The most significant and far-reaching change in musical culture worldwide over the past twenty years has been the emergence and rapid evolution of the project studio. Along with their offer of independence from the music industry establishment, project studios have brought about new modes of composition and production, and an upending of all manner of accepted studio habits. One such consequence is the emergence of recordists whose work life resembles more that of a poet or painter in its solitariness.
This ability to work in solitude, without the kinds of social interactions usually inherent in music making, contradicts one of the sturdiest historical generalization one can make about record production: it was always a collaborative process interfacing the skills and sensibilities of musicians, songwriters, arrangers, engineers, and producers. Even famous one-man band projects—Prince, Sly Stone, Paul McCartney—involve collaboration with at least an engineer. The most self-sufficient recordist of earlier times was Les Paul, but without Mary Ford all we have are some nice guitar records.
Today, the recording studio is any place where sound is captured or manipulated, and it is often staffed, and all duties performed, by one person. With any sound imaginable available in sampled form, productions can take any shape whatsoever, their sounds performed by virtual ensembles conjured in the artist’s imagination. The “artist,” of course, may be a ten-year old, a farmer, or a tax accountant. Reactions to this all-access technological cornucopia vary according to aesthetic stance and the nature of one’s investment in preserving traditional standards of gate keeping. But whatever one’s view, the project studio revolution calls—as did the phonograph, stereophonic sound, multi-tracking, and other advances—for rethinking some longstanding assumptions about musical practice.