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With a new book documenting his incredible life, Thomas Dolby has added ‘author’ to his CV alongside ‘hitmaker’, ‘producer’, ‘keys player to the stars’, ‘Silicon Valley entrepreneur’ and ‘Professor’ (both real and imaginary). MusicTech meets Dolby to talk tech, and about his studio which is, where else, based on a lifeboat…

Thomas Dolby’s book The Speed Of Sound: Breaking The Barriers Between Music And Technology (to give it its full title) documents his life from starting out in music through to his current role of Homewood Professor Of The Arts at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in the US. What happens between is an astonishing rollercoaster of several lifetimes’ worth of adventure. Many, for example, would have been happy enough with just releasing some critically acclaimed albums and scoring a smattering of massive pop hits (She Blinded Me With Science and Hyperactive), but not Dolby. He went on to found his own Silicon Valley enterprise, supplied a large percentage of the world’s mobile phones with a synthesiser that could play polyphonic ringtones, became the Musical Director for the influential TED conferences and married a Hollywood actress. And let’s not forget, he played keyboards for Bowie at Live Aid; produced several acts, including Prefab Sprout; had several run-ins with Michael Jackson and even played with Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock and Howard Jones at the Grammy Awards. After we suggest it’s like the music-production life of Forrest Gump, Dolby laughs and admits it can read a little like that.

However, we’ve got the rather more serious business of studios to talk to Dolby about today, but of course, knowing Dolby, it’s not quite that straightforward. His studio is based in a 1930s lifeboat called the Nutmeg Of Consolation, which sits in his back garden with glorious views of the East Anglian coastline. It’s solar- and wind-powered – apt, as it’s the name of one of Dolby’s early hits – and it’s as streamlined as you like, a far cry from his early studio setups that were crammed full of analogue synths and an ultraexpensive Fairlight. Indeed, that move of technology, also a theme running through Dolby’s book in more than one sense, seems an appropriate way for us to begin our chat…

MusicTech We’ve witnessed a huge shift in musicproduction technology since you started in the early 80s. Are you surprised about just how quickly things have moved?

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About MusicTech

Making music is an expensive pursuit. From monitors to microphones, DAWs and plug-ins: before you know it, just getting your creative space in order has made a serious dent in your bank account. But it really doesn’t have to be this way. In Andy Jones’ in-depth cover feature this month, he dives head-first into this ocean of free software, highlighting the best of the best and detailing how to use it effectively to build a track – for free! Elsewhere this issue, we’ve got the first in a new A-Z series, detailing some of the oft-used, key terms that you’ll likely hear and need to understand in the music-making world. Alongside all this, we’ve got our usual range of reviews, tutorials, tips and a complete guide to the vast high-tech world of controllers. We’ve also, very excitingly, teamed up with the best studio in the world with this issue’s free Abbey Road calendar. We hope you enjoy the issue.