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OPINION: A Change Is Occurring In Pop Music

There is a change occurring in pop music. It is: technology is increasingly allowing artists to perform on their own without backing bands.

Individuals-like Owen Pallet, for example, of the "band" (which is really only him...) Final Fantasy, are doing remarkable things entirely on their own. And, no one seems to miss the rest of the (nonessential?) crew on stage.

This new type of singer-songwriting retains the intimacy and one - to -oneness of the old Joni Mitchel, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan approach to writing and performing, but also has that certain instrumental complexity.

Artists are managing to create entire "orchestras" by sampling either live or synthesized performances and then using computers to create collages of sound, which are then, in turn, often "performed" live using computers. All of this has led to the emergence of a genuinely new visual in modern music, meanwhile: that of an isolated (often hipster) musician standing on stage with a computer in front of him/her "playing" digital recordings.

In the end, though, music, like any other art form, I think, is mostly about connecting powerfully with an audience, and thus the goal of connecting should ultimately decide whether music is done solo or with others...

In reality, this is just an extension of the same trend in music which began with the creation of the tape recorder some seventy years ago.

Before the tape recorder music was created - either allographically (i.e. on paper, as a score, to be interpreted and performed later live) or autographically (i.e. live, as sound) by people themselves; since then, however, music has been being actually created by an entire panoply of electronic equipment which captures the creative activities of human beings and then presents them to the ear afterwards.

Indeed, studio recording has given rise to an entirely new genre of music theory: in music schools students no longer study exclusively "old style" techniques, such as how notes and chords are put together to create directionality in music. Schools now are teaching people how to "assemble" independently created musical chunks, by using a variety of different sound sources which are recorded and then played back in whatever form into which a student wishes to put them.

This is done mostly digitally now (where chunks of music are represented as 1000101101, etc), rather than with analog equipment (where sound was/is actually "etched" into a medium, like recording tape, and then played back via phonograph or stereo). Recording itself has become a compositional technique, an art form, really.

I have been musing about all of this lately, meanwhile, because I am about to leave a school where I've been a music student for the past two years, and I'm not quite sure what I want to do with myself musically. I play the guitar and piano, and I sing, and I just finished taking a year of electronic music/studio technique (hence the above expostulations). The goal now, then, is to begin creating a professional identity for myself as a musician using all the tools I've picked up.

This process is an important one to any aspiring artist like myself, meanwhile, because, as I have said, not only does one have to decide how to put to use the tools that one has acquired to date, but also because the musical learning process never ends, and thus (once out of school...) one has to make a plan as to how one wants to teach oneself over the years.

So here I am trying to sort out the various options. To relate the above-discussed trend in pop music to my own process, meanwhile, I would say the following: in an abstract sense, I like the idea of one's being able to take one's show on the road by oneself. It would be cheaper and simpler than having a band. Also, if one does not mind one's own company for long stretches of time, composing, performing, and touring alone might be a very peaceful experience.

Finally, there are surely deep creative spaces that one is able to get into alone which are difficult to achieve as a group. On the other hand, it is always remarkable to experience teamwork. To watch a great band perform together, or to play as part of a band, can be a fabulous experience; it is inspiring to create with others and to see others create together.

In the end, though, music, like any other art form, I think, is mostly about connecting powerfully with an audience, and thus the goal of connecting should ultimately decide whether music is done solo or with others, with acoustic instruments or electronic ones, live or recorded; the key must be to affect people-positively.

Meanwhile, in closing I will offer the following comment to those who are made nervous, or even angry, by the fact that we appear to be moving (to some degree, at least...) beyond the era of bands and into an era in which "front-men/women" feel empowered to take their instrumentally complex content to people directly: change is a necessary feature in art, and any change which expands, rather than contracts, the expressive potential of artists, and the receptive potential of audiences, can only be a good thing.

And, for now at least, the decreasing prevalence of bands in favor of solo artists is serving this principle of creativity and receptivity (unless, of course, you're a drummer who doesn't sing...which raises legitimate questions and problems of its own, I suppose, which I will not address here), and therefore it is mostly a fine trend indeed.

Adapted from an Opinion by Danny Nelson as submitted to



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