When I began Tape Op it was a reaction, in part, to the prevalence of high-end studios in other recording magazines. I'd see a photo of a giant console in a fancy room and think, "I've never made a record in a room like that." I knew that I (as well as most of my friends and peers) was making albums in small studios, most of which were in secondary markets (i.e. not L.A., New York, Nashville, or London). I wanted to make sure I was able to give voice to these people and places. Since then, Tape Op's coverage has certainly widened; and while I think that is a good thing, I still have a gut feeling that I need to be very "careful." I know the magazine's focus should be well balanced, between people working in top-end studios with major clients, as well as personal studios, small commercial setups, regional recording strongholds, as well as producers and engineers that work in certain niches.
I've been curious about the changes going on all around us in the music world. The Internet, the recession, and the gutting of the music business income had a tangible effect on business for my studio, magazine, and production career. Over time I've noticed that among the artists I work with, there are less and less making any sort of living from music alone. I recently picked up and read the book Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class by Scott Timberg. In this study, Timberg examines what has happened, as well as examining the changes wrought by the Internet and the recession... But one of the factors he brings to the fore is an essential dumbing down of American culture, as driven by the "winner takes all" mindset. What exactly is "winner takes all"? Timberg uses a great example with the Olympics, where a gold medal winner might go on to reap the benefits of lucrative endorsements and deals, whereas the silver medal winner most likely gets shuttled off to relative obscurity. This is the business of music that I personally abhor. This is the world of Top 10 sales lists, Grammy Awards telecasts, boring commercial radio, and million dollar music videos.
To anyone that adores music as much as I'm sure most of us do, it's painfully apparent that commercial success doesn't always equal artistic success or cultural merit. Two years ago the report "The Death of the Long Tail: The Superstar Music Economy" detailed that the top 1% of artists earned 77% of all recorded music income. I don't doubt that. But when media and radio reinforces the "winner takes all" approach, and only covers these same artists, so much music gets marginalized, ignored, and unjustly compared. Many recordings exist because they are filling a certain need, in a certain style, and can be held up as an example of something special that would otherwise not exist. We need this variety of music. The Rolling Stones weren't inspired by what was on the radio in the UK in the early '60s. The Clash drew from a myriad of musical sources to create their own style. Interview any recording artist you admire, and you will find a broad wealth of music that became ingrained in their vocabulary, and much of it is likely commercially unsuccessful.
I remember my uncle asking when my band would be as big as Michael Jackson when I first started playing music in dive bars and punk clubs. I remember recoiling in shock, as I could see no path that would facilitate that leap from our post-punk roots to MTV and the eyes (and ears) of the world. I wasn't even interested in that sort of career. I didn't want to take over the world, I just wanted to put our own take on this music out there and see if anyone else enjoyed it.
If we apply a "winner takes all" approach to covering recording studios and producers, what do we get? The same articles on the same bunch of people who are in the right place to work with the biggest of the music stars out there? At the end of the day, this isn't enough for me. There is so much music being created and captured all over the world. Tape Op will keep moving forward, looking for the real winners in music. The ones that capture voices and dreams to be shared with others; regardless of financial success or media validation. The ones making art.