Nobody can deny the tremendous impact that the technologies of MIDI, digital audio, and desktop production have had on the music industry. For many musicians and producers, the ability to create professional-quality tracks in a personal studio has been revolutionary.
For many studio musicians, though, these technological advances have come with a significant downside. Once-abundant session scenes have shrunk considerably, with players losing work to synths, samplers, and loops. Drummers, percussionists, bassists, string players, and horn players have been particularly hard hit.
Many producers are now doing much or all of their work in home setups. That change has led to the closing of many commercial studios, which were once hubs of work and networking for studio players, and culminated in a decentralization of the remaining session work.
Economic factors have also contributed to the decline in studio work. The financial downturn after the 9/11 attacks hit the commercial recording industry particularly hard. Technological changes, however, have clearly been the most significant single factor.
But all is not doom and gloom for studio players. A growing number have discovered a way to harness personal-studio technology, in conjunction with broadband Internet access, to create a new kind of studio work — remote sessions.
Far and Wide
A broadband Internet connection, with its ability to quickly transfer relatively large files, makes it much easier for musicians to work remotely. They can offer their services not just to producers and songwriters in their area, but around the entire world.
Savvy players are setting up Web-site interfaces that allow them to solicit clients, procure client information, facilitate payments, and, most importantly, send and receive music files. It's too soon to know if this development will be the way of the future, but it's certainly promising. The profiles scattered throughout this story provide a variety of examples of musicians who now include remote sessions as part of their income stream.
But remote recording isn't just for session players. Recording musicians of all types are discovering that they can collaborate over long distances using the file-transfer capabilities of the Net, or even by snail-mailing CD-Rs or DVDs with their tracks. Remote recording changes the dynamics of collaboration because, at least for now, the playing is done mainly in an “offline” fashion, with the musician (or musicians) working separately from the producer and from other musicians. That offers both advantages and challenges for all involved.
That Far Away Feeling
Remote recording sessions aren't a completely new phenomenon. Since the early '90s, ISDN lines have been used in some commercial studios to record distant talent. Perhaps the most groundbreaking example was Frank Sinatra's CD Duets (Capitol, 1993), on which producer Phil Ramone paired Sinatra with a host of remote duet partners. ISDN is expensive, however, and not easily accessible to the average musician.
Some less pricey alternatives are available, but all use audio compression. Users of Pro Tools TDM or LE can get Source Connect 2.1, developed by Source-Elements (www.source-elements.com). This plug-in allows streaming of audio (using an AAC codec) between multiple remote systems using cable, T1, or DSL, and also has instant-messaging capabilities. The plug-in can be purchased for $1,495 or rented in a rent-to-own program.
A brand-new service, Digital Musician.net (www.digitalmusician.net) uses DSL to transfer MIDI and audio files (256 kb MP3 files) in real time, and has videoconferencing capabilities.
Simultaneous, multistudio recording appears to be the wave of the future, but for now, the most practical way for personal-studio owners to record uncompressed audio remotely is to do it offline and transfer files back and forth using the Internet. That method is the one this article focuses on.
Do Your Own Thing
First, I'll explain what you will need to do a remote session. I'll assume here that you are the studio musician, and that the person you are working for or collaborating with is the producer (although the situation could be reversed).
As the musician, you'll need a studio setup that's good enough to record your instrument with professional results. If you play an acoustic instrument, you'll need a good mic or two and a decent mic preamp.
You and the producer should both have broadband Internet access. Unless you have the patience to send tracks through the physical mail or by an overnight delivery service, one of the parties should have an FTP site or the equivalent for transferring files that are too large to email. (If either of you have Digidesign's DigiDelivery system, which is expressly designed for sending session files of all types over the Internet, so much the better. Only one of you needs DigiDelivery for you both to use it. It requires an investment of several thousand dollars to get the gear, though.)
A great thing about working remotely is that the producer and the musician can have different DAW software because audio-file formats are so interchangeable. For most situations, there's no need to send application-specific files. The producer can send MP3 reference tracks to the musician, and the musician can send uncompressed audio files back to the producer.
All the remote-recording musicians that I talked to for this story had DAW-based studios. There's no reason, however, that you couldn't do it from a PDS (personal digital studio), as long as it's able to import and export WAV, AIFF, or SD II files. You'd still need a computer for uploading and downloading, though. This is an excerpt from the following article: Electronic Musician The World Wide Studio.
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