Private: Surgeons, sculptors and sounds

Having spent your first thirty-plus years on the planet eating, drinking, partying and possibly smoking, odds are that by the time the second thirty is complete, you will need to visit a cardiologist.

That initial meeting may result in a subsequent assignation, this time with a steely-eyed surgeon. He will reassure you that, once he has unseamed you from nave to chaps and fixed your pump, you can carry on as before. Or not; your call.

What he doesn’t tell you is that the whole op is likely to take about five hours and that he will only be there for the crucial middle fiddly bit.

“The best man in London is doing my heart op,” you tell everyone who listens. The reality is that it will be eager students and recently qualified doctors overseen by the top man’s registrar. The way the process was communicated to you led you to believe, by assumption as opposed to actual evidence, that person you saw at the consultation will be the same person to rummage about inside you.

It was the same at the peak of the high Renaissance. The great artists had teams of eager students and artisans to sculpt the relatively simple stuff – thighs and chests – while the great man would work on the tricky sticky-out bits (use your imagination).

Leonardo did the same on the Last Supper and Michelangelo only partially chiselled the crystalline rock from which David emerged. But the clients all fell for the well-communicated marketing message which skilfully ignored the true picture (no pun intended).

But the truth is that we’re all suckers for marcomms and the stories they peddle. And as I am no less gullible than you or anyone else, as a music fan I was dismayed to confirm the fact from a recently published book: The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory by John Seabrook.

In 1990, a Scandinavian music producer received a demo tape which he stuck in the knackered old cassette player (remember those?) in his car. He thought it was rubbish but it was stuck in the player and he was forced to listen to it again and again until, in a moment of revelation, he realised that with a bit of fiddling and restructuring, something might be done. Two years later, All That She Wants went platinum in the US…

It was a new musical genre; it wasn’t born or created. It was manufactured in an industrial process, just like baked beans. No more artists struggling with guitars and keyboards; no more session musicians; no more mixing desks.

In their place are pasty-faced young persons who ‘manufacture’ musical hooks to snag time-limited attention spans (which apparently max at seven seconds) and include other technical attributes such as endless repetition and no deviation from theme to ensure commercial success.

The music business is huge and, if Seabrook is correct, relies on the effective manipulation of young minds by ruthless commercial communication to make its vast profits. I’m not entirely certain that this is ethically correct. And to be effective in the long term, communication surely should be on the side of the angels.