10:35 AM GMT 25/04/2013
As we're all aware, the very structure of the music industry has shifted seismically in the last few years as technology has changed the very way we obtain and enjoy our sounds. Famous studios have closed. Print media has had to reinvent itself, while record retail has been transformed. With these changes we've seen the disappearance of many cherished music biz sinecures, and the emergence of new, unforeseen opportunities. Here's a short guide to those dying trades and what has replaced them.
1) Tea Boy/Tape Op/Assistant Engineer
The importance of tea in capturing great music can't be underestimated. Though it's lovely to imagine the guitarist putting down the whisky bottle for just long enough to whip out a searing solo or the power of a couple of orchestras crammed into a space not quite big enough for one, the reality of the recording process is closer to filmmaking: ie. you do the same thing again and again slightly differently and figure out which combination works best later on. Much later on. Meanwhile you sit around waiting and trying, and usually failing, to keep a clear head. Unsurprisingly the kettle boils constantly, while the most storied studios possess an actual tea urn, possibly the very one used by Lennon or Marley. As a young tape op, Flood, né Mark Ellis, earned his unusual moniker when his advanced tea-making skills were noted and commented on by a producer. His colleague Drought, less efficient at pleasing the boss with hot beverage, did not go on to produce several mega hits for the likes of Depeche Mode and U2, inter alia. Thus musical history is made.
Now replaced by... a Thermos flask
New tech doesn't necessarily invalidate old tech. Just because musicians can now record absolutely anywhere using their mobile phone, use their Bluetooth earpiece as a monitor and wirelessly dump the lot to a distant server for later collection, doesn't mean that the tape op no longer has any role. There may no longer be any actual tape to operate, but there will always be tea, and ensuring its portability will be vital as long as throats are parched. But bring a spare flask filled with boiling water - the muse will not wait when a top-up is required.
2) Journalists who travel with the talent
No-one does the old, in-depth "touring with the band" magazine feature any more. For a start, word rates are now so low, no self-respecting hack can afford to spend several days "on the bus" enjoying the sounds and smells of a hard-working rock band on the road. Similarly, in these straitened times no record company is going to cough up for another hotel room for more than a night. And, of course, these days access is strictly limited, not least because, with so many media outlets to reach, the bus would be a positive babel of excitable hacks of all nations. No, it's much easier to send them in to soak up some star time in a hotel room they'll never otherwise get to see and give them sandwiches with the crusts cut off. Also magazines, be they virtual or physical, no longer employ 12-year-old schoolkids like Cameron Crowe's version of his young self in Almost Famous. Not even as interns.
Now replaced by... Twitter
It's more direct for the fans, and more easily ignored by the rest of the world at large. No longer does the edict "what happens on the bus, stays on the bus" apply. Obviously today the drummer in Almost Famous would have squawked "OMG We're gonna die. PS I love men" during the scary flight sequence and then backtracked to claim he meant "I love mom" when firmly on terra firma. It works too. Who suspected that drumboy out of Arctic Monkeys was the most interesting member?
3) The Car Stock Man
When music distribution was all about letting the right one in and making sure that potential hits became actual hits, the car stock man was crucial. He would service retailers with the next big thing, conveniently kept in the boot, or trunk, of his automobile, or motor. Some were good enough to do the job without actually lying and might go a lot further in the business. Others remained legendary on their small circuit. But all struggled with the essential contradiction of selling some music while loving a whole lot more. Critics whose very living depended on their judgement, these were men (and they were usually men) who could calmly compare sales patterns across the decades, yoking together the most unlikely of artistes into a pitch that even the hardest-hearted shopkeeper would believe.
Now replaced by... bloggers
In a world without record retailers where everyone's an expert with access to all the music ever made all the time, who can be relied upon to be faintly creepy and wildly convinced about the virtue of some new record or performer? Bloggers of course - people with enough time to keep some website updated with their latest fancies. As someone who still gets sent new music, I love it when the press release claims that the 'blogosphere' (or whatever it's called this week) is united in praise of some young hopefuls, as that positively guarantees it'll be reassuringly familiar in style, and thus the ideal accompaniment to a nice cup of coffee and a slice of toast.
4) Fan Club Organisers
Once upon a time, it seemed that if you hung around the management's office long enough, and were clearly unsuited to scoring copious narcotics for those in need, then you'd be appointed Organizer of the Official Fan Club. Hell, Danny Sugerman parlayed a few months separating the Doors mail into green-ink death threaters and potential one-night stands into an entire career. And whatever happened to Steven Patrick Morrissey, head of the official New York Dolls British fan club? "You really wanna do that shit? It's yours," was the battle cry of lazy managers everywhere. But fans now aren't really interested in the band, or some 7" by 5" publicity shots or big badges and Christmas fanclub-only singles...
Now replaced by... Chat Room Moderators
...No, they want to know/argue with other fans, people who share their taste in music and quite possibly any other kink that makes them what they are. In cyberspace, no one you talk to really knows who you are, but they do know what you're saying, and all those claims are just as open to legal curiosity as any other form of message. Hang round the manager's office angling for a task and you won't be filling envelopes, but getting an on-the-job lesson in basic libel law. You really wanna do that shit?
5) Sales Strike Force
A couple of decades ago, at the start of my own adventures in the music business, our struggling band got a call from a friend offering work. A major record label needed to mobilise enough buyers to hype their latest hopeless signing into the charts - could we fill our van with people and visit London's chart return shops to buy some copies with a bag of cash (supplied)? (I can't recall if we even bothered to do any buying - a court case based on how we took money given for fraudulent chart-rigging and spent it on some better records instead would have been amusing.) Anyway, sending kids out to ask for singles they obviously had no interest in was rife for decades. Other low-level tricks included slipping banknotes and drug baggies into review and radio copies. Not to mention the twelve-hour lunches, trips to the races/New York, and sundry other bribes. Shit, did I say "bribes"?
Now replaced by... interns with a company mobile
All this cost a great deal of time and money. But today getting your act noticed (and inexpensively) is easier than ever. Proving that the internet can be a force for good as well as evil, and that phone calls keep getting cheaper and cheaper, anyone can now promote their act by slinging the office handset to an intern or ordering students to do something useful with their computers and getting them to leave their digital mark in favour of the chosen talent. Obviously if everybody's at it, no-one can get ahead, but whoever said making it was easy? It's a dog eat dog jungle out there, always has been. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose...
By Steve Jelbert
Posted by Ross_Bennett at 9:00 AM GMT 05/04/2011