The Guardian: Steve Albini: the internet has solved the problem with music (2014)
The man who produced Nirvana, Pixies and wrote the 1993 essay, The Problem with Music, has always been an industry outsider. In 2014, it’s his optimism that sets him apart.
Back in the 1990s, Steve Albini was the music industry’s resident and persistent cynic. At the time he was doing what he continues to do today: playing in bands (such as Shellac) and producing the music of other bands – although he prefers to call himself a recording engineer. In his mind, the word better captures the technical skill that all producers should, but often don’t, have. He has engineered more than 2,000 records – by bands you mostly won’t have heard of, although a few of them you will, including PJ Harvey, Joanna Newsom, Pixies, Fugazi and that little three-piece out of Seattle, Nirvana. In certain musical circles, he is nigh-on worshipped for his singularly independent spirit and approach to production.
On occasion Albini would write with eloquence and humour about the business of music and, more specifically, rail against its perceived inequalities. These were best summarised in his seminal essay, The Problem with Music, published in the Baffler in 1993. It memorably opened with the image of bands voluntarily swimming through a trench “filled with runny, decaying shit” in a race to reach a major label contract on the other side. Albini described them viciously fending off other competitors, only to get to the end and be told: “Actually, I think you need a little more development. Swim it again, please. Backstroke.”
Albini was 31 at the time and had considerable experience in the music world, as a musician, an engineer and perhaps most importantly as a consummate fan of, and evangelist for, talented musicians. His essay was not a broad anti-corporation rant – there’s no high-flying ideology – but highlighted specific gripes, illustrated by personal experiences. The industry, as it was then, was dominated by the big labels and the bloated middlemen who exploited the music of (generally) poorly paid musicians, resulting in a lack of choice for consumers….