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Passing The Buck

Pro studios are currently closing down at an alarming rate, and much of the blame is being laid at the feet of home studios and dance music. Tim Goodyer discusses progress and paranoia.


SOME ARE BLAMING it on the recession, some are blaming it on progress. Others are blaming it on the music itself. The only thing on which these people can agree, it seems, is that a lot of pro studios are having a pretty rough time at the moment. Between dwindling custom and runaway interest rates, many studios are finding it impossible to keep their rates high enough to cover their overheads - and if this situation prevails we're going to see a lot more studios closing down.

For those blaming the current economic climate the argument is simple enough: interest rates are too high to allow profitable trading. That record sales themselves are in general decline is old news, but that doesn't stop their decline from reducing the money record companies have available to spend on studio time. And it is this money that pro studios depend on to stay in business. Perhaps, then, the solution to the problem lies in politics.

Those blaming progress fear the endless succession of technical advances - each makes facilities that were once the exclusive province of "proper" studios cheaper and more freely available; each undermines the pro studio's indispensability. After all, why blow your recording advance on studio time when you can buy the gear and record yourself instead? That way you get to keep the gear for yourself too. This time the solution appears to be to halt progress.

Perhaps saddest of all are those blaming music itself. "Standards have fallen", claim certain industry figures, "people shouldn't accept sub-standard recordings". For them only top-flight studio recordings appear to have musical merit. Perhaps their solution would be to control people's musical tastes.

Perhaps it's time to think again.

One of the benefits of technical progress has been to make individual musicians - and groups of musicians - more self-sufficient. Through the popularisation of synthesisers, drum machines, personal multitrack recorders, MIDI and, most recently, one-inch 24-track machines, technology has taken the initiative away from commercial studios and placed it in the hands of individuals. In short, everybody's getting their own studio. Add to that the fact that everybody except the old-style pro studios seems pretty pleased about it, and it's easy to see why certain parties claim there's a problem.

It was technical progress and popular music that created the need for studios, and now those same forces are threatening to take it away. Well, some of it... You see, while personal pre-production studios are fine for composing and arranging music, few of them measure up to pro studios when it comes to items such as high-quality monitors, plenty of outboard gear and mixing desks with enough inputs to handle the plethora of outputs from today's multitimbral instruments. Similarly, many remixes have to be performed in studios equipped with two-inch, 24-track machines (the format of the copy master) and require similar facilities to mix as pre-produced original material.

Why, then, is much of the pro audio industry preoccupied with placing the blame for its current difficulties (mainly at the feet of musicians), when it could be adapting to a situation that still offers it a valuable role in making records? Perhaps it resents musicians moving in on its area of expertise. Alternatively, perhaps it's just forgotten where its roots are.



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Music Technology - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

 

Music Technology - Apr 1991

Editorial by Tim Goodyer

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