The “Big thinkers”

Being the professional nerd that I am, I was watching Tech TV the other day (after 12 hours in the studio) and saw a program they produced called “Big Thinkers”. The premise for those of you unaware of this program, is to interview inventors, writers, and people responsible for introducing or proposing technological advances. After watching the interview I was struck, not so much with the content of the program, but with the concept of big thinking.

Growing up with the dreams of becoming either a rocket scientist, or a rock-star, you probably would guess that I had some experience with big thoughts. But I guess that those would be better classified as Big dreams vs. Big thoughts. And that my friend, is the basis of my quandary. The business of music is filled with big dreams and hopes of success and admiration for practically everyone involved. But do we dream big, or are we only dreaming of attaining someone else’s big success.

This may seem a little confusing, ( I usually am confused) but the point I’m trying to make is that very few people are trying to do something completely unique, either in the creative world or in the business world of music. I understand why this happens but what I don’t understand is why it’s encouraged instead of merely tolerated. Labels want songs that fit with the current trends of radio, producers want to make records that compete with the current hottest hit, artists want to be the “next”——– (fill in the blank with any over- exposed superstar), even the media want acts that fit into categories so they can be easily covered and marketed to the demographics to which they appeal. We even read magazines to learn what equipment someone used to make a hit record and what type of recording techniques they used so we can make one just like it!

What I see very little of, is support for someone to break the molds, to step out of the shadows of what currently exists and create something new. I understand that this is the music business and not the business of making money on music. That may sound strange, but most of the final A&R decisions are made either by the promotion staff or a committee, and generally reflect the current trends in the market, not finding a market for a particular type of artist. Let me make this analogy, if I make a ball bearing that is used in every car ever made, I have a product that can make a lot of money. If I make a ball bearing of a new design, which never wears out, has no imperfections, but is incompatible with all current cars, I need to do much more work to convince the manufactures to re-tool to use my ball bearing. If you were a salesman, which ball bearing would you want to sell?

The thing that puzzles me is that these companies should realize that the biggest, most successful artists have always been the most unique and original, not the ones who follow but the ones who lead. I don’t mean to pick on record labels, I believe the responsibility lies with each of us to strive to think big! As part of the creative force in the music industry we need to push both ourselves and our artists to the limits of our abilities. To merely settle for the status quo is not enough. I realize that not every artist has the potential, nor the drive, to go beyond what has already been done, but I think more often than not, we don’t take the time or put in the effort to even find out!

Big thinking needs to apply to everyone, from the Engineer who strives to find more productive and efficient ways to do his work, to the studio owners and managers to create new environments, new business models, and better situations for clients to produce their best work. No matter what your position is in this industry, you can “think big” and make a difference.

I recently realized, that for many years, I believed “big things” were things that happened to you, things that were external like awards, hit’s, and big paychecks. But I was wrong, really “big things” are internal, they are the things that we create when we dig deep inside ourselves and go beyond where we’ve been before. “Big things” also happen when we help others achieve their highest potential.

I guess I’m ranting again, but I really like big thinkers. I want to use “light” microphones to record, I want to have recorders that continuously store audio without worrying about storage, I want voice controlled editing, I want thought controlled consoles, I even want singers who sing in tune, but I guess you can’t have everything!

Michael D Clute
Producer/ Engineer
Who has gotten too “big” and is on a diet!