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As I contemplate the recent development of musical technology and its impact on my life as a musician today, I feel a newfound sentiment of freedom and of justice for the greater cause of art.
I feel unshackled like never before both to discover the music of others, share my own tunes and give life to musical ideas at an affordable cost at last. The one common denominator to it all: the Internet.
For an amateur musician in the 1990s, it seems that the pathways to expression were hindered in every direction both by human and technological factors alike. Humans were often not willing and technology was not yet capable.
As a band, the act of rising above the DIY circuit and the youth clubs seemed unattainable. Doing so required working with the booking agencies who had arrangements with select music venues. These agencies signed bands based on appeal, marketability and on whether they had a Compact Disk out.
A musician who wished to be validated could not simply self-release a CD and put it in a shop. Or rather they could, but it was called a “demo” that only a few alternative record shops would agree to put on display somewhere in a corner.
In reality, a musician had to be selected by a person owning a label and who had a business arrangement with a distributor who in turn would be able to make the music available in a record shop. One step led to the next and there was no cutting corners. You had to wait and hope.
Pre-widespread internet, promoting yourself to get gigs was no simple task either. Although emails were commonplace in the nineties, most promoters still insisted you post them a physical CD for up to 10 years after the birth of the mp3. I personally posted tens of demo CDs of which I never knew if they had arrived or not or were simply serving as coasters in a youth club. An expensive activity indeed.
Up until the 1990s, a studio recording was necessary and cost a lot of money. Today, we can record music ourselves and even master it online for a small percentage of the cost of a proper mastering studio.
The music of solo composers used to remain in their computer for lack of a suitable platform. I would regularly be asked what was the purpose of this pursuit and if I intended to pay musicians to play my songs live. A self-sufficient composer seemed in contradiction with the thinking of the times.
Associating with musicians in 2020 can be a lot richer and take place on a wider scale. The internet now makes it possible to send a song to the other side of the world for a skilled musician to play on. They will record their part on it and send it back to you. I’ve done this with drummers from Los Angeles while living in England; quite a step away from the little ad we used to stick in the corner of a wall in the local music shop.
Looking towards the close future, I strongly believe that it is possible to go on tour with a likeminded musician you have never met before. You can publish your music in Europe, connect with a bass player in Australia who likes your genre and play the songs together for a few live dates. All it takes is for more people to embrace this way of thinking.
Many more elements could be added to this brief contemplation of recorded music in 2020, such as the availability of cheap plug-ins, the price of instruments then and now, the disappearance of the crucial role of radio playlists, the resurgence of vinyl and even factors of influence of which I am not aware.
Some will disagree with my view, argueing that the best of music is behind us and that melody and creativity have lost in quality. Cheap recording devices mean a smaller investment from the artist which in turn transforms into an overflow of sub-standard music.
Johnny Cash auditioned his first tune to the owner of Sun records on the steps outside of the building. Nowadays, with a few downloads and a good soundcard we’re ready to rock out from our bedroom and share it with labels through such websites as Submithub.
Despite the arguments of quality in music and as a person coming up through the nineties with all its hindrances I will say again that I have never felt so free. We have an equal possibility to make and share art and not depend on anyone but our good self.