Final keynote: Martha de Francisco #arp13

One of Martha’s case studies was from her own work on this four-piano Bach recording.


Martha de Francisco is a record producer and recording engineer specializing in Classical music. She is a professor for Sound Recording at McGill University in Montreal. An internationally acknowledged leader in the field of sound recording and record production, Martha has recorded with some of the greatest classical musicians of our time for the major record labels and in the best concert halls. She has credits on hundreds of recordings, mostly for worldwide release, many distinguished with the most prestigious awards. A graduate from the renowned Tonmeister program at the Musikhochschule Detmold, Germany, Martha was one of the pioneers of digital recording and editing in Europe during the 1980s. On staff as producer/engineer/editor with Philips Classics, she developed long lasting working relationships with many prominent artists. Martha has been entrusted with the recording legacy of international artists from Alfred Brendel to the Philadelphia Orchestra. Her list of recording artists includes the Beaux Arts Trio, Heinz Holliger, Oliver Latry, Gustav Leonhardt, I Musici, Truls Mørk, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Jessye Norman, the conductors John Eliot Gardiner, Neville Marriner, Kent Nagano, Simon Rattle, the Symphony Orchestras of Vienna, Montreal, Philadelphia, London, Caracas and many more. Martha has recorded in a variety of venues throughout the world: Vienna Musikverein, New York Carnegie Hall, Moscow Conservatoire, Bayreuth Festspielhaus, Tokyo Suntory Hall, Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. Martha de Francisco is appointed as Associate Professor at the Schulich School of Music of McGill University and a member of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology CIRMMT. Her research topics include the latest surround-sound techniques, music recording with virtual acoustics, studies on piano brightness and the aesthetics of recorded music. She was the producer/engineer of the acclaimed research and production project “The Virtual Haydn”, a recreation of the sonic characteristics of Haydn’s music played on reconstructions of his instruments performed (virtually) in his original rooms, a study of acoustics and interpretation. Martha is a frequent lecturer at international professional conferences, a regular judge at the main international student recording competitions as well as a sought-after guest lecturer at leading schools for higher education in Audio in various countries.

Martha’s talk begins with a discussion of her project at McGill ‘The Virtual Haydn’. It is fascinating work and I will not attempt to summarise it here – everything you need is on the project website.

She next discusses changing sales models in the recording industry, comparing unit sales (all formats including downloads and mobile) 2001-2012 with revenue. Sales across all formats are stable; revenue is substantially reduced.

The mix of digitally distributed formats continued to increase, and the industry is now digital to a greater degree than ever before, with both new formats and permanent downloads contributing growth to a nearly 60% digital industry. The growth of access models show that formats where fans can listen from vast libraries rather than making individual purchases are gaining traction and making a significant contribution to the industry today.


Martha also shows us some live RIAA database interrogations.

She states that, increasingly, musicians are the owners of their master recordings, and notes that record labels no longer have the nurturing role they once took of their artists. She reflects on the ‘Phillips sound’ and the ‘Deutschegrammophon sound’ and observes that this may disappear if it is not preserved; this is one reason that Martha has moved into education – to pass on her estimable experience to younger people.

So can everyone be a recording artist? The web certainly allows this. She next discusses digital democratisation, and gives many examples including CDbaby etc. She uses the term ‘dematerialisation’ that she sees in the music production industry, and shows some examples. The world becomes less material – hardware becomes software; CD becomes download etc.

There follows a detailed discussion of digital tools, giving the examples of downloading a metronome for a smartphone, annotating a score on an iPad, lookup tables for non-equal temperament tunings, checking online for a scan of an original Beethoven score to inform a performance. [I love the holistic/inclusive way Martha has defined digital music tools here – she includes the whole of the Internet!].

There is then a discussion of sound quality and HD audio, and the dynamic range and subtlety of classical music, noting how important it is to capture these properly. She cites her own recording of Alexandre Tharaud’s Bach keyboard concertos and discusses how a multi-piano recording was made with Tharaud as the sole performer.

[with apologies to Martha I have to stop here – suffering a little from typing fatigue due to too much speed blogging!]

[a wonderful presentation, and very inspiring to all in the room].

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