As 2021 comes to a close and we look forward to what 2022 might bring, now is a good time to reflect on some of the good and not so good points about music creativity. I’m old enough to have seen music and gear go through many changes so I think I have a good basis from which to speak. Here are 5 reasons why I think music creation is better today than ever, along with 5 reasons why it’s not.
Why It’s Better
1. The Music Learning Tools
If you want to learn how to sing or play an instrument, the methods to teach you are much more advanced and scientific today. You can get further along in proficiency much faster than ever before if you’re willing to work at it. One of the best things is that players today all can play to a click or loop because they grow up with it. 20 years ago there were still arguments about how that affected the feel, with many players refusing to follow a click no matter what. Certainly there are times when free time works better, but playing to a click is not even an issue anymore.
2. Audio Learning Tools
The same goes for audio teaching and learning tools. For instance, when I first wrote the Mixing Engineer’s Handbook in 1999 there were zero books on mixing available (I was told it couldn’t be done because mixing was “too subjective,” in fact). Now you can learn from any number of courses or YouTube videos. If there’s something you want to know about audio, recording, mixing, mastering, or production, the information is but a Google search away.
3. Music Gear
Thanks to modern manufacturing techniques, music gear today is far more consistent, and of a general higher standard than ever before. It’s really difficult to find a guitar that’s unplayable, which was pretty much the case with many cheap electric guitars made 30 or more years ago. Keyboards sound better, drums are made better, and virtually any instrument you choose has a generally higher quality. That also means that the occasional exceptional instrument is more difficult to find, unlike the old hand-made days, but the trade-off is acceptable considering what you can get for not that much money these days.
Likewise, audio gear is better than ever before, regardless of the price. It’s difficult to find a poor computer audio interface these days, for instance, where just 10 years ago there was a huge difference in A/D and D/A convertors between the price brackets. Today’s DAWs, even the free or near free ones, are far more powerful than anything we could have yearned for 20 years ago. The dream of every musician having their own home studio is now a reality.
4. Modern Production Techniques
The production of so many hits of yesteryear were based totally on feel, but today we’ve learned the blueprint of a hit. That doesn’t mean that anyone can produce one because you still have to capture magic in a bottle, but the savvy producer knows all about how to keep the listener’s attention with a combination of song development and ear candy. Mistakes and flams are a thing of past (sometimes sadly), and today’s hit productions are state-of-the-art record making.
5. Expanded Distribution Channels
It’s easier than ever to get your music out to the world. For the cost of a few Starbucks coffees your music can be on every streaming platform worldwide in a matter of days. Your video can be available in minutes. Not only that, it can be available in territories that were only possible with the help of a major label 20 years ago. The ability to release music to a wider audience is easier than it’s ever been before.
Why It’s Not
1. Musical Proficiency
The is certainly not the case in every instance, but because of home studios and looping technology, many young players have a “Good enough” attitude when it comes to musical proficiency. While it’s true that you can create some pretty good music and even hits with limited musical knowledge, it does limit the creativity available. That’s one of the reasons why we have so many hits today based around a 2 chord loop.
2. Lack Of Band And Performance Experience
Why put up with the frustration of a band when you can instantly get your ideas realized in your home studio? Bands are hard. From the amount of time it takes to gel, to the time needed for rehearsals, to the general politics of keeping a band together, it’s no wonder that many musicians decide to never set foot into a rehearsal room. As a result, a big piece of the production puzzle is lost, and many artists will find themselves without a clue when the cycle turns back from loop-based music to real musicians playing with one another.
3. Fewer Venues To Play At
But one of the reasons to have a band is to have somewhere to perform and those places are now few and far between. Even before Covid fewer venues wanted bands (especially those starting out) and were favoring DJs or combos. Clubs are the farm teams of the major labels. They’re the place were artists learn how to perform and to handle a crowd. They’re where a true following is earned that will stay with the artist for life, and now there are fewer of them than ever.
4. Poor Or Bad Information
For as much good information on musicianship and recording that’s available, there’s also as much misinformation or downright bad information available as well. Just relying on YouTube can be a dangerous way to learn something, as there are so many videos to choose from on the same subject, many with contrary information. That means that the learning curve can be much higher than it needs to be as a result.
5. More Competition Than Ever
There are 60,000 songs uploaded to Spotify every day. There are 30,000 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute! While the playing field might be more level than ever before, it’s way larger too. It’s less and less about the music you make, and more and more about how you market it in order to make a dent in the musical world.
I can go on, but ponder these notes on modern music creation for a minute and see if you don’t agree with me. All in all, being an artist is about as hard as it ever was, just different. There may be new obstacles, but some paths are easier too. Music always follows technology and it will continue to do so, so I’m looking forward to how that will change things in next 5 years.