By Eric Seiverling
Most Pittsburgh musicians will tell you they prefer to keep it ‘old-school’ when it comes to producing their music: the glassy glow of amplifier tubes, the pants-flapping volume of a Marshall stack, knobs and sliders on mixing boards, and the creativity and camaraderie that comes with sitting in a room and writing a song with bandmates.
But as Bob Dylan once sang, “The times they are a changin’.”
As computer audio technology and Internet music services have advanced, so too have musicians’ approach to writing, recording, promoting, and selling their music.
Computer software like Avid Pro Tools, Apple Logic Pro, Cubase, and Apple GarageBand allow musicians to create and record songs even while living in different states, and streaming services like Spotify, Bandcamp, and iTunes allow bands to release their music without the aid of a record label, making it easier than ever for fans to discover new music.
“I’ve been playing for 20 years and every record I’ve ever made has been done with Pro Tools,” said Drew Donegan, guitarist for rockers Gene The Werewolf. “Without Pro Tools, we would be limited to what we can do. We’re not the type of band to go in a room and hit ‘record’. When that technology first came out, it was too expensive. But now it’s so affordable. We’re accustomed to making music this way.”
Digital audio workstations such as Pro Tools, Cubase, and Logic Pro provide songwriters a plethora of virtual instruments at the tap of a keystroke or the click of a mouse. Instruments include guitars, drums, pianos, strings, and brass instruments. These computer apps can be utilized just as a multitrack recorder and audio mixer, giving musicians the freedom to create their music anywhere and at anytime.
“Everybody has obstacles and life gets in the way,” said Jason Myers, bassist for local metallers Icarus Witch, whose members reside in Pittsburgh as well as Ohio. “With digital technology, everybody in the band can contribute even if it’s 2 a.m. in the morning. A song will start as a digital file with someone recording on their end before we even get in a room together. It opens up new possibilities. It’s a newer way to get the songs tracked and shared with people.”
Want more proof that digital technology unites the music world?
Myers said for Icarus Witch’s upcoming release, “Goodbye Cruel World,” song files were sent between band members in Pittsburgh and Ohio. Once the songs were written, the digital song files were sent to the band’s mixing engineer in Chicago, who would send the songs to the band’s mastering engineer in Sweden. The finished songs were then sent to the band’s record label in Los Angeles for manufacturing and distribution.
“While we pride ourselves on being a Pittsburgh band, technology allows us to work remotely with the most talented and creative people for the job,” Myers said. “We’re not limited to a given zip code.”
With their blend of punk and hard rock taking a page from the 1970s and ’80s, local band Volcano Dogs kept it old-school in the studio, opting to record their latest release “Fearless Leader” live as a band. But even that didn’t stop them from taking advantage of computer technology.
“Even if a take was 99 percent perfect, there would be one mistake that would drive us crazy,” said the band’s bassist Dan Ford. “Digital technology let us clean it up a bit.”
Musicians are also quick to point out how technology makes it easy for them to promote their music and give their fans easy access to new releases.
Music streaming sites like Spotify, Bandcamp, and iTunes now provide free and paid memberships, giving users high quality digital streaming and downloads of their favorite music.
“I couldn’t tell you how many times I get asked if we’re on Spotify,” Ford said of his band’s music being available on vinyl as well as Spotify, iTunes, and Bandcamp. “I don’t want to turn anybody away just because they use bluetooth. I like to diversify and you can’t ignore technology today. Vinyl records are a big investment. You need the space to store records and a stereo to play them. Some people just want their music on their phone sitting on a countertop.”
Donegan said streaming services allow bands to pinpoint the specific geographic locations from where their music is being streamed or downloaded.
According to Donegan, his band’s music sees the most downloading from Pittsburgh, the United Kingdom, and even Brazil.
“We’re just five guys from western Pennsylvania who enjoy playing music together,” he said with a laugh. “To think somebody from Brazil is listening to our music is pretty mindblowing.”
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