David Byrne: Survival Strategies for Musicians

David Byrne’s Survival Strategies for Emerging Artists — and Megastars:

What is called the music business today, however, is not the business of producing music. At some point it became the business of selling CDs in plastic cases, and that business will soon be over. But that’s not bad news for music, and it’s certainly not bad news for musicians. Indeed, with all the ways to reach an audience, there have never been more opportunities for artists.

Great article from Wired that delves into six different music distribution models that an artist can choose from today, ranging from the “360/equity” deal where the label essentially owns the brand to the total DIY self-distribution plan like Radiohead did with the initial round of In Rainbows. “Of course, not everyone is as smart as those nerdy Radiohead boys,” admits the former Talking Head. “Pete Doherty probably should not be handed the steering wheel.”

MP3: David Byrne – “Ex Guru” (Fiery Furnaces interpretation) from Plum.

6 thoughts on “David Byrne: Survival Strategies for Musicians”

  1. “Recording costs have declined to almost zero. Artists used to need the labels to bankroll their recordings. Most simply didn’t have the $15,000 (minimum) necessary to rent a professional studio and pay an engineer and a producer. For many artists — maybe even most — this is no longer the case. Now an album can be made on the same laptop you use to check email.”

    This is dangerous talk. If you are not an electronica/sample-based or acoustic troubadour, chances are audiences are not going to be interested in your lo-fi/Garageband musings. Yeah, Bob Pollard and Ariel Pink can get away with it, but if you are not them, good luck. And for the record, I’m not talking about needing some Tears For Fears-level production here. But if your typical gtr/bass/keys/drums combo could get their recorded musical point across with 2 mics in somebody’s bedroom, there would be no need for studios–or engineers and/or producers–whatsoever. Generally speaking, NO ONE is interested in demo-quality recordings from unknown/up and coming artists. Period. Let’s be honest here.

  2. The Shins recorded most of their first two albums in their basement on their own gear.

    Obviously, Byrne is oversimplifying but it’s a inarguable fact that the quality of home recording has risen dramatically over the past few years. To get a good, professional-sounding recording, you probably need to spend some cash on a few decent mics, pre-amps, etc., but more importantly you have to have good ears.

    Right, Jude?

  3. The fact of the matter is that recording studios are going out of business by the minute. They have had a virtual lock on the practice of recording music because 1) the gear needed to make quality recordings was prohibitively expensive for the average musician and 2) the sheer size of the gear meant that one had to have a lot of physical space to devote to simply placing the gear.

    20 years ago, multi-track 2″ reel-to-reel tape machines were the standard. They could cost tens of thousands of dollars and were the size and weight of washing machines. A studio also needed a mixing console to handle all of those tracks and those could run into six-digit prices, depending on quality and features. Not for nothing were they often called, “desks.” Add to that the fact that decent tape ran about $150 (and up) per reel and a reel running at 30 ips might allow for 15 minutes or so of recording time. Given that most artists would do multiple takes of their basic tracks, a typical album (recorded over a couple of days/weeks) might use six or eight reels of tape. That’s $1,000 just in tape costs. Good studios charged hundreds of dollars an hour, and that often did not include an engineer or producer.

    All of these costs allowed studios and engineers the luxury of charging premium prices for the privelege of using their gear/expertise. This also meant that relatively few people stood a chance of becoming professional recording engineers, as the art of operating that gear was virtually the sole propriety of the studios, their employees, and a fortunate few freelance engineers.

    $15,000 for an album project was a bargain in those days.

    For $15,000 today, an artist can buy a top-of-the-line Mac, a high quality hardware/software package to turn that Mac into a virtual studio, a number of decent mic’s, all the necessary cables, and still have plenty of money left over to remodel and soundproof a basement or buy a van. The artist can learn to use this gear his/her self and use the gear for years and never have to pay a dime to a studio or an engineer.

    Of course, it would behoove such an artist to make an earnest study of the physical properties of sound and learn the intimate details of the mic’s, preamps, software, etc. These new-fangled tools will not automatically produce good results in the hands of an inexperienced amateur, but advances in technology have put the ability to make records into the hands of the musicians and it is no longer the sole domain of the studios and labels.

    Regarding Kiko’s comments above, let’s assume that anyone who is serious about recording their band’s music will invest in slightly more elaborate recording systems than the two mic’s and a laptop in a bedroom. (Such a set-up might produce surprising results in the right hands, though.)

    If you wanna hear the quality of recordings that can be made on an entire set-up that probably cost less than $10,000, check out Riviera’s recordings: http://www.riviera-sound.com/music.php

  4. Menomena made several top lists of 2007 and they’ve yet to record in a studio. Sure, you’ve got to be Bob Pollard or Ariel Pink or Menomena to get away with it, but that statement has no bearing on the fact that there will be new Bob Pollard’s coming up eventually and inevitably.

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