KEEPER OF THE SEVEN KEYS: RECORD PRODUCERS’ PRACTICES OF PRESERVING GERMAN METAL
Issues around heritage and preservation of musical culture have been increasingly discussed in popular music studies in recent years. Studies have explored the challenges of music museums (Baker, Istvandity & Nowak 2016, 2018), grassroots activism and online documentary of heritage objects (Kaun & Stiernstedt 2014; Bennett & Strong 2018), DIY music preservation (Baker & Huber 2013; Baker 2016), community archives (Flynn 2007, 2010; Flynn, Stevens & Shepherd 2009; Baker 2017) and “heritage rock” (Bennett 2009).
This research explores a group currently understudied in popular music heritage research: record producers. This group of professionals is crucial to all commercial popular music creation as they are the artistic executive of the music industry (Burgess 2013) and mediators between artists and audiences (Hennion 1989). Some producers established renowned recording studios that are cherished by metal fans for being sites where favourite records were created.
Audio heritage is a relatively unexplored area within popular music studies from a technical production perspective. This research raises awareness of the importance and challenges of audio preservation and provides insights into archiving practices of record labels and producers. Based on interviews with metal music producers, the presentation examines the conflicting artistic, economic and legal forces in the recording industry that often result in the loss of master tapes and multi-track recordings, thus preventing significant remastering for new consumer media such as high-resolution streaming or remixes valuable to artists and their fans alike. The findings suggest that there is no archiving standard amongst record labels. It is often up to record producers to archive and preserve recorded artefacts, which they do voluntarily and at their own expense, either in the hope of future commercial exploitation or to preserve their work. Whilst established record producers who started out in the analogue era seem to be reliable archivists, the modern metal music industry with its shrinking budgets, semi-professional, digitally home-recorded productions and self-releasing artists puts the genre’s more recent audio heritage at risk.
Dr Jan Herbst is Senior Lecturer in Music Production at the School of Music, Humanities and Media, University of Huddersfield, UK. He is director of the research centre for Music, Culture and Identity (CMCI) and the Popular Music Studies Research Group (PMSRG). His current research projects focus on the electric guitar and the special role of distortion, metal music in and from Germany (‘Teutonic’ metal) and the so-called ‘Gear Acquisition Syndrome’ (GAS), a common phenomenon amongst musicians who spend more time fiddling with equipment than actually playing it.