CritiqueFeature

Does the Rise of Digital Home Recording Really Help Independent Artists?

The recording industry has been de-centralizing for the past decade. More and more bands are buying their own equipment or using a local engineer who has a project studio setup in a basement or living room. This expansion of recording opportunities has lead to an explosion of content. Bands who previously would never have been able to afford to cut a single can now put out multiple albums. Not only are bands able to create albums cheaply, but they’re able to get digital distribution deals through large companies like Reverb Nation or CD Baby and have their music streaming on every platform all across the world. The question that should be asked is, “Does this cheap availability of home recording and digital publishing really help independent artists?”

Most young bands don’t bother with this question at all. Rather, they hit the ground running in the arms race to put out the most content and stay relevant. This article is not meant to dissuade artist from producing albums in a home studio. Rather, this is meant to pose questions to bands that maybe haven’t been considered before, and take a hard look at the self-inflicted wounds the independent music industry has unintentionally given itself. There are three major problems caused the ubiquity of home recording.

Not only are bands able to create albums cheaply, but they’re able to get digital distribution deals through large companies like Reverb Nation or CD Baby and have their music streaming on every platform all across the world. The question that should be asked is, “Does this cheap availability of home recording and digital publishing really help independent artists?” Most young bands don’t bother with this question at all. Rather, they hit the ground running in the arms race to put out the most content and stay relevant. This article is not meant to dissuade artist from producing albums in a home studio. Rather, this is meant to pose questions to bands that maybe haven’t been considered before, and take a hard look at the self-inflicted wounds the independent music industry has unintentionally given itself. There are three major problems caused the ubiquity of home recording.

First, as with all sectors of the economy, the amount of content being released lowers the value of each release. The number of low-quality recordings that have come out of the home recording scene far outweighs the number of high-quality recordings. This has been happening over the course of a decade or more, and things have devolved to the point where bands are having to convince people that even though they’ve heard a ton of awful home-produced albums, that their album is really worth giving a listen.

Before the home studio explosion, bands only had to convince people their music was good, and the mere fact they were able to get a real album produced meant they were successful enough to either pay for professional studio time or they were heard by someone who deemed them good enough to record in a professional studio. The rise of home recording has created a second barrier for bands who are the victim of low-quality recording equipment or engineers who are inexperienced.

This leads to the second point. As is with technology, the longer a certain industry is around, the cheaper equipment in that industry will get. While high-quality rigs are still going to command a hefty price, the entry-level price tag of home recording is plummeting. With this lower cost of entry, more and more people are trying their hand at it. When you have a large number of people doing something that requires an unbelievable amount of knowledge, training, and skill, most fall short of the mark. The only difference between the home recording industry and other industries is that the laws of supply and demand do not necessarily apply. Bands will always be willing to give an engineer the benefit of the doubt if the price is right.

Lastly, when these two previous points are combined, it creates a cycle. The cycle looks something like this: there are so many low-quality albums out there because it’s so cheap to make them. Since there are so many artists releasing music, it’s hard to get noticed. Because it’s hard to get noticed, bands must continue to release albums in hopes that the next album is ‘the one.’

When bands need to release an album they usually try to find the cheapest option (cue the top of the cycle). This is, admittedly, a cynical view of the home studio industry. And there is absolutely something to be said for bands who are amazing songwriters but just lack the sheen and polish a professional recording job provides. Additionally, this is not intended to imply that home studio producers and mix engineers automatically have no clue what they are doing, far from it. I have heard some amazing work come out of home studios all over the world. The point is, those gems are far and away the exception.

Often, it’s the most talented home studio engineers that get the raw end of the deal. Being a high-quality home studio engineer is often a vanishing act. If you do an amazing job, the band will never have to qualify their recordings with the phrase, “Yeah, and we made it in a home studio!”. People can just listen to the songs and enjoy the professional sound. While that is the ultimate goal, it also takes away from the monuments achievement of the engineer, and that achievement often goes unrewarded.

This essay is from cinephile and film critic, Andrew Border. 

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