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When The Fans Are All Making Music, Who’s Listening?

A story like this issue’s feature on Propellerhead’s new portable platform may give rise to a “Why is this in PRO Sound News?” query.

A story like this issue’s feature on Propellerhead’s new portable platform may give rise to a “Why is this in PRO Sound News?” query. And on one hand, you’d be right—the application covered facilitates social media-driven collaboration, turning every phone and tablet into a music-making machine that exists in an ecosphere of interactivity. Musician or would-be musician targeted, the environment is inevitably tilted towards music built on a foundation of beats and loops, offering even mere music fans the opportunity to experiment and learn.

It’s a PSN story because, as audio professionals, we need to know what’s going on at the consumer level, how music is being consumed and how it’s being created outside of traditional workflows. A story like this gets me thinking.

Social media has already changed the way we communicate and interact (says Mr. Obvious). When reaching out recently to a few folks about an upcoming event—not as a group, but individually—social media tools were the primary method I employed, as that’s where so many folks live these days; it’s often the best place to go to get a response, superior to email and phone (who talks on their phones these days? The younger you are, the less you seem to be so inclined).

Propellerhead says that a half-billion music-making apps have been installed on iOS devices alone. Whether such installed apps are in use or not is another question, but it does indicate a level of interest in music creation. As the tools make it simpler to experiment, the interest goes up. The collaborative nature of the software is designed for the musically curious living in a social media world, like a multi-player online gaming environment (or as Propellerhead suggests, having some elements akin to a dating app).

I can anticipate the reaction of many audio professionals to this kind of music making, deeming it as inferior, substandard and unworthy. To be sure, the easier it’s gotten to make music and to record, the lower average production quality has become. There is a lot pedestrian music being recorded poorly.

I’ve sensed a general disdain among many practitioners of the recording arts for all EDM, techno and simplistic rap or other such rhythm-driven genres of music. I’ll confess that I’ve longed for a melody line or a change in tempo when listening to the lesser examples of such, and it’s not what I seek out for a musical experience. Such attitudes are in line with every generation being somewhat dismissive of the music of ensuing generations (yes, I know that’s a generality with a lot of exceptions). As our columnist Craig Anderton is prone to suggest, ignore the DJ, the rapper and the rhythm programmer at your own long-term peril, business-wise.

Here and there, even in amateur music making, one can find flashes of creative genius, elements of insight, sincerity in expression, though bogged down in poor sounds and marred by bad mixes. The nature of the beats and loops model of production facilitates experimentation by those with no musical knowledge or training. We, as pros, do encourage attempts at self-expression and creativity, even while we may cringe at the results.

If music creation as social entertainment takes off in a substantial fashion, will it be another blow against an already beleaguered music industry? Will it whet the appetite of the music consumer nee creator for professional quality performances, professionally produced? Or, will it represent a migration away from the passive listening experience in exchange for a musical extension of digital social interactivity?