Saturday, 22 August 2009

Mastering the album at Abbey Road

Well the album is finally done now.

The final bit of the recording process involved a trip to Abbey Road to master the record. Mastering basically means putting the album through a very fancy equaliser, then compressing and limiting the record to beef up the sound.

The mastering equaliser we used at Abbey Road was an old EMI-designed piece of kit from the 70s; despite advances in recording equipment, these EMI mastering consoles remain incredibly popular with artists and producers (due to the way that they give records a more warm, 'analogue' sound) - so Abbey Road haven't got rid of them.

I was very lucky to have a chap called Steve Rooke master the album. He's done a lot of very impressive stuff in the past, but his recent big project was doing the Beatles remasters. I had great fun during our lunchbreak hearing how he went about it. Steve's a really nice chap - not to mention an extremely experienced mastering engineer - and working with him was both a pleasure and a privilege.

I took some shots on the day which I thought I'd post up here - a photo diary of sorts. Hope they're of interest.

The tube station at St John's Wood, the nearest station to Abbey Road. It's got a very funky staircase and lamps.

As I walked down from the tube to Abbey Road, I encountered something very odd, and which looked like it could have come straight out of a Sgt. Pepper-era promo film: a bunch of impressive-looking dudes on horses.

In Abbey Road they have tape machines like this just lying around the place in the corridors. I was drooling over this one. I'm surprised they don't get nicked more often.

This was the mastering equipment that the record went through. It dates from the 70s but people love the 'warm' sound it produces so much that they continue to use it in Abbey Road to this day...albeit hooked up to computers. You can "see" two of my new songs on the computer screen.

And here's yours truly in the mastering suite. I look like death, due to having been up all night putting the final touches to the mixes. A lot of coffee was needed during the session. Excuse my dishevelled appearance.

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Sunday, 9 August 2009

What's Rupert up to?

There's a bit of a buzz going round the newspaper industry right now which involves, rather predictably, Rupert Murdoch. He's been intimating a lot of late that free online news content might soon become a thing of the past, at least where his News International titles are concerned.

Well, good luck to him. Rupert may have been pretty shrewd with regard to his business dealings in the past - and this is possibly why the press are taking this idea seriously - but in the long run, I can't possibly see this idea of paying for news content working. Here's why:

Firstly, the internet doesn't respect copy protection. Once one person has content, countless other people do, because copying and distributing a file is insanely easy. There has been much energy expounded and cash spent by record companies to copy-protect their content - and all in vain: getting free albums is easier than ever (legally or illegally). There is nothing to suggest that the newspaper industry would be any more successful in putting a wall around text, which from a technical viewpoint is even easier to copy than music.

The second reason that copy-protecting newspapers will not work has to do with something that - somewhat ironically - Murdoch is very fond of: competition. Even if he finds a viable way to protect his content, where will that leave him? Competing against a bunch of other news organisations that are all offering their content for free. He's partly aware of this, which is why his titles are attacking the BBC so much for publishing free news content...but even if the Beeb was forced to remove or scale back its online news (not entirely unthinkable if the Tories get in next year), there would still be thousands of alternatives delivering quality, free, online news output. And that's before you even consider the blogosphere, an increasingly trusted source of news and comment (if all the big newspapers were to put their content behind a wall, bloggers would have a field day).

Before charging for his content, Murdoch would do well to check out a book called 'Free: The Future of a Radical Price' by Chris Anderson. In it Anderson shows how companies are increasingly using the power of free services or content to access new markets and generate profit. The classic example he cites is Ryanair: it gives its flights away for free in order to sell a bunch of other stuff: car hire, travel insurance, accommodation, train tickets, bus tickets, scratch cards, credit cards...the list is endless. But to date it has worked, albeit at the expense of horrible flights for its customers. And the reason that it has worked is that in truth Ryanair is not actually an airline but a provider of travel services (and anything else it can flog). The free flight is the turnkey that unlocks other - and very big - markets for the company.

And digitally, the power of free content is even more pronounced. Because of its cost-free, copy-and-paste nature, digital technology effectively creates unlimited supply. And as any economist knows, when there's unlimited supply, the price of what's being supplied will drop to zero; it cannot but become free.

Murdoch - and any other digital content provider - can try to fight this; but it's a losing battle. Whether you're a rock band, a filmmaker or a journalist, you simply have to face the fact that the internet is going to make your content available for free, whether you like it or not. Content creators have a choice: to restrict content, and put themselves at a massive disadvantage, or to think creatively as to how they can unleash the power of free content and distribution. It amazes me that somebody as savvy as Murdoch isn't aware of this, and it makes me wonder if there is some ulterior motive behind his floating of his idea of charging for content. It'll be interesting to see how it pans out.

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