Man the world of recording studios have gone through a sea change in the past 20 years. Back in the days when Aqua Net was the most important accessory in a band's arsenal - it cost hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars to make a studio recording. SSL mixing consoles could cost $1,000,000 or more and were leased for a decade at a time. Studer multi-track analog tape decks that could accommodate two inch analog master tape were easily a few hundred thousand dollars. Throw in room acoustics from the likes of RPG, studio monitors from JBL, effects from dozens of companies including Lexicon, application, racks, cables, lighting control, seating and more and you only have an opening salvo. Next you need microphones which can cost anywhere from $49 to $50,000 for a vintage Neumann (think: Frank Sinatra) which only adds to the cost of a studio.
Today, 15 to 20 years later you can accomplish much of what you needed $2,000,000 plus to make a record done right on an Apple Macbook pro, a modest $1,000 mixing console and in a room that cost 50 times less than in 1989. Hard drive recording systems have changed the game. Editing tools like Pro Tools have also revolutionized how one makes a recording. Gone are the razor blades and analog tape and in is digital control of nearly every effect and aspect of the sound. Microphones, acoustics, loudspeakers and many of the other fixed costs of a recording studio remain the same but the overall cost of a recording studio and the way you make a record today is drastically different.
Downward pressure on cost is always a factor as the music business never really adapted to selling high end audio formats like SACD and DVD-Audio - let alone Blu-ray which is a format that can today reach more than 50 percent of consumers with master audio quality sound and HDMI (HDCP) copy protected signal over one cable. Another factor on the way music has changed is the influence of hip hop on pop music. Technology has in some ways taken over for musical talent as drum machines more often than not lay down the beat of a modern track and vocals are nearly always "auto-tuned" which sounds like a Cher-inspired nightmare but also cuts down on the time it takes to record the perfect vocals as it did in the 1950s - 1980s when we used the analog domain to record our records.
In the end, while the costs are less to make a record today - recorded music isn't seemingly better off. Yes, more people have access to making and recording music but its still takes top level musicians, great engineers, skilled mixing engineers in a combined effort to make a record that doesn't suck. And there is some solace that this hasn't changed during a time when recording technology surely has.