Technology is a beautiful thing. I remember getting my first portastudio about 30 years ago. It let you plug in 4-1/4″ phone plugs and record 50-15khz audio on to a cassette. The sound wasn’t the best, but at $500 it gave me the power to be my own recording studio. I couldn’t do much with the tapes and mixing these tapes down to another cassette gave you audio that would make you cringe by today’s standards but it started something.
Fast forward 30 years to today. I sit at home in my little studio that has grown over the years. I’ve added new keyboards and effects units and my little portastudio has been replaced by a computer. Yes, a computer. Instead of the lo-fi portastudio, today I record digitally direct to hard disc, mix, master and can burn a CD right at home. Only about 20 years ago you would have needed close to $500k in a large studio to do the same thing. My whole system for recording has cost me less than $2500 and I have 64 tracks of 24 bit digital audio at my fingertips and I can still use the computer for other tasks. Say it with me, technology can be beautiful. In the original version of the article the cost was $5000, and I had 24 tracks at 16bit.
The rapid increase in advancing technology has lowered the price of recording to a point where it is quite affordable to the masses. Now someone can pick up a computer with simple RCA audio inputs, a 4-track portastudio-like program and a CD burner and create their own CD’s for less than $1000 [I'm talking about the Mac that comes with garageband built in]. The audio isn’t going to be the same as what you get in a top flight studio, but it’s significantly better than the original portastudio and better than most of the albums recorded in the ’60′s and ’70′s. If you already have a computer you can add professional multitrack digital capabilities with midi sequencing and effects processors for under $1000.
So what does throwing around all these numbers mean in the long run? Empowerment. When I was in a working band we spent huge sums of money recording demos and putting together press kits and sending them out to record companies who consistantly rejected them. In the end we were out several thousands of dollars with nothing to show for it. If we had been picked up by a label we could have looked at even more money spent and if the album did really well when all the royalties were figured out we might have made 5% on each CD sold. Wow, break out the champagne.
Now, I’m fully in control of the whole process. I am my own record label. I get to decide when and where a CD is released, I have complete control of the packaging and what songs go on to it. I also don’t have to deal with record company management telling me that the third cut isn’t commercially viable enough. On top of all this, I get to keep 60% from the sale of each CD. The thought of selling 1,000,000+ CD’s sounds inviting, but the personal cost is too high. The record companies are aware of this and they are nervous. I’ve already seen a shift in the past ten years from bands being signed by a label and recording an album for the label to a band producing it’s own album and having the record company distribute it for a cut. Many indie labels were started this way. With today’s technology though an artist can completely bypass the record labels and use what would have been the record companies cut to cover marketing costs. In an update to all this there are now companies that will print your CD’s on demand or have them put out through iTunes as well as many other online music sites. The payouts are very good and all you have to do is the marketing. They’ll distribute your CD’s through Amazon.com and even get them into retail stores at no cost to you what so ever.
Now all of this doesn’t mean that you have talent or that anyone else is going to want to hear your music, but it does mean that more and varied types of music will become available and the record companies won’t be able to control what the public has access to. In the grand scheme of things this is wonderful.