By The Bard of the Board
We live in a media saturated environment where we are constantly receiving and processing excessive amounts of information which we then file and store away in the recesses of our over worked and over stimulated brains. Often we disseminate this information as verified knowledge on our behalf and, more often than not, with only a partial understanding of whatever the subject might be. After all, each of us lead busy lives and there are only so many hours in the day that can be devoted to following up on all the information we receive in that given time. Between work, family and whatever civic duties one might have it becomes increasingly difficult to find the time for more than the headline news and even if we find the time to actually read a paper we, more often than not, skim the headlines and give a quick read to the article before moving on to the next headline. With all the information that we are required to process it’s not surprising that we take what we need from any given article or sound byte and then spew it back out with the authority of an expert. It is also not uncommon for us to be a bit cynical about some of this information we receive due to the fact that it is often wrong.
Listen to the news and one day there will be a story regarding the curative effects of coffee and the next day there will be a piece decrying all caffeine related products as evil spawns of the devil and agents of incurable disease. We live with great paradox as we are told that because smoking tobacco is deadly it needs to be banned from restaurants and other indoor spaces, yet it is still legally sold to anyone with proof of age. Obesity has become a national health problem and we are informed that it is all the fault of “Trans fats.” The next day everyone is speaking about “Trans fats” as if they are experts.
We form our opinions based upon information we read in the gossip columns or magazines and it’s often difficult to separate journalism from editorializing as many headlines already give a slanted opinion before you can even get to the article. Journalism, in theory, is supposed to be non-biased reporting which delivers a factual account of an event….”Just the facts Mam.” Journalists report and you decide, but whom can one believe? On one side the conservatives say it’s the liberal press who is slanting the news and on the other side it is all just government propaganda. Every company and institution has an agenda to sell a product or an idea and often the agenda is to sell a product with an idea. Real news should not have a slant and if it does then it belongs on the op-ed page, as real news has no agenda.
The question is how do we distinguish between real news and disingenuous reporting? What is the difference between real news and an infomercial? It may be easy to discern that a celebrity speaking on behalf of some workout machine is a paid commercial, but how do we know that the candid picture taken of them with a soft drink in their hand is not just more product placement? We live in a country that has six major entertainment networks each of which control small empires of television, film periodicals, book publishing and Internet, not to mention parks, resorts, music and radio. The big six are (not necessarily in order of appearance): Disney; Time Warner; Viacom; CBS Corporation; News Corporation and General Electric. Now, for example, let’s say that there is a negative report regarding one of GE’s companies. NBC is a branch of GE which has news stations nation wide so let’s also assume that if the report in question is not in best interest of NBC that there might be an executive order killing the piece by labeling it as non-news worthy. Conversely, if there is product that GE is selling then it could easily end up on the news not as an advertisement, but rather as some newsworthy item. It becomes dangerous in regard to our bill of rights when there are only a few major corporations controlling most of the news outlets as a free press is crucial to a free society-and a press owned by a huge corporation is one that can be easily corrupted and manipulated.
Bill Evans, while editor at FOH Magazine, once wrote a brave piece regarding the difficulty he encounters of keeping a Magazine free from infomercial reporting. I say brave because advertising is the life blood of any magazine and an editor certainly does not want to alienate any of it’s advertisers, but at the same time there is a responsibility to the reader to present real and, hopefully, useful information without an agenda. That said, let’s bear in mind that marketing and name brand recognition, in an over saturated market, is crucial to the survival of any given product and often, the quality of a product is not as important as the “perceived” quality of said product. The sound reinforcement industry is no different than any other. It is a competitive market with very little wiggle room and for whatever reason there are certain products that become fixtures on the scene and others that will always stay on the periphery. As I said before, this may be due more to the perceived quality of the equipment than the actual quality of said gear.
It is the job of each company’s marketing department to find a market and create a demand for their product and it is advertising that is the main ingredient in this equation, but while the advertising is the mainstay of the magazine it is also the readers and buyers who are the mainstay of the advertisers. Therefore it is important to maintain the integrity of the magazine for the sake of the advertisers as well as the readers and buyers.
Even as great equipment is imperative to live sound and commerce is vital to the American way, the truth is that the most important part of a live mix is the operator of said equipment. We can all be duped by misinformation and a hard sell, but despite all the bells and whistles and glossy sell, the final say regarding a piece of gear comes from us-the engineers. We are the ones out on the front line making the final decisions regarding the ergonomics of every piece we use and therefore, we should expect that the information we receive about the equipment should be unbiased and unclouded by special interests….after all we are the ones who can make or break a piece of equipment no matter how it is sold.
I was in the studio the other day and the producer told a story about Chet Atkins. He said that Chet was in the studio playing a new guitar and everybody was gushing about how great the guitar sounded. After listening to the other musicians and engineers praise the beauty of the guitar and it’s wonderful sound Chet put the guitar in it’s stand, walked away and said to everyone, “How’s it sound now?