Having a ten year old daughter who is going on sixteen, I've been exposed to a lot of music that I wouldn't normally encounter. Without naming names, I can't believe some of the stuff she listens to! I mean, what has music become these days? Nothing worth listening to on the radio...her iPod is filled with stuff that would probably be considered "cruel and unusual punishment" by the Constitution...
At first I just thought I was getting older. I can only imagine what my parents thought of the music I listened to when I was growing up. I listen to some of it now and it brings back a flood of memories and I rock out to it. Then I turn a musically critical ear to it and wonder if I could explain the music's appeal to my children, and I'm guessing I couldn't.
Despite the "je ne sais quoi" appeal of the music for "my music" and "my daughter's music", I really started thinking about what was bothering me about the music I'm hearing being produced today.
Disclaimer: The following statements are meant to provide an overview of noticeable trends, not a blanket statement of ALL popular music being produced today.
Someone recently said to me, "the problem with music today is so much of it is done by computers. You've got one person's voice doing all the vocals layered on top of each other and it seems like no one knows how to play instruments any more."
As I pondered that statement, I remember reading an article that talked about music that was TOO perfect...digital editing, synthesized instruments and digitized instruments that never play out of tune or come in at the wrong time.
Is that music?
A TED series video I watched talked about the dangers of listening only to compressed format music. For those of you like me, I enjoy having my entire music library at my disposal on my iPod, but there are consequences. The richness and depth of the audio quality is diminished by compressing the audio file. We lose some of the subtlety and nuance. Our ears adjust to this flatter, less vibrant audio experience and it becomes the norm for us...we lose some of our ability to appreciate the vast aural experience that music is.
And what of technology easily available to both musicians and non-musicians alike (is there such a thing as a NON-musician?)? Music composition miracles can happen with the help of programs like Pro Tools, Garage Band or Finale, among others. With Finale, you don't have to know anything about tonal harmony...just write a melody line and Finale will add the accompaniment for you! With Garage Band and an iPad 2 you can create musical tracks on the go. I haven't used Pro Tools, but I remember a DVD Special Feature from "Once Upon a Time in Mexico." Robert Rodriguez demonstrated how he created music for the entire movie using Pro Tools and a keyboard synthesizer...he claims to be a "non-musician."
Do people even hire studio musicians anymore? It's much less expensive to hire one person who is experienced with Pro Tools to create a whole band or orchestra's worth of music than it is to hire musicians, conduct rehearsals etc. Less expensive and probably less expressive. Has the music industry really shifted toward the bottom line instead of the quality of the product?
My beloved's dear friend recently released her first CD of solo cello music. She debated whether or not to release it on iTunes but in the end decided not to. She chose not to compromise the integrity of the recording, even though iTunes would have opened up a wider audience for her. I have to respect that. Tough call when one is trying to become established as a performer. Nothing but respect.
The biggest fear I have as a result of all of this (besides having my daughter's pop music stuck in my head) is that the art of creating music will be lost. This quickly becomes a slippery slope. Technology makes it possible for people to create amazing music without having to study music for years and years. At the same time, does that accessibility diminish what those of us who chose to study music do?
A composer spoke at a conference I attended years ago. He admitted that most of his contemporaries used computers to notate their compositions. He refused to do that. He used a blank piece of score length staff paper, a pencil and a ruler to write all of his scores. He believed that actually writing music, in a clear and understandable way was becoming a lost art. He did his part to keep it alive. Is music composition itself in danger of becoming a lost art?
As music therapists, we work every day to make music accessible to everyone. Christine Stevens says that music should be an every day occurrence, not reserved for the concert halls and Michelle Shocked says "Music is too important and too revolutionary to be left in the hands of professionals." As a music therapist, I live by ideas like this. I work every day to get people involved in music.
Am I just afraid of becoming obsolete? If Garage Band can teach piano and guitar lessons and Pro Tools can create movie soundtracks and albums, is my role as a live musician becoming outdated in the world? Or will live musicians still be sought after over the canned, digitized perfect recordings that are becoming all the rage?
Do you think people will settle for the quick and easy music or still appreciate the good old fashioned way of doing things?