If it hasn't already been said loudly enough in the preceding episodes of this series of Family Trees - the explosion of home recording that began in the 1980s changed the entire music industry. Not only did it accelerate and make affordable recording technology, it gave musical instrument shops an entirely new stream of potential business and impelled the growth of a new concept - the pro audio dealer. It nurtured a new generation of sound engineers and producers. It spawned its own magazines. It played midwife to MIDI and computer-based recording. It taught musicians the tricks that had once been guarded jealously by a white-coated priesthood of studio engineers. It changed the way record companies worked. It decimated the professional recording studio business. Arguably, it even changed music itself, as musicians now had infinite cost-free time in which to write, record, perfect and polish their material before release. And, at least in terms of the tape-based formats which most readers will have grown up on, it is, today, just about over. By any standards, that has to count as a sharp, fast ride.
In the final part of this FT, we meet several key players who made significant contributions to the UK's home recording market and who, for a variety of reasons, previously slipped through our net. No doubt there are others whose inclusion would have been appropriate - perhaps even crucially so. But that's inevitable - and by no means irredeemable. Family Trees, by its very nature, is always a work in progress. If Audio Pro readers think there are notable contributors we have excluded (particularly if they can put us in touch with them!) future additions are very possible. Please write and tell us.
With a career that has run from selling Fender on the road as a rep for CBS, through time at Bandive, then setting up TC Electronics in the UK, through to establishing both his own product distribution company and a flourishing recording studio (which he assures us is possible, even today), there isn't much in the business that Phil Beaumont hasn't done - including some very heavy duty networking in his time. 'I started out like most of us as a musician, a gigging drummer,' he recalls. 'Then I worked in a music shop - Sound Centre in Bangor, North Wales - and from there I worked for a while for Custom Sound with Barry Phillips and then joined CBS Fender as a rep, covering the Midlands. I was there for a few years and learned a lot about selling, particularly from working for Martin Fredman who was running things. After that that, I joined Bandive-Atlantex sometime in the early 1980s. What happened was that when CBS decided to sell the company and Arbiter took it over, we were supposed to leave one company one week and start with the other the next week, but by then John Carpanini at Bandive had been in touch with me and they were distributing Fostex, which seemed like a golden opportunity. Martin Daley was handling Fostex sales on the road in London and I did everywhere else - Scotland, the lot.'
This was the golden era for Fostex, as he recalls. 'It was fantastic, we went from four to eight to 16 to 24 tracks in what seemed like no time at all and the market was huge. It was also exciting for me because it meant we were able to break into the Music Shop market, with the X-15. You'd find yourself going to music shops explaining to them that this was the next big thing and they'd look at you incredulously saying, "What, tape machines?". We had to do some selling, but it was great fun and it grew very, very quickly.'
'The whole industry was changing at that time, driven by what was happening at Tascam and Fostex.' It was also the perfect time for a company whose previous strength had been in stomp boxes for guitarists with a taste for quality, Danish manufacturer TC Electronics, to look at the studio and home recording market. 'It was one of those situations where you meet people at trade shows and start talking,' says Phil Beaumont. 'I got involved with Jon and Kim Risoj at TC, went over there to see them and within a few weeks, we'd set up TC Electronics UK - it happened very quickly and it was fantastic timing. The TC2290 digital delay was both a studio product and a guitarist product and I ended up selling them to people like David Gilmore, Eric Clapton, Greg Lake, Mark Knopfler, John Entwistle and Francis Dunnery from It Bites, who became a close friend and who is involved in projects with me to this day. The 2290 was a really interesting product. People said the last thing they wanted at the time was a new digital delay, but it was the perfect crossover product for the two markets and we were soon selling them into major studios as well. So you had the great guitar players of that era using it and then the studios started - beginning with Rockfield, which bought four.
'Through TC I met a tremendous number of people in the industry, like Marty Pellow, who I'm working with as production manager these days - in addition to everything else I'm doing!'
Following ten years with TC, while the Danish company was going through its buy-out phase, Phil Beaumont set up his own Pro Audio distribution company, Systems Workshop which, today, handles a lot of interesting products, including products including Tube Tech. But perhaps more surprisingly, given the dire effect home recording had on the studio market, he also runs a successful recording studio of his own and has branched out even further with a record label, Aquarian Nation, which he runs with Francis Dunnery and ex-Virgin MD, Jon Webster.
'It's called the Forge, it's based in Oswestry and we've been doing very well, despite the decline of so many studios. We built it about eight years ago with the intention of offering a mid-price studio with great rooms and lots of atmosphere. We've done everything from the Tweenies Christmas Album, through Marillion, we've done dance music, Ian Brown from the Stone Roses - quite a spread. What people can't record at home is drums, which we can, along with great vocals. So yes, we have Pro Tools, but we also have an Otari MTR90 two inch machine and that's very much staying here. What we're finding is that people are coming here to record onto two inch then transferring it to Pro Tools to take away with them. Vintage mics, big monitors, great live rooms - there's a limit to what people can do at home and if you have those then there's still a market.'
Professional Sales Manager for Marantz in the UK, Russell Wiles cut his teeth in retail, working for ABC Music in Addlestone from 1986-'89, where he met Tascam's Tony Gravel (see FT October) who lured him into distribution. 'I had a home studio and had used Portastudios a lot myself and I think the Addlestone branch of ABC was one of the biggest sellers of Portastudios at that time, because we were all using them. I joined Tascam in December 1989 and stayed there just over ten years, leaving in May 2000 to join Marantz. When I joined Tascam it was seen as the belt and braces of the recording world - the open-reel, half inch eight track was the mainstay of the business and the only competition for that was the little Fostex A-8, which became the R-8 and which was actually a very good machine. But I think the attitude at the time was that if you wanted to go have the best quality in open reel recording, Tascam really was the market leader. At around that time the first eight track on cassette machines came out - something everyone had said could never be done - which really reinforced the company's position.
'By the time I left, the Portastudio in its various guises was still being sold by the bucketload. Although there was competition from cheaper models, they always had the name but at that point, MiniDisc recorders were starting to come out and I think people were starting to realise that digital really was the way forward - particularly for people who were MIDI-orientated. But we found that while keyboard players and those familiar with MIDI were happy to go digital, guitar players from a Rock background still felt more comfortable with cassette-based recording.'
Today, the market could not be more different from the heyday of tape-based recording. 'There's no eight track, 16 or 24 track analogue machines available at all, as far as I'm aware. In fact I think we got rid of the last one of those at Tascam in the year I left, 2000. For Rock and Roll based musicians who want a sketchpad, the Portastudio is still a viable tool, but the cost of a decent audio card and recording software is so little these days, when everyone has a PC, that people are bound to go that route.
'Back in the 1980s home recording changed everything. When I was playing in bands, you went to a small eight or 16 track studio, paid your £7 an hour, or less if you were lucky, and you made your recording. Suddenly with the 144 and 244 Portastudios, you could spend all week bouncing and dubbing, getting everything right. OK, it wouldn't sound fantastic but it was good enough for a demo and gradually the equipment got better and cheaper and, well - as we used to say, we put the recording studios out of business. Today it's only the really good studios who went from analogue to digital and kept updating that survived.'
More to follow...