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The Show Must Go On

Tried to find a venue for a gig lately? If you did, the chances are you had problems - so just what's happening to live music?

MUSIC IS ESSENTIALLY a live phenomenon. Think about it: the first musician didn't get his ideas off the radio or from listening to someone else's records. What didn't come naturally or wasn't discovered by him (or her) self, must have come from other early makers of music - live.

It wasn't until the latter part of the 19th century that technology was sufficiently advanced to allow acoustic events, such as music, to be recorded and replayed without the participation of musicians. Given that mankind is something over four million years old and has probably been making noises that it has chosen to call music for much of that time, it's only recently that music has become anything but a live phenomenon.

So what of live music today? Well, there are more people involved in music now than at any time in the history of mankind. More people are musically "educated" to some extent or other and the general standard of musicianship is certainly higher than ever before. On top of this, modern technology is available to lend a helping hand. It will help musicians of limited means realise their music; it has made instruments more powerful and more portable. In fact, there has never been a more favourable time, in equipment terms, to make live music - you can budget your music-making equipment to suit any playing environment from the London Underground to Madison Square Gardens. Where you can't use a drummer you can use a drum machine, backing tapes or records, where you can't use a church organ you can use a sampler and anywhere an instrument isn't loud enough you can amplify it. No, the problems facing live music today concern not musicians or their equipment, but venues.

From tomorrow's pop stars looking for somewhere to play a first gig to Jean Michel Jarre and his ambitious multi-media shows, musicians are in trouble. A few years ago, pub landlords had trouble coming to terms with a drum kit blocking their customers' access to the bar and the volume of the music making their order inaudible. The same technology that has helped solve those problems has also provided the landlord with more reliable and convenient methods of satisfying his customers demands for music. And where's the attraction for nightclubs to put on live acts when a disco will satisfy a wider range of musical tastes and quite probably sound a hell of a lot better into the bargain?

On the professional gig circuit it's become such an expensive proposition to stage a concert that the only way to make it pay is play bigger and bigger venues - not easy if, at one end of the scale, your regular following amounts to a handful of people, or you cross swords with the local council's safety officers at the other (is it, Jean Michel?). If it's a rap gig you're trying to promote, you're likely to meet opposition based on the violence that's become associated with the music - in spite of its messages of peace.

It's not so long since church and school halls across Britain were regularly filled with bands trying to get it right before Friday night. Now the majority of young musical blood is retreating to its bedroom to make music in isolation. And, although technology makes that a more practical option than ever before too, it represents a less-than-healthy trend in the writing of modern music. The only pieces of genuinely good news on the live circuit are the way DJs have turned disco into a form of performance and the enthusiasm for rap gigs regardless of "official" opposition.

The problem isn't a new one, and it's unlikely that MT has many pub and club managers amongst its readers, but modern music is desperately in need of a solution.

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


Music Technology - Nov 1988

Editorial by Tim Goodyer

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