InSession: Good Times, Bad Times

Grammy-winning engineer Nathaniel Kunkel says that no matter how bad it looks right now in the music business, it will get better

Wow, things are just crazy these days. Banks are failing and people are losing their money, with lines around the block and everything. (Unnecessary lines, as the FDIC is properly funded, but lines nonetheless.)

Even more amazing is that engineers and producers are willing to admit they aren't working. That wasn't the case two years ago. You would go to an industry mixer and it seemed everyone was working. In reality, of course, we were not. It's been tough for a while, but we felt that looking busy was the best way to be busy. However, it seems that it's too grim to lie about it anymore. Way too grim to feel happy about how cool Melodyne is. (Actually, that's not true: I am so digging Melodyne. I just cannot believe what that program can do. And when Direct Note Access comes out, it's all over but the crying.)

Okay, so things could be worse, but they sure could be better. So just in case no one else has the cojones to say it: it's hard for everyone in the music business right now. If you're struggling, you're not alone. If you're working, you might want to keep that to yourself. Man, times have changed.

“Don't despair,” my friends tell me, “even in the Great Depression, people wanted to be entertained.”

“Yeah, but back then, they didn't have as much stored media at home,” I counter. I also think the fact that people weren't buying music before the economy tanked isn't a good sign.

This is where I would usually present the silver lining. Not this time. I think it's going to suck for a little while longer.

Remember that the problem with the music business is the same as with the housing market: it's a broken model and it needs to be restructured. It's a drag when that comes after a failure. It's cooler when you catch it early.

Maybe the music industry's problems are a huge blessing. I mean, there has been some cool stuff released, but for the most part, while the proliferation of Pro Tools has put the power of production in everyone's hands, it doesn't make them instant songwriters.

Like I've said before, maybe if the music business weren't so lucrative, all the people who are only in it for the money would go away and leave it for those of us who would do it for free anyway. We could then make a higher concentration of good art and, hopefully, some money again.

Hey, there's the silver lining. Yeah, that's the ticket: we'll work for free but the majority of music that people are exposed to won't suck anymore. Wait — is that better? Ugh, maybe we should all start lying again.

You see, the record business has always been cyclical. Major record companies get huge, lose track of the art, and fail. Indies get bigger, make more profit than a major, then get bought by major record companies that ride for a bit on the coattails of the people who actually knew what they were doing, but then fail because they weren't responsible for the success in the first place. Sound familiar?

So don't despair. Although it's not getting better right now, it is going to get better.

Nathaniel Kunkel ( is a Grammy and Emmy Award-winning producer, engineer, and mixer who has worked with Sting, James Taylor, B.B. King, Insane Clown Posse, Lyle Lovett, I-Nine, and comedian Robin Williams.