Articles 

Articles From Sydney Music Web Newsletters 

Lucky Oceans -
Our Interview with the presenter of Radio National's The Planet.

Peter Northcote - Session guitar player & loving It!

Music Industry Skills - Jack Pledge.

Diploma Level course in International Music Management - Jack pledge.

Myths About The Music Industry - Sam McNally - Sam McNally

The State of the Art - Jack pledge

Interview With Lucky Oceans  June edition E-News15/6/2001

Q: What would you say where your earliest musical influences?

A: The earliest sounds that I would have heard would have been my parents' jazz records - classics from the 20s and 30s by Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong.  I discovered the blues when I was 12.  Two records provided the starting point for further explorations - a series on the defunct OJL label called 'Really the Country Blues,' and a 'Best of Muddy Waters' lp which nearly blew me out of my chair when I discovered it in the Philadelphia Public Library. I saw many concerts when I was young - the blues revival was in full swing - John Hammond, Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James and many more,

but the concerts which affected me the most were one by John Coltrane and another by Son House - both of them musicians who held nothing back in their playing.  I also listened to small bits of country - Doc Watson and plenty of contemporary music - Dylan, Beatles, Doors, Stones, etc...   I spent a brief period chauffeuring Big Joe Williams around when I was living in Chicago and working at the Jazz Record Mart.

Q: Why did you choose the pedal steel guitar?

A: The Pedal Steel was kind of a happy accident.  I didn't listen to any country music when I was growing up, but when Asleep at the Wheel first formed, I had a 6 string lap steel that Kurt Linhoff, a college buddy from Texas had lent me.  I was using it to play blues on, but as Asleep at the Wheel mutated into a country band, I started learning country licks.   Ray Benson who I co-founded the band with, suggested I become a PEDAL steel guitarist, so we drove from West Virginia, where we were based, to New York City, where Manny's Music had 40% off everything.  I bought a single neck pedal steel from them and worked out how to play it, mostly in isolation, with a few instructional records and by copying recordings.

Q: How long where you with Asleep At The Wheel?

A: I was with the band from when we started, in 1969 or 70, until I left at the end of 1978  

Q: Why did you choose to settle in Australia?

A: My wife, Christine, who I met in Nashville, is from Australia.  Born in a little mining town called Broad Arrow, she grew up in Perth from the age of 6.  When we had our daughter Leela, I took some time off the road with the Wheel.  That broke my momentum and I found going back on the bus really hard after that.   The band was in a slump and I wanted to do something new.   We took Leela to meet  her Grandmother Eileen in Perth and I had a wonderful type enjoying the sun and surf.  I also enjoyed the more laid back attitude and the humour of the people and we thought it would be a better place to raise kids, so we settled here.  At the time,  I wasn't thinking of it as a career move - not a very smart one for a western swing steel guitarist, but things have worked out fine.  

Q: You seem prepared to take chances in your playing which often leads to some very intersting improvisations. How do you describe your approach improvisation?

A: I like to improvise with a clean slate every time.  Sometimes I paint myself into a corner, but I love the thrill of not knowing where I'm going.  I just try to clear my mind before I start, and do something new - otherwise it's not improvisation, is it? Sometimes I rely on devices, like licks, phrases, scales or tricks, but I aim to  make melodic and rhythmic contours that work in that moment. Sometimes it's great to play within a style, other times it's better to mix  up all the different musical approaches that I love.  In the past few years, I've taken the latter approach, as it's more conducive to building a personal style.

Q: How did you become involved with The Planet?

A: I was an admirer of the show, having enjoyed it frequently coming home from gigs.  One day, the show's presenter, Robyn Johnston, who lived near me in Fremantle, told me they were looking for a part time programmer.   I knew that I would love to do that - listening to CDs and reading liner notes all day isn't really like work to me, so I applied for the job.  (Only the second job I'd ever applied for)  I got the position as programmer, then Robyn went on holidays and was looking for a substitute presenter.  I had never broadcast on my own before, but she told me that it wasn't as hard as playing pedal steel guitar, and besides, I was a natural.  When Robyn returned from holidays, she went on to found the Sunday morning show, Melisma, so I stayed in the Planet chair.

Q: Have you always had an interest in diverse musical styles?

A: Yes, my record collection betrays flirtations with African, Latin, Celtic and Indian music, but since joining the Planet, my interest has expanded greatly.

Q: How would you describe the shows format?

A: Each show centres on a featured disc.  It explores this CD and things linked to it, then it goes into other, often quite different musical areas.  It has a predilection for acoustic music and for things that are genuinely new sounding and for music with heart and fire.   Basically, this could apply to lots of different styles, but we try to address those ones that aren't getting a thrashing on other stations.  That's why we don't play much pop or classical.   Each show should have a logic and form of it's own that kind of unfolds as you program it - a little journey.   It's about contrasts  and balance - kind of like a good gig or solo.  The other important thing to know about the Planet is that almost all the music is new and very little of it gets played twice.   We don't operate from a playlist.

Q: Do you think that The Planet is addressing an area in music that is largely ingnored by commercial and even community radio?  

A: Yes - it's certainly ignored by commercial radio. There are many fine shows on community radio, but I don't know of one that daily goes the depth and breadth that we do.  More often , they are specialist shows, which stay in one genre.   The Planet is addressing an area that is probably not addressed so thoroughly by any other national broadcaster in the world.  (I'm willing to be proved wrong on this, but I haven't heard otherwise)

Q: Would you say that your time at The Planet has given you more insight into, and more knowledge about music from other cultures than if you had otherwise never become a presenter on this show?.

A: Definitely.  You spend a lot of time listening to music and after a while you really want to be surprised.  You try to put your prejudices aside and appreciate things for their musical value.  It has slanted me to liking things that are new over things that are great recreations of some musical era of the past.  From going to all these different places in the world (musically) over and over, you really start to get a feel for the music and the culture that they come from.  

Q: What do you think about the current trends in music, the strong emphasis on production and the future of the industry in general?

A: Before I started at the Planet, I thought that music was going downhill.  What was probably the case was that I just wasn't listening to music like I used to.  Since working here, I've discovered an overflowing richness of music. There are musicians all over the world, with skills to amaze and move us.   They may not all be commercially successful in a big way, but they seem to get by.  

I can't really comment on commercial trends, because that isn't what I concentrate on, but I do wish that commercial radio stations played more contemporary material.  As to production,  it's only a means to an end.   Some of the best records are just well recorded live sessions, but an artfully produced session can add back the excitement that disappears when a live performance becomes a record.  Once the production dominates, I tend to lose interest. 

The industry in general is going through another crucial period, and it will be interesting to see where it goes from here.   The lowered cost of recording and pressing cds and direct access via the internet has given independent musicians a much bigger voice in the world.   Now piracy through Napster and other file sharing groups is giving the big end of town its biggest scare in years, but I'm sure the industry will rise to the challenge.    After all, back in the 20s, radio and its 'free music' was going to spell the end of the record industry.   Radio hired live musicians for its programming until it figured out you could play 78s on the radio too!   As long as people keep meeting to play and enjoy music, I'll be happy.

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Peter Northcote - June edition E-News15/6/2001

WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO IN 5 YEARS?

5 YEARS WHEN YOU GOT A WIFE & KIDS. WHAT ARE YA GONNA DO THEN... PLAY YA GUITAR?

Someone actually asked me this once. At a gig. At the bar.

A very valid question at the time. I was in my early 20's and working as a salesman and guitar teacher at a suburban music shop. Occasional gigs with a cover band or at the wedding reception would be a bonus ... if we got paid at all. The break up of a relationship with the love of my life, Linda, had shattered me but also made me determined. She honestly believed I would end up being a looser. Another broke muso struggling to find the next gig.

Hey, I was that already! I lived with my brother and his girlfriend and he would constantly help me out with rent, cigarettes and food. My best friend and now a wonderful teacher, Frank Burgo, would pick me up in his car on gig nights, help me load in HIS amp and HIS guitar and hang around until the gig was over, or go away and come back when the gig was finished to pick me up. I owe a lot to Frank. 

But I wasn't going to let some gorgeous woman I hadn't even slept with yet (yep … she wanted to remain a virgin till she got married ... god I must have been in love) win this little tiff. A lover’s quarrel. Then on my 21st birthday she left a note on my pillow saying she couldn't love me anymore. She married an electrician the following year.

So if you ask me if losing Linda was a motivating force in my endeavor to succeed in the business of music, I would have to answer YES. (It also helped my sex life considerably.) 

But no matter what emotional motivation you may receive, the universe will never miss an opportunity to show you how to grow. How was I going to be in 5 years and would I ever find love? What part would music play in my life? I didn’t really have to think about it much. I just went for it. I loved playing guitar. I still do. It exhilarates me. But I wanted to be respected, if not by my peers, at least by my girlfriend!

So how do you do it? Succeed in the music industry?

It’s different for everybody. But for me I figured I could make my one and only asset (guitar) my business and my life’s path. Hell, I loved it. It was the only thing I could do well. (Although I’m sure a few producers around town would debate that.)

Simple observations of successful people, companies, organizations will show you what the basics of running a business are.

Be on time. Dress appropriately. Learn all the songs on the tape. Note for note. And even if you cant play great yet, make sure you sound good. Have good gear. Be a nice, friendly person to be around. Have a positive enthusiastic attitude. Just be professional.

It’s interesting in hindsight to see that is still all I strive for do today.

I played in lots of cover bands in my 20's. I still do them today. Cover bands are the best training for a session musician. You get to play all styles especially modern top 40 material. Just what’s needed for commercials and albums today. So, I started working in a band led by Clive Harrison. Bass player wiz who played on just about every album and jingle in the 80's. Artists from Melanie (USA) to Richard Clapton to The Little River Band. Clive introduced me to session work. He recommended me for the gigs ken Francis (fabulous guitarist doing most of the work around town at the time) couldn’t do. It just grew from there. Mostly word of mouth.

Some people say that to be successful you must either perform lewd sexual favors on your knees, be in the right place at the right time or rip people off till you have enough to squash everyone in your path. I refuse to believe that these paths are going to lead to lasting success, in any form. Be it financially, emotionally, physically, or spiritually.

I chose and continue to choose to give a quality service, and yes it is a service. Somewhat similar to an electrician. (sic). If I roll up to a gig or a session late, in my shorts and thongs (so I can get to the beach as soon as I’m finished), with one guitar (week old strings) and an amp that rattles (and only has a 1x12 speaker), then how would I sustain any longetivity in the industry, let alone success in any area of my life. I’d hate my life. Now I’m not saying that I’ve never been late, swimming is bad for you, Strats are not versatile and a 12-inch speaker cannot sound fat. But if I want to be respected and be able to make a good living out of music (so it can pay for my guitar and gadgets habit) then I had better get my shit together.

Gees I love what I do. I don’t ever feel like I’ve been hardly done by. Sure, I sometimes feel like a victim (and an idiot). I mean last month I left my Maton Messiah in the back of a taxi and haven’t seen it since. But I know that I’ll just carry on, buy another guitar and continue to love my life and what I'm doing. The poor barstard that kept the guitar has to live with the fact that he didn’t do the right thing and give it back. He saw it as a good score. And he may occasionally have “good scores”. But he’ll always be looking for the next few hundred bucks. Most people don’t get it. It’s not about getting. It’s not even only about giving. They are the same thing. Giving is receiving and visa versa. If I give you a present we both feel good about it. I appreciate and acknowledge how fortunate I have been. But I also acknowledge that unless I continue to give a quality service, I will just fall into the role of a victim whose only saving grace will come when everyone wakes up to themselves and realizes I deserve better.

I don’t ever want to wait for the phone to ring. I don’t want to ever have to do a job because I need the money. I love what I do, I always have. That’s why all the guys I worked for in my early years at the reception centers kept calling me back. That’s why the guys I have worked with for 20 years still call me to work for them, in whatever capacity that may be. Studio, live or as a consultant.

I would go to the Italian weddings early enough to fit in 30 minutes of practice. People recognize and applaud good service, and are sick and tired of it being lousy. Have you called any banks or telephone company’s recently? This is, in part, the reason why the live scene is dying.

You see money has nothing to do with it. It has never been about money for me. I have done and continue to do gigs for nothing just for the opportunity to play. I’m willing to loose 8 hours of sleep just to get a few good moments of productive, creative music in. I’m willing to cart a quad box, an amp, a rack, a pedalboard and 4 to 10 guitars to every gig. (I see it as exercise) I’m willing to dress in whatever is appropriate for the job and approach the gig with the professionalism and respect that I would expect if I were the employer. Strangely enough I make a fantastic living doing what I do. Not because I am a better guitarist than the rest and not because I suck up to the right people, but simply because I love what I’m doing.

 The industry in Australia is small, incestuous and has a good memory. One has to remain diligent, humble and honest to be able to make a good living. We have to be very careful of what we say, do and think. What needs to follow is a re-evaluation of our approach to our work/career. We need to establish a more abundant attitude towards ourselves and others. By that I mean…there IS plenty of work out there, (and don't be fooled by the general consensus) and plenty to share around - to the right people. But we have to also change our views on the way we perform our duties, the way we present ourselves as, not only musicians, but as professionals.

 The one saying that sticks in my head whenever I’m working or even if I see someone unhappy in their job is …  

“Love what you’re doing until what you love to do comes to you”.

What does that mean?

Well if you are in a job you hate, how would you ever expect to succeed? On the other hand if you were to change your attitude (i.e. leave the small amp at home and take the big rig to every gig, make sure you are on time, warmed up to play well, have the songs learnt and prepared for any changes, not complaining about the quality of the gig, cash on the night, lack of free drinks, and become totally accommodating to the people around you,) you might just find you gain a reputation as a consummate professional and may even get more gigs and recommendations for better ones. In fact I guarantee it.

You are never a victim of your circumstances; you are only ever a victim of your attitude towards your circumstances. Hell, you might as well love what you’re doing now. It’s much less painful.  You never know what opportunities may come your way. So be prepared. So prepared that you’ll know what to do when  “what you love to do comes to you.”

And if anyone asks you at a bar one night ... “WHAT ARE YA GONNA DO IN 5 YEARS?” …

Just tell ‘em … “ I’ll be playing ma guitar”

Peter Northcote

northcop@ozemail.com.au   13.6.01

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Jack Pledge. May Edition E-News  15/6/2001

Music Industry Skills.

Education, school, study… For most of us this these words have very negative connotations: boring lectures; stern teachers; irrelevant facts. I mean, who cares when the battle of Hastings was, or what the molecular weight of Hydrogen is, or how to conjugate Latin verbs? Isn’t that why we got into the music business? Bob Marley, when asked about his work, is reputed to have once said, "Work, man? I don’t work! I play…" But whether or not this is true, the fact remains that, like any successful business person, Bob Marley worked at the business of his profession; otherwise he would not have been successful! This is a given. Talent is the entrance fee to the music biz, and judging from some of the successful acts out there making a good living,you don’t need much to get in...

So what’s the difference between those few who become successful and the vast number of very talented people destined to languish in the club pokey rooms, hotel lounges and piano bars that make up God’s waiting rooms? Business sense. Management. Knowledge. In short, education. The fact is that this country, our glorious Oz, has a tremendous wealth of talent. It isn’t necessary to list the success stories, we all know who they are. And for the rest, one only has to go out for a weekend pub crawl to discover a half a dozen really good, creative and talented acts working for peanuts and enduring the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune not to mention the whirr, click, and insipid music of the venue’s poker machines. (Apologies to the Bard.)

It has been said more than once in recent times that what the music business in this country lacks is a pool of competent management to exploit and develop that talent, package it, and market it to the world. To fill this need any number of programs have been developed to teach the skills necessary to successfully manage musical talent in Australia. Unfortunately, many of these programs are expensive: seminars costing upwards of several hundreds of dollars a day, or private learning institutions with enrolment fees of $1500 or more per semester. So how does a poor boy (or girl) access this knowledge? Well, they can learn by the school of hard knocks, the same way most of Australia’s (and the world’s) music managers have learned their craft; by trial and error. But even this free (albeit often painful) method can have some major drawbacks. For instance, imagine sitting in a recording studio without knowing the proper vocabulary and trying to tell players and engineers what you want! Damn near impossible…

Or, one can enrol in the Music Industry Skills course offered by the NSW Institute TAFE. In their occasionally questionable knowledge and wisdom, the NSW government is now funding a scheme to teach these business fundamentals to budding young musicians and managers. There are several Sydney TAFEs offering these courses but the one I wish to talk about is the Blacktown TAFE in Western Sydney.

The Music Industries Skills Courses offered at WSIT Blacktown are part of the Business School and although there are a number of courses offered covering practical and performance aspects of the Music Industry, the main emphasis is on the business of music: Marketing and Promotion, Copyright and Performance Rights, Business structures, Business Plans and the management of creative projects all taught by Industry professionals with the aim of showing artists and bands just starting out in the Music Business how to make or save money in the practice of their careers.

Recently the College held their annual Industry Day, a day of seminars and presentations featuring professionals from outside the faculty invited in to talk about their areas of expertise. This year among the guest speakers were Michael Smith, Associate Editor of Sydney’s leading street press Music Paper, The Drum Media; Owen Oford and Katherine Dale (recent Blacktown TAFE graduate) of the Trading Post [booking] Agency; Dave Dwyer, an industry all-rounder – guitarist, engineer, producer, studio operator and independent record company owner; Michael Napthall from the Grant Thomas Agency; and a representative from APRA as well as performers and recording artists The Robertson Brothers, and Dave McCormack (of Custard and The Titanics).

Michael Smith spoke as a musician who by the twists and turns of a music industry career found himself first a journalist and then an editor for The Drum Media. He spoke across a wide variety of subjects related more or less closely to his work at the paper. Among the more interesting things he said were that the punter has become the event – witness the mosh pit where the band and the music have become secondary to the spectacle of fans throwing themselves into the throbbing mass below. He gave an interesting and very informative talk on how to approach trade papers for promotional opportunities, how to compose a press release, and how to organise material for submission to the publishers.

Owen Oford and Katherine Dale from the Trading Post Agency spoke for a long time on the passion they have for the work that they do and the music and artists they book, including an extended question and answer time for students interested in the ins and outs of among the most maligned of all professions in the industry, that of booking agent.

Dave Dwyer, in my opinion, was the surprise find of the afternoon. Formally with 1927 and Ian Moss, to name a few, Dave spoke briefly about his career, then at length on the subject of diversification in the Music Industry; how his work as a tape boy at 301 Studios led to his career as a session guitar player and singer, design consultant to Roland, and eventually to his current role as Creative Director, in house Producer and Engineer for his state of the art digital recording studio located in Glenbrook, NSW. I have noted two of his quotable quotes: Luck is when preparation and opportunity meet (Henry David Thoreau), and a paraphrase of an old marketing quip: If the people who built the railroads had realised they were in the transportation business instead of the railroad buisness, they would own the airlines today, the point being that the most sucessful people in the Music Business are those who realise that they are not in the Music Business at all, but rather the Entertainment Industry just like movie makers and professional athletes.

Information about the courses offered by the Blacktown College of TAFE can be obtained by contacting the College directly.
All enquiries - Pat Brown 02 9208 1836. 

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Jack Pledge. May Edition E-News  12/5/2001

Diploma Level course in International Music Management.

Once upon a time, or so goes the faire tale, all you had to do was to practice hard, play good and make people happy to succeed in the Music Biz. If you did those things, eventually some enterprising manager or an estute A&R guy would discover you, take you off to the recording studio with your great new songs, and PRESTO!, you're a star! Well, perhaps that was once true. There is the legend of Donovan discovered busking on the street, packed off to the studio and having his big hit with Catch The Wind on the charts within a few weeks. And there are still occasional stories of over night sensations; people with simply so much talent that they could not be ignored. But most people succeeding in the Music Business do so because they treat it as a business with marketing plans and clever promotional ideas and budgets and cultivated networks of contacts within the industry. There is no doubt that Australia has a wealth of (and I hate to use this term) World Class talent, but by the same token we are sadly lacking enough people with the management and marketing skills to successfully exploit that talent. To that end the New South Wales TAFE system (in concert with Ausmusic) has incorporated into the School of Business a curriculum of Music Industry Skills covering a wide variety of subjects including Management, Marketing and Promotion, Finance and Copyright, as well as touching on such practical skills as the operation of small PA and lighting rigs, commercial songwriting and entry level group performance, all taught by seasoned professionals. There are several levels of courses available from Certificate I up to a Diploma Level course in International Music Management. Unfortunately, unlike Auto Mechanics or Hairdressing, graduates cannot be assured that their TAFE Certificates will get them a job in the industry, but students willing to put in the effort will be rewarded with a basic knowledge of how the industry works, where the money is, and how to get their share. And, perhaps even more importantly, they will learn how to learn these skills, all at a very affordable price. For more information on courses and starting dates, contact the Western Sydney Institute of TAFE at Blacktown, or check the Drum Media for the WSIT ads.

Jack Pledge

 

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Myths About The Music Industry.

“Disclaimer”

The following points lack actual name identification very deliberately
and are expressions of opinion only.

1. The music industry is an industry

The music industry is not an industry. (An industry has rules, regulations, protection, laws, wage awards, workers’ rights, superannuation, etcetera.). In fact it functions as a “Dad’s army”, pretending to be professional in its operation and dealings. A tiny percentage of musicians and a slightly larger percentage of agents and management personnel.make anything like a decent living from the music industry, and so, not necessarily according to experience or skills.

2. For a recording artist, signing with a ‘major’ is ‘the road to success’

For a recording artist, signing with a ‘major’ is not ‘the road to success’. Most artists’ albums don’t recoup their recording costs; only a small percentage of recorded artists are released by ‘majors’; who knows what percentage of recording artists recoup their recording costs or make any money at all.

It’s not uncommon for a ‘major’ to sign an act that they consider has market potential, sink $100,000 to $300,000 into a debut album and either shelve the album (not release it) or release it without sufficient budget left to p.r. the product so that anyone gets to hear about it, AND hold the act to the contract, disabling the act from doing anything ‘til the contract is up. Crazy? Yep. “Tax loss” too - any ‘major’ record company needs legitimate tax losses in a financial year. “Legitimate” to their tax accountants and the ATO.

3. If you pay a lot of money to an audio engineering school and you study hard, you’ll get a job in the ‘industry’.

No, you may not. There aren’t many recording studios left, for one, because most new studios are owner operated Pro-Tools or Paris set-ups in someone’s laundry or wherever. Secondly, there isn’t anything like the amount of work around equivalent to the number of ‘student engineers with a certificate’ spilling out into the market hungry for work. As a hobby, fine. There are plenty of worse things to do in the world. By the way, great recording engineers become so due to an intense love for music, lots of experience, hard work, and learning from others.

4. If you attend major music industry events, listen to international speakers and swap business cards with the movers & shakers that matter, you’ll “get on” in the business.

It doesn’t work like that. Save your money. For every example mentioned by a ‘keynote speaker’, there are many more exceptions. Tori Amos finished her first album after being gazumped by her ‘major’ label half-way thru; the album went on to be a big success and launched her career. Aimee Mann got screwed by her major label with her album so she bought it back from ‘em, released it herself and has had a medium hit (so far). There are tons more stories that the music industry people won’t talk about. “Record companies” don’t know “what sells”. They aggressively market anything they have already committed big money to, forcing a ‘hit’. Sometimes that ‘hit’ act/product is good, often it’s garbage. Lots of things “get away” in the market outside record companies’ clutches.

5. There’s plenty of work for everyone.

No there isn’t. There is a glut of talented artists in Australia. Then there’s the untalented ones as well. Increasing numbers of people can’t hear the difference, or don’t care. So talented, experienced artists are going head-to-head against part-timers, semi-pro’s, complete charlatans, you name ‘em, for the same job. [It wasn’t like this some years ago if you were good, you’d definitely work, probably as much as you’d like]. People don’t particularly want quality, they just want the job done somehow. So the guy with a resume from here to Cairo and back is competing with Johnnie Welshpool from St. Clair who left school  2 years ago. Johnnie’s got a bigger MiniDisc repertoire ready to mime to, and his day job is right near the gig, he might even have a better haircut,  so….Johnnie gets the gig. Oh, plus he’s happy to work for $100 for 5 hours. Level playing field? Yeah, sure is.

Regards, Sam McNally.

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 Jack Pledge  - The State of the Art
So, where did we leave off? Oh yeah. Play for fun… A most unusual thing happened last week. A friend of mine, a guitar player who had been away on a cruise, returned and his wife threw him a surprise party to which my wife and I were invited. No, it’s not that unusual that we get invited
to parties (although recently…). It was that later on in the evening, the players got out their instruments and played – for fun.

It was wonderful, and a bit sad at the same time. I couldn’t help remembering sneaking out of my room as a kid and spying on adult parties my parents would occasionally hold. Always, there was someone playing the piano and everyone sang along. Now this was way back in the primeval days of the transistor when every house had a piano (or some musical instrument) and someone in every house played them; when everyone sang – in church, in school, in scouts, at bonfires and in coffee houses and youth clubs, and at home. This was before technology started bringing music into every nook and cranny of our lives; before we learned to take it for granted. Familiarity breeds contempt, and as music so permeates our society today that we must learn to tune it out at times to keep sane, is it any wonder that the joy and respect that used to accompany the playing of music has pretty much disappeared?

The marriage of technology and the Music Business has also been wonderful, and a bit sad. It has given the general public so much access to music that a giant world wide demand has been created so that we players can work. On the other hand, that very access has allowed our industry to create some pretty unhealthy trends, where, for instance, the music is more important than the song, or the player; or that it is better to play the right songs wrong than the wrong songs right; where the punter has become the event; where those players who don’t fit the marketing image haven’t got a snowball’s chance in Hell… And this is from the demand side.

From the supply side the story is much the same. The technology has made things so nifty that a good player can come into a job with an orchestra under his arm. An estute and creative songwriter or arranger can make finished recordings in bedrooms for the cost of a few days in a big studio with players and engineers and hangers on, and make them just as well. Unfortunately the bad player (or non-player as the case may be) also has that technology, plus the technology to play the orchestra without any talent or ability. Once, the dinosaur ancestors of these machines were looked down upon by "real musicians" because all you had to do was play the bass notes with one hand and the melody with the other. The instrument supplied suitable chords and a drum beat. And it was justified, this sniffing at by players who did all that without mechanical help, but at least these poor guys had to know enough to play the right bass notes and melody notes in time to the electronic drummer. Today they don’t have to do that. With the Internet and commercially available backing tracks in all sorts of formats for all sorts of platforms available for very reasonable sums, anyone can purchase the gear and the programmed talent to learn forty or fifty of the right songs and make a living without but the least of talent and looks. (Oh? What’s that chord? A demolished? I’ll just play this…)

It is at this point that the above mentioned Familiarity/Contempt factor takes over and the player is swept along on the tide of hooks and riffs. The public, having become so inured to the continual onslaught of music from elevators to shopping malls to car stereos (even the ones in someone else’s car perhaps a block or so away) and home entertainment centres… At this point I should amend my reference to the public to read, the general public as I know that there are many non-playing aficionados as well as the wealth of wonderful amateur players who should not be tarred with the same brush. Having said that let me return to my thesis: Achey Breaky Heart; Who Let The Dogs Out; Yummy Yummy Yummy I got Love In My Tummy; etc. The General Public can only respond to the hooks they have learned from the Industry. They are so surrounded by the most wonderful to the most dreadful music imaginable, constantly, they can only respond to those hooks that they [we] have been programmed to hear.

The really unfortunate thing about this whole nebulous state of affairs, in my humble view, can perhaps be illustrated by this very badly paraphrased conversation between two 19th century English gentlemen on the subject of Music. One asks What use is it? The other responds that Music has the power to bring tears of joy and sadness, an aching in the breast for the very beauty; that it can inspire laughter and anger and pride and courage and love; that it is something we can lose ourselves in for a time. The first harrumphs: Something with that kind of effect, I would avoid at all costs, Sir!

Have a good gig, and play an original song, just for fun…

Jack.

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