Hello fellow scientists of sound! Welcome to the September Issue of Trust Me, I’m A Scientist.
Thanks to you, Issue #1 was a smashing success, with over 3,000 new readers checking out several articles a piece for a total of more than 8,000 pageviews in the month of August.
Once again, we present an overview of some seminal music every musician should know (Ennio Morricone: A Fistful Of Film Music) as well as a behind-the-scenes look at an influential new release (Behind the Release: Cults).
2011 marks 40 years of the AKG C 414, one of the most important and misunderstood microphones of all time.
In an effort to cure the rampant confusion surrounding the many incarnations of this classic mic, we gathered all the essential versions in one room for the ultimate C 414 shootout.
Since we were already getting busy setting the record straight, we decided to do some “journalism”, reaching out to several sources to discover how much artists actually earn online through Spotify. If you’re bored of woefully out-of-date infographics and misinformation, get the real scoop on how much musicians get paid per stream.
Also inside Issue #2, you’ll find Dancing About Architecture, a guide to facilitating better conversations between musicians and engineers.
And finally, you’re invited to join us when we go Beyond the Basics for some some tips on Serial Compression from John Agnello [Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr], Joel Hamilton [Tom Waits, Blakroc] and the Engineers of Masterdisk Mastering [Miles Davis, The Ramones].
The Wisdom Of The Renter
This issue wouldn’t have been possible without help from three NYC institutions. When we needed to record sound clips for our AKG C 414 comparison our first call was to Myles Turney and Joel Arnow of Vanity Sound Recording Studio. This seasoned pair of musician/engineers have a great room and own several versions of these classic microphones.
But to supplement their locker with the most rare and coveted vintage versions, we turned to two rental agencies: Dreamhire of Astoria Queens, and Ecstatic Electric of DUMBO, Brooklyn. This experience reminded me of just how valuable a resource agencies like these are. It’s a shame more of us don’t take advantage.
The truth is, pro audio rentals can be shockingly cost-effective. In a city where some of the most iconic microphones, outboard rack gear and instruments ever made can be booked for as little as $20/day, sometimes the math just favors renting.
This can be especially true for modest commercial and home studios with a hankering for trying boutique and vintage items. Whether it’s a Neumann KM84 for a day of acoustic guitar tracking, a U67 for a day of vocals, or a day in the laboratory with a vintage synthesizer, rentals can make for a negligible increase in the cost of a day while delivering a disproportionate impact in results.
Of course there are still times when its better to buy: Any musician can benefit tremendously from having a couple of halfway decent mics around the house, and every studio should be well-stocked with an assortment of flexible workhorses. But rentals have the advantage of making our gearlists irrelevant, letting us try new tools before buying them, or custom-tailor our studios for a specific project.
It’s disheartening to see musicality increasingly become just another facet of consumer culture. Aggressive marketers have been successful in convincing an entire generation to value buying, hoarding, and going-it-alone. As positive as the DIY mentality can be, at times it seems we’ve traded in the community of music-making, and turned our tools into totems.
No matter how inexpensive recording equipment becomes, it’s a rare case when it makes sense for a musician to own an entire arsenal of microphones if what they really care about is writing songs or mastering their instrument. For big projects, renting time at pre-existing studios will almost inevitably require a smaller investment of time and money diverted to recording, not to mention bring better results.
The truth is, we live in a world with more tools, more toys, and more information than ever before. But our new culture of compulsive ownership goes against everything that makes art great. The musicians who capture our society’s imagination have high standards, sure, but they also have a history of coming together to make music with whatever is available, whatever the stakes.
Pooling Resources and Expertise
Our best work comes from two practices: daily effort and the meeting of minds.
For thousands of years, music has been about groups of people coming together. When we obsess more over the technology than the work, or allow more powerful tools to lead us further toward isolation, we cut ourselves off from both what makes us great.
One of the last profitable facets of the music industry is in producing concerts that excite crowds. Fans who haven’t purchased an album in years are still paying handsomely for the shared experience of the concert. Few experiences generate excitement like hearing a room-full of musicians come as close as people can to vibrating at the same frequency.
The act of honing, capturing, and sharing these fleeting moments is what makes us lovers of records as well.
How to Fix It
The musical economy is bolstered when ever we engage each other.
While few thousand dollars towards a boutique microphone or instrument will have a negligible impact on any career, the same resources invested in lessons, practice time, hiring experts, going to concerts, reading books, and listening to records can change a life. These are experiences that enrich our careers forever, no matter what gear is in the room.
There will always be times when buying makes more practical and economic sense. What I suggest is that we get honest, do the math, and take the mental-health effects of material obsession into account. When we buy new gear are we making a sound investment, or are we seeking a dopamine rush that’s better quenched by an unforgettable musical experience, a bowl of fiver-alarm chili or a ride on the Cyclone?
When we start to think like renters and traders – of tools, of talent, of expertise, of the moments in our day – we become the music-makers we’re born to be. Music is an art that deals with the passage of time. So why all this obsession with permanence?
For the original study on experience vs possession, download a PDF of Van Boven and Gilovich’s To Do Or To Have?. The third image in this article is borrowed from an issue of Performing Songwriter, which can be found here.