I’m a cynical old fool when it comes to the record industry, that’s how I survived. I saw it first and foremost as a fan having fun, I thought it was hilarious that someone was going to pay me to indulge in my hobby. At the time I thought if it lasted six months it would be a great six months and I would have something to tell my grandchildren. It lasted over thirty years, it was lot of fun but it was also a lot of hard work. But then again what’s work when you’re having fun? Nowadays as I ‘hover’ around the music industry I am able to observe from a distance and let’s face it, I’m bound to make comparisons to how it was back then. I’m constantly asked, ‘Do you miss it?’ Do I miss what? It’s not the place I learned my trade, it’s an alien ant farm. Desolation row. I don’t sense a vibrance, an energy force waiting to burst through and turn it all around. It isn’t the place where I see mentors emerging and passing on their knowledge. My mentors taught me everything and if I play my part I’ll shout it from the rooftops, I will do all I can to help retain the legacy they left us. They are the true legends from the Engine Room.
This all started with the question, ‘What makes a great album.’ I can only offer my own conclusion because if I ever went in a recording studio I can guarantee one thing, that I wouldn’t come out with a great album. I can’t play or sing, maybe a great spoken word album but then again people might return it saying the needle’s stuck. Oh right, you don’t know what a needle is, oh dear.
It would be great to see an artists definition of this, ‘What does make a great album’? I’m thinking belief, talent, commitment with a dash of reality and an understanding that no matter how good you think it is you need to leave it at the mercy of others to make that final decision. If your manager, should you have one doesn’t like it and if they don’t say so what’s the point of having them as your manager? The record company then would be the first to stand up and offer their opinions and here’s where it’s changed, would of! There were times an A and R person could be driven to tears going down to a studio to hear the end result from a band they’d signed, and feeling visibly moved. And more than likely they’d matched the producer with that artist. Had it worked? He/she was the proudest person on earth, all the hard work to get to this stage and now the anticipation of finally hearing it. More often than not they’d be down the studio intermittently during recordings to see how things were developing and eagerly awaiting the final playback. And the artist couldn’t wait to show them what they’d come up with. THAT”S what made a great album, people sensing greatness, always wanting it but never knowing if or when it might come. But it was enough to keep them striving for it. Part of being great is knowing you can be great.
I’d love to have the opportunity to ask people like Roger Waters or Dave Gilmour from The Pink Floyd, ‘What did it feel like when you were recording Dark Side of the Moon?’ Did they know they were creating history or did that come later? Was there any time in the studio they thought, ‘Oh my God!’ Maybe one day I’ll get the chance to ask them, I’d love to know. Was there that moment in the studio when they were listening back to it when they thought, ‘Fuck!’
Likely they’d all be together at the studio listening back to it, band , record company, manager and maybe even their publisher. I know how I felt as a kid just waiting for a new album by some of my heroes. I’m thinking as an artist you cared, you took pride in your work, you didn’t want to let people down. After all it’s your audience that put you there and they have a right to judge you on merit, you set your own standards. Was it as good as your last album and if it wasn’t could it be that maybe it’s just a change of direction, would it grow on you? If you’d made a great record were you really great, could you sustain that greatness or had you had your moment? Whatever it was it still kept you hungry and wanting whether you recorded it or you bought it.
As we discussed before and we’ll ponder over again no doubt, where is the drive and the ambition? Do you make a record knowing that not many people will buy it, does it affect how you go about making it? If that’s the case then give it away, just make sure you give it away to enough people to find out what they think of you. That’s if you care, because if you don’t care then don’t expect anyone else to. So many basic human ingredients are infectious, they rub off on you. If you’re passionate enough about something and are sincere people buy in to it. It’s easy and you know why? It’s because you’re not trying to convince people, it’s there and it’s natural. And you mean it. You’re exposed for what you are, just someone being themselves, behaving naturally. People feel comfortable and relaxed about you and interested. Be real to see for yourself if you are real and let others decide for themselves if you are real. Real artists can believe they can make great records. Do we have enough?
One word can say so much and some words like ‘reputation’ take on a whole new meaning depending on the context. Just think of something as simple as ‘she’s got a reputation’ which implies either she’s a bit of a slapper or she’s to be heeded. Either way it’s not good but then when you hear someone say ‘he/she has survived on reputation’ it takes on a whole new meaning. It describes someone who is both worthy and deserving, someone who has has earned something on merit.
I was looking back over the years at the people I’d worked with and those who I’d enjoyed the best relationships with. Without question it was those I respected that I liked the most. They were the types who were comfortable with themselves and whose behavior both professionally and socially were admirable. Each time you met them they were the same and when you spoke to others you’d hear the same remarks, ‘Good guy, nice girl, I like them’ and where people were uncomplimentary it was probably because they were jealous. They wished they could be more like them and hated the people who gave them accolades and to retaliate they’d be insulting or sarcastic.
These are people who earned a reputation, it’s not something that comes easy and it isn’t something you can force on people. It’s there because of the constant way you conduct your life and your affairs. People can rely on you, they know what to expect and they’re understanding when things don’t go quite the way they should. They respect you because of a consistency in the way you are, they sort of feel safe with you and at ease. You show the basic human ingredients that so many lack nowadays. Reputable people are trustworthy, loyal and have standards they live up to, not because they want to show off but because they want to do something to the best of their ability. They want to do everything in their power to do whatever they can to make it a success.
Nothing is of any value unless you earned it. The music industry thrived for so many years because of the sum total of it’s parts, not just the artists but the whole infrastructure. It was a business where people collaborated with one another and where each contributed to the end result. They made it happen, they made it a success. They didn’t wallow in their own glory and when one project was over they moved to the next with the same belief and with the same determination. It was done in perfect harmony. Your work colleagues were your mentors,they mentored you and you, in turn mentored them. If you worked with someone who had a reputation of being successful it drove you to reach those heights, you wanted to be as good at what you did as they were at what they did. It was a natural human instinct, no self respecting person employed to do a task with others wanted to lag behind.
Reputation is born out of pride and integrity , groomed from respect and deserved through merit. If you do something long enough and you do it well then recognition is the ultimate reward. No one need utter words of congratulations if you are true to yourself and know you tried your hardest. When you know what you have achieved and when you can see how others have benefitted from the results it’s safe to reflect in the gratification. And to know your reputation is something that you have earned.