Article from Sound On Sound, July 1993
Some words of wisdom from producer Alan Winstanley close the mag this month.
Alan Winstanley, together with partner Clive Longer, scored a string of hits with various artists in the 1980s. He's currently working with the Tyrell Corporation on their new album, and took some time out to reflect on how the record industry has changed the position of the producer over the last decade.
Clive Langer and I first started producing records in 1979, initially using low budget facilities and then progressing to places like Air in Oxford Street and Genetic for mixing. By the end of 1983, we had earned quite a lot of money working on the first of the Madness albums and also from the Dexys Midnight Runners single 'Come On Eileen', which, along with the album, was a huge hit all over the world. We thought opening a studio would be a good way to invest the money — it was either that or put it in the building society — and also a way of putting something back into the industry. We thought it would be fun to have a place of our own to work in that was set up exactly as we wanted it. At that stage you could still offset a lot of your equipment costs against tax, which isn't so easy now. We always intended Westside to be a commercial studio, and though we didn't originally intend to build a residential as well, in 1986 Clive and I were recording an album at the Manor with China Crisis, and we thought it was a great studio, but felt that there was scope for a much better residential, so I started buying Country Life and looking around for a suitable place.
I found Book Ends Manor — the house we eventually bought — while we were working at the Manor. At one time it belonged to Dave Gilmour; it had a tiny studio in the barn, but at the back of the barn was this old, tumbledown milking parlour from the days when it used to be a dairy, and we eventually got planning permission and built the studio there.
Outside [as the residential studio is called] was always intended as a business venture — Clive and I have never been fans of residential studios because I prefer to work straight through and then go home rather than living in the band's pocket. It wasn't intended to be a place for us to work in, and in fact in the six years that Outside has been open, Clive and I have only done two albums there. The rest of the time, it's been booked by clients. There was a time when we thought one of us might live there, but unless we have a few more hits I don't think that will be the case!
I wouldn't open a commercial facility now — no one in their right mind would, and I don't say that just because the country is in recession. The studio industry was going to go through problems even if the recession hadn't come along, and even when it's over there are still going to be a lot of people who own studios who will have trouble staying afloat. It's supply and demand — there's too much supply and not enough demand, because record companies are not signing enough bands to keep every studio in work. Also, a lot of work can now be done on an ADAT in a bedroom. It's a good idea for producers to have their own place to record in but it doesn't have to be on this level. You can get a lot more for your money with some of the new home recording equipment that's now on the market.
As studio owners and producers we have occasionally had run-ins with record companies when we suggest using Westside because they think they're paying us our advance and we're pocketing the money from the studio as well. Actually, we have never taken any money out of the studios, which is why they have been able to grow and stay ahead technically.
I'm not sure many producers today earn enough to do what we did. We were lucky because we made a lot of money in the early 1980s, but now that record sales are down, royalties are down too. If record companies are earning less money, they have to find ways of paying out less money, so there is always something new creeping into producers' contracts that eats away at royalties and earnings. One recent clause that I've come across is no royalty payments on the first 10,000 CDs on a single, as well as no royalty payments for singles on coloured vinyl or picture discs. For most singles, 10,000 CDs is probably all the band is going to sell, so if the record company puts out a single on CD and coloured or picture vinyl, the producer doesn't get paid a penny in royalties on those sales.
Other cutbacks crop up with albums — for example, paying royalties on the vinyl price rather than the CD price. Record companies do that wherever they can these days and it makes a lot of difference. I think Ed Bicknell [manager of Dire Straits] made his comments on CD pricing because he was fed up with Dire Straits only being paid on the vinyl price and not on the CD price, so instead of fighting for that he fought the record companies on the price of CDs. I must admit one could probably sell more records if CDs were cheaper, but I think it's silly to say UK prices should be in line with the prices paid in the US, because everything in the US is cheaper than it is here.
On a different point, I think record companies could benefit from employing producers as consultant A&R men. When I first started out in the early 1970s, I worked in a record company and they had producers who also A&R'd the records. Some record companies still employ producers but it's rare — there are more journalists and ex-marketing men in A&R than there are producers, and I'm not sure what that tells you. It's different in the States, where they do have producers as A&R consultants and it's very successful. Perhaps UK record companies could learn from their example.
Alan and partner Clive Langer's discography includes work with Madness, The Teardrop Explodes, Elvis Costello, David Bowie and Mick Jagger, Style Council and China Crisis, amongst others. Recent production credits include They Might Be Giants, Blur, Tim Finn and Tyrell Corporation.
Opinion by Sue Sillitoe
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