The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

A Musical Interlude

Posted on | August 8, 2020 | 2 Comments

So I’ve spent the past day researching, which involves viewing a lot of old YouTube videos. When I’m watching YouTube videos for my own amusement (rather than research), my preferences are fireworks, “storm chasing” and rare old Beatles sessions. Somehow, the algorithm for “suggested” videos popped up this interesting performance:


This fascinates me, because (a) how does someone so young discover an old Buddy Holly song? and (b) the arrangement is so simple. Besides her ukulele, the only instrumentation is a Takamine guitar and a Suzuki Omnichord, a 1980s-era electronic autoharp. New models sell for about $270, but the instrument is scarcely more sophisticated than many children’s toys you could buy for around $100 nowadays. The audio mix was done with Garageband software, and the video was recorded on her iPhone, edited with VideoLeap software. Even the microphone — a Shure 545S Series 2 Unidyne III — is rather cheap, less than $100 on Amazon.

My friend John Hoge worked as a recording engineer in Nashville back in the day, and can tell you what it would have cost to book studio time in the era of analog tape recording. Circa 1981, when I was chasing the rock-and-roll dream, the cheapest 8-track studio in Atlanta charged $25 an hour, at a time when minimum wage was $3.35 an hour. In other words, you’d have to work an 8-hour day at minimum wage to earn enough for one hour in the studio, and a full week’s wages wouldn’t pay for an eight-hour session. By the late 1980s, you could buy a 4-track cassette recorder for about $450 — about two-days’ pay[*], at minimum wage — but the audio quality was low (e.g., tape hiss) and it wasn’t until the late 1990s, by which time I’d outgrown my rock-and-roll dream, that home digital recording equipment became something affordable to the masses.

[* — see note below about this egregiously wrong estimate.]

Young people, in addition to their lack of knowledge of classic Buddy Holly tunes, generally have no idea how cheap technology has revolutionized so many things that we now take for granted.

Back in 1957, Buddy Holly had to travel to Clovis, New Mexico, to record in Norman Petty‘s studio, where “Everyday” was recorded as the B-side of “Peggy Sue.” You couldn’t just program a synthesizer (or use an Omnichord) for your backup track, either. You had to have an actual band to accompany you, or else pay studio musicians at union scale. Because the equipment needed for recording — what Marx would call “the means of production” — was so expensive, getting access to studio time usually required the support of a manager or a record company. Young musicians would generally spend years playing bar gigs and such before they could hope to get a shot at a recording contract. By the time the Beatles signed with EMI in 1962, they had been together five years, played every dance hall in northern England and done four stints as a house band in bars in Hamburg, Germany.

What the advent of cheap high-quality recording technology has done is to topple the barriers between musical talent and the audience. You don’t need a manager or an agent, you don’t need a record company, a studio, a producer, a contract — no lawyers, no paperwork, nothing — to be able to record a song, produce a video and upload it to YouTube where, potentially, you could become an instant superstar.

Allison Young has about 50,000 subscribers on YouTube, and her most popular video has gotten nearly 400,000 views:


Wow — “Till There Was You,” a song which was a hit for Anita Bryant in 1959, the year I was born! Think of all the old songs that might be remade for YouTube by young performers. If I could persuade Allison Young to sign a contract, I’d help her find those songs (because I know them all), but such is the nature of technology that Ms. Young probably doesn’t think my knowledge as a would-be A&R man could be helpful to her. This is something else about technology. Because everybody can look up anything on Wikipedia, young people have little respect for the possession of actual knowledge. So I reckon my career as a latter-day Colonel Parker will never happen. Sigh.

UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers! One of the commenters points out a math error:

“$450 / $5.15 (min wage in 1997) is 87 hours of labor ( 2 weeks of pay).”

Thanks. I actually can do basic math, I just didn’t bother to do it, and so my estimate was disastrously wrong.



2 Responses to “A Musical Interlude”

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    August 8th, 2020 @ 1:54 pm

    […] Something different. A Musical Interlude from The Other McCain. […]

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