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

Following substantial technological development from the late 1960s to today, music practice has diversified exponentially in a variety of social and cultural contexts (Wallis 2001; Watson and Shove 2008). Limited access to major corporate record label and broadcasting studios in the 1970’s and 1980’s aligned with the broader social and cultural developments of DIY culture from the 1970s, and with the ever-increasing available range of technology. This enabled the process of music creation and production to exponentially develop, with musicians in the new era of project and portable studios, emerging as a new generation of music practitioners (Theberge 1997, P3; Hracs 2012). Increased access to digital recording and production technology has enabled aspiring music practitioners from diverse backgrounds and interests to participate in a do-it-yourself (DIY) capacity, resulting in a significantly more fragmented industry (Kuznetsov and Paulos 2010; Spencer 2005; Moran 2011; Watson 2014). Wallis (2001, 13) observed that practitioners’ access to user-friendly technology has “resulted in many creative artistic talents achieving a high degree of IT literacy, leading to an even broader market”. Music production technology is now accessible to most people who has any degree of interest in music practice, irrespective of their social status or professional role, their musical or sonic training or experience, or the social and cultural context. This enables a truly diverse and eclectic music practice society (Burgess 1997, 34; Rogers 2013). Practitioners now access and use broad range of music production and instrument technology, have vastly different workflows, for a broader range of music styles, and use a range of creative locations to create their EP’s. This diversity of practice now exemplifies contemporary industry (Ritzer and Jurgenson 2010; Purdue et al. 1997). As a result, recorded music is now created in ways that contrast with previous models, where cultural products resulted from established industrial hierarchies and imperatives (Burgess 1997).
AE Project Studio
Multiple options to play and produce music have implications on what elements of music production are used at any point in time: the creative technologies that can be used, the music style that emerges naturally out or certain technology, the creative location that practice occurs within, and the practice workflow. Further, as practitioners tend to assume all of these creative labour roles in their home-style project studios, contemporary music practitioners continue to extend their knowledge, skill level and technology, in obvious contrast with previous models (Izhaki 2013; Théberge 1997).
With the fragmentation of the industry, and the attracting diverse peoples in music practice, the contemporary practitioner’s motivations to practice music have also diversified. Rogers’ study highlighted varying orientations of motive amongst participants: professional, semi-professional, emerging and several non-commercial aspirational levels – including amateur or hobbyist practices. By far, the largest group was the amateur category (2013, 168). The term amateur is adopted “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).
With DIY perspectives on cultural production being particularly influential in music practice, in many ways redefining the field today (Frith 1992; Watson and Shove 2008; Watson 2014; Ritzer and Jurgenson 2010; Purdue et al. 1997), traditional standards of practice are now being challenged. Music industry standards (Burgess 1997, 162; Grammy Awards 2015; Gibson 2006, 42; Recording Producers and Engineers Wing 2008) appear to be less valued by DIY music practitioners. Notions of effective practice appears to be actively disregarded due to the DIY practitioners prioritizing of motivations such as creativity, emotional connection, networking, and free-spiritedness (Hracs, 2012; Kuznetsov and Paulos 2010). Burgess found contemporary music practitioners are likely to be: self-taught, and of a ‘discoverer’ learning style (2013, 29); with a preparedness to reject accepted industry practice (eg: technical or music style standards); and a willingness to borrow at will any music or sonic characteristics from other cultural approaches to fuse into their practice, leading to “unprecedented diversity” (Rogers 2013, 168; McWilliam 2008, 38; Davie 2012, 41).
With this diversity comes the portability of both production and performance technology. For example; producing a full EP on a beach, only needing to retreat to a location to get some electricity when my laptop battery runs empty; dance festivals in a forest where the artists arrive with as little gear as a laptop, or perhaps a USB stick and perform in front of 1,000 people for up to several hours; or, as a result of the technological developments, a new music style emerges because practitioners use the digital virtual technology as an instrument and performance tool, rather than for what it was originally designed for by the manufacturer {data management} (Hewitt 2008, xv). One of the best examples of this would be the creation of electronic music and its sub-genres of Electronic dance music, trance music and chill music.
It could also be stated that in Electronic Music Production (EMP), musicians and producers generally use portable technology, accessing synthetic or digital instruments, and compose typically in a structured process (Gunderson 2004; Johnsen et al 2007; Davie 2014, 38; Duckworth 2005, 148; Goyte 2011a; Goyte 2011b; Davie 2015, 34; Holder 2011; Huber and Runstein 2013, 78). In contrast, Indie Rock musicians and producers generally use project studios, access acoustic or electric instruments, and quite often compose in an organic process (Emerick and Massey 2006, 306; Burgess 2014, 93; Dandy Warhols 2010; Leyshon 2009, 1309; Davie 2012, 44-45; Tame Impala. 2012).
Unlike the traditional motive of commercial – volume sales – success, the new amateur’s motives are diverse, and yet highly motivated, possessing an impassioned commitment to their practice, with a high level of focus on developing their knowledge, skill level and technology.
This blog will continue next month History of Music Production Part 6 – DIY Culture & Music.
References
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Prior, Nick. 2010. “The rise of the new amateurs: Popular music, digital technology and the fate of cultural production.” Handbook of cultural sociology. London: Routledge: 398-407. 
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– ©David L Page 05/08/2015
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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