As we move into a new decade, Tim Goodyer looks back at the '80s and forward to the '90s - where can we hope to see the hi-tech music industry take us next?
THE END OF the '80s; the end of a decade; the end of an era. During the '80s, synthesisers have evolved from being the exclusive province of pro musicians and academics to being an integral part of popular music culture. The '80s have seen the cost of electronic musical instruments fall dramatically; they've seen revolutionary instruments change the face (or the sound, at least) of contemporary music, only to give way to the next technical revolution: they've seen sampling turn music and the copyright laws on their heads; they've seen personal computers dramatically change the way people write and record music; and they've seen machine-made music invade the British pop charts in two totally different forms.
The first year of the decade also saw the birth of a magazine called Electronics & Music Maker - a magazine which was to become the first "electronic musicians'" magazine, and quickly establish itself as the leading authority on hi-tech musical and recording equipment, and the music it helps to make. Today that magazine is called Music Technology, and it is still the only magazine working hand-in-hand with musicians, producers and engineers to shape the music of the future.
SO WHAT OF the future? This is the first 1990s edition of MT, yet its contents aren't wildly different from the last edition of the 80s - what can we hope to be reading about over the next ten years? If I knew, I'd be a rich man, but there are certain trends which give a good indication of part of the shape of things to come.
It's now obvious that we can't expect a technological revolution every other month - the number of revamped and repackaged instruments we've seen recently are proof of that. Instead we'll be watching the steady evolution of technology: an exponential development growth curve.
Computer applications are growing both in sophistication and popularity. From a useful piece of hardware that could be used for a variety of applications, the personal computer has become the heart of many music systems and is handling everything from patch editing to mix automation. While the 1Meg Atari ST is currently the most popular musicians' computer, we're going to see a lot of musicians using more memory and multi-program environments in order to make all this software simultaneously accessible. Looking slightly longer-term, the ST is going to have to give way to a more powerful machine capable of true multitasking - the Acorn Archimedes? As yet, nobody knows.
And those home MIDI studios you're presently pioneering are going to be changing drastically: at present most of them are audio studios, but I expect many of you will be working with video before too long. Once you've assembled your audio suite, you'll find most of the elements of a modest A/V suite are already available to you. Almost all serious sequencing software is designed with SMPTE code in mind, and from there it will be a small step to incorporate a TV set, a domestic video recorder and a little more hardware...
The next decade is sure to give us quite a ride on the wave of developing technology. It may well seem frightening at times, but it's only really terrifying if you try to get off.
Editorial by Tim Goodyer
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