Some Thoughts: Analog and Digital – a Symptom of a Larger Issue

Text by Dawoud Kringle

Recently, I’ve gotten sucked into not one, but three separate arguments about digital vs. analog. I won’t waste time and effort arguing about this. This is one of those Internet (or personal) debates that will go in circles and end up nowhere, and ultimately resolve and change nothing. I can only speak for myself and my own music.

The trouble with all this is I can’t afford to record analog.

Let me paint a picture for you. Some years ago, I did some sessions with Lauryn Hill. She recorded everything to analog, and then dumped everything to digital before they mixed. I was watching them, and thinking that each roll of tape, which has at best 45 minutes on it (as you know, the faster the recording speed, the higher the quality), and you need two of those old MCI 24 track machines synced up, each tape cost $200, and they need about two dozen tapes for all the tracks they’re recording. Then, the MCIs (which I learned the hard way years ago when I worked as a recording engineer, need a ton of maintenance – you ever try calibrating one of those, or do editing on them?) are in Sony Studios, who charges $350 – $500 an hour to record,,, I was getting hives just thinking about the money they were spending.

THEN, after the whole thing is finished, you have to sink MORE money into promotion, marketing, publicity, and distribution! And ALL that has to be paid back through sales before you see a penny of profit. If you are a musician, I’m not telling you something you don’t know.

My first “real” CD release was, as with anyone, a milestone for me. It cost me about $3000 to build my home studio. I could have done it in a studio, but I reasoned that owning my own studio would prove a personal asset. I was right; I used it on other projects, such as succeeding releases, film soundtracks, etc., and ultimately, it paid for itself. Then, there was the cost of about $1300 to print the first 1000 copies, and the sporadic investments in promotion (like most people, I underestimated these costs when I first ventured out on this project). Eventually, I recouped my investment.

But if I went the analog way, I’d never get out from under the studio bills – and this is BEFORE I even release it! And if I wanted to own my own analog recording studio,,, forget it. I’d need to be a millionaire before I can even fantasize about it. I record digital, and I keep the costs manageable; which in the long run increases my potential for recouping the investment and a larger profit margin.

The technology and the sound quality is NOT the question: it’s the economics! It just costs too much, and all musicians who are reading this know, like they know a C major triad, that when you release a CD, you MUST find ways to cut production costs.

I didn’t even mention paying the other musicians. On my earlier releases, and on my gigs, I made sure the musicians were paid. I didn’t (I couldn’t) ask them to do it for free, or wheedle them into it with empty promises of “exposure” or some other such BS. I didn’t even haggle with them when they named their price (although a few I had to refuse, because I simply didn’t have the money to pay them). To me, paying the musicians is a priority. Yet, I have to make sure I have the money to do this before I let my mouth write checks my ass can’t cash. And perhaps its my own personality that’s rearing its ugly head, but debt must be avoided.

The point of all of this is that we are inextricably immersed in the question of economics. Like it or not, admit it or not, it has an effect on our art. And with the rapidly changing landscape of what was once the music business where what worked three years ago won’t work today, musicians are faced with unprecedented challenges.

The problem is exacerbated when musicians are forced to wear hats that are antithetical to the nature of musical creativity. We have to be managers, audio engineers, booking agents, publicists, etc. How do we find times to be artists? Where does our creative inspiration come from?

The essence of the whole of music and the business considerations that inform it are changing into something unforeseen. In the end, our art, our music will not survive and grow unless we become visionaries in our music, and in our business practices: and keep them independent of each other as much as possible. This is our only real option, if we wish to survive as creative artists.