I've written many times about being around at the start of the home recording revolution in the early 1980s.
Even before I had started to spend money on purpose-created home recording gear I had spent time with stereo tape cassette recorders recording from one to the other. My Kay Stratocaster copy guitar which I had acquired by swapping it for my red Raleigh Grifter bike was plugged into the back of my sister's Sharp home stereo via a shitty curly jack-to-jack I bought from Tandy. We used to record our band in the garage using a Sanyo stereo tape recorder with built-in stereo microphones.
All of these methods were cool, but I remember the day I first saw a Tascam Portastudio, the 244. The 244 was the follow-on unit from the TEAC 144 portastudio. It allowed the user to record onto four tracks of a cassette, had basic EQ, pan, an effects send (but no built-in effects) and dbx Type II noise reduction. It cost me around £1000 in 1982, and when I got it home from the store, I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
Over time I augmented the 244 Portastudio with other items like a Great British Spring Reverb, a spring reverb in a drainpipe (really), Accessit compressor and other pieces of hardware and effects. By today's standards, none of the stuff was that cheap or good. Even if you went up a level to something like the Fostex B16 and Seck 1882 you were into several thousand pounds and then got 16 tracks of tape and a pretty flimsy mixer, again with no effects.
I had several computer-based systems; the first real breakthrough one was the Atari 1040ST running C-Lab Notator and using a Roland MT32 and Yamaha TX81Z as the primary sound sources.
As already said, by today's standards the sound and features were not that good, but that said I recall how with each new step along the technical road of development there was a real sense of wonder and delight at what was now possible at what we considered affordable prices. To put prices into context, before this if you wanted to record then you had to use at least a 16 track tape machine and a mixing desk, all found in purpose-built recording studios; the home recording revolution was just that!
Another thing we had to contend with was the issue of reliability; hardware broke, especially if it had been shipped across the world. Some things never quite worked as they should. I remember sitting for what felt like hours waiting for a Memorymoog to get into tune after turning it on, or the crackle of pots on mixers, often alleviated by blowing hard or spraying with cleaning fluid.
If you bought something that broke then you had to take it back to the store and then the store would send it back to the manufacturer for repair; even fast repairs took a few days, many took weeks. If you needed to keep working, then you made sure you were friends with the dealer who would lend you another one until yours was back from repair. Having a hissy fit and stomping on the floor wasn't going to help. A relationship based on common courtesy was your best friend.
What if you got it home and couldn't use the stuff? You relied on a few things; the user manual which any smart person would read from cover to cover and treat like the Bible. Then magazines like Keyboard or Home Studio Recording which later became Sound On Sound were your best friend. Of course, dealers were an essential part of the equation and often got purchasers out of holes by being founts of knowledge on hundreds of pieces of gear. This is where I first cut my teeth, I worked in a dealer in the early 80s, and if I didn't know every piece of gear like the back of my hands, then I didn't get sales. I still think there is a place for dealers today and in a world of heavy discounting knowledge and support are the two places dealers can still win if they apply themselves to delivering both to a very high standard. There were no support forums, blogs or even phone support lines. On the whole once you took the gear home then you were on your own.
With all that said I don't recall people being as pissed off and angry about stuff and manufacturers then as now seems to be the prevailing attitude in the industry. I'm not going to go for the usual cheap shot and suggest it's the Millennials, it isn't. This sense of entitlement seems to pervade all ages, genders, and classes. There's just a lot of unhappy and angry people who, with the gear we now have, should be happier than ever.
Gear is better than ever, but the expectation is higher than ever too. It seems the better the gear gets, the less satisfied and tolerant people are.
A new product is released, and before you have caught your breath, there are comments about what is wrong with it. There are whole YouTube channels now dedicated to shouting into a camera their gripes about one piece of gear after the other.
Social media erupts if a feature is missing that doesn't fit my particular niche way of working, and heaven forbid if a brand doesn't reply instantly to your support email. I recall a few weeks ago someone had posted on Facebook that they hadn't got a reply from a brand to which I replied 'have you finished pressing send?' The joke was lost on them.
Don't get me wrong. I want brands to deliver on their promises, some of who will remain nameless have a track record of promising the earth and then deliver late, less than they promised or both. They only have themselves to blame when people express dissatisfaction. But on the whole, the majority of brands do deliver on their promises.
I have equally high expectations about service and support, but I think we often have higher standards of others than we do of ourselves and so place unrealistic expectations on them. What is a reasonable time for a brand to reply to a support request? A day, two days, a week? Whatever it is I think as long as they communicate what that is and manage expectations then there is less chance of someone having a hissy fit on social media about how terrible the support experience is. Again some brands only have themselves to blame, thinking fast, and cheap is a good strategy. Doing things right and at a fair price is a better long-term strategy. Perhaps you are reading this and think; I can't afford to pay a lot for gear... may I remind you that at 18 years old and earning about £100 a week I purchased my Tascam 244.
And perhaps this is the problem we face, we want it all, and we want it now, and if we can't get what everyone else we see on Facebook has then we get frustrated and angry, and that spills over into this constant state of dissatisfaction. If you can't afford a DAW or a plugin, or a piece of hardware that doesn't make it a rip-off or expensive, don't confuse the two.
Perhaps it is the perfect storm of us being bombarded with everyone else on social media projecting their perfect studio life and the problem of not having the money to join the club. Although some of the most ungrateful people I know have everything and are still unhappy so perhaps my theory of it being the tension of not being able to afford stuff is a bad one?
Whatever the reason I'm not very happy with where we are now, more stuff that's better than ever and yet people are more pissed off than ever. I've alluded to the video before, but Louis CK said it better than me in his video 'Everything's amazing...'
I was having dinner with my 86 year old Dad a few weeks ago, and he said to me, "this is a horrible time to live, I'm glad I lived when I did." You know as he said it I had to agree, it does seem the case that although people are living longer and have more than any time in history, it seems it's not enough.
Is there a solution? Am I suggesting you should settle for substandard products, broken promises, and lousy service? Not at all. However, I do wonder if we all need to take a step back and consider putting ourselves in the shoes of those we are about to berate publicly on social media. Do I run a perfect business? Do I always get everything right? Are my services perfect? I have to say no on all counts. Only a few weeks ago one of my team emailed what equates to a 'go f*ck yourself' message to one of my clients. I had to deal with that. Sometimes I miss deadlines or get elements of a job wrong and have to put them right fast. In those moments sometimes I am met with grace, as I was in the case of go-f*ck-yourself-gate and at other times I'm on the receiving end of a tirade of abuse. All I can do on those occasions is do my best and hope it's enough. Thankfully it normally is.
Sometimes I've been the dickhead and lacked the grace I hope others will show to me and this is where I want to conclude. I think the only way to improve things is to temper our expectations and be more realistic, consider how to respond before doing so and also where we make that response. In other words the only person who can improve it in my world is me, and I think Michael Jackson said it better than I ever could.
I'm starting with the man in the mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
(If you want to make the world a better place)
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change
Does anyone want to join me in trying to make things better?