We live in a time of streaming, Bluetooth, managed cloud hosting, social networking, and torrents. Basically, we live in the future. We can obtain, experience, and share virtually anything with anyone in a non-tangible universe. It’s an amazing time, and these incredible tools and inventions have undoubtedly been a blessing to all.
It goes without saying that the technology at the disposal of musicians is equally amazing and advanced. With the help of computers, writing and creating music is more than just a possibility: it’s extremely easy. Beyond the cost of equipment (which many choose to pass over in lieu of free music software), generating and publishing your own album today is cheap and can be done in solidarity.
But compare this with the “good ol’ days” of the Man in Black. If you wanted to be a musician, you had to get an instrument. Not just any instrument, either; you had to find an instrument that you would be willing to spend the time learning in and out, well enough that you could impress someone at a recording house. They were the ones with the equipment you needed to record a song, and an album if you were lucky.
This is why there was comparatively very little music made, but a larger percentage of it lived on to become the classics of today. People had to fight for their musical career, and as a result produced real and honest music.
Today, anyone can make music. This means more generic, soulless, or just plain bad music is out there for us to sift through. The culture of “sampling” has created a wave of copying and piggy-backing on the successes of former artists. While in many ways this new culture of music-making is giving great opportunities to those who may actually make a difference, for the most part we are sacrificing quality for quantity in the world’s growing library of music.
But everyone knows this, right? Everyone is aware of possibly more bands that they hate than ones that they love and admire. Which makes it extremely difficult for those musicians out there who do have a powerful message to send through their music. How will people ever hear them over the badly-instrumented din of the swarmed internet?
The biggest problem I see with the new process of creating music is the distance we now have from it. During the process of orchestrating a sequence or a melody by software, if you happen to make a mistake then you go back and fix it. And then it’s done. You never have to fix that mistake again. There is no real relationship between you and the music anymore.
Artists like Johnny Cash depended on their bodies for their musical expression. It was his hands that formed every single note, and he could never depend on it sounding exactly the same as the last time he played it. Every change of mood or mind for him affected the way his music sounded, and I think this is why his music is so good. It’s changing, it’s imperfect, and it’s real. It does not depend on mechanical fine-tuned perfection to speak to anyone.
It is this over-embracing of technology that I feel is a tragic thing for music. In addition to that, I feel the reliance we have on perfection is incredibly stifling. Humans are flawed, and have stories about those flaws that serve others much more than a clean beat they can predict. But perhaps there’s still hope. While technology will never go away, it can always be used for good. And the simple integrity of the acoustic guitar will never, ever change.