Question: when is a song not a song, and a musical instrument not a musical instrument? Answer: when they're products. Is the music industry terminology robbing music of its personality?
TO WHAT EXTENT has the word "product" become a part of our musical vocabulary? Read the musical equipment manufacturers' and retailers' adverts in this magazine and you'll have part of the answer, talk to your record company about your recording contract and you'll have another. And the story doesn't stop there; recently Lyn Champion, of Streetwise Dance (a company that specialise in making promotional pop videos), was quoted in Music Week as saying "Promos are not purely there to assist in the marketing of a record, they're a bona fide piece of product in their own right - an art form". Evidently, her realisation of the value of a well-made video has taken second place to her appraisement of its commercial value. So much for her art.
The whole problem seems to be epitomised by the use of this word product. The dictionary defines a "product" in the following way: something produced by effort, or something produced by some mechanical or industrial process - not a lot of room for "art" in there.
Perhaps the obsession with this word has something to do with the rise in importance and status of the record producer - but I think this is one crime of which even Stock, Aitken & Waterman would be acquitted.
There are plenty of people expressing concern for the lack of originality in contemporary popular music, yet many of these people are record company A&R men who are simultaneously demanding more "product" from their artists. Since when was a piece of music a product rather than a piece of art?
What seems fairly obvious is that the pressures on artists to deliver the product requested by their respective record companies is directly contributing to the mediocrity of much of the music being peddled today. When an artist is first signed by a record company they have the music and the ideas they've been nurturing for a lifetime to realise on vinyl. Once that first single and album are out of the way, the race is on to recreate the formula that earned them the contract and (hopefully) their success. The record companies' solution to a "dry" writing spell is often to lock the artist away in a recording studio until they deliver the goods. But that can be expensive. The business mentality: more money invested, more product recouped. Simple? Facile.
Even before securing that elusive recording contract, the biz can sink its teeth deep into an artist's music. "The A&R man needs a tape" - get into the studio; three songs, no more, no less. "The A&R man needs to be impressed in the first 20 seconds of the first song" - never mind the pitch, hear the quality. How are we doing? "The A&R man says you're too old..."
Returning to the subject of musical equipment, why should a sampler or a synthesiser be more a product than a musical instrument? The manufacturers of these pieces of high technology are only too keen to tell us about the advances they've made in "playability" and "user friendliness", only to undermine their own efforts by branding them a "product". Did Paganini play a Stradivarius product? Or Charlie Parker a Selmer product? Or Hendrix a Fender product? Did they hell.
There's no hiding from the fact that music has become big business. Big businessmen run the business, and big business considerations are powerful arguments to them. But once they eclipse the music that gave rise to the business, then that business deserves to die.
Editorial by Tim Goodyer
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