One could be forgiven about being optimistic about the future of recording and distributing music. It’s never been easier for music lovers to flip on their trusty digital devices, stream some digital tunes and discover new music. All a musician, songwriter or creator needs to do to move from underground to the music collections of endless new subscribers is to put their music out there, so the conventional wisdom goes. It’s all democratized — so, all a budding young performer needs is to grab their instrument, a microphone and release their indie tunes to the world where their discovery is ensured, right?
But that’s just the beginning. Maybe you know a little bit about how music recording works, but there’s even more to learn. Which DAW should you use? Which microphones? Then you need to figure out the actual physical process of how to play music while recording. You might end up investing hard-earned cash in particular audio equipment but find the results lacking. Recording in a studio brings its own set of complications. Suddenly you’ve got to dissect you or your band’s work down into reproducible, standalone tracks. You’ll block out the studio for days at a time, and maybe get through a single song. Then there’s mixing, mastering, all parts of the process, which while entirely necessary, can feel more like design by committee than the radical power-to-the-people approach you imagined.
All of this to end up with a product that you then have to market yourself. Are you an experienced copywriter? Why does that matter? Well your music can’t really automatically end up directly in the users curated lists, there’s still an entrenched music industry that can create a barrier to entry — from folk to jazz — music by artists that are yet to be signed to labels should have a solid web presence, availability on streaming services like Spotify, iTunes, etc. and an artist should be able to write about themselves with ease. I’m not a writer by trade myself, but here’s my take at a the artist bio for my solo project, Baze Blackwood.
Baze Blackwood is the brainchild of composer and multi-instrumentalist Miles Robinson (former saxophonist of The New Limits), a not-quite alter-ego for his songwriting adventures. The most recent Baze EP, If It Is — a collaboration with Scoops Dardaris (producer and bassist in Comfy) — layers in tongue-in-cheek lyrics, glittery guitar-work and lush instrumentation (such as the saxophone reprise at the end of Oceans); evoking a certain strain of Americana, but likewise the grungier and jazzy ingredients that made up most of his early musical diet.
So you’ve got your music out there, and maybe even you’ve got a solid bio and web presence. But now you’ve launched your album, and basically you’re still giving it away for free. Maybe you can see all of this coming a mile away — or you’ve done it already, but you’re back in the studio again and it’s starting to leave a bad taste in your mouth. You’re no slacker, but you know that it should be easier to get your work in front of people who just want to listen to music, and you’ve just spent 3 months investing in huge “lossless” audio tracks that are too detailed for any average listener to tell the difference, you’ve wrecked your vocal chords from trying to nail that backing track too many times, and by the time you’ve heard playback 100 times, you’re starting to get sick of your own songs!
So, digital music production has basically created a few power users, while the rest of us are fighting for recognition. It’s not that our final work doesn’t align with the tastes of the listener, it’s that we get tired of beating our own drums when the process of recording can be so alien.
What I think the right approach is, and I admit I am taking a page out of (the great) Steve Albini’s book here, is that the whole hourly in-and-out model of studio production is inherently morally bankrupt. What we need is to build records together, at a pace where the artist isn’t locked out of the process, where producer and performer can fit into a groove together. But while I certainly depart from Albini’s hardline analog-only approach, it’s explicitly because I think the “democratization” of audio recording has yet to see it’s full fruition. In order for a performer to find the rhythm of the artful dance of recording, they can’t feel rushed, left out of the technical aspect or entirely treated as talent in the context of bringing their music to life.
With these notions in mind I’ve committed to making records that allow the artist to understand how to breathe life into their recorded work, to do more with less equipment and more time. To let inspiration of the artist generate the energy of the process. If it sounds good, it is good. With that, if you want to work together, feel free to drop a line.