Blog: A Brief History Of Music Technology

The rise of the tech guy      09/01/14
Blog: A Brief History Of Music Technology

How technology has changed the recording process for the mere mortal and the rise and rise of the tech guy:

In the old days things were a lot simpler and here we open the first bookend of this discussion and hopefully an eye opener for younger readers. Getting access to any kind of reasonable recording capability had but one criteria, money. The only people who had access to the cash were the established record companies and they predominantly used what was often referred to as the 'spaghetti' model to determine where the money was spent. By this we mean that they would throw said pasta at a wall and whatever stuck was the winner. There were also some sobering statistics associated with this model.

For every one thousand demos (or thereabouts) submitted by artists perhaps ten would represent the spaghetti that didn't slide down the wall and out of those the record company might expect that one or two would result in a significant financial outcome. Often it was also these 'lottery' winners that would subsidise the losses incurred from the remaining eight or nine that ultimately didn't work for whatever reason. In order to attract the attention of the record labels there were but two options. You either gigged yourself silly in the hope that a growing audience would attract the attention of the A&R guy and/or you would submit a demo in whatever form you could directly to the label. If you were lucky enough to have some spare cash you might rent an established studio for the day but for most people your demo was likely done on extremely limited tape equipment at home.

Interestingly enough this was the period where the recognition that there was tremendous merit in teasing out a good performance because of inherent limitations was never more pronounced. The smart ones realised that the effort on this platform was better spent on the performance rather than the engineering, basic recording principles notwithstanding. Now to the younger reader this might all seem a bit simplistic and brutal and it was, but it was a model that everyone understood and strangely rarely questioned.

We all accepted what it was because it was easy to understand and for those that didn't succeed might keep trying with most just not bothering anymore and simply going out to get a 'proper job'. For those not artists but involved in supplying service to them the model worked just fine as the limited access to recording technology kept food on their table. And of course the winners were the labels themselves, much like the house that always has the advantage at the casino the record companies were keen to protect the very model they created in the first place.

Now that is not to say that large, established record companies had it all their own way. History is resplendent with examples where localised and fledgling labels would spring up to support artists associated with emerging genres in specific locales. The Sheffield electronic scene in the 1970's is but one example of many. However the old model still applied in that large amounts of pasta were still being chucked at hard vertical surfaces for those dreaming of wider distribution and exposure. Things however, particularly in the 1980's, were going to begin to turn all of this on its head. Recalling my first band experience I remember jams and rehearsals being performed live through a simple mixer with perhaps limited effects send capability straight to a two-track recorder.


Even more news...

5 Comments...  Post a comment    original story
S R Dhain    Said...

Maximum respect to you for writing this article, Jason. It's something that a lot of people i know, including myself at times, have wondered about, with regards to the value of ancilliary industry people being far more than you can imagine. For starters, when you're doing it all yourself, there are occasions when it can be such a complete ballache, because the irony is that you may well have all the knowledge and application skillset over years and years of graft, but it gets in the way of making the music, and there is no escaping that. And yet all the technological advances coupled with the requisite effect on cost of entry ( i.e. a significant reduction) has made the artistic endeavour/journey far more accessible to everyone, which is a wonderful thing. It's an interesting dichotomy.

Ultimately, im all for the "Adam Smith" (economist) approach to recording and mastering ( i.e. delegation of tasks, specialisation and division of labour), but budgets and location to such labour, so to speak, dictate the vibe on that front in the industry. In the meantime, carry on doing your own thing, and learn as you go along, is the approach to take. How far or how long you can keep on creating, is then entirely in your own hands.

11-Jan-14 06:02 PM

brian from usa    Said...

The last straw for me is people "mastering" their own recordings. If vinyl is really coming back maybe we should start planning on buying cutting lathes, too?

12-Jan-14 06:10 PM

Lu    Said...

I still find it hard to adjust to the way it is nowadays. A record contract was never in my sights, so home recording and putting out cassette demos was my ideal. It still is pretty much, but production values have gone up so much and there's so much gear to learn, performance seems secondary. I have to be my own writer/performer/engineer/producer personally I think it's a tall order. Which means there's still value in a recording studio if you can afford on.

17-Jan-14 06:51 AM

Lu    Said...

Sorry I hadn't read the last page of your article before posting, it's a relief to see that you were going the same way with this. I think in the end. Everyone else can race to the finish for awesome production and perfect performance. I'm going to concentrate on easy recording set ups and near enough is good enough. Otherwise I see another forty years ahead of me getting nothing done.

17-Jan-14 07:38 AM

LagrangeAudio    Said...

@brian from usa, that's a very interesting observation. I found a couple of local providers who can make vinyl for me, they have the cutting and pressing equipment, but I'm not convinced they know how to do the mastering properly. So you either do that yourself by trial and error or you find someone who can do it professionally. In the old days there seemed to be plenty of people outside the initial engineers space that specialised in this area. To further complicate things I note Izotope's Ozone has a vinyl 'mastering' preset. It sound goods but is that validation? I don't know (yet)!!

21-Jan-14 08:47 PM

Post a comment 

More Videos

MESSE 2016: Yamaha Montage - More Details And Demo 

Bert Smørenburg gives us his take on the new monster synth

Superbooth 2016: Kilpatrick Audio CARBON Sequencer 

Andrew takes us through the features of their new performance sequencer

MESSE 2016: Teknosign - Digitally Controlled Analog Circuits 

Beautifully designed analog summing mixers and pre-amps

MESSE 2016: Universal Audio UAD2 Satellite USB 

A Satellite for your Windows machine!