The People's Music
If music-making becomes more and more popular, will the quality of popular music automatically slide downwards? Is the Casio VL-tone responsible for Starship?
I HAVE AN APOLOGY to make. I'm about to devote yet more space to the current sorry state of British popular music. Chances are, you've already read more about this than you can stand (both in these pages and elsewhere), but there's one point I'd like to discuss briefly which hasn't, as far as I'm aware, been raised until now.
There are a number of interviews in this month's issue of Music Technology, and they range widely in the people who are featured in them and the topics they discuss. The most controversial piece, though, is almost certainly our conversation with Steve Lipson, the man who's sat behind the faders — in one capacity or another — for every recording session Frankie Goes To Hollywood have ever started.
The stalwarts among you may remember Lipson incurring the wrath of E&MM consultant David Ellis when FGTH were in their heyday, when he went on record as saying that MIDI recording systems would never catch on because the specification wasn't good enough. Lipson is now using precisely such a system, but that's neither here nor there.
Meanwhile, Frankie's fortunes have waned, but Lipson remains as controversial as ever. Among many of the points (some of them well worth hearing) that he makes to Paul Tingen in this month's interview, is the suggestion that modern pop is in the state it's in because it's become democratised. According to Steve Lipson, pop has become meaningless because there are too many people sitting at home and playing with little Casio samplers.
At first glance, this is an appealing explanation. Several art forms have suffered in the past from becoming over-popularised, and theoretically, there's no reason why modern music shouldn't go the same way.
But close up, Lipson's argument holds about as much water as a broken tea-strainer. Pop music has always been an area of mass appeal and mass involvement — that's why it's "pop", after all. This may be the first time hi-tech musical instruments have been available to a mass market, but guitars, violins, flutes and goodness knows what else have been "popular" instruments for generations — with no adverse effect on the musical climate of the time. If anything, the mass-production of guitars (acoustic and electric) was an outstanding influence on the creation of new forms of pop music during the '60s — the very era Lipson refers to in his argument.
At Music Technology, we're committed to the idea that the more accessible music-making is, the more varied and interesting music will be. Thus far, that theory has turned out to be true for many areas, if not for some others.
British pop is in the decline it's in because the proportion of young people in our population is decreasing, and because what young people there are lack a focal point for the "rebellion" that has traditionally fostered musical innovation.
The one glimmer of hope lies in new technology and the enthusiasm of young people for picking it up and making something new out of it. And don't let anyone — big-name producers included — tell you otherwise.
ON A MORE POSITIVE note, the astute among you will have noticed a change in the staff list that traditionally lies to the left of this leader column. Yes, Music Technology has a new advertising manager in the (slightly forbidding) shape of Graham Butterworth.
Some of you may recognise Graham's name, since he began his space-selling career on Electronics & Music Maker about five years ago, and has been performing the same task for our sister magazine. Home & Studio Recording, for the last three-and-a-half years.
Needless to say, we're delighted to have Graham's vast experience and relentless "never say die" approach to magazine promotion onboard. Even if, inauspiciously, the new man has begun his term as MT ad guy by being struck down with a "mystery illness" which has left him bedridden for three weeks. Everybody say "ah".