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Drowning in digits

Maybe it’s me just getting older, but my attitude towards technology is slowly changing. I grew up watching the birth and development of digital music technology and relished the new possibilities. I continue to marvel at the power now available to anybody.

The thing that has changed with me is my view of the technology’s role. Our industry is now jam-packed with people who have learned how to create music with their computer. It is essentially their instrument, just as a piano was to Beethoven. And just as a cat can press a piano key and produce a perfect C, our technology allows us all now to produce pristine, virtuosic performances. Is this cheating? I guess really it isn’t. That perfect rendition that Beethoven could hear in his mind could only be realized with hours of rehearsal and direction. What was he doing, if not “programming” the orchestra to perform his music perfectly? Was he cheating by using outstanding musicians and exploiting their exceptional talents?

Of course the flipside to this new technology, is that our industry is saturated with ‘half-baked’ and ‘not-so-good’ music, albeit using high quality samples and effects. Maybe this period in our music history is only a short one though. I’m wondering if maybe the reason this bad music can exist is because our generation is diverted and distracted by the sound quality. I am from a generation which saw the demise of vinyl, cassette tapes and probably soon, CDs. My generation was obsessed with Hi-fi and bass, so it is no wonder that we continue to believe that sound quality and ‘ear candy’ means quality music.

Of course I know that I am talking about something which depends entirely on taste, but having a fairly extensive education in music and experience in production, all the mistakes, shortcuts, errors (both happy or ignorant) are not lost on me. I don’t want to sound prudish, and I’m all for breaking the rules, but I think this only works when you actually KNOW the rules and break them considerately.

The point I am trying to get to is that I believe the the technology should be considered a tool, and nothing more! Anybody wishing to join the industry should study music, both traditional and contemporary. They should become acquainted with all the rules (past & present), all the limitations of real life instruments, the ways in which past composers achieved their sound.

I think there are people out there who have a natural flair for music without studying, and are able to create something truly ground-breaking and inspiring. But there are far less of these people than there are of people who claim they are. Training, studying and exploring the craft is really a must!

A career in music unfortunately attracts a lot of people who are afraid of hard work. They mistakenly think that a life of music is a fun, glamorous and easy one.. And they will be the first to dismiss this post of mine.

I feel that the bar is set too low at present. We seem to be leaping ahead when it comes to eye and ear candy. Live performances now are almost overwhelming with colour, light, sound quality, visibility etc etc. I laughed out loud recently when I saw a live performance by Rihanna on TV. The view was from the back of a stadium and the entire place was ablaze with lasers, flashing lights, smoke, sound and movement! Then the camera did one long zoom in onto a tiny speck on stage and there she stood. If only we could apply the same level of detail and creativity and discipline to the music itself. Imagine if we ventured beyond 3 chords!

I called this post “Drowning In Digits” because I do feel that we are all saturated in an automated, clinically and digitally clean world where much creativity is replaced with plugins and impressive sounds. The quality of the composition, and the skills of the performer have taken a backseat, and I think it is high time that we change that! I predict that our industry will eventually come around. The evolution of music can’t happen without it.