TIMES CHANGE

TIMES CHANGE

This last year I caught myself thinking and wondering about the changes the music business took on the last 10-15 years.

Still young on this matters, I remember thinking and fantasizing about the charm and appeal of a live show production. All the work to put up a show, the time spent assembling all the equipment, testing everything out for a great result and the idea of making part of that “elite” became addictive and it took only my first steps into the show business to become my life goal and a lifetime addiction.

As time went by, the evolution of the business and the technical advances on a show development took a lot of sharp turns to almost everyone involved in this world.

Some still talk about the old times as better times and I can agree on some points, but as time keeps flowing I become more aware of the survival instinct of the human genre and our ability to keep moving and adapt ourselves to the changes on our surroundings, therefor the big change on standards and quality notions.

Now, that culture and entertainment is a must have on most locations and the audience is used to have non ending choices on what to do to pass their time, we are getting to a point where information, fashions, pleasures cover the entire planet at light speed and fast as it comes, it also goes.

We’re in a era where the information is available to everyone and at the same time, few specialize on a specific matter. We all can Google about anything and a vast array of answers becomes listed in a heart beat in front of you.

People are more difficult to be surprised and something original becomes old news in a flash. We are distracted by fast paced information.

I believe that I need to keep up with the massive information that I get daily, sort it out and use it the best way I can to keep doing what should be expected from my job. This means focusing on questions and doubts you may have and plan ahead on what you want to achieve, without getting noisy information distract you from your goals. The human kind is capable of multitasking, but usually the tasks don’t end up as well done as it should be expected.

I still remember the problems we had on analogue systems, the lack of equipment, the expectations put on my shoulders and the responsability of doing the job well done. Everything was more demanding, sort of…

At the same time, I remember when the sound engineer fees or any specialized technical crew fees were much higher then they are now. About 12 years ago, the fees would go to has much as 3 times the average pay nowadays.

We’re in a time where knowledge and information are at our reach easily. You just need to take the time to embrace and study the matters you’d like. Of course when the time comes to get in the real job world, some references and curriculum are a must to be accepted on some more demanding and high standard jobs.

My list of evaluation of old vs new times goes as follows. Please remember, I’m not trying to say that the old times are better or worse than the new times. This is merely a point of view from someone that followed all these changes on the show business.

1 – Back in the old days, the market (at least in Portugal) was smaller, making it easier for someone with the foot in the door to get to be known and to know the corporates and promoters, along with other colleagues. Now, there are a lot more promoters, corporations, sound and lighting companies, festivals and colleagues. The market divided itself on many smaller niches, which will give you the oportunity to spread over some different areas and genres, but at the same time, made each market worth less.

2 – The learning curve was steeper then it is today. My first connections to the sound engineering world appeared back in the 20th century, when I had the chance to have a bunch of masterclasses with a portuguese producer, which opened up my mind to the details and work logic for audio engineering. With him, I learned my first notions of signal flow and it’s logic, while assisting on a hybrid format studio, which had a digital console (the first one I ever had put my eyes on), the Tascam D-8000. Some years later and still in the early stages of the digital systems (which were very bad, when compared to the analogue ones), the D-8000 was replaced by a TAC Matchless and the ADAT system went to the shelf with the arrival of a 2″ 24 track Otari MX-80 multitrack recorder and a Digidesign 001 running on a Apple G5.

Now with the ease of access to powerful hardware and  free access to information provided by the vast world the World Wide Web is, we can learn almost anything we want, experiment with it and speed up the entire learning process. And sometimes I see people loop around this learning process and end up without ever experimenting with what they learned and take their own conclusions.

3 – Back then, you’d take a lot of time to be able to get in touch with the all the available live sound hardware to build your references and your prime choices on equipment.

Before you could get your hands on an Avalon mic preamp or on a TC-Electronics M-3000 effect processor, you’d either need to have enough money to invest by yourself  or work with a certain market level bands and/or sound and lighting companies.

Now in the digital domain the choices are more than many and with the price of one plugin (in certain cases) you can use it as many times as you want it, where you want and by the cost of a sixth of the hardware piece back in the old  days which could handle a very limited number of tracks or channels.

At the same time, the creative obstacle passing process we had in the old days, has been somewhat lost.

Now, any digital console and DAW has enough dynamics and effects processing to work tenths of channels without hiccups. We were lucky when we could get 8 compressors and 8 gates to use on an entire show.

If we had two dual engine effects processor, we were in heaven.

Even thought we neglect this capability we had of choosing the best possible combination of inserts and processing to make it sound good with few equipment, now it makes our job a lot easier, just knowing we can use anything we can think of.

If you blend and mix the capacity and capabilities of the digital world with the knowledge of the analogue patch solutions and signal flow, you can deliver a great performance throughout your work in any situation.

4 – Fifteen to twenty years ago, it was frustrating to work on a small studio, recording first works or demo tapes (yes, tapes as the ones almost extinct in the present time, that we used to use on walkmans) with limited tracks such as 16. The first recording studio me and two colleagues built for ourselves, had the following equipment:

  • 1 Studiomaster Series II – 16 inputs
  • 2 ADAT “Blackface” – Alesis Digital Audio Tape (for those who don’t know what it stands for)
  • 1 Alesis BRC
  • 1 Alesis Midiverb
  • 1 Alesis Microverb
  • and one or two compressors I can’t recall the brand and model

With this, we could record 16 tracks, or in our case, we could record 14 tracks. We’d always need two tracks to bounce the other tracks to stereo in order to be able to free up some more tracks for recording. A DAT recorder was not cheap and it was out of our budget at the time.

This was a destructive process and there was no UNDO button. You could literally destroy an entire song, by pressing the wrong keys or at the wrong time.

Now you can record as many tracks and takes you want on a recording session, choose the best, mix takes together, undo a delete track, etc. You name it.

Getting back to the creativity matter, we have resources to do anything you can think of, as long as you have the processing power needed to handle huge collections of tracks for that specific recording. The limit is our imagination and our technical capacity to make it all work out.

In conclusion, the world will always be changing. The older we get, the more work we’ll have to adjust to the new changes.

But at the same time, the younger you see them, you just can’t understand how can the past be so easily forgotten and underated.

The search for unknown knowledge should start on what we already know. And mankind and it’s generations are a hell of a information buffer, that most times we forget exist.

In short, each time period has it’s own benefits and disadvantages and you shouldn’t ever loose sight of what already has been made, in order to repeat the same mistakes that were already proven not to work.

Experiment new things but first study what already has been done.

Einstein’s definition of insanity goes as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. So why not use the vast knowledge at our disposition in order to avoid major mistakes and clear a path for our goals?