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tweex

Has Technology Hurt Music

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In terms of games, I'd say yes, in general. As game platforms support higher and higher quality sounds, game companies seem to opt for orchestras and other cool sounds quite frequently. And I think it's safe to say that in general, modern games don't have themes that are nearly as memorable as the classic ones we grew up with. Certainly there are standouts like Halo, MGS, and Skyrim, whose main themes are very recognizable, but I wouldn't say I'm familiar with much else from those games. When game music used to be very low-quality, composers would focus on making memorable tunes to compensate for the low-quality instruments. I think just as a general trend, composers of a lot of today's themes tend to feel like the instruments can just do the work for them, and don't really bother to make something we can familiarize ourselves all too much with. Don't get me wrong, a lot of today's music is very well done, but beautiful production and beautiful melodies aren't mutually exclusive, and I just wish that's something that more of today's writers would recognize.

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I liked it best when music was around 50% of the whole gaming experience. People had their favorite level and with it their favorite music for the stage.

I'm far from against more ambient use of music in games but it seems the entire gaming industry is mirroring the movie industry now and music is taking more of a back seat.

Take Mass Effect. I love a lot of the music on my OST's of those games BUT the first time I clicked on Jack's Theme, I was thinking "Where the heck did this play in the game?" (Not to take away from the greatness of the great BGC)

Same thing with Jeremy Seoule's work on the first Natural Selection. No idea what that sounded like now that i'm trying to remember something from it.

Yet somehow the title screen to Road Rash has never been wiped from my mind in the way i wish it could have been by now. And I've been in a car wreck, kicked/punched in the head, bottles of liquor (i like sake/vodka/malibu combos) listened to people at work talk about The Jersey Shore. Somehow it's still there.

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I liked it best when music was around 50% of the whole gaming experience. People had their favorite level and with it their favorite music for the stage.

I'm far from against more ambient use of music in games but it seems the entire gaming industry is mirroring the movie industry now and music is taking more of a back seat.

Take Mass Effect. I love a lot of the music on my OST's of those games BUT the first time I clicked on Jack's Theme, I was thinking "Where the heck did this play in the game?" (Not to take away from the greatness of the great BGC)

Same thing with Jeremy Seoule's work on the first Natural Selection. No idea what that sounded like now that i'm trying to remember something from it.

Yet somehow the title screen to Road Rash has never been wiped from my mind in the way i wish it could have been by now. And I've been in a car wreck, kicked/punched in the head, bottles of liquor (i like sake/vodka/malibu combos) listened to people at work talk about The Jersey Shore. Somehow it's still there.

probably due to the evulotion of visual quality over the past decades, as well as the inclusion of much broader sfx, e.g. voice acting, atmosphere, etc.

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I think the article is spot on. The "gear" fetish is so widespread that many people feel like they can only make good music if they have the most expensive equipment ever made. They won't consider any other options first.

And then there are these people who frown upon others who don't use the latest version of FL Studio for example. Of course you can have new features in an upgrade and all that, but in the end practice makes perfect and nothing else will do the talking on that matter.

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Extra Credits had an interesting view on the matter a while back.

Personally, I think both yes and no. No, in that upgrades are usually good for the medium; I shiver happily to think what Terra's Theme might have sounded like had Uematsu had more options than what was currently available to him, or what Mario's Theme might've been like with "real" instruments, or even, had they had access to better synths, what the various levels of Descent might have sounded like.

Then again, had those options been available, would any of that music have retained those same notes, that same melody, that same feel? Most likely not. And that would be a loss to the world. So it's kind of a trade-off.

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Nice article Brian!

With the advent of technology it has drastically changed expectations. Expectations of composers and clients. Clients now expect something quicker and fully realized sooner. Composers now have different expectations of their music entirely as well.

In my mind alot of music creation is about operating within limits. It can be a very restrictive process. (chords, melody, key signature, mixing/mastering) Learning how to creatively work within these restrictions is key to writing music. With modern day technology people aren't learning to operate within restrictions as much as they used too. Plus their are so many people getting in to making music that the perceived quality across has maybe dipped. Nothing wrong with that though, everyone has to start somewhere. :)

Alot of avant garde (academic/modern) music is created in the complete opposite state of mind. Where they want to have no restrictions. Their results are VERY different than more structured music. Alot of this is using technology to "experiment" with sound.

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I agree that it's a problem. The best composers, people like Jeremy Soule, often have a good number of tunes that have memorable melodies (though I wouldn't say I noticed that quite as much in Skyrim, beyond the theme), but it's all too common in game and movie soundtracks that atmosphere and ambient music is making up more and more of the soundtrack. That's certainly ok, and probably adds to the game or movie experience in a better way than overly focusing on melody for melody's sake, but it does mean that the music is less memorable.

Expanding a bit on what tweek said, I think the problem with technology is that listeners have built up a dependence on hearing fully-realized music, and it's no longer ok to use a sketched-out concept that's not arranged using the right instruments. Admittedly, it's hard to make a track consisting of orchestral ambient textures and sketch that out on a piano, but even for more melodic music, people are becoming less able to hear a rough concept plus a description and make sense of it. That's a bad thing as it requires composers to invest a lot more time into music that may be rejected. Not that rejection or suggested revision on a piece is bad in and of itself, but it becomes more costly, and if people who commissioned the music don't let the composer take the unused tracks and use them for a demo reel or try to market them in other ways, time spent on that track is largely wasted for the composer.

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http://youtu.be/ldP7I3OfQYU#t=3m44s

i agree with the premise of the article that we've fetishized the technology to a huge degree at the expense of the actual compositions

Can you expand on what you mean by this? I think to almost all listeners these days, it doesn't matter what tools are being used to create a piece of music, as long as it sounds good in the end. This is pretty true regardless of genre. I hang out on some forums like KVRAudio and Gearslutz (among other places) which are built around discussion of gear, but even there I don't see people getting slammed for using or not using certain pieces of equipment. Of course the producers themselves are often quite interested in equipment but again, even on these forums, the #1 advice I see passed around is "it doesn't matter what you use, as long as it sounds good."

Really, the one technology that is fetishized to an extreme - ironically - would be anything producing a chiptune sound. LSDJ, trackers, etc. That's the one thing that I've observed even non-producers go crazy over PURELY because of the technology used to make the music. I would say with a good deal of confidence that if you took any given chiptune song and arranged it for real instruments, not nearly as many people would be interested.

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Technological advances have improved everything. To the extent that people are making music without knowing anything about music, it's because the technology has made music accessible to them in a way that it never was before. That's a good thing. People should be encouraged to be musicians even if they lack formal training.

If the objection is that technology is hindering people's creativity, that's really a problem with self-discipline and/or education rather than technology per se. There will always be the means to cut corners and write mediocre music rather than excellent music regardless of what the level of technology is, even if those means are as simple as repeating a phrase when you ought to have varied it or using a piano when you ought to have heard things in your head.

That project managers have high expectations for demos and mockups is, in my view, not a problem at all. The reason that mockups and demos have traditionally been stripped to the bare minimum is that the means of doing anything more complicated weren't available. The means are now available, and its not unreasonable to expect people to use them. One of the things, in fact, that I don't like about composition programs in academia is that so many of the old guard composers have no idea how to do decent mockup recordings, have no interest in learning, and can't teach students how to do them.

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Can you expand on what you mean by this? I think to almost all listeners these days, it doesn't matter what tools are being used to create a piece of music, as long as it sounds good in the end. This is pretty true regardless of genre. I hang out on some forums like KVRAudio and Gearslutz (among other places) which are built around discussion of gear, but even there I don't see people getting slammed for using or not using certain pieces of equipment. Of course the producers themselves are often quite interested in equipment but again, even on these forums, the #1 advice I see passed around is "it doesn't matter what you use, as long as it sounds good."

my post was a bit flippant, so sure. i think a dominant trend with people who are interested in technology of any kind is that there's a heavy degree of gear fetishism that comes with it. this makes sense, because they're excited by new advances in technology allowing them to do something they couldn't before. and i mean, it wouldn't try to argue that having access to extremely powerful recording/sequencing equipment on any computer isn't an enormous boon for creative people, because it is. hence the link to Björk saying that if there's no soul in electronic music it's because no one put it there, and not it's not the tools' fault. it's been said before but computer music really is the new "punk". so i'm all for that, 100%

what bothers me is when i feel like the engineers are taking over the creative process. for me, personally, because i'm much more of an emotional than a technical person, i get tired of the constant gear talk that goes around electronic music-making circles. i like exploring new tools a lot, but it's very much secondary to the music-making process, to me. i've been shown a few high-end plugins that a lot of people use, and messing around them made me extremely nervous. why? one was that i felt i had to be an engineer to actually understand what i was doing. but ignoring my incompetence, i mostly felt they were doing all the work for me. and the most important part of making music, for me, is the process of exploring and building the sounds i have from scratch, so that i can form some kind of unique sound for what i'm doing. if the sound is already heavily defined for me, it feels like i'm just following a template. and i don't find that enjoyable - that's not why i do music.

i know that other people are fine with music like that, and i have no problems with that. but i often feel like the tools are more built for a more left-brained approach towards composition than they are towards an open one. i mean, i get anxious about using a lot of sequencers because these days because i feel like they're built for pushing me towards making a certain type of music. even the ones that are supposed to allow you to do all kinds of different things. and i know you can make any kind music with FL or Reason or whatever, but i don't think it's a complete coincidence that the majority of the music that gets made with those tools sounds similar.

what sounds good also is a huge matter of subjectivity - i have a mix on this site with a sound i really enjoy, but a lot of people think it sounds horrible. and i'm not really in a place to say they're wrong or i'm right, but i wasn't going to not make it just because i thought some people wouldn't like it. and i'm also very much a fan of The Velvet Underground's "White Light/White Heat" album, for example, which has an extremely blown out sound that would be any engineer's nightmare. or Sleater-Kinney's "

". i approach sound more like sound-painting - how well does the sound realize the world that the composer is trying to achieve? and it bothers me that some people try to marginalize that approach, like it's overly pretentious or it doesn't exist, because that's the whole reason i'm doing music in the first place.
Really, the one technology that is fetishized to an extreme - ironically - would be anything producing a chiptune sound. LSDJ, trackers, etc. That's the one thing that I've observed even non-producers go crazy over PURELY because of the technology used to make the music. I would say with a good deal of confidence that if you took any given chiptune song and arranged it for real instruments, not nearly as many people would be interested.

i agree that chiptunes are a fad right now. i probably am as tired of them as you are. but fads based around a certain "sound" have been going on since the beginning of popular music.

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my post was a bit flippant, so sure. i think a dominant trend with people who are interested in technology of any kind is that there's a heavy degree of gear fetishism that comes with it.
This has always been the case for music, always.

In 'classical' music (and by that I mean not the metagenre, the practice) I've experienced this 'gear fetishism' and gear demand far more than any electronic musician. In the classic music practice, it's all about what instrument you've got, or what reed/strings/mouthpiece/pick/bow/mallets/sticks/skins you're using. I mean, I've spent far more on 'classical' music items then I have on any electronic producer stuff. About five times as much.

I mean, let's take the saxophone for instance. From experience, you're looking at least £3,000 ($4860) for a decent, professional quality instrument, and that's even entry level for the better manufacturers. A good mouthpiece? £100 ($160) at least. Good reeds? £10 for three. You get the point.

This is not unique to modern, digital technology. As long as there is stuff to purchase, there'll be gear obsession in music.

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This has always been the case for music, always.

In 'classical' music (and by that I mean not the metagenre, the practice) I've experienced this 'gear fetishism' and gear demand far more than any electronic musician. In the classic music practice, it's all about what instrument you've got, or what reed/strings/mouthpiece/pick/bow/mallets/sticks/skins you're using. I mean, I've spent far more on 'classical' music items then I have on any electronic producer stuff. About five times as much.

I mean, let's take the saxophone for instance. From experience, you're looking at least £3,000 ($4860) for a decent, professional quality instrument, and that's even entry level for the better manufacturers. A good mouthpiece? £100 ($160) at least. Good reeds? £10 for three. You get the point.

This is not unique to modern, digital technology. As long as there is stuff to purchase, there'll be gear obsession in music.

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamen brother....

i always completely hated it when other trumpeters at festivals and stuff would scoff at me because I didn't have a "stradivarius."

and now that i have one i barely even use it.

nah, i don't think technology ever has or could hurt music, it's just certain composers and artists who make it look/sound bad.

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i agree that chiptunes are a fad right now. i probably am as tired of them as you are. but fads based around a certain "sound" have been going on since the beginning of popular music.

I think chiptunes have been made popular recently because the limitations force the composer to pump more content into the music without a lot of the conventions of modern electronic music. A lot of techniques of modern music could be labeled as a novelty every bit as much as any sort of chip music. Chiptunes just tend to be more melodic in nature than a lot of modern styles, which is something that I personally enjoy very much when listening to AND writing music

And a certain "sound," as you mentioned, kind of defines a genre, doesn't it..?

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I think chiptunes have been made popular recently because the limitations force the composer to pump more content into the music without a lot of the conventions of modern electronic music. A lot of techniques of modern music could be labeled as a novelty every bit as much as any sort of chip music. Chiptunes just tend to be more melodic in nature than a lot of modern styles, which is something that I personally enjoy very much when listening to AND writing music

I don't necessarily agree with you here. You could easily argue the limitations of, say, solo guitar, solo piano, or any given monophonic/limited-polyphonic synthesizer are equally restricting. Or solo clarinet, string quartet, etc. An ENORMOUS part of the popularity of chiptunes is the nostalgia factor and cultural/social element. There are tons of primitive synthesizers out there but the chiptune culture only really started to become a less-than-niche 'thing' around the time when anything retro or nerdy was becoming popular.

Please note I'm not saying anything about whether it's a "good" or "bad" style of production, I love chiptunes and have done some very poor attempts at them myself. I'm just talking about the popularity of them vs. the popularity of any arbitrarily picked production style or set of instruments.

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i always completely hated it when other trumpeters at festivals and stuff would scoff at me because I didn't have a "stradivarius."

and now that i have one i barely even use it.

Hahaha, takes me back. Oh man, I remember my friend endlessly endorsing his Stradivarius trumpet.

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Sound and composition are very unique. Not just by themselves but to people as well. Heck I used to know someone that thought they heard bells on the radio when actually it was a piano. The part about bringing a concept of a song is interesting because depending on who hears it you might get someone who's looking for a sound or looking for a melody. Like I had a job doing a techno kind of Touhou piece and made a bid with a concept I made pretty quickly with soundfonts and they loved it, when I completed the song with all the proper production they were blown away and actually tipped me. Another time I made a piece for someone with some SNES sounds to demonstrate what I wanted to do and they weren't particular too into it, then I did it up fully orchestrated and they were again blown away by it. So I'd say there's people who don't particularly mind what you write as long as it sounds amazing and there's people who are looking for particular writing despite the quality (although people sure do appreciate the quality).

I wouldn't say technology hurts music it just makes many more paths and decisions. But I do think in some cases when you're composing a song or creating a melody you are doing it for the sound. Like if Inon Zur auditioned to do the music for Fallout 3 with concepts done on a piano it would not be as interesting at all until it was fleshed out with orchestra, that's what make it more special (although I cannot remember a single piece of music from that game). But if the developer's said "hey were really keen on there being a lot of piano but we want it to express the lonely and desolate atmosphere" then he probably would have gone about that decision with more creativity due to the limitation. I don't know why I picked Fallout 3 it's probably because I can't recall any of Inon Zur's music at all.

Personally I think the best music comes from a place where you're not thinking of sounds or technology, but you know the feeling, the movement...you know what it is meant to do. There will always be more and more pressure as music evolves but I will always appreciate those that can forget about it and just make something real.

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I don't necessarily agree with you here. You could easily argue the limitations of, say, solo guitar, solo piano, or any given monophonic/limited-polyphonic synthesizer are equally restricting. Or solo clarinet, string quartet, etc. An ENORMOUS part of the popularity of chiptunes is the nostalgia factor and cultural/social element. There are tons of primitive synthesizers out there but the chiptune culture only really started to become a less-than-niche 'thing' around the time when anything retro or nerdy was becoming popular.

Please note I'm not saying anything about whether it's a "good" or "bad" style of production, I love chiptunes and have done some very poor attempts at them myself. I'm just talking about the popularity of them vs. the popularity of any arbitrarily picked production style or set of instruments.

Fair enough, I'll roll with most of that, although my comments were aimed more at modern electronic rather than solo acoustic instruments. My recent interest in writing chiptunes actually kind of came from a frustration with my own lead and melody writing, so it started as exercises with the limited instrumentation to FORCE catchy and memorable melodies out (which I strongly recommend if anyone is feeling the same way).

But I've been listening to chiptunes before I even knew there was a culture built around it (I'm so hip, right? Fucking LOVE Alberto Gonzalez's Gameboy work), looking up youtube clips of music from my favorite Gameboy games etc., and it was pretty easy to let myself be absorbed by the sound and turn it into a way of writing that I ultimately love. The process and the end product are both way, way too much fun

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It's interesting seeing people associate orchestral pieces with technology since those pieces are there for years. I usually make associations of technology in music at eletronica style, here I can say its just exists because techonology has evolved.

So it's easy to agree if someone that loves styles which don't need necessarily technology in yours compositions like rock or orchestral songs say that technology hurt music.

If technology hurt game music the answer is no at all, but since consoles have more power today, players demand epic songs when gaming usually to get involved with the scene, in detriment of that same song being memorable to them. So videogame music become a little bit disposable, maybe as much as the the game itself become disposable after a while.

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Music was much better before they invented concert halls.

I mean electricity.

Or rather, synths.

At the very least, no good has come from the mp3 encoding and sharing music on the net.

So yeah, no.

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Having read the article, no, technology didn't hurt music. It offers more ways to create it, regardless of genre, and that's not a bad thing. The problem comes with how musicians, producers, mixers and so forth apply the technology to the music they're trying to create. That's where it can go horribly wrong.

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Brian, what studio were you at when you were out here? I'm curious as to who this music genius is.

But anywho, I agree that this need to be marketed by audio/recording companies, that you need this great new tool to get this new sound, is soon to be hopefully a dying trend as people wise up that the technology is coming to a plateau and that most have plenty of tools to make great music already at their disposal and they need to shift their focus back to the craft.

There is certainly a synergy that happens with the gear, and I'm all for it as I'm sure you are. WIth the new technology, in its abuse and poor uses of it often because we all are amateur in some realm of music as we take on more tasks as composers and engineers, we are just starting to find a balance on how to use it.

For me it's the same concept of why people lose the first 6 months, to a year, lost in their iphones playing mindless games and wasting their time.

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