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“Has Technology Improved the Quality of Recorded Music?”... Keyboard Synthesizers
Old 27th August 2007
  #1
Viking
 
Bruce Swedien's Avatar
 

“Has Technology Improved the Quality of Recorded Music?”...

“Has Technology Improved the Quality of Recorded Music?”...

It sounds to me like we assume that we must only consider the technical aspect of music recording when asking this type of a question. I don’t think anyone can intelligently discuss the technical substance of music recording without considering the musical side of the topic as well.

Here’s a question that has always fascinated me... Has technology kept up with recording technique in the studio, or has the evolution of the music itself demanded new equipment and technological advance.

I can easily see that most of you Gearslutz are in love with the buttons and technology.

However, if that is all that you are interested in you are missing a great deal of the enjoyment of what we do....

For me, the “Technology” portion of what we do, is only one element of what we accomplish in the studio. “Technology” is interesting. “Technology” is important. But, there is much more to the adventure.

Let me explain...

It didn’t take me long to discover that the real wonder of music, and music recording, is that you can actually paint sonic panoramas with musical sounds. It soon became apparent to me that in recording music, especially popular music, the only limit in forming a recorded sound-field was my own native originality. That really got me excited.(it still does!) I think I have a pretty unique imagination, and I've been very careful to keep my sonic vision alive and well.

I am lucky enough to have worked with, and counted as friends, some of the greatest music writers, producers, performers and just plain studio folks in this industry. I have often thought that in actuality, my true role in the studio has been that of the fortunate student. The more I have listened, the more I have come to realize that I have learned a great deal in a very priviledged way.

Of all the arts, music is the most glorious. Music touches the heart of every human being. Even those rare ones who boast of being tone deaf have, at some point in time, been moved by music of one sort or another.

Don't forget it's "MUSIC FIRST"

Bruce Swedien
Old 27th August 2007
  #2
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musicl's Avatar
 

I think the technology is great, the industry it's in; isn't...

That's touching man, Music does pierce the heart....like a wide band 13HZ frequency. That comment in itself is not to jest, but the technology part is something that we all get bogged down with, especially here. Sometimes i worry about the right compression ratios, what synth to use etc and forget about making music...which consequently is the sole reason i am here!

So, in a very broad way, technology has improved the 'quality' of music in that i like the compression of a rock singer kicking in, or listening to the tails of high quality reverbs on violin, but it's made it easier for the idiot industry/talentless performers to churn out rubbish and sell it.

I agree, Music first brother.
Old 27th August 2007
  #3
Lives for gear
 
lowfreq33's Avatar
 

Nice thread Bruce.

One argument would be that the DE-evolution of music has necessitated the development of new technoolgies (auto tune, beat detective, drumagog), the other side is that these developments have contributed to a general decline in musical ability. I think both are true to some extent, there's definitely a chicken/egg thing going on here.

I think the ability to clean up tracks has made a big difference in the fidelity of recorded music, I always hated things like tape hiss and (bad) room noise. Unfortunately most people don't take advantage of this and instead choose to completely eliminate things like groove, feel, and dynamics. I love what I can do with modern electronics and DAW's, but I think the most important thing is to know when NOT to use it. No need to get out the Sledgehammer to hang a picture, you know?

IMHO the best thing to happen to recorded music is the ipod. Sure, mp3's suck, but with data storage getting cheaper I think we'll start to see people putting 16/44.1 wav files on these things rather than 128mbps mp3's. The average person can hear the difference, even if they're unable to adequately describe it. I carry around my reference tracks on my ipod at full bandwidth and it's great. I'm just waiting for full bandwidth downloads to become a reality so I can stop supporting Best Buy and Tower records altogether.
Old 27th August 2007
  #4
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What it comes down to is the individual. It always comes down to that, no matter when in time, past or future. Some people can see the end game, and know exactly how to get there, which technology will work, which doesn't, or learn their unique work arounds.

Others, can't see the end game, or don't care about it. Those people love pushing buttons, trying out new chains, and are creative in their own way. I'm sure there are people out their that are more obsessed with circuits than the music. But those are the people that might be creating something we will all be using tomorrow.

And then there are others that use technology to write, and release records when they aren't ready. Those are the ones I guess you can blame for introducing vast amounts of music we have to weed through in order to find the gem.
Old 27th August 2007
  #5
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heathen's Avatar
 

I hate splicing tape soooooo, yeah technology is'nt too bad. When it works properly.
As long as technology does not interfere with the creative process then its great, but.... how many time have you felt like throwing your computer out the window when it just won't do what you want..
Old 28th August 2007
  #6
Gear Head
 

No.

I'd rather listen to a great song recorded with a berhinger mic into a tascam 4 track tape recorder converted into MP3 on an iPod than another hollow song auto tuned and comped and edited perfectly through £18390578239057832 worth of gear.


That said, technology can't hurt it, either, or atleast, it would have to go out of it's way to. I don't think any one would have gone "yeah, led zepplin, what a great band they would be without all that drumagog and auto tune." (hypothetically...)

A good song is a good song, and I think that would usually shine through, no matter what. Production is always secondary.
Old 28th August 2007
  #7
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Watersound's Avatar
 

Bruce man, your finger is on the pulse!heh I was having this conversation with my parents over dinner last night lol. I was at their house and they had an oldies station on. I was marvelling over the quality of so many of the vocals I was hearing- mainly recordings from the 50's and 60's-so big and warm and fuzzy. I made a comment to them saying exactly "It's amazing with such a drastic improvement in technology that I don't hear great sounds like these in any new recordings I'm hearing." More importantly to me, I'm not capable of getting such great sounds haha, and I have some pretty amazing gear and lots of experience. So what is about some of those old recordings where those vocals are sickly warm and intimate? I think it's totally a matter of today's approach to how music sounds. I'm in the camp that sound quality today(for the most part-not all) pales in comparison to what I grew up on (70s and 80s) and prior- MJ Thriller being an absolute stapleheh Back then performance was so critical that the level of talent necessary to capture things had to be such that it went way beyond a microphone/pre-amp/technology. There was true magic being captured on both ends- performance and the imagination of great engineers/producers. Not to say there isn't any these days, it's just different. Today, the way we record dictates the way we perform...indeed it seems to have turned backwards- that's my observation and I'm guilty of it myself.
Old 28th August 2007
  #8
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Unclenny's Avatar
Technology has improved the accessability of recorded music.

For better or for worse a great many people can now take their music to that next level.
Old 28th August 2007
  #9
Gear Maniac
 
Acko's Avatar
 

Bruce, I dare say the fact that you posses this instinct is the precise reason you've been able to work with such wonderful artists. The bussiness of recording music at a high creative level is a process full of nuance and subtlety. As a writer/producer the last thing I need is an engineer/collaborator who is pre-occupied with the technology. We really need to take the journey together and to exell in our roles, our hearts need to be in the right place, and that place is of course....the music. What are we aiming for if not to comunicate something rich and imaginative or to bring our audience somewhere worthwhile, no gear is capable of that without genuine talent and vision in the room. When the right elements are in place and the muse decends, I find it becomes more a case of what not to do. When in the midst of infinite creative possibility you can instinctfully make just the right creative gestures, that is where the artistry lies.

Jay Atwill

Last edited by Acko; 28th August 2007 at 12:21 AM.. Reason: spelling error
Old 28th August 2007
  #10
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trickydicky's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bruce Swedien View Post
“Has Technology Improved the Quality of Recorded Music?”...
No! But it has made it far, far cheaper to achieve a really good quality sound. Realistically, for about £75,000 today you can get enough gear to achieve a truly 'world class' sound. I mean a sound that rivals the £2,000,000 studios of yesteryear.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bruce Swedien View Post
Here’s a question that has always fascinated me... Has technology kept up with recording technique in the studio, or has the evolution of the music itself demanded new equipment and technological advance.
In my humble opinion, the evolution of certain types of music have demanded advances in technology... for example, electronic music. Best example I can think of is Aphex Twin and the way his sound advanced from 1985 - present. His use of technology is truly magnificent IMO and he manages to retain incredible feeling and emotion.

As for rock music, I think laziness and smaller budgets has made the use of technology particularly popular. Drum triggering - people used to do it with a rack of AMS delays (using the sample feature). Now, we have software that does it at the click of a mouse and doesn't cost £20,000!

Editing is also childs play, with as many undos as you want.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bruce Swedien View Post
For me, the “Technology” portion of what we do, is only one element of what we accomplish in the studio. “Technology” is interesting. “Technology” is important. But, there is much more to the adventure.

Let me explain...

It didn’t take me long to discover that the real wonder of music, and music recording, is that you can actually paint sonic panoramas with musical sounds. It soon became apparent to me that in recording music, especially popular music, the only limit in forming a recorded sound-field was my own native originality. That really got me excited.(it still does!) I think I have a pretty unique imagination, and I've been very careful to keep my sonic vision alive and well.
Amen to that, Bruce.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bruce Swedien View Post
Of all the arts, music is the most glorious. Music touches the heart of every human being. Even those rare ones who boast of being tone deaf have, at some point in time, been moved by music of one sort or another.

Don't forget it's "MUSIC FIRST"
Amen to that again. Such wise words! Thanks - I think we all need reminding sometimes.
Old 28th August 2007
  #11
Motown legend
 
Bob Olhsson's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Unclenny View Post
Technology has improved the accessability of recorded musicl.
I almost completely disagree. The cost of gear has come way down however forty years ago anybody who could demonstrate some real musical talent had access to speculative recording projects in the finest studios with the top engineers and producers in the industry. That access to creative production talent who you can learn from has all but disappeared.
Old 28th August 2007
  #12
Gear Addict
 
hle144's Avatar
 

Thanks Bruce, I think I love You!!!
Old 28th August 2007
  #13
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jindrich's Avatar
 

Quite a thoughtful thread Bruce.

“Has Technology Improved the Quality of Recorded Music?”...

The answer to me is... NO.


Let's see. First, it was paper (to *record* music). Yes, it required a skilled *human reproducing device*, but audio quality was safe.
Then came the Gramophone, which allowed for the first time to capture not just music but also true performances. Funnily enough though, the Music itself suffered because audio quality went, in comparison, many many steps down.


Then the (late) Tape Recorders finally brought nirvana. Audio quality in spades, comparable to real performances. A new Universe emerged and developed, that of the audiophile world and all its very expensive equipment, all in the name of Music.

The 60s to 80s, the holy years of audio reproduction (and recording).

Then the music was turned into numbers with the CD. It was initially a step forward, but in fact destroyed audio quality forever since. The Red Book specs were chosen because at the time (25 years ago) machines couldn't handle more data.
That was a quarter of a century ago. Processing power has grown exponentially since. But what has superseded the CD? Higher resolution formats? No, they ALL failed (for a reason or another). The CD has been replaced by..

compressed -and very low quality- mp3 files. Ouch.

Why? Because Music has just become a commodity. Period.

Same has happened in the Recording Industry. Although we could theoretically have the best tools ever, shrinking budgets and the new paradigm of audio comsumption (in the car or with an iPod, and NOT at home in front of good speakers anymore), have brought us the paradox that audio quality nowadays is worse than 1, 2 or even 3 decades ago.


Music is done today fast, cheaply, and then crushed to death, killing all Dynamic Range, all Emotions and all of its true esence as an Art form (I am NOT talking about the current contents, just about the Sonic Quality).

That's why those who care, have stopped buying records altogether (there's no music anymore in them, only distorted pink noise).


We need a revolution, really, but I'm not holding my breath.

I'm back to the score sheets.
Old 28th August 2007
  #14
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ssaudio's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Olhsson View Post
however forty years ago anybody who could demonstrate some real musical talent had access to speculative recording projects in the finest studios with the top engineers and producers in the industry. That access to creative production talent who you can learn from has all but disappeared.
However, maybe we should wait another 40 years to see how your statement pans out before getting too miserable?
One man's talent is another man's ****e, after all...
Old 28th August 2007
  #15
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trickydicky's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Olhsson View Post
I almost completely disagree. The cost of gear has come way down however forty years ago anybody who could demonstrate some real musical talent had access to speculative recording projects in the finest studios with the top engineers and producers in the industry. That access to creative production talent who you can learn from has all but disappeared.
... Yeah, but there are thousands of AMAZINGLY talented bands / musicians out there who WON'T get discovered. Now, because the technology is so accessible, with some learning (or with a cheaper studio), they can get their own music out there - sounding good. I don't think that's such a bad thing. We got to take the rough with the smooth.
Old 28th August 2007
  #16
Gear Nut
 

No, of course not.

Technology exacts a price on our humanity for every advance it bestows.

For the average person in our Western society, technology has taken live music out of our culture. Before the proliferation of recorded music people made their own music every day, whether in the fields, the church, the parlor, or around a campfire. I would venture to say that even only 50 years ago a far larger portion of the population played a musical instrument than today. There is a strong correlation with the marginalization of music in our culture and the resultant falling levels of musicianship to advances made by technology.

Recording technology and techniques were already perfected by the mid-late fifties. I still haven't heard anything that sounds better than Roy Dunann's work for Contemporary Records over 50 years ago to prove otherwise to me!

-Bill
Old 28th August 2007
  #17
Lives for gear
 

Technically, recorded music has improved immensely in "sonic" terms.

I spent a while thinking about this last year while deciding/being told to give up tape forever.

There are some immense recordings out now that just weren't possible ten years ago, and they are all down to tech - protools, amazing convertors, almost impossible noise floors etc etc...

Technology was also responsible for the "electric" guitar. You start to sound very old when you ask if tech is responsible for a decline in music quality.
Old 28th August 2007
  #18
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i think that the technology has made it a lot easier for musicians/producers/everyone else involved to get from point A to point B

that being said, today's technology allows for a lot more amateurs to create and record their own music, therefore bringing down the "average" quality of a lot of the stuff we hear

that's not to say there aren't as many talented musicians now as there always have been - but it's a LOT easier(and cheaper) for non-talented individuals to throw their crap out there
Old 28th August 2007
  #19
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taturana's Avatar
Great post Bruce,

well, IMO it really depends... sure there are great records being made right now which sound great (plenty of examples: stevie wonder´s latest, radiohead, tricky,bjork, ben harper, fiona apple etc...)
and at the cutting edge there´s some music that could only be made with the equipment available today and with great musicianship to boot. (i.e. massive attack, bjork, tricky)

but we are missing the vibrant musicality of other eras as well as the great studios and their awesome sound engineers. if we listen to some of our classic old albuns, there´s real magic in there.

i guess we´re also missing the balls to do something really original. the music business is at it´s worst and musicians themselves are happily falling into whatever mold they are told to and image matters more than sound. so nowadays instead of a Jimi Hendrix or a Duke Ellington we get Paris Hilton... but outside the media´s grasp, there´s a lot of nice stuff...

the golden era might be through... budgets are a lot smaller (as sales) and we have too much new stuff which is not good at all, but i do believe in some new artists i see, and they are sounding good, or better than ever.. .it´s just harder and harder to find among the heap of turd we get fed everyday...

the thing is... i really hate cd´s and mp3´s... i just wish we had something better (and as popular as cd´s once were, so sacd and dvd-audio, while better aren´t it yet)... the L2 ubermaximized songs are even worse than a normal cd.

maybe a better format than mp3 but with higher quality..

( forget it... i´ll go listen to my abbey road LP! it still sounds better than everything else...)
Old 28th August 2007
  #20
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taturana's Avatar
just a thought...

my favorite record is Robert Johnson - Complete Recordings...

done i two days ... live to wax...

sounds awesome even with all the noise... but of course it´s the music...not the tech...
Old 28th August 2007
  #21
Gear Nut
 

I think technology has stepped us back in music. For many of the reasons listed and a few more. All because we can use a gazillion features in Pro Tools doesn't mean we have to. My son likes iMovie, he thinks that he has to use every feature in the package just because it's there. It's gotten so easy to do that the thought process has gone away.

When listening to the the old Motown stuff you can feel the effort coming through the speakers; Just pure talent in front of and behind the mic. I think the same is true for a lot of those older recordings. Today, it's "I don't care how it's gets on the disk I can fix it later." My son does the same with iMovie. Because of this I think the creative process of capturing the performance is disappearing.

I believe that the few engineers, producers, directors of movies, that still remember what the mission is, are the ones that are seeing success. You Bruce are a good example of this. Look at what Pixar has done. Huge amounts of tech but they use it to tell a story.

I'm not a Luddite but some times I think we need to throw much if the technology away and get back to what's important. Capturing the emotion of the music performance.
Old 28th August 2007
  #22
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Oldone's Avatar
Live music is losing relevance, the infrastructure to maintain it is disappearing, quality is irrelevant as there will soon be no music to record. Eventually the technology will disappear as well. Music will become the folklore of small towns and villages and have little meaning in the big city. It will find a new life in places like Tukumcari, New Mexico and Poplar Bluff, Missouri. It will become the music of the people and not of big business.

In the past, art and music were a higher level of experience supported by the wealthy. Today the rich have hummers and big houses, a lifetime of music can be stored on an ipod. The value system today is about owning things not on the essence of human experience and human expression.

The rules of supply and demand are simple, no supply, no demand.

On a happy note, I love my new parametric EQs from Rupert Neve.
Old 28th August 2007
  #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bruce Swedien View Post
“Has Technology Improved the Quality of Recorded Music?”...
Would you do Thriller any differently if it were done today? What would it sound like edited in Pro Tools?

I do love the ease of using the computer and some plugins for quick and easy things, but give me a great artist and song and I don't really care what it sounds like. I'm always more attracted to the demo versions of songs than the big budget studio version.

later,

m
Old 28th August 2007
  #24
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I think people limit them selfs to one way of thinking all too often.For instance,If you were to take a really great movie script but not have your cameras where they should be during the recording process you could easily ruin the potential of a really great film...More Athletic Musicians tend to depend on the fact that people will go "ohhh!!! & ahhh!!!" over their hard work (expecting the listener to see what they see in the music).But in the the studio you have to be clever & mindful about how you present your art,otherwise it`s a very random "wheres waldo" experience for the listener that most people will never bother to stop & articulate, let alone pry into for no apparent reason.Most mediocre commercial music succeeds at presenting their music better,not making better music. As for the question"Has technology kept up with recording technique in the studio, or has the evolution of the music itself demanded new equipment and technological advance?" It obviously has kept up with recording technique in the studio & for many exceeded those requirements.Without technology many techniques would not exist.As for those of you who view a studio recording like i do (audio cinema) technological advances are the evolution of the music (in the studio) so I.M.O. yes & yes.Has Technology Improved the Quality of Recorded Music?Well... "you cant polish a turd" but you might be able to call it a chocolate bar & sell it on eBay
Old 28th August 2007
  #25
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Technology has made it possible for the average schmuck to release a record and be a 'star' that is looked at as being a great musician. Autotune, cut paste. No need to mic a drum set anymore, just drumagog it. The list goes on...... I dont see any Led Zeppelins Pink Floyds etc coming out on a major in the near future.
Old 28th August 2007
  #26
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lowfreq33's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by chetatkinsdiet View Post
Would you do Thriller any differently if it were done today? What would it sound like edited in Pro Tools?
I'm pretty sure it wouldn't need to be edited in Pro Tools.
Old 28th August 2007
  #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bruce Swedien View Post
“Has Technology Improved the Quality of Recorded Music?”
Methinks this isn't really a question! (that needs answering...)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bruce Swedien View Post

For me, the “Technology” portion of what we do, is only one element of what we accomplish in the studio. “Technology” is interesting. “Technology” is important. But, there is much more to the adventure.

Let me explain...

It didn’t take me long to discover that the real wonder of music, and music recording, is that you can actually paint sonic panoramas with musical sounds. It soon became apparent to me that in recording music, especially popular music, the only limit in forming a recorded sound-field was my own native originality. That really got me excited.(it still does!) I think I have a pretty unique imagination, and I've been very careful to keep my sonic vision alive and well.

Bruce Swedien


Thanks for all the great music.

I was just listening to Billie Jean last night (really listening). You guys must have really freaked over that grand slam of a home run.

So many hooks from the opening drums (which is just a straight beat but instantly recognizable) to one of the most famous bass lines ever, Michael's amazing vocal, and the string lines weaving in and out, and all the little vocalisms and shouts, and that funky guitar that goes da-dinka-da, and Michael goes Hoo, da-dinka-da...Hoo! Is there anyone on earth who doesn't go Hoo along with that?

Old 28th August 2007
  #28
Gear Maniac
 

To me the quality of recorded music has many many variables, some of which have nothing to do with technology. Eg the quality of the actual music being written, the push to make more money ie rush, the quality of the performance, etc. So I think there are too many variables in this question for me to make a sensible answer.
However, for me the question ...the quality of music recordings" is interesting too. Given the same performer, same performance, all the non technical aspects being the same then does the technology improve the quality??? Well for me quality is very subjective and I believe that the quality of a recording becomes part of the music. Listening to old scratchy blues delta recordings recorded directly I appreciate the times that surrounded the artist and the circumstances that created the music. Take Clapton's recording of some of these tunes (eg Me and Mr Johnson) and you can hear the pristine sound of the giutar, beautiful textures woven by his fingers but (for me only) its a completely different feel to the music. I'm listening more to the technique and the sounds than the "music". Not for one minute am I saying that Clapton is boring, no soul or not a fantastic guitarist that I greatly admire, I'm just saying the quality (there's that word again) is different, not better, not worse FOR THAT RECORDING. If we go into technical terms I'm sure it can be said that the original is a "low quality" of music recording but a high quality of recorded music!!
Old 28th August 2007
  #29
jhg
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Start writing songs, practice, rehearse, rehearse more, start at point a, repeat until good song flushed out. Try to reproduce formula. Continue. For a while.

Play songs lots and lots of times. Many shows, rent parties, etc.

Go to the studio. Record. Really big deal. Have to be very, very tight, only a couple of takes max. The professionals take care of capture and reproduction of the sound.

Or apply available todays technology(and skills) , cut down the time frame significantly : to the recorded result - whatever that may be; be it a great song captured that may not have been in the past, or a elegantly sculpted, grid locked emotionless grey 2:30 device.

Has technology improved the creation of quality music? Chicken or the egg? Excellent question Bruce! Damn that brain, you've got it twitching.

Regards,

jhg
Old 28th August 2007
  #30
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GYang's Avatar
Technology brought recording to masses.
Good or bad ?

Technology changed a whole industry (not vice-versa)
Good or bad?

Good music still exists, as well as, great and excellent performers. IMO overall there are not less great bands or performers nowdays, actually offer is way bigger than ever, so sometimes we just can't differentiate.

For people like me who are passionate for music making process by own forces independently of anything (except technology, what means not only engineering, as it's actually much lesser part of the whole process) and were happy enough to earn for living outside of music industry (dfegad music industry here specially) times are better than ever before. More toys, actually easier access to target auditorium etc.
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