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September 30, 2011

DIY is all the rage in music production these days. Which explains the success of everything from Garage Band to phenomena like Pamplamouse. And who doesn’t want to have their own recording studio/digital worksatation to play with? Especially if it costs next to nothing, or comes free with your Mac.

We’ve all seen the downsides to do it yourself culture: buying a piece of furniture you have to spend three days putting together; software minus manuals which lands you on hold for hours trying to get help from some poor soul in a far away country.

There’s another downside to DIY that is not obvious to consumers, but is clear to music professionals. Music creation, which was once the responsibility of teams of specialists, is now handled by a single person. Imagine the medical profession if all specialists disappeared and all you had was GPs. That wouldn’t give you the best feeling going in for open heart surgery.

Before the 1980s, a single song going on a record would require many of the following people:

1. Lyricist.
2. Composer.
3. Arranger.
4. Producer.
5. Recording Engineer.
6. Assistant engineer(s)
7. Mastering Engineer.
8. Conductor
9. Musician Contractor
10. Musicians – anything from a band of four to a hundred piece orchestra.

Every one of these people spent years honing their craft before they got to do their job professionally. So every 3 minute 20 second song had a minimum of 30, and as many as 300 hours of cumulative experience behind it.

Today we expect one kid with a computer workstation to compose, arrange, orchestrate, perform, produce, engineer and master every piece of music he makes. Oh yeah – and market himself too. Whether he’s been at it 5, or 20 years, he’s still got a lot less to offer than that team in the old days. A majority of the tracks on TV, in Video Games and in music libraries are made just this way.

Not only that, but in fields like Video Games mid-size companies have a single composer on staff who’s expected to produce any style of music from Romantic period classical to Reggae.

Barring the one-in-a-thousand renaissance man – Prince, or Stevie Wonder – there’s just no way the product of that one guy can possibly be as good as the results of all that skill.

At Manchester Music we have found ourselves moving steadily towards the old way of production: using a team of experts.

I composed most of the first ten CDs in the library myself. But hired musicians to play them, and an engineer and mastering person to finish them.

I tried my hand at new styles like Hip Hop. Though it was fun, I soon discovered that my 60s musical sensibility was not ideal for that genre. I found guys who could do it much better, and easier too.

Our new Custom Music service is based on a specific model: the NYC music house. We have a group of composers, each of whom has years of experience perfecting the specific genres they love. If rock’s their thing, they’ve played thousands of gigs finding out the keys to what makes people dance. If it’s electronica, they’ve spent years working late into the night fiddling with knobs and dials. And it’s our job to get them work so they can do what they do best: make music.

All of them also have spent years learning the skills required to deal successfully with clients on deadlines:

1. Knowing how to talk music with non-musicians,
2. Having the patience to see a project through seemingly endless tweeks to the very end, and without losing their cool.
3. The ability to write a piece in a day or less, or make a whole hour of music under a brutal deadline, and still make it good.

I don’t mean to imply that there’s no upside to the new music technology. Our composers do use workstations, stocked with great sounds from around the world. But we can also hire first call NY session players, full orchestras, or other composers to help them arrange and do styles outside of their groove. And our tracks are mixed and mastered by our Golden Ears engineer Simon Smart, who cut his teeth at Abbey Road Studios in London.

It’s telling that the one area of instrumental music where they still employ a team of experts is film scoring. Take a listen next time you go to the movies. The scores all sound great.


From → Music Library

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