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Music For Pleasure

There is a popular conviction that something is wrong with the music industry. I don't mean the musical instrument industry, rather it's the record industry that's in question here. The widely-held view amongst a huge number of musicians is that there is very little opportunity for new talent to develop and be heard, that record companies are depressingly conservative and predictable in their constant promotion of safe bands, that A&R departments are only looking for bands that will sell, rather than artists with talent... and so on. This view is clearly articulated in a number of letters I've received and in two recent Sounding Off contributions, and many of the artists we interview talk about their unhappy experiences at the hands of the music industry.

Many would say that the record industry is run by sharks, fat cats, crooks and idiots. They're probably right. It is, after all, a business, and a record company's prime concern is making a profit not creating or promoting art. They are dealing in goods that may incidentally be art, and it would take far more cynicism than I can muster to suggest that most individuals in the industry don't actually love music, but a company still has to make a profit. The result of this is that many musicians are frustrated by the way that they and their music are treated — artistic considerations take second place to commercial ones, unless a musician/band has an unusual amount of clout.

Nevertheless, despite harrowing reports from the front line many non-professional musicians and home recordists are desperately keen to break into the industry. It's natural enough, given that music is probably their main passion, to see a career in music as a dream come true (I mean, no-one wants to be a chartered surveyor, right?). But there are very good reasons why music can make a better pasttime than a career. Given that thousands of people are now able to create near release quality recordings in their bedrooms, only a few will actually be able to take the step to making a living out of recording, so it's important not to have unrealistic expectations of what you can achieve. It's also important not to underestimate how much more important luck is than talent.

What's more important, however, is how the prospect of selling music can affect the way it is created. I've never managed to find a good dictionary definition of art, but experience tells me that it's a very personal thing, some means of expressing or representing ideas and emotions from all levels of the artist's consciousness — mind, soul, whatever. What draws most of us to music is that the acts of creation and self-expression are deeply satisfying, and somewhere down the line of making music for others rather than oneself, this can get lost.

I don't want to put anyone off taking their recording more 'seriously' — on the contrary. Many people have no problem in reconciling commercial necessity with personal tastes, and many enjoy satisfying strict commercial criteria, but if you love music it can bring pain as well as pleasure. If this editorial has a point, it is this: recording for personal satisfaction is just as 'serious' as recording for commercial purposes, and something very precious will be lost if we ever lose sight of that.

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Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.


Sound On Sound - May 1991

Editorial by Paul Ireson

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