I attended a fascinating panel discussion, "Behind The Glass: Audio Production in the 21st Century" at the Audio Engineering Society convention in New York City on Sunday.
The panelists were all prominent record producers and engineers: Tony Brown (Elvis Presley, Emmy Lou Harris); Jimmy Douglass (Jay-Z, the Rolling Stones); Dave Hewitt (Simon and Garfunkel, U2); Ryan Hewitt (Avett Brothers, Red Hot Chili Peppers); George Massenburg (Linda Ronstadt, Lyle Lovett); Ann Mincieli (Alicia Keys, Whitney Houston); and Russ Titelman (Stevie Winwood, Eric Clapton). These people know from where they speak!
Moderator Howard Massey led the panel through a discussion of the problems facing the record industry, with a primary focus on sound quality. Massey co-authored (with Geoff Emerick) my favorite Beatles book of all time, "Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles." He also has a new book coming out, "Behind the Glass, Volume II: Top Producers Tell How They Craft the Hits" a collection of interviews with top record producers and audio engineers.
It seems like the main problem comes from record company pressure to make perfect recordings. Vocalists' off-pitch and out-of-time singing is tweaked with Auto-Tune; music-making is largely technology-based. That is, technology has replaced musical talent, and singers like Britney Spears were cited many times as to where it's all headed. Not so musically talented, her music has to be patched together in the studio. There's not a lot of there there.
Jimmy Douglass talked about the overuse of dynamic range compression, admitting that since most music is listened to over crappy computer speakers or cheap earbuds, compression is required to make it sound acceptable. Sad, but true. … Read more