Music develops and changes over time as a kind of evolution: it takes what’s happened before, copying it to a large extent, but making small changes that move in a slightly new direction. It’s what biologists call “descent with modification from a common ancestor” in their field.
We like to think that the music we’re writing is new, innovative, and a breath of completely fresh air. But in reality, music that makes it to the charts today bears a striking resemblance to music that made it a year ago. Almost always, today’s good new tunes are a demonstration of descent with modification from a common ancestor.
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If today you listen to music from an earlier generation — the 80s, let’s say — you have the advantage of hearing what a multitude of changes does to music. The era of stadium rock (and the hair and clothing that went along with it) doesn’t much resemble what musicians are doing today. The modifications from that era that we observe today are many.
And that, of course, is as it should be. Music is constantly changing to fit the times. Since we can’t accurately predict what tomorrow will bring, especially with regard to the arts and society, there’s no way of knowing how music is going to change, and what’s going to be considered to be the new “excellent” (if there really is such a term.)
We can be almost certain of one thing: computers are going to continue to play a vital role in everything from the creation of music right through to its final distribution. Unless the world changes a whole lot more than anyone is predicting, there is simply no way that the benefits of the computer in the artistic process will be shunned.
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There is one way (some would say more than one way) in which computers present a potential problem for today’s singer-songwriters: it’s possible to get from an initial songwriting idea all the way through to the distribution of a final professional-sounding product with no input from another musician.
You can create songs using software — sequencers, loops, samples, patterns, chord generators, and all such related programs — then record the vocal track right on your desktop, laptop, smartphone or other digital device, then engineer, mix and produce the song, and then finally stream it for sale without ever leaving your bedroom!
And that’s a problem.
Or at least, it can be a problem. If you look back to music that was written in the 60s, most of the time the list of writers for any one song was short — perhaps one or two writers. But to get a song to market required getting musicians together to perform it. It then meant getting into a studio, where the producer, sound engineers and other personnel would have a hand in shaping the final product.
That multifaceted influence on your song was generally seen as a good thing — a very good thing. It meant that your song was being constantly polished and nuanced by experienced musicians who knew the industry, and who knew what they were doing.
No wonder when groups like the Beach Boys first heard their songs on the car radio, they’d pull over just to listen. To hear what the pros had done to their music (even if the process wasn’t always smooth) was usually enormously exciting.
If you’re the kind of songwriter who uses software to create songs, and then create the performances, you owe it to yourself and your craft to pull other musicians into that process, even if you think you don’t need them.
And if pulling others into the process isn’t necessary for you, you should do it just to be sure you aren’t creating music in a vacuum. That’s the one big disadvantage to computer creation of music: it makes it easy to write in a vacuum, but that’s not usually good.
Now, as always, interaction with others in some aspect of the creation of music is vital to its overall relevance, and its overall success.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.
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