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Author Topic: ...On the recent studio closings...  (Read 12191 times)

Offline compasspnt

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...On the recent studio closings...
« on: February 03, 2005, 11:05:14 am »
It is with great sadness that we all see the news on the other forums, and in the press, of the closings of such landmark recording studios as Hit Factory NY and Cello (Oceanway/United/Western) LA.  The recording industry, and indeed the entire music business itself, is in an unstable state of flux at the moment, and the future will obviously be quite different than the past.

I am very fortunate to be located in Compass Point Studios here in Nassau, which (mostly through the efforts of many others over the years, especially Chris Blackwell) is one of those iconicly magnificent edifices dedicated to the preservation of musical genius.  In other words, it's a really cool studio.  I try very hard every day to remember to touch the ghosts which walk these halls, and to burn their spirit into my consciousness, but it always is the same:  it's another day at work, and the task at hand takes precedence over the ethereal.

However, I will take a small moment before today's 12 to 16 hours of audio effort to throw out a few theories about why studios are in the state that they are:

•No matter what anyone says to the contrary, I think that the free download availability of music to the masses has DEFINITELY resulted in a lessening of budget money made available by labels to artists, and thence a reduction in the numbers of sessions being booked into large facilities.

•The availability of relatively inexpensive recording gear which is capable of near-full professional results has DEFINITELY affected the number of sessions being booked into large studios.

•Major labels are not run today by men such as Blackwell, Branson, Ertegun, Ellis/Wright, et al, who were there because they LOVED MUSIC.  Yes, they were, or at least became, BUSINESSMEN, but that wasn't the driving force.  Today it's a lawyer-business-school-graduate-driven, ultra-corporate monster.  Chances are not being taken on "different" talent anymore.  This too lessens the number of sessions being booked.

•The economy in general was already in a slight downturn, but when September 11 came, it went much farther down.  It looks to be coming back well now, but businesses such as the music industry always lag a bit behind in recovery time.

•Modern society has changed, whether through social-Darwinistic natural evolution, or through the over-Democratisation of social interaction.  Men used to be above women; the wealthy used to be above the poor; whites in the US used to be above other races, etc.  Today, while those stereotypically repressive relationships are still around, they are not the expected norm anymore.  THIS IS A GOOD THING; I am all for freedom and equality amongst these groups.  However, as it relates to music, this equality has trickled down, so that there is little respect for the elite of audio engineering, of music production, or of commercial marketing acuity.  New groups or artists expect that they can produce themselves, engineer themselves, and sell themselves over the Internet.  Rightly or wrongly, this too has lessened bookings at large studios.

•The recording studio business has never been a routinely profitable one.  It has traditionally cost too much for gear, facility, staff, etc., to be able to charge the rates necessary to truly make it.  A studio was often only the loss leader tool for a record label or producer anyway.

I'm sure there are many other factors, but while none of the reasons abovementioned, by themselves, might be a death blow,  added together, they are causing problems.

I don't know if Compass Point, as a commercial studio, will survive all of this, or at least for how long.  For now, we're here, and I'm trying to savor it.  We keep our staff small (but quality), and our expenses as low as possible.  The closures we see may be partially because of poor management, as well as the external factors...that I don't really know about, and I'm not being accusatory here of anyone else.

But we must all hope and pray that there will be great audio spaces left for the future to enjoy.  I'm all for inexpensive, high quality gear; I use it myself.  But you CANNOT CONSISTENTLY RECORD GOOD SOUNDING MUSIC IN AN ACOUSTICALLY INFERIOR ROOM!

Peace and good luck...

Terry Manning

Offline Joe Crawford

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Re: ...On the recent studio closings...
« Reply #1 on: February 03, 2005, 12:16:49 pm »
Hi Terry and welcome to the forums.  Maybe it’s just my age showing through, but too me a big factor in the rise of music downloading is the song selection on current major label albums.    It seems like today, most, if not all, of the big record companies are under the thumbs of their marketing department.  Marketing will select one good/killer song for a CD and then scrounge up 9 or 10 trash songs just to fill out it out.  If a band has several new, really good songs, marketing will try to spread them out, one per CD in the hopes of selling more CD’s.  They don’t think far enough ahead to see how counter productive this is.  Why should someone pay $18 for a CD when they can go to iTunes and download the one good song for $0.99?  

Of the last dozen or so major label CD’s I have purchased, I don’t think there was one that had even a second tune worth listening too.  Granted, there is a lot of music theft on the internet, but, I think people would be a lot more likely to spend $15 to $18 on a CD with 3 or 4 good tunes on it that spend the time required to find and download those tunes from the internet.  To me, this attitude shows up in the number independant CD’s sold at concerts and festivals.  You can usually count on these CD’s having most of the songs you just heard, and liked, on them.  A band I recently recorded told me that as long as they included three or four songs from their last CD in their set, they could count on selling approximately one CD for every 10 people in the audience.  Sure, they sold them for $13 each, and as far as I know, no one had yet posted them on the internet.  But, I think it still makes my point.  People are willing to buy CD’s if they contain more than one (or two) good songs.  The current price-point is probably somewhere around $3 to $5 per good/great song.

Joe Crawford
Stony Mountain Studio
Shanks, WV 26761

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Re: ...On the recent studio closings...
« Reply #2 on: February 03, 2005, 12:19:03 pm »
Extremely good points...all.

I have noticed that the general respect for those who have been into this business for "most of or lives" is lacking. It tends to make on "cynical" in attitude. I certainly can attest to that and it is a inner struggle I must deal with.

Do I disrespect the guy who bought a PT rig and has been in this "business" for all of 2 years and is booked solid for months at 20 an hour out of a garage? Well..it is what goes around comes around. If I am asked to work with said individual, I demand the respect that is due based on my experience. I also am willing to learn how this person is doing things and if I see room for improvement (and I see plenty) I would hope this person would be open to listening to some of my ideas. I do not find this "overall" to be the case. This is why I teach structured lessons from time to time in the basics of sound quality and balance. I have gone to home studios that are "booked solid" for 6 to 8 months for peanut wages to see them using 20K in head end equipment and a cheap pair of rear deck car 6X9 speakers in plywood boxes as monitors. I just scratch my head. People come to me asking if I can master their album for 100 dollars because Johnny come lately is doing it for 120. I say a flat NO. Is this arrogant? Do I have a right to be arrogant? We have to place a value on our work. If we don't do things better than our competition, we do not deserve the spoils of our labor. We do deserve respect and we deserve to get paid. We deserve to be able to make a living.

I think that you can see a division of the studio gambit into 3 (blurry) camps.

1. Those who are doing it to pay their way through school (with no intentions of making a career out of it) doing "session work" out of a home for peanuts, 100 a day, what have you and don't really care about music (their are a few exceptions)

2. Those who put their entire life into this for the love of it and the hope of making a decent living and keeping creditors off of their backs, strive for excellence and will bend over backwards to provide a service that is the "best it can be" and continue to move forward.

3. Corporate greed bottom line pushers. They don't care about the music, they simply are looking at the bottom line and have the latest greatest gear, meanwhile the studio owner can't even turn a knob, let alone engineer and pays their personnel McDonald's wages. I am willing to bet their are more of these than we really care to know about.

Yes, I know you can't really separate ALL facilities into one of the three camps. Their are gaps and changes and the model is undefined. From my vantage point, I cannot see for the life of me how some of the large facilities are allowed to put out bad sound. The guy in the middle has to battle being competitive and make a living.

No one said any of this is easy. Some days, I wake up and say, I really wonder what I was thinking when I chose to do this for a living but then you get those magic sessions with magic performers and it becomes quite clear why we do this.

We love great music and love being a part of making it happen.
http://balancedmastering.com

"Listen and Learn"
---Since 1975---

Offline maxdimario

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Re: ...On the recent studio closings...
« Reply #3 on: February 03, 2005, 12:25:32 pm »
compasspnt wrote on Thu, 03 February 2005 17:05


•Major labels are not run today by men such as Blackwell, Branson, Ertegun, Ellis/Wright, et al, who were there because they LOVED MUSIC.  Yes, they were, or at least became, BUSINESSMEN, but that wasn't the driving force.  Today it's a lawyer-business-school-graduate-driven, ultra-corporate monster.  Chances are not being taken on "different" talent anymore.  This too lessens the number of sessions being booked.


Terry Manning


Hallelujah!

regarding the democratisation issue:
"in life democracy, in art aristocracy" (toscanini)

Offline shackleford

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Re: ...On the recent studio closings...
« Reply #4 on: February 03, 2005, 12:39:13 pm »
Hi Terry,
You're obviously right about all this. Yes, there were some other factors in those studios' closing, but between them and Quantegy being in Chapter 11, it's been a tough couple of weeks for professional audio!
I have a "home studio," if you can call it that, but am getting okay results, sonically and otherwise. The first guy I did a bunch of demos for is now on an indie label and made a fantastic LP in a great NYC studio with some pretty great musicians on it, all due to those demos. The kid had no money; had I not bought some Alesis gear and been willing to work for next to nothing, I don't think it would have happened.
Now I am Digi 002-based, and can't imagine going back to ADAT. Recording other projects and results are good considering the budgets and constraints of working in my apartment or rehearsal studios with Mbox.
It's a huge drag to record this way, but reality is that these artists wouldn't be making any recordings if this gear didn't exist; they cannot afford even one day in a real studio. So I'm grateful for the tools at a cost that enables this.
It's a mixed blessing, I think, that Digidesign is taking over the business at every level and in every equipment area. But that ICON will surely replace many a large-format analog desk, and the Mbox brings decent-quality gear to anyone with $449.
I don't have any point here, obviously. It's sad that grand old studios are dying out, if that's what's happening here. But it's great that people who are very passionate about music but not affluent enough to spend money in a pro studio can still make recordings with some degree of quality.
I'd much rather be recording bands live; Booker T & the MGs, Aretha Franklin's Atlantic stuff, the old Allman Bros.. it had to be much more satisfying recording that essentially live. The Tom Dowd documentary is really good and spells it all out; I wish I'd been in the biz 40 years ago.
And I REALLY wish I could someday book Compass Point and work with you.

Offline j.hall

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Re: ...On the recent studio closings...
« Reply #5 on: February 03, 2005, 01:57:01 pm »
compasspnt wrote on Thu, 03 February 2005 10:05

However, as it relates to music, this equality has trickled down, so that there is little respect for the elite of audio engineering, of music production, or of commercial marketing acuity.  New groups or artists expect that they can produce themselves, engineer themselves, and sell themselves over the Internet.  Rightly or wrong, this too has lessened bookings at large studios.




i'm not picking a fight, and there is plenty of truth to the above quote.....BUT....

i think a lot of artists are starting to wake up, so to speak.

i think a lot of artists are starting to see the massive absurdity in paying a single person over 100k upfront and signing them up for points on their record (just to help "steer the ship") knowing good and well that they can't possibly recoup that money and make any thing to support their lives.

then they have to book a room that charges a pretty penny for all the fancy gear they have (hey i'd love to have it too).....but do i really need to pay for muffins every morning, and on-tap micro brews and catered lunches, or staff chefs??????????????????????

then we pay an engineer to track the session, then we have to pay a mixer to mix the album who some how has found justification in billing the band (let's get real, everything the label pays out is really the bands "loan" money) as much as the over paid producer gets, if not more, and in some cases successfully negotiates receiving 1 point for mixing your record.

so excuse me if i don't find the current status of the "elite audio professinals" to be a bit absurd.......but a band can easily make an incredible sounding record for 20k or MUCH LESS

tour on their own, sell records via shows, and internet, and sell FAR LESS records and make FAR MORE money then they ever could dream of if they took the road of major label "elite audio professionals"

the business is changing because people are waking up and saying, "what the hell am i paying these people THIS much money for??????"


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Re: ...On the recent studio closings...
« Reply #6 on: February 03, 2005, 02:26:59 pm »
J, it has come of age. Great records can be made for 20K. This said, I have made great ones on location in 4 days for even less and have been involved with 100K video shoots.

I really don't want to see the value of a great record get caught up in a money stuggle. You "gets" what you "pays for" and I do believe that a 300K audio production is nearing a thing of the past. I still will never subscribe to the 20 dollar an hour sessions being anywhere close to what we do daily. It just dont get here from there.
http://balancedmastering.com

"Listen and Learn"
---Since 1975---

Offline bblackwood

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Re: ...On the recent studio closings...
« Reply #7 on: February 03, 2005, 02:39:47 pm »
j.hall wrote on Thu, 03 February 2005 12:57

but a band can easily make an incredible sounding record for 20k or MUCH LESS

That's a bit low, imo, but the point is a good one...
Brad Blackwood
euphonic masters

Offline Fibes

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Re: ...On the recent studio closings...
« Reply #8 on: February 03, 2005, 03:18:21 pm »
From my perspective 20k albums used to be the bottom of the budget, now they are close to the top, barring all of the major label stuff.

Lately i've been doing a lot of 10 song demos as records. Why? Becuase bands are not able to do as well as they should on the road anymore. Clubs are hurting, gas is expensive and making 45 bucks on a gig doesn't get you to the next gig, never mind a recording fund. It's a trickle down thing, you gotta adjust or die.

Besides...

You don't have to have a 1.5 million dollar house to hang your art in, bands know this.

OTOH technology is finally allowing indy artists that have it together and are awesome to get noticed on a much wider scale. Word of mouth has become incredibly powerful. The machine is losing cylinders because of it.

Welcome Terry, it's great having you here.



Fibes
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"You can like it, or not like it."
The Studio

  http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewArtist ?id=155759887
http://cdbaby.com/cd/superhorse
http://cdbaby.com/cd/superhorse2


Offline j.hall

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Re: ...On the recent studio closings...
« Reply #9 on: February 03, 2005, 03:56:22 pm »
bblackwood wrote on Thu, 03 February 2005 13:39


That's a bit low, imo...



i couldn't disagree with you more.

Offline compasspnt

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Re: ...On the recent studio closings...
« Reply #10 on: February 03, 2005, 04:13:06 pm »
j.hall wrote on Thu, 03 February 2005 13:57


i think a lot of artists are starting to see the massive absurdity in paying a single person over 100k upfront and signing them up for points on their record (just to help "steer the ship") knowing good and well that they can't possibly recoup that money and make any thing to support their lives.

then they have to book a room that charges a pretty penny for all the fancy gear they have (hey i'd love to have it too).....but do i really need to pay for muffins every morning, and on-tap micro brews and catered lunches, or staff chefs??????????????????????

then we pay an engineer to track the session, then we have to pay a mixer to mix the album who some how has found justification in billing the band (let's get real, everything the label pays out is really the bands "loan" money) as much as the over paid producer gets, if not more, and in some cases successfully negotiates receiving 1 point for mixing your record.

so excuse me if i don't find the current status of the "elite audio professinals" to be a bit absurd....

...the business is changing because people are waking up and saying, "what the hell am i paying these people THIS much money for??????"




Actually, I agree with you.  I was only citing reasons I believe have lead to the decline in large studio business, not necessarily pontificating on the relative morality of the situation.

I too HATE the incredible excesses of this business, which at the end of the day are actually taken out of the artist's money...or, if they haven't recouped, it may end their chance at a career.

BUT, I think the pendulum may be swinging too far in the opposite direction (how human is THAT?)  There is a definite need for true, honest professionals in this, and any, business...ones who can help and guide artists to be the most that they can be.  People who have honed their craft, learning the ins and out of recording, production, and yes, even marketing, should be embraced and capitalised upon, at least, they should if it is a reasonable financial  situation for all involved.

Best,

TM

Offline bblackwood

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Re: ...On the recent studio closings...
« Reply #11 on: February 03, 2005, 04:17:31 pm »
j.hall wrote on Thu, 03 February 2005 14:56

bblackwood wrote on Thu, 03 February 2005 13:39


That's a bit low, imo...



i couldn't disagree with you more.

OK, you record for two weeks, mix for two weeks - you have 28 days of engineering fees. Even if the engineer works for $250/day (good luck finding a good, experienced engineer for that), that's a third of your budget right from the get-go. And then you have to hire a good room...

Some people pull it off, most simply cannot. Not for an "incredible" sounding record, ime...
Brad Blackwood
euphonic masters

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Re: ...On the recent studio closings...
« Reply #12 on: February 03, 2005, 04:17:32 pm »
Example of a great record done on the shy side of 20K

Recording, 4 days in large hall.

1600 per.

6400.

(Hall + me)

Lodging and expenses for 4 days, 645

7045

Mixing 3 days:

600 day

8845

Mastering 2 days

1500

10345

Artwork for album:

1000

11345

Printing: 3000 pieces 1815

13160

Pressing 3000 pieces and assembly

2515

15685

Mailing to distribution:

902

16587


Bonus for me:

1500

18087

See, under 20k

Start to finish. March 6 to March 22.

That is what it is about with indie productions.
http://balancedmastering.com

"Listen and Learn"
---Since 1975---

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Re: ...On the recent studio closings...
« Reply #13 on: February 03, 2005, 04:28:36 pm »
Quote:

OK, you record for two weeks, mix for two weeks - you have 28 days of engineering fees.


Brad, this is not going to fly.

If a band cant record in one week, they need to go practice somewhere. Why spend 2 weeks? The studio is not a rehearsal hall. IMO.

Mix in 2 weeks, how about mix an album in 2 days and sounding killer if you tracked it?

2 weeks is not happening these days.

Great albums have been cut in a day and mixed the same day and pressed the day after.

March 2 1969. April 22, 1969, Kind of Blue. Miles Davis. Hello!

Two days.

I see no reason to babysit a band for 2 weeks to record. It shows they don't have their act together and should NOT be recording at that time.

Big budget projects where the band is blocked for months with no clue what they will do is just not feasable in this industry anymore. I wish it were. I would like to "grow with the baby steps" of seeing an album come together..but this is not what is happening now. At all. If it is, sign me up. I could use the income and have fun watching it unfold.

The more I think about MM's book, the more I never accepted a situation like that ever. I would have dropped the hammer.

http://balancedmastering.com

"Listen and Learn"
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Offline bblackwood

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Re: ...On the recent studio closings...
« Reply #14 on: February 03, 2005, 04:41:39 pm »
Well, we'll just disagree, then. Few (if any) records made today can be done in 7 days total as you outline above and still fit the word "incredible". Maybe jazz records and such, but a majority of music being produced/bought isn't jazz...

Good pop records can be made all day for $20k - I work on some of those every week. But the best have taken longer/cost more than that for 30+ years...
Brad Blackwood
euphonic masters