The Technological Changes of Music Production

As the world becomes more technologically advanced, we see can observe many changes that have taken place. Music production is an area where this is just as apparent. If we look back just 100 years, more technologically advanced countries are almost unrecognizable from their dated counterpart. Music has almost fundamentally changed over the years. But, how has ever-advancing technology changed the core of music production? This paper sets out to observe the recording process to collaboration and the changes that have taken place as technology has advanced, beginning with the recording process.

One of the first and most fundamental changes that has taken place in music production is the recording process. When music was first being recorded and produced, the musicians all had to get together in one room and record their song until they all played their parts perfectly and with minimal error. The song structure was strictly limited to what the band had decided on, before any recording took place. The sound of the instruments and vocals were also pre-determined. A lot of thought and effort went into writing and practicing this so that their song would sound exactly as they had planned. The effort was all in the pre-recording phase. Today, most of the effort goes into editing in the post-recording process.

Unlike music that was recorded in the past, song structure and overall sound is developed after the recording has taken place. The pre-recording process still requires a certain amount of preparation and planning. However, the majority of the work takes place after the recording is finished. The artist is no longer limited by what the instrument or vocals sound like as they are being recorded. Any recording can be tweaked and altered to fit whatever sound they desire. If the artist or producer prefers a higher octave or a different note in the recorded vocals, they can simply edit it without needing the vocalist to come back in and re-record it. This opens up incredible possibilities of song structure and sound that can have an intense effect of the mood of the listener.

When thinking about how the song is to be structured and what mood the listener should feel, the artist is open to a wide variety of possibilities. In electronic dance music (EDM), the song’s structure plays a huge roll in the effect the song has on the listeners. There are many different techniques that are used in EDM specifically used to hype the crowd up. The techniques are used to give the listener to feeling of being lifted off of the ground, filled with anticipation, and then dropped back down to the ground. These techniques are analyzed and explained in an article called “Waiting for the bass to drop” by Ragnhild Torvanger Solberg. Solberg used commonly used terms such as “build up”, “drop”, and “uplifters” to describe the production techniques that are used. He also introduces a new term, which he calls the “drum roll effect(Solberg). The “Build up” refers to the part of the song that gives the listener an increased feeling of being lifted. “Uplifters” refer to the kinds of effects the artist will use to enhance a “build up” section. The “drop” is the part of the song, at the end of a “build up”, where the listener gets the sensation of being dropped back down to the ground after the feeling of being lifted. He describes the “drum roll effect” as “a frequently used technique in newer EDM where the prominent rhythmical pattern, often the snare drum, becomes increasingly divided until the return of the core, starting out with quarter notes and culminating in a drum roll right before the bass drops and the bass drum returns.”(Solberg) Solberg’s article goes onto explain the effects by using a spectrogram of a song’s (“Icarus” by ‘Madeon’) wavelengths to provide a visual of the production that takes place.

music

You can see from the image that the song’s frequencies show a clearly visual increase as it approaches the drop and into the core section of the song. These production techniques create an unmatchable mood shift that can only be achieved through modern, post-recorded editing techniques. This fundamental change in technology opens the artist up to be able to alter the sound bytes to intensify the emotion desired. This technology allows artists to move away from the idea of writing a song and recording the “one perfect take” to more compositional piece in which the artist has total control. This opens the floor up for an even greater element of creativity: collaboration.

With each artist’s album release, each album gets better, or more complex. This complexity can be viewed as the artist growing and mastering his or her craft. This is without a doubt a factor in the evolution of all artists during their careers. However, one big reason that the music becomes more complex and involved is the new people and technology that they are introduced to through the technology of music production and producers.

The average person does not give much thought into the amount of production and collaboration that goes into making this new album what it is, which is mostly done by relatively anonymous producers. In some cases, the original artist has little to do with the overall sound of the album. The record company will generally hire experienced producers and engineers to master and re-master the song ideas. The artist may have originally written the song on an acoustic guitar to plan out what chords, timing, and vocal melody he or she wants the song to incorporate. Then, the artist will sit down with a producer and begin to record. The producer, depending on the artist’s contract with the record company, has the final say in what chords to actually use and what lyrics to sing whether the artist wants this or not. Typically, it’s, economically, for the better, because the producer has a better feel for what demographic the particular artist is appealing to. Max Martin is a famed record producer with over 17 #1 hits that he either co-wrote and/or produced. Including: Katy Perry featuring Kanye West, “E.T.” 2011, Maroon 5, “One More Night,” 2012, and Taylor Swift, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” 2012(Billboard). “He ranks behind only Paul McCartney, with 32, and John Lennon with 26(Billboard). This is an amazing feat in the field of music writing. That being said, it’s astounding to think that he is still relatively unknown to the average person. These top artists owe a huge debt to Martin for his expertise in writing and mastering their songs. His skill in appealing to the masses and, particularly, to the artist’s target demographic. In an interview, Martin said this, “I think the ‘target market’ and ‘audience’ tends to come with the artist. If I’m doing something with a young pop artist I may not choose to have a brass section in a song, for example. Sometimes you have to think about what the artist already is”(Ask Billboard). Although these producers work behind the scenes, popular music today would not be the same or, arguably, as good without their expertise and the technology they use to master the tracks. Technological changes and the exploitation of collaboration have no doubt changed the direction, style and execution of music. But, there is some controversy surrounding one element of collaboration. Often times, a less consensual form of execution. This is called sampling.

As one listens to popular music, whether it is on the radio or in one’s own personal collection, one cannot help but to hear a piece of another artist’s music embedded within. This can be subtle to the point that it goes unnoticed by the average person. It could be in the vocals, a guitar lick, or something as small as the drum kick that only comes in once every 3 bars of music. But it is, in essence, a rip off of the original artist. This technique is called sampling. The perspective of the original artist varies case by case. Some are ok with the idea of hearing their voice or drum beat incorporated into other songs. Others are furious that their work has been copied and pasted into someone else’s work for their own benefit.

There is a lot of gray area to this issue. There are laws in place to help rectify the matter. But, is this enough to keep all parties happy? Even in the event that strict permission is given, there have been parties that have felt wronged. An article by Molly Mcgraw helps shed some light onto this issue. She tells the story of David Johnson and Jan Hammer. “David Earl Johnson who allowed computer-keyboardist Jan Hammer to sample his drum sounds on rare, eighty-year-old Nigerian conga drums. Later, after Johnson recognized his drum sounds running through the entire Miami Vice soundtrack, he sought payment for what he perceived to be his contribution to the composition. He was told by Hammer’s manager that he wanted ‘money for doing nothing’ and the American Federation of Musicians refused to take his case.”(law.berkeley.edu) In this case, there was arguably nothing done wrong by Hammer. He asked for permission to use Johnson’s drums sample and Johnson gave it. Johnson could have been more specific about the limit of usage of these. But even the legal system has no test case that a court can use in a copyright case. Each lawsuit must be individually decided on a case-by-case basis based on whether the sample used is original to the plaintiff. The law states that “Originality denotes only enough definite expression so that one may distinguish authorship, i.e., there must be an identifiable element of personality.” (law.berkeley.edu) So, with these safeguards in place, it makes it easier for artists to win in a lawsuit against copyright infringement. However, the problem lies in whether or not the original artist’s music can be discernable on the track. Frank Zappa was the first to fully protect a full album from copyright infringement from sampling down to the wave pattern level. It requires more effort and money to get this type of protection than what is provided at default from simply recording and distributing an album. Should the law be changed to protect the artist further by default? This issue definitely deserves some more legal attention to decide what the limits should be in regards to sampling. However, this advance in technology has the ability to enhance the effectiveness that music has on mood the listener.

As music becomes more digital and become stored into massive databases online, it creates an incredible archive in which one can pick just the right elements to create a composition of emotion and intensity. In a book by Ann Cvetkovich called An Archive of Feelings she talks about an “archive in which my own feelings are deposited”(Cvetkovich) that the artist Le Tigre created with the songs they played at a live concert. This same concept can be applied to the archive of recorded music available online. Through the advances in technology, an artist can select and modify any one sample of another artist’s work and, with permission, can create an emotional masterpiece for the world to become engulfed by. This level of depth could not be achieved without the more recent advances in technology. And it is exciting to see what the future holds for musical technology and production.

Works Cited

“Ask Billboard: Max Martin Notches Another No. 1.” Billboard. N.p., n.d. Web.<http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/chart-beat/6327746/ask-billboard-max-martin-notches-another-no-1&gt;.

Cvetkovich, Ann. Archive of Feelings. N.p., n.d. Print.

“Max Martin Interview – Popjustice.” Popjustice RSS. N.p., 27 Apr. 2009. Web.<http://www.popjustice.com/interviewsandfeatures/max-martin-interview/49884/&gt;.

“SOUND SAMPLING PROTECTION AND INFRINGEMENT.” SOUND SAMPLING PROTECTION AND INFRINGEMENT. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2015. <http://www.law.berkeley.edu/journals/btlj/articles/vol4/McGraw/HTML/text.html&gt;.

TORVANGER SOLBERG, RAGNHILD. “Waiting For The Bass To Drop”: Correlations Between Intense Emotional Experiences And Production Techniques In Build-Up And Drop Sections Of Electronic Dance Music.” Dancecult: Journal Of Electronic Dance Music Culture 6.1 (2014): 61-82. Academic Search Complete. Web.

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