The setting inside Aaron Fishbein’s Miami Design District recording studio evokes a musical Back to the Future: A 1957 Fender Stratocaster guitar hangs on the wall; nearby are platinum-record awards certifying Fishbein’s playing and production on multimillion-selling releases from Enrique Iglesias, Beyoncé and Trick Daddy; vintage amplifiers sit wired into a state-of-the-art mixing board and Apple computer. Fishbein himself imbues all this equipment with human qualities, gushing over a particularly beloved 1960s Bang & Olufsen microphone the way other men would reminisce about an old girlfriend: “It’s just gorgeous as a drum overhead,” he purrs. “It makes cymbals sound velvety.

But it isn’t only Fishbein’s studio— playfully dubbed “The Franchise”—that fuses past and present in surreal ways. The entire music industry itself seems to be pivoting backward in time even as it evolves technologically, increasingly echoing the model of the early 1960s.

While iPods may dazzle with their storage capabilities—a world of music in the palm of your hand—the actual sound of compressed MP3 files reverses decades of advancements in stereo fidelity, leaving the listener with an aural experience akin to AM radio. Likewise, after years of battling skeptics who dismiss pop music in toto as nothing more than disposable teen-oriented bubblegum, the industry has reverted to a singles-dominated affair. As in the old Brill Building days, interchangeable singers once again vie for the attention of songwriters (or American Idol judges).

Fishbein has had a front-row seat for this industry devolution, arriving in Miami Beach from Cincinnati in 1989 as a 19-year-old musician, lured by high-school friends who’d been given scholarships to the then-nascent New World School of the Arts college program. Back in Ohio he’d been playing the French horn, earning admission to several conservatories, and was on track for a tuxedo-clad career in a symphony. Yet, “I had some revelation that I didn’t want to play French-horn parts on 150-year-old music for the rest of my life,” he recalls. He’d been interning in a local recording studio, honing his guitar skills and soaking up Cincinnati’s funk-and-R&B scene.

Have guitar, will travel: Rent on South Beach was $500 a month and the live music gigs were plentiful, even eclipsing the nightclub scene. “Michael Capponi would be rolling around on his skateboard, handing out fliers for his roving Avenue A party,” Fishbein recalls. “We’d all still end up at the Deuce at 3 AM.”

He spent the ’90s in various rock and reggae bands, performing at Jamaica’s fabled Sunsplash festival with Le Coup, opening for the Who with his group, Big, always on the verge but never quite transcending hometown-hero status. In 1999 he moved behind the scenes, playing on Enrique Iglesias’ first English-language album. That record would go on to sell 10 million copies, turning Fishbein into one of Miami’s most in-demand session players, hired to help craft songs by pop acts like Pink and Nelly Furtado, and hard-edged rappers such as Lil’ Kim and Method Man—each with their own way of working.

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