Could home recording doom professional music studios?
Inexpensive home recording equipment helps artists rise from outside the mainstream labels.
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The device “gives a somewhat complete picture of that experience,” he says. “GarageBand has the capability of a studio 20 years ago. It used to be artists had to have some sort of financial backing, there was no way they could do something by themselves that was anywhere near what they could do at a real studio.”Skip to next paragraph
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While music sales are on a steep decline, sales of music hardware like GiO are booming, according to the National Association of Music Merchants, a trade association representing music retailers and manufacturers. Revenue grew to almost $500 million in 2008, from just $140 million in 1999.
Even for musicians who grew up in the analog era, digital audio can play a role in creating music.
Acclaimed Brooklyn-based songwriter Freedy Johnston says that while the spirit of his music is in the singer-songwriter era of the 1970s, he uses GarageBand to record demos and recently purchased Logic to do the same. “As a songwriting tool, it all seems pretty nifty to have all those software instruments clearly labeled,” he says. “It’s like a Fisher Price setup in a way.”
Mr. Johnston says he still prefers to make his albums in traditional studios because he can hear the difference between an instrument plugged into a mixing console and one connected to a computer. But, he says, “for kids with not much money but a whole lot of time and talent to make music,” laptop recording “is only good.”
“It doesn’t mean it’s going to dilute music or make it seem trivial,” he says. “If you give that to anyone with a few cheap Chinese mics, you can still make a masterpiece.”
Social media are grooming the trend. Applications that allow budding musicians to upload new tracks in seconds are not just deconstructing how music is being distributed to the public, they are eliminating the traditional wait time between recording the music and its manufacturing, distribution, and promotion months or even years later.
“There seems to be an emphasis on getting things out quickly via MySpace or Facebook,” says Dan Dietrich, owner of Wall To Wall Recording, a studio in downtown Chicago that specializes in vintage gear, which audiophiles say provides a richer sound. “Seven or eight years ago a band would get money together and go in and make a record [at a studio].… That doesn’t happen as often as much.”
Mr. Dietrich says that while digital music software “is fine as a hobby,” musicians are fooling themselves if they think its sound quality is superior to what you can get in a room with live musicians.
“It might be similar but it’s not the same,” he says. “So I think some of that stuff is useful and a lot of fun [but] some of it’s a racket. You can claim to re-create a vintage compressor but I don’t know anyone who is really convinced.”
For longtime veterans, such as pop songwriter Marshall Crenshaw, who recorded his first album in 1982, laptop studios infect music with an ultimately “plastic sounding” experience. He has never used GarageBand and prefers to make his album in the studio, which he says is “a magical place” because it blocks out distractions and allows for creative clarity.
Mr. Crenshaw argues that the recording industry’s bottom line encouraged the growth of digital music software, but ended up creating the very reason why record sales have declined every year. Consumers, he says, devalue music because the new standards have made it sound so disposable.
“That’s why [the industry] is crashing and burning,” he says. “It’s really a craft. I have a lot of respect for a good recording engineer who can really paint that sonic picture. That person really does a service to humanity, in my opinion. I love to listen to a beautiful sounding recording. That people don’t strive for that anymore ... is a really bad sign for where we’re at as a culture."