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“Recorded music is an art-form in its own right and those who work in studios are engaged in a radically different business from traditional composers.”


These are Brian Eno’s words and I agree with him. There are musicmakers who use the recorded work as a medium and the studio as an instrument. I’ve spent much of my time in that radically different pursuit all the while speculating that one day it wouldn't be so unusual for studio guys to have authorial status. Eno may have achieved it but he is still an exception.


I saw analogies in the relationship between the theatre and the movies. Although similar talents were employed in both, the two were culturally distinct with their decided champions. An average fan understood, if roughly, the difference between an Olivier and a Hitchcock despite the skills of each being readily transferable between stage and screen.


The same discrete relationships are not so evident in popular music which is still seen as a performance art with the most successful performers calling the tune. Producers, songwriters, engineers, arrangers, session players, programmers et al are perceived to be in service to the “artists” like officials at a royal court.* There are very few Hitchcock equivalents in pop, rock or soul. Even the great Quincy Jones was known primarily as Michael Jackson's producer. Hitch by contrast, author of his own pictures, was never tagged as Jimmy Stewart’s director. It would’ve been an insult to his artistry. Hence his contemptuous remark that actors were to be treated like cattle.


Still, there were many records made where the back-roomers were as integral to the work as the performers themselves who, from Bowie to Britney, from Ga-Ga to Elton John, are essentially brands. This is not to take away from their majesty. It's to say that their recordings were collaborations involving teams of other often equally gifted individuals, but who could find themselves reduced to supplicants, sometimes barely even name-checked for their essential contributions.


I quoted previously from Edward Kealey's piece “From Craft To Art”. He suggested that recording engineers historically had a defensive ideology, that they were locked into a narrow role with limited expectations. I've long made the case for a redressing of that still outstanding imbalance, the case for the studio guy, that we might transcend conventional tags and become fully-fledged, standalone creatives that an audience can relate to in our musicmaking capacities.


It’s a case for the auteur of the music studio and recognition for the many Spielberg and Scorsese equivalents who are unsung. When I was starting out in the late 1970s, around when Eno and Kealey were making their remarks, I'd pictured such a possibility but as my professional life draws to a close now, any useful developments in the field will be too little too late for me.

*

We probably inherited this from classical music described in a New Yorker piece on the composer Salieri as “a kind of gated community of celebrity composers, a group of semi-mythical figures who are worshipped as house gods”.

many records were made where

the back-roomers were integral to the work

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AUTEURS OF MUSIC

music • 11.08.18  

This is a mix-edit of 12 pieces - roughly 2 mins each - with me in the role just discussed.

As befits the designation it's an eclectic set accompanied by gifted friends and colleagues.

Most of the songs are sung by women which is not accidental.

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