As you read this, there’s a session composer bathing in Dom Pérignon as he writes music on £50 notes, notes he’s earned in royalties from a track that only took five minutes to write yet still manages to crop up on TV on an almost daily basis. The main culprit of this musical laziness seems to be the BBC (although I’ve spotted the same track on a couple of other platforms), who use this very track for “The Great British Bake Off”; a plethora of documentaries (including the recent “Servants, The True Story of Life Below Stairs”); anything with a remotely historical aspect (I seem to remember it featuring heavily in early episodes of “Who Do You Think You Are?”) and a variety of other programmes. I used to think it was pretty catchy as far as TV backing tracks go – almost interesting. But now I just feel like I’m living in “The Truman Show” watching the same programmes in a constant loop.
The track is so pervasive it makes the music empty. In fact, I’ll venture as far into the plains of poncyness as to say that it calls into question just what the point of having music on a TV programme is. Sure, I know the classic switch-your-TV-to-mute-and-see-how-rubbish-a-horror-movie-is test; but are production companies really trying to achieve the same effect when they lay down some beats on an episode of “Time Team” as a Hollywood scaremonger is?
Music isn’t supposed to be auditory wallpaper; it’s supposed to enhance our viewing experience, not prettify it. There is a whole industry producing bland music specially designed to pad out TV and radio programmes. Inspired by Jus-Rol, composers and session musicians mass-produce music that will fit into as many categories as possible. The clichéd titles of the tracks: “Dark and Stormy Night”, “Scary 3″, “Summer Picnic” – reveal just how uninspired the creators were, just how resigned they were to earning their keep by manufacturing insipid, populist beats.
This is just the latest step in our culture’s general slide towards apathetic genericism. Music and TV both are becoming increasingly simplified so as to be recognisable and ensure instant widespread success for artists: sadly, this makes our culture more predictable and derivative.
Music is supposed to set the scene. So by using the same track over and over again is the BBC trying to set the same scene for 90% of their output? This is revealing: it shows that many of the BBC’s output is ostensibly the same thing, just packaged up with different titles. I love the BBC, I really do, and I’m not about to whinge about the licence fee and join that dull brigade; but I want them to be a bit more adventurous. I feel like they’re constantly playing it safe, trying to feed me exactly what they think I want. Nothing shocking or challenging: just the same safe, boring stuff.
Yes, “The Great British Bake Off” started off as a great show: but three series in and the contestants are much less talented. This is always the way: it happened with “Big Brother”, “The X Factor”, “The Apprentice”. First series’ contestants are always the weirdest, most interesting, most talented. As the series are churned out, people like me progressively stop watching so religiously because they become less addictive, and ‘key talent’ like Simon Cowell leave the sinking ships laughing in disbelief at the thought that Channel Five was actually stupid enough to buy the losing formula.
Broadcasters should not just endlessly churn out the same generic content hoping that because a particular program has drawn huge audiences in the past it is guaranteed to do so in the future. This underestimates the viewers, who do actually notice when they are being treated like mindless philistines. It’s not the formula of the show that’s worth watching, but the contestants – we can all imagine that one day we might bump into a reality TV ‘star’ (they seem to make a living touring university unions just appearing as themselves), but we can less easily identify with real slebs.
I disagree with Rupert Sawyer, the porn-hungry boss of Channel 8, who seems to want to broadcast sex, drugs and rock and roll live just to be zany and out there man. I think there are some things we should not all be exposed to. Life can be pretty rough sometimes, and culture is supposed to make it a little less grim. We’re supposed to be living ‘real life’ and supplementing it with TV- enriching it through culture rather than experiencing it second hand through a lens.
Kirstin Fairnie is a 2nd year student at Oxford from Orkney who makes bloody good bread
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