Technology and Music: A New Wave of Sound

By Laetitia Haddad '20

February 2019 Issue 

    The stage is set. Velvet curtains roll open as the murmur of the crowd subsides, giving way to a resonating silence. At the conductors command, strings spring into gentle motion, filling the air with hearty chords, painting the ceiling a deep blue. As if in conversation, the woodwinds call out, lilting melodies dancing in red and gold like the flames of a candle. Above the careful, creative chaos, brass rings out triumphant, like the first sign of blossoming green in the springtime. Below it all, bass lines thump like the ever-present heartbeat of time.

    A perfect storm, calculated yet spontaneous, evoking feeling and emotion, building and surprising at each melodic twist and turn and - you pause your music, take out your earbuds and climb out of the song, returning to reality for a little while.

    Music is constantly evolving to influence and reflect our culture and is an essential and defining feature in the lives of many. Its role is to connect and to confront, to remark and to inspire. The medium of music has undergone a multitude of changes in the last 50 years as we transition away from traditional sound and start down the experimental road of subgenres.

    From music production to distribution, technology of the 21st century has impacted and altered how we interact with music in our lives. Evan Roper, a junior, remarks that, “technology has made accessing music so much easier. I don’t have to go to a store and buy a physical copy of the album I want.”

    Like all conversations regarding technology, we weigh the positives and negatives to decide whether such advances are to our overall advantage or detriment. Of course, it is hard to objectively identify whether technology has made music better or worse. However, we can definitely assert that technology has resulted in a larger industry with means to rapidly produce music, create with less of a regard for the record label, and share and stream instantaneously.

    Many people may immediately associate technology in music with overproduced, high intensity electropop. And yet, it is important to recognize the immense shift in accessibility that technology has allowed music to take. Mr. Ambrose, upper school music teacher, recognizes that the introduction of CD’s were groundbreaking for musicians as well as audiences. He says, “people were using cassette tapes, and cassette tapes break… the older they get, the key changes… you could try to learn a piece off of a cassette tape, and it’s in between keys because of age. With CDs, everything was digitally mastered and everything is perfectly in tune.”

    While technology has raised the quality of music from all eras, it seems that it is having the greatest impact not on the sound of music itself, but the means of production.

    Gone are the glory days of the record label and its studios. Once synonymous with chart toppers and unparalleled sound, the advent of music production software like Garageband or Logic Pro have paved the way for home-produced, low budget artists who have no desire to be signed with a large record label.

     Evan Roper, a junior, remarks that technology has, “made the self producing musician thrive. Someone doesn’t have to go to a label and seek out a deal. They can record it themselves and post it to a streaming service, making it much easier and efficient.”  

     In the past, record companies would actively scout out talent that they wanted to produce. Now, sites such as Youtube or SoundCloud are the basis for the rise of self-made artists and their empires of fans. The Atlantic recently reported that the music industry’s profits have declined by 60% in the last decade, a result of unsigned artists and streaming sites. It is now so much faster and cheaper to share and produce music, which benefits the listener, but has adverse effects on the industry itself.

     Despite the fact that systems like Spotify and SoundCloud facilitate more low-budget artists, Evan also points out that, “the music streaming services is a double edged sword.” He states that, “it is incredible for the audience, letting the average listener have access to any song or artist they want at anytime, but for the musician it fails help them make the money that once came from the album sales. Musicians make little to no money off of platforms such as Spotify and SoundCloud.”

    And yet, it is evident that artists can still survive without the aid of a label. How much do we truly depend on the music industry anymore? Previously, record labels were a middle man between the creation and distribution of an artists music. Working with radio stations, only hit songs would make it onto the airwaves.

    For the first time ever, we have access to a wide collection of music, spanning centuries and continents. We have the opportunity to build our own libraries and playlists that pull from all genres and periods of music creation.

    Now, we have more agency over what we listen to and when, how we create and remix classics to fit our new tastes.

    Or so we think. The rise of streaming services, like Spotify and Apple Music, boast extensive libraries of sound and algorithms that suggest new music and artists for you. Mr. Ambrose, however, is wary of the effectiveness of these new systems of recommendation. “They’re telling you what you want to hear,” he explains. “You don’t get to explore all of the different genres. If you listen to a certain artist, it algorithms: well, if you like this artist, then you’ll like this artist. So, it’s pigeon-holing you into a genre of music. How do you know you don’t dig this style of music when nothing on your computer pops up in that style?”

    It seems that despite all of these advances in technology, nothing beats the ear’s ability to listen and search for something that we truly connect with. While technology advances to rapidly alter and supposedly enhance the sound waves we listen to, we must remember that music is inherently human, and that no system can truly override our means of expression.