The Importance of Quality Recordings to Industry Success and the Role of a Non-Profit Recording Studio in an Independent and Localized Musical Market
by Joshua Paul Greene
For a long time, the process of producing and distributing records was confined to the finances, skills and facilities of major record labels. And though independent artists and local bands had limited access to primitive recording equipment, they didn’t stand a chance against the international distribution network of label executives. However, in the last ten years, technological advancements have opened a Pandora’s box of cost-effective user-friendly audio equipment and these days, you’d be hard pressed to find a musician that hasn’t, at some point, recorded themselves.
What’s more, the Internet has made it possible for any independent artist or band with an inkling of tech savvy to attain affordable international distribution in a matter of minutes. These major shifts in Industry practice, along with poor marketing decisions, short-sighted budgeting and a slew of unfavorable legal disputes have left a large percentage of major labels gasping desperately for their last breath of air before going under.
So what does this mean for the future of the music business? This means that control over recorded music is soon going to be landing squarely on the shoulders of the musicians themselves. No longer will the artist have to answer to label executives to determine if their record is palatable to the general public and no longer will the record label hire a producer to make the kind of record they think they can sell. This day has been a long time coming, and the possibilities are exciting, but there is a major downside.
The downside is that without major label budgets, the grand, spacious, even mystical studios of yesterday’s music industry will slowly fizzle out and we’ll be left with a few small, commercial facilities and a plethora of so-called home studios. Another unfortunate side effect of this shift is that we may be lowering the production standards for recorded music. The constant resurgence of the “lo-fi” trend is a natural part of the cycle of this industry and bands like Spoon and Wilco will always exist, but we cannot allow those sounds to become the quality standard for all recordings. Imagine Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” recorded on a laptop with a USB microphone or handheld digital recorder; need I say more? That record, among countless others from the last 70 years are some of the greatest examples of creativity and art our world has ever seen and I would be heartbroken to see the limitless capabilities of today’s recording methods reduced to laptops sporting GarageBand®.
And these issues influence more than just audiophiles and record fanatics such as myself. If we degrade our quality standards at the rate we’ve been going we will cease to have fulfilling new material and our interest in new and revolutionary music will inevitably dwindle. This fact, almost more than anything else, is of the utmost importance to new and emerging, as well as established independent artists. For a band to rise to local, national, or even international success, they first and foremost need the support of the fans. This support can be gained through constant touring, community outreach, clever marketing and of course a note-worthy sound combined with appealing songwriting, but above all else, a band need a product that can keep their fans excited and happy between shows.
This product is their record. Our tech-savvy society is already obsessed with instant gratification and our collective attention span is comparable to the average goldfish so it’s safe to assume that even the best records will last only a few weeks, much less the low-budget, low-quality recordings so common among today’s merch tables. The challenge we’re faced with is to find a way to create recordings that will be valued by fans for reasons other than novelty. The artistic potential is finally in the hands of the artists, and the technology is widely available, so the only thing left to do is build a new excitement around the art of recording. We need to create a Renaissance of the Recording Arts.
So the question arises, “How can we encourage this Renaissance and how can we do so without the budgets or facilities of yesterday’s recording climate?” The answer lies in a recording system that is focused on the community rather than the dollar signs: a non-profit recording studio run by industry professionals with the skills and experience to make the artist’s vision a reality. A major factor that has lead to the rise of bedroom studios is the cost of commercial facilities. Why, as a band, would you pay as much as $1200 per day for a professional facility with a good engineer when you could just record at home? The choice is clear, and for most struggling bands, it’s not even an option. So what happens when you take money out of the equation but maintain all the benefits of a professional studio? All of a sudden the recording process as an art form in-and-of-itself seems a bit more achievable.
The benefits of having a professionally recorded product to distribute (especially without the commonly associated debt) are endless. First of all, there is little-to-no financial sum to pay back from record sale profits, which allows the band to give away more copies for free, thereby expanding their distribution market and reaching potential new fans. Next there’s the fact that the people who do get their hands on the record may actually get excited about it, possibly even putting it in to regular rotation on their iPod or in their car. Furthermore, fans who are excited about a recording are much more likely to play it for their friends thereby expanding your fan base, and they are more likely to keep an eye out for new releases. Most importantly, they’re more likely to keep an eye out for you shows.
In my opinion, some of the best music is not the music that you like instantly but rather the music that you don’t like right away but eventually grows on you. How can a band expect their music to grow on their fans if they don’t have a record that those fans enjoy listening to? With the new shape of the industry and the budding independent music market, a non-profit studio may be the most crucial piece in ensuring a bright future for emerging artists. With a new mindset and a little creative enthusiasm, it seems as thought the sky, not the budget, might actually be the limit.