaller budget projects, going into the box made total sense” (Tingen 2014).
[3] Radio play which may or may not translate into album sales such as Australia’s Triple ZZZ ‘Unearthed series’, acknowledging emerging artists, and by default, their productions (ABC 2015)
[4] Within these music and sound awards, there are numerous categories, in which the artist, the producers and the recording engineers are acknowledged. These categories cover predominantly the economic criteria (album or song sales), but there are some categories that acknowledge the technical and creative of music production. For example: ‘68. Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical’, ’69 Producer of the year, Non-Classical’, ’70 Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical’, ‘72 Best Engineered Album, Classical’ (Grammy Awards 2015).
[5] Soundcloud.com is an informal hosting site for musicians, producers and artists. Soundcloud is not a sales based distribution site, and therefore I am classifying it an informal distribution site, as it is possible to generate interest to a potential consumer market (Souncloud 2015)
[6] Lorde’s producer of her first album was local Auckland NZ producer, Joel Little (Davie 2015)
This blog will continue next month History of Music Production Part 5a – The DIY Music-making practitioner (Page 2015b).
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– ©David L Page 07/06/2015
– updated ©David L Page 24/07/2015
Copyright: No aspect of the content of this blog or blog site is to be reprinted or used within any practice without strict permission directly from David L Page.

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