Marketing Your Music In The Digital World (Part 3 of 3)

"In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity."
Albert Einstein

Unique Recording Studios, a 26 year old studio that created recorded albums and hits from Kanye West, Alicia Keys, Taylor Dayne, Depeche Mode, George Benson, Pet Shop Boys, Level 42, Michael Bolton, Bruce Springsteen, Jimmy Cliff, Cher, George Clinton and a host of recording artists great and small …….. closed.

Bennett Studios, headquarters of Grammy winning Engineer Dae Bennett and the place where hits from Tony Bennett, Rob Thomas, Teddy Riley, K.D. Lang, Lady Gaga, the late Amy Winehouse, Josh Groban and many others came from …….. closed

Olympic Studios, where the great Jimi Hendrix recorded Purple Haze, The Rolling Stones recorded six albums, Phil Collins recorded the drum track for In The Air Tonight ……. is now a cinema.

Sarm Studios, where Bob Marley recorded what is arguably his most important album, ‘Exodus’ ….. converted to flats, offices and townhouses.

Abbey Road Studios, home of The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Hollies, Badfinger and many others ….. was put on sale in 2009 until the British Government protected the site granting it English Heritage Grade II listed status in 2010.

And the list goes on, and on ……

Granted there are large and medium sized recording studios that are still alive and doing well (not only in the United States and England but in other countries) but there is a noticeable decline towards the use of these kind of studios to record and produce creative works. There are many factors that lead to this conclusion (the changes in the music industry, budgetary concerns, the economy of a given country or creative sector, the mere cost of running a studio of that size) but I want to focus on one particular aspect of the music industry …. the rise of the ‘small’ or ‘home’ recording studio.

bennett_pianoThis rise is significant due to the fact that the cost of professional-grade recording equipment has been steadily dropping and the online accessibility of information about recording techniques, building and acoustically treating a room for recording purposes, the use of recording software (legally brought or pirated – another discussion topic for another day) and the employ of online mastering services. This dramatically drops the cost of creating music. Add the fact that due to the high influx of persons who, having access to recording software (free, brought or pirated), are now flooding the airwaves and online distribution services with self-produced works therefore bypassing the need to book time in larger recording studios and you can see how this can adversely affect the incomes of these facilities and the wealth of talent that work there. Dae Bennett, former owner of Bennett studios agrees with this view “I’ve been doing this for over thirty years, and I’ve been through many ups and downs.” … “The economic downturn, combined with the collapse of the music industry, was a little more than I could get through. We managed to stay busy, but the industry itself isn’t trending well.” … “We tried to hold the rates as much as we could, but the costs keep increasing.” … “The energy costs have literally doubled over the last three years. Without the record companies being interested in records anymore, the math doesn’t add up.”

The argument can be put forth that this wealth of talent (from award-winning producers and recording engineers to established recording artists)  just have to ‘go with the times’ and create their own small or home studios. Many have already done so and have produced commercial-grade recordings.

Is there an easy solution to this? … or an even bigger question … Is there a solution in the first place? I personally do not know. I have been privileged to work at both commercial and home-grown production outlets throughout my career and the mere fact is that most of the general public, to put it very bluntly, does not care where the music is produced as long as it sounds good and moves them. The general audience only cares about the end product and not necessarily the process. There are MANY cases where large recording studios have produced works that failed in the marketplace.

There are many sides to this issue and we may not have time to analyze all the reasons in this one reading. Feel free to post your views on this matter. As I said this is just one view (of many) as to WHY the era of big budget recording studios, though still relevant for certain projects, are still on the decline.

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10 Replies to “Marketing Your Music In The Digital World (Part 3 of 3)”

  1. Well said, Navid.
    You have just about summed it up.

    As a producer, I tend to lean toward the “old school” of traditional recording studios; but we are in a business where at times we have to “go with the flow” even if we like it or not.

    And yes, for the most part and for a variety of reasons record companies are not really interested in records anymore and the costs of running a high quality studio have become very expensive to operate, especially with all of the new digital technology changing at a rapid pace.

    When I prepare a budget for a project, I now look for ways to offset those type of costs and it is not easy. But no way can you compromise professionalism and integrity. It is almost like being a juggler and trusting that a ball does not drop.

    1. Hello Neil how are you?

      I am in full agreement with your comments. It may be easier to have access to hardware/software to create music but at the end of the day ‘quality is quality’. That is the bottom line. In fact at times I think it is even more difficult now to run a studio (regardless of size) because of the proliferation and increased access to what was once deemed an overtly ‘specialized’ craft. It may seem now that anybody who can download a free software can call themselves a ‘music producer’. This, just like any profession, takes years of dedication and hard work. As you said, there is “… no way can you compromise professionalism and integrity …”.

      I see from your website you are from Nashville, USA. Awesomeness!! All the best in your endeavours from Trinidad & Tobago in the Caribbean (where I’m located).

      Much blessings.
      Navid.

  2. A great article, I also have worked in large and small studios with world class acts, and always when in Large studios BBC MV3 or Abbey Road, etc. I find that the result is arrived at faster. My latest album was a Steel Orchestra (pans) Melodians UK Album title Melodians Magic, the entire album was recorded in one day that’s a 33 piece Orchestra and 12 Tracks. It is impossible to do that in a small studio obviously and finding a studio left me with only a choice of 2 within budget in London, the remaining 2 were either booked or too expensive. All i can add is What a great day. It will be sad when the remaining studios close and the skills that have been learned are lost forever.

    1. Thank you for liking the article. Interesting that you said you recorded a steel orchestra (kindly go to my ‘Albums’ link on my website – you would see Panorama Finals 2012 and Panorama Finals 2011). Those instruments need a lot of room for them to be recorded properly (the natural reverb). I’m glad the recording session went well. Luckily, the skills won’t be entirely lost forever. There would still be a need for larger studios (albeit the number of them have been reduced in the US and UK, there are still a good few in other countries). For example film composers (at least the larger ones in the industry), though they initially compose and play their music via software often record using a live orchestra. As you know there is an undeniable, almost intangible quality in recording acoustic instruments and capturing a musician in the moment.

      All aspects of the industry has changed and will continue to change. It is my hope that, as the disruption of the industry continues, we would be able to adapt while still maintaining the high quality of the craft we have worked so hard to achieve.

    1. I have a few ideas but I would need some information from you. For example
      (1) Do you have access to a studio (not necessarily a large studio) that can record an actual piano? Notice I did NOT say keyboard – you said piano music so I am assuming that is what you mean.
      (2) If not is the piano situated in a hall? That brings up a lot of other questions especially in terms of acoustics.
      (3) Most importantly – do you have access to the personnel with the correct mikes, knowledge AND experience to record faithfully (no colouring of the recorded sound) the instrument? Look at their track record, see who their clients are. Listen to their past works. It may be better to find a producer who specializes in recording (and have a love for) this kind of music. As I said before, you want to capture the sound faithfully. Anyone can press a record button but to capture a sound, a moment, is a different thing altogether.

  3. I’m not sure major studios are very accepting of indie projects, meaning, they seem to hold out for the big guns and the 200k budgets.

    I attempted recording at Avatar last year and the end result was a complete disaster. Let me say this; I’m not out to bash Avatar, and I’m definitely not whining about ‘poor me’, but if there were ever a time I felt invisible, it happened by trying to use a major studio for my indie project.

    My masters were on 2”tape, so that alone tells you how long it had been since I stepped in the studio. I had the good fortune of working with Bobby Nathan (rocks) in other settings, so I did my recording at Unique many years ago, bass, drums, and guitars only. Since then I’ve kept my 2” masters in the right conditions, the right temperature, and even rotated the reels as told. Nothing can cheat mother time, though, and it seemed I needed to bake the tapes in order to transfer everything to digital. My decision to use Avatar was based on them having the right equipment. I dropped off my masters for Avatar to review.

    I found it tough to communicate with Avatar, and I’m guessing because I wasn’t dropping the big bucks, but I was willing to spend my 5K at Avatar in the hopes of completing my project. There was a lot of waiting on my part. My follow-ups were replied to, but not with clarity. Eventually I stated I needed to get my masters back and move on. That’s when I got a reply saying, “I thought we were waiting on you.” I decided to ignore that statement, especially since I’ve reviewed the email thread and knew that was complete BS. Better to just move forward. Then I received another email saying the transfer could be done without baking the tapes, meaning the 2” masters were in good enough shape to start recording.

    I was assigned an engineer and went in to do the transfers—from 2” tape to digital. The kid (engineer) was nice, but not so proficient, nor did he have a trained ear, meaning I heard some drags and lulls in the music and I was the one who I spoke up. The kid was receptive and did his best to get a clean transfer. Again, I’m not blaming the engineer; I’m a firm believer that the final product is a result of the decisions made by the artist, regardless of advice or suggestions.

    It was painstaking process, and probably one of the most stressful situations I’d encountered, but hours later; the transfers were done. My point here: I’m paying top dollar for the time, but not receiving top attention.

    Then it was back to waiting, attempting to get studio time and start laying down new tracks. After several weeks of waiting, this time I did move on and found a smaller studio in midtown.

    Before I could start recording, though, the new engineer had to work magic with the songs, because there were even more lulls and dragging throughout the new digital masters, off-pitch sections I hadn’t caught during the transfer. Ultimately my fault, but isn’t that an engineer’s job—to catch the goofs? I felt fortunate that Reed at Greene Street caught every mistake and brought it to my attention. New technology came in handy, but it was time consuming and costly. At this point I haven’t even started recording yet, and my budget is dwindling.

    Eventually, it was time to start recording. I did one take after another in some places, trying my best to figure out why the pitch seemed off, even after charting and scoring with other software. I’ll be the first to admit I’m no Bob Geldof, and my playing won’t stop you in your tracks, but I’m a seasoned musician, classically trained, and this ain’t my first barbeque.
    Seems the problem of dragging was deeper than I had ever anticipated. Reed did more repairs and we moved forward.

    I attempted hiring a top-notch producer in upstate New York to do the final mix. After taking a listen, he said he couldn’t work with the masters because of all the repairs. Basically, the transfers were a Franken-fuck.

    Now I’m in-between a rock and a hard spot, trying to decide if I should scrap everything and start over, or keep fine tuning. Since I had reached 3K, we decided to run each song through another program that was much more precise than human ears. The only thing I insisted on was no auto-tune. I’m old school and that’s that. Sucks to be me because we had to adjust a few notes to match the repairs. Stab me in the eye.

    Recording music is work, and anyone who believes it’s a joyride is in for a rude awakening, but there’s nothing (to me) more exciting and stimulating than stepping into the studio to capture the magic of a song. I’m proud of my final product, even though my voice is clearly tense. I can’t help but wonder how this project would have been treated had I got a concerned studio on board. If the day comes where I happen to get some more funds, I’ll definitely go in and clean things up. For now, I’m pimping my goods and getting decent feedback.

    Lesson one; bake the tapes, man. Just do it—regardless. It was obvious Avatar hadn’t even listed to the masters. Lesson two; there are plenty of great engineers out there who are eager to go above and beyond in order to record a decent project. Lesson three; little chunks of cash can add up. Maybe the big studios would benefit by remembering my 5K would have paid their light bill.

    So, to make a long story longer, could that be partly why the big studios are going under—as in, they don’t respect smaller projects?

    1. Thank you for responding to my article. Listening you your music now on your website (I’m on ‘You Were Mine’ now). I like what I’m hearing.

      Very sorry you’ve had that experience with a large studio. Operating a studio, regardless of size, is part of the service-industry. A person who treats their customer right will get repeat business and referrals. Great advice regarding the baking of tapes. If possible, besides finding out what equipment a studio has to do the job, a person can find out how they treat customers through testimonials or better yet if they know any other people who went though that studio to find out about their experience (turnover of deliverables, making the client comfortable, etc).

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