I was visiting with my friend Eric 4-A the other day at his recording studio (Vagrant Studios – the Seattle one). Eric has been in the business for a number of years now, jumping right in after graduating from college (correct me if I’m wrong about that, Eric). He’d been in and out of bands along the way and decided to work at the thing he loved.
He started a label along with the studio and, in the grand tradition of local institution SubPop Records, “has been going out of business ever since…”
Eric has worked with a number of great bands and musicians over the years. Along the way he has also suffered a number of the injustices perpetrated on small-time players on the lower level of the music business food chain. We all know them – if you’ve been in the business, you’ve had your share.
The visit made me think about something I’ve been thinking about for a while, now – something we’ve all been aware of for some time – how the business is changing. The proliferation of technology (particularly, digital technology) has radically changed the way this all works.
For instance, musicians no longer have to rely on recording studios in order to get their music out there. The cost of digital recording technology has come down over the years to the point that many of us can afford to do it all at home, in the garage (or even the bedroom). And, if you know what you’re doing, the loss of quality is miniscule, if at all. That being said, when I listen to old Sinatra recordings I know I’ll never get that kind of lush reverb and space in my bedroom.
Then again, I’m not Sinatra…
We’ve been told that this is all a wonderful thing for independent musicians – we’re now in control of our own destinies more than ever before. However, the proliferation of digital technology also means that more and more people don’t pay for recorded music anymore. There are any number of ways to get music for free or ridiculously cheap via the internet.
The point is the business shifts and changes over time, moving from one way of being to another, and back again. It always has. Live performance has always been the primary way musicians have earned money. You go out, you play, and you get paid (hopefully).
However, with the advent and rise of recording technology more and more musicians were able to augment their performance income with money from record sales.
Understand that those tended to be the ones at the upper levels of the Music Food Chain (Elvis, Michael Jackson, Madonna, etc.). For most of the rest of us sales of recordings were for promotional purposes (people hear your music, like it, come out and pay to hear you play live and bring along a few friends – new fans).
Somebody in the business once told me that the overwhelming majority of independent recordings never made any money; most never broke even. For most of us recording has never been a money-making proposition; and, yet, we do it.
Once again, the business has shifted, back to something from a while ago. Apparently, vinyl records are back. More and more musicians have been releasing their albums as vinyl records.
I myself am pleasantly surprised at the resurgence of vinyl. I’ve always wanted to make a record, but I didn’t get started until after compact discs had begun to push vinyl out of the picture. Having a CD is great but it’s not the same as a record album. And a CD insert booklet doesn’t even begin to compare to the sheer physicality and lushness of an album cover. I know, in so many ways CDs are so much more convenient than record albums – even so… I want to make a RECORD! Life may be worth living again.
I ran into a former student of mine the other day. He’s studying in the Music Technology program at the college where I teach. He was excited that he’d been offered an internship at a local recording studio. It’s what he’s always wanted to do and now it’s happening. His eagerness filled the room. I thought about my friend Eric. I thought about telling my old student that the business wasn’t what it had been – that he might be entering a dying industry – that the studio might not even exist 5 years from now – that he might end up taping corporate meetings for Microsoft or Amazon one day instead of recording his favorite bands.
Those things crossed my mind but I didn’t say them. I congratulated him and said good luck. Enjoy. I think I might ask him to help me record that next album of mine and prepare it for a vinyl pressing… yeah, that’s what I’ll do.
Based in Seattle, Washington, Reggie Garrett has been performing throughout the United States and Canada for many years. Reggie is the purveyor of a unique urban strain of acoustic music incorporating a number of diverse influences, including: Folk, Jazz, Blues, Gospel, Celtic, Rock, Latin rhythms and more. The amazing result is a musical blend that has excited and touched audiences.
Take a listen to Reggie Garrett or Reggie Garrett & the SnakeOil Peddlers’ music, and book the live band or contact Reggie today!