Professional studios have been around for several decades now. The democratization of music production has changed everything. Many big studios had to shut their doors. Lots of artists produce their own music with quite some success.
So why the hell do we still need professional studios?
Well, to some extent I think we don’t need them anymore. At least not in a traditional sense. Okay, there are still the dinosaurs and billboard-popstars and they will most likely spend a considerable amount of time and money in one of those sacred halls (called traditional recording studios). But this doesn’t apply to the majority of artists.
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Enter the real world of the 2018 recording industry
It will probably look more like this: A band decides to record their debut album with some borrowed microphones in their backyard. It doesn’t sound perfect but the message, their style, and attitude come through and the recordings sound kind of charming. A few weeks later, their buddy who has a (probably pirated ;-)) copy of ProTools is willing to mix and master the songs. And guess what, it sounds alright, though it has some obvious flaws.
It could also look like this: A 21-year-old DJ starts getting bored with beat matching two songs and starts to dig into Ableton Live (probably also a pirated copy from a friend ;-)). At first, the tracks sound nothing like she wants them to. She messes around with EQs, compressors, limiters and tries to learn how to get a decent sound by watching hours of YouTube tutorials. After months of frustration, her tracks start to sound better and better. She finally decides to put her first EP up on SoundCloud and even though the sound doesn’t reach its full potential, she builds a first fanbase and gets featured on her favorite blog.
The limits of DIY
So who needs professional studios these days if artists can achieve decent results on their own? Well, let’s have a look at the following scenario: The band from the example before has gained some experience after releasing their debut album. They’ve played their first real tour, sold about 200 physical copies of their record (CDs, Vinyl) and received 15.000 views on their self-produced video. Not too shabby, but still far away from stardom (as this article by the DIY musician blog will tell you). A small indie label is showing some interest because the guy from the local record shop forwarded a copy of the album to his best mate, the label owner.
Now the band wants to take their next release to a new level in terms of songwriting and production. After trying to get the desired results on their own they suddenly realize that they’ve hit a roadblock. Though the recording sounds good, they can’t get the mixes to sound convincing enough to satisfy their ambitions. Moreover, in order to impress the label owner, they need to show a clear improvement.
This is a perfect example where professional studios (including talented, hard-working engineers/producers) can add a lot of value to the production. Obviously, that band will most likely not be able to pay for one of the big, traditional recording spaces. But chances are good that they will be able to afford a passionate freelance engineer to mix and master their record. Since the band is quite talented, he agrees to help them with production and songwriting (as part of the overall deal) since this album might be a fantastic addition to his portfolio.
Our DJ from the second example also wants to take her next EP to another level. The blog offers her an in-depth interview including a track presentation for her next release. She agrees and decides to also start her own label together with a friend. Since she becomes more and more interested in the engineering/production side of things and wants to do the mix and master on her own. But just like the band, our producer-DJ hits a roadblock. YouTube tutorials had been a fantastic start but they couldn’t answer the in-depth questions she’s now facing. This is why she seeks help and hires an experienced producer/engineer for a personal mixing and mastering masterclass where she finally finds answers to
all most 😉 of her questions.
The role of professional studios has changed – for good!
Have you noticed what both examples have in common? The engineer or producer had to step out of the traditional role. It’s not only about providing technical services or creative advice. It’s about facilitating the artists’ next big step, whatever this might be. The means to achieve this goal can be different: From co-producing a rehearsal-space DIY recording to offering 1 on 1 classes in mixing and mastering.
From audio service provider to facilitator
Engineers and producers need to rethink their roles and ask themselves how they can take their clients’ careers to the next level in a way that suits them best. In my opinion, this is a positive development. We’re all focusing on more a tailor-made approach to achieve a common goal: Create great sounding music that people truly care about.
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