With the current trends of the music industry, I can’t help but notice a lack of interest for developing and refining skills among younger musicians or producers. Perhaps this is a result of our ever-expanding technological culture. We live in a society in which people want everything instant, rather it be a faster Internet connection or a quicker way to get Chinese food delivery at your door.
Currently, it doesn’t take much skill to play what’s heard in the air today (in the mainstream, anyway). As a result, musicians seem to reach a comfort stage quickly in regards to technique and knowledge of the instrument. The same seems true for writing music. With that, it also seems that many composers and songwriters play it safe today in fear that their song won’t do well if it’s too “outside-the-box”. Additionally, technological advances have made it much easier to create songs using synthesized drumbeats and rhythm tracks. While I’m not opposed to this new technology, it creates a problem: people are not spending the time needed to understand the fundamentals needed to expand their craft.
In the long run, this hurts creativity and originality. In particular, two aspects come to mind:
1.) Developing a voice and vocabulary.
2.) Developing critical thinking skills.
While a lot of great talent exists today, mediocrity overshadows many musicians. The focus needs to shift from the short-term to the long-term. Don’t worry about making it to the top of the charts on Billboard or placing first in a reader’s guitar shredding poll. I’d much rather see organic growth over time than an artist riding on the popularity, review, or listing of one song.
Naturally, this growth comes in stages:
In order to improve and gain insight, individuals need to collect information relevant to the skills they want to develop. Also, they need to study the past to see how music evolved. Historical lineage is key. An artist just doesn’t wake up one day and say, “I think I’m going to create a new sub style for jazz music.” Contrarily, it’s a process. Committed artists go through processes and stages during their natural lifetime.
Besides industry pressure, preprogrammed loops in software (drum loops, etc.) can limit originality. While I’m not totally opposed to using them in context, solely relying on them can limit vocabulary development. Consequently, people can now take a two or four-bar loop and turn it into a five-minute song without writing for each individual part. So in essence, people keep hearing the common recycled drum loop or harmonic progression. I should add that artists run the risk of subsiding the human element in terms of groove, time, articulation and phrasing by solely relying on generated loops.
The other recurring thought I have deals with critical thinking skills among musicians. Yes, the tools available now make writing, producing, and playing easy. However with all these advances, musicians don’t absorb the fundamental information needed to go beyond what is presented at face value. Yes, iPhone apps with chord directory listings won’t cut it. Musicians need to know the theory behind chords. They also need to know how to expand from it to develop style. Further, they need to take time to study and expand harmony, key centers, scales, dynamics, orchestration, hearing (relative and perfect pitch; color hearing), and the like. This needs more presence in mainstream media today. I’m not saying songs necessarily need to sound complex. In fact, great tunes often sound much simpler than how they look on paper.
How do you feel about the mainstream sounds of music today?
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