How they Have Changed Music Production
The music industry has made many changes over the years. From old style music played on phonographs, to music made purely on a computer, the past century has brought forth incredible technology. Arguably, the biggest change in music production has come in the form of digital audio workstations (DAWs). DAW’s have changed the music industry from being dependent on large music production studios, to being able to happen in anyone’s living room.
The purpose of this paper is to explain the many ways in which DAW’s have impacted the music production industry. In order to find this information, I researched college websites, magazines, newspapers, journals and more to find pertinent information and show the breadth of the changes that have happened. By the end of this paper you will understand how DAW’s have completely changed not only how music is recorded, but where it is recorded, how new artists have been discovered, the cost of recording, and even the level of talent necessary to become a music artist.
How they Have Changed Music Production
Music recording has changed over the years, keeping up with new technologies. I remember the first time I walked into a recording studio as a young person interested in audio engineering. Computers were still fairly new, and they did not have the powerful programs for music that exist today. Recordings were made on large reels. They were pieced together to create the best track out of different takes. While some computer use was involved, it was at its beginning stages, and hardly the overwhelming influence which it is now. Individuals desiring to record music almost had to go to a recording studio, as the equipment to record one’s own music was too costly to purchase. The advent of digital audio workstation (DAWs) has changed the way which music is recorded, thereby making a change in the music industry itself.
DAW’s are more than the software on a computer. They also require certain types of hardware to work correctly. Although people may have varying types of hardware based upon preferences or their specific DAW software, I am going to highlight the basic hardware needs. A basic set-up includes monitor loudspeakers, a MID controller keyboard, microphone, audio/MIDI interface, monitor headphones, an external hard drive, and of course a computer (Wake Forest University, 2015).
Now that we have a basic idea of what a DAW is and how it works, we can look at how the widespread use of DAW’s has changed the way in which we record music. One of the most major changes which DAWs have brought is that of mixing music and making a cut of the best sounds. Where I once would have had to go through hours of magnetic reels, picking out the best parts, and putting them together, this process has completely changed. In fact, Dr. Paul Ramshaw argues that music production is now little more than a composition process (Ramshaw, 2006). Since a lot of music created today is electronic, and uses no instruments outside a keyboard or computer, I can see where Dr. Ramshaw is coming from. As Dr. Ramshaw said in his speech:
Whereas up until the mid 1980’s these skills were once predominantly centred and mediated around a variety of people using analogue production systems, there has been a convergence towardsintegrated digital methods of production that can be managed and operated by a single individual. (2006)
The use of computers has turned what was once a career that required a specially trained group of people into something anyone with a computer can learn to do. Also, what once required an entire band now only requires a few pieces of computer hardware to partner with the DAW software.
The fact that anyone can learn to use DAWs has also changed the face of music production and the music business in general. According to an article in Engineering and Technology magazine, “Veteran and amateur electronic producers alike now have access toof innovative recording, manipulation and production equipmentat low cost in their own home studios, meaning electronic music is produced more quickly and frequently than ever before” (Grogan & Pattison, 2011). Amateur’s abilities to record their own music has given rise to sites such as Spotify, Reddit music, Last FM, Rdio, Earbits, SoundCloud, Twitter Music, Instagram videos, and MySpace (Official Wix Blog | Web Design & Small Business Tips to Promote Your Site, 2013). Instead of sending a demo tape that probably cost thousands to make to various record companies and performing in venues hoping to be recognized by a record label, amateur music artists can record their own music, upload it to various websites, and create their own following. While these actions may or may not lead to a record deal, they can still lead to a lucrative career making music without the need for a record company or someone else’s recording studio. Several major artists which are popular now utilized their own DAWs and various websites to get noticed. These artists include Justin Beiber on YouTube, Soulja Boy on MySpace, Adele on MySpace, Collbie Caillat on MySpace and more (Ali, 2015). These are some of the biggest names in music now, and most would never have been discovered before the advent of DAWs which put the power of recording music into the hands of every artist.
Another change DAWs have brought to music production is the need for musicians. While a general understanding of musical chords and dynamics may be necessary, the need to actually play an instrument such as guitar is not necessary to have a guitar sound in music. In 2012, a program was patented to enable a user to “generate and manipulate string-instrument chord grids in a digital audio workstation” (Buskies, Scunio, Knauff & Adam, 2012). The processor can even the “musical name of the entered string-instrument chord” (Buskies, Scunio, Knauff & Adam, 2012). This is just one program of many that makes it so a person does not have to play an actual instrument in order to get the sound of the instrument on their musical tract. This is in stark contrast to the old studios where each instrument would be played, and then layered together to make the final product. While many artists once played several instruments, that talent is no longer necessary to create a multiple-instrument track.
There has also been a shift in the number of large recording studios which now exist. Studios which recorded real-time on to tape had to be large by necessity (Grogan & Pattison, 2011). When DAWs were initially introduced, the software and hardware was so expensive that only recording studios could afford it (Grogan & Pattison, 2011). Now, DAWs have reduced the space needed to create music to the size of a bedroom, and costs have reduced to the point almost anyone can afford to purchase the necessary equipment (Grogan & Pattison, 2011). Instead of professional studios being necessary, semi-professional is now considered acceptable, as are personal studios (Grogan & Pattison, 2011). A decade ago there was an area in Manhattan which was home to many of the major recording studios, ones I would love to have been able to tour. These studios include major names such as Media Recording, Sony, A&R recording and Hot Factory (Rose, 2009). Hit Factory was one of the most famous recording studios, boasting clients like Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon (Rose, 2009). While the platinum records from these artists still hang in the building, what once was Hit Factory is now a condominium unit (Rose, 2009). Other major recording studios have gone the same way. The major recording studios downfall began with people making their own demos at home, versus going to a big recording studio (Rose, 2009). Finally, record companies slashed the amount they were willing to pay for recording time, making paying rent in high end areas impossible (Rose, 2009). This change has led to many more semi-professional studios in areas that are lower rent.
Also, many of these smaller studios are having to find creative ways in which to attract clientele. Since many people feel they can record at home, fewer are seeking professional help. Brian McTear runs a small recording studio in Philadelphia called Miner Street Recordings (Rose, 2009). In an effort to keep business coming in, he has had to teach bands how to raise money from fans on their website in order to fund a new CD (Rose, 2009). He has even gone so far as to create a non-profit organization called the Weathervane Music Organization, which raises funds and sponsors artists to record one song for free while recording the making of the song (Rose, 2009). Before DAW’s became the standard for equipment for music production, music production companies would never have needed to pursue a customer base. In fact, they often had to turn away business and could pick and choose the artists they wanted to work with, versus taking whatever business that comes their way.
DAW’s have changed how music is stored. The old reels I spoke about are a thing of the past; also meaning that a lot less space is necessary to store music. Now one external hard drive can store thousands of hours of music and take up next to no space. The change in storage also has once again reduced the cost of recording music. I recently purchased a one terabyte hard drive for $45, which can hold approximately 17,000 hours of music (Brown, 2014). This makes storage very inexpensive. Also, the use of cloud storage can be very economical as well. The use of analog reels, on the other hand, can very quickly add up. Assuming a CD has 12 songs on it, 12 initial reels will be needed; safety copies of each reel will then be made before being copied to one master reel (Zager, 2012). Plus, more master reels may need to be made to ship to other studios for over-dubs and mixing (Zager, 2012). Then all of the final takes will be fit onto two reels. I did a google search and found analog reels that are ¼” wide and 1200 feet long cost $22.61. I am sure that a music production company can find a better price, but this is a good representation of the cost of reels. As you can see, the costs of using analog reels can add up very quickly compared to using external hard drives or the cloud. This also does not include the costs of storing the reels.
DAW’s have also fundamentally changed the style and sound of music recordings. It used to be that every time a chorus happened in a song, it had to be sung and recorded. Not now. Now I can just record a chorus once and replay it when necessary within a song (Daly, 2015). This means a lot less takes, but also a lot less variance. This is one of the reasons that a song from the radio sounds so different when performed live now. Live performances do not have the benefit of being re-recorded for the best sound, like the recordings do. In fact, there used to be bands that exclusively recorded live performances. I always loved hearing the story of Kiss and how their live performance recordings were what made them mainstream. Also, more songs use loops since they can easily be replayed in the background of the song, saving editing time (Daly, 2015). DAW’s also make it easy to mashup songs that may have been recorded decades apart and were never made to be put together (Daly, 2015).
As has been demonstrated, DAW’s have significantly changed the landscape of music production. They have reduced the cost of producing music both in hardware, software and storage costs. They have put music making into the hands of the artist, making the large recording studios moot. Also, the sound of modern music has changed in relation to the use of DAWs. What was once a more live sound is now more meted and computerized, making live music sound vastly different than the recorded music. Many people are even able to make music without the ability to play an actual instrument. Also, recording studios have had to become creative in order to have enough clientele to cover their expenses and turn a profit. I know one thing; music production has come a long way from the reels I remember seeing as a child and will continue to change as technology improves. I can see a future of decent quality music recordings being done on iPhones in the future.
Ali, R. (2015). Digital Love: Which Music Artists Were Discovered Online?. VH1 Music News. Retrieved 9 July 2015, from http://www.vh1.com/music/tuner/2013-10-03/10-artists-discovered-internet/
Brown, K., (2014). A Terabyte of Storage Space: How Much is Too Much? | The Information Umbrella. Aimblog.uoregon.edu. Retrieved 9 July 2015, from http://aimblog.uoregon.edu/2014/07/08/a-terabyte-of-storage-space-how- much-is-too- much/#.VZ7tmEb27Vs
Buskies, C., Scunio, A., Knauff, M., & Adam, C. (2012). Patent US8269094 - System and method to generate and manipulate string-instrument chord grids in a digital audio workstation. Google Books. Retrieved 9 July 2015, from https://www.google.com/patents/us8269094
Daly, B. (2015). The DAW and the End Of Time | DNA Music Labs. Dnamusiclabs.com. Retrieved 9 July 2015, from http://www.dnamusiclabs.com/node/9643
Earsketch.gatech.edu,. (2015). Introduction to DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) « EarSketch. Retrieved 9 July 2015, from http://earsketch.gatech.edu/learning/intro-to-daw/introduction-to-daws- digital-audio-workstations
Grogan, A., & Pattison, L. (2011). Music production in the 2010s - E & T Magazine. Eandt.theiet.org. Retrieved 9 July 2015, from http://eandt.theiet.org/magazine/2011/11/todays-producers.cfm
Ramshaw, P. (2006). Is Music Production now a Composition Process?. In First Annual Conference on the Art of Record Production. London: First Annual Conference on the Art of Record Production.
Rose, J. (2009). Recording Studios Face Uncertain Future. NPR.org. Retrieved 9 July 2015, from http://www.npr.org/2009/12/10/121304883/recording-studios- face-uncertain-future
Official Wix Blog | Web Design & Small Business Tips to Promote Your Site,. (2013). 10 Great Places to Share Your Music Online. Retrieved 9 July 2015, from http://www.wix.com/blog/2013/07/promote-your-music/
Wake Forest University,. (2015). Digital Sound and Music. Retrieved 9 July 2015, from http://csweb.cs.wfu.edu//Setting_Up_Your_Digital_Audio_Workstation.pdf
Zager, M. (2012). Music production. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press.