Cleanliness – Why Not Stay ‘Dirty’?

What is it with cleanliness? I mean, we cover up our natural odours with totally unnatural ones (alcohol and chocolate, it appears); we try to keep our homes bacteria-free, when bacteria is the foundation of what keeps us healthy (within reason, that is); Christ, we even worry about the germs which exist on our soap dispensers, so we’ve invented soap dispensers which we don’t have to touch to get soap! It’s all a bit ludicrous.

Now, before you start thinking, “What is this, a rant about personal hygiene ?”, I’ll explain. I’m not entirely sure what my point is…or if there is a point to start with! But I’ve been thinking about this a bit.
I’m actually referring to the obsession musicians have with a ‘clean’ sound. Particularly when recording their music. And, yes, I’m generalising; because I am aware that there are many musicians/producers/DJs who favour the noise, dirt, and interference that comes with acoustic and electronic music production. And I’m not referring to the musicians who use vintage kit, distortion and effects to create walls of sound, or fatter chords, or ‘retro’ music, etc.

Let’s start by considering the studio. The modern professional studio is a mystery to me. I’m talking about commercial studios here; soundproofed and stuffed to the gills with electronic boxes and computers which, on their own, are probably worth more than your car. This has always been the case… rooms full of equipment which is state-of-the-art (this was as true in 1973 as it is today); enabling the cleanest, phattest, most polished sound imaginable. Compressors, aural exciters, reverbs, delays, mixers, limiters, filters, eq units fill these rooms, normally accompanied by an engineer who has been trained to use the damned things. And sofas.
The result of using all this to record your music is impressive. It can turn a mediocre piece of amateur music into a professional-sounding, sparkly slice of magnificence. And, most mainstream musicians are striving to achieve this…so, more power to them…. I guess….

However, how often do us musicians who are making music on a budget, without backing….us amateurs, semi-professionals, or ‘unsigned’ artists… often do we wish to use the magic of the commercial studio only to emulate our heroes? Not necessarily to mimic them, but just to evoke their music-making process? How much of this is down to the accepted notion that it’s ‘the done thing’? My question is…is it really necessary?

There’s a commonly-held belief that the music industry, as it was and has been since the 1950s, is changing. Not by choice, you understand…no, the industry would rather keep things just as they were, thanks. Making money off the creative endeavors of talent. Playing percentages, hiring & firing, moving only with fashion, perpetuating the status-quo, rejecting innovation for stability. That’s all changing. Apparently.
The “music industry” no longer refers to just major labels or large independents; it now also refers to bedroom musicians, gigging musicians, buskers, DJs and producers who are embracing the punk-ethic…the Do-It-Yourself attitude. Only, now, or for the last 10 years or so, the technology has become available for people to ‘do-it-for-themselves’. Malcolm McLaren espoused it; the acid-house crowd did it underground, the KLF did it, albeit by making the music at home, in order to get a record deal….then they wrote a book about it. But now, we all can do it, for real. And many are doing so.
We, you, they, are the “music industry”.
Who needs distribution when we’ve got sites like Bandcamp? Who needs promotion when we’ve got Twitter and Facebook? Who needs to publish/copyright their music, when ownership has become of secondary importance, when people share, and when Creative Commons exists to protect the artist’s rights without compromising the ability to get the music heard?
And who needs commercial studios when many people can now create, mix and master their own music to a decent quality (in some admittedly rare cases, to an equal quality to that produced in a studio) at home?
Aren’t commercial studios just part of the previously accepted hegemony of the music industry? Or am I being a bit too general? After all, I’ve not experienced the comforts of the studio myself. I’ve never heard a professionally mastered piece of my music. I’ve never played with the toys, or had an engineer to ‘fix’ and polish my music. I’ve never sampled the thrill of the 4am mixing session in plush surroundings, drinking Panamanian coffee, or knocking back a few cold ones on a deep leather sofa while my bandmates snort cocaine off the thigh of a Belgian prostitute…….oh, hold, on….I’m saying this out loud, aren’t I? Got carried away…sorry.

Maybe I’m just envious.

Anyway….my point is: its never been easier to get your music heard…if you’ve got an idea, share it, record it, stick it on Bandcamp, get in touch with a netlabel, Tweet it, post it on Facebook and Youtube. Nothing may happen…… but then again, something might. You’ll have spent nothing but your time and energy, and it will be worth every second.


2 responses to “Cleanliness – Why Not Stay ‘Dirty’?

  1. I share many of your sentiments…however, as a producer/engineer and musician, I do have to say that there are certain benefits that only come in a nice studio environment. Actually, instead of listing them here, I’ll write a post about it on my blog!

    Basically, though, a studio does offer both creative and tangible benefits that you can’t get at home. Does that discount the music many people create at home or in a project studio? No way! Some of the absolute best, most passionate music I’ve heard in the last few years was recorded in a basement.

    And as for the hardware that you’ll find in studios, they do offer a great sound. A Macbook Pro with a digital interface and some cheap mics gets the idea across. It does not, however, make the music sound like it was recorded through an SSL G+ series console with onboard comps, gates, and eq while using Neumann TLM103’s as drum overheads, all recorded to 2″ tape on a Studer A800 tape machine. Not to mention the Universal Audio, Empirical Labs, and other manufactures that make great outboard gear.

    Great post! I really enjoyed reading it. Looking forward to more!



    • Hi Josh, I think you have an insight which I do not. In fact, I’m making assumptions about something which I’ve never really experienced! So, I take your point. However, I do think that the pro studio, despite its undoubted benefits, is an unnecessary luxury for most musicians, and promotes equipment-fetishism to some extent. Not for everyone, of course, but some people are influenced by that I think. Will give your blog a read.

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