Adam Patrick Bell

Comparing DIY Music Production Methods in New York City and Bamako


In this presentation I will compare and contrast the music-making and learning processes used in the home recording studios of a musician in New York City (“Michael”) with a musician in Mali (Backozy). The aim of this comparative study is to examine both the similarities and differences of the respective approaches of Michael and Backozy, and to contextualize their creative approaches to using the recording studio as a musical instrument within the history of record production. In particular, I will focus on the use of trial-and-error learning and its long lineage in music production.


The data collection methods used in this case study (Stake, 1995) were semi-structured interviews, observations (using video recordings and screen recordings), and stimulated recall interviews (using selected video excerpts). Over the course of three months, Michael engaged in his typical practice of music-making with a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) and recorded this process with a video camera and screen recording software. The thick description video analysis procedure outlined by Goldman (2007) was employed to describe Michael’s processes, gestures, interactions, events, and actions that occurred outside of the DAW environment. Adopting the approach of Mellor (2008) and Tobias (2010), screen recording documented a “play-by-play” of Michael’s actions within the DAW. Additionally, Michael participated in a semi-structured interview for every 10 hours of video he recorded. In total, Michael recorded approximately 20 hours of video and 20 hours of screen recordings simultaneously. Further, he participated in two semi-structured interviews, each lasting 2 hours, and a two-hour stimulated recall interview.

This data set will be compared with the video ethnography data collected of Backozy in Mali by researchers Olivier Emanuelle and Amandine Pras. Emanuelle and Pras filmed Backozy working in his studio over multiple days on multiple recording sessions using two video cameras to capture his working processes as well as the actions performed on his DAW, Cubase.


Much of what Michael and Backozy know about audio engineering they taught themselves. Waksman (2004) asserts that there is a lineage of independent trial and error learning with music technology (“tinkering”) that predates home computing, and both Michael and Backozy evidence using such an approach in their production practices. Michael, for example, discussing his entry into using Pro Tools, professed, “I didn’t have anybody tutoring me and I didn’t have any help files, so I just had to figure it out for myself.” When Michael makes music in his home studio there is no rush, no deadline, and no impetus to distribute his music to the masses. In contrast, Backozy’s studio is a constant flurry of activity in which he works as fast as he possibly can to churn through clients.


University of Calgary, Canada

Is an Assistant Professor of Music Education in the School of Creative and Performing Arts at the University of Calgary, Canada. He is the author of Dawn of the DAW: The Studio as Musical Instrument (Oxford University Press, 2018), and has written several peer-reviewed articles and chapters on the topics of music technology in music education, and disability in music education. Prior to his career in higher education, Bell worked as a kindergarten teacher, elementary music teacher, and support worker for adolescents with disabilities. Bell has also worked as a freelance producer, creating commercial music for clients including Coca-Cola.