Outside of live performances, every note of music you’ve heard in your life has been electronically processed before it reaches your ear. Recording, mixing and mastering capture fleeting moments of inspiration, maximize their sonic potential and preserve them in perpetuity. The technology for doing this has constantly evolved since the birth of recorded music in the second half of the 19th century. Portable microphones and tape recorders made it possible to record folk music in open fields and hotel rooms in the 1920s. Later, luxury recording studios were designed to audio-friendly specifications. Eventually, luxury residences were built where artists closed the world for months to immerse themselves in the creative experience. Nowadays, people record music at home on their laptops, download it from the internet and become superstars.
The 2018 documentary Current record defends the professional recording studio and examines how it has been impacted by digital technology, both good and bad. It was directed by Justin L. Fisher, a musician and sound engineer who is a veteran of St. Louis’ SmithLee Productions, a full-service commercial recording studio that has weathered many of the storms currently disrupting the industry. music and recording. It is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime.
Current record describes the recording studio in mythical terms, the sacred mountain where musical ideas are magically transformed into artistic masterpieces. Producer Matt Ross-Spang likens them to “Templar churches,” audio technology professor Mark Rubel calls them “temples of sound,” and studio engineer Jason McEntire describes them as “the safe space an artist can. go”. In theory, the perfect studio should provide an environment where the musician can focus solely on his performance and provide limitless sonic opportunities to ignite his imagination and bring his compositions to life.
In their heyday, recording studios were built from the ground up with clinical precision to maximize their audio quality and comfort level. They required a lot of space and expensive wood for concert halls, isolation booths and control centers. Recording equipment was expensive, and many studios had high-end instruments that musicians themselves couldn’t afford. As engineer Gary Gottlieb tells us, “We could have whatever we wanted. We had all the best studios, we had all the best equipment, the best musicians, the best engineers, the best producers, the best writers. Recording was not cheap and artists were often at the mercy of their labels to fund recording sessions.
Beginning in the 1980s, advances in digital technology made recording both more affordable and more portable. A decade later, digital file sharing would devastate music revenue streams by essentially making all recorded music free. While audio streaming was seen as an updated distribution medium, its current royalty rates only benefit top artists. Recording studios felt the pinch on both sides, as record companies slashed their recording budgets to make up for losses and artists were increasingly able to deliver home recordings good enough for the record. exit.
Producer Eric “Mixerman” Sarafin said, “The music business is just a little microcosm of shit in this whole fucking system right now.” As in many industries, wages have stagnated since the mid-1980s as costs have risen. The key to survival for today’s recording studios has been to adapt. While some studios now offer a wider range of services, from music to television to record making, others have downsized. Is this a perfect solution? No. Has something been lost? Yes. As Gary Gottlieb, a generation of listeners and musicians who have never heard music except on headphones or laptop speakers, notes, “don’t know how good music can sound. quality ”. Unfortunately, many legendary recording studios have closed.
While Current record doesn’t have a dearth of grumpy middle-aged men bemoaning the state of music, he’s also realistic about the direction the industry is going and recognizes the benefits of new technology. The democratizing effect of laptop recording and internet marketing has enabled a new generation of artists who, in the words of Guns N ‘Roses guitarist Richard Fortus, “are unaffected by labels, producers and the people who tell them how it should be ”. Musicality and recording quality suffers sometimes, but not everyone wants to record in state-of-the-art facilities or create flawless recordings. Home recording allows musicians to be “improvised,” according to St. Louis musician Andy White, who says, “It can be cheap and crappy and still have personality.
While Current record doesn’t have a dearth of grumpy middle-aged men bemoaning the state of music, he’s also realistic about the direction the industry is going and recognizes the benefits of new technology.
While Current record‘the intentions are beyond reproach, its execution could be better. Beautifully shot, there’s an overabundance of incredibly smart people saying some really smart things, so much so that it’s reminiscent of a highlight reel rather than a narrative documentary. Around one o’clock, you feel rushed and Fisher would have done well to concentrate on less longer. However, his affection for the subject and his optimism overcomes all flaws. Rather than dwell on an idealized past, the film accepts a complicated future, where the recording studio has grown from “a posh place with beautiful walls and wooden floors,” as Gary Gottlieb puts it, to “n wherever talented people meet and create. “
Benjamin H. Smith is a New York-based writer, producer and musician. Follow him on Twitter:@BHsmithNYC.