Weathervane Music points to a new future

In +1/-1, culture, Miraverse, music industry, npr, recording studio by Michael Tiemann

Weathervane Music is a non-profit, community supported production company, making music and video to support and advance the careers of amazing independent musicians. Unlike traditional for-profit production or record companies, the vast majority of proceeds from the recordings of this music go straight to the artists, which Weathervane Music selects. I first heard about them when Brian McTear made this announcement in June, and I’ve been meaning to blog about it ever since:

Hi all,

Long time no speak! I’ve been really busy putting together a new non-profit organization called Weathervane Music. In a nutshell we’re experimenting with a new model for how to fund and promote the work of great independent musicians.

Our main focus to start is something we’re calling the Weathervane Music Project Series. It’s a curated music and music-related video series produced for the web in which selected artists come into the studio (at no cost to them, of course) and record a song. The whole thing is artfully captured in hi-definition video, providing great exposure for the artist, some interesting material for gear enthusiasts, and a general primer for Weathervane’s mission.

Now NPR‘s All Things Considered has beat me to it, six months later as part of The Decade in Music: ’00s. NPR’s extraordinary instinct of going beyond the death and destruction of virtually all the major recording studios in New York City (Recording Studios Face an Uncertain Future) paid off by looking at the dynamics of low-rent Philadelphia (where commercial studios are also struggling), and discovering the diamond-in-the-rough story of an environment providing free recording services to a handful of deserving artists. But the reporting could have gone much further…

There is no question that bubble-based real estate prices in New York City contributed to the unfortunate redevelopment of some of the most sacred recording studio environments anywhere in the world. In June of 2007, SONY studios closed with this utterance from their Senior Mastering Engineer Andreas Meyer:

Hello all,

I am a mastering engineer here and the studio is closing in August. In the mean time the studio is practically giving away mastering time – home studio prices for pro level mastering! Give us a call soon if you have some work to do, or else I will be dismantling my room sooner rather than after you leave with an amazing product!

SONY fetched $44 million for the property, which, at the time, a far greater sum of money than could ever be earned by charging a daily rate for studio time. Similar logic brought the demise of one of New York’s most famous studios, The Hit Factory, in 2005. But then the other shoe dropped: the utter collapse of real estate prices brought about the near-collapse of the New York economy, and with it any appetite for such “luxuries” as the last few real rooms left in Manhattan, as MIX Magazine reports in The Changing Face of New York Studios (October 2009).

Between this feast and famine, this Scylla and Charybdis, sails McTear and Weathervane Music. Weathervane is a classic “blank sheet of paper” approach to reincarnating what the conventional music industry has all but destroyed, which is the soul of music itself. And strength of that soul is evident in the four artists he has already produced in 2009, propelling their voices and visions forward as a rudderless mainstream continues to flounder in despair, disillusion, and worse, disinterest.

What NPR should do once they are done burying the music of the ‘oughts (my name for the as-yet unnamed decade because of all the things we ought to have done, but did not) is to return to Weathervane, or my enterprise, The Miraverse, and see whether or not a renewed vitality in musical production methods can lead to a renewed community and economy as well. I think what they find will be very much worth their while…

See for yourself!