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Recording Studio Technology and the Producer

Studio technology has developed drastically over the years and has become ever more vital to the record producer within the music industry. Different producers make use of studio technology in different ways, often depending on the style of music that they are producing, their preferred method of production and the band’s preference of sound.

The development of recording technology has run parallel to a reorientation in popular music production. The goal of getting a good sound is no different now than it was when the first recordings were made, but the idea of what a good sound is and how it should be achieved are radically different.

The role of the recording producer in popular music is very important; the producer plays a very big part in the realisation of a composition by deciding what technology should be used and how to use it. Interplay between the musician, record producer and engineer is critical to the recording process. However, what is eventually fixed to tape must first be composed around the limitations of the available technology. Thus the most direct interactions between music and technology occur during composition and realisation.

There are a number of record producers who have become famous for their distinctive sound and their particular techniques and application of varied developments of studio technology. Some producers take much advantage of the technology available to them, whilst others seem to prefer to employ more classical techniques of record production, tending to shy away from the increasing practise of digital studio technology.

Ross Robinson, well known for producing ‘nu-metal’ bands such as ‘Korn’, ‘Deftones’, ‘Limp Bizkit’ and ‘Soulfly’, generates his own distinctive sound. Robinson focuses more on capturing the soul and spirit of the music that he produces. He does this by resisting the use of digital technology and continuing to use analogue, stating that ‘the digital realm is very trendy, and it’s not a very permanent sound, it’s just too synthetic, it doesn’t come from flesh and blood.’ (R. Robinson. Quoted by A. Pertout. Ross Robinson: The Art of a Record Producer [online]. Available from: http://www.users.bigpond.com/apertout/Robinson.com. [Accessed 02/06/01].)

Another producer known for his creation of a specific sound is Butch Vig, who became famous for his work on the album ‘Nevermind’ by Nirvana. (1991, Geffen).

Butch Vig had a tendency to record everything dry, steering away from the use of effects when recording. He would use quite a lot of compression on Kurt Cobain’s vocals so that he could control his dynamics, and would also do some double-tracking.

Vig would record the guitars in a very different way, with a great emphasis on the use of distortion. On the track ‘Breed’, Cobain used a Rat distortion pedal which was direct injected . The signal was split and run into an amp and the direct injection was run to the board to create a ‘fuzzy white-noise kind of sound’ (Butch Vig, from R. Buskin: Butch Vig. Talking Garbage. [online] available from: http://sospubs.co.uk/sos/199/_articles/mar9//butchvig.shtml. [accessed 29/05/01]).

Working with the band Garbage promoted a different take on producing for Butch Vig. Instead of simply producing the band, he was also a member of it. Samplers played a huge part in Vig’s work in Garbage, unlike with Nirvana, where recording was based primarily on live instruments. ‘I got bored spending so many years recording really fast, straightforward punk records, so that’s why we didn’t want to approach the Garbage record from the angle of a band playing live. Instead it was like “We can record 47 guitars on this song, mix it down to a stereo sample, then run it backwards, record another 20 guitars and process them so that they sound like a percussion instrument.”.’(Butch Vig, from R. Buskin: Butch Vig. Talking Garbage. [online] available from: http://sospubs.co.uk/sos/199/_articles/mar9//butchvig.shtml. [accessed 29/05/01]).

Like many other producers, Vig used studio technology as an add-on to the instruments, and this affected the ways in which the songs were written and laid down. ‘ The way that we work is that someone will bring in a loop or a sample, and we might jam for a couple of hours, find one bar that’s kind of cool, load it into our samplers, jam on top of that....and then we’ll take that home, come back, jam on it some more, record some more things, add and subtract...’.(Butch Vig, from R. Buskin: Butch Vig. Talking Garbage. [online] available from: http://sospubs.co.uk/sos/199/_articles/mar9//butchvig.shtml. [accessed 29/05/01]).

Richard D. James, performer and producer, more popularly known as Aphex Twin, uses his computer as his primary instrument, an increasingly popular method of production and composition in today’s music industry. The technology available to James plays a great part in the creative process of his compositions. James makes a lot of his own equipment and through this is able to experiment with his own electronic sounds, which he develops to create his tracks, relying greatly on the randomness of the sounds that are produced. This allows him to constantly create new, distinctive sounds, which he brings together in his compositions. “I got a little sick of the idea of using the same machines and sounds as other people and meanwhile I have collected so many sounds that I can go on for years." (Passet, R & Joost de Lyser. Richard D. James. [online]. Available from: http://www.aphextwin.org/reading/bassicg.htm [accessed on 29/05/01])

Recording trends in today’s music industry tend to lean towards the use of digital studio technology. This has meant that many artists are capable of producing their own material, and has resulted in the growth of the home studio, especially since digital technology is much more compact than the old analogue equipment. “These days, some of the best studios have desks no bigger than a coffee table and home studios often feature similar desks. Digital mixers have changed the way we work and are changing the way we view the traditional recording studio.” (Vincent, S. & Branch, A. Digital Mixing. [online]. Available from: http://www.futuremusic.co.uk/fm_mmusic.asp?ID=4089. [Accessed 05/06/01]).

Despite the continuing growth of the use of digital studio technology by artists and their own production, the role of the record producer still remains vital in the context of both the creative and commercial concerns of today’s music industry, whether the producer is independent or the artist themselves. “The Record Producer may be thought of as the "Ring Leader" of the music production chain. Producers have a lot of control over the entire recording project including creative decision making based on the experience of the producer. The selection of songs used in a project as well as the responsibility of the final product belongs to the producer.” (1999. Record Producers. [online]. Available from: http://www.grandcentralmusic.com/record_producers.htm [accessed 29/05/01])

A record producer is able to give an independent view of an artist’s work and how it should sound. They are also more likely to know what technologies are available and which would be best suited to the style of the artist. Also, many producers have affiliations with a particular record company, this relationship is vital in ensuring that an artist can obtain a deal with the record company in question and the producer will be able to conceive what kind of sound the record label is looking for.

In the creative context of the role of the producer, the producer often aids the composition and development of an artist’s work. Sometimes the artist does very little work compared to the producer and there may be times when all the artist has to do is turn up and sing. The producer helps to decide how tracks should be laid down and what should be included in each track. ‘Production can sometimes be about arranging or optimising arrangements. This is about coming up with, and organising, all the bits that will comprise the finished record.’ (Burgess, R. D. (1997) The Art of Record Production. pp.52. Omnibus Press.)

With the introduction of computer software such as Steinberg’s Cubase VST (virtual studio technology), many artists are becoming their own producers. Artists are able to produce music single-handedly through these programmes, using them to create multi- track ‘recordings’ all through a MIDI keyboard, as well as being able to record and arrange audio, allowing artists to concentrate on the creative process, while the computer does the rest of the work.

These days, the widespread use of digital technology allows producers to manipulate recorded sound in unprecedented ways. Producers can also sample a perfect note or riff, and insert it into the accompanying music as many times as necessary to create an instrumental back-up that's completely error-free. It is also possible to achieve the perfect pitches on vocals, meaning that anyone lacking all musical talent, could sing and be made to sound as though they have a perfectly tuned voice.

The record producer is able to work with studio technology to help a band or artist to develop a particular style. Producers know what kind of sounds are commercially viable, if that is the direction that a band or artist wishes to take. Producers, along with studio technology, play a significant role in the creative and commercial process within the music industry, allowing bands and artists to develop their individual sounds, as well as helping them to produce a sound which will be appealing to their specific audience. The development of studio technology has allowed producers to create more unique sounds for the bands which they produce, separating them from other bands. With the right ingredients, producers are able to aid an artist or band toward commercial success.

Bibliography

  • Burgess, R.J, (1997) The Art of Record Production. London. Omnibus Press.
  • Chanan, M. (1995) Repeated Takes. London. Verso.
  • Dearing, J. (1989) Making Money Making Music. Ohio, USA. Omnibus Press.
  • Olsen, E et al. (1999) The Encyclopedia of Record Producers. New York, USA. Billboard Books.
  • Buskin, R. Butch Vig. Talking Garbage. [online] available from: http://sospubs.co.uk/sos/199/_articles/mar9//butchvig.shtml. [accessed 29/05/01]
  • Passet, R & Joost de Lyser. Richard D. James. [online]. Available from: http://www.aphextwin.org/reading/bassicg.htm [accessed on 29/05/01]
  • Pertout, A. Ross Robinson: The Art of a Record Producer [online]. Available from: http://www.users.bigpond.com/apertout/Robinson.com. [Accessed 02/06/01]
  • Vincent, S. & Branch, A. Digital Mixing. [online]. Available from: http://www.futuremusic.co.uk/fm_mmusic.asp?ID=4089. [Accessed 05/06/01]
  • Wakeham, M. Let's Talk about Record Producers. [Online]. Available from: http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Hills/1293/produce.shtml [accessed 05/06/01].
  • ecord Producers. [online]. Available from: http://www.grandcentralmusic.com/record_producers.htm [accessed 29/05/01]
  • http://www.musicmaker.demon.co.uk/cubasevst.htm
  • http://www.futuremusic.co.uk/




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