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Production Lines - Chris Porter

Some words of undeniable wisdom from producer Chris Porter play you gently out of the mag this month.

Producer Chris Porter reflects on the condition of a music industry he believes is divorced from the society it should be serving, and warns that some urgent revitalisation is needed...

I hear gloom, I hear doom, I hear despondent voices all around. The recession, the slump in sales, the lack of talent, the lack of gigs, the lack of songs. The list of moans and groans is endless from every corner of the music industry. Why? One word. APATHY. Fat, ugly, rich apathy — all of us looking at how we can make as much money as possible with as little hassle as possible.

I believe that the responsibility for the continued health of British pop music rests with the multi-national companies which now exploit it. There appears to be a very narrow view which dominates the thinking of the industry, and it is that music can only be marketed via the channels of television and radio and the multimillion dollar tour. The roots of pop music are well documented and grew from the natural desire of ordinary people to communicate with each other in a voice which was of the people and for the people. The spirit which created so much of the great music of our era emanated from a culture where music making was the domain of anyone who had a guitar and could find a group of people to play to.

You see, our expectations have changed. Artists spend hours hunched over computer screens and MIDI devices producing achingly familiar tunes, send them to record companies and wait for a call which will transform them overnight into wealthy superstars. OK, one in ten thousand will achieve fame and fortune from this route. But as an industry which is, yet again, striving to make its mark in the world, we have to start working. Working to create more live venues should be one of our main priorities. I know you might argue that we can see artists on video and see film of live shows. Yet what is that, compared to seeing an exciting, energetic performance surrounded by an enthusiastic audience? If music is to compete with the awesome array of competitors — TV, video, film, CDI, the galaxies of computer games — it has to do so by providing an experience on a par, in terms of excitement, with them. If you want to create the same following as Super Mario or Lemmings, music must be infinitely more vital and relevant. The more music entertainment is seen as a technological product that can only be achieved with massed batteries of computers and keyboards, the more we remove music making from its social role. We have to continue to introduce the public to the emotion of music, enjoyed in the company of others, allow them to experience the euphoria of a crowd so that they will associate music with an emotion that cannot be obtained at the end of a joystick or remote control. Of course, we should be embracing all of the new technologies and I would not argue that we should retreat from them. However, it is important to exploit the unique emotive aspects of music, its primitive power to unite and motivate. This is music's strength, and if we let this diminish to a mean formula, we will never inspire new generations of artists and audiences to develop the genre of pop music.

I feel it important that young artists should have the training ground to develop their talent and that audiences should have the opportunity of experiencing music first hand, thereby having the appropriate yardstick by which to judge the vicarious entertainment provided by the small screen. It seems obvious to me that the deadly dull formularity of both current music and music video stems from the lack of imagination and effort which people are prepared to put into the industry itself. Yes, we do have the talent here to ensure that British Music might be heard all over the world but we have to make an effort to create an environment where that talent can grow naturally. The natural selection that has always existed to winnow the good from the bad will remain, as it always has been, the taste and discernment of the public. But shouldn't the public get a chance to see this talent before it has been dressed, plucked and presented as a ready-wrapped TV dinner? Of the few gigs still available in London, most are purely available as showcases for bands. You are likely to rub shoulders at the bar with more representatives of record companies than members of the public. Indeed, if you took away the friends of the band and talent spotters, you'd be left with the bar staff. That is not a normal environment for anyone involved in the experience. As an industry we should be examining the creation of new ways of bringing live music closer to the public of all ages.

I have a deep feeling that at all levels of our business we are selling ourselves short. We have many creative business men and women who seem content to operate within a rapidly contracting industry and yet are unwilling to make any efforts to change the status quo (no pun intended). Just like any other business, markets have to be created and fostered over many years — thought has to be given to long-term growth. At the present time I see this happening only within the terms of technological advance and not with any reference to the raw human component or need. Complacency and boredom seep into every level of what should be a stimulating and thrusting industry. It is painful to see the parallels between the music and film industries, but there is still a chance to change before it is too late, while there is still tremendous goodwill worldwide for British artists. This means that we have to recognise that a vital and growing industry has to have its roots in a living culture where music making is not associated purely with commerce or with the iconology of a so-called past great age but is a current language reflecting the society it serves,

No doubt, at the present time we have the musical environment we deserve, and we are inflicting the same kind of mismanagement of resources that our other great industries have done throughout the course of the twentieth century. However, pop music is supposed to be the voice of the people. When you divorce the music from the people, they will turn from it. We have to be prepared to act decisively to foster the environment to develop great talent and to introduce our public to the quintessential power of music.

Chris Porter
Chris Porter started working as an engineer with Tony Visconti in 1979 and has worked with many top recording artists as engineer and producer, since becoming freelance in 1983. A large part of his time since that date has been spent working with George Michael, both with Wham and on George's solo albums. Faith and Listen Without Prejudice. He has also seen success with Living In A Box, Aswad, Hall & Oates, Elton John and many others. He is currently coproducing MCA artist Whycliffe with Tim Simenon at his studio in Surrey.

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


Recording Musician - May 1993

Opinion by Chris Porter

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