That Good and the Bad

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I fell in love with professional recording studios as a teenager, when I was allowed in to the hallowed portals of Olympic Studios in Barnes when The Stones were recording. The soundproofed spaces, the tailor made acoustics, the huge monitor speakers, the banks and banks of flashing lights and meters, the grand piano, dozens of expensive microphones. Most of all that sense of being in a private world; a mixture of operating theatre, music theatre, spaceship and womb.

This obsession led to my starting, buying, transforming many studios of my own at a personal cost of many millions of pounds, creating or recreating these ideal locations. Often the history of what was already in the walls was a vital magic ingredient ‘This is the room in which Paul Macartney sang ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ or ‘this is the microphone and guitar amp Jimi Hendrix used on Purple Haze.’ By the time my last studio closed, the cost of equipping a full blown control room and microphone cupboard was around £600,000.

Now the advent of Pro-Tools and other software, the massive power of a desktop or even a laptop speaker and the falling resources of record companies has transformed the landscape. Almost all the big studios around the world have either closed down forever or have been transformed into post production, film, broadcast units or even office buildings. The history, the heritage, the excellence – all gone.The record companies now want their artists recorded at home on a laptop. £2,000 will buy a set up good enough to make a master recording – in theory anyway.

So of course Iquit. Two years ago I made the decision that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life compromising and moreover that the lack of these magic studios in my life had taken out my own heart.
…and yet…

Next Thursday Shelley, Ian, Miguel and I get on a plane to Zambia. With us in the hold will be 4 fibreglass pods each the size of a large suitcase plus 4 golf bags. In these cases will be 4 fully functioning, state of the art recording set ups complete with computers, microphones, speakers, keyboards, headphones and everything else needed to make music. In Zambia, as part of the UN Young Voices project, we will work with young disabled people from four of Africa’s poorest regions. We will teach them how to use all the equipment and by the end of our stay we will have recorded complete works with each group. Then we will leave the equipment with them and, via the net, continue to help and mentor them from afar.

Even ten years ago this would have been tricky. Fifteen years ago well nigh impossible. This is the ultimate democratization of the music making process. The works these people create will now be up on Itunes and Amazon to be bought by any music fan anywhere in the world. A chance for those with nothing at all to be heard.

Philosophically this makes for a good yantra to focus on. Without taking away my old life from me progress could not have empowered the world’s poorest and most fragile people to have a voice.

Robin Millar