Creativity, Agency and Structure inside the Recording Studio #arp2015

Paul Thompson, Leeds Beckett University, UK

Phillip McIntyre, Newcastle University NSW, Australia

Abstract: Popular accounts of creativity inside the recording studio tend to romanticise and mythologise the record production process (Williams, 2008). These accounts present the artist as the sole creative entity during the recording process, thus endorsing the romantic ideal of a musical ‘genius’ whose artistic expressions are free from any constraint and even somewhat mystical (Zolberg 1990, Petrie 1991, Watson 2005, Sawyer 2006). However, it has been acknowledged that the production of art is always, to some degree, both constrained and enabled by the structures creative agents engage with (Giddens 1976; Becker 1982; Wolff, 1981; Bourdieu 1993). Furthermore, rather than placing the artist at the centre of the creative process there is growing evidence that creativity occurs through the convergence of multiple elements; an agent, a knowledge system (the domain) and a social organisation that holds the domain knowledge (the field), through a dynamic system of interaction (Csikszentmihalyi: 1988, 1997, 1999 & 2004).

Drawing upon current literature, interviews, case studies and data gathered from an extended ethnographic study in the recording studio, this paper explores the interrelated aspects of agency and structure as they apply to the record production process and illustrates their influence on the decision­making process with a group of musicians, an engineer and record producer as they collaborate inside the recording studio.

“Retaining beauty in the un-curated music business”: Tony Maserati, keynote speaker #arp2015

Tony Maserati

Most people reading this will know all about Tony’s background, but for those who are unfamiliar with his work here is the first paragraph from his Wikipedia page:

Tony Maserati, born Tony Masciarotte, is an American record producer and audio engineer who has worked with many mainstream artists including Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Jason Mraz, James Brown, Mariah Carey, Notorious BIG, Black Eyed Peas, Destiny’s Child, R. Kelly, Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, Puff Daddy, and Tupac Shakur. His work encompasses worldwide sales in excess of 100 million units. He won a Grammy Award for his work on Beyoncé Knowles’ No. 1 single, “Crazy In Love”, a Latin Grammy Award for Sérgio Mendes’s Timeless (2006), and has seven additional Grammy nominations.

[JB blog note. These are unedited, real-time notes, presented here in their raw form, with apologies for the fragmented narrative caused by my inadequate typing. If anyone who was present has any additions or amendments, please let me know. Tony was an inspiring speaker – he talked for around 2 hours and the questioning session went on well beyond our allotted time.]

Survival without the labels: The changing role of the recording producer #arp2015

Martha de Francisco, McGill University, Canada

Survival without the labels: The changing role of the recording producer. Experiences, exchanges and reflections of a veteran Tonmeister.

Lara St John

Abstract: In parallel with the growing digital distribution of musical content via new delivery channels over the Internet, the transformation of well­known structures for the production and dissemination of music such as the traditional record labels of past decades and the proliferation of independent labels are bringing about a shift in the way music is produced. Many productions are lead and financed by the performers themselves or by institutions of their affiliation. Acting as independent entrepreneurs, single musicians, chamber music formations, choirs, symphony orchestras and opera houses are commissioning recordings to be realized principally by producers and their recording teams. In many cases and without any increase in compensation, the producer’s competences are stretched to encompass tasks that were formerly taken care of by the label. Distribution and release are often realized online or on the artists’ own label. Alternatively a licensing contract with an existing record label may be pursued, which will lead to the recording being released exclusively online or as physical product, possibly incorporated into the label’s release catalogue.

Furthermore, the use of advanced postproduction technology is placing the recording producer in an increasingly exposed position in the creative process. Contemporary audio technology allows deeper access to the recorded performance than ever before. Sophisticated micro editing and exacting mixing and processing capabilities of powerful audio equipment and software allow extremely detailed adjustments to the audio and an unprecedented degree of influence on the recorded music. Without the control of the labels and attracted by the sophistication of the processing tools in the studio, excesses in the postproduction requests have become a real danger. In many respects recording producers would seem to be replacing the labels, as their influence and guidance of the artists in the creation of their products increases. Case studies and musical examples will be presented.

The Fixer: DIY Recording and the Role of the Audio Professional #arp2015

Adam Patrick Bell, Montclair State University, USA

Abstract: Do­it­yourself (DIY) recording can be a misleading term in the current era of record production as the process often enlists the services of a professional audio engineer. Who performs the recording, mixing, and mastering of the DIY recording? At what point does the professional enter into the picture of production? This paper will examine the working processes of two DIYers who employ audio professionals to assist them in realizing their goals for their home recording projects. Conducted as separate case studies, the ethnographic tools of video­ recording and interviewing were employed to detail the participants’ experiences of producing a recording in a home studio environment. Given that both of the participants discussed in this study had aspirations of producing “professional” recordings of their work to support their respective pursuits of “making it” as professional musicians, how do they conceive of what counts as a “professional” recording and how do the audio professionals they employ contribute to this realization? While popular media ranging from parody (i.e., South Park) to promotion (i.e., Apple) reinforce the perception that the modern digital audio workstation produces radio­ready results in the hands of anyone, the case study participants’ DIY recording endeavours reveal that, at least in these instances, professional help is needed; DIY recording would be more aptly classified as DIWO (do­it­with­others). The implication of this reality for the audio professional is that their services are still in demand, but the point in the record production process in which they commence collaborating with the DIYer shifts on a project­by­project basis. The DIYer tends to remain self­sufficient as long as possible, until their record production aims can no longer be achieved independently. At this point they hire a fixer, an audio professional who must be able to see start mid­process and see the project through to completion.

A New Breed of Home Studio Producers?: A Case­ Study #arp2015

Tuomas Auvinen, University of Turku, Finland

Abstract: Due to the development of digital technology music production has changed. Any aspiring pop musician is required to have a home studio even if the end product acquired in that particular studio never reaches the radio waves. This makes everyone a producer of some kind and, due to cloud drives and the digital space, collaborative music production partly takes place independent of space and time. The problem is that the term “producer” becomes more obscure as the new generation of music makers distinguish between “trackers” or “track guys”, “topliners” and “songwriters”. Furthermore, due to phenomena such as “copyright wars”, in the present­day DIY setting, where most people start their carreers, forward-­driven producers and music makers need a whole new set of skills. These skills increasingly include knowledge about copyright law, contracts and legal processes and less that of traditional musicianship. I base my claims on a case­ study, who is a Helsinki­-based aspiring “urban pop” producer Mikke Vepsäläinen.

Accounting for Agency and Structure in the Creative System #arp2015

Phillip McIntyre, University of Newcastle, Australia

Accounting for Agency and Structure in the Creative System: Bringing an Album of Pop/Rock Songs to Completion.

Abstract: This conference paper is based on research undertaken for a forthcoming book chapter. The analysis is premised on the idea that research into the phenomenon of creativity has grown methodologically and theoretically sophisticated as more evidence mounts refuting romanticist and inspirationist understandings (e.g. Alexander 2003, Negus & Pickering 2004, Pope 2005, Kaufman & Sternberg 2010, Sawyer 2011). From this research literature a number of confluence models have been proposed, in particular Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s (1988, 1997, 1999) systems based approach to creativity, complemented by Pierre Bourdieu’s (1977, 1990, 1993, 1996) systematizing of cultural production. Both approaches indicate that agency, the ability to act and make choice, is dependent on structures, those things that are seen to determine action. Creative agents, who may be singular individuals or collective entities such as groups or institutions, form part of the system of creativity along with the structures of a musical and technical knowledge system, or domain, and a social organisation, or field, which affords the emergence of creative product from a recording studio environment. This system both constrains and enables creative action in the studio at one and the same time. In this case agency and structure are interdependent. To demonstrate these ideas a single case of studio practice has been documented. The case study (Yin 2009, Robson 2011) analyses the recording of an album with a pop/rock band and follows not only production but also documents the pre and post­production processes that occur prior to and after the production period. In doing so this study investigates the agency of songwriters and musicians as well as producer, engineer, mastering engineer and management, and their contribution to creative production in relation to the structures they engage with, in an attempt to cast light on the systems based nature of creative practice in the studio.

JB note – I didn’t catch Phillip’s presentation but wanted to include the abstract, not least because his writings about the application of the Systems Model of Creativity in popular music has been influential upon my own academic work.

Autotuning and the ‘humachine’. Exploring new means of technological expressivity #arp2015

Anne Danielsen, University of Oslo, Norway

Abstract: During the last decade the digitally pitch­corrected voice has repeatedly been used to express human conditions of alienation, numbness, emotional distance, or flatness, in particular in hip­hop and related musical styles. In this paper, I will give an analysis of some recent examples of expressive use of autotuning and discuss the ways in which this technology—which in many ways seems inhuman and mechanistic—seem to be able to capture certain human states or conditions better than the unmediated voice, the most human of all instruments. Autotuning, then, has complemented the human repertoire with new sounds. In the second part of the paper, I will discuss to what extent this and related tools might be considered part of a new and radical stage in the interaction of human and machine in popular music history—a stage that might be characterized by a decisive undermining of the traditional separation between man and machine in music production.

’99 Problems’ but Danger Mouse IS one’: The evolution of the producer Brian Burton

Shara Rambarran, BISC, Queen’s University, Canada

Abstract: Ten years ago, I presented a paper at the first ARP conference in London on Danger Mouse’s mash up, The Grey Album (2004). The presentation resulted in a heated discussion between the panel, audience and myself. Today, the virtual album is still championed by academics, musicians and fans. While Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse) will always be associated with the cultural shift in ‘disrupting’ the practices in popular music creativity and digital technology, this paper will explore the aftermath of The Grey Album event.

The paper will argue that since the event, there have been digital developments that have concerned the musicians/producers, industry and consumers. Music consumption, distribution, copyright, streaming, remixing, production etc. are on­going themes at ARP conferences, and these topics still involve Burton. Since the paper presentation in 2005, Burton has become a successful producer working with the likes of Damon Albarn, Cee­Lo Green, and Jack White. Despite the success, there have been events that have (un)intentionally involved Burton. An overview of such events will be examined such as Gnarls Barkley’s ‘Crazy’ (another leaked project on the Internet); Sparklehorse’s blank CDR release (Burton’s protest to EMI); and more recently, the U2 album that was pre­loaded on iPhones. Whether these episodes are either a coincidence or not, the paper will examine on how Burton’s music production has resulted in such events. I will consider Burton an auteur: despite his hip­hop background, he has produced a genre­blended catalogue that carries his own musical ingredients in record production. While his projects have contributed in the way music is produced, consumed and distributed in the digital age, the paper will argue on why it is likely that his works will still be discussed at future ARP conferences: is Burton a secret musical activist, or an ultramodernist in record production?

Azealia Banks and Gender (2 papers) #arp2015

Stan Hawkins, University of Oslo, Norway

Kai Arne Hansen, University of Oslo, Norway

Track: B – Multipolarities

  1. Aesthetics and Gender Under Construction in Hip Hop: Azealia Banks
  2. Gender Production in `Chasing Time´
Azealia Banks

Abstract: Studying the art of production in popular music involves the subjectivities of artists, producers, engineers, and musicians, and their involvement in the recording process, which have a major impact on the composite recording. This joint paper sets out to locate the aesthetic effects of production as a means to gaining a better understanding of how human agency functions in this context. Our focus therefore falls on the spectacle of sound, with specific focus on the aesthetics of production in Azealia Banks’s 2014 album, Broke with Expensive Taste.

By closely examining a number of tracks from this album, we consider the twists, contours, turns, and transgressions of Banks’ performances. Employing a broad perspective, we draw on theories and methods found in film studies, media studies, and cultural studies to shed light on how processes of production stage the gendered body. Of paramount importance, we argue, are the production techniques that conflate the performer. These take place against a backdrop of referents and sonic markers that are culturally relevant. In the case of Banks, the numerous features that define her unique performativity distinguish her creative endeavors. The main objective of this paper is to throw a light on this through suggesting new ways of intersecting digitized sound, performance, and music technology. The intention is to expose the significance of recording aesthetics from a musicological standpoint. Accordingly, the analytical methods we advocate attempt to probe at the audio image in order to   reveal the signification of gender in relation to musical referents. It is the aesthetic effects of production that offer a platform for grasping how gendered subjectivity functions in popular music.

Sound­box as tool in record production #arp2015

Emil Kraugerud, University of Oslo, Norway

Dingus – two mixes of their song ‘Die Young’ were compared for soundbox analysis.

Abstract: In Rock: The Primary Text (2001), Allan Moore defines the sound­box as “a ’virtual textural space’, envisaged as an empty cube of finite dimensions, changing with respect to real time (almost like an abstract, three­dimensional television screen)” (2001:121). The dimensions in question refer to listeners’ perceived illusions of depth, width and height in recordings, which in turn are affected by properties such as sound level, stereo placement, reverb and frequency range. In Moore’s definition, the sound­box represents a visual metaphor for what producers and engineers would often call ‘the mix’. Why, then, should we apply the term ‘sound­box’ when ‘the mix’ seems to be an adequate term in the context of record production?

In the proposed paper I seek to extend Moore’s (2001) definition of sound­box, to also encompass record production in a practical sense. Although the sound­box is intended as a model for music analysis, I believe it can be adequate also in record production. Certain models bare certain similarities with the sound­box, and are widely used in record production, e.g. William Moylan’s sound stage (2015) and David Gibson’s three­dimensional model (1997). However, as I will argue, while these models seem to be focused on mixing, the sound­box has the potential to be a tool embracing all parts of the production process. My overall argument in this paper, then, is that practical applications of the sound­box as a tool for record production, can contribute to an increased awareness of how producers and engineers work. Thus, it is my belief that an extended definition of the sound­ box as a unity can be a good tool for working with the ‘total balance’ of a mix, in which frequency balance, stereo balance, level balance and mix density is represented.