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Thursday, December 31, 2009

7 Music Business Predictions For 2010

Here are my 7 music business predictions for 2010, as posted on my Music 3.0 blog.

I'm not sure if many of you know, but I've separated the music business postings from this blog and they're now being posted exclusively on Music 3.0. Anything that has to do with music creation, production or technology will remain on this blog.

Happy New Year and thanks for reading everyone!!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

6 Predictions For The Musical Instrument/Pro Audio Business For 2010

Here's the fun part of the year coming to a close, when we can do some crystal ball gazing, take a couple of seances, dream a couple of dreams and make some semi-educated guesses regarding the happenings of the coming year. Sprinkle in a little inside knowledge here and a rumor or two there and you have the 6 predictions for the MI/pro audio business for 2010.

1) Pro Tools goes native and abandons their processor cards. Let's face it, computers are getting faster every day and are already plenty fast enough to handle just about anything a DAW can throw at them, so why must a user pay big money to buy a processor card? Avid agrees as the Pro Tools hardware approaches it's natural end-of-life, but what will that mean for them over the long haul? Such a decision could open up a can of worms for Avid (Digidesign) though, as it also opens the door for the next new DAW kid on the block. Remember how the Sony 3348 was a must-have for every commercial studio and within 6 months was a boat anchor? Could happen here too, but not this year.

2) Two well-known manufacturers will be no more. It's been pretty amazing that there has been so few manufacturer fatalities during the last year considering the state of the economy. That won't continue however, as a number of very well-known companies currently stand on the brink and it won't take much to push them over. Look for at least two of them to be bought, merged or closed.

3) A well-known retailer will contract. The year was already savage, but the Holiday season was particularly unkind to a major retailer, who will be forced to drop any planned expansion and begin to close under-performing stores.

4) Retailers delete duplicate items. Show me just about any musical instrument or recording item out there and I'll show you at least a dozen manufacturers that make one. While excess choice was always a bit of a burden for a retailer, now it's a downright millstone around their cash register's neck. Look for retailers to cut back on the number of items they carry, and look for many boutique manufacturers to suffer and die as a result.

5) A new class of hardware will be introduced. Thinking outside the box is not a trait that the current MI/Pro Audio business possesses to any great degree, but one company has managed to plow some fertile ground with a new look to an old process. Look for it's debut in the new year.

6) The 5th Beatle gets a new job. This last point only indirectly affects the MI/Pro Audio business but it's worth pointing out. It used to be that the silent member of a band was their manager, producer or engineer, but the new 5th Beatle is their webmaster. With social media playing such a large roll in just about any size act's marketing and promotion, the person with the most online smarts might be even more important than a rhythm guitar player who doesn't sing (as long as he's not the songwriter). The new 5th Beatle is one less person around a band that would buy the gear that the industry sells (except for the computer and accessories, of course).

Can't wait until the end of next year to see how many of these came true, but I bet my batting average will be pretty good.

Monday, December 28, 2009

4 Significant Moments In Music And Recording - 2009

Even though 2009 was a difficult year for just about everyone, it did have some interesting moments in the music and recording world. Most years are purely evolutionary gear-wise, but we had a couple of clear innovations this year that make it special. Let's take a look at a couple of highlights and a couple of lowlights from 2009:

Celemony Melodyne Version 2 with DNA - What more can I say than "Wow!" The ability to digitally move notes around within a chord in a sample? Are you kidding me? This is a monster innovation that producers and engineers will forensically use all the time when they get their hands on it. Here's the video:

The JamHub - Another innovation that's more on the level of the average musician, JamHub (also called "the silent rehearsal studio") allows the members of a band to silently practice without bothering anyone. It's a neighbors dream! Here's a really short video that explains everything:

Manny's Music Closes - After 74 years, the venerable Manny's Music on 48th street in Manhattan closed. Once the country's most famous music store, it was closed by parent company Sam Ash to make way for a larger Sam Ash guitar store. Another piece of music history fades away.

Digidesign Becomes Avid - We knew it was coming because they've been owned by Avid for a while, but it was still a bit of a shock when Digi was merged into Avid. Winter NAMM 2010 should be interesting to see if Digi's name still remains on their Pro Tools products.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

12 Major Changes To Recording In The 2000's

I got to thinking about the many changes that came about in the recording business during the 2000's the other day - some of it good, some of it bad, most of it significant. Here are what I consider to be the 12 major changes to recording in the 2000's, in no particular order.

1) Pro Tools Standardization - As the decade started, Pro Tools was was already creeping into the major studios, but every year since it has become more and more entrenched as the standard audio capture format for any professional application. Sure, there are a lot of other great DAWs, but none of them have the traction of Pro Tools. In any professional situation, from music to radio to film and television post, this is the DAW that you're going to have to use as we move into 2010 - until something better comes along (no, I don't have a clue).

2) The Downfall of Commercial Studios - When I moved to Los Angeles in 1980, there were more than 250 "24 track" commercial studios in town. Many of them were multi-room facilities and they all were teaming with business. As we move into 2010, there are fewer commercial studios than ever before thanks to cuts in recording budgets, the ease of setting up a home studio, and the fact that studio rates have remained about the same since the 80's while overhead has risen dramatically.

One of the sad byproducts of this is the fact that the apprentice system that existed and taught so many great engineers has pretty much fallen by the wayside. With only a few commercial studios left, it's only the lucky few that get to sit behind a great engineer and learn something new every day. That's good for me since more people buy my books, but it's not a great thing for the industry at large.

3) The Rise of Software and Fall of Hardware - Once upon a time, every studio needed a pretty good amount of outboard gear to be able to record and, especially, mix a record. It would be nothing for a studio to spend in excess of $100k for outboard EQ's, compressors, effects devices and reverbs that they absolutely needed to have in order to attract independent engineers and producers and make a competitive record. During the 2000's we saw a shift away from outboard hardware boxes to software plug-ins that do the same thing, only cheaper and easier. At the beginning of the decade, most pro engineers complained about "the sound" of plug-ins that emulated their favorite outboard device, and for the most part, they were right. It didn't quite measure up. Now that major computer horsepower is so inexpensive and programmers are better at what they do, the difference in sound quality between the plug-in and the real thing is no longer an issue even with the old-schoolers.

One of the big reasons why software plugs have caught on is price. Why buy a rack of Neve 1073's at $2500 a piece when you can buy a UAD card that can give you a hundred of them for half the price of just one? Sure, you don't get the mic preamp and and you can't track with them, but if you don't record more than a couple channels at a time anyway, it's hardly a problem.

Even in live sound there's been a shift as the industry changes to a digital signal path. There'll always be a market for outboard gear, especially for tracking, but the days of large expenditures for hardware are over.

4) The Fall Of Rental Companies - It used to be that renting gear was one of the secret cash-cows of the business. Every town had at least one major rental company (New York, LA and Nashville had 4 or 5) and many engineers and producers made extra dough on their projects by renting their pricier gear back as an extra. Thanks to the rise in software plug-ins, the need for that expensive hardware has dropped drastically. And even when it is rented, the length of the sessions has decreased to such a degree that what used to be a three or four week rental might now take only three or four days. As a result, a lot of the major rental companies have either gone under or cut back drastically, the minor ones don't exist anymore, and it's rare that an engineer will even think about renting the gear back to a project as he's just thankful for the job.

5) Mixing In The Box (Who Needs A Recording Console?) - As the 2000's came around the corner, you would never even consider doing a project without a recording console, and for sure, you'd never open a studio unless you had a Neve, SSL, API or the like. Today, vintage recording consoles that regularly went for $250k plus and didn't depreciate much can now be had for $50k or less with the seller feeling extremely pleased that he even found a buyer. With so little tracking with live musicians being done these days (see Loop-based Music) and the increased power of the DAW, why buy a recording console at all?

DAW's offer so many features these days that a competent engineer can make a great sounding record in a way that couldn't be done in 2000. The sound is good, the plug-ins are great and plentiful, the automation and recall are better than on any console, you're no longer limited to a certain size control room by the size of a desk, and inexpensive controllers are plentiful. It's no wonder that even the old-schoolers have finally acquiesced to "mixing in the box."

6) Less Money Going Around - CD sales are way down and as a result, so are recording budgets. Where once a $100k budget was considered bottom of the barrel when budgets for even non-superstar acts were beyond $500k, we now live in a world of $40 and 50k budgets. No money - no big studio, no rentals, no hardware purchases. It's all tied together. Superstar acts still get a blank check, but there are fewer and fewer of these acts. The future of the recording budget is here - get used to $40k or even less.

7) Sample and Loop-based Music - Once upon a time, all music started with real musicians tracked live. That all changed in the 2000's. Programs like Acid and Ableton Live made it easy to make some great music without ever seeing a real musician. Loop libraries gave you access to just about every kind of sound and mood that you could think of, and samples of every type of instrument became more realistic. Suddenly, you didn't need a studio, you didn't need a tracking room, you didn't need a player - all you needed was a laptop, some software and a set of headphones. Television and film composers no longer needed an orchestra, keyboard players could record great guitar and bass parts without the players, and no one needed a drummer if you had BFD or a similar program. It changed the music world, although not so much for the better, I'm afraid.

8) The Rise of Alternative Markets - Some markets thrived during the 2000's. The church market became a saviour for many audio gear companies as churches installed bigger and better sound systems, recorded their services and even broadcast them on television or the web. The sound system install market flourished as commercial building projects popped up everywhere. While this was truly a bright spot for many companies in recent years, the recession has brought these markets to a resounding halt. The worse may be yet to come, unfortunately.

9) The Rise of the Home Studio - It's now possible to have a studio on your laptop that's much more powerful than anything The Beatle's ever had to work with for less than a thousand dollars. Home recording is within reach of anyone that wants to do it, and everybody does. This has been both good and bad. It's brought about Music 3.0, where an artist is no longer bound by the marketing, distribution and sales system of the record labels, but the filter that the label provided and the help of the many professionals along the way had it's advantages too. Just because you have your own studio doesn't mean you know how to use it. As a result, we have fewer real professionals than ever before who are making less money than ever before - and more and more people making their own music at home. It hasn't resulted in better music so far.

10) The Influx of Chinese Gear - Audio and music gear is better than ever before on average. It's really difficult to find what would be considered a "bad" piece of gear these days (I remember the old Kent guitars with the bowed necks when I was growing up - those were bad), and it's cheaper than ever as well, all thanks to those hard-working Chinese near slave-laborers. Just about every gear company does the same thing these days - design the piece here, manufacture it in China, and sell it as cheaply as possible against a dozen other manufacturers with the same product and idea. The problem is that while all the gear is good, not much of it is really great. That's why we have more boutique gear manufacturers than ever. I wonder how they all survive?

11) The Failure of the Hi-Res Formats - In the beginning of the 2000's, the great hope for the industry and audio pros alike was the hi-res SACD and DVD-A formats. The trouble was, the public looked at these formats and yawned. It's difficult to hear hi-quality audio when your sound system is worse than what you could find in the typical college dorm room in 1970. Bad presentation, bad marketing, and no consumer interest all equal format death.

12) Change in Consumer Buying Habits - We all know this one. CD sales down, digital sales up, piracy still high. It's the reason for most of the items on this list. We'll cover this point more later in the week on my Music 3.0 blog.


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