History Music Production Part 6 – DIY Culture & Music

Musical styles (Genre) studies exemplifying changing practice in music production

I provide some examples of contemporary DIY music production practitioners, chosen because of the following: their presence in public mediums; are considered a source of information and influence to the wider music production field; are practitioners who have rejected traditional recording practice, in favour of DIY Music Production practice; and have exhibited characteristics of DIY culture. Due to the diversity of the contemporary DIY music production practitioner and their musical style (genre) interests, I have included examples from three contrasting musical styles (genres): indie rock, electronic music production, and hybrid musical styles.

1. Musical style (Genre) Study A: Music production practices in indie rock

Dandy Warhols and Tame Impala

Similar to a few artists since the 1950’s (Burgess 2014, 52-53; Emerick and Massey 2006, 306; Burgess 2014, 93), Dandy Warhol’s were signed to a record label, achieved ‘commercial success’, completed their record company contractual obligations, and rejected traditional production practice to self-produce. They procured physical space, carried out DIY renovations, and improvised production using assorted technology[1] (Davie 2012, 46-50; Dandy Warhols 2010). Total oversight provided flexibility, allowing choice of technology choice, how it was to be applied, and to what standards they aspired to – commercial, technical, creative, affective or social. “The rise of more affordable digital recording rigs and easier programming protocols represents a democratisation of technology, making available a process that was once accessible only through the facilities and skills provided by a recording studio” (Leyshon 2009,1309). Musician, songwriter, producer Kevin Parker {aka Tame Impala} – a contemporary DIY music production practitioner with commercial, creative and affective practice motives, has “total disregard for convention”. Similar to the Dandy Warhols, Parker prefers to experiment, producing Tame Impala’s 2012 “Lonerism” in a rented apartment with a range of technology of varying quality. Not necessarily following efficient practice, Parker’s openly disregards accepted technical processes and standards. The album received critical acclaim, described as “cosmic mangling of sound and makeshift technique”. Parker’s production and post-production skills “are sought-after by like-minded artists”: artists, who no doubt, aspire to non-convention and preparedness to deviate from accepted industry standards (Davie 2012, 44-45; Tame Impala. 2012).

2.Musical style (Genre) Study B: Music production practices in electronic music production

Danger Mouse and Goyte

Brian Burton {aka Danger Mouse[2]} experimented with the sampling process of the day[3] by fusing two well-known albums[4], and shared it with his local community. Connecting to his creative, affective and social practice motives, the community responded, shared it online with the broader community, attracting the attention of the US authorities for Danger Mouse’s breach of copyright[5] (Gunderson 2004). Much conversation and debate ensured, attracting more attention, and his ‘remix’ went ‘viral’. Danger Mouse’s name became infamous to both consumers and music industry establishment as a production talent (Johnsen et al 2007; Väkevä 2010, 61-66). Affirming the ‘possibilities’ of DIY, the ‘event’ influenced aspiring practitioners, inspiring them to similar innovative and creative acts in their attempt to gain notoriety, and “stand out in the crowd” (Hracs et al. 2013, 1144, 1149). Building on his prior releases, Danger Mouse experienced a rapid rise to fame and respect as a production practitioner (Davie 2014, 38; Duckworth 2005, 148). Similarly, DIY Wally de Backer {aka Goyte} wanted to build upon his prior releases and explore a new level of creative and affective practice for his third album by incorporating original acoustic samples into the process[6]. Recording samples in his project studio using a range of technologies[7], Goyte created a range of virtual instruments, able to be played in unique ways that the original acoustic instruments could not have[8]. By “virtualizing the instrument this way”, Goyte was able to create sonic qualities or textures not previously heard. The production received critical acclaim and awards worldwide (Goyte 2011). Additionally, as a prosumer Goyte used technology as he desired, choosing to record below high-fidelity standards (Davie 2015, 34): “some songs I sang into the microphone of the MacBookPro – for whatever reason it sounded really good in that room and I left it in the final mix” (Holder 2011). Today’s developed technology allows 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). The portable studio has enabled a new environment for DIY production (Huber and Runstein 2014, 78).

3. Musical style (Genre) Study C: Hybrid music production practice

Brian Eno & Trent Reznor

Early in his career, Eno recognized a fundamental difference between live performance and studio practice in the way music moved from a “transient and ephemeral experience, to one that could be replayed as many times as one had access to the recording” (2004, 127). Having multiple listening opportunities with recorded productions allowed the brain to hear different elements and dimensions of the composed music, each time a track is listened to. Approaching the “studio as an instrument in order to create new sonic worlds”, Eno focussed on creating multi-dimensional sonic and textural narratives, to entertain the listener and to hold the consumer’s attention each time they revisited that particular track (2004,127). Rejecting traditions of music and audio industry training and standards, Eno commenced self-producing music reflecting his creative and affective desires. Creator of the ‘ambient music’ genre (Eno 1982; Tamm 1995), Eno likens his practice to that of a painter, “working directly with a material, working directly on a substance”. A contemporary practitioner has exponentially greater options available to them[9], without the need for compositional and instrumental skill and training as required a decade ago (Eno, 2004, 127 -129). Similarly, Reznor rejected traditional production practice early, choosing instead a hybrid approach of analogue and digital working environments to drive Nine Inch Nails’ economic, creative, affective and social practice desires. Using a range of instruments, sonic qualities and textures and workflows from diverse genres, he created ‘industrial rock’ (Nine Inch Nails 2008; Wikström 2013; Anderson 2008; Young and Collins 2010, McIntyre 2012,149). Motivated by a rapidly decentralizing industry, Reznor embraced new opportunities, proactively engaging the consumer, inviting them to interact in the production process (Stone 2009; Väkevä 2010, 61). Reznor‘s acceptance and openness for change allowed for “new forms of artistry” (Väkevä 2010, 59; Anderson 2008). The “relationship between audience, producer, and artist fundamentally changed with the digitalization of music”. Prosumers no longer considered the elements of production and distribution of cultural productions “as separate functions or responsibilities, but as one process” (Miller 2013, 37). Technology enabled and encouraged access to music production for just about anyone. In turn, the contemporary prosumer interacted with the developing technology in creative or experimental ways, differently to their predecessors or how the manufacturers had intended (Tepper and Hargittai 2009, 233). Such misuse of technology, likely to be the result of either disregarding or not knowing what were previously accepted standards, often reveal innovative sonic textures that capture the imagination of peers or consumers, such as the use of Autotune when used by the producers of Cher, and later adopted by T-Pain as a vocal signature (Antares 2015; Neyfakh 2014; Sillitoe 1999). As both Eno and Reznor demonstrated, use of alternative technology or practice {creative, affective, social or effective practice}, derived from development or innovation, influences new genres of music to emerge (Langford 2010, 15). Such creativity and innovation is essential for the health and longevity of the discipline, and irrespective of the status of the practitioner, every one contributes to its development. Creativity and innovation “occurs in the plethora of smaller firms representing a multitude of cultures and subcultures, … where new ideas result from experimentation” (Moran 2011,63): “most of the real business of music production starts at the local level, where creativity blossoms in a myriad of different forms” (Wallis 2001, 11).


Contemporary DIY music production practice has been profoundly influenced with the increasing decentralisation in the audio and music industry since the 1980’s via a range of factors including: the development and adoption of digital recording technologies, and; the exponential influence of global communication networks on music production and consumption practices. Following these factors, DIY perspectives on cultural production have become particularly influential in music production, in many ways redefining the field today. Enabled by these factors, contemporary DIY music production practitioners are and rebellious practitioners with eclectic backgrounds, musical tastes and skill levels. 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 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.
Due to the relative immaturity of the discipline, the diverse and eclectic nature of the contemporary DIY Music Production practitioner, and the shortage of detailed information describing process, an opportunity exists for a discipline endorsed research study into the practices of a range of contemporary DIY music production practitioners. This should be conducted with the goal of developing accepted standards and a model of contemporary DIY music production ‘best practice’ principles, to offer genuine guidance and support to contemporary DIY music production practitioners in the pursuit of their practice, irrespective of their motivation, or combination of motivations, for creative, affective, effective or social practice.
[1] The Dandy Warhols use an eclectic assortment of analogue, digital and virtual equipment, in addition to just about any device that they can see a possibility of creating new and interesting sonic qualities or textures (Davie 2012, 46-50).
[2] Danger Mouse is an example of a contemporary DIY music production practitioner, who commenced as an acoustic musician (Burton is an accomplished drummer), and then found a ‘voice’ in the DIY world of self-production within his bedroom project studio (Davie 2014, 38-43). Danger Mouse “had already released four CD mixes” prior to the ‘Grey Album’ event (Gunderson 2004)
[3] Known as Remixing, this aesthetic practice commenced in an early form in the late 1970s when dance venues started to gain popularity. Initially, DJs used two turntables to play the danceable sections of different songs, omitting the less danceable parts of songs, by alternating the album and track they were playing. Artists then saw an opportunity to have their songs ‘extended’ for the dance market, by re-recording a dance version, altering the structure of the song[3], in order for it to be more conducive to dance venues. This then led to the development of a ‘dance’ genre. With the development of digital technologies and portable tape machines, DJ’s took the dance idea, and started using a selection of well-known samples from previous hit records[3], in a very repetitive way. Known as sampling, it has continued to develop exponentially, especially as technologies developed to include virtual technologies. What was once restricted to DJ’s syncing abilities, record companies, and via tape playing devices, could now be done easily within a virtual digital audio workstation (DAW). The technology was now whatever a practitioner wanted it to be: in its original intended use as a multi-track recorder, or; as a studio; or, as an instrument. Such diversity of use enabled the proliferation of the genre: remixing. Essentially mixing, or blending two released tracks together, required little to no instrument skill, just a ‘feel’ for what sounded good to them. Access to technology now allowed practitioners to pursue ‘affective practice’, following their emotion, allowing their creativity to produce anything they could dream or imagine. Universal in moving people to engage with music is the emotional aspect (Bennett 2005, 117; Hodges and Sebald 2011, 68).
[4] Known as the “Grey album”, it was an innovative fusion of the Beatles’ “White Album” and Jay-Z’s “Black Album” (Davie 2014, 34).
[5] Danger Mouse, demonstrating characteristics synonymous with DIY culture, had not sought the owners permission before he attempted his remix, and then supplied it publically. The fact that it was not sold, and Danger Mouse nor his friends stood to make no income out of the sharing of the product meant that in theory he was not breaching copyright (Gunderson 2004).
[6] Goyte had made his first two albums using samples from prepared sample libraries. For his third album ,Goyte wanted to record acoustic samples to use within his digital instruments, effectively creating unique instruments (Goyte 2011).
[7] Goyte used both a MacBookPro and a multi-track reel to reel recorder (Goyte 2011)
[8] Goyte used innovative processing techniques to create a range of virtual instruments, played in ways that the original acoustic instruments could not have – rhythmically, harmonically and even melodically (Goyte 2011)
[9] Greater music production options, in terms of diverse sample libraries and both digital and virtual instruments that can bend, morph, twist, transpose, delay, or reverse any original signal that is fed into it
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Antares. 2015. “Auto-tune.” Accessed May 7, 2015. http://www.antarestech.com.
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Eno, Brian. 1982. Ambient 4: on land. Editions EG. Compact Disc.
Gotye. 2011. “Making, making mirrors – a short documentary.” Accessed May 5, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ZXLyeatI0s&list=PL2qcTIIqLo7WEHIeJ0s2Y21jgIKoQahkD&index=64.
Goyte. 2011. Making Mirrors. Eleven May 5, 2015. Compact Disc.
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Hewitt, Michael. 2008. Music theory for computer musicians. Boston: Cengage Learning Course Technology.
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Holder, Christopher. 2011. “Goyte.” Audio Technology (84): 98.
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Neyfakh, Leon. 2014. “The Sadness of T-Pain.” Accessed June 7, 2015. http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-sadness-of-t-pain.
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Väkevä, Lauri. 2010. “Garage band or GarageBand®? Remixing musical futures.” British Journal of Music Education 27 (01): 59-70.
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– ©David L Page 28/08/2015
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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