The Classics of Tomorrow Today: Making music in the 21st century

It’s been a long time and this article is past due. Ciro and I have been discussing around this topic for quite some time now, what does it mean to create great music in the world today?

It is only fitting that during this month that we are dedicating our program to the classics of rock and pop of years past we take a moment to analyze what it means to be a classic. What makes the accepted classics has perhaps been discussed to death, but rather the focus should be on what it takes to create the classics of tomorrow, and that’s when the previously proposed question pops to the foreground.

Certainly we are undergoing or experiencing a democratization of the music industry, to the industry giants’ great pain. This democratization spans not only the way music is distributed, marketed and consumed but also it includes the production process, its performance and the creative process itself, after all, music begets music, it is a feedback cycle.

It is no wonder that with increased distribution formats and channels a huge amount of subpar productions are available due to the fact that production has never been easier. It takes but laptop and maybe not even a “real” instrument to create a well produced musical track. However in this case, the higher availability of supply does not necessarily better quality product for the consumer, or does it?

Well at least that is what die-hard music geeks are more than willing to let you know. “Oh the greats! There will never be another (insert your mega band here, preferably of the prog-rock persuasion)!” This rationale is spawned from the inevitable nostalgia of youth and from an also inevitable demystification of the music performance and recording process. I want to stress out the inevitability of the later condition; it is due to the fact that technological progress has made recording technology cheaper and easier to acquire and to know. Basically any music geek out there with sufficient diligence has seen, been to or even operated a home recording studio equipped with a software sequencer and studio.

The recording process for the bands and artists we loved so much in our youth was a big myth fueled by the pictures in liner pages in old albums and in the industry’s magazines. The image of a sea of knobs and sliders in front of a hazy eyed mythical producer evoked a sort of magic that could only be felt but not explained, magic that was so patently evident in majestic guitar solos such as Floyd’s in Any Colour You Like and the melancholy ridden paranoid croons of David Bowie, so otherworldly and beautiful.

Now a relatively inexpensive computer with good software and some common hardware can make any bedroom or garage into a studio. The creative studio process has been demystified. So if the production process is so simple so artisanal then it’s got to be something else, right? Well, music geeks shift their attention to something they have always loved, the musical prowess of the musicians themselves.

It is the virtuosos’ innate talents at playing his or her instrument that enables true musical greatness. Such a statement rings true to the heat of old school geeks who harness such a disdain for music that isn’t performed by the mechanical action of fingers, hand or body; as if physical actuation on a tool had anything to do with the resulting value of the sound.  But as any self-respecting professional musician this side of the self-deception frontier may tell you, music is never about the instrument.

So what makes the difference? What will make the next classic stand out? Well, for starters it isn’t likely that a musical phenomenon such as Cream, Led Zepellin or Queen might appear in the near future. The diluting effect of so many musical tastes scenes and bands catering to that diversity make it harder for a consensus to be made around who is the latest and the greatest.

But still some great music is being made and it will continue to be made despite the changes around the industry. It happens because the musical creation process and good music isn’t about the resources, it is about the choices you make with those resources. It isn’t about the instrument or how you play it, or how big the studio is or appears to be, is how you choose to use all of those tools that will affect your art.

So however vast the options in musical production (that if you ask me have always been around) there will always be good musicians making good musical choices; so making music today, as it has always been, will not change much in essence. More options may mean harder choices but also a wider range of possibilities.

For the music maker, don’t worry if the music geeks sneer at you for your home made laptop production, you may as well be the next great musician of our times. And for the music listener, finding the next best thing may take some more listening to more and more proposals out there, but we are all the richer for it.

(Pronto la versión en español.)

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