“Industry Standard” in the Music Recording Industry – Is it Fact or Fiction?

“Industry standard” is defined as: “The optimum criteria for any industry to function and carry out an operation in their respective fields of production.”

Industry standard envisages the regulated, lawful, logical usage in the segment of the economy dealing with industrialization. This may include services or goods. Industry standard contributes to global as well as domestic competitiveness.”

So, how does this term play out in the music recording industry, whereas at least one company’s product  has been held to be the “industry standard” because their program is in use at many if not in almost every professional recording studio in the world? Therefore, this implies that you must use theirs and nothing else if you want to make hit records.

This post was written to draw attention to the fact that throughout the recent history of digital audio in the recording business, one with the necessary skills and talent did not and still does not need the highest priced or highest touted console, amplifier, microphone, speakers and the touted “industry standard” DAW to make a hit record. In addition to recordings made in some of the great or not so great studios, many great recordings have been made in basements, bedrooms, and garages, and with other than the so-called industry standard DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) program.

And those who brag about the industry standard DAW may fail to mention the great vocal performance, the great song, arrangement and players on a recording, which actually made a record great. In some DAW and equipment companies’ eyes, these factors apparently don’t even exist when they are playing their PR game with their multi-thousands of $$$.

How loud does money talk?

Some of the reasons for the public’s comprehension of industry standard may be that money talks too loud in advertising with words that make it all so believable. And this may also apply to articles written that repeat the phrase, “X is the industry standard.” If we read or hear something over and over, don’t we all tend to believe it without even questioning it? Also, word of mouth plays a hand with someone saying, “Did you hear so and so’s great new record that they say was done on X’s DAW program? We’ve got to get that program. It’s got to be the best.”

There is no question that more incentives and higher commissions are probably being paid to sales people at big name music-recording store Y to sell X brand. And Y store has free Saturday classes on the X brand with those eager sales people right there for the sale. And if there is news that a famous person’s recording was made on X brand, therefore X brand must be the best and is sure to get you up there also.

A music magazine amplifies the question

The latest issue of a leading music recording industry magazine, although maybe not meaning to, certainly raises a question about the idea of “industry standard” with its articles and ads, big and small, of companies attempting to attract one and all to their greater than great products. But once again, it is the big money doing all the talking. Call the magazine and ask for the cost of an ad on the back of the front cover, back cover, and first page. Guaranteed it is many thousands.

Who really pays for those full color ads?

From there, go to page two and three where famous Z retail seller lists about 100 companies’ products they sell, but devotes a whole half page to the DAW company that shouts about their being the “industry standard,” and then Z pays great big bucks for another full page ad on the last page. And we wonder what big companies  may be helping Z retail seller pay for those full page color ads, especially when they devote a half page to that one in particular who is called the “industry standard.”

The estimated rate for a full-page, black and white ad in that magazine is $7,490.00. God knows what a color ad might cost, especially in those coveted page positions. It is probably double that amount. And for the readers, a lot of who have free subscriptions like myself who are in that business, may (they hope) just heed to the ads composed by the advertising agencies’ geniuses touting “industry standard.” And when they shout about what’s new, implying that what you have is obsolete, you’re led to believe that you absolutely must buy the latest and greatest.

Has payola raises its ugly head?

Another important question arises: Is it likened to the scandal of payola by big companies to play their records? A good look at the beginnings of digital recording may give a hint toward this with certain companies bending over backwards to get their DAW program used in the studios, with tutorials, coaching and total access to company reps running and flying out to solve their every qualm or problem, and also most probably freely supplying them with their DAW. And if that’s all the engineers had access to, how would they know about any other program?

But there are also the industry standard wannabes, whose programs are just as good and in use throughout the industry but will probably never catch up because the “industry standard” people may continue to pay, and may have paid dearly from the beginning to broadcast that they were the “best.” And a front page feature article from the latest issue of another well respected trade magazine tells of companies who are giving X brand  “a run for it’s money” and tells of an online forum by users of X brand “to air their views (at what has been dubbed a short-sighted decision by X brand) that has turned into one of  the biggest threads I have ever seen on the forum. It is now pushing 84 pages.”

One big message delivered by the other  magazine was about quality music delivery, and the great importance of sample rates, bit depth and bandwidth. Between the lines of that story is that the touted “industry standard” DAW is not the only one around that delivers these specs. The magazine also spotlighted fifteen different interfaces for use with your DAW, and any DAW. And it wasn’t that long ago that X’s DAW required a proprietary interface sold only by them.

The little guy can also deliver the same quality as the big boys

The loudest message of all delivered by the magazine was the not so subtle reminder that those strategic ads and their placement tells you that there is “none other than” these great names which includes company X. But another message you had to strain to hear was that a well equipped professional studio, as well as the home based studio, can deliver the same quality as the big boy studios without the thousand dollar coffee machines in the bedroom or garage, and with other than X’s DAW.

So, is “industry standard” fact or fiction? I’d love to hear some of your comments.

My first splice wasn’t on tape

Well, I guess everyone can assume by now that RoughmixDon is an overdub freak, in addition to being an actual music and recording freak. In another post I mentioned about 227 voices on America The Beautiful, and that was in 2003.

Adding a voice a year now puts me up to 237 voices in 2013. I was hoping for doing it by July 4. But it’s not going to happen..

My very first interest in recording occurred back in grade school. I don’t remember too much about the times, but I was singing when I was seven and they told me I could sing 50 songs at that time. My sister played the piano and we had a weekly program on AM station KRIC in Beaumont, Texas. My greatest fascination, I recall, was to watch them make recordings in the back room. Then one day, the engineer dropped one and it shattered. They were glass discs coated with something black that spun around while being cut with a needle. Not too many years later I was still singing and learned the guitar and was in a country band that played on the same station. There they were, recording on the same machine, I guess, but on aluminum with the black stuff. Acetate, I guess.

Sometime in high school, before tape was introduced, our director obtained a wire recorder, where a long piece of steel wire ran through a machine, like a tape recorder and recorded magnetically. It wasn’t great fidelity as we know it today, but what a thrill it was to sit and watch this little thin piece of wire play back our choir. That is, until one day after recording a wonderful choral performance of the Hallelujah Chorus, the wire broke. What to do? On top of getting tangled in a big mess on the reel no one knew what to do with fixing it so I got out the book and studied it.


A wire recorder from the late ’40s

First of all, unlike tape recorders, the jackasses who made these things provided no take-up reel, so you had to rewind the whole long wire onto the fixed reel before you could even use the machine again on something else. There was a roll of tangled wire on each little reel. The instructions for a break were to tie the ends  together. I was assigned the task. Just how much sound would we lose? With the wire running at 24 inches per second, we’d need at least 2 inches for a good square knot, and then trim the ends. Maybe I can do it with 1 inch, I thought. So, they got me a pair of tweezers and that was my very first edit. It wasn’t so bad. So, we lost about a 15th of a second, heard a little bump as it went through and I was the hero.

I was a soloist in the choir and also sang tenor. I completely memorized the tenor part to the Hallelujah Chorus, and through the years I would sing it at times. I’ll be telling of how I recorded myself doing all the voices as a chorus of one. The interest in recording stayed with me for a long time, especially, since I was a singer-songwriter and played bass and guitar, and couldn’t afford to pay studio rates to record my demos. So while I was studying radio and television at RCA Institutes in New York City in the middle ’50s, I decided that audio and recording was my thing.

With the advent of four track (quarter track) on a quarter inch tape machine, (two tracks one way and two the other way by flipping the tape) I decided to reinvent the system for myself. I had a two track machine so I bought some of those quarter track heads and mounted a record head to record two track normally, and mounted a playback head next to it to record the other two tracks. I jury-rigged it so I could record on all four tracks one at a time in one direction. As if that wasn’t enough, I had to buy another machine so I could mix the 4 tracks. Long story short, I could record three tracks of instruments and my voice and mix that to the other machine. I would then take the tape over to Charlie Brave’s Allegro Studio on Broadway and have him cut an acetate. That’s what your ten inch 78 was called, which was an aluminum coated with acetate. They weren’t the greatest recordings but it was a start. Later, I bought a Presto disc cutter that I could cut my own demos. The problem with that machine was what was recorded would play back from the inside out, like CDs do now. Ten years later I would be mixing an album with Les Paul at Columbia and sharing some stories of our early recording days, and playing bass on several of his recordings in the mix room.




When they say your “drum sound is ABSOLUTELY OUT OF THIS WORLD “

How did he get that drum sound on Dylan? And how did you get that name, “Roughmix Don.”

Just so happened that a guy contacted me from a forum a couple years ago where they were chatting about the drums on a recording I had done. It happened to be the Bob Dylan Desire Album that I engineered and mixed in 1975.

“Hello. I’m new here,” wrote Dolphin King,  “And I hope this is the right place to ask this question: On Dylan’s 1975/76 ‘Desire’, the drum sound is ABSOLUTELY OUT OF THIS WORLD –>*DELICIOUS*<–, I mean particularly the snare hits. For example, check out the song ‘Isis’. the snare on that album sounds so solid and powerful, I describe it as inter-stellar-stone-age snare sound. Does anyone here know how that sound was achieved? How do you get such a sound? I MUST know. I’ve posted this on a few different forums. MY KINGDOM FOR AN ANSWER!

Well, I tuned in for awhile reading some sarcasm and assorted smartass remarks and DK came back with, “I’ve received some very different answers from different people on this, including on different forums. But thanks again for your reply…By the way, what would your reverb/delay setup be here, if you were trying to get that sound?”

Archtop came back with, “I think it sounds like a real chamber reverb, and there is some on the snare, but not much, at times it seems like I can hear a hint of a tiny short delay (80ms.) on the snare, but in the mix it still seems fairly dry, the verb is sorta washed out and you don’t notice it so easily. If I was trying to get that sound, I would not be concerned with the verb or delay, but look for a snare that is dry and bright on it’s own.”

Seems kind of strange seeing guys write about and speculate and guess what you had done on a recording. So, one of them spotted my name in the credits and sent me an email and asked me to come on the sight.

Posting as “RoughmixDon, I wrote him back, “Thanks for inviting me in. I guess I’m proud to say that ‘Desire’ was one of my best recordings. Drums and bass are my favorites to record. Maybe because I’m a bass player too. I tried to load up the story of the ‘Desire’ session but it cut me off in the middle. Maybe I’ll just have to send it in two or three parts.”

I filled them in with what I had done on that session, since I had taken a lot of notes through the years with a book in mind and then I wrote, “My best advice on trying to achieve the same drum sound is to put “Isis” or one of the others up in your program and a-b and try to match it on the timeline, pitch wise, eq wise and strength wise, echo wise, and level wise.”

In fact, I think this is good advice for anyone attempting to recreate the sound of what someone has recorded. As a side note here, the drums you hear on the song, My Silent Symphony at best advice was very much like Dylan’s fabulous “Desire” drummer, Howie Wyeth, with the great Ronnie Traxler on drums. Dynamite! I recorded Ronnie and all others the same way. You didn’t just set up a microphone, we’d sometimes spend upwards of an hour getting a good drum sound. By the way, I overdubbed about thirty of my voices on My Silent Symphony – Should have been a hit.

“By the way,” DK asked. “Where did you get that name, RoughmixDon?

Well, I explained that for a reference copy, I would set up my mix on a studio session with 8 sub-mixes and ride the faders with 8 fingers riding from the beginning to the end of a song, and almost always, I would come up with a mix that would be at or near a final mix. In a three month session with “Miami” Steve Van Zandt, who hung nicknames on everyone, he hung RoughmixDon on me. Thus was 1977, and I have used it ever since. Later on, I’ll be telling about that grueling winter of ’77, locked in the studio with “Miami Steve,” ‘Southside” Johnny, the Jukes and the “Boss,” Bruce Springsteen. And yes, it was Steve who named him the “Boss.”