When I was a lad you could buy a 24 track 2" Studer tape machine, a 72 channel SSL console, all the outboard, mics, instruments and amps and a custom built studio for less than £500 and still have enough money for a bag of chips! Tell kids that today and they won't believe you.
Yes but when I was a lad a band would come in the studio without any rehearsal and in 15 minutes have an entire album tracked with perfect tuning and perfect timing and it would be number one for 3 decades. Talent isn't what it used to be.
Fans of Monty Python will see what I did there and yes I'm exaggerating for comedic effect, but to listen to some people talk you would think that the days of making great music are over, that we should all pack up and go home. As far as they are concerned the gear and the talent are not what they used to be.
But is that really true?
Was Gear Better Then?
Was gear better? Well let's consider it for a moment. Today for around £500 you could buy the gear to be able to record a decent track in your home. For £1000 even better and for £10,000 you could buy the equipment to produce an outstanding track. Rewind (see what I did there) to the 'good old days' (which of course vary depending on who you ask) so it could be anything from the 1950s to the 1990s and think about what you could buy for the same kind of money. For example an E Series SSL console had a starting ticket of around £250,000 in the 1980s - that was JUST the mixer. Then add in the rest of the gear and you can see you could buy a house for the same money today. Even the cost of 'home recording' has plummeted, my Tascam 244 Portastudio was £1299 in 1982 for 4 tracks of cassette based recording.
But returning to the question was gear better then? It depends who you ask, but of course there are plenty of examples of gear from those periods such as Neve Consoles or a C12 mic that are fantastic examples of audio equipment. But ask some engineers and producers who actually used them and are now completely in the box if they would go back, they will reply 'hell no!' Some do prefer the old gear but it doesn't make it better just different.
Talent Contests And All That Modern Crap!
Are talent contests to find the next big star a modern idea? Not if you want to do your research, during the production of classic film, Gone With The Wind the "search for Scarlett" led to 1,400 women being interviewed for the part. It failed, but the idea is far older than most of the people who complain about modern day talent contests. I don't happen to agree with them, but that doesn't make the concept modern. Like good ideas, bad ones are timeless too.
The same can be said for the concept of manufactured bands, that idea is also as old as the hills and really not modern at all, The Monkees being a prime example.
What about replacing vocals for those who can't sing? Playback Singers were a common part of the production process with voice talent like Mama Nixon called in to replace the vocals on many top Hollywood musicals such as The King and I, West Side Story, and My Fair Lady.
Are Things Worse Now?
I don't cite the examples above because I happen to agree with them, simply to debunk the idea that the gear or the talent was better in some long lost period of recording history. Is someone really going to suggest, with the likes of Adele, Sam Smith, Lady Gaga and endless other current artists, that musical talent is not alive and well? Is someone really going to look at the current roster of great engineers, producers and mixers like Mark Ronson, Andrew Scheps and Paul Epworth (to name just three) and seriously suggest we don't have some outstanding talent in the modern recording industry?
But you say, go on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter and there's a limitless supply of examples of people with no talent trying to make music. There's also a limitless supply of conspiracy theory videos on YouTube and cat pictures on Instagram. Turn on the news and you would think that there's a terrorist on every street. What all these examples tell us is that technology now pours an endless stream of data into our lives and we need to develop better filters to remove that noise. If you want to invest in the best filter to improve your production skills then invest in a filter for your mind!
A Brave New World
When it comes to making great music I don't think there has been a better time, in terms of technology and opportunity. Gear is better and cheaper than ever and as far as I'm concerned there's as many talented people who have new and exciting ways to nurture their talent.
I lived in some of the periods people suggest were the 'good old days' of recording - all I can say to them is nostalgia isn't what it used to be!