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Craig Anderton’s Open Channel: Living With Uncertainty

There's a lot of uncertainty facing the pro audio industry, coming at it from many angles at once -- but is that a bad thing?

Craig Anderton
Craig Anderton

Business doesn’t like uncertainty. The stock market definitely doesn’t like uncertainty. People in general don’t like uncertainty.

But artists have always flirted with uncertainty more than, for example, the HR person at IBM who gets a nice salary plus benefits…right? Well, maybe not. IBM recently announced that it was putting a hold on hiring people if AI could do their jobs better in the near future. That includes HR. So, I guess “human resources” will be changing its name to “talk to the machine resources…”

We’ve seen massive uncertainty in our industry the past couple of decades. People could steal master-quality recordings without the consequences of shoplifting from a record store. CDs got killed off by allyou- can-eat streaming services. Vinyl came back…sort of. Spotify has 210 million paid subscribers—and still lost $248 million in 2023’s first quarter.

Big studios folded, while hits were made on laptops in bedrooms. The pandemic destroyed the concert business for a couple years. The annual ritual of trade shows was shattered—in some cases, never to return (I’m looking at you, Frankfurt Musikmesse). Music stores were eclipsed by online e-tailers. Software—which is ever-changing—replaced the certainty of hardware.

Companies thought that people who bought instruments during the pandemic were going to be musicians forever. But they forgot that music is a discipline, and people are lazy. So, companies that once over-hired to meet demand during a bubble had to downsize. And the coup de grace is the insanely uncertain nature of today’s politics and economics, which hang over our industry as much as they hang over everyone else.

I mean, c’mon…that’s a lot of shocks to the system.

No wonder music has become more like comfort food than a quest for artistic innovation. No wonder brilliant live sound engineers deliver for UberEats, because…well, it’s certain that people will eat. It’s not certain they’ll need brilliant live sound engineers.

What can bring some certainty back into our industry? Spoiler alert: Nothing. And everything.


It’s a cliche that the only constant is change—and because the music industry is a fashion industry (something supposedly brilliant venture capitalists can’t seem to grasp…but I digress), change is embedded in what we do. We’re better equipped to make dramatic pivots than those working in IBM’s HR department. Some of the longest-lasting musical careers—the Beatles, David Bowie, Madonna, Cher—built those careers on constant re-invention. We’re fortunate to be in an industry where change is considered desirable. So, we can’t hold back change. Nor should we. Instead, let’s exploit it.

Consider trade shows. The old model is fading, and NAMM knows this. Instead of giving up, they’re looking at how to re-shape the trade show concept to remain relevant in today’s uncertain world. The TEC Awards is transforming itself from an old-school awards show into more of an experience. Smaller shows, like Superbooth and Synthplex, target their audiences with laser-like precision to fill the void left by larger shows. Sure, changes won’t be perfected overnight—but even the process of change can maintain relevance.

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In the author part of my musician/author life, printed books about music technology have become obsolete because technology changes so fast. Now, I write only eBooks with free “point” updates, just like software. With this model, those who might previously have been reluctant to buy a technology book because they think the product will change next week— they might not be so reluctant.

Musically speaking, now is the time for artists to embrace re-invention. When the world wants to play it safe, you can give it comfort-food music— or you can give a reason not to play it safe. If what you do takes off, that’s great. If it doesn’t…well, what you were doing probably wasn’t going to, either.


Other possibilities: Music education is always a target for cutting, and let’s face it, manufacturers rarely see education as their job. What if music stores transitioned away from sales and toward in-person lessons and consulting on how to use gear better, and make better music?

I’ve done workshops at events where people are more than happy to pay for the privilege of learning, so maybe the market is there. The stores can stop paying huge amounts of rent because they wouldn’t need the space to warehouse a zillion instruments (and tie up bucks in inventory). Meanwhile, the people who did great mixing for local shows can stop delivering for UberEats and teach people how to mix.

Manufacturers need to realize that we have enough emulations of LA- 2A compressors. But do we have reverbs that cancel out the dry component from algorithmic reverb, so that a dry/wet control is truly dry/wet, and not dry/wet+residual dry? It sounds cool, but no plug-in does that—you have to cobble it together with two reverbs, phase switches and buses. Multiband processing is pretty much unexplored, aside from dynamics. Processors could derive control signals from a musician’s playing beyond envelopes, like a “pluck detector” for guitar whose control signal depends on how fast you’re playing.

Uncertainty creates fear. Fear is a destructive force in people’s lives, and in society. But when it comes to our industry (clich  alert!), we have nothing to fear but fear itself. In good times, our industry thrives on change. It can do so in uncertain times, too—but that’s up to us.