Back in the 70s we used to sit around, likely in some altered state, conjuring up the future. We’d predict things like music on tap, or an entire recording studio in a box, or a music world where musicians were in control free from corporate dominance.
Twenty years on I had given up on such daft notions and thought them immature. Clearly I had taken Alvin Toffler’s futurism too much to heart. Reluctantly I started to accept the status quo. The record industry was in rude enough health and saw no need for radical change. Our speculations had been youthful fancy no less. I probably took the disappointments a bit harder than the others having built a career around anticipating these radical ideas. It was simple disillusionment. I would not have been the first.
Oh but how things change. And didn’t my friends and I have our fingers on some kind of prophetic pulse back then? To say that control would fall away from the urban centres and that records would be made anywhere was not exactly a resonant view at the time. To predict the end-days of the super-stars, that there would be no more Beatles, Elvises or Michael Jacksons, would have met with derision. That tastes would become more mixed and eclectic, less tribal perhaps, and that parents might enjoy the same music as their children, something unusual when I was growing up, was a lateral thought. To have all the music in the world available to you deliverable down a line was close to science-fiction. And that these changes would revolutionise the culture industries as we knew them and a new age of less elitist, devolved creativity would be ushered in was akin to fantasy.
Yet as young men these were the kinds of notions we speculated. They were predictions far from obvious. It was pre Madonna and The Spice Girls; it was pre hip-hop and electronic dance music. With the 1990s delivering huge hits it seemed that the system was working fine as it was, entrenched enough to last a few more life-times. It was time I put aside silly ideas and joined the gravy train. The technological advancements that were supposed to fundamentally alter the landscape only ever seemed to tinker at the edges of the established conventions. The record business continued to flourish and to make a few lucky individuals wealthy beyond their dreams.
Then in 2001 Steve Jobs stood up with the iPod, an apparently innocuous music player. Someone gave me a copy of the new iTunes software and I wondered how that could possibly be of use to anyone. That sexless computer files might replace artful CDs? Never gonna happen! Clearly at that point my powers of prophecy were asleep because soon the entire record industry was fearing for its future such were the shock-waves produced by the emergent tech. A new paradigm for music-makers and creatives generally was on its way. Who would have thought it?
we had our fingers on a pulse