It’s easier to make music now then it’s ever been before
Words by Brinsley Chidavaenzi
Someone said to me “We’re in the golden age of making music. There’s so much that can be done, so many sounds to choose from and the production process isn’t 100% automated yet.” Being an internet child, I was aware of how the process of making music has shifted from large budgets and big teams and the select few to potentially anyone. That alone gives me joy that with time, resourcefulness and an internet connection, you can have the tools at your fingertips to make music. The internet and the music industry have always been at an opposite polarity.
Accepting what can’t be stopped and what’s new is highly important. With Napster, it was the control of people paying for music, iTunes was built as a counter point. With Spotify, it’s the access to music that people are paying for in our current Rent-To-Own economy. Access over ownership, a new embrace for the impermanent unknown of platforms hosting what we listen. You can’t download every single musical recording made. But we can give you access to it, or at least the best approximation of this. Music can disappear and reappear just as quickly as you’d see it go online. Access is the keyword of understanding the 21st century’s relationship with music; both in it’s consumption, creation and distribution. The consumption being changed in terms of speed the music could be accessed by (surprise releases!), the creation in not having to be dependent on a large recording studios and the ease of having a laptop, speakers and microphone to create music on.
Plus, the haven of streaming platforms being our digital sellers and distributors. The physicality of music used to be dominant but now the digital is with the physical being the effect of the digital, not the cause. The internet effectively destroyed the old paradigm of music’s physicality and re-organised it in a unorthodox, unpredictable manner where the new stars we’re being chosen by virality, consistency, innovation or uniqueness. Napster being a modern day grandfather for first generation file sharing and peer-2-peer systems at the end of the 90’s, this moved across websites such as Datpiff (which is integral to the shift of new consumption of hip hop mixtapes throughout the 2000’s) and new software such as grandson Kazaa to early web 2.0 social media such as MySpace. The ability to know how to make use of this new software would prove to be most important in distributing content to high exposure.
These blocks are how our beloved artists built the blocks or enriched their already existing careers with legacies of non-album tracks, demos and freebies with. Artists such as M.I.A, LCD Soundsystem, Jai Paul and more have used MySpace to great effort.
With M.I.A with her early releases on MySpace culminating to her ‘Piracy Funds Terrorism Vol.1’ mixtape which is a window into sounds that move through the world at large within the 21st century. (that are very much trendy/under utilised or being tapped into by the pop sphere such as rap, dancehall, baile funk, reggaeton, and more sounds that would have been pigeonholed under the lamentable and asinine label of ‘world music’ only a few decades ago.)
The reverse of this lack of control of the unknown is the appearance of leak culture; which has snuck everywhere from music to TV shows and transcended art and entered the long history of the political arena and news cycle. The internet’s a new playground in which the rules of the land are forever changing and platforms surge up and down between relevancy and social media algorithms affect reach – all impacting the music.
Resources, restraint and shifting counter culture are three forces that drive innovation and have done across hip hop the last 20 years as seen in the old divide between the mainstream and underground (two groups with different ideas about what should be popular in rap music.) The internet over time slowly collapsed the underground into just the niche and non niche rather than simply being a popularity battle. This same philosophy bleeds into the making of 21st century music where influences are crashed in the way a mixtape [in the classical sense] would be made with songs surfing across genres, moods, styles and tempo. Since 2005, YouTube’s been a host, archive and the medium of documenting music’s evolution throughout; people used to solely upload to YouTube fun, now for musicians – the right YouTube channel a video is uploaded on is part of the marketing strategy. People may not go WORLDSTAR directly anymore but still recognize the infamous watermark on a video from a new sensation. As well as YouTube’s being a host, YouTube’s also a teacher with thousands of content that can get someone who’s just got music making software to making music mastered for commercial and radio play. Mixing tutorials, effect tutorials, type beat tutorials – all information that could be sold for thousands just a few decades ago pre-internet revolution, now available and widely accessible.
This reverses the trend of how popular music can be influenced: wanting to have sonic aesthetics which could have been heard on streaming platforms by people in a niche scene going now mainstream (i.e the embrace of distortion within the mainstream pop sphere in the last few years). Whilst the barrier of the select few has ultimately lessened grip due to the radical re-shift of who has access to what, there’s still the barriers of the money/time paradigm (time making music which would be leisure time if the person has any spare time). Plus attention, which is ultimately been the same since the modern preservation of recorded music during the 20th century.
A perk of this is the reflection of what’s popular can be slightly more democratic (at least before money and financial campaigns) can be utilised rather than being fed the few artists on a circuit signed by the ‘Big 3’ major labels.
This has lead to more devoted and more committed fanbases than ever, a fan may be able to stream an album but they’ll buy a vinyl for the physicality and listening differences separating themselves from the rest of the pack. It’s a beautiful time and an ever shifting time, music platforms change, social media changes, attention techniques change – and the best thing you can do is to get started now and enjoy the ride of unique time of music participation. Who knows what the difficulty of enjoying music will be in the future.