In order to survive in the current musical culture where borrowing other artist’s ideas is a normal practice, it is becoming more and more important for musicians to develop skills in arranging and producing on top of simply learning to play and improvise on an instrument. A diverse skillset these days is what gets musicians their start. Music production software is cheaper today than anyone could have imagined 25 years ago. Because of this, it is possible to create professional sounding music in your bedroom or basement. Furthermore, popular music today is more electronic than it has ever been before.
Bad news for you guitarists or drummers? Not so fast. With Logic Pro X’s new Flex Pitch and Ableton Live’s “Audio to Midi” conversion feature, chords, melodies and drumbeats played on analog equipment (think anything recorded through a microphone as an audio file) can quickly be converted into a vast array of synthesized sounds. In other words, you can now make your instrument of choice sound like any instrument of choice.
In addition, any recorded sound can be made into its own instrument with the help of software plugins like MOTU’s Mach Five, Native Instrument’s Kontakt and a host of other sampling programs. With literally unlimited sonic possibilities, creating the next big trend in music is as much about finding the next big sound as it is having skills on an instrument or a creative musical mind.
Often, this involves using previously recorded music to fuel melody or a backbeat. In fact, you’d be surprised at how much borrowing occurs in music today. In the genre of hip-hop, almost all drumbeats are sampled and producers have become so skilled at masking these samples that we often don’t recognize the borrowing when we hear it.
Indeed the modern producer can be thought of as a kind of arranger of many borrowed ideas that in turn become something new and original. It’s not that these producers are somehow cheating because they are borrowing so many sounds—we just have to accept that the way music is created is and always will be changing. It just so happens that borrowing and sampling has been made extremely simple in the last few decades, giving producers a vast array of sonic possibilities that had never before been available, especially at such a low price tag.
Thus, complaining that music today lacks authenticity or originality is a fruitless endeavor. People borrow and sample, and have great success doing so—and that’s unlikely to change. What can change is how we educate ourselves when it comes to playing and writing music. It would benefit all curious musicians keen on writing their own stuff to make music production a part of their studies. This will lead to a well-rounded musical education not limited to a single instrument, and it will also illustrate to you naysayers how sampling and other non-traditional ways of composing music are highly complex art forms in and of themselves.