Blur, The Smiths, Kaizer Chiefs, The Cranberries… names that have shaped the face of music. One thread ties these great bands together: a record producer called Stephen Street. He gave Ryan Eyden an exclusive interview from his home studio in London and discussed the mortal effect of the internet on the music industry and how to counter it.
When I first learnt of my upcoming interview with Stephen, I literally ran around the office shouting silly words that no one could understand. I was delighted at the prospect of sharing words with someone whose effect on today’s music industry has been so profound. He has produced some of the world’s top acts and brought them countless sales… and at 51 he isn’t finished yet.
He has the distinction of having co-written with Morrissey, produced five albums with britpop giants Blur, recorded The Zutons, Babyshambles, Pete Doherty and Graham Coxon… and he has just finished working on The Cranberries’ new album Roses. Well, if they get a record or distribution deal. Yes, you read correctly: The Cranberries cannot get signed. This is why I contacted Stephen. A band like The Cranberries with millions of record sales spanning over two decades cannot get a label to sign them? The Cranberries were overplayed at my 14th birthday braai, but we are through the Looking Glass: the music industry as we know it is on the brink of collapse and no one knows what the future will hold for the stalwarts of the past. Music is free and all around you, if you’re willing to brave the shoals at Piratebay.
Has the arrival of the internet benefited or hindered the industry?
Well, the downloading of illegal music is a major, major problem. Yes there is loads of free music on the internet, but it could be Bob the builder and plumber making music at night. And it’s crap… you know what I mean? Yet it still has equal billing with something that is good.
I don’t think the internet has been great for music. It has just made a huge haystack that you have to pick your way through.
Are major labels a thing of the past? And if so, what’s next?
The people making lots of money over the last few years are the internet service providers. They sell their broadband on how fast it is to download this and download that, but they are handling stolen goods and they have not really conducted themselves in the right way. Imagine how much money the internet service providers are getting now by putting broadband in millions of homes, but do they invest a penny back into the talent whose goods they are helping to hand off? No, not a penny. People think that the record labels are the baddies but they aren’t. Record companies invest in acts, one or two out of ten of which make any money. But at least when they made money , they then went out and found and developed new acts. The internet service providers don’t do that – they just fill their coffers. We need governments to come out and say: ‘Enough! Copyright means something, the goods of artists mean something… and have got to be protected’. When they know a pirate site is being set up, be it Limewire or whatever, they should get off their arses and close these sites down straight away. And sue the guys that run them.
They do close them down, but the sites just change their URL and carry on going. So what can actually be done? How do you control something like this?
I know it is very difficult, but they don’t close them down quickly enough. We have to educate the youngsters. Most youngsters believe that bands have a fantastic lifestyle and make a lot of money off touring.
Sure they might make a little bit of money, but musicians can’t live on bread and water.
And what about the people that work in the recording industry? Bands are now using their records as calling cards. They’re giving them away, and that’s great, but how are they going to pay the recording studios? How you going to pay the engineer and the producer? I mean, I make my money off album sales and if I do all that work, and then bands just give it away just to promote their tour… that doesn’t help me, now does it?
With your trade becoming less sustainable, the quality of recording is going to get worse and worse?
Well everyone thinks they’re a producer now. You have a garage band at home and you start putting a few loops together and all of a sudden you think you’re a producer. The whole thing about making records has been demystified. I mean Cenzo Townsend used to be my engineer and he used to work alongside me. He went off and made a name for himself mixing for the likes of Snow Patrol, but he despairs. You should see the stuff that’s brought in now for him to mix. You can tell it hasn’t been produced properly. No decisions have been made along the line about what should go where. He just gets handed this huge pro-tools file by the artist or the label with a ‘Hey, sort this out’.
For the full audio conversation between one small seed’s Ryan Eyden and Stephen, log on to onesmallseed.com where you can get a chance to hear a bit more about the state of the music industry, which new bands to watch out for, Morrisey, the Oasis/Blur rivalry and Pete Doherty’s infamous problems.
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