There is a rise in music studios, as more artists have one built within their homes, sometimes along with rehearsal space. The process was not easy as recording studios were rare in the city a few years back, but with all the advanced technology, quality might be compromised, BERHANE HAILEMARIAM, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER, reports.
It has been five months since Habtu Abraha, in his late thirties, started a band at a music studio he owns close to Mesquel Flower Hotel, along Gabon Street.
Having lived for a quarter of a century in the United Kingdom (UK), he used to work with his brothers that have a band of their own there.
He came to Ethiopia to continue his musical career and establish the music studio Qehas Production Studio in Addis Abeba. With him, he brought the necessary equipment for music arrangement and recording. Including taxes, the instruments cost him over a quarter of a million Birr.
“A good studio requires a musical keyboard, computer, sound card, software and audio speakers,” Habtu says. “Otherwise, it is hard to get quality sound.”
A sound card is an internal expansion card that provides inputs and outputs for audio signals. hardware which connects the computer with other instruments, it could have 16 or more inputs to accommodate all the instruments needed at the time of recording.
“It is the main thing that enables an arranger to get a good quality sound,” he said.
Aside from recording, music studios such as that of Habtu’s contain a rehearsal space for performers. These come in handy for band members such as that of Maikera’s.
Established in April 2009 by Kidus Tamiru and his five friends, there are guitarists and a drummer in Maikera band. At the studio, all of the instrumentalists bring their own instruments to rehearsal except for the drummer.
“We cannot afford a drum as it is very expensive, so we have to go to a studio to rehearse,” says Kidus.
It sets them back 400 Br to rent a studio for two and a half hours. But if they rehearse twice in a week, they get a discount from their go-to studio, located in Hayahulet Mazoria and is owned by Biruk Mekonnen.
Biruk, a graduate from the Addis Abeba University’s Yared School of Music, was able to fulfil the essential musical instruments two year’s ago that bands such as Maikera have come to depend on, for an aggregate sum of 70,000 Br.
He gets 5,000 Br for the recording of a single and 12,000 Br for that of an album. Like many of the studio owners, he goes into agreement with musicians to produce the music for free and share the income from the sales.
Owners of studios such as Biruk site that the studio business is seasonal, where bands or musicians that are visiting their layers are rife one week and rare the next.
Apart from creating small studios in the residences of artist and music composers, there are also some bands who possess their Studio.
Jano Band, a local rock band, consisting of four vocalists and six musicians who play the bass guitar, rhythm guitar, lead guitar, keyboards and a drum, is an example. The band has a studio, which is also used for rehearsal, built where they reside.
However, the neighbouring country Kenya is advanced in the music industry compared to Ethiopia as it has an ample number of music studios. Coke Studio which resides in Kenya, is a non-competitive music collaboration show that brings together artists from different African countries in its studio for musical fusion.
Music recording in Ethiopia dates back to the late 1960s when it was incepted by Amha Eshete. Together with renowned artists such as Alemayehu Eshete, he began producing vinyl records for the local market. The studio they used belonged to Radio Ethiopia, a radio station located close to Abune Petros Monument.
After a long rehearsal time, the bands will go to the studio of the radio station on the scheduled time and perform live songs. Using reel-to-reel audio tape recording, they would send the recorded masters to Greece where they are converted to vinyl.
“This was how the first recorded songs of Alemayehu came out on vinyl,” says Mahmoud Aman, a noted lead guitarist and founding member of the Walias band. “The rise of music studios in our country has passed a lot of ups and downs to reach the current stage.”
It was in the early 1970s that the since famous Walias came into existence and were confronted by the lack of music studios. Thus the band opened its studio for music recording. They were able to add to their songs echo, reverb and delay.
But by the end of the 1970s, cassette tapes had come into use, making conversion into vinyl unnecessary. Finally, track recording using multi-channel sound system was begun by Mahmoud Aman after he brought with him an eight-track sound system from Saudi Arabia, where he worked for five years.
The late Kennedy Mengesha and Aregahegn Worash were some of the first to be recorded with this new type of sound technology.
This new system of recording was able to afford better quality sound and is not time-consuming to record one music. It allowed the arrangers to be able to polish each sound separately after the record is completed.
Close to the beginning of the second millennium, the music industry witnessed computerised recording systems through the usage of CDs. The digitisation of the industry allowed for the production of music at a low budget and gave rise to the proliferation of home studios.
One of these beneficiaries is Eyob Balcha, a 25-year-old whose condo also serves as a music studio. Located in the Jemmo condominiums under the middle-income housing scheme, he set up his studio two years ago.
“I use my studio to record new songs,” he said. “But I don’t have rehearsal space.”
Mieraf Tekle, a lecturer at the Yared School of Music for more than a decade, has mixed feelings over the expansion of studios.
“Most of the current studio recorders and arrangers are not making music on knowledge-basis thanks to the technology and readymade software that enables them to generate easy money,” he told Fortune.
He acknowledges though the fact that the youth are familiar with the new technology could be useful if the quality is not compromised.