Analogue contemporary studio production #arp2016

Questioning progress narratives in contemporary studio production

Joe Watson, PhD candidate, University of Sussex


roland_tr606_lgIn our headlong rush to embrace all thing digital as synonymous with ‘the future’ perhaps we run the risk of forgetting important insights from the past. As contemporary cultures come increasingly under the rubric of ‘the digital’ might there be traction to be gained from a current, practical investigation of ‘the analogue’? This paper presents ongoing practice-based research into recording and production using analogue multi-track tape. The author has many years of experience engineering and/or producing using digital technologies (including Stereolab, High Llamas) and now turns his attention to the DAW’s analogue ‘forebears’ in self-production of his third Junior Electronics solo pop album. Given the skeuomorphic nature of the DAW, and its indebtedness to the legacy of traditional analogue engineering, what insights can be gleaned by engaging with the actual analogue equipment itself? As the DAW increasingly swallows up the whole studio (recorder, mixer, outboard, instruments, personnel) within the ‘square horizon’ (Virilio) of the screen, what can be learn by the digitally literate producer/composer from the extreme constraints of a fully analogue production process? The constraints placed on the making of this album are simple – there shall be no digital audio, or digitisation of audio, at any point in the production of the finished record – the album will be tracked to ½ inch 8 track, mixed to ¼ inch stereo tape and mastered to vinyl. Digital processes and media may be employed for purposes of documentation and demoing. What are the practical effects on the music produced if an artist used to ‘unlimited’ tracks is forced to work with only 8? What are the effects on the production process when editing is restricted to what one can achieve with a razor blade? Given the healthy currency of analogue technologies (vinyl, modular synthesis, cassette labels, traditional tape-based studios (such as Albini’s Electrical Audio)) why is ‘the analogue’ consistently periodised as digital’s early/obsolete ‘other’? This research forms part of the author’s PhD in Musical Composition. Methodology is practice- based, performative and diffractive (Haraway, Barad).

Joe’s presentation opens with a discussion of the semantics of ‘digital’ and the fact that the word can, today, be appended to almost anything. Implicit in the term, as applied, is the idea of superseding the old, analogue, outmoded model (of anything non-digital). He interestingly notes that sales of colouring books have recently increased, and speculates that some people may find an analogue activity appealing after working at a screen all day.

Panel – recording aesthetics #arpOslo2014

IMG_0807Panel – Amy Blier-Carruthers, Royal Academy of Music; Phil Harding, PJ Music Ltd; Pytten Hundvin, Norwegian Record Producer and Sound Engineer; Serge Lacasse, Université Laval; Susan Rogers, Berklee College of Music; Simon Zagorski-Thomas, University of West London. Moderator: Alan Williams, University of Massachusetts Lowell.

We begin this panel with a discussion of ‘pet hates’ in recording. The panel rises to the task impressively. Some hates include the loudness wars and issues of track compression (Pytten); horrible tracking rooms in the interests of authenticity; being precious about your ideas and resisting stretching them (Susan); and the boxy frequencies between 400Hz and 900Hz (Phil – “can anyone in this room tell me a good reason for boosting these frequencies, and tell me what instrument to do it on?”).

Vintage Instruments and Retro Technology in Popular Music Culture #arp13

Röyksopp – keeping it vintage – but why?

ZEINER-HENRIKSEN, HANS T. (University of Oslo)

Vintage Instruments and Retro Technology in Popular Music Culture

[abstract] On the cover of the Norwegian electronica duo Röyksopp’s 2009 album Junior, Svein Berge is carrying a Korg SB100 synthesizer from 1975, while his partner Torbjørn Brundtland is holding a vinyl record. At concerts and in interviews regarding their production techniques the duo also emphasizes their use of a 1978 Korg MS synthesizer. Röyksopp exposes and celebrates instruments and a technology that in many ways are outdated – they may use these analogue synthesizers together with samples from old vinyl records, but the digital computer with a sequencer and software instruments is definitely playing a more central role in their productions. The celebration of old technology seems to be important even in music genres where a rather modern sound is being produced. I will discuss this fascination with old technology and ask whether it is stable and lasting, or constantly changing as David Pattie argues concerning the discourses on authenticity in rock culture (Pattie 2007). All types of technology or old instruments are not celebrated in the same manner. Using Wiebe E. Bijker’s theory of sociotechnical change (Bijker 1997), I will investigate processes within genres that lead one instrument or a type of technology into an elevated “vintage” position, and discuss to what extent its position is established once and for all or if it is an area of constant change and modification.

Hans begins with some audio from Parliament’s ‘Do That Stuff’ followed by Røoyksopp’s ‘Happy Up Here’ (see whosampled link);

Brazilian electronica of César Camargo Mariano & Prisma: hybridization or tradition? #arp13

Many, many keyboards were required for the Prisma project


The “Brazilian electronica” of César Camargo Mariano and Prisma (1984-7): hybridization or tradition?

[abstract] In 1984, keyboardist César Camargo Mariano proposed the adoption of electronic musical instruments and MIDI systems in a Brazilian popular music repertoire. The successful first concert seasons in São Paulo led to a long-term project, named Prisma, which has been extended over the next thirty months encompassing the recording of two albums, each one followed by a nationwide concert tour. The main feature of the music was the mix of typically Brazilian musical elements with electronic sounds never heard attempted before in the country due to trade barriers on musical instrument imports and the unfamiliarity of local musicians with the new studio and stage practices. In spite of the fact that the Prisma participants focused on expanding the sound palette of a previously existing tradition, they eventually dealt with matters such as non-tempered noises as music composition materials, sequencer programming, tape editing and sound design. Hence one can ask about the nature of that concoction and its products. Would they fit perfectly within the borders of a previously constituted aesthetic territory or place themselves in an intermediate zone defined by indefinability and multiplicity? This last option leads us to the concept of hybridization, frequently approached by authors under a national perspective. Starting from the statement that there is no cultural purity but stabilized cultural traditions, this paper proposes a concept of cultural hybridization based on an intersection of texts and studies, to investigate a possible hybrid state resulting from the presence and influence of electronica in the music of Prisma.

The UK Sound: British Hip Hop Production Practice #arp13

Diggin’ in the crates

STEVENSON, ALEX (Leeds Metropolitan University)
The UK Sound: British Hip Hop Production Practice

[abstract only] The emergence of localised sub-genres of Hip Hop around the world has been well documented, however the genre of UK Hip Hop (or British Hip Hop) has been largely overlooked in scholarly research. Although largely an underground music scene with very limited commercial success, UK Hip Hop has been recognized as being pivotal in the development of the more commercially successful genres of Grime, Trip Hop and Drum’n’Bass. Existing research into UK Hip Hop has often been from a cultural or sociological perspective, and although there is existing research analysing the compositional approach of Turntablist groups within in UK, little research exists into the production processes of UK Hip Hop.

Whilst many UK Hip Hop producers acknowledge the influence of American producers in the development of their style of production, there is recognition of UK Hip Hop having its own unique sonic characteristics. This uniqueness has been attributed to the experimental nature of the genre, partly due to its underground status, and its incorporation of a wide range of other musical genres.

This paper aims to identify and explore the unique aspects of UK Hip Hop through analysis of the composition and production processes. Through the use of interviews with key UK Hip Hop producers, and the sonic analysis of key musical works, this research will focus on three key themes which impact on the production process; these are:

  • Access to and utilisation of technology

  • The influence of specific US Hip Hop producers

  • The integration of elements of other music genres

1967: the year of the “Ambient Machine”: (Italian film sound post-production) #arp13

Fellini was one of many Italian film directors to use the Ambient Machine for background foley after 1967.

MEANDRI, ILARIO (University of Turin)

1967: the year of the “Ambient Machine”: Local adaptation of global technologies in the Italian film sound post-production process of the late Sixties

Ilario Meandri academic profile

[JB note – this was a Skype-in session. Kinda weird at first, but as with all videoconferencing we all settled into it pretty quickly. Ilario did a great job communicating his paper through the tricky medium of live streaming video – especially as his subject was cinema foley!]

[abstract only] One of the main revolutions of the sound post production process in the Italian cinema of the late Sixties was the birth of independent Foley studios. Before 1963-1964 ca. foleys were employed as freelance artists working at the Foley-stages of the sound post production facilities in Rome. By the end of 1965 the Foley artists formed a cartel and founded a new independent business. The new Foley companies would now provide to the studios all the required post-production sound effects: Foley-stage sounds (hereinafter: FFX), non-sync ambient sounds loops (AFX) and moviola-synchronized special sound effects (SFX) – the last two had previously been the responsibility of the film’s editor or/and the direct-sound editor. This novelty led rapidly to a series of technical and process innovations. The first noteworthy one is the foundation of the Foley AFX and SFX sound archives. Over the following years, in building AFX and SFX for movies by Fellini, Leone, Risi, Rosi, Petri, Pasolini, and Monicelli – to cite but a few – Foley companies formed the core of the new archives which ended up by becoming one of the richest and finest sound collections in the world.

AHRC Research Network on Performance in the Studio (PitS)

AHRC Research Network on Performance in the Studio (PitS)

  • ZAGORSKI-THOMAS, SIMON (London College of Music, UK)
  • BLIER-CARRUTHERS, AMY (Royal College of Music, UK)
  • WILLIAMS, ALAN (University of Massachusetts Lowell, USA)
  • HOWLETT, MIKE (Queensland University of Technology)

[abstract] This session would be a presentation of the results from the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council funded network that has been run in conjunction with the Association for the Study of the Art of Record Production. The session would include presentations from five of the researchers involved in the network plus the producer of the recording session that was studied, followed by a discussion of the way that this research contributes to performance and production pedagogy and practice and how the project will continue after the funding term is over.

The project involves the documentation (with video and audio of the event, participant interviews and the session files from the recording) of a recording session held in Dec 2012 and produced by Mike Howlett. The session involves a singer / songwriter, a rhythm section and a string quartet and the aim is to study the way the musicians work in the studio – as distinct from the way they work in rehearsal and in concert. The project involves three weekend colloquia and an online conference as well as the recording session itself whereby the network members and a group of invited guests examine and discuss the issues that arise from the session. The network members will study the session from a variety of perspectives: performance studies, ethnomusicology, phenomenology, communication studies, historiography, the analysis of micro-timing, Actor-Network Theory and Systems Theory among others. A further unique feature of the project is that the video and audio content will be made available via the Art of Record Production website to allow other researchers to build on the work started by the network members.

Dr. Amy Blier-Carruthers, Dr. Alan Williams and Dr. Simon Zagorski-Thomas will each give a presentation on their own particular analytical perspective on the project. Work by the other members of the network, Prof. Anne Danielsen (University of Oslo, Norway), Prof. Mine Dogantan-Dack (University of Middlesex, UK) and Prof. Morten Michelsen (University of Copenhagen, Denmark), will be available on the ARP website. Mike Howlett, the producer of the session, will also be present to discuss his reaction to the research outcomes and his experience of the process.

For more about the project, see this link.

Crowd funding and its potential to create an alternative culture of production #arp13

THORLEY, MARK (Coventry University)

Crowd funding and its potential to create an alternative culture of production

[abstract] The field of cultural production has often included reference to those who stand between the producer and their audience. Whether referred to as gatekeepers by Paul Hirsch (1972), or cultural intermediaries by Pierre Bourdieu (1984), their role in deciding what the audience gets to experience has been discussed at length. Frequently, there is reference to the filtering function which they perform, which, in recorded music terms, dictates what gets recorded, how it is recorded and produced, what gets released, what gets promoted, and what gets dropped. Even in the music press, cultural intermediaries in the form of A&R personnel and record company executives receive criticism for their decision making whether for dropping recording artists before they are allowed to develop, or signing artists with grossly inflated advances only to see them walk through the door soon after.

Q: Where’s the song? A: It’s the track stupid! #arp13

CHAMBON, PHILIP J. (Kingston University, London)

Q: Where’s the song? A: It’s the track stupid!

[abstract] Many contemporary and indeed historical popular music songs have been created as a result of collaboration and improvisation between individuals in a studio environment (larger controlled spaces, multi-track tape, ProTools), or in a home recording environment (smaller unpredictable spaces, portable reel-to-reel recorders, multi-track cassette recorders, laptops) or a combination of these.

Popular music tracks are referred to as songs, sometimes even if there are no vocals. What is the song? Is it the basic top line – tune and lyrics and the piano chords? Probably not since Brill Building days, or music theatre has a song existed as a score. Paul Simon, one of the most successful songwriters of his generation, is quoted in Levetin (2008, p.2) as saying ‘The way that I listen to my own records is for the sound of them; not the chords or the lyrics – my first impression is of the overall sound’.

The “virtual” producer in the recording studio #arp13

The Vicious Five recording at Namouche in 2009

CAMPELO, ISABEL (Universidade Nova de Lisboa)
HOWLETT, MIKE (Queensland University of Technology)

The “virtual” producer in the recording studio: media networks in long distance peripheral performances

[abstract] The producer has for many years been a central agent in recording studio sessions; the validation of this role was, in many ways, related to the producer’s physical presence in the studio, to a greater or lesser extent. However, improvements in the speed of digital networks have allowed studio sessions to be produced long-distance, in real-time, through communication programs such as Skype or REDIS. How does this impact on the role of the producer, a “nexus between the creative inspiration of the artist, the technology of the recording studio, and the commercial aspirations of the record company” (Howlett 2012)?

Recording as Social Practice [in USA college-based a capella ensembles] #arp13

The Whiffenpoofs of Yale, c.1909 (and still going strong today)

Joshua S Duchan – Recording as Social Practice

[abstract] While much scholarship has considered recording processes and practices from technical, musical, and economic perspectives, less often studied is its social practice: how and why are musical materials recorded, under what circumstances, and under which aesthetic and social principles? This paper addresses this lacuna by taking as its case study collegiate a cappella, a genre and practice in which peer- led groups of student singers take popular songs and arrange, perform, and record them a cappella. Often claimed to have begun with the founding of the Whiffenpoofs at Yale University in 1909 (although there is plenty of evidence of such groups throughout the nineteenth century and earlier), the genre has more recently started to inch from its meager subcultural beginnings toward the mainstream in a variety of media, including Mickey Rapkin’s trade book, Pitch Perfect (2008), Ben Folds’s album, Ben Folds Presents: University A Cappella! (2009), NBC’s singing competition program, The Sing-Off! (2009– 2011), and a recent feature film, Pitch Perfect (2012). As amateurs and students performing vocal-only cover songs with heavy doses of instrumental imitation, these musicians are clearly positioned—in terms of identity and musical technique—outside the community typically featured in most academic scholarship on recording practice. For many collegiate a cappella groups, one of the most important benefits of membership is the opportunity to record an album. The process of doing so is deeply musical and at the same time intensely social. This paper considers both aspects while focusing on the social practice of recording: the motivations for undertaking recording projects; the ways in which bodies and voices are organized—musically, physically, and conceptually—during the process; and the ways this organization both reflects ideologies central to the culture of production specific to the genre and, concurrently, have a defining impact on the resulting musical product. Several years of ethnographic fieldwork with a cappella groups in a variety of colleges and locations across the United States provide the data, which are analyzed musically, anthropologically, and sociologically. In particular, this study investigates the ways in which social organization and leadership structures impact the experience of recording and the recorded product. As amateur groups of student musicians, a cappella groups typically elect their own officers, resulting in a system of peer-leadership in which authority is distributed among a few individuals, who then guide the rest of the membership. What roles do these leaders play as the group prepares for its recording sessions and during the sessions themselves? What are the methods by which regular members accept or resist the authority of their peers? And how is it borne out in musical terms? Thus, this paper sits at the intersection of performance and interaction, structures of authority and methods of resistance, and musicality and sociability. The conclusions we can draw from the ethnographic data available in specific a cappella contexts can then be reinterpreted more broadly to better understand the wider culture of production within this emerging genre in both musical and social terms. 

Tyranny of the snare: the changing status of the drum kit in record production. Matt Brennan #arp13

It stalks the desolate landscape of pop, stamping its jackboot of conformity upon all those who oppose its rules of metrical oppression. Twice in each bar.

The tyranny of the snare’: the changing status of the drum kit in record production. Matt Brennan

[abstract and commentary available on Matt’s blog]

In explaining his move away from radio-oriented pop music, songwriter Nick Lowe once recalled in interview that he had successfully escaped from ‘the tyranny of the snare drum’, a comment which resonated with some musicians presumably because it expressed an uneasiness regarding the drum kit’s gradual move, over the course of decades, from the margins to the centre of pop record production (quoted in Cantwell 2001).

This paper explores the relationship between drum kits, recording equipment, and the users of those technologies to offer a sociological account of how the drum kit moved from a position of conspicuous absence to a position of ‘tyranny’ over other instruments in contemporary recording and mixing practices. It also considers the changing status of the drummer (and drum engineer) in the compositional process given the increasing prominence of the drum kit in the recording and mixing process, and especially in light of the limited authorial role traditionally accorded to drummers in both the songwriting process and copyright law.

Lori Burns: Genre, Discourse and Narrative in the Concept Album Spectacle #arp13

Coldplay’s Mylo Xyloto on stage.

Plenary 1: The Art of Persuasion: Genre, Discourse and Narrative in the Concept Album Spectacle. Lori Burns, University of Ottawa

Lori begins by quoting Douglas Kellner’s definition of the ‘media spectacle’ and acknowledges his debt to Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle (1967).

She states that the paper addresses the idea of the Concept Album Spectacle, and asks three questions – how the artist shapes cultural commentary through it, how the materials are culturally productive, and how these texts carry out persuasive work.

This paper grows from Lori’s previous work, which has dealt with Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak, Pink’s Funhouse Tour, and (from forthcoming work on) Lady Gaga’s Fame, Fame Monster.

Art of Record Production 2013 – Université Laval, Québec #arp13 live blogging

Pavilion Louis-Jacques-Casault, which houses the music department of Université Laval, Québec

I’m here in Québec City for the 8th Art of Record Production conference, where I’m presenting a paper about research methodologies for creativity studies in songwriting. The magnificent building in the picture is Pavilion Louis-Jacques-Casault, which is the location of Université Laval’s music department. The last time I attended ARP was in 2010 (when it was held at Leeds Metropolitan University in the UK – see blog entry).

There’s more information about the conference at the Art of Record Production website. ARP publishes Journal On The Art of Record Production (which published my recent article about songwriting in studio practice: download pdf).

As with the two most recent conferences – PopMAC 2013 and IASPM 2013 – I will write real-time summaries of the papers here on the blog whenever time (and connectivity) allows.

Art of Record Production – final session

I’ve just presented my own paper – seemed to go OK. I’ll post more about this later in the PhD section, but for now here’s the abstract;

Joe Bennett – Bath Spa University

Collaborative songwriting – the ontology of negotiated creativity in popular music studio practice

The relationship between songwriting practice and song product is an under-explored one in popular musicology, still less so in a studio-based environment. Our research sources are accordingly limited, drawing mainly on first-hand retrospective interviews with artist-songwriters, who may have an incentive for self-mythologising, or at least romanticising their songwriting methods to preserve fan perceptions of authenticity. There are no available real-time observations of the collaborative processes involved in creating popular song, despite the huge economic and artistic successes of songwriting partnerships throughout the history of our field. Sloboda (1985) identifies the reluctance displayed by composers of any sort to participate in detailed analysis of their processes; these difficulties are exacerbated further by some songwriters’ apparently-deliberate mystification of their craft. Attempts to analyse processes of musical composition generally have generally focused on single-composer models (Nash 1955); even studies relating to collaboration remain concerned with instrumental art music (Hayden & Windsor 2007)or educational-based observation subjects (Burnard & Younker 2002).

This paper will build on the single-songwriter research of McIntyre (2009) and the theoretical definitions of creativity provided by Csikszentmihalyi (1996). It will explore, through analysis of ‘hits’ and examples of emerging practitioner-based research, the inferences that can be made by comparing historical and current songwriting practice with the finished product, and will attempt to identify commonly-used collaborative models, including artist with ‘ghost-writer’, artist with artist, band-based ensembles, ‘factories’ e.g. Brill Building and Stock/Aitken/Waterman’s Hit Factory, and collaborative distance-writing. Established and emerging musical practices will be identified and analysed, including top-line writing, ‘Nashville’ co-writes, loop-based improvisation, lyric-first and music-first approaches, together with a discussion of the effect of the presence (or absence) of studio technologies as mediator of the songwriting process.

Burnard, P. & Younker, B.A., 2002. Mapping Pathways: fostering creativity in composition. Music Education Research, 4(2), 245-261.Csikszentmihalyi, M., 1996. Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, New York: HarperCollins.


Mcintyre, P., 2009. ‘I’m Looking Through You’: An Historical Case Study of Systemic Creativity in the Partnership of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. In Collaborations: Creative Partnerships in Music.  The Performance and Social Aesthetics Research Unit (PASA), Monash Conference Centre, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.

Nash, D., 1955. Challenge and Response in the American Composer’s Career. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 14(1), 116-122.

Sloboda, J., 1985. The musical mind : the cognitive psychology of music, Oxford [Oxfordshire]  ;New York: Clarendon Press ;;Oxford University Press.


The next presentation is by Maria Hanacek. This one is particularly fascinating for me because she is working on the analysis of ‘songwriters in the studio’ videos, and the notions of mediatised and mediated authenticity relating to songwriters.

Maria HanacekHumboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Songwriting in the Studio or: The Idea of What Went into its Making

This year’s conference is concerned with change and continuity in the art of record production – I will argue that it is the rather old-fashioned idea of “songwriting” that creates coherence within the changing world of music production, and that this idea is indeed more important than ever for the success of large-scale commercial productions.

Thinking of record production as an art form or of the studio as a musical instrument already indicates that our models of thinking about music production stay pretty much the same, all debates about technological change or innovation aside. The idea of “songwriting” as a modern form of composition also correlates with a traditional notion of music as artistic self-expression, which still provides the conceptual framework for most records, and it is important to notice that apparent tensions between technology and artistry, between commerciality and authenticity result from this theoretical framework, not from the actual process of music production. In such instances we are ultimately dealing with the question what musicianship means in the age of studio production.

Authorship and intentionality are still such important concepts because it is the idea of what went into its making that gives meaning to a recording. The way popular music history works, songs need a history and an origin. According to this logic studio stories become part of a band’s or artist’s biography and discography, they contribute to the idea of an artist’s oeuvre that crystallises into a series of records. This idea is also replicated by “best of” albums, box sets and reissues – in short, the marketing of records always relied on the star persona for coherence and to personalize its products.

I will use the DVD ‘U2 and 3 Songs, A Documentary’ to illustrate this point. This “documentary” provides a retrospective on the songwriting process of the album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, for which the band and producer Steve Lillywhite received six Grammies in 2005. The affiliated Vertigo tour made the band the top grossing act that year according to Billboard – the eight concerts held in New York’s Madison Square garden alone sold 149,000 tickets. Although the purpose of promotional touring is to “authenticate” and personalize recorded performances in some way, attending one of these large-scale concerts wasn’t much of an “unmediated” or “live” experience of these songs and their authors.

This video, though, which came with several editions of the CD, tells us about human beings writing songs, about the development of creative ideas within a studio environment.  It foregrounds the “raw material” of this record, whether by presenting a basic chord progression a song developed from or via an acoustic performance with slightly mistuned guitars. And this – in itself highly mediated – display of theunproduced or preproduced puts our picture of music making back in place.

Songwriting In The Studio

Songwriting In The Studio panel

For the final part of day 2 of the ARP conference there’s a session called Songwriting In The Studio. The panel consists of Richard Formby; Phil Harding; James Kenosha, Paul Miller (aka DJ Spooky) and Marco Pasquariello.

Paul is up first and he plays us some of his film score music consisting almost entirely of programmed samples. He discusses why he took a ‘cover version’ approach rather than sampling original recordings, and the various copyright, aesthetic and technical parameters that led him through those creative decisions.

Like most of the panel, Phil (who as you’ll see from his biog worked extensively with Stock, Aitken and Waterman) sees little distinction between songwriting and production (in that songs are written in the studio), but he also interestingly describes producers as a ‘service industry’. He tells us of SAW’s shameless theft of titles (which of course is not illegal in any way!), in this case from the US hot 100 charts of the 1980s. If you’re interested to find out more I can recommend Phil’s book about the PWL days, available here in its new edition. Phil gives us a fascinating insight into the way SAW built tracks by analysing existing songs’ structure/form and other musical characteristics and then applying them to new works – a ‘hit factory’ in the literal sense! Phil plays us a song called I Need You by 90s pop band Deuce.

Phil tells us that the first melodic line of the chorus was shamelessly stolen from Cecilia by Paul Simon (he only infringes two notes actually so I’m not sure it’s theft in any legally meaningful sense – although when you know this is the source it’s very clear which part is the ‘tribute’). But like many of the papers at this conference connected with mashups/co-writes/sampling etc, it raises lots of interesting questions about ownership, creativity and originality that are simultaneously philosophical, legal and artistic.


Marco Pasquariello is talking about the Blue Roses track Doubtful Comforts, together with some lovely anecdotes about lo-fi recording, including grinding up 1/4 inch tape in the garden and buying an afternoon of time in a music shop in order to record all the pianos. He makes some equally interesting points about the deliberate constraints of some projects (for example, using eBows as the main instrumental pitch source).


Richard Formby starts with a ‘process piece’ called Tuning up for Piano which he created by running a recording several times while a piano tuner was working, then putting all the takes together as a multi-track – resulting in a very charming piece of chance-music. He admits to stealing small fragments of drums from bands in his studio (sometimes he tells them, sometimes not!) for use in his own music. There follows a discussion about out-takes (inevitably the Troggs tape is mentioned).

In the Q&A session, Paul makes the interesting point about the rebirth of the single; “since downloading […] very few people seem to like whole albums any more”. We also get briefly into the debate of ‘what is a song’ and whose creative contributions constitute ‘songwriting’.

Art of Record Production – paper session 5

Continued blogging from the Art of Record Production conference 2010…


Brian Rossiter – University of Edinburgh

“Ain’t That a Bitch?”: Prince, Camille, and the Challenge to “Authentic” Black Masculinity

Brian Rossiter at ARP 2010

Vocal performance has long been regarded as one of the most potent and direct signifiers of identity – the recorded voice, in particular, often assumes the role of “interiorising notions of identification” (Stan Hawkins, The British Pop Dandy, 2009). Normally this tendency to attribute vocality to a definite personalor social identity stems from the notion that musical sounds must somehow offer a reflection or representation of those peoples who produce them, thus tempting us to envisage a linear correlation between one’s sexual or racial status and the ways in which one presents oneself through the act of musical performance. As Simon Frith (“Music and Identity”, 1996) has shown, the problem with this conception is that it fails to recognise that identity, particularly as encountered through the act of music making, is both an experiential process and an act of “becoming”, and therefore never a fixed state of “being”. Performance, as such, opens up an expansive arena where identity moves fluidly, drawing upon a vast array of bodily, emotional, and mental dispositions made tangible through the cultural quirks of sound and style. For recording artists, the range of possibilities through which one might explore the transitory aspects of one’s identity has been expanded evermore by the development of technologies that enable one to experiment freely with the pitch, texture, and resonance of the voice. The performer is therefore capable of constructing an imagined audio image of him- or herself that transcends the limitations of what is possible in the “real” context of live performance.

Using Frith’s position as a theoretical anchor, this paper contrasts two songs – “If I Was Your Girlfriend” and “Bob George” – by the African-American artist Prince, on which he exploits contemporary advances in recording technology in order to radically manipulate the character of his voice, both manually increasing and decreasing its pitch, and by doing so problematising the concept of his identity by continuously calling into question his own relationship to his gender, sexuality, and racial heritage. In particular, he maximises the potential of these effects in order to challenge and subvert traditional notions of patriarchal black masculinity, either by offering a radically alternative performance sensibility to that expected by patriarchy, as in the first instance, or latterly by appropriating and then exaggerating the stereotyped behavioural tropes of this ideology in a satirical manner that fully underlines the pitfalls of a one-dimensional view of “authentic” black masculinity.

Rossiter makes some insightful observations about Prince’s pitch-shifted ‘Camille’ persona, quoting many popular musicology scholars’ work on gender, including Richard Middleton. He plays excerpts of Prince songs including ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend‘ and ‘Bob George‘ and discusses questions of masculinity and wider issues of racial identity and sexuality.


Michael HajimichaelUniversity of Nicosia

Virtual Oasis – thoughts and experiences about online based music production and collaborative writing techniques

Over the last 10 years virtual studio collaborations, net based artists and music labels have emerged as a by-product of the “Web 2.0” revolution. While the early stages of the Internet can be characterised through Voltaire’s sentiment of ‘every one tending to their own garden’ Web 2.0 and particularly  social media web sites have in contrast  redefined relationships between users/audiences and creators/producers. These changes are prevalent in areas such as music/audio/sound, image/video/photo and text/narrative/writing. Traditional methods of production and communication in music, radio, TV and journalism have in a multitude of ways adjusted to these changes – leading to the creation of multi-media based online portals. Approaching these changes in relation to independent music production and song writing is a challenging task mainly due to the sheer volume of net based releases located on web sites such as MySpace, Reverb Nation and Soundclick. My paper will focus on a number of insights on qualitative transformations concerning commerce versus creativity and   the role play -dynamics of writing and producing collaborative songs and projects online. Reference will be made to practical collaborations based on observation and experience as an artist, participant and music producer. These will consider the glass both half full and half empty by raising a number of key questions. What happens when people collaborate in writing songs online, how do people approach each other? What can go right – what can go wrong? Is virtuality a substitute for more traditional methods of physical collaboration? Or is it just an emerging guerrilla production technique being embraced by independent musicians on very limited budgets with boundless creative enthusiasm and net access?  I will focus primarily on a case study of  a recent release  I completed entirely online with Dub Caravan called ‘Virtual Oasis’ (DubMed Music Label); as well as a song project produced by Steffen Franz called ‘Harmony4Humanity’ – written in two locations – San Francisco USA and Nicosia Cyprus over a time period of 48 hours from start to finish. I will also refer to a number of experiences, examples and contexts where things have not worked out with the intention of exploring some of the possible drawbacks and limitations of recording online. These negative elements of the process are just as significant as the positive dynamics as together they give a more holistic approach, one that is grounded in a wide range of dynamics embracing social relationships, technological capacities, understandings on musical genres, and the ethics of copyright/writing production credits.  Online production processes can be like an elusive virtual oasis, they can also be a burden, a bad ‘collab’ or a liberating creative experience.

Mike’s paper looks at the value of rhetorical exchange online, in relation to his own creative projects working with web-based collaborators. He points out the difference between ‘world is your oyster’ possibility with the fact that, projects don’t always work out creatively. He has undertaken web-based collaborations himself, and reflects in detail on the creation and production of the ‘Virtual Oasis’ album. He discusses the dynamics of collaboration, and draws some conclusions from the collaborative mechanisms and also from the fact of collaboration itself.


Brandon Vaccaro – Kent State University

Decoding Faith No More’s “Just a Man:” The Role of Production in the Interpretation of Recorded Music

Faith No More

In this paper, an analysis of Faith No More’s “Just a Man” is presented, focusing on the way that the recording production, particularly the production of the vocals, supports the interpreted meaning of the song. The song presents two different styles of production which correlate with shifts on the lyrical meaning throughout the song. In that context, the studio production of historic vocal artists is investigated, and the role of recording production in our interpretation of meaning in general is examined by adapting an approach pioneered by Robert S. Hatten. A series of brief hermeneutic readings of historic recordings of popular vocalists are presented, and two production styles and their correlation to expressive styles (cultural units) are established. The two styles of production, the “Shouter” style corresponding to expressive topics of religious and sexual ecstasy, peak experiences, and “testifying” and the “Crooner/Balladeer” style corresponding to the topics of ordinary life, mundanity, and a sense of an “everyman” or “everywoman,” are traced from the 1920s to the 1990s. The dialectic established in these examples is then used in the analysis of “Just a Man,” which uses both of these styles in contrasting sections.

Brandon’s presentation began with a playback of the track, notable for its juxtaposition (as the abstract says) between ‘crooner’ and ‘shouter’ vocal performance styles. He then leads into a straight musicological analysis (although, pleasingly, he includes some observations on lyric meaning – all-too-rare in some pop musicology IMO!). He then discusses production effects in various other songs and the extent to which they (e.g. slapback delay, bandpass/lo-fi filtering etc) can be ascribed a meaning – in cultural terms or even supporting lyric meaning (Buggles’ Video Killed The Radio Star is cited). He briefly touches on the concept of real vs hyper-real audio production (he provides the example of a binaural mic pair vs close-miking).

Interestingly (for my own work), he mentions the effect of early sonic recording bandwidth on vocal ranges in records, suggesting that it is one reason for pop recordings favouring high male and low female versions. In my own paper I have identified a similar phenomenon (that most songs inhabit the vocal range from C2 to C4, and the majority of recordings focus mainly on a single octave – A2 to A3). He concludes with a detailed semiotic discussion of the track, and interestingly the one audience question we have time for is from an ex Faith No More producer!!!

Art of Record Production conference – paper session 4

I’m blogging live from the Art of Record Production conference 2010 at Leeds Met. In the next few entries I’m going to make notes on some of the papers and panels, and links to material that may be of interest to academics and musicians working in the fields of songwriting, music education and recording.

Due to the snow and other travel hassles, I’ve arrived in Leeds for day 2, so I’ve missed guest Steve Albini‘s keynote from day 1, so this blog has missed a few of the first papers.

Mark Sarisky presenting at ARP 2010


Right now I’m watching Mark Sarisky presenting an interesting paper about career education for music producers. He’s surveyed around 200 US music undergraduates about their genre-based (and other) recording career choices. Here’s a paste of his abstract (and here’s a link to all the abstracts);





Mark Sarisky

The Art Institute of Austin, Texas

The Effects of Career Targeted Education on the Art and Science of Audio Technology and Their Application to the Production of Recorded Music.

The time-honored approach to obtaining a career in the area of producing recorded music has been to study in a school of music as a traditional student and then to obtain knowledge and experience in the application of technology to this study.  The knowledge and experience was obtained either through classroom study or and internship in the recording industry, specifically at a recording studio.  Over the last 30 years, career targeted educational institutions have developed programs in Audio Production. These programs do not follow the broad based tradition of liberal arts education so popular in the United States. These programs have a high concentration of courses that directly address the skills perceived as needed for entry into the field. This article looks at the effects of this style of education on the recorded music being produced today and the skills sets of the graduates of these programs.  In addition, it looks at the perception of what is required to have a successful career in the field of Audio Production and how that reflects the reality of life in the music business.  Along with these discussions, future studies are proposed.


Next up is Jeff Roy’s discussion of online pedagogy in Indian classical music traditions. I’m interested in this paper not because of the musical content (although that’s interesting enough!) but because he’s discussing the difference in the student experience between f2f, Skype and other online chat tools for student-tutor interaction. Distance Learning has always interested me, not least because I think UK HE is lagging behind student demand (although online courses are springing up in Universities including our own MMus Songwriting at Bath Spa).

Jeff’s paper is even more relevant and challenging because it is addressing (through discussion of sitar teaching) instrumental music tuition online, which may at first appear to be impossible (or at least hindered) due to the latency in videoconference preventing simultaneous synchronised performance. That said, real-time videoconferencing is a big improvement on asynchronous video or text-only online communication. Speaking as an HE manager, it does of course presuppose one-to-one interaction i.e. online tuition is just as expensive and time-consuming as face-to-face music lessons!

However, notwithstanding the disadvantages of online vs f2f, Jeff makes a vital point about the advantages. The student can record the lesson and play it back at their convenience – so long after the tutor has departed, learning can still take place. Since much instrumental pedagogy is based on repetition, this is a huge advantage for the student.

Interestingly, Jeff points out that some of the most important criteria for the student’s experience of learning are sincerity, devotion and love.

Jeff Roy – University of California, Los Angeles

The Internet Guru: Online Pedagogy in Indian Classical Music Traditions

The use of the internet in oral music distance learning for Indian classical musicians is a recent phenomenon. For the last decade, video conference programs such as Skype and iChat have become alternative tools for well-known teachers—notably Ustad Imrat Khan in the Hindustani (North Indian) tradition and Delhi Sundarajan in the Karnatak (South Indian) tradition. They use the programs to maintain pedagogical relationships with their existing students, and in some cases to teach new students where geographical distance from the master would otherwise preclude lessons. This mode of teaching is radically different from traditional methods of one-on-one learning. With the overall purpose of exposing methods that fuse new and traditional pedagogies, I investigate how technology maintains and configures the primacy of orality in this virtual music education “scape.”

Ethnographic material collected in 2010 includes interviews conducted online and in direct live settings, as well as observations of lessons administered in these two different ways. My data is also augmented by my own lessons on the Indian violin with Khan. In the paper, I first address typical Indian pedagogy in direct, in-person settings around the tenets of repetition, simultaneous playing/singing, the use of visual aids, and the perceptual domains of time and space. Then I compare these elements in the context of lessons administered over the internet revealing drastic and subtle changes. I posit that while the internet maintains quality learning, a significant shift of opinion occurs in what constitutes “learning.” Students and teachers place less value on the social aspects of learning inherent within a traditional teacher-student relationship, and instead treat music transmission as one would the exchange of “capital.” This paper concludes with reflections on the parts of music learning that transcend these changes and further thoughts as to the future of music pedagogy in online contexts.


This is Guy Morrow from MacQuarie University NSW, presenting a paper about Artist Management. Here’s his abstract; my discussion & comments below.

Guy Morrow – MacQuarie University, NSW

Artist Management in the Global Economy: Faciliating the Relationship Between Song Writing and Production

The advent of recording technology began a process that continually brings not only the song, but also the sound of the artist within reach of international audiences. With the advent of high capacity music players (iPods for example) more music is being consumed now than in the past and a worldwide audience is available at substantially reduced marketing costs. The growth in credibility and acceptance of management organisations, such as the International Music Managers’ Forum (IMMF), by legislative, judicial and industry bodies means that the input of artist managers, as the representatives of songwriters on a global level, is increasingly being recognised. Many of the managers who are members of these organisations understand the impact that will stem from ‘speaking with one voice’, and the activities and advocacy of such an international managers’ forum facilitates this. Agreement concerning the establishment of an enforceable code of conduct for members of this organisation is arguably a crucial first step in the efforts to realise the potential of artist managers, who are traditionally a disparate collection of sole traders, speaking with one voice on a global level on behalf of songwriters.

This paper will work through findings from a research project that has used a qualitative research methodology to explore the problems that artist managers face when attempting to build global careers for their clients in a world in which international record labels no longer play the key role that they did in the past. The research data generated by this project suggests that artist managers’ workloads have vastly increased, necessitating much more overseas travel to deal with all of the participants in their client’s career; instead of being able to go to the international record label’s head office. The centralisation of industrial roles with the artist manager accompanies the decentralisation that has occurred in the recording business and it means that artist managers often have the sole responsibility of facilitating the relationship between song writing and production.

While the artist managers’ role is increasingly central, their attempts to work globally are hampered by a lack of consistency in relation to best practice and conduct across different territories. This research project therefore involves the IMMF, which is a voluntary body seeking to create new standards in relation to artist management practices and to the enforcement of international copyright law. Their aim is constrained by lack of empirical research and this project attempts to alleviate this through a comparative study of regulation (self regulation and/or governmental) and best practices in the UK, Canada, Australia and the US. The pragmatic benefit of this research for artist managers is that it will create knowledge of best practice and conduct in different territories and this will help them to utilise Skype and other new technologies to operate globally. This project is significant because it provides the first in-depth analysis of artist management practices in the current phase of recording industry decentralization (and the resulting post-monopolisation) and music business centralization with the artist manager.

Boy & Bear

Guy, like many popular music academics, is a part-practitioner – he co-manages Australian band Boy & Bear. What he is proposing is more international networking and possibly accreditation of artist managers, but acknowledges that if governments become involved this is always going to be difficult. He is wrestling with some significant challenges – international law, issues of trust with artists and (co-)managers, and the concept of internationally-transferable best practice in music management. But he articulates the point that the Internet has found solutions to bigger problems than this (citing eBay as an example of turning mistrust of strangers into a working commercial asset).


The final paper for this session is by Phillip McIntyre from Newcastle (Australia) and Justin Morey from Leeds Met. Phillip is familiar to me as he’s one of the foremost (and very few) researchers into the practice of creativity in popular songwriting (my own research work in collaborative songwriting cites him frequently – see the PhD link above). This paper is interesting to me for another reason in that it deals with copyright splits in creative collaboration – I do a fair bit of work as an Expert Witness Musicologist for the Music Publishers Association helping to resolve copyright disputes between songwriters).  The issue of who contributed what to the song and the track becomes very serious when you try to reverse-engineer the process by interviewing songwriters and producers retrospectively about the processes used to generate a hit recording. Here’s their abstract – more discussion and comments below.

Justin Morey & Phillip McIntyre

Leeds Metropolitan University & University of Newcastle, NSW

‘Working out the Split’: Creative Collaboration and Assignation of Copyright across Differing Musical Worlds.

It has been theorised (e.g. Hennion 1990, Wicke 1990, Zak 2001), and there is mounting empirical evidence (e.g. Davis 2008, McIntyre 2008, Moorefield 2005, Howlett 2008), that record production is a highly collaborative process. When records are made producers, engineers, musicians, programmers and A&R personnel all cooperate in a creative process that can be characterised using a number of models (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997, Paulus and Nijstad, 2003). Songwriters, however, are an ever present but little mentioned presence in the studio, although their work is crucial to studio output.It can be claimed that the development of technological possibilities within the studio has afforded collaborative song writers an increasing variety of creative methods, and this has led in turn to a range of views concerning the kind of contributions that can be considered to be song writing among music creators. Calculating the ‘split’ or financial remuneration for the work involved, then, depends upon a set of complex commercial, legal, moral, social, cultural, ideological and discursive factors coupled with certain common sense myths. This paper presents empirical evidence of how current practice compares to some of the older models of creativity that still appear to predominate in the promotion and consumption of recordings.

In his discussion of where the copyright splits should fall, Phil is dealing with many complex issues that are of particular interest to songwriters. He frequently comes back to the question I’ve been addressing in my PhD work – that of ‘what is a song’? There is a straightforward enough legal definition, of course, in that songs are the IP dealt with by music publishers – essentially, harmony, melody and lyric, with everyone else as an arranger or performer. But of course music technology and studio creativity makes nonsense of laws that have hardly changed since the birth of music publishing (i.e. the days when music publishers just printed sheet music). I’ll link to the proceedings of this paper when it’s published.

Right. Lunch!