Chris Abbott

My goodness! It's an editorial!

November 2004 - In Praise of the Amateur

The editorial strikes back.

No, really.

Welcome back!

It's been a busy few months, just surviving really. BIT Live happened, and then stopped happening. MP3s came and went, and the world went by.

Anyway, there's something that's bothering me a tad.

Do you consider yourself a professional? If you do you think that's a good thing?

Let's look at the assumption that professional = good, amateur = bad shall we?

First of all, let's consider that amateur is derived from the Latin word for love. An amateur is someone who loves what they do. A professional is someone who gets paid to do it.

The problem with being paid to do something, is that someone has to do the paying. And they have to be kept happy, to keep the money coming. You're now providing a service. Congratulations!

Which is all well and good. If you're a plumber, or in the retail trade. But in music, as soon as you stop loving what you do, and start doing things out of fear of consequences if you don't: then you're in trouble.

Luckily for the music industry, there are a lot of amateurs in it, masquerading as professionals. They love what they do, and get paid for doing it. They find a way to take a brief, and turn it into a creative journey.


Martin Galway, for one. He was employed by Ocean as a grunt musician. But at heart, he was a tinkerer and an amateur. He did what he wanted, and took the development of his music seriously. An amateur masquerading as a professional.

Rob Hubbard was another. Now, anyone who knows Rob will know that he's a professional through and through: but back in the days, a strange thing happened. He started off delivering tunes that he thought the companies wanted, so he'd get a paycheque. Think Action Biker. Good stuff, can't keep a good man down, but Hubbard-by-numbers. Rob readily admits that.

However, a strange thing happened to Rob: and that thing was Compunet. A network of gifted amateurs. Giants of the scene combined for no other reason than for a bit of fun and to push the art forward. Suddenly, Rob's work started to reflect Rob's musical and technical progress. Driven on by direct contact with a peer group, he took SID music to a whole new level, and produced the best work of his career.

Is it a coincidence that once Compunet collapsed, Rob found himself once again composing by numbers, producing tunes which even he felt unsatisfied with? (typified by Star Paws). The amateurism was gone. And you could tell.

Another example: Ben Daglish. An amateur musician who lives music. And someone who was so uninspired by the 9-5 professional grind at Gremlin that he eventually quit, after producing a ream of technically and stylistically proficient tunes (Ben is too talented and knowledgeable to produce crap), but which were strictly tunes to order. Personality quotient? Zero.

Compare and contrast: David Whittaker. A self-confessed musical mercenary, able to deliver to imminent deadlines, and someone who's quoted as saying that he never begun a piece from scratch (meaning he always reused previous work in some way). David himself admitted during his interview with Andreas Wallstrom during Back in Time Live 1 that he wasn't particularly proud of his body of work, especially compared to Rob's. But it was professional. It was timely, and it was produced to order.

Oddly, David's work comes to life when interpreted by.. amateurs. His work almost always sounds better in remixed form: a contrast with Martin Galway or Jeroen Tel who are a lot harder to remix.

I think the problem is a linguistic one. Being a professional is not the same as having professionalism. And being an amateur doesn't mean that you accept shoddy work, or that the end result is in any way inferior to professional work. Professionalism is a misleading word coined by professionals themselves trying to give themselves the monopoly on quality.

Pride in your work, learning your skills, commitment to your vision: all these things are not only NOT exclusive to professionals, but they're actually in short supply in the professional world. Why should a professional deliver more than the client is paying for? The vast majority of the time, professionals turn out mediocre services that just about fulfil their brief, but lack inspiration or imagination. Money does NOT buy quality. Money buys resources: equipment and time. Sometimes these are used wisely. Sometimes they're not. Mostly, they're squandered.

A true amateur, one who loves what he's doing, can achieve miracles. Sometimes they happened to be paid. Contributors to the C64 Audio CDs were often paid for their time. But did they do it for the money? Most of the time, no.

A true amateur is also willing to produce art that's unsafe in a commercial sense. With no prospective buyer, there's no limitations except the ones they impose on themselves (maybe by too slavishly imitating other genres). And yet, the true genius is in combining different genres. SID gives us multiple opportunities to subvert other media by inserting its special sound and feel. Too many remixes (including mine!) try to be something else. Those days are over. Sid should return.

The reaction to the SID ringtones illustrates the love people still have for this sound. In fact, they sound better than ringtones composed by… professionals! Because they're bloody lazy professionals working day in and day out on a boring treadmill of keeping up with the latest boring tunes vomited up by a lazy, bloated and corrupt music industry.

Anyway, so the next time something is dismissed as amateur, consider this: were you moved by it? If so, then it worked. BIT 1 was extremely amateur, but it touched people. There was something there. Sidologie sounds professional. But at its heart, it's a labour of love. No professional who valued his lifespan would produce something that took so much time unless the monetary payment was substantial.

Amateur art is the best kind. But that's not defined by the pricetag: it's defined by the love. It's defined by the enthusiasm.

And it's defined by this man... who here demonstrates how to make fun of a professional who's doing a shoddy job on your new house extension...

And it's defined by this man... who here demonstrates how to make fun of a professional who's doing a shoddy job on your new house extension...

See ya!


- Chris Abbott