17 August 2009

Recording studios may morph into museums

by Kate Melville

The impact of computing and the Internet on recorded music sales is well documented, but one British researcher has been looking at the other side of the coin - the impact of new technology on recording studios, businesses which are now teetering on the edge of irrelevance and bankruptcy.

Once synonymous with the creative talents of artists like The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Oasis and Coldplay; the UK recording studio sector is today becoming better known for closures and redundancies.

Writing in the journal Environment and Planning A, the University of Nottingham's Andrew Leyshon reveals the extent of the damage to the sector, brought on by the democratization of musical technology. His study reveals the industry to be in a far more parlous state than anyone previously thought.

"We all know that the music industry has been radically transformed by software," Professor Leyshon says. "We understand the impact that software formats such as MP3 and problems like internet 'piracy' have had on intellectual property rights and distribution. We also understand the knock-on effects for record companies. But the impact on the recording studio sector has passed by with very little comment."

In his research, Leyshon visited studios around the country and found that the days of the record company owned and run studios are well and truly over. "The obvious exception of course is Abbey Road," he adds. "EMI have retained ownership of the studios, but whether this will be kept on as a recording studio set-up, a tourist attraction or indeed a combination of the two remains to be seen, and its future is far from certain."

Leyshon points to a "vertical disintegration" of the business, a destruction of the sector's core functions. "The sector at the moment is characterized by falling recording budgets, declining demand for studio space/time, the destruction of barriers to entry, runaway production costs and studio closures."

He explains that the falling cost of recording technology has meant that artists have increasingly been able to record high quality music outside recording studios, which has further conspired to drive down the demand for studio time and the fees that they are able to charge.

As for possible solutions, Leyshon suggests studios could seek to turn the problem to their advantage by using their assets and expertise to become management, production and publishing companies. But he points out that this approach is expensive and that only a few recordings ever cover the cost of production. Another possibility is that studios could use their buildings as museums - examples of Britain's musical heritage. "Whichever strategies the studios choose for survival in a business environment which has turned on them," he adds; "the fact remains that recording studios in the Anglo-American world will continue to close."

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Source: University of Nottingham