Opinion: What Technology Means For The Future Of Music

By Caroline Shim, Feature Photo via CTV News

With the rise of technology, more artists are replacing traditional instruments with digital means of production. While there is a danger of overusing it, technology certainly helps to expand the horizon of music genres and allows room for experiments.

As technology advances, more and more recording equipment and software are made affordable and are being widely distributed. The development of Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) allows “anyone with a computer” to make music. Although MIDI originated in order “to link keyboards with synthesizers,” it has become crucial software in editing “all aspects of music recordings.” MIDI allows multiple instruments to interact at the same time “through a central transceiver.” In the era before MIDI, music production required mixers, a sound booth, and sessional features. MIDI allows artists to work from their home studios, and makes music production affordable for everyone.

Computer technology can eliminate acoustic limits on traditional instruments and manipulate pitches, chords, or just about any musical structure. Because composers can listen to their composition as it is being composed, it eliminates steps involved in traditional composing. Sampling allows musicians to take samples of past tracks, alter the tone, speed up or slow down the track, and incorporate them into original creations. Also, being able to listen to their music immediately brings tremendous benefits for composers. It helps both individual work and collaboration; it helps them to externalize musical thoughts or abstraction easily; they can derive new inspiration outside of the composer’s original ideas, and experiment with new ideas; it allows composers to compose, interpret and improvise at the same time.

Digital means of sound production also bring about new music genres. There are many sub-genres within the genre of electronic music alone, such as house music, techno, electronic rock, electro swing, electroacoustic, and more than fifty others. None of these genres would have been invented without the rise of technology, and it is very likely that more genres will emerge from using technology in music, as more software and equipment are being introduced.

Innovative technology can also come in handy for live performances. Artists may use digital projection, images, and lighting to enhance the visual effect of their performances, use software for set design, and record their rehearsals and/or performances for future reference.

One drawback to technology that it may be overused or abused. Auto-Tune, which allows for pitch manipulation, has been notorious for burying artists’ voices in order to hide their terrible vocal skills. Bob Rock, a record producer who has long collaborated with Michael Bublé, pointed out in an interview with The Globe and Mail, that it has become the pop standard for radio, and thus producers feel compelled to use it. Radio listeners are so used to perfect, compressed vocals that the condensed, scrubbed sonic quality is now practically required for airplay. The reactions of artists regarding the use of technology in music, especially when it comes to auto-tune, are very diverse. k.d. lang, for instance, never uses auto-tune. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, she stated that she is not opposed to it, but she prefers an “organic” sound and that she loves imperfection. Pop radio, however, does not share lang’s love for impression. Critics of auto-tune argue that human voice, as imperfect as it may be, is what evokes emotions in listeners; voice manipulation takes away the resonance and the emotional power of the raw voice.

In an era in which technology is irreplaceable, a balance between technology and traditional instruments is crucial. As Peter Gregson, founder of the Electric Creative Colab, a body that explores collaborations between arts and technology, said in an interview with The Guardian: “You can’t shoehorn the arts into the technology world, and you can’t shoehorn the technology world into the arts sector. They need to be acknowledged as equal partners.”

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