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Ex-pat producer rails against popular music pigeonholing

Former Kiwi drummer Richard James Burgess, now helping archive the world's most influential music at the prestigious Smithsonian Institute in Washington, stepped into his present role after concerns the industry was being hijacked by producers who were more interested in money than musicians.

Burgess, who produced 24 charted singles and 14 hit albums in the US and UK in the 80s and 90s says, the free and open expression encouraged in the 60s was being more tightly controlled, based on what DJs wanted for radio play or A&R people assumed would sell.

The former Quincy Conserve drummer who pioneered the electronic sound behind Visage's Fade To Grey album and produced Spandau Ballet's first two albums says from the late 90s, genres or sub genres such as house or techno were being defined by as little as two beats per minute difference.

He was seriously concerns at the way the industry was pigeonholing music and it was often based on the reputation of the producer rather than the musicians, something he felt very unconformable about.

And while there were plenty of books on studio engineering, Burgess couldn't find anything on the wider aspects of music production to help producers get back in touch with what musicians were really trying to archive. His book The Art of Music Production, coming up for a fourth edition, examines the sociological and business aspects of music production, and is now a core curriculum textbook for universities and music schools around the world.

At the dawn of the 1980s Burgess held back the album of his own band Landscape so Spandau Ballet's debut album could be the first with the new electronic drum sounds he had devised.

He had first used the synthesizer-triggered electronic percussion and drum sounds for his Landscape's From the Tearooms Of Mars to the Hellholes of Uranus album which eventually delivered two quirky top selling singles Einstein A Go Go and Norman Bates.

Through his involvement with Spandau Ballet's Burgess pioneered the 12 inch remixes which were a part of the mid-to late 80s sound setting a benchmark for an endless string of extended dance mixes for a number of other top bands.

The Richard James Burgess solo album, recorded in New York was a chance for him to break with the perception that he was solely focussed on electronic or 'new romantic' influenced music. There he gained further work with top artists including Living in A Box, Shriekback and Thomas Dolby.

Back in London he partnered with Manfred Mann for a time, ran drum clinics and was on the lecture circuit talking about studio production.

After hosting the BBC's Let There Be Drums series and producing his seminal textbook on music production he accepted a key role with the prestigious Smithsonian Institute's Folkways recording label and its Global Sound offshoot in 2001.

He's now at the front line, marketing Smithsonian's role as the ultimate archivist and preserver of not only American musical history but world music.