History Music Production Part 5a – Rise of the DIY Practitioner

Ever increasing levels of access

Throughout the 1970’s technology continued to advanced with “quality digital recording equipment more widely available” at progressively decreasing cost to the consumer (Wallis 2001, 11). Offering an alternative music production option to the large format console studio continued, all levels of the field actively engaged with the technology. Springsteen released his solo album ‘Nebraska’, made in his bedroom. Intended to be a ‘demo’, it was decided the aesthetic of the DIY recording was preferred to the studio-produced album (TEAC 2015; Burke 2011, 119,188). “Evidence from the 1980’s showed that multi-track cassette based recording technologies spread at a high pace to virtually every nation” (Wallis 2001, 11). A decade later, low cost digital synthesisers and samplers were available with a single key trigger for sounds, chords or multiple instrument emulation. Whilst initially limited, over time development has been exponential, allowing music producers innumerable instrumentation options to integrate into any one of their music productions as their creativity desires. This technological development enabled the creation and development of specific electronic music genres, and social and cultural events such as the 1990’s based rave parties (Kuznetsov and Paulos 2010, 295). Technology 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. Referred to as project studios, “the hiring of expensive studios was no longer a requisite” (Izhaki 2013, xiiii), and more major artists were being recorded in these environments [1]. As Leyshon highlighted, “the recording studio sector is not a particularly profitable or efficient part of the musical economy overall” (Leyshon 2009, 1315), and therefore from an industry perspective, it was positive that alternative options evolved [2]. 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). Other professionals3 moved their workflow entirely within a digital audio workstation.
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, the ever increasing available range of technology enabled the process of music creation and production to exponentially develop, with musicians 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).
AE Project Studio
Technological developments have provided multiple outcomes, such as choices of musical style and music production processes. 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).
The acknowledged diversity of backgrounds of the DIY music production practitioner expanded 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 (Burgess 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).

The emergence of DIY, and the challenges of discipline-accepted standards

With DIY perspectives on cultural production being 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).

The emerging discipline of contemporary DIY music production practice, and their practitioners

In summary, prior to my own research study and planned interviews, the contemporary DIY music production practitioners can be said 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).
Note [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. Madonna’s ‘Confessions On A Dancefloor’ album” achieved commercial success reaching the US Music charts (Doyle 2008)
Note [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).
This blog will continue next month History of Music Production Part 5b – Rise of the DIY Practitioner.
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– ©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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