Macworld and Beyond: Independent Musicians and Digital Recording

Categories: Music, Tech

Is the home studio really the revolutionary tool for independent musicians that people say it is? Thoughts from Macworld and beyond, after the jump.

Words and photos by Tyler Callister

Macs are the music industry standard, so it's no surprise that music software and hardware was heavily represented at Macworld 2008. And musicians were there too (mostly the ones who don't still live in their mom's basement), scoping out the most cutting edge music gear, from music software to music video games.

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Okay, so this guy at Macworld probably still lives in his mom's basement.

But...

what about real musicians, the ones who are trying to make a living in the music industry?

In the race to discover a new digital music business paradigm, independent musicians blew past the major labels years ago. Now, musicians forgo the expensive recording studios and use software like Pro Tools or GarageBand to record it themselves, and they use mediums like MySpace to distribute their music to an international audience. In an interview with The Sound of Young America podcast, legendary producer Steve Albini (known for working with bands like Nirvana and The Pixies) said, "Now is the heyday for bands to be able to take control of their own careers... If you want to start a band, now's the time."

Mike Carrera, a presenter at Macworld 2008 and an employee of the Center for Technology in Music Instruction at Berklee College of Music, agrees. Berklee's hour long presentation explained how to set up and use your own home studio. Basic Apple music software is something any musician with half a brain can use (yes, even from his mom's basement), and, to most people's ear, it almost rivals professional studio quality sound.

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The Berklee College of Music's Mike Carrera presenting at Macworld 2008.

So it would seem that current digital technology unfetters the independent musician from professional music studios, sound engineers, and producers. But Carrera, even as an advocate for home studios, concedes that it's not that simple. "That's one of the big things... Will recording studios still exist in ten or fifteen years, because of all this technology? And I think they will... The fidelity that you get in a recording studio far surpasses anything that you could get inside of your basement. And that's sheerly because they have the resources and the money to buy really, really high-end equipment, make high-end, really great sounding recording rooms."

Carrera also brought up an important recording business model that's catching on: the widespread availability of recording software and home studios encourages distribution-only deals that may give artists more control of the recording process. He says that in these type of deals, "all the recording is done by the artist somewhere else or in their home maybe. Then they present the finished product to the record company who says, 'okay, this sounds good enough to release, what we'll do is just package it and release it.'"

But in the short term, while this model may allow independent artists more creative control over the recording process, it presents a financial challenge for them as well--most can't afford much studio time.

Clint Stewart, a Macworld attendee and Assistant Label Manager at San Francisco techno label Auralism Records, says that either way, artists have to accept that it's a hard business. "I think anybody who wants a free handout needs to go somewhere else or do something different," he says. "I think the only time that you're actually gonna make it as an artist... is by putting in a lot of hard work."

If the home studio is your thing, try GarageBand, Logic Studio, or ProTools.

If the pro studio is your thing, try PopSmear Studios.

If getting signed to a major label is your thing, try throwing darts at an old, dilapidated, moving target.

This weekend, come back for the second installment of Macworld and Beyond -- Music Distribution

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