Responds to Cloud Nothings comments, denies Big Black reunion, confirms Shellac record and goes against just about everything the music industry say about piracy.
Renowned recording engineer, producer and punk rock identity Steve Albini has spoken out again, this time offering the users of enormous internet social news network Reddit the opportunity to ask any questions they like in a forum discussion entitled I am Steve Albini, ask me anything.
As expected, there was a great deal of talk about his recording methods and thoughts about the legacy left by many of the legendary records he has worked on, though a few questions did focus on more recent events.
In response to Cloud Nothings' Dylan Baldi's recent comments about his modus operandi with regards to making their highly acclaimed latest record Attack On Memory, Albini justified his Scrabble playing ways by saying it helped clear his mind so he could better focus on the sessions.
“When I first started making records I would sit in front of the console concentrating on the music every second,” he began. “I found out the hard way that I tended to fiddle with things unnecessarily and records ended up sounding tweaked and weird. I developed a couple of techniques to avoid this, to keep me from messing with things while still paying attention enough to catch problems. For a long time I would read, but it had to be really dry un-interesting stuff. The magazine the Economist was perfect, as were things like technical manuals and parts catalogs. I had a stack of them by the console. It can't be anything interesting or with a story line like fiction because then you can get engrossed and stop paying attention to the session. It has to be really dull, basically so you are looking for an excuse to put it down and do something else. This has proven to be a really good threshold, so that if anything sounds weird or someone says something you immediately give it your full attention and your concentration hasn't been ruined by staring at the speakers and straining all day.
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“Lately I play Scrabble, and it serves the same purpose.”
And when asked how he enjoyed the sessions, Albini offered up a typically sardonic response.
“I was playing Scrabble the whole time so I don't remember.”
The debate between streaming music and owning physical product was raised by another reader, to which Albini offered something of a surprising response for such an audiophile; streaming is alright by Albini.
“For anything that matters and I'll want to have around forever, I want a record. For casual listening I think streams are great. Super convenient both for listeners and bands trying to get their music out. If you're talking about money, then I side with the listeners. I don't think you should have to pay to listen to something. That just seems like a normal, decent position”
His stance on what is deemed by the music industry at large as piracy is that it does nothing but good things for musicians.
“I reject the term "piracy." It's people listening to music and sharing it with other people, and it's good for musicians because it widens the audience for music. The record industry doesn't like trading music because they see it as lost sales, but that's nonsense. Sales have declined because physical discs are no longer the distribution medium for mass-appeal pop music, and expecting people to treat files as physical objects to be inventoried and bought individually is absurd.
“The downtrend in sales has hurt the recording business, obviously, but not us specifically because we never relied on the mainstream record industry for our clientele. Bands are always going to want to record themselves, and there will always be a market among serious music fans for well-made record albums. I'll point to the success of the Chicago label Numero Group as an example.
“There won't ever be a mass-market record industry again, and that's fine with me because that industry didn't operate for the benefit of the musicians or the audience, the only classes of people I care about.
“Free distribution of music has created a huge growth in the audience for live music performance, where most bands spend most of their time and energy anyway. Ticket prices have risen to the point that even club-level touring bands can earn a middle-class income if they keep their shit together, and every band now has access to a world-wide audience at no cost of acquisition. That's fantastic.
“Additionally, places poorly-served by the old-school record business (small or isolate towns, third-world and non-English-speaking countries) now have access to everything instead of a small sampling of music controlled by a hidebound local industry. When my band toured Eastern Europe a couple of years ago we had full houses despite having sold literally no records in most of those countries. Thank you internets.”
While his writing on the music industry and, more recently, food, have long been praised for the passion and eloquence with which they are delivered, Albini denies any interest in writing a traditional book.
“I'm suspicious of people in the arts who presume that they can jump disciplines. I used to call it the David Bowie effect -- I sing, therefore I am a painter, therefore I am also an actor... I resist this impulse on my own behalf. I write (like this thing here) mainly to satisfy my own impulses as a pastime, but also to answer other people and get involved in conversation that can be enlightening. That's plenty enough writing for me.”
He confirms a new Shellac record is in production, that the band are open to certain international touring opportunities and makes it very clear that there is not going to be a Big Black reunion. He does, however, give some tips on his favourite new music, including a tease about the forthcoming Neurosis record.
“Still really digging the Dead Rider (D Rider) records. My band has played a bunch with Helen Money, who plays really interesting music on unaccompanied electric cello, and she's doing a new album this year. Just finished work on a new Neurosis album that is unholy good and has more of the stomach-churning heavy chaos they do better than anybody. Robbie Fulks is doing a real great new record of acoustic music, a lot of it straight bluegrass but some of it real weird.”
See Albini's full Q&A here.