In the mid 1990s I was lucky to work as a freelance graphics designer in a recording studio. It was a local studio, but a professional one, the biggest one in our small country. It featured a 32 channel Solid State Logic SL4000G console with VCA automation, a Studer MTR 90 2” tape machine (24 tracks), two Tascam DA-88 (8 digital tracks each), a WaveFrame digital audio workstation, a Lexicon 480L digital reverb, and a whole bunch of high end mics and other expensive stuff every musician or sound engineer could only dream of. Back in the 90s, this was about the best you could get.
Back in those days I must have created about a hundred CD, MC, VHS, DVD, and book covers for the studio – nothing really special, and nothing that will be remembered outside of our local community. But being in the studio when all of the production stuff was happening allowed me to learn a lot about professional studio work.
Of course I was also playing in a local band, doing some crazy gothic metal shit. While we were quite popular locally, we never made it internationally, as we made nearly all of the mistakes you could possibly make. But we recorded two albums in that same studio, and so I was once again quite lucky to play around with all of that expensive gear and to learn all of those classic production techniques.
The studio still exists today, they’re still doing very well, and they always have the latest gear. In the early 2000s the studio was redesigned by Roger Quested, an engineer who worked with Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Paul Simon, Cat Stevens, Shirley Bassey, The Kinks, and many others since the 1970s, and whose company has been designing some of the most acclaimed professional studio monitoring systems since the 1980s. I was quite lucky as I was able to change a few words with Roger, to discuss my own studio plans with him, and to retrieve the Quested 212 speakers that were previously installed at the place, the ones I’m now using in my own project studio.
A few years ago, they installed a new 48 channel Solid State Logic Duality console as well as an Analogue Tube AT-101 stereo compressor (a Fairchild 670 clone). That’s about the finest and the most expensive studio equipment you can get nowadays.
Now you may ask how that’s possible, while almost all other commercial studios had to close their doors forever over a decade ago. The studio founder and owner, a great big guy named Jang, is still managing the place. If his studio is still operational, then it’s not because of the studio itself, but because of the owner who is mostly doing his own productions there and who’s offering high end audio services to local broadcasting companies (namely RTL Group, and others). Many of his productions are focused on the local market (although the studio also contributes to international audio and movie productions for example), and he has been really successful with it because he’s the best at doing this around here. By far the best.
This is what still allows him to run a top notch studio in a country most people wouldn’t even find on the map. He found a niche, something nobody else was doing, something even nobody was interested in before him, because nobody believed in such a market, and he would excel in that niche. That’s a good example of how to become successful not by following trends and going for cheap mass production, but by doing your own thing. That’s a lesson to be learned. As an artist you should do the same, and we’ll talk about that later on.
Find your niche (or subgenre, if we’re talking about music), and be the best in it. If you cannot be the best in your niche, then refine your sound and style so that you’ll be unique.
IF YOU'RE THE ONLY PLAYER IN YOUR NICHE, THEN YOU'LL AUTOMATICALLY BE NUMBER ONE, AND YOU WON'T HAVE TO COMPETE WITH OTHERS WHO MIGHT BE SLIGHTLY BETTER THAN YOU ARE.
But I learned a few more important things back then. When working in the studio, I was a Mac owner already. I had switched to the Mac in 1994, and my first Apple computer was a first generation PowerPC computer, namely a PowerMac 7100AV. The late 1990s were hard times for Apple. The company was only months from filing bankruptcy, and tons of people switched over to Windows PCs. As I was doing graphics, I stuck with the Mac of course, and so I was lucky to see Steve Jobs returning to Apple and turning the rotten company back into a market leader within only a few years, at a time when almost nobody believed in Apple anymore. This too is an important lesson:
NOW MATTER HOW DESPERATE A SITUATION SEEMS TO BE, IT CAN ALWAYS BE TURNED AROUND.
It’s never too late, as long as you have a plan, you follow a strategy, you take the right decisions, and you stay focused.
Back then I dreamed of running my own studio, but then my first software project started to become successful and I decided to focus on this kind of business first. Unfortunately I then made a big mistake by founding a company with the wrong people. Another good advice:
NEVER START ANY PROJECT WITH THE WRONG PEOPLE, UNLESS YOU ABSOLUTELY WANT TO COUNT WASTED YEARS LATER ON.
Software projects finally kept me busy and away from music for the next 15 years. But the move to software was also a good decision back then. Recording studios had to shut down one by one in the 2000s, and it was the software industry that saw the highest amount of innovation during that time. Not the music industry.
The music industry completely stood still during that time by the way, lacking innovation and being incapable of launching their own music store. It was the computer industry that finally brought innovation back to the world of music, in form of the iTunes store.
The software industry was making some huge progress during the same time (okay, we’ll simply skip the dot com bubble disaster and the related stock market crash of 2000–2002 here), and many new companies rose to fame, including Google, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and countless more. It was the days of the Web 2.0, and everyone was quite excited about all of those new platforms. The way software was being developed and marketed also changed, and many new innovative ways to improve work, product quality, sales, and promotion were invented.
All of this happened while the music industry… we’ll, they’re still in hibernation today, I think you get it. In this manual you’ll find a large number of concepts, ideas and tips that were originally designed for the development and the marketing of software and online platforms. Those are the creative visions and concepts that turned many web platforms to fame, from Google over Facebook and Twitter to Instagram. Most of those concepts can be universally applied. You may use them to start a software company, some other project, or simply to improve your life. So why not applying the same ideas to music?
WHY NOT BRING BACK INNOVATION TO THE MUSIC INDUSTRY?
Do you still wonder where all of the new great artists are hiding? Why is there no new Pink Floyd, U2, Radiohead, or anything similar? Where is the next Michael Jackson hiding? Where’s the next Bowie? Of course this question cannot be easily answered as there is no reliable data, but personally I think that many of today’s young geniuses would rather start a software company or an smartphone app project than to start a band.
If you seek innovation, then don’t chose the music industry. Because the music industry is one of the businesses with the least progress over the past three decades. This, of course, is heading us right into a vicious circle, as the lack of new talented people will lead to even less innovation in future.
But let’s stay positive. Because the lack of innovation in the music industry will be your biggest advantage if your plan will be to stand out of the masses. Find your niche, and try to excel in that niche. Be different, and be the best at what you’re doing. That’s something great we can learn from the software industry.
DON’T PLAY THE GAME, CHANGE THE GAME.
But on your way to success you will also have to follow a few rules. Maybe you should not only apply those rules to your music career, but to your entire life:
- Have passion and stay positive.
- Don’t care about what others think.
- Get educated.
- Focus on your strengths.
- Dare to say “NO”.
- Work with great people.
- Learn from failures.
- Change the game.
- Don’t do it for the money.