"TECHNOLOGY AND MODERN MUSICAL PERFORMANCE"
Updated: Mar 28
One thing I have come to learn is that you cannot stop progress. Technology is constantly changing and musicians are consistently exploring new ways to harness sound and make music. I touched on this in my last blog post when I mentioned that I use a Blair Digital Chanter to record my bagpipe parts, but I understand how reliance on technology, and/or its heavy inclusion might irk some. Purists may argue that machines remove the human element from music and that they cannot completely and convincingly replicate the sound of the instrument they're attempting to emulate. They call it fake. I find this somewhat true. A fretless electric bass cannot completely sound like an upright. and an acoustic-electric guitar’s pickup will likely never help it sound as good as when it's played acoustically or amplified using a quality microphone.
These alternatives can get pretty close, but something, however minute, seems to be missing. These same purists might also argue that using technology on stage is cheating, lazy, and/or taking work away from gigging musicians. I also get this, but what happens when musicians cannot successfully collaborate? They, like anyone and anything else, can be replaced.
Before the pandemic hit, I wanted to get back into Celtic and East Coast Folk music after a prolonged tenure playing rock and roll almost exclusively. I put ads out on Kijiji looking for players I could work with. If anyone even bothered to answer them, they were either too far away, of a lower talent calibre, or weren’t offering the instruments I was looking for. I finally just gave up and realized, when the pandemic forced me to stay home and think, that I could have the sounds I generally wanted using virtual instruments, but I’d just have to do it all myself. As a result, because I had the time, I started looping parts for everything I could get my hands on. These loops combined to create master MP3 backing tracks to which I sing and play guitar live. Now I have the “band” that I wanted. It plays all of the songs I like and how I like them. It plays them in perfect time and is always in tune. I don’t have to deal with human players’ potential egos, attitudes, musical limitations, scheduling issues, or personal management challenges.
Is this ideal? In many senses, absolutely. In others, obviously no. But ideal or not, technology has offered me the medium through which I can do what I wanted when I wanted to do it. Are there some people out there who frown on this method? Totally. I’ve seen enough online hate calling musicians who use backing tracks, an IPad or a laptop, “half-assed” or “glorified karaoke”. But the last time I checked, people singing karaoke in bars weren’t playing all the parts, recording, and arranging them, which is a lot of work. It’s something in which I take a lot of pride. And it's not because I think I'm a musical genius, because I am not, but because I'm actually doing it. I'm making it happen. It's concurrently a labour of love and frustration as the tracks are constantly evolving through the re-editing process.
Coming out of the pandemic, it's no surprise that some venues are struggling financially. Some would like live music, but cannot afford to adequately pay a quartet or more. I’ve noticed that more and more places seem to be hiring minimalist acts like soloists, duets, and trios to offer a live musical experience in a way to help keep their costs down. This trend appears to be the way of the world now. Larger and/or new bands potentially risk getting less work simply due to their size. So, as one person, if I can sound like anything from a soloist to an octet, and get more bookings because venues only have to pay one person, who takes up far less space, that seems like the best of both worlds to me. My audiences get the visual experience of a soloist, but the auditory representation of an entire band. And based on my observations so far, if they can sing along, dance, or watch people dance, which is arguably more entertaining based on who's dancing, they don't seem to care how many people are playing. They're interested in having a good time.
Are you a musician who uses technology? If so, what do you use, how do you use it, and why? Represent your act in the comments below.