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Dirty Ca$h

Cash: where does it come from and where does it go? Tim Goodyer looks into the flow of money in the music biz and asks if pop music is worth the money spent on it.

AS THE BMF descends upon us once again, and halls full of fatally attractive hi-tech gear call the faithful to worship, the full impact of the sophistication of today's musical instruments is likely to be brought home to us in no uncertain terms. The electronic instruments and ancillary equipment that have become an integral part of making popular (and some not-so popular) music is rumoured to be second in complexity only to that used in modern warfare. It seems strange, then, that so much technology should be invested in producing music that, to a large extent, will be consumed through the medium of cheap transistor radios and cassette players. Is it really justifiable - using Fairlights and Synclaviers to make pocket-money music, most of which will pass unappreciated and is destined to be forgotten almost as soon as it is released?

Let's try to trace the flow of money that makes the development and purchase of these instruments and draw some conclusions. Let's say we've already made a single - in a studio equipped with all the latest gear and charging accordingly. The record's cost a fortune, but it sounds good on transistor radio and it's selling well. We've cleared the advance and we - the musicians - are making money. That means the record company are making money and can afford to put up the cash for the follow-up single.

We take another advance and make the follow up. We spend money on more studio time (same studio), hiring a producer, programmer and engineer, and getting the new single mastered. Then there's the sleeve design, distribution and promotion. Once again we score a direct hit; Radio 1 playlist it from its release and it goes to No. 1 the week after its release. The advance is cleared and we're making money again (as are the record company).

In the course of our success we've put work the way of the producer and engineer. We've also enlisted the services of the design company that produced the sleeve, the record distributors and promoters and the recording studio - the studio that originally spent a lot of cash on hi-tech equipment.

As long as we (and other popular artists) continue to support this kind of studio, they can continue to buy state-of-the-art gear. And while they're doing that, the companies that invest their resources in pioneering music technology can continue to do so. It's here that the first spin-off appears: the advances made in building state-of-the-art instruments invariably allow cheaper instruments to be built that make use of those advances. Let's call this a technological benefit.

The second spin-off arises from our support of the recording studio: while we're spending cash generated through high-volume pop sales with them, they can offer the same facilities to more "serious" and less wealthy areas of music. We'll call this a cultural benefit.

This is, of course, a simplified account of what happens in real life, but the next time a show like the BMF threatens to overshadow your music with its technology, or you wish a Top 40 placing carried the death penalty, it might be a fairy story worth remembering.

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Music Technology - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.


Music Technology - Aug 1990

Editorial by Tim Goodyer

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