I remember when I was younger and all we could play at home were records and tapes. We had a modest collection, a hundred or so records, a couple dozen reel to reel tapes. Each one meant something to us. They were important! We would invite people over to have listening parties when a new record was released by a favorite artist, it was a big deal. No one talked while the music played, people applauded the turntable when it was over, and it took 5 minutes of discussion to decide what to put on next.
My family did a lot of concert production. We got a lot of repeat business because, well- we made things sound really good and the artists really appreciated it, as did the crowds. Everyone respected the music- not just the artists and crew- but the MUSIC, as if it was it’s own living entity that we were all in the humble service of.
In a nutshell, music really meant something to people. It wasn’t as much of a social thing, it was a deeply personal, transformative experience. I believe this is what Bach had in mind when he wrote “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” for his church. I believe this is what our church fore-bearers had in mind when the organ was invented and placed in these holy places. I know that when we played it back on our Altec 604Bs and JBL subs in our little living room, that room became a holy place. When we put on Hendrix’s “Band of Gypsies” or “Who’s Next”, Zeppelin IV, or Tangerine Dream’s “Ricochet” on Sunday afternoon in the summer and opened up all the windows of the house, instead of complaining about the noise, our whole block- literally the entire block- even the old folks would come over with food and we all had a great time enjoying each other’s company all day, every weekend, with all differences aside.
It was the music that united us, and it wouldn’t have worked if it didn’t sound so damn incredible that you just had to stop right in your tracks and pay attention.
There was no way you could not take it deeply into you. You didn’t brace yourself against it. You just let it in, and with it came spirit- in whatever form or flavor you needed it in at that particular time- just for you, and it happened that way for everyone present, everytime.
Fast forward up to today. The vast, vast majority of people have hundreds or thousands of songs on their personal players. They play back low quality compressed audio that wouldn’t impress a dead cuttlefish. Not albums mind you, songs. (whole other blog about the difference between an ALBUM and a collection of songs put together on a disk) taken out of context, or that never had a context to start with. An abundance of anything cheapens it.
At a concert, people will complain if the video screen isn’t high enough resolution or the projector isn’t bright enough or there’s a strobe light flashing for too long- but even musical people- and I have a lot of them as friends- will just accept harsh, shitty audio that is as offensive literally as nails on a chalkboard.
When a concert is being set up, especially at a modern festival, there is usually only a few minutes to do a sound check for the artists, while the lighting designer gets to take all night after the festival closes to program cool lighting for the next night.
I wish lighting guys made people blind from doing bad lighting! Not really, but you get the point.
The only thing that matters at the average concert today is that the music is loud and that it doesn’t stop. There is no time to get quality. It’s too expensive or something, I’m not sure- I get told a different thing each time. You try setting up 8 monitor mixes for a band in 5 minutes flat sometime, I dare you!
Show promoters care only about cramming as many acts as they can into the set show time for the night, never mind that there isn’t time enough to do anything even remotely right.
“Artists” get paid astronomical sums of money to go onstage too drunk to keep from knocking their stuff off their tables, unplugging it in the middle of their set. They do not bother to learn the most basic technical things about the equipment they are using and flatly do not care if they create horribly distorted sound- like an AM radio off station- that bad! They will tell you literally -this was told to me recently and I quote directly as nearly as I can remember “It’s above your pay-grade to interfere with him, just suck it up and deal with it.” So, doing my job and helping an artist to deliver his music to the audience is now “interfering.” Wow. OK.
There is only one thing that I know of that can make 100,000 people or a million people get together and cheer in joy, spontaneously without being prompted- and that is MUSIC.
Is it a coincidence that as music becomes more and more a commodity to be just consumed like anything else and is regarded as just another diversion that the world falls further and further apart? Right now we need anything- ANYTHING WE CAN GET to help us get it together, and music is still the #1 solution for getting people on the same page with one another regardless of race, location or language.
But experience shows it has to sound good to work. Otherwise people aren’t arrested by the tyranny of beauty.
“Artists” are nothing without US. WE are the people whom they must speak through. Without us, they may as well go yell down a well about it. WE are the standard bearers, and WE are FAILING!
If we do not hold the feet of Promoters, Managers, Artists, Ministers, and the public in general’s feet to the fire, then who will?
This is OUR industry, and we are shooting ourselves in the foot by not demanding to be given the circumstances to provide quality. Why are we as an industry cheerfully shooting ourselves in the foot?
Come on people, look around you in the world today. Its time to matter!
How can we change this? What can we do people?
– Bill Weir