Record Production in the Internet Age

The ninth Art of Record Production Conference, “Record Production in the Internet Age,” hosted by the University of Oslo, aimed to illuminate the ways in which contemporary culture is characterized through changes and new modes of music production, distribution and consumption as a consequence of digital technology and the new musical arenas opened by the Internet. Four general fields of investigation were identified: “Recording aesthetics”, “Musical ownership and authorship”, “Virtual archives and new platforms for distribution” and “Music production in a transcultural space.” “Recording aesthetics,” sought to address the question of the intimate relationship between recording technology and the finished sound recording in light of the new context of digital technology and the Internet. In particular the emphasis was placed on the ways in which digital technology and the digital audio workstation (DAW) has made its mark on the sound of popular music from the 1980s onwards: How has the DAW audibly affected recorded and live music during the last thirty years?

The papers in the present volume that were part of this stream at the conference clearly demonstrate the wide spectrum of questions and issues that new technology brings about. Campelo addressed the changed role of the session musician after the digital revolution as a consequence of new models for record production, while Harkins zoomed in on the Fairlight Computer Musical Instrument as an example of ‘mutual shaping’ of technologies and their users, focusing on the ways in which this instrument, the first commercially available digital sampler, was used in ways unforeseen by their designers. Bergsland and Engum provided a report on Unheard Sounds, a project exploring extreme transpositions of sounds containing frequency material above the human hearing threshold. They demonstrated how using 192 kHz sampling rate and a 4 Hz – 100 kHz frequency range microphone results in sound files that can be transposed at least 2-3 octaves down, representing potentially interesting sonic material for composition and improvisation. De Man and Reiss’ paper reports an experiment where they collected, annotated and analysed over 1400 reviews by trained listeners on 98 different mixes, whereas O’Malley’s paper delved into debates about the factors that determine a ‘definitive edition’ of a recording. Given that recording technology and techniques tend to give a record a sonic fingerprint that anchors the music to a particular time in history. Their paper addressed whether or not the sound of a record should be altered to suit new audio standards. Braae’s paper documented four studio-related techniques that contributed to one such historical sound, namely the ‘Queen sound’, with a particular focus on the creation of its ‘epic’ size through changing studio practices between 1974 and 1975. And, rather than focusing on the historical identity of a particular sound or medium, he took up the relationship between the musical work and its medium through a discussion of how music technology can be used on two seemingly independent but tightly intertwined levels, which were described as the aesthetic and the technical, respectively. The relationship between musical content and sound production was also illuminated in Susan Rogers’ keynote. She shared her experience as sound engineer for Prince in the 1980s and addressed various aspects of recording aesthetics with a starting point in music cognition. Jan Erik Kongshaug, who has recorded more than 700 albums for ECM, in cooperation with producer Manfred Eicher, and worked with, among others, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Jan Garbarek, and Ornette Coleman, provided an insider’s perspective on some of the works of these prominent musical profiles.

New tools and virtual arenas for music-making have also challenged existing intellectual property law. One might claim that at this point in time, there is a pending mismatch between the new practices of “prosumption” fostered by the new technological situation and existing regulations. Our second stream, “Musical authorship and ownership,” dealt with this mismatch by asking questions regarding the relationship between law and practice, as well as between “alternative” notions of ownership and authorship, based on borrowing and sharing, and the music-economical means for survival within the music industry. Ultimately, this stream questioned the relevance of the traditional “author figure” for new collaborative contexts, such as, a performer/producer/songwriter/engineer-collaboration or a virtual “collaboration” through music recycling.

The advent of digital technologies has also created new environments for the distribution and reception of music. As a consequence, user patterns, music delivery platforms, distribution and business models have significantly changed over the last decade, and continue to evolve. The third stream called “Virtual archives and new platforms for distribution” aimed at exploring the roles of archives in a situation where listeners may have access to most of music history’s record productions 24/7/365. It also included the ways in which digital platforms for online communication and distribution, such as streaming services and social media, influence the use and dissemination of music in contemporary music culture. Accordingly, a main aim in this stream was to address the impact of various digital platforms for music distribution on the production of music (formats, recording aesthetics, sound quality etc.). In her paper “Composing and Recording for Fluid Digital Music Forms”, Redhead examined the effects of formats that invite user participation on the work of artists and producers, Toulson and Shakhovskoy’s paper evaluated the potential benefits of album apps to the commercial music industry, while Mc Nally, on the other hand, presented a case study of a digital institutional archive, more precisely an audio archive of school performances, focusing on its design, implementation and subsequent use.

An important aspect of music production facing us today, both in professional studios and home recording facilities, its development within transcultural contexts. This was the theme of the fourth stream of the conference, where particular attention was given to the use of interactive media by musicians and groups in both regional and international contexts. In recent years, new forms of networking have led to the establishment and sustaining of new communities across geographical and stylistic boundaries. To this end, we were concerned with the extent to which recordings emerging in such transcultural contexts reflect cultural diversity. Moreover, this stream, kicked off by a key-note address by Sophie Stevánce on the Inuit singer Tanya Tagaq, provided a platform for considering creativity in production amongst non-Western musicians. Included in this stream was a paper by Koszolko which approached the ways in which music creation in the ‘cloud’ brings about interaction between global communities of musicians across transcultural and transnational spaces, enabling a new perspective on remixing and studio jamming. Lefford’s paper, “The Sound of Coordinated Efforts: Music Producers, Boundary Objects and Trading Zones,” addressed how different participants and technologies perform varying roles in a production. In such collaborative processes each distinct area of expertise contributes different capacities and work to the resulting sound, and the paper discusses the means to accommodate diversity and differences in such processes. A central objective of this part of the conference was to address whether there is a meaningful relationship between particular places and particular sounds, and if so, what are the musical or sonic components forming such a regional identity? Accordingly, Pestana and Marinho’ paper focused on a particular example of transculturalism, that is, the Portuguese delegacy of His Master’s Voice and its artistic director, the Portuguese composer Frederico de Freitas (1902-80), between 1927 and 1931, pointing to networks of technologies and agents that are often overlooked in such cases.

The papers presented in this volume of JARP comprise a few examples of the wide spectrum of inspiring presentations, keynotes – by Susan Rogers, Jan Erik Kongshaug and Sophie Stevance – and panels that took place during three December days in Oslo. What these papers have in common is the will to address the art of record production in new, interesting and informed ways that are measured by both academic and industry standards. All in all, they testify to the fact that record production as a research field continues to expand and develop.

Stan Hawkins, Hans-T. Zeiner-Henriksen and Anne Danielsen

University of Oslo


We want to thank Department of Musicology at the University of Oslo and the Research Council of Norway for economic support to the conference.