Blog: A Brief History Of Music Technology

The rise of the tech guy      09/01/14

Blog: A Brief History Of Music Technology

Buying Choices

How technology has changed the recording process for the mere mortal and the rise and rise of the tech guy:

In the old days things were a lot simpler and here we open the first bookend of this discussion and hopefully an eye opener for younger readers. Getting access to any kind of reasonable recording capability had but one criteria, money. The only people who had access to the cash were the established record companies and they predominantly used what was often referred to as the 'spaghetti' model to determine where the money was spent. By this we mean that they would throw said pasta at a wall and whatever stuck was the winner. There were also some sobering statistics associated with this model.

For every one thousand demos (or thereabouts) submitted by artists perhaps ten would represent the spaghetti that didn't slide down the wall and out of those the record company might expect that one or two would result in a significant financial outcome. Often it was also these 'lottery' winners that would subsidise the losses incurred from the remaining eight or nine that ultimately didn't work for whatever reason. In order to attract the attention of the record labels there were but two options. You either gigged yourself silly in the hope that a growing audience would attract the attention of the A&R guy and/or you would submit a demo in whatever form you could directly to the label. If you were lucky enough to have some spare cash you might rent an established studio for the day but for most people your demo was likely done on extremely limited tape equipment at home.

Interestingly enough this was the period where the recognition that there was tremendous merit in teasing out a good performance because of inherent limitations was never more pronounced. The smart ones realised that the effort on this platform was better spent on the performance rather than the engineering, basic recording principles notwithstanding. Now to the younger reader this might all seem a bit simplistic and brutal and it was, but it was a model that everyone understood and strangely rarely questioned.

We all accepted what it was because it was easy to understand and for those that didn't succeed might keep trying with most just not bothering anymore and simply going out to get a 'proper job'. For those not artists but involved in supplying service to them the model worked just fine as the limited access to recording technology kept food on their table. And of course the winners were the labels themselves, much like the house that always has the advantage at the casino the record companies were keen to protect the very model they created in the first place.

Now that is not to say that large, established record companies had it all their own way. History is resplendent with examples where localised and fledgling labels would spring up to support artists associated with emerging genres in specific locales. The Sheffield electronic scene in the 1970's is but one example of many. However the old model still applied in that large amounts of pasta were still being chucked at hard vertical surfaces for those dreaming of wider distribution and exposure. Things however, particularly in the 1980's, were going to begin to turn all of this on its head. Recalling my first band experience I remember jams and rehearsals being performed live through a simple mixer with perhaps limited effects send capability straight to a two-track recorder.


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