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Computers: Savior or Saboteur?

By B. K. Hart - President DSR Records, V.P. Forest Pro Music

 

Savior or saboteur?

Tool or weapon?

Help or hindrance?

Tough one, isn't  it?

 

In today's technological arena, this debate goes on and on with

mind numbing monotony, and nothing even remotely resembling a solution

has come of it. Let's analyze for a bit.  On the one hand, they make

quick work of math problems, take the drudgery out of  document creation,

 and make child's play out of information and data storage.  They file 

records alphabetically, transfer documents to other locations, they even

 make and answer telephone calls. 

 

But wait a minute. I seem to recall that at one time, these were jobs

that were held by real people.  So, if the computers are doing the work,

 where are the people?  More importantly, where are their jobs?  Over

the course of the last 20 years or so, computer hardware and software,

from the most simple to the most complex setups, have  systematically

displaced hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of good workers for

nothing more than mere economics.  Used to be, if you had problems with

financial computations, you went to an accountant.  There were

administrative pools to get documents created, filed, or stored.  And

what about those youngsters who worked as couriers after school?  Yes,

the steady progression of computer technology has bitten large holes in

the working fabric of the world. 

 

But by and large, no one has felt the sting of it more than the

entertainment industry.  What were once dazzling technological

innovations in filmmaking and music recording has been reduced to high-end

 consumer grade software with a low learning curve that can easily be

run on any home PC.  Let's look at some prime examples.  We'll begin by

examining breakthroughs in the video market.  Since the invention of the

 video camera, considered the life blood of the television and moving

picture industry, the ability to capture moving images for broadcast and/or

 display has mesmerized the public for years.  Beginning with huge rolls

 of celluloid film, performances are captured and stored for posterity,

able to be enjoyed by generation after generation of viewers.  As

technology progressed, along came the fantastic magnetic mediums, reel-to-reel

 tape, cassette tape, and subsequently, the video tape recorder. 

Imagine.  Being able to record performances on a tape barely an inch

wide and almost paper thin!  Just stifles the mental process, doesn't it?

  At one time, any household that had such a device was thought to be

quite well-to-do.  Regular folks just couldn't afford such toys. 

 

But suddenly, out of nowhere came the personal computer.  Now, with the

help of some sophisticated consumer grade video software, even a child

can develop broadcast quality video projects with just a few clicks of a

 mouse.  What used to be a process which required the use and mastery of

 tons of multimillion dollar moviemaking tools, methods, and staff, has

been reduced to a relatively uncomplicated software program available to

 anyone on CD-ROM for about 100 bucks.  "Blue-screening", or "green

screening", a process used primarily in news broadcasts to make anchor

people appear to be visible against changing background scenery using an

 expensive machine called a "chroma keyer", can now be done on a home

computer using programs such as MediaStudio Pro by Ulead, or Visual

Communicator, by Serious Magic.  While many other programs had this

feature, these two examples were used because in my experience, they are

 the easiest to learn.  Other techniques like transitions and titling

are a snap with software.  So, after you've created a video masterpiece,

 you'll need a killer soundtrack.

 

Oh, my God! Now we are into some major muck. So many different titles

are available to the non-musician these days, it almost makes one wonder

 if its worth it anymore to be a musician. I mean, look around you. If

you have a halfway quick machine, and some time to kill, you can put

together a fairly good mix on your own, using some standard low end

software and hardware combinations.

 

For example, I took a Radio Shack Concertmate 1100 MIDI keyboard ($300),

 a 400 mhz computer with a standard Wavetable sound card (built by me

from scrap parts), some Turtle Beach TBS2000 sequencing software (downloaded

 from the Internet), a MIDI interface cable ($20), and a Yamaha RX15

rhythm programmer (about $150), and created a bunch of sequenced 5- or 6-track

 MIDI files which, when played back through the keyboard, made for some

dynamite rhythm tracks which I converted into stereo WAV files using

Crystal Audio Engine (free). Those files were burned onto a CD-ROM, and

when I built a faster computer, I installed Cool Edit Pro and included

some DX plug-ins like noise reduction, warm reverb, and other audio

goodies. That setup is now the core of my production studio, which now

has three networked computers, each running a different operating system,

 a 16-channel Nady main mixer, a 5-channel SSM-1000 video sound post-production

 mixer, and of course the ability to burn any media I need for my

clients (CD-ROM, music CD, VCD, DVD, whatever). That is miniscule

compared to the other available solutions on the market.

 

But the general idea is that more and more, the computer industry has

essentially cheapened the entertainment industry by making the wonders

of multimedia creation into nothing more than hobbyists toys. The bad

part (or one of the bad parts) is that if any kid was at some point

aspiring to be a TV or movie professional, or a music industry

professional, the thrill of pursuit has been destroyed. The magic of

making movies or making records has been uncovered, and in addition to

many who are already in the business losing their jobs to this thing,

there will be no need to replace them in the future.

 

Plus, an added tragedy is that it also dampens our demand for quality

workmanship where technology is concerned. Take Web design for example.

Not long ago, it was the privilege of the business community to utilize

the Internet for commerce as well as communication, and it was a premium,

 because no one really knew how to construct a good Web site. For that

reason, they sought the aid of a Web designer, one who was trained in

the application of design software to create a professionally planned,

well-implemented Web presence. And of course, the cost was a premium as

well, because the work done by these technicians was meticulous and time-consuming.

 To start with, there was only a small handful of applications available

 to designers, those who werent actually coding their pages by hand. Of

course, Microsoft began putting out FrontPad, the predecessor to

FrontPage, and things got very easy for designers at that point. One

would think that, okay, thats enough.

 

But you know how things work, right? KA-CHING!!! Dollar signs. Squads of

 nerds and geeks everywhere decided that they could become developers

and programmers, and before you knew it, the world was flooded with

relatively inferior HTML editing software. From a mediocre program like

Coffee Cup to a plethora of small programs written by pimply-faced

computer science students while sitting on the toilet smoking God knows

what. Some people even put together Web pages that make Web pages! And

little by little, the public is settling for the awful quality of the

pages created by this garbage, because they want to save money. Dont get

 me wrong, Im all about saving money just like the next guy, but not at

the expense of making myself look like a cheapskate business. Even worse,

 they figure they can save even more by trying it themselves, which is

stupid. That sounds like what happens when some joker decides he can

overhaul his car engine simply by buying a Chiltons manual and following

 the directions. Might work at first, but can you guarantee it for any

length of time? I think not.

 

And the entertainment industry is in even worse shape. When that

industry came up with compact disc recording, they thought, finally, a

format that cant be duplicated. Everybody and their momma had a cassette

 recorder, or a VCR, and they were using them, too. When a movie came on

 cable, VCRs were humming. When the local radio jocks were doing Album

Hour, you could hear the cassettes clicking for miles. Then something

happened. Less and less people found the need to buy albums and tapes.

Less and less people found the need to rent movies. So when they came

out with the CD, they thought they were safe. How dreadfully wrong they

were.

 

The computer industry, in their arrogance, decided it was time to move

forward with technology. Cant really blame them, though. After all, it

is the aim of business to do whatprogress, right? So they blessed the

world with the ability to create their own digital recordings, audio and

 video. The CD burner became a must-have for the home entertainment

enthusiast, who just became fed up with having to buy CDs he doesnt want.

 Then, the DVD burner was like crack for the couch potato who was too

lazy or too cheap to rent or buy movies. They found out it was much

easier to have Cousin Sam rent a movie so they could burn a copy.

 

But now consider this. Because you bought Junior a CD burner for

Christmas just to give him something to do for laughs, ten people in a

CD manufacturing plant cant feed their kids because they lost their job

due to lack of work. Because you bought a computer and home recording

software for your band, some youngster who spent time and money learning

 how to be a studio engineer is now going to have to find something else

 to do because the number of quality recording studios is dwindling

rapidly. And what makes matters worse, your band probably sucks anyway,

if you felt you had to resort to that.

 

And finally, because you cant wait to get the latest DVR, or whatever

the contraption is, and use that DVD ripping software to burn a copy of

the latest DVD release for your buddy, half of the people connected with

 the making of that release got laid off, and are now waiting tables in

obscurity, while the other half are taking a major pay cut just to keep

their families fed.

 

I know, I know. There are those of you out there who remember when I was

 attacking the system for wanting to punish us for stealing technology,

downloading music and software for free and all that. Youre wondering,

why is this guy changing his tune? No, America, I am not changing my

tune. In fact, I still grab a song or two from time to time, but most of

 what I get are songs that are out of print, or vintage R&B stuff that

you cant find anymore. But there is a major difference between grabbing

a sample here and there and straight up looting. Since we cant stop the

computer industry from raping the world, we can still be conscious of

our economy. During the unrest in L. A. following the Rodney King thing,

 there was major looting going on. When one or two people were asked why

 they were looting, they simply said, because it was there. This same

mentality governs the use (or misuse, as the case may be) of computers

and technology today.

 

Keep this thought: as long as the music plays, you can dance, dance,

dance, but when the music stops, look down and take notice of the hole

in the carpet.

 

 Till Next Time!

 

Peace

B.K.

(Our BK doesn't just walk the walk,  he talks the talk too..

Check out a couple of downloads from him. Oh Happy Day & Amazing Grace)

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