The low cost of recording equipment: good thing, or bad thing?

The other day, I had a random thought: will anyone ever be nostalgic for the ’00s? From my admittedly biased perspective (I didn’t come of age in this decade, so my perspective isn’t as rose-colored as it may be for others), the answer is an emphatic ‘no.’ The political climate was as toxic and divisive as the country has ever known. The music business fell to pieces. Baseball suffered, and is still suffering, its worst scandal. A football player was caught killing dogs. Tweens started dressing like strippers. Sexting. Paris Hilton. Television was as good as it’s ever been, but so what? It’s only television.

Then again, we’re sometimes nostalgic for days gone by not because of what happened in the world, but because of what happened to us. (Again, that whole coming-of-age thing.) Someone will lose their virginity to a Creed song, and have a soft spot for the band for the rest of their lives because of it. That’s how nostalgia works; it can’t be reasoned with, which means that someone will think of these as the best days of their lives. Yikes.

And yet, it would be wrong to say that the ’00s were without their charms. As I said, television was pretty awesome, and that “Umbrella” song will bury every man, woman and child currently living today. As the Bullz-Eye staff assemble their lists for favorite this and that of 2009 and the decade as a whole, I began with something a little more personal: the ten things that had the biggest impact on my life and those around me, both good and bad. Here is one of the bad things.

The low cost of recording equipment

Let me guess: you just said, “You’re arguing against the low cost of recording equipment?” Absolutely. Now that virtually anyone can make their own music, every spoiled, over-privileged teenager now feels that it is their God-given right to do so.

It’s not.

Say what you want about the major label system before downloads brought them to their knees, but there was some quality control taking place when they were the gatekeepers. That filter has since been removed, and now all it takes is a few million fake hits on a MySpace page, a greased palm on this or that music blog (writers are ridiculously easy to bribe; start with booze), and boom, suddenly Johnny Bedroom is a big deal. (In fact, our own Jeff Giles is convinced that the success of Conor Oberst is a practical joke hatched by the editors of Pitchfork gone horribly wrong.) Where bands used to have to gig for years – and thus improve in the process, which benefited all concerned – they can now make waves with little more than sleight of hand.

This isn’t good for anyone. The marketplace was already overcrowded; now it’s ten times worse, making it virtually impossible for a band to maintain a high commercial profile for more than an album or two. As bands have struggled to maintain chart success, listeners’ tastes have become more liquid (which is a nice way of saying ‘fickle’), compounding the problem even more and all but ensuring that only the most mainstream of pop acts ascend to the upper reaches of the Hot 100. New bands now have to literally give their songs away in order to be heard, with little thought given to how that only further devalues their product.

The idea behind cheaper recording equipment is that it will level the playing field. The reality behind it is that the upper class is unaffected – and in fact are getting much, much richer – while the lower class has suddenly tripled in size. (The middle class, ironically, remains the same because it consists mostly of heritage acts who spend more time on the road than in the studio.) And on the off chance that some unknown artist scores national attention thanks to their bedroom pop record, what is the first thing they do with their newfound name recognition? Sign to a major label, of course. Not exactly the act of rebellion that home recording was supposed to inspire.

The bottom line is that music is subject to the same principles of supply and demand as everything else. When supply goes up but demand stays the same, the value drops. (Technically, it’s the price that’s supposed to drop, but we all know that that’s not going to happen.) Releasing an album used to be a big deal; it meant that you had talent – or at the very least, a marketable quality – and someone in a position of power believed in you enough to pay for your studio time. Now, it merely means that you were able to save up a little bit of cash.

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