It was punk that preached that anybody could make a record. Twenty years on, this prophecy has come true. Dirt-cheap technology has allowed people who think "fret work" is something you do while waiting for your next Giro, access to pop heaven. Why spend years touring Britain's toilet circuit, pandering to coke-addled A&Rs whose pacemakers give out if they venture north of Watford? You can work from home. Why waste your saliva, and spare time, inundating reluctant record labels with your demo? Release your own CD and let the buzz come to you.
Dance tunes conceived and executed in suburban bedrooms have often breached the charts in the Nineties. Sonic avatars such as Alex Reece and The Aphex Twin have lately opted for bedroom seclusion (the latter, it seems, mainly because he likes to record in nothing but his Y-fronts). Over on planet rock, Stephen Jones, otherwise known as Baby Bird, was last year propelled into the charts by the press excitement which greeted his four time-recorded, self-released albums - the fruits of a decade of dole-life tinkering. Most famously, Jyoti Mishra (aka White Town) reached No 1 with "Your Woman", recorded on an eight-track portastudio in a bedroom in Derby.
The buzz White Town and Baby Bird created for themselves has meant that they can, more or less, write their own contracts. Jones, for example, is now able to re-release up to 17,000 copies of each of his previous albums without paying a penny to his current label. George Michael eat your heart out.
In fact, if you can't write a good song on an eight-track in your bedroom, then perhaps you're just not good enough. "I would say to a label, 'If you've got a few old acts on there who are spending huge amounts of money - you know, Aerosmith amounts - get the fuckers in a room with an eight- track!'" advises Mishra. "If they can't make an album, shoot the fuckers."
A few labels are taking note. Rob Mitchel, co-owner of Sheffield's Warp records, a label which serves as the occasional home of The Aphex Twin, cannily encourages his acts to work from home as much as possible. "At home they can afford to scrap an idea because it hasn't cost them a grand to get that far. Ninety per cent of the gear in studios is lying around unused until the final mix, anyway. So you are sat there, using 10 per cent of its capacity, worrying about bills."
Largely, however, the music industry is like a holed super-tanker, money spewing from every orifice, unable to alter its course and losing power fast. If you present the industry with a dead cert, whether it comes in the form of Mishra - "porky Asian bloke" - or Jones - 34 and advised to lie about his age, they can't afford to demur. The lithe, gorgeous teenagers whom pop usually favours had better watch out: pop's aesthetics are ripe for change.
"Where are the people with disabilities in pop music?" asks Mishra. "There are a lot of people disenfranchised from pop music because you have to do videos and photo sessions. I applaud people like Future Sound Of London, doing gigs from their bedroom on the Internet. Why should the future of rock 'n' roll be a pale imitation of the past?"
WHAT YOU WILL NEED... INSTANT CREATIVE GENIUS, A SIX-POINT GUIDE
1 Understanding parents/ friends/spouse. Recognition as a romantic figure, starving and striving for your art in a fashionable, picturesque garret, rather than the work-shy weirdo trapped in a box-bedroom that they know and love.
2 The technical bits. If you can play an instrument - great. If you can't - even better. Anyone who can wire a plug, and many who can't, can understand the technology. "You don't need any musical knowledge," agree the techno-experts at Manchester's A1 Music store. "You need musical sensibility. Anyone with a half decent knowledge of a sampler and a computer can make a tune. But, it's still garbage in, garbage out. You've still got to have an idea."
Drum Machine: Alesis SR 16. Yours for pounds 200, or cheaper in the pages of Loot. It might be worth taking a bit of advice from Jones here, practical musician and, luckily, hip-hop enthusiast: "Most drum machines have 200 shit sounds and ten or so that are good and it just so happens that those beats are hip-hop."
Sampler: Yamaha SUIO - around pounds 279. Especially good for hip-hop, house drum loops and stealing all mundane riffs from those dull old "musicians".
Studio: Tascam 4-track Portastudio from pounds 200.
Cubase: Computer programme that allows even the slowest individuals to arrange their music. Allows you to chop out bum notes, copy choruses and even enter notes, with a pen on a grid, if you can't play anything. Retails at around pounds 289, though unscrupulous bounders have been known to purloin a copy from the Internet. Obviously, you'll need to beg, borrow or steal time on a computer.
Instruments: Some olde worlde antiques like guitars and keyboards might help...
3 Records. Copy your stuff onto DAT (digital audio tape) and then get it pressed up onto vinyl or CD. The music press is awash with ads for companies who'll manufacture a 1,000 CD albums for around pounds 1,000. Then either try to interest a distributor in your work or hawk it around the nation's independent record shops.
4 A Malcolm McLaren/Del Boy type figure. An enthusiastic soul, unfazed by rejection, who will harangue the music press, A&Rs, DJs and assorted movers and shakers until every record company exec worth his satin Bryan Adams tour jacket knows your name. "I've met loads of people who've got four tracks and are doing the same thing," concurs Jones. "But so much of it depends on finding someone who knows something about the business. Dave [Baby Bird's manager] used to go to London while I stayed in being unemployed and miserable, thinking 'I'm never going to get anywhere'."
5 Negotiate a ridiculously one-sided deal. Retain control of your artistic vision and fox all attempts by the sinister label to turn you into pop slop. "EMI aren't employing me. I'm employing them," points out Mishra, "and I think that's what a lot of artists forget." There has been no finessing of the White Town sound, no producer working to smooth out the difficult sounds or stamp his ego on the project. "I'm going to be the biggest pain in the arse to work with now," continues Mishra, "because if anyone did try to produce me I'd be thinking, 'When was your last No 1 then? Have you had a number one on eight-track? I don't think so!'"
6 Onwards and upwards. By now, of course, you're on a collision course with the No 1 spot and you've left the major label A&Rs bewildered as they see the charts change despite them...
Baby Bird's album Dying Happy (Echo) is released on 7 July. White Town's album Women in Technology (Chrysalis) is out now.Reuse content