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The New Means of Production

Last May, Mix presented What Can Save the Music Industry, a highly read and talked-about themed issue that rocked the audio community. A year later, we're

Last May, Mix presented “What Can Save the Music Industry,” a highly read and talked-about themed issue that rocked the audio community. A year later, we’re doing it again, but rather than re-examine the changing label/distribution model, this time we’re focusing on “The New Means of Production.” Change is a constant in any technology-driven industry, whether you’re talking about cellular communication, the Internet, GPS navigation, medical scanners, electronic cinema, digital photography or DAWs, and these days, digital is definitely the force behind the revolution.

Audio pros are no different than other techno-artisans, who after years of creating with Linhofs and Leicas — or Panaflexes and Arriflexes — are a little reticent to give up their analog tools for a box of chips, RAM modules and an endless smattering of storage formats du jour. But the lure of digital is great: DSP file manipulations can transform the usable into the acceptable, whether Photoshopping a tattered photo back to life, Shrekking the image of a lovable ogre into the hearts of children or auto-tuning a single warbled note out of an otherwise flawless performance.

Audio capabilities were once defined by track capacities — 24-track, 16-track, 8-track — yet such terms are of little relevance in a world of virtual tracking, virtual consoles, virtual instruments and plug-in equivalents of racks of hardware outboard gear, where the limits on system capabilities may be simply a matter of CPU power/speed and RAM.

Should we plunge headfirst into the console-less/outboard-less world of total desktop production? There are many factors at play here and no one-size-fits-all solution for everybody. Mouse mixing may work for some, but grabbing faders on a DAW controller or traditional console remains most engineers’ preference, especially on more complex projects. Many digital console manufacturers have responded with products having fader banks/mutes/solos/sends that either tweak audio directly or send controller information to a DAW. But in production, there are no set rules — one project is best served staying entirely within the workstation; the next date may be mixed using the console alone or as a hybrid session combining the advantages of both conventional console/outboard mixing fed from stems premixed on the DAW.

New technologies are changing the ways that we create, reproduce and distribute music, and examining this topic required a multifaceted approach. Kevin Becka explores production in “DAWs and Hybrid Mixing.” Mel Lambert looks at the evolving console/DAW interface, asking whether the all-in-one workspace has finally arrived. Maureen Droney chats with top producers about how commercial studios fit in with the “Changing Face of Record Production.” Sarah Benzuly investigates the growing trend of bands selling CDs of live shows — minutes after the last encore. And because PCs aren’t typically equipped with volume controls or talkback facilities, David Ogilvy checks out the latest in outboard monitor controllers for stereo and surround DAW production.

Anyone who produces or engineers audio today is faced with some tough questions. However, the revolution is an ongoing, evolving process, and hybrid, virtual or traditional, what’s most important is to create a production style that works best for you.