An excerpt from "Modern Record Production" by John Boylan - From the Introduction.
Everyone listens to music. Constantly. When we're happy, it makes us happier; when we're down, it cheers us up. When we're alone, it keeps us company, and when we're in a crowd, it breaks the ice and helps us make contact with each other. Whether it comes to us over a car radio, or via the headphones of a Walkman, or from MTV, or through a set of speakers in our living room, we are always listening to something. And the music we listen to is arguably the most important single element in our cultural personality. It probably influences the way we talk, certainly the way we dance, and often the way we dress. In some cases, it defines what generation we belong to, where we came from, and even who we are.
How did this happen? On the top ten list of American cultural influences, how did the importance of music rise to near the top in the short space of a few generations? The simple answer is that two inventions have allowed music to escape the confines of the concert hall and seep into every corner of our lives:
The Phonograph Record - because of the ability to manufacture and distribute music on record, tape and Compact Disk, millions of people can choose the specific type of music they like best, purchase copies of it at a reasonable price, and play it anytime they want.
Radio - because of the ability to broadcast music over the airwaves, millions of people can hear the same music at the same time, giving them a common cultural reference point. And since there is no place in the world that cannot be reached by radio, the sound of music, especially an original and timely style of music, can easily work its way to the forefront of the spirit of the times.
Imagine the world as it was before this cultural revolution. When a family wanted to hear music in my grandfather's neighborhood in Cleveland, they had to play it themselves on the old piano in the parlor. For the popular music of the day, one had to be content with a band concert in the park on a summer evening, or a traveling minstrel show. By the time my father was in a Rochester high school, you could hear Rudy Valee on the radio, and even play Louis Armstrong on a wind-up record player. As for me, well, my youth was misspent with a flashlight and a table radio under the covers listening to George "Hound Dog" Lorenz on WKBW in Buffalo. This was my initiation into the world of Little Richard, Fats Domino, and Chuck Berry, and later, Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly. It was a world I found so compelling that I made it my life's work: it lead me to become a musician, a songwriter, and eventually a record producer. And as I write this, my fourteen year-old daughter is in the next room with her headphones hooked to a Sony Discman, listening to the new Sarah McLachlan CD. As far as getting the music to the people is concerned, we've come a very long way in a relatively short time.
I know it seems rather routine to the average CD buyer, but the delivery of music to vast numbers of people is only the final chapter in a long process, a process which goes something like this:
1. Somewhere inside a child a musical spark is born, and that child decides to make the creation of music an important part of his or her life.
2. The child practices one of the disciplines relating to music (playing an instrument, writing lyrics, singing) and succeeds in becoming especially proficient and/or original... in other words, the child becomes a musical artist.
3. A special few of these artists recognise that they have something unique to offer and decide to make music their profession.
4. After playing for an audience wherever they can find one, the luckier and more persistent artists come to the attention of a record company executive who signs them to a recording contract.
5. When all the legal hurdles have been cleared, these artists go into a studio with a designated record producer, and after a lot of hard work, deliver their finished effort to a record company.
6. The record company, using radio, television, print advertising, tour support, point-of-sale merchandising, and any other method it can think of, tries to spread the message that this music is worth buying.
7. In a rare number of cases, the entire team succeeds, and a musical star is born.
Far from being easy, this whole complicated process involves a large number of dedicated people, working as a team to bring about eventual success. There have been a number of books written about how the music industry works, covering all the jobs done by all the members of the team. Some of them are very valuable, but most of them touch only briefly on the actual recording process. The purpose of this book is to focus thoroughly on that process, to provide a complete set of guidelines to one of the steps in the journey: Record Production.
Writing this book is the direct result of a chance meeting I had some years ago with a gentleman named Mike Welles, who was the Managing Director of EMI Records in New Zealand at that time. He was prowling around the Capitol Tower in Hollywood, looking for someone to help him conduct a series of seminars in Auckland and Wellington on record production and other aspects of the music industry. Rupert Perry, who was then head of the Artists and Repertoire (A&R) Department at Capitol Records, knew that I was in the building recording an album with Brewer and Shipley in Studio "C" and he suggested that Mike ask me. Five minutes later, I agreed and my second career as a teacher began. Since then I've lectured in both New Zealand and Australia, as well as at several colleges in the United States; I'm currently teaching a course in Record Production at the University of California at Los Angeles.
When I began teaching at UCLA, there was no definitive textbook that dealt with the art, science, history, and business of record production, and this effort is an attempt to fill that void. The main intention of the book is to help the average creative person, musician or not, engineer or not, to understand the process of making a record. I have divided it into four sections: Origins And Definitions, The Creative Art Of Record Production, The Science Of Record Production, and The Business Of Record Production. With that organizational scheme in mind, I have tried to build each section naturally, starting with the most elementary concepts and proceeding from there. For the history buffs, I've devoted the second part of the first section to a review of the time line since the invention of recording. For those unfamiliar with the technology of recording, I have included a broad overview of the science of sound plus some rudimentary electronic information. At the back of the book, I have added some Appendices to include reference material which may be of interest. In each instance, I have tried to be sure that the information will be accessible to everyone, even those just starting out. Anyone who has had some studio experience can probably feel free to skip around the various sections of the book at random to find topics of particular interest.
I have also intended this to be more than just a textbook, to reach beyond the
dedicated student and into the realm of every professional and amateur musician; my wish
is that anyone interested in the world of recording will find it useful. I've tried to
combine what I know with a sense of how it fits into the real world, in the hope that some
young man or young woman will be enticed into the field of music, and will find it as
rewarding as I have.