The Don't Knows
The case for education?
How much faith do you have in your local musical instrument dealer? That might sound to many of you like a strange question to ask. After all, you're hardly likely to put your life in his hands, or ask anything of him other than some friendly advice and tips on how to get the best from your gear.
But think about it for a moment. Musical instruments are getting more technologically complex than ever before, and the mere fact that their paper specifications are getting more impressive means that the people who buy them are expecting more and more from them. Often, their expectations are entirely unrealistic, boosted as they are not only by spec sheets and glossy brochures, but also by hi-tech aesthetics and the wild adulation of 'critics' who should know better.
There seems to be a philosophy - growing in stature and popularity - which says that if you pay a lot of money for a musical instrument, it should be able to do all the things you want it to do, bar none. Far too often, we're confronted with queries from readers puzzled that their new hundreds' worth of music computer won't sync to this or interface with that, as if there was some inflexible law that made operational versatility increase exponentially with the amount of hard-earned cash invested.
But there's another source of misinformation, potentially more damaging than any advertising campaign or marketing push. And I'm afraid the hunt for that source takes us back to the local dealer, the man you ask when the manufacturers, the distributors and the magazines draw a blank.
I'm not suggesting for a moment that the average music shop is little more than a den of unscrupulous thieves who'll spin any kind of yarn in order to take advantage of another unsuspecting punter - far from it. For the most part, dealers and their employees are well-intentioned and entirely honest in the way they go about their business. But that doesn't stop them making statements about products they simply don't have sufficient experience of to know any better.
You don't think their role is important? Well, just ask yourself the number of times you've been unsure about a certain aspect of a machine's performance, but gone ahead and bought it anyway, largely on the strength of the dealer's assurances. Ask yourself how much a demonstrator's personal preference for Synth X over Synth Y has led you to view the comparison in a different light, maybe even made your mind up for you? Ask yourself, also, if you believe shop owners and demonstrators to be automatically better-placed than you to make value judgements based on product knowledge and market awareness.
Sure, the fact that your local keyboard demonstrator is surrounded by the latest music technology every day of the week is bound to make him very familiar with the sort of thing that's available, but that doesn't mean he knows every last interfacing or parameter detail: if anything, his own views are more likely to be influenced by personal circumstances and tastes than yours are, simply because he has the time and the facilities to exercise his every whim.
Our own particular sector of the music industry has little in the way of organised and recognised education aimed at making those who earn their living from music better-informed. Perhaps it's time we had.
Don't panic - I'm not advocating compulsory MIDI Evening Classes or Software Schools, merely a more open and more forward-looking attitude to the subject of product evaluation.
The dealers that are winning the sales battle these days aren't necessarily the ones offering the biggest discounts. Increasingly, the winners are those that give their staff plenty of 'hands-on' experience of the machinery they sell before they actually have to go out and sell it, and those who encourage musicians to do the same - examine an instrument in detail, weigh up not only the advantages of its paper specification but also its user-friendliness, its interfaceability, the sturdiness of its construction, and the helpfulness - or otherwise - of its supplied instructions.
Those are the criteria by which musical instruments should be judged, and if everybody adopted the same sort of attitude, there'd doubtless be a lot less confusion among modern musicians than there is at the present time. Because if objectivity is not allowed to flourish, the myths, the misconceptions, and the inaccuracies will grow beyond manageable proportions. And the poor musician will remain forever in the dark, magazines or no magazines.
Editorial by Dan Goldstein
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