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Still, even those who most lament the lost art of studio engineering are quick to point out that the new climate isn't solely doom and gloom. The ability to record without the stress of watching a clock ticking off rates that can stretch to $100 an hour or more can obviously foster a more relaxed and creative environment. "It's given people a lot more time and flexibility to do weirder and more ambitious records, because they can do it all at home," says John Vanderslice, the San Francisco musician and an owner of Tiny Telephone studios.
Larry Crane, editor-in-chief of alternative recording bible Tape Op Magazine and an owner of Jackpot! studios in Portland, Oregon, points out that home recording and recording studios are not necessarily opposing forces. The ability to make music in your bathrobe has no doubt produced records that wouldn't have been created otherwise. And he notes the flood of artists who have produced albums at home who might not have recorded at all if they had to worry about the cost of professional work.
"It gave us the opportunity to basically write in the studio, experiment more in the studio," says Spoon drummer Jim Eno, who has recorded the last four Spoon full-lengths and several singles, including 2005's breakthrough Gimme Fiction and last year's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, at his home in Austin. He notes that the firm deadlines that come with expensive studio time can be motivating, but the freedom to throw away the stopwatch was probably responsible for the sonic extras—trippy sound effects, handclaps and the like—that have made the last few Spoon records so revelatory. "I do think it helped us find our sound," he says.
And big studio shakeouts are actually producing some positive consequences for the studio industry itself as well. As with record labels, the giants are suffering, but the indie companies are doing OK as they adapt to musicians' needs. In New York, for example, the scene has shifted from bigger studios in midtown Manhattan to smaller and midsize studios largely based in Brooklyn. "Half the studios in New York are in Williamsburg now," sound engineer Goodman says. "It should be the most competitive, terrible market in the universe, but we're all doing better." Lost business is made up for by the many homemade projects that need finishing touches like mixing and mastering done in a real studio.
The process that's happening now may be nothing more than a sifting-out as the industry reorganizes toward artists taking more control over their music. Good engineers, their art form comparable to the music they capture, will undoubtedly find a role in this latest music biz paradigm. How different that role will be, however, remains an open question.