ON STUDIO ENGINEERS
music • 28.02.03
Edward Kealey’s insightful essay from 1979 is titled Craft to Art. It explores the career trajectory of recording engineers in the US from the post-war era to the present.
Engineers began as craft-union types, guys who operated and maintained the equipment in studios, studios usually owned by corporations. Progress through the 1950s saw the emergence of entrepreneurialism when they were increasingly likely to own recording facilities themselves and so be able to do speculative work. Sam Phillips and the emergence of Elvis came from this background. Finally they moved on to artist status as the studio environment became employed as a creative tool.
Some of the problems of status early engineers faced is hinted at when Kealey talks of them as having a “defensive ideology, locked into a narrow role.” He says the industry had “limited expectations of them” and they had “limited responsibilities for the final product.” Exactly so. I never knew an engineer who wasn’t pissed off in his place. The more talented, the more likely this to be the case.
Kealey’s analysis perfectly describes my own experience: from radio days, to studio owner, to artist. And pissed off! It helps a bit to know one endures not exactly in a wilderness but as part of an identified pattern, even although recognised by only a few academics.
written 2003 after reading an essay in the book
On Record edited by Simon Frith