The Bloomsbury Handbook of Music Production provides a detailed overview of current research on the production of mono and stereo recorded music. The handbook consists of 33 chapters, each written by leaders in the field of music production. Examining the technologies and places of music production as well the broad range of practices – organization, recording, desktop production, post-production and distribution – this edited collection looks at production as it has developed around the world. In addition, rather than isolating issues such as gender, race and sexuality in separate chapters, these points are threaded throughout the entire text.
Organizing this book
It is important to consider what is not in this handbook as well as what it contains. We can’t include everything and this introduction is about explaining what isn’t included as well as what is and, hopefully, why. In many ways the production of the book has been a metaphor for some aspects of the production of much of the recorded music in the last fifty years. The book would not have been made without the impetus and facilitation of a multinational corporation. Leah, our commissioning editor at Bloomsbury (our metaphorical A&R person), has ceded overall creative control to us, Simon and Andrew, and yet has been liaising with us about the timing and logistics of the production process throughout. The writing of the book has been a collaborative process that involved us managing the individual creative contributions of many actors. As editors we had a vision of what we wanted and we invited a broad range of actors to participate. We knew all of them to be highly competent and experts in their field but there were other contributing factors such as status, experience, innovation and novelty as well. Not everything went to plan. It took longer than expected, some participants dropped out for various reasons and some chapters ended up being quite different to our expectations. There were negotiations and edits and the precise nature of the book, including this introduction, emerged out of that process. Of course, it was fundamentally shaped by our initial ideas and vision, but it has also organically grown out of the process of creation. And beyond this production and editing (post-production) process, once we submit the ‘master’ to Bloomsbury there will be a further round of copy editing and formatting – paralleling the mastering processes in audio recording – in order to create the final ‘product’. While we do not want to take this metaphor too far – there are, of course, major differences between both the creative processes and the completed artefacts – it does serve to remind us that the end product of any creative process always seems to have been inevitable in retrospect but was always contingent on the many vagaries of life and collaboration.
In the proposal document for this book we provided the following as a brief outline of the book’s goals:
Leading and emerging academics in the field of music production have been brought together in this handbook to discuss how their cutting edge research fits into the broader context of other work in their specialism. Examining the technologies and places of music production as well as the broad range of practices – organization, recording, desktop production, post-production and distribution – this edited collection looks at production as it has developed around the whole world and not just in Anglophone countries. In addition, rather than isolating issues such as gender, race and sexuality in separate chapters, these points are threaded through the entire text.
Obviously the second sentence outlines the sectional structure, but it might be useful to outline the reasons for these choices. For example, we could have taken a more chronological approach, breaking the book into a series of decades or quarter centuries. We could have chosen to divide the book according to professional (or other) roles such as engineer, producer, artist, session player, equipment maker, etc. However, there is an agenda at the heart of this book that is reflected in Bloomsbury’s stated aims for the series:
Bloomsbury Handbooks is a series of single-volume reference works which map the parameters of a discipline or sub-discipline and present the ‘state of the art’ in terms of research. Each Handbook offers a systematic and structured range of specially commissioned essays reflecting on the history, methodologies, research methods, current debates and future of a particular field of research. (Bloomsbury n.d.)
The idea of mapping the parameters of the discipline and presenting the ‘state of the art’ in terms of research is complicated by the fact that this is a practical and vocational discipline. As Zagorski-Thomas discusses in Chapter 1, there is a dichotomy between research that is concerned with explaining the ‘state of the art’ of practice – essentially, how to do the job well – and the ‘state of the art’ when it comes to understanding how production works. This is also reflected in the various approaches that the contributors have taken in this volume. It might be best understood in terms of two models of education that exist throughout the music sector. What we will call the ‘traditional’ model is based on the idea of a novice learning from an expert. This can be contrasted with what we might call the ‘university’ model of using theoretical knowledge to understand how a process works and looking at new ways of working based on that theory. Of course, neither of these models exists in a pure form, especially not in the current ‘state of the art’. Universities employ a lot of dual-professionals who bring extensive knowledge about cutting edge industry practice – and about the tried and tested expertise from the ‘golden age’ of recording. There is also more and more research going on about how communication, interaction and creativity work in the studio (see for example McIntyre 2012; Lefford 2015; Bennett and Bates 2018; Thompson 2018) and how we listen to and interpret recorded music (e.g. Moylan 2007; Zagorski-Thomas 2010; Moore 2012; Dibben 2013; Zagorski-Thomas 2014a, b, 2018). There is extensive literature that combines some scientific knowledge about the nature of sound with forms of generic technical manuals, for example explaining both the ‘typical’ controls on a dynamic compressor and how they affect an audio signal (e.g. Owsinski 1999; Case 2007; Izhaki 2008; Hodgson 2010; Savage 2011). And there are a broad range of historical and ethnographic studies that outline past practice in varying amounts of detail (e.g. Zak 2001; Meintjes 2003; Porcello and Greene 2004; Ryan and Kehew 2006; Zak 2010; Williams 2012). What there is not much literature on is the connection between practice and aesthetics. And again, this is an issue which spans the whole of the practical music education section. Vocational education should not only be a matter of learning how experts do their job (and how they did it in the past) but should also be about providing novices with a theoretical map that lets them think about what the musical objectives of the song are, decide how that might be embodied in a sonic metaphor or cartoon (Zagorski- Thomas 2014b), and be able to identify the tools and techniques to achieve it.
So, to rewind for a second, the agenda we mentioned that is reflected in the Bloomsbury Handbook’s stated aims is to find ways to bridge between the vocational and the academic, the practical and the theoretical, and the ‘how’ and the ‘why’. Although more or less everyone in this book can be described as a dual-practitioner of some sort – either simultaneously or sequentially as both a creative practitioner and an analytical and reflective researcher – they all also do it in different ways and to different extents. And, also in different ways, we all negotiate between the ‘traditional’ and the ‘university’ modes of learning and knowledge that were outlined earlier. The decision about structuring the book was, therefore, based on finding a way to best achieve those aims of bridging between various differences and dichotomies. These eight headings allowed us to mix up contributors from different backgrounds and with different approaches in the same section. Hopefully, although the contributions can all stand up on their own, this structure will suggest connections, differences, contrasts and complementarity that will make the book greater than simply the sum of all its parts. In order to reinforce this approach we have prefaced each of the sections with a short discussion of the topic in broad terms and the ways that the various chapters link together.
Part I Background
The three chapters here deal with the questions of what recorded music is, the ways in which it may or may not be authentic, and the problems involved in the research and study of music production. But the question of background and context goes way beyond the scope of what could be fitted into a single volume, let alone into the chapters within this single part. Almost by definition, this part was going to be less to do with the specifics of music production and more to do with the nature of music, the non-technical and non-musical factors that influence how it is made, and the types of knowledge we can have about the subject. While these three chapters address those ideas quite clearly and coherently, they certainly do not do so exhaustively. Indeed, the chapters in Part VIII, on Distribution, can be seen to be as equally relevant as background or context. Several of the contributors in the book, although they are writing about a specific topic here, have professional lives that reflect some of the complexities of this ‘background’. Mike Alleyne was an expert witness in the Robin Thicke/estate of Marvin Gaye court case over the single ‘Blurred Lines’. The influence of the law on creativity is understudied – possibly because it would be so difficult to establish cause and effect – but record companies’ legal departments are having and have had a huge influence on which records get made, get released and who gets the money (and therefore creates incentives for future work). Richard James Burgess, through his work with the Recording Academy and A2M, has been an advocate for recognizing producers as creative contributors to recordings who should receive royalties in the same way that an artist does. There is also the issue of the way that flows of money in and around the industry influence the types and quantities of recordings that are made and released. Mike Howlett, separate to his contribution here, has written about this idea of the producer as a nexus between the business interests of the record company and the creative and technical interests of the artists and technicians.
A conceptual thread that goes through many of the chapters in this collection, as well as the first two chapters in this part, is the idea of ownership and the way that the recorded artefact does more than simply provide access to sounds. This relates not only to the ways in which we interpret the ‘unnatural’ experience of sound without sight but also to the ways in which it helps to shape our sense of identity. This thread also travels through Alexa Woloshyn’s and Mark Katz’s chapters in relation to both identity and listening practice. Indeed, this idea of the ways in which a recording industry affects and is affected by its national and cultural context formed the basis for a series of radio programmes that Zagorski-Thomas recently made for the BBC World Service called ‘How the World Changed Music’. It demonstrated the many ways in which the creation of recorded music was an integral part of a process of cultural development – the spread of a single language across China, the development of colonial and post-colonial statements of resistance and identity in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Okinawa, the changing gender roles in India and China, and the problems with attempts at state control of music in Poland and Cuba.
Although, of the three, Carlo Nardi’s chapter is the most clearly focused on the types of knowledge we can have about music production and the recorded artefact, all three are permeated with this question. Of course, as one would expect with a part that provides a general background or context to the whole volume, these questions infuse all of the chapters. And, as discussed in the introduction, this question of what a survey of the ‘state of the art’ of research in this discipline should look like is at the heart of the design of the structure of this volume.
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