Groups of guitars are on the way out
[LISTEN] The Beatles talk to Brian Matthew about being famous
This is perhaps the most famous quote about the early years of The Beatles, and while it’s definitely based on real events, it has perhaps been distorted by what happened next to such an extent that it looks far worse than it was intended to be.
The source of the quote is Beatles manager Brian Epstein, relaying the message he was given by Dick Rowe, head of Decca Records, on why they were not interested in signing the band in 1962. In Hunter Davies’ authorised biography, The Beatles, Epstein remembered: “He told me they didn’t like the sound. Groups of guitars were on the way out. I told him I was completely confident that these boys were going to be bigger than Elvis Presley.”
To be fair to Mr Rowe, in 1962’s pop charts “groups of guitars” meant The Shadows. No record label was interested in signing The Beatles at that time. The fact that his was the sole quote attributed to this fairly enormous misjudgment of the band’s commercial potential by all the major London labels seems unfair. Then again, he did turn down the biggest group of all time.
No one will ever buy your stuff on CD
Not that EMI, the company that did eventually secure The Beatles’ signatures, has anything to crow about. In 1982, as the music industry was about receive a colossal shot in the arm from the development and delivery of the compact disc, EMI, who hadn’t exactly been spry off the mark with the arrival of the 12″ long-playing album in 1949, decided that these digital discs were not the way forward. They reasoned that the three-cent royalty per disc payable to Philips, who developed the format, was unacceptable. A Guardian feature on the CD’s early days even has an unnamed EMI executive telling Frank Zappa not to bother reissuing his work on the new format because, “No one will ever buy your stuff on CD.”
The scale to which they were wrong about that dwarfs Decca’s decision not to sign The Beatles by several decimal points. Music fans not only bought new albums as they came out, they went out and replaced their old vinyl albums with CD copies. EMI, being the largest British record company of the time, stood to reap a colossal fortune, and of course eventually they did, but not before everyone else got there first.
Kids in Beijing will listen to futura-rock”
[WATCH] Robot band rocks Hong Kong arts festival, 2016
In 1988, the Los Angeles Times magazine imagined what family life would look like in the year 2013. Writer Nicole Yorkin’s predictions said more about life in the late-80s than the early-10s, but some are eerily close, given this pre-dates the internet: “The Morrows entertain their company in the rec room by calling up the local digital music cable company and asking to sample a few classical collections. Music pours out of the speakers attached to the side of an ultra-thin, high-resolution video screen hanging on the wall.”
However, other elements miss the mark, either by underestimating the rate of technological change by 2013 – “Ito likes one symphony so much that Bill records the whole piece onto a laser disc,” which feels more like 2003 – or simply guessing at where music will go, using 1988 reference points. There’s a robot butler that sings Your Cheatin’ Heart by Hank Williams, and the family’s young son Zach is still sketching guitars on his schoolbooks: “Zach hurriedly signs off without hearing the answer to whether kids in Beijing listen to futura-rock too.”
Answer: they don’t. They’re all listening to ultra-neo-futura-rock now, grandad.
Copyright will no longer exist
[LISTEN] David Bowie interviewed in 2002
David Bowie has a reputation for being good at spotting where music was headed. And his conversion to the cyberworld happened long before many of his peers had even considered the possibilities that the internet may hold. But he wasn’t right about everything. Take the New York Times interview he gave in 2002 where he essentially foretold the arrival of music streaming services three years before even YouTube had launched. This bit is good: “Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity. So it’s like, just take advantage of these last few years because none of this is ever going to happen again.”
But he also said this: “I’m fully confident that copyright, for instance, will no longer exist in 10 years, and authorship and intellectual property is in for such a bashing.”
Leaving aside the thorny question of revenue streams for artists from streaming media, 15 years since that interview, copyright is still being firmly administered across the internet, which is one of the reasons streaming sites for music grew in popularity, as an alternative to the illegal peer-to-peer sharing of songs and albums. So the second prediction being wrong is part of the reason the first one is right.