Senior Recording Engineer
Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity
Banff, Alberta, Canada
Throughout ethnographies of studio networks in Dakar (Senegal) and Bamako (Mali), our panel underlines the informal learning methods (Thompson, 2012, forthcoming) that beatmakers, arrangers, and engineers who produce music outside of privileged areas develop without following a structured curriculum nor having access to internships in well-equipped studios. In Dakar, the only purpose of owning a mixing board is to give evidence of professionalism to clients, although it is almost never used for mixing. Senegalese beatmakers use their digital skills to build Kontakt instruments based on Yamaha DX7 presets that emulate traditional Senegambian percussion instruments in the local genre Mbalax. Malian arrangers challenge the production sequence of ‘recording – editing – mixing – mastering’ as they adopt a fluid workflow of adding, removing, and editing layers of vocals and instruments in Cubase until they start mastering (Olivier & Pras, forthcoming; Pras et al., 2019). Observations of the learning process of Malian audio engineer Issa Traoré (alias Ken Lagare) during his six-month residency in the Audio Recording Engineer Practicum at the Banff Centre (Canada) show that he strengthened his mixing and mastering skills, especially in regard to the use of EQs and compressors, and has begun to experience the importance of studio acoustics in creating recordings. We highlight how the templates within DAWs shape the digital practices of West African studio professionals who have had limited exposure to the culture of analog recording and production. We then question the extent to which formal education institutions can incorporate the informal learning methods of trial-and-error, copying peers, and watching video tutorials into the high-education music curriculum. We conclude by stressing the importance of teaching anthropological, social, and cultural studies in addition to existing audio theory in University-based programs to prepare the upcoming generations for a global and diverse music industry.