Change and continuity: transformations, innovations and tensions in the art of record production

There is a strong probability that the last conference you went to was the best you have been to, at least that is, until the next one. The sixth annual Art of Record Production Conference which we had the privilege to host was very much a case in point. With a record number of papers submitted to the conference it proved to be a stimulating event building on the thinking and experience of five previous conferences while opening up new avenues of thought for our field. In this way, there was an element of continuity between this and previous conferences while, at the same time new presenters provided fresh perspectives on the issues concerning those of us interested in the Art of Record Production. Change and continuity is an inherent feature of any annual conference and the same theme provides the focus for the papers in this edition of JARP.

The idea that music and music production can look backwards or forwards, often at the same time, acts as an overarching theme for the papers found in the journal. The way our ‘art’ changes through technology and the use of technology is an example of where people make choices between, for instance, old technology and new technology – between old sounds and new sounds, with articles continually exploring the tensions, transformations and innovations between these two theoretical poles.

Four areas of discussion emerged from the conference. Theme 1 was alternative realities: (re)presenting sound and raised important issues around the way that the recording constructs reality. Theme 2’s area of interest was in song writing and the studio. Song writing remains a dominant tradition within record production but covers an enormous area of activity.  Theme 3 was concerned with the field of education and the idea that change and continuity can become a site of resistance. Theme 4 of the conference was electronic technology and the production of music, which provided an opportunity to consider the way that creative ideas have emerged from our efforts to subvert or control technology, sound and performance and to gain expressive control over production.

Focusing on change and continuity raises questions concerning the agents not only for transformation and innovation, but those which create resistance to change. Writing in 1990, Middleton made the point that “‘Popular music’ (or whatever) can only be properly viewed within the context of the whole musical field, within which it is an active tendency; and this field, together with its internal relationships, is never still – it is always in movement” (Middleton, 1990, p. 7). In a solitary journal we cannot hope to define let alone map out the entirety of our field, but as part of a continuing project, linked to previous and future journals, we have the potential to locate areas of interest and to develop a critical and grounded approach to the Art of Record Production.

Alternative realities: (re)presenting sound arose from the idea that the recorded ‘performance’ is often not the performance heard in the studio. Reality is, of course, a philosophical issue and there are several papers here that explore this issue. One of the advantages we have in the ARP is that much of what is discussed is grounded in practice. Paul Draper’s and Stephen Emmerson’s paper presents a practical exploration of the idea or (re)presenting sound through combining remix technology with the music of Berg, Schoenberg, and Bartok. Alternative realities are explored in Alan Williiam’s look at the way the studio is represented in film. Justin William’s   takes a different view of representation and considers genre representation and the extra-musical discourse that informs our listening. Emotional arousal, modes of listening and consumer audio technology add to the debate on this topic.

Songwriting and production is informed by the historical tradition of writing songs and the possibilities presented by studio practices. This is an under-represented area of research given that so much recording time is devoted to song. The mythology of the singer songwriter is confused by the collaborative nature of recording studio practice. This area has been extensively researched and evaluated by Philip McIntyre who has provided a strong theoretical basis for much of the discussion of this field, which has informed and is acknowledged by other contributors here.

Education, as we say later, remains a perennial concern of the conference and the challenges of teaching music production invites a number of innovative approaches. Philip Richardson and Rob Toulson demonstrate the need for new approaches to tasks specific to the art of recording. One perceived tension in education is the shift from the apprenticeship model of training studio production teams to university-based experiences. Rob Toulson’s discussion of media based learning provides an interesting discussion of the way this gap between education and professional practice could be bridged by the use of interactive media. Toby Seay introduces the Drexel University Audio Archives which not only provide rich primary sources for research, but also alert us to the role that institutions might play in archiving recordings and the skills involved in such a task.

Electronic technology and the production of music provides a rich area of thought encompassing both the technical, textual and theoretical. One of the great advantages of the conference is its ability to present and discuss topics and information which are rarely found in established literature. Mark Mynett, for instance, reminds us of the importance of the sound at source in his discussion of recording drums while Jay Hodgson explores other relatively unchartered territory in his discussion of what he terms ‘Lateral Dynamics Processing’.

As JARP is re-launching with this issue, it may be useful to consider how far the articles here are representative of the proposals submitted for conference and papers presented at ARP10 in terms of the broad themes they explore and reflect on what this may tell us about the ‘topography’ of the Art of Record Production.

Theme 4 generated the largest number of conference proposals and tied with theme 1 for the highest number of accepted paper presentations at the conference (17), followed by theme 3 with 15 and theme 2 with 8. However, only approximately one quarter of the papers presented for themes 3 and 4 reappear here in full article form compared to roughly half of the presentations for themes 1 and 2. While any conclusions that may be drawn from this can be only speculative, it may be worth noting that there are potential specialist homes for papers concerned with themes 3 and 4. Rather than suggesting that themes 1 and 2 are somehow more representative of ARP’s “core business”, we think we would not be alone in welcoming the broad interdisciplinary nature of the contributions both here and at the conference and express the hope that this re-launch of JARP will further help to encourage a wide range of approaches to the study of music production and technology. ARP11 will retain education as one of its themes which will be the third consecutive year that we have considered this area as either an academic or pedagogic discipline; as the majority of contributors to the conference and this journal are both researchers and educators it is right and proper for us to continue this discussion.

The selection of articles presented in the current journal confirms that we need be in no great hurry to narrow the scope of the art of record production. It may, however, suggest that we are beginning to map out our territory and in doing so, create clear distinctions that set us apart from other fields of musical study.  Each new conference brings some continuity through the sustained discourse represented in this and previous journals. At the same time, as the articles presented here demonstrate, we can look forward to change through the shift in perspective that the ‘next best’ conference brings.


Middleton, Richard. 1990. Studying Popular Music. Milton Keynes, Open University Press.