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