Research Practitioner Part 1 – effective and best practice for the contemporary music practitioner

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Standards of effective practice have played an important part in the audio industry, even though these may be challenged by DIY culture and practices. Historically, the music and audio industry’s standards have addressed commercial and technical criteria. In commercial terms a “successful record producer is, by definition, someone who has had multiple hits” (Burgess 1997, 162; Grammy Awards 2015), while technical standards have been formulated through industry bodies such as The Audio Engineering Society (Gibson 2006, 42) and more recently, the Recording Producers and Engineers Wing (2008).

Historical development of practice

The Audio Engineering Society {AES} was formed in 1948 in New York as a governing body, and to offer industry expertise to the developing recording and broadcast industry (AES 2015). A significant outcome of the AES was the creation of standards for which the industry could operate, and that manufacturers of any recording and broadcast industry equipment could comply with. This was very beneficial as the development of certain equipment such as microphones were being constructed with a variety of unique fittings that meant that microphones were not universal, requiring different microphone cables for each manufacturer’s device. The AES was instrumental in influencing a universal standard over time (AES 2015; Huber and Runstein 2010, 111-179). However, the majority of standards developed, were technical or theoretical to audio engineering, not process or workflow-based for the more global discipline of music production (AES 2015). As access was limited to recording studios up until the 1980’s, such music production process or workflow remained to those in the one of the specific skilled roles previously referred to, or as an artist. Practice was aligned to the typical corporate organisational effectiveness objectives, to maximise profitability. Music production practice was controlled by the management of the commercial radio and television studios or the recording studios; the skilled scientists, technicians or manufacturers creating the technology or the processes, with the focus on ‘correct’ use and application of technology, inline with the studio management’s directives of conservatism to preserve the organisational objectives; or the music producers who had successfully produced recordings for artists, contracted to abide by management’s directives to meet the organisational objectives (Robbins et al 2009, 708-710; Burgess 2014, 38-41, 42-55, 82-97; Emerick and Massey 2007, 54).
As technology developed and music production related equipment became available to the prosumer market, user manuals provided by the manufacturer instructing the user how they were best to use the unit was one of the few mediums of effective practice being made available outside of the professional studio environment[1]. One of the first units with such a user manual was for the TASCAM series 144 model Portastudio user manual (TEAC 1979); A decade later, the first industry functional text, sponsored by one of the major manufacturers on the sector was released. Initiated by two audio engineers, arranging sponsorship from the Yamaha Music Corporation to be able to write it, the “Yamaha-The Sound Reinforcement Handbook” was at the time the only comprehensive audio engineering textbook of its kind, and instantly became a standard reference book to the industry (Davis & Jones 1990). The text remained for more than a decade as the only text book comprehensively, outlining audio engineering theory and techniques for ‘sound reinforcement’[2]. The third service and support more recently provided for budding DIY music producers is a range of instructional courses, vocational courses such as the likes of the Australian-based SAE, the School of Audio Engineering (2015), and JMC Academy (2015). In order to teach subject content, audio engineers with studio experience had to be employed to teach the industry standard practices. Whilst it may have taken some decades for this process to become refined and consistent, Burgess confirms their relevance in the discipline: “combined with a proactive DIY approach, a good school program can fill in knowledge gaps and instill a deeper understanding of the fundamentals while increasing awareness of best practices” (Burgess 2013, 35).
The industry to date has only a few disparate best practice documents such as The Recording Producers and Engineers Wing (2008) “Digital Audio Workstation Guidelines for Music Production” advice but it does not comprehensively cover contemporary music production practice. The industry has progressed from the traditional music production model, where exemplars existed across the different roles and skills. However, now within the decentralized music production era, the disparate roles across the music production process tend to be fused and completed by the one person, the contemporary DIY music producer. Music production practitioners have access to a large range of ancillary services and products, such industry trade magazines, texts, forums and blogs. Audio industry magazines such as “Sound on Sound” and “Audio Technology” are recognized as reputable magazines within the audio industry and music production discipline. But do they truly reflect the contemporary music production practice, or are their roots from the traditional music production model causing a widening gap of relevance? Alternative press options such as “Computer Music” (2015) and “MusicTech Focus” magazines have their origins in the development of digital technology. But do their roots limit their relevance by not including the more creative and musical requirements of the contemporary music production practice? Other alternative press includes “Wire”, which focuses more on the cultural and aesthetic aspects of music culture and practice. There is a vast range of support for music practitioners in the form of forums and blogs, with some of these operated by recognised industry professionals[3]. However, many of these are run by hobbyists with well intentioned advice, whilst others are commercially driven, with some of their marketing tactics, products and advice is at best, questionable.

Current practice

Some scholars refer to the current field of DIY music production as being in transition (Hracs, 2012), although it can also be thought of as a fusion or hybrid of two prior developments: that of traditional large format console studio music production and computer-based sound generation. Irrespective of the definition, twenty-first century contemporary DIY music production illustrates the ways that practitioners have broken with previously accepted industry practices, with consensus about effective or best practice now difficult to identify, or indeed where the idea of best practice has been actively challenged through social and cultural changes in the practices of cultural production. As such, the discipline of contemporary DIY music production lacks the infrastructure of an established and mature industry where consensus of what effective practice is, might be found.
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The notion of effective practice [4] originated in business centred on notions of effectiveness, efficiency, and productivity (Montana and Charnov 2000,12; Robbins et al 2009, 313; Griffin 1996). In this way, effective practice is a quantifiable measure and assumes the ‘organisation’ or practice has commercial or technical objectives. In contrast, contemporary DIY music production practitioners may not be motivated by either commercial or technical objectives, and therefore effective practice measures may not apply to many practices within the discipline (Rogers 2013, 168). In fact, contemporary DIY music production is a discipline in which notions of effective practice may actually be actively disregarded due to the perception that other motivations such as creativity, emotional connection and free-spiritedness are more important (McWilliam 2008, 38; Davie 2012, 41). As a result, the term best practice is perhaps more appropriate in the discipline of contemporary DIY music production, bringing with it the idea of benchmarking, or “analysing and copying the methods of the leaders” in the field (Robbins et al 2009, 313). However, without accepted discipline standards, and consensus of what best practice is, it makes it difficult, if not impossible, to accurately and effectively benchmark amongst the discipline and its practitioners. Further, if the contemporary DIY music production practice is lacking in organisational characteristics of a mature industry such as robust management processes and procedures, sophisticated vision and strategic planning, then the contemporary DIY music production practitioner is less likely able to measure quality standards should they exist, nor consciously position their practice within the field in order to optimise the chance of success (Robbins et al 2009, 708-710, 716-717).
Note [1]: The manufacturer’s user manual described ‘effective practice’ for the user to operate that unit safely, following a technically correct process
Note [2]: Sound reinforcement is a term used to describe the live audio industry function which still remains today
Note [3]: Pensado’s Place (2015) is operated by Dave Pansado who has had a recognized audio industry career
Note [4] :The notion of effective practice originated in business and post-War Japan, centred on notions of effectiveness (“doing the right thing”), efficiency (the effort exerted in “doing the right thing”), and productivity (the relationship between input and output) (Montana and Charnov 2000, 12; Robbins et al 2009, 313; Griffin 1996).
This blog series is planned to continue next month with Research Practitioner Part 2.
References
AES. 2015. “Audio Engineering Society (AES) History.” Accessed  May 3,2015
Audio Technology Magazine. 2015 http://www.audiotechnology.com.au Accessed August 15, 2015
Burgess, Richard James. 2014. The history of music production. New York: Oxford University Press.
Burgess, Richard James. 1997. The art of record production. London: Omnibus Press.
Computer Music. 2015. http://www.musicradar.com/computermusic Accessed August 15, 2015
Davie, Mark. 2012. “The diy revolution.” Audio Technology (91): 98.
Davis, Gary and Ralph Jones. 1990. Yamaha-The Sound Reinforcement Handbook. Milwaukee: Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation.
Emerick, Geoff and Howard Massey. 2007. Here, there and everywhere: my life recording the music of the beatles. New York, NY: Gotham Books.
Gibson, Bill. 2006. The s.m.a.r.t. guide to becoming a successful producer/engineer Boston: Thompson Course Technology.
Grammy Awards. 2015. “The 2015 Grammy Awards.” Accessed May 20, 2015. https://www.grammy.com/nominees.
Griffin, RW. 1996. Management. 5th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Hracs, Brian J. 2012. “A creative industry in transition: the rise of digitally driven independent music production.” Growth and Change 43 (3): 442-461.
Huber, David Miles and Robert E Runstein. 2014. Modern recording techniques. 8th ed. Burlington: Focal Press.
JMC Academy. 2015 http://www.jmcacademy.edu.au/?gclid=CN636-HnmcsCFQGbvAod7GoMDQ  Accessed August 15, 2015
McWilliam, Erica. 2008. The creative workforce: how to launch young people into high-flying futures. Sydney: UNSW press.
Montana, Patrick J and Bruce H Charnov. 2000. Management. 3rd ed. Vol. 333, Business Review Books. New York: Barron’s Educational Series.
MusicTech. 2015. http://www.musictech.net Accessed August 15, 2015
Recording Producers and Engineers Wing, The. 2008. “Digital Audio Workstation Guidelines for Music Production.” Accessed May 27, 2015. https://www.grammy.org/files/pages/DAWGuidelineLong.
Robbins, Stephen, Rolf Bergman, ID Stagg and Mary Coulter. 2009. Management 5. Sydney: Pearson Education Australia.
Rogers, I. 2013. “The hobbyist majority and the mainstream fringe: the pathways of independent music-making in Brisbane, Australia.” In Redefining mainstream popular music, edited by Sarah Baker, Andy Bennett and Jodie Taylor, 162-173. New York: Routledge.
SAE. 2015. “SAE Institute.” https://sae.edu.au/ Accessed August 15, 2015
Sound on Sound. 2015 http://www.soundonsound.com Accessed August 15, 2015
Target image courtesy of: http://www.clipartpanda.com/clipart_images/target-skills-53658831 Accessed 15th August, 2015
TEAC. 1979. “TEAC Tascam series: model 144 Portastudio manual”, edited by TEAC Inc. www.tascam.com: TEAC Inc.
Wire. 2015. http://www.thewire.co.uk Accessed August 15, 2015
– ©David L Page 16/08/2015
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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