How has the coronavirus pandemic affected music recording?
When all kinds of live music performances are put on hiatus in the face of a global pandemic, what happens to the environment where songs and sounds are created for posterity – namely the recording studio?
For veteran Lexington producer, engineer, mixer, and versatile studio head Duane Lundy, making music in a COVID-19 world has taken two paths.
“Well, there’s ‘How I Thought It Would Affect Me’ and ‘How It Would Affect Me,'” said the owner of the Lexington Recording Company, known for many years as Shangri-La Productions. As operator of his own studio, Lundy has overseen the recordings of a myriad of local artists (Justin Wells, Abby Hamilton), national acts (Miles Nielsen, Joe Pug) and some who are a hybrid of the two. (Vandaveer, Horse Feathers).
“I was halfway through a few projects and then finished a few more,” Lundy said. “As an engineer and a producer, that obviously ended most things. So there was a little bump in the road. At one point, I thought, “Oh, that’s going to be a real problem. There have been a few weeks of uncertainty and I guess there is still a bit of that all the time in the music industry.
“But my gig, essentially, is a top-down situation where I’m involved in the entire recording scenario. Luckily for me, when I started I learned from a few great mixers how to mix my own projects. So at the time that happened I was able to complete some projects that were in completion mode using my mixing skills. Then I was lucky enough to get other offers people I wasn’t producing who wanted me to mix their material, so I kept busy.
Mixing the music offered another advantage in terms of logistics and distancing. Since many of his studio clients come from outside of central Kentucky, Lundy used to mix without the artists being in the studio with him.
“There are rarely artists here. About 80% of my work is done with artists who are not from this region and, in some cases, not from this country. Mixing has therefore been one of the advantages of the digital world. We are able to get files and projects from place to place without any sort of physical transfer. I love when the artist is there, but it’s not always a viable situation. I try to keep them very involved at every stage of my mix, but without them necessarily being there.
However, the realities of the COVID environment are still being felt, especially since the world of recorded music and live performance are so intertwined. Lundy said the pandemic has exposed longstanding flaws in a music industry business model that dictates an artist make a record and then tour to promote it. Touring also happens to be the main source of income for artists and, in turn, the way to pay for a record to be recorded in the first place.
“When the relaxing part of the situation we’re in hits and/or when there’s some sort of resolution, artists won’t have time to record because they have to go out and win,” Lundy said. “Contrary to how I think a lot of people might view creatives (artists), I find them to be some of the best small and medium business owners out there. They are very aware of their financial scenario and the how their infrastructure is going to work. So one of my hopes was that there would be a call for the material to be finished or at least in motion now so that when everything relaxes they would have their material recorded and ready even if it wasn’t immediate to come out. It would be something that would come out maybe six months or nine months, a year, two years later. They would release material because they would be in production mode again So I fit into the storyline trying to facilitate that and complete a project as they prepare to head back out to earn money.
As with many aspects of the pandemic and their effects on all forms of commerce, there is uncertainty. In a business model where artists receive a meager reward for recorded work, hardship is inevitable.
“It definitely points an arrow towards the most vulnerable parts of the industry – in any industry, really. It’s a unique situation we’re seeing now. If you’re not physically able to sell, run or craft your burgers or whatever you create, if you’re not able to do that then you can’t earn money.
“It’s really a shame the way the music industry is organized in this regard. There are places where people listen to music, whether it’s in a movie, a commercial, a TV show, via a streaming service or on your turntable. Someone should pay for that. There’s an incredibly disproportionate relationship between the people who make music and the amount of money they make from it. It’s sad. should have been a time when musicians in particular, even at mid level, should be able to see, at a minimum, a trickle of what’s going on in their accounts Artists are seeing less pennies on the dollar coming in for hardware that they paid to do, that they spent a lifetime perfecting their craft.
“My big fear that comes out of this is that there won’t be a payment fix, fair resources devoted to the intellectual properties and material that these artists are producing. It’s a tricky landmine of an industry.