Changes in Music Production from 2001 to 2011

I’m really amazed at the changes in music production software and gear over the past 20 years, especially the ten years from 2001 to 2011. Long story short: I can do almost as much with about $8,000 of gear in 2011 that it took me $50,000 of gear in 2001.

Let’s go back to 1988 when I started with a four track recorder and a single Yamaha keyboard (DX10?). My first jobs were people wanting piano backup tracks which was fine. But very quickly clients would want a little more like strings or a drum beat. So then you purchased a drum machine. Then you need better strings (back then Kurzweil was king of strings) so you bought a string tone module ($1,000 at the time on special – a great deal).

Then clients want full arrangements so now you upgrade to nice Tascam 1/2 inch 8 track reel to reel. That was awesome. Around 1993 I was running this with a midi sync on track 8 so I had all the midi tracks I needed (and by then I had an arsenal of modules) and another 7 tracks for guitar and vocals. This was still the era where punching in and out on vocals was an art. I would keep lyric sheets and mark the problem areas as we recorded so I could punch in those vocal spots later on another take. Wires everywhere! I wish I had photos.

Around 2000 I upgraded to the Pro Tools TDM system with a MAC and Waves plugins ($20,000). By this time I had a thirty space rack filled with midi gear. So all my midi gear ran live into protools and freed up all the internal processing for dedicated audio. I could run something like 24 tracks of audio (many of these composite tracks from maybe 50 tracks or more of audio) and virtually unlimited midi tracks. This was heaven! And vocal composite tracks were awesome: have the vocalist record 5 vocal takes and edit from there. Very low emotional and physical wear and tear on the vocalist. And I could focus on production and editing.

Of course now with so many tracks available I started doing larger projects. So now the cost goes up again as you invest in microphones and outboard gear. And of course you HAVE to have an expensive tube preamp, etc.

I closed my public studio in 2005 and started pursuing live theater. So I got out of the recording biz for a few years (a very nice break!). Everything went into storage. How much invested in gear over the years? I had my studio for about 15 years and I’d say that easily there was $200,000 invested in gear. Current value? I don’t want to know because I’d probably cry.

Now fast forward to 2011. I’m living in China and all my gear is in storage back in the US. So I start with a Macbook Pro, Protools, Sibelius, Kontakt 4 (Komplete 7), Ableton Live Suite, East West composer bundle, an Apogee Duet (audio interface), MTP AV (midi interface), a Neumann TLM103 and a midi keyboard.

Let’s break down these prices (assuming your buying the real thing and not downloading cracks):

  • $3,000 USD – Macbook Pro (8 gigs RAM)
  • $600 USD – Protools
  • $500 USD- Sibelius
  • $500 USD – Kontakt 4 (Komplete 7)
  • $600 USD – Ableton Live Suite
  • $1200 USD – East West composer bundle
  • $600 USD – Apogee Duet (audio interface)
  • $400 USD (Ebay) – MTP AV (midi interface)
  • $1000 USD – Neumann TLM103
  • $300 USD – midi keyboard.

I think that’s $8,700 USD. Those individual prices are just ballpark and you can do a lot better if you shop around. Most of you don’t even need Sibelius (I use it for scoring) or the more expensive midi interface.

Now that I’ve been working with these programs again I’ve been amazed how much a current Macbook Pro will handle on processing. I’m able to have ProTools 9 open with 15 audio tracks, 5 virtual instruments, processing on each track, video sync – AND at the same time have my Sibelius score open and my internet browsing windows. Pretty crazy stuff to me.

Of course now I want to get a dedicated Mac tower all beefed up and the high end protools so I’m not limited at all with processing. I really don’t like submixing. It reminds me of the old 4-track days.

For those of you not laying down midi tracks – you can skip the midi keyboard, MTP AV (midi interface) and Sibelius (notation software). You could even skip Ableton – but I think you’ll really enjoy what it has to offer for sound design and arranging.

Originally I was writing this post to show how much money you can save. But who am I kidding – I’m still dreaming about getting all my old analog gear setup alongside a new beefed up digital system so I can go to town. Argh…………….


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