Neil Portnow Keynote Speech - AES 137th Convention (Los Angeles, Friday, October 10, 2014)
Producers And Engineers Wing
It is my great pleasure to join you here at the AES 137th Conference and I have to tell you, being here feels a bit like home. Not just like home because we’re in L.A. Live, a place I literally make my home for a few weeks each year during GRAMMY season. This feels like home because, well… I have to confess, I’m a little bit of a gear junkie.
If you've ever visited me in my office in Santa Monica, you’ll know it doesn’t look that different from the exhibition hall at AES. Well, ok, maybe the exhibition hall from AES — back in 1975! But I love music gear, and working as a producer in my early days in the business, I fell in love with the entire production process. So it is appropriate that the largest gathering of audio professionals should take place here, in the hub of the city’s entertainment district, just steps from the GRAMMY Museum and L.A. home of the GRAMMY Awards — Staples Center.
But the GRAMMYs could not exist if not for the considerable talents and unique skills of those in the audio engineering profession. And certainly the production of our GRAMMY telecasts — including the Nominations Special, the Pre-Telecast Ceremony, and the Awards presentation itself, all of which feature live performances by globally recognized artists — could not be possible (and frankly would be incomprehensible) without gifted and uniquely skilled audio engineers and sound technicians, some of whom have been recognized with Emmy Awards for sound. But I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. Audio engineering is an art and science, combining technological expertise and precision with that one enigmatic talent that comes with experience: The ear.
The ongoing development of technologies designed to improve how sound is recorded and delivered to consumers is at the core of our business. Recording artists and performers rely on engineers in the studio, as do producers and record labels, to create the best possible sound recording. Finally, those services that deliver recorded music count on exquisitely recorded product to satisfy a customer base that, thanks to the evolution of the Internet and audio delivery systems, is more sophisticated than ever.
That is evident in many ways at this year’s AES gathering, including this year’s focus on high-resolution audio, which provides higher sample rates and bit depth than other digital audio formats. Audio engineers, producers, and other sound technologists often operate at the vanguard of innovation, integrating and applying improved technologies to serve the recording industry. While there are those who would use technology as a disruptor to hack, pirate, and otherwise shortchange the creators and consumers, we instead focus on the ways that technology enhances the integrity of audio and advances recording standards.
That is why The Recording Academy established the Producers & Engineers Wing. With more than 6,000 members within the larger Academy membership, the P&E Wing addresses the specific needs, challenges, and concerns of studio recording professionals. Here's a brief video about our P&E Wing, and I'm sure you'll recognize some familiar faces… [VIDEO PRESENTATION]
As you just saw, our P&E Wing is extremely pro-active in seeking solutions for its unique concerns, many of which affect those of you here today. A key project that the P&E Wing takes great pride in is called “Quality Sound Matters.” The name says it all. The Recording Academy created this as a dedicated portal in partnership with the Consumer Electronics Association to provide the most up-to-date information on new audio technologies, products, and delivery systems that support the best possible listening experience for consumers. This portal is where professionals can stay abreast of developments within their profession to keep them on the cutting edge.
The P&E Wing also recommends best practices within the studio environment for producers and engineers. Among these are the Wing’s technical guidelines for delivering recorded projects to record labels and efficient documentation of recording sessions. The guidelines are intended to help create a lasting historical record of the unique work carried out by audio specialists and also to maintain high standards of professionalism in the studio.
With all of the great initiatives undertaken by our P&E Wing, some issues — including producer/artist royalty splits, the preservation of the wireless mic spectrum, and online piracy — need to be addressed through legislation. To address these particular issues, The Recording Academy maintains a strong and active presence in our nation’s capital through our Advocacy & Industry Relations office in Washington, D.C. Dedicated to preserving and protecting the rights of music creators and studio professionals, our Advocacy office uses education, lobbying, and dialogue to ensure that the music community's concerns are heard by policy makers on Capitol Hill. The Advocacy & Industry Relations division also spearheads our GRAMMYs on the Hill Lobby Day, the only annual grassroots lobbying day for music creators and recording industry professionals in existence, and also carries through other year-round initiatives.
As an industry, we must continue to push our elected leaders to recognize the contributions that recording industry professionals make to our economy and to our culture, which is the envy of the entire world. We must collectively raise our voices and put our considerable voting muscle behind legislation that provides recording professionals equitable pay for their works, at rates that take into account all of the new technologies available for music delivery.
Currently, the U.S. Copyright Office is conducting a review of copyright law and asked a number of stakeholders to submit comments. Among the issues raised by The Recording Academy in our filing was the need for producers and royalty earning engineers to have a streamlined method for receiving royalties established within the Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act of 1995. The Academy recognizes that because record producers and recording engineers often create the overall sound of the sound recording, their contractual payments for digital performances should be fast, accurate and transparent.
When the Digital Performance Rights Act was enacted in 1995 — before my tenure and before we had a Producers and Engineers Wing — producers were not given a share of the new revenue stream, currently collected by SoundExchange. Today, SoundExchange has a system for paying producers directly, and we’re working together to make that system more effective and formalized.
In addition, The Recording Academy’s Advocacy office has been at the forefront of efforts to safeguard the wireless microphone spectrum, an issue that has a profound effect on live performances. As the FCC considers narrowing that spectrum, we continue to educate policy makers on the negative impact such a move would have.
Every year, The Recording Academy invites members and policymakers to come together at two very special events. The first is the GRAMMYs on the Hill Awards, where the Academy honors artists and lawmakers who have lent their support to issues of concern to creators, and the second is GRAMMYs on the Hill Lobby Day, where members gather on Capitol Hill to speak personally to their elected representatives about these issues.This year’s GRAMMYs on the Hill events were our most successful to date in terms of both attendance and the impact of our message on law makers. We're now launching a brand new Advocacy initiative called GRAMMYs In My District. This coming Tuesday, October 14th, will see our members from across the country advocating for creators with their elected representatives right where they live, at the home offices of their Congressmen. This initiative is perfectly timed to make our voices heard just ahead of the midterm elections in November. As you can see, The Recording Academy has a strong tie to our members in the audio and technology fields and works diligently to address critical issues affecting the art and craft of recorded music.
Recording technology has come a long way since I used my beloved Unidyne III model 545S microphone (and sometimes with this sophisticated switchcraft jack!). But some things never change, particularly the need for a creative partnership between the performer, the studio professionals, and everyone in this room who is working so hard to improve the quality and the environment for music.
We look forward to working in partnership with all of you to ensure that music lovers and music fans continue to enjoy great music — at the highest sonic standards. Quality sound matters. Therefore, the work all of you do matters. For all your efforts on behalf of quality audio, we thank you.