The money has gone out of recording, they tell us. Well, the numbers back it up: you want to make a profit, rely on getting punters at live gigs, not shifting singles.
Does that mean recording is less important as a musician? I think not. The reason it’s not profitable is because recording sounds and copying, sending and distributing recordings are open to more or less everyone (in the middle-class West) now, so they’re no longer highly chargeable activities. Rather like the ability to write legibly after near-universal literacy arrived at the end of the nineteenth century. This is not to degrade the ability and worth of pro recording engineers, producers etc. by the way – creating recordings that sound good, or ironically that even sound particularly like being at a live performance by the same performers, remains highly skilled and difficult but that’s a slightly separate point.
Recording being so accessible means it’s much more widely called for. Last Saturday I spent a few hours at David Allen‘s flat recording part of a film score. Yes, you read that right. It did involve an expensive stereo mic, a digital mixing desk and an alarmingly powerful computer, but we were able to use his living room for me to multitrack a good-natured pastiche of the Quintet of the Hot Club de France – me recording in succession a load of verses of rhythm guitar to pick among and overlay for that thick twin-rhythm sound, some basslines (digging out the acoustic bass guitar that I haven’t used in anger in months) and my best effort at fluid Stephane Grappelli violin lead and soloing. The finished article, edited, stitched together, mixed and mastered, will appear once it’s through post-production and you can see how you think I did! It’s not many years since a student-level director probably wouldn’t have used music in his film, or would have had to put up with seriously lo-fi recording unless he could afford a professional studio at hundreds of pounds a day.
And it goes further. I applied for a professional orchestra starting up in Yorkshire – which sounds crazy, but not if I only have to go there half a dozen times a year for initial rehearsals and concerts, and the finances start coming up as they’ve planned. But there isn’t exactly excess startup capital flying around, so they’re not trying to get everyone who’s interested to York or Leeds, hire space, get hours and hours of assessors’ time, and audition players as such. Instead, they’re assuming dicky sound quality won’t prevent them sorting the sheep from the goats, and asking for a home recording of such to such bars of this piece, parts conveniently free to download from Petrucci (the hard-up classical musician’s godsend, I can’t recommend it often enough).
There may not be albums out there with my name on any time (very) soon, but there is more and more keepable evidence of my (and everyone else’s) musical work building up all the time.