Being the professional nerd that I am, I was watching Tech TV the other day (after 12 hours in the studio) and saw a program they produced called “Big Thinkers”. The premise for those of you unaware of this program, is to interview inventors, writers, and people responsible for introducing or proposing technological advances. After watching the interview I was struck, not so much with the content of the program, but with the concept of big thinking.
Growing up with the dreams of becoming either a rocket scientist, or a rock-star, you probably would guess that I had some experience with big thoughts. But I guess that those would be better classified as Big dreams vs. Big thoughts. And that my friend, is the basis of my quandary. The business of music is filled with big dreams and hopes of success and admiration for practically everyone involved. But do we dream big, or are we only dreaming of attaining someone else’s big success.
This may seem a little confusing, ( I usually am confused) but the point I’m trying to make is that very few people are trying to do something completely unique, either in the creative world or in the business world of music. I understand why this happens but what I don’t understand is why it’s encouraged instead of merely tolerated. Labels want songs that fit with the current trends of radio, producers want to make records that compete with the current hottest hit, artists want to be the “next”——– (fill in the blank with any over- exposed superstar), even the media want acts that fit into categories so they can be easily covered and marketed to the demographics to which they appeal. We even read magazines to learn what equipment someone used to make a hit record and what type of recording techniques they used so we can make one just like it!
What I see very little of, is support for someone to break the molds, to step out of the shadows of what currently exists and create something new. I understand that this is the music business and not the business of making money on music. That may sound strange, but most of the final A&R decisions are made either by the promotion staff or a committee, and generally reflect the current trends in the market, not finding a market for a particular type of artist. Let me make this analogy, if I make a ball bearing that is used in every car ever made, I have a product that can make a lot of money. If I make a ball bearing of a new design, which never wears out, has no imperfections, but is incompatible with all current cars, I need to do much more work to convince the manufactures to re-tool to use my ball bearing. If you were a salesman, which ball bearing would you want to sell?
The thing that puzzles me is that these companies should realize that the biggest, most successful artists have always been the most unique and original, not the ones who follow but the ones who lead. I don’t mean to pick on record labels, I believe the responsibility lies with each of us to strive to think big! As part of the creative force in the music industry we need to push both ourselves and our artists to the limits of our abilities. To merely settle for the status quo is not enough. I realize that not every artist has the potential, nor the drive, to go beyond what has already been done, but I think more often than not, we don’t take the time or put in the effort to even find out!
Big thinking needs to apply to everyone, from the Engineer who strives to find more productive and efficient ways to do his work, to the studio owners and managers to create new environments, new business models, and better situations for clients to produce their best work. No matter what your position is in this industry, you can “think big” and make a difference.
I recently realized, that for many years, I believed “big things” were things that happened to you, things that were external like awards, hit’s, and big paychecks. But I was wrong, really “big things” are internal, they are the things that we create when we dig deep inside ourselves and go beyond where we’ve been before. “Big things” also happen when we help others achieve their highest potential.
I guess I’m ranting again, but I really like big thinkers. I want to use “light” microphones to record, I want to have recorders that continuously store audio without worrying about storage, I want voice controlled editing, I want thought controlled consoles, I even want singers who sing in tune, but I guess you can’t have everything!
Michael D Clute
Who has gotten too “big” and is on a diet!
I’ve often referred to myself as being a cave dweller, having spent the majority of my life in recording studios without windows to the outdoors. But the occasional glimpse of sunlight during the drive to the studio, (or sometimes the drive home!) does keep me aware that a world exists out there not covered by fabric and filled with 703 insulation. Don’t get me wrong; we are a traveling breed, moving from cave to cave in search of better environments and better tools. Finding the location of a new cave, or bigger cave, or one with better rocks, was usually done by communicating with the other cave men that you met going in or out of caves. Thinking about the future of the recording studio, and the recording process, got me wondering: What the migrating cave dwellers will do?
It seems that hard disk recording and DAWs are definitely the direction the industry is taking. Although large analog tracking consoles and great acoustic environments will be necessary for the foreseeable future, the majority of the recording process is much more efficient and economical using the new technologies.
A project I recently worked on involved several musicians working at home doing overdubs, trying new ideas, and perfecting the performances that they wanted to achieve. The results were very good. The musicians were extremely happy with the chance to fully develop their ideas, without interference, before presenting them to me as a Producer. But in looking back at the process I realize I was creating even more isolation than existed before. If you believe, like I do, that most music production is the collaboration of all the talents involved which leads to a finished piece which is larger than the sum of its pieces, then what will be the cost to the project by working this way?
A friend of mine who owns a large, successful recording studio business, recently said he wasn’t going to buy any of the “home” type recording systems or build studios around that type of system, because it changed so frequently and was very customized to the way that the user worked. I believe he’s right. I do think that studios need to have the means to interface with the systems, but trying to own and offer every system available simply isn’t possible. Therefore it seems the “personal studio” approach to recording, will be further supported, although unintentionally, by the studio industry.
The thought that comes to mind is: What is the effect that this type of recording process will have on the social environment of the studio, or of making a record?
My career has always grown and developed because of the “circle” of friends and peers that I’ve met through the studio. It’s only natural to want to work with and be around people who’s company you enjoy. I know the world has become a much smaller place with the invention of such things as the Internet, but the relationships formed by working in that context are quite different than those experienced on a personal level. It’s quite possible to now make records where no one is in the same physical location. This type of record making feels a bit like “assembly line” work to me, each guy does his part and hands it to the next guy.
I don’t know the answers to the questions I’ve been asking this month, because my experiences using the new technologies have so far been positive and did not seem to suffer from a lack of interaction. One reason may be that the musicians I was working with and I already had a relationship and this was just part of that relationship.
Music is the expression of the person’s emotion as well as their thoughts, captured at a personal level but presented to all. I guess my concerns about the social interaction of making music is a selfish one, being present and being part of making a great song is an incredible experience. I would hate to have other people miss out on that joy because of technology.
I lost a friend this week to cancer. His name was Van Stephenson. Van was a great songwriter and artist having hits as an artist and writer in both the pop and country world, with over 400 songs cut by acts ranging from Eric Clapton, Kenny Rodgers, and Laura Branigan in the pop world, to Restless Heart, Reba, and (his band) BlackHawk in country. Van taught me so much about creating music and making records. He also introduced me to most of the record industry I work with today, and I’ll miss him. It’s these kind of relationships that I don’t want to see missed by the possible isolation in the “new” recording model.
OK, I guess it’s time for me to grab my club and head back to my cave.
Michael D. Clute – Producer/Engineer
With a title like this you might wonder if I’m going to go off on some rant about a Stephen Hawkins book or some Einstein theory but …not! I was putting together a new PC based DAW to evaluate this week, and in the process (somewhere after reformatting about a dozen times, and flashing new bios, and reading about 20 manuals, and loading all the software over and over, to get a nice, fast, clean install) I started thinking, what do I really need, as far as studios go.
With the incredible advances in computer processors, bussing, hard drives, etc., the main components (mixer, recorder, fx) of the studios are becoming available to anyone with a few thousand dollars to spend. As I tested the new system, (which was playing back over 100 tracks of audio, and with all the processing I normally use making my records, still handling over 50 channels. All on a $1500 computer.) I figured I could build 3 of these with 40 channels of I/O, keep an eight I/O system at home, give an eight I/O system to my assistant to work on, and keep a 24 I/O system at the studio, and still not spend half of what I spent on the first new 24 track I bought almost 20 years ago!
Given the fact that technology is destroying the line between pro gear and the ole “semi-pro” equipment, what do the studios have to offer? I’ve thought about this for quite some time, since I have been on both sides of the fence for many years. Being a commercial studio owner and essentially a “project studio” owner and record producer (I booked the studio for myself about 90% of the time and used mostly “the bleeding-edge-of-technology” gear not common to most commercial rooms), I’ve reached the conclusion that… I should step back and try to look at it from the artist’s perspective! After all, it’s the artist who is really the client; he/she pays all the bills, risks their career, and puts their name on the front cover. Dey is da Boss!
So what do I want now? I want the space to perform in that sounds great. I want the right “Vibe” or environment to be comfortable in and do my best work. I want time to create my masterpiece. I want my record to sound great. And oh yeah, I want to be able to recoup without having to sell a million albums! There are probably plenty more (You da Producer, so produce me a bottle o’ wine! Sorry, old joke) but those should be enough to deal with.
1- Provide a “great acoustical space” large enough to track all the players that I need. That seems to be a plus for a traditional studio, but that great acoustical space for a vocal may be a bedroom, or a great space to do a thrash band may be an old warehouse or garage, so it may not be a total plus.
2- Provide the right “environment”. This seems like another plus for the traditional room, provided they have the people and service to deliver a great workplace. But some artists I’ve worked with felt intimidated by the studio, too “sterile” or just not intimate enough to feel comfortable. So maybe cutting an acoustic track in front of a fireplace or a vocal in the tile shower might provide the right “Vibe”.
3- Time! Now that’s a tough one. If I can afford the cost and it meets the other desires, a traditional room is fine. But if the vibe is right and the sound of the space is cool, time is much cheaper out of the “studio”. It could be another tie here, but maybe budget favors the “project” type situation.
4- Create a “great sounding” record. Well, tracking in a traditional studio on a killer board, with a mic locker full of vintage mics, and a rack full of cool compressors and gear, is pretty hard to beat. But doing overdubs with one mic, a mic pre and a compressor, just doesn’t require all the other toys. This also points back to the first three points because it’s not just equipment that make it sound great, it’s the right space, the right feel, and the time to discover and create it.
5- Money! Ok I think I gotta give this one to the “project” style studio. Although with the competitive nature of the studio business in some markets, there are some unbelievable values to be had at many commercial studios. As a producer I believe that it’s impossible to budget a great performance, since I’ve had $20 vocals and $2000 vocals that absolutely moved me. So what do you think I should budget for a vocal?
Trying to tie this all together, it seems to me that tracking in a traditional studio, overdubs and edits in a “project” room, and mixing …um…well…depending on the monitor situation…analog or digital…budget…um…well…Honey, what do you think…oh damn, gotta go now. Decisions, decisions, see time is money! Or is it space is expensive?
Michael D. Clute
Ego-maniac /Gear-slut / Producer /Engineer
Often found mumbling to himself in studio “caves” in Nashville.
Being questioned has always been the best way I’ve found to discover what I really believed or felt about something. (Sir, have you been drinking tonight?) Searching for the answer often brings up unexpected insight, even when you believe strongly in your opinion. (No osiffer, there was a bee in my car and I was trying to get it out!) Since this column is about the studio, maybe I should make this somewhat relevant.
Do you know who your artist is? Have you taken the time to learn where they come from both geographically and philosophically? Where does their passion lie, what excites them, who do they admire, what do they hate, what do they want to say? Musically, personally, emotionally, and commercially, what are really their goals? Have you even heard them play live? And possibly even equally as important, do they know you?
This world we live in where business masquerades as art (or is it vise versa?), is a brutal place for an artist to truly show their uniqueness. They most likely get but a single chance (or none at all) to show their “stuff”. Those of us who live on the “other side of the glass” are almost never held liable for the failure of a single project, at least not to the point of where one failure ends our career! If we produce or engineer at least one hit act we are brilliant, if we have several we’ll probably get a major label to run. Never mind all those other careers we helped end “cuz we is geniuses now”! A funny thing usually happens to successful producers and engineers, their “batting average” goes down with success. This happens due to the huge amount of work that comes banging at the door when you have a hit. (I must stop to say that some of the legends in our industry have had incredible track records and consistency throughout their careers, but they are the exception, not the rule!) I feel that because of our incredible luck in having jobs that almost always outlive those of the artists, we have a huge responsibility to invest all of the talent, knowledge, and ability we have, to help them extend theirs.
How often do we really bring out the truly unique qualities of an artist, and how many times do we simply plug them into our way of making a record? If we don’t take the time to know who the people are that we are working on, we will most often use our idea of who we want them to be. If we don’t who they are, how can we possibly get the consumer to know who they are? Don’t get me wrong; I feel the people on “the other side of the glass” have incredible talents that are always imprinted on a project, and they should do that. Many artists seek out a particular engineer or producer because they want the sound or style that they heard on another artist’s project, but is it really in the best interest of the artist to give it to them?
The business is packed with acts that are chasing something external (i.e. what radio wants, the newest hit style, to be the next ____, etc.), when they need to be looking inside to see what they truly are and, to make that record. I find it amazing that despite that fact that most all of the truly hugely successful acts are unique and identifiable, the industry mainly churns out acts that are derivative and interchangeable. We have to be the ones who change that, and strive to produce the music that steps out from the pack. (Wow, can’t you just see me pounding the podium? Hehe!)
The process of questioning oneself is also important to the technical side of our business. What is the best way to record an act, (big studio, little studio, analog, hard disk, cassette deck!) and which tools (meat clever, jackhammer, U47) do we use. There is a huge temptation to use what we know works and to mindlessly (maybe not a good word) repeat the process we’ve learned. What I’m asking is, that we think about what we chose to use in the studio with the consideration that this is the unique expression of the act’s sound, and does what you chose to do represent you and your preferences first, or the artist’s?
To wrap this all up, I need to say that balance (as in life, or as a high-wire walker) is possibly the most important thing we can bring to a project. To balance the artist’s best interests and unique qualities, with the often-oppressive interests of the business of music, is our responsibility. All this starts with “Hi, who are you?” or is it “Wanna get a beer?”
Michael D. Clute -Producer/ Engineer
Whose credits include “Safety Rabbit”, “Fargo United-Way”, and oh yeah “Diamond Rio”, “BlackHawk”, “Restless Heart”, “Poco”, “Faith Hill”, and sons
“Charlie and Jamie”, and wife “Laurie”.
How many times do you hear someone (or catch yourself) bad-mouthing a new record or act, or even just complaining about the caliber of the current music in general? Or how about hearing someone talk about trying a new piece of gear, or new form of recording, and saying, “it blows”!
Growing up in a small farming community in North Dakota, I always thought it was amazing that when a group of farmers were talking, there was never enough rain (or too much), prices were too low, taxes too high (I agree with that one!), and the crops were never gonna’ be worth much this year, no matter what, it was always really bad. Being rather idealistic, I couldn’t understand how they just kept right on farming? Why didn’t they quit and find a better job, or something that wasn’t always so darn miserable!
So now you say, there you go continuing the cycle of complaining about how things are, by bitching about people bitching about how bad things are! (Wow, I think I just about got sucked into a loop there!) BUT NO! I’m actually just pointing out a few little things I’ve noticed about life in the music biz.
First off, there is a strange thing that happens when someone is asked to give his or her opinion or judgment about something. They become an expert! People cease to be just a listener or a consumer and they become an analysist. This is really nothing bad, it’s just natural. Instead of simply liking or not liking something, they now have to know why! If the business we are in were not as subjective as it is, that would not be much of an issue. But personal likes and dislikes are just that, personal. Some people love the color blue, some hate it, but do we need to know why?
This situation pops-up in many ways, one notable one would be when singles are chosen or records are approved. There is often a “committee” decision made which is really just choosing the song or songs which are the least “polarizing” or in other words, the safest. This helps lead to commercial music that is not offensive to anyone, and is also not exciting or unique to practically anyone either! How many times have you heard,” That song absolutely slays me, but it could never be a single.” Again, people analyze the records that are normally released as singles and conclude this is too different to work, instead of following their “gut” and choosing the song that affects them the most.
Another example of this “expert” opinion phenomenon is when someone is asked about recording equipment or techniques. If a piece of gear doesn’t do what they expect it to do or sound the way they expect it to, it’s a piece of junk. The fact is most gear has at least one great application, and if that application is found and used well it may be a crucial part of a records sound. I know quite a few great engineers who seek out the strangest, grungiest, funkiest equipment, knowing it will make their work different from the “norm” giving them a distinct identity. Another reason to new “tools” is the fact that they keep your work from being stagnant and the same from project to project. There’s nothing more challenging than trying to figure out how to hammer a nail with a tweezers!
The other aspect of the “expert” phenomenon I wanted to discuss is the tendency to make statements that stereotype all elements of the group (could be songs, artists, equipment, etc.). When comments about the state of something are made, it often is not accurate for a specific element in that group. I could say, country music all sounds the same and you can’t tell one act from another anymore. (remember this is just an example don’t get me busted for this, it’s how I make a living! Hehe) From the Dixie Chicks to Aaron Tippin to Faith Hill to Brad Paisley to Shania Twain, country music is more diverse than it’s ever been, and we possibly have more superstar acts than ever. But overall, sales are down and country radio is slumping; so is the state of country music good or bad? It’s really all of the above, but that doesn’t make for an easy answer so we pick one side or the other (country sucks, or country is bigger than ever), and make our statement! The only problem is; neither one is actually true, and paints a picture for the listener which may effect their opinion.
In the world of “gear whores” the same thing happens. Digital sucks, VCA’s suck, heck, all those speakers sound awful! The list goes on and on, but really they’re just opinions and not fact. The facts are great records are made on crappy gear and crappy records are made on great gear everyday! It’s just different opinions. Remembering that we are in a subjective business is often a difficult thing. Connecting art to commerce leads to some funky situations and makes the “black and white” answers difficult to come by.
In closing I just want to say, it’s probably a really good idea to be receptive to new ideas and techniques and to be aware that our likes and dislikes are just that, ours. Try being positive in your statements about the business we’re in, cause it affects the perspective of those who don’t have all the information to form their own opinion. I would now like to leave you with my “expert” opinion. Everything I don’t do sucks! Hahaha!!!
Michael D. Clute
Ego-maniac /Gear-slut / Producer /Engineer
Often found mumbling to himself in studio “caves” in Nashville.
I spent this week working on an awesome new system. I love getting to work on new gear, finding out its capabilities and learning to find new ways to improve my projects. Spending time listening for improvements, or setbacks, seems to inevitably point out a shortcoming in the equipment that I thought was fine. It’s funny how we get accustomed to the flaws and character in the equipment we use. Other times we appreciate just how great our old toys were.
Fighting the obsolescence curve now seems to be an ongoing battle. For the first 20 years or so of playing the recording studio game, it seemed like the majority of my purchases were things that expanded the capabilities that I had. Lately though, it seems everything that I get is a replacement, instead of an enhancement to my gallery of toys. I guess that’s just the hazard of getting to be an old guy in this business! But there is one thing that has changed when buying new gear; I can’t seem to remember ever buying any equipment that didn’t work correctly for the first six months or year that I owned it, but then miraculously it began to function perfectly! Sure I’ve got plenty of things that worked poorly when I bought them, but they still work poorly, and I like that! That’s the way God intended pro audio gear to be made!
I realize the beauty of the new software based equipment, and the capabilities it has to grow and adapt to an evolving market. But the trend now seems to be the first six months or year of a product’s introduction is a secondary beta testing program. Unless the product is a version 2.0 or 3.0 it’s quite likely that all the features initially promised will not be fully functional. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a total gear slut and I want to play with anything they figured out how to plug in! But I do so knowing the hazards and expecting to spend time and energy to try to help the manufacturers release a better and more stable product. I just feel sorry for so many out there that jump into a new piece of equipment (with quite often a significant financial investment) only to find they bought themselves a ticket to hours on the Internet downloading new software, new drivers, talking in chat rooms, researching user forums, calling product support, not to mention a fist full of email’s, just to be able to use their new toy.
Let’s keep the “pro” in pro audio and keep the pressure on the big boys to conduct themselves in a “pro”-fessional manner. Let them know when they let you down, and let them know when they do a great job. The great companies out there that spend the time to research and test their products and bring them to the market as solid usable tools, need to hear from their customers too. My time as a front of house Engineer taught me one thing about people, out of a crowd of thousands of people, when one person is not pleased with your job, that’s the one your gonna hear from! If we need to pay a premium for the “pro” moniker so be it, I know that there are a lot of people quite willing to do so.
Another interesting thing occurred to me during my play time with the new toys, I realized that we’re now caught up in the same race as the computer manufacturers are. We’re now starting to look at an 18 month cycle of obsolescence (okay, maybe 24 months). Many of our purchases now need to be made with that in mind. Prior to this I always considered five years to be the practical life span for most of the major purchases I made. Luckily it seems that the price tag on most of the major items in the studio has dropped even faster! The power and the capabilities of the new technology are truly amazing. $2000 24 track machines, 100 track laptops, complete guitar rigs and B-3s complete with Leslie on a plug in, I guess I don’t mind the race so much after all!
Like I said when I started, it’s interesting how the new equipment sometimes actually improves your appreciation for your old favorite toys. I guess that works with music sometimes too, because this week I just started Producing a brand-new album with my old friends, the group “Poco”. All of us are enjoying the benefits that all the new technology gives us. Hard-disk recorders, digital consoles, multitrack editors, plug-ins, and some great new mics have made the process more fun than ever. But the greatest part is being privileged to share the experience of creating some great new music with a great classic band. Finding the balance seems to always be the key, great music, great gear, and great friends, make it all worthwhile. Wow, I forgot about great sex, man I’m not that old!!! Am I?
Michael D Clute – Producer/ Engineer/ Studio Ower
searching for his wife to explain that last line!
Seems like every time I watch TV or open a magazine, I’m confronted with another ad about on-line stock market trading or some kind of Mutual Fund Company. (Maybe they stand out because of the lack of sex in the commercials. Could somebody out there do something about that?) Even the daily reporting of the stock market prices (I like to think of it as “Lotto for the money folks”) keeps me all too aware of my own measly “portfolio” (ha) and motivates me to try to improve my savings and retirement plans. But since most of the people I know in the music industry never took good enough care of themselves in the first half of their lives, I figure old age is something they won’t have to worry about anyway! All of this emphasis on investing for your future retirement got me thinking about something entirely different though. What about your investment strategy in your present career?
I know what you’re thinking; I’ve busted my butt up through the ranks of the “white slave trade” internships, though backing up deaf bozos who barely could plug in a microphone, through demos from hell, and “spec” (“spec” = spec not to get paid!) custom records, not to mention a wife or two! I’ve paid my damn dues, what do you mean invest in my career? (Wow, another rant! It’s really weird to rant on a keyboard!) What I mean is; what do you do to keep up with a changing society, changing technology, changing musical tastes and styles, and a constantly changing business environment. How much time, and yes money, do you invest in your career?
Engineers, keeping informed of new equipment and techniques through trade magazines like Pro Sound News and EQ, (a little plug to keep Frank happy) is a vital part of your job. Do you take the time to learn the new equipment that is impacting the business? I was amazed at the amount of engineers I knew who didn’t want to mess with computers in the studio when the hard-disk systems and Pro-Tools started to appear, most have lost many thousands of dollars to young guys who spent the time to master them. Investing time to master and improve the tools that you already have is equally important. Spending time (yours not the clients) improving on the presets on your FX units, trying different mics or mic placement techniques, the sonic differences of different signal paths or cables, the effect timing delays in digital audio have on singers pitch and performance, the list is endless. That’s just the technical side! What about the psychology of dealing with creative people and also the business people, after all, most engineers are self-employed entrepreneurs? Do you spend much time on your “people skills”? How are you promoting yourself to potential clients? And possibly one of the biggest questions; how much money do I invest in new equipment to remain or become competitive with my peers?
Producers don’t have it any easier either. Professional athletes watch films of their performances to learn mistakes they made and try to improve themselves. Do you go back though past projects with the same type analysis to find where your “game” can be improved? Do you stay current by knowing what is happening on the live scene or “indie” and internet scene? How much music do you listen to, both current and classic, from which to remain competitive and draw inspiration from? What about your self-promotion and “people skills”? Do you know the capabilities of the newest technologies, and how they can impact your projects? Would investing in certain equipment, or a personal studio, or a “partnership” with a commercial facility increase your ability to remain or become competitive? Studio owners know all about investing right? After all it’s a huge investment to create and maintain a recording studio, the competition is tough, and the profits of studio ownership are not all that lucrative, usually. Let me give a suggestion where most studios should invest. Your staff! Service is the place that most studios need to invest in. Try an ongoing training program with studio staff, frequent “classes” including techs, receptionists, assistants and interns! Both technical education about the equipment you have and motivational education about serving clients. Everyone in a studio should continually be learning and improving their skills, and knowledge about all aspects of the studio does just that. Giving your staff an opportunity to present ideas to improve the studio is another resource that is often wasted. Always have a staff member in the studio or close at hand for every session big or small. A great Tech department is really a necessity not a luxury, having at least one in the building during sessions is a must. And lastly, invest in your clients! Treat every client equally in terms of service and resources. Today’s bum is tomorrow’s genius in the music business!
In closing I want to point out one last thing, the music business is a race that never has a finish. No matter what we’ve done in the past, the only thing it does for you is give you the opportunity to be in the race. Staying at the front of the pack requires a bit of luck, and a whole lot of hard work! So good luck, and remember buy low and sell high. (Or is it buy high and sell low? No, that’s how I run my studio usually! Hehehe)
Michael D Clute – Producer / Engineer / “Legend-in-his-own-mind” Driving two old cars, too much studio gear, having too much fun in Nashville, TN.
The age of Internet music distribution is upon us. Although currently the majority of music is still sold through “brick and mortar” retail outlets, millions of copies of songs are traded and sold on the Internet. By now all of us are quite aware of some of the issues facing the music industry such as: Intellectual property rights, MP3, Napster, ect. Obviously the impact of the resolution of some of these problems will be felt by the music production community, but the question that I propose today is what impact the music production community may have on the business of music.
The “Game” Board
I’ve always said that the current business model for the music industry is insane. We’re on an island surrounded by water with only one bridge to the consumers, which is guarded at one end by radio and at the other by retail. Both of the gate keepers have very little in common with the desires of the inhabitants of the island, except for the fact that they all wish to profit for themselves. And so the game begins. Like most games, experience develops a strategy for winning, and our current model is very well developed for all the players. The problem with any game is, although many people can play, very few win.
Our business is facing the possibility, or should I say probability of completely changing its business model. The abilities to directly promote, advertise, subscribe, sell, giveaway, or any other scheme you can think of to create a demand from the consumers, are now available. This newfound freedom for the industry has the potential to destroy all of the current rate structures, royalty agreements, and payment structures for us. As dark and dismal as that sounds, I believe that it can be a huge opportunity to correct some of the inequities that currently exist. The transition will most likely be painful for many but hopefully quick.
What types of opportunities am I my talking about? The first thing that comes to mind would be participation in performance royalties by the artists and production people involved with the music. The next issue would be less corrupt, verifiable, royalty contracts with record companies. Issues such as: Controlled composition clauses, antiquated breakage discounts, ridiculous free goods percentages, reduced or nonexistent royalty rates for overseas sales, and monstrous withholdings of royalties to cover nonexistent returns should all be reworked. Ownership rights for the artists and content creators are also ripe for revamping. In short, creating a more honest business environment for us.
It’s an interesting evolution, or maybe revolution, that is taking place. Technology is providing the opportunity to create competitive commercial music with a much lower financial investment than ever before. It also provides the opportunity for the artist to personally finance, promote, control, and sell their music directly to a worldwide market. The power this enables an artist to have, is unlike anything previously known to the recording community. The ability to target consumers with a high probability of providing them with a product they will purchase, is now obtainable. Couple of this power with the current negative publicity which the major labels now currently enjoy, and you have leveled the playing field much more for all artists.
So what do I mean when I say what is the impact we can have on the Internet? I think that not unlike the changing business models for the music business, we’re about to see the possibility of changing production models for music itself. The ability to interact with the music by the consumer is something that’s never existed before. The possibility exists for the consumer to mix and balance and adapt performances to their individual preferences. The listener has always been a pretty passive element in music production but that maybe changing. The processing power available with the average PC is staggering. The advancement of voice control and improvements with the interfacing of people with computers may change the way people listen to music. I seriously doubt we will be sending 48 tracks or more out to the consumers to mix themselves, but the possibility for a consumer to control environments and basic levels of several elements in a mix, are quite possible. (Personally, I would just as soon never have to make another vocal-up version for the label but that’s another issue, or maybe not!) I recently read a study which said 67% of all college students currently kept all their music collection in their computer! It seems to me that a large portion of our audience may already be capable of this type of manipulation.
The other point, no matter how much I dislike it, is the apparent demise of the album! It appears to me that we’re heading for a market consisting entirely of singles. Consumers are very weary of overpriced albums containing one or two songs that they really want. The ability to choose only the songs, and to only pay for those songs, seems to be where we’re headed. Therefore I wonder how long it will be before we interact more closely with the consumers directly in the studio! Will the fans choose the songs to include a project? How much would they be willing to pay to be that close to the creation of an album?
I guess the point I’m trying to make with all of this is it’s time for all of us to get in the game. We need to stand up and contact our legislators to support the production community in this time of change. We need to create new opportunities for ourselves with progressive ideas and products. And like my kids say every day, “Come on Dad, let’s play!
“Big Shot” Country Music Producer/ Engineer
“Studio Sound” Magazine
Grammy award winning with over 2 dozen number-one singles, nearly 100 Top-40 singles, 25 gold and platinum albums – not to mention 24 Grammy nominations and countless CMA, ACM, CCMA and CCM achievements – lend Nashville Producer / Engineer / Studio Owner Michael Clute’s name that special polish of success.
Clute’s studio, Midtown Tone & Volume, was host to such multi-platinum artists as Diamond Rio, Faith Hill, Alabama, Blackhawk, Brooks and Dunn, and Alan Jackson to name a few, was well known as a top place to record in Music City. Part of the reason was that Midtown was outfitted with just the right combination of spanking-new digital wizardry and Clute’s own collection of vintage tube mics and outboard gear.
A short chat quickly reveals that Clute’s warm, easy-going manner also helps make him one of Nashville’s sought-after Producers. But life in the business wasn’t always gold and platinum glitter. As with so many other producers, Clute started out “playing in the band.” In his case, that meant 12 years singing and playing bass in rock bands touring the Midwest and Canada, achieving what he laughingly calls “Rock Star” status in North Dakota, where he grew up. Eventually Clute built his own recording studio in Fargo, which is definitely one way to learn what works in music recording. Continue reading
Blessed from working with great talents!
Received multiple Grammys as Producer/Engineer/Mixer for Diamond Rio “The Reason”
Produced and Engineered projects with over 2 dozen number-one singles, nearly
100 Top-40 singles, and 25 gold and platinum albums.
Received 24 Grammy nominations and countless CMA, ACM, CCMA and CCM
awards and nominations.
Owner of Midtown Recording Studios Nashville, one of Nashville’s largest and most
progressive studios on Music Row.
Graduate of Leadership Music joining a powerful network of music industry leaders.
Lecturing music business students at programs such as: Vanderbilt University, Belmont University,
Trevecca University, MTSU, NDSU, UMN Moorhead, and University of Lethbridge
Mixing FOH on tours around the world with acts such as: Diamond Rio, Kathy
Mattea, Michael Johnson, and POCO.
Over 27 years with my friends!
They became one of country music’s biggest bands!
Diamond Rio has sold over 12 million albums earning three platinum and five gold records and won the Country Music Association’s Vocal Group of the Year award four times as well as netting two Academy of Country Music Awards in the top Vocal Group of the Year category and 14 Grammy nominations.
When they debuted in 1991 with “Meet in the Middle,” Diamond Rio became the first group in the history of country music to have a debut single reach Number One. They continued to place 32 more singles on the Billboard chart.
I am forever grateful for the chance to work with this band. They even call me the “seventh member”, just to make me feel good!
Home for 25 years!
The studio began as a way to do demos for Warner/Chappell Publishing. My partners, when we started, were Monte Powell, Van Stevenson, Dave Robbins, and Tim Dubois (not a bad gang to hang with!). This little group connected me directly to “Restless Heart”, “Diamond Rio”. “Blackhawk”, :Exile”, Arista Records and most of the success I would have for another 30 years!
It also enabled me to pioneer many recording technologies such as digital hard disc recording, digital mixing, microphone design, and audio software. The list of albums recorded, not only by me, but by others at MTV include: Diamond Rio, Blackhawk, Keith Urban, ZZ Top, Exile, Michelle Wright, Alabama, Steve Warner, Vince Gill, The Delevantes, Hank Williams Jr., Leann Rimes, Shania Twain, Faith Hill, Aerosmith, Brooks and Dunn, Willie Nelson, Alan Jackson, Leroy Parnell, Trace Adkins, Whiteheart, Pam Tillis and on and on!
Successful Nashville music producer and engineer Mike Clute has always been proud of his Tolna, N.D., roots. But since Feb. 13, he can claim to be part of a much more exclusive list: North Dakotans who have won Grammy awards.
Clute’s Grammy was for his role as producer and engineer for Diamond Rio’s “The Reason,” which was named Best Southern, Country, or Bluegrass Gospel Album. That makes Clute part of a Grammy-award winning group from North Dakota that includes the late, great songstress Peggy Lee; blues artist Jonny Lang; and Greg Nelson, another Nashville producer who was born in Bismarck.
A month after claiming the golden gramophone statuette, Clute was thrilled, amused, philosophical and looking to the future during a telephone interview from his home in Nashville.
“Winning a Grammy is a nice ego boost and everything like that. But like any recognition you receive, you kind of think, ‘Am I done now?’ It’s kind of like what do you do when you’re the ex-president,” Clute said, laughing. “What do you do next? I guess the thing is to get another one now.” Continue reading
Spotify playlist of some of the hits I’ve done over the years.