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  • Dear Musician - Is Musical Isolation the New Normal?

    Could this be the "problem" with today's music ...

    By Dendy Jarrett | (edited)


    I attended a presentation by HC’s Craig Anderton about why high-resolution audio won’t solve the industry’s problems, and one of his comments was that music is becoming increasingly fractured and personalized. Music used to be something that helped hold society together; now it’s targeting narrow groups of people who often listening to music by themselves on headphones.


    But are we as musicians becoming more isolated? Earlier on, if you wanted to record a band...you needed a band. Now all you need is one person, a computer, and some virtual instruments. There have been several attempts at sites devoted to online collaboration, but none of them ever got traction. Maybe it was because the technology wasn’t there yet...but maybe it’s because we’re becoming increasingly isolated.


    When we listen to Pandora, it feeds us more music that’s based on what we heard before, isolating us from new music. We used to listen to stereo systems that pushed air through speakers to groups of people, and now we listen to music by ourselves over earbuds.


    Granted, there has always been isolation to some degree in music. But even though Beethoven wrote his symphonies in isolation, he needed to interact with other musicians to make those compositions public.


    Does the “problem” with today’s music have nothing to do with audio resolution, data-compressed files, a record industry that hasn’t quite made the transition to the 21st century, the devaluation of intellectual property, or music being more in the background than the foreground? Or is the root of the problem our increasing isolation as musicians and listeners?  -HC-






    Dendy Jarrett is the Publisher and Executive Director of Harmony Central. He has been heavily involved at the executive level in many aspects of the drum and percussion industry for over 25 years and has been a professional player since he was 16. His articles and product reviews have been featured in InTune Monthly, Gig Magazine, DRUM! and Modern Drummer Magazines.


    Edited by Dendy Jarrett

    Sub Title: Could this be the "problem" with today's music ...

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    All of the above.


    I can only speak for myself, but I'm increasingly isolated because with increasing age I've acquired increasing discretion. I would love to collaborate with kindred spirits, if I could only find some.


    And I don't just mean folks with similar musical tastes. I also mean musicians who actually want to make some money with their music, and have enough practical sense to realize that success doesn't happen by magic. And I especially mean musicians who don't insist on bringing their politics (or other religious beliefs) into the equation. If we're going to make music, let that be the focus. I don't give a rat's behind what your political prejudices are, and frankly, I don't even want to hear about it.


    Your point about intellectual property is especially relevant in my case. There's no shortage of people who find my musical and production skills, experience, and ideas valuable. But when it comes time to apportion the compensation, suddenly I'm expected to divvy it up "fairly and equitably"...meaning I write most of the songs, put in long production hours in the studio, and in many cases end up adding much of the instrumentation, but then I'm "selfish" because I disagree that Equal Shares For Allâ„¢ is a rip-off. It's not "democratic", you see.


    The answer is a contract—a voluntary, mutual agreement that lays out IN WRITING the way in which everyone's compensation is indexed to their actual contributions. Well, you wouldn't believe the resistance to that idea. If you try it after you've already invested the work, you're accused of "changing the deal", even if you had a verbal (oral) agreement in principle. That's why you have to get it in writing.


    Trouble is, when I've proposed it up front, no one wants to do it because of some bizarre, misguided, utterly impractical world-view in which a contract is anathema...perceived as some kind of capitalist exploitation, so some such nonsense. "I hate that sh_t! I just wanna make music..."


    And the younger and less experienced people are, the more likely they are to be put off by a contract...and of course, it's simply unthinkable (to them) that there should be any consideration whatsoever for providing the value of writing the contract. Why should there be? They don't acknowledge its value in the first place.


    So, it's just easier to do everything myself...but there's the isolation. And the inspiration and motivation of collaborating is the first casualty.


    I've actually considered creating (yet another) online clearing house to foster collaborations. I think I know how to do it right, having been instructed by the lessons of several past collaborative failures.


    But frankly, I don't want to entrepreneur such an operation...not by myself, anyway. I would consider contributing my skills and valuable experience acquired through the school of hard knocks to a joint venture or partnership, but I don't want the hassle of being responsible for the whole enchilada.


    The truth is...well, "I just wanna make music..." ;)

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    The isolation stems, I think, in large part due to the difficulty in

    finding venues that support true live music (a DJ is NOT live music in

    spite of what the sign says). Also, you mentioned the "solo artist" in a

    studio with virtual instruments. Made me laugh - many folks in my area

    claim to be musicians - yet they do not play any instrument and instead

    rap to loops and beats and VI's. Really.....I'm a talented guitarist -

    playing for over 50 years and although I do find, on occasion, folks to

    collaborate with, I also understand why the online collaboration didn't

    work. You need to be physically connected - looking into each other's

    faces, feeling the "vibe" being generated. To me, the online

    collaboration thing is just as bad as being in a studio alone - I may as

    well track the parts myself.Tried it with a dear friend of mine - a

    bass player/songwriter and it failed. We are about 150 miles apart now

    and thought that it would work yet, in spite of the 30 + years we've

    been performing together we couldn't generate the right work with online

    collaboration. Part of the isolation problem is the business itself -

    do you think that an "artist" who tracks in a studio, vocalizers going

    and everything in his/her "band" is computer generated deserves any real

    consideration for recording deals? Tours are run with the entire show

    lip-synced. No wonder up and coming kids think that's being a musician,

    and with the help of music not being taught in grade school any longer -

    well, there you have it.The isolation of musicians today is partly the

    sign of the times and, in many instances I'm sure - by choice.

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    Played too many gigs. I'd rather sit at home and play by myself. Thirty-five years ago, I started playing because I love the guitar. That's still the only reason I play. I don't need anyone to hear me play. I like it and thats all that counts.

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    I am 63 yrs old, started playing instruments a age 8, and worked professionally for over 30 years as a sideman; semi-retired now. My age has not changed my musical tastes, nor preferences for what I play. I am still open to anything, as long as it is someone physically playing the music and not a DJ or 'synthetic' music. I have never appreciated layered studio recordings, although I definitely appreciate the technology and those who know how to use it. My ears (and heart) need as much of a 'live' recorded sound as possible out of a studio product. If nothing else, the core "band" recording the foundation of any given track at the same time. It gives 'life' and 'air' to the final product.

    My ears are sensitive to MP3 -- I despise MP3, regardless of its format. At the same time, I realized years ago that I am far more fastidious about audio quality than average listeners. Therefor very meticulous about fidelity and its original source. 

    Since most of my musical career involved acoustic music I prefer those recordings to be analog-to-digital, or at the very least, DAD. My sound systems have always been top-shelf. I love the 'air being pushed through speakers' and could not live without that phenomenon. Headphones do excite me when they are actually "headphones" (high end products) and NOT EARBUDS! As a former studio weasel who dabbled with engineering & producing peoples' live and studio recordings, I am offended by the Earbud Generation. They have absolutely no clue, and cannot possibly appreciate, what the original music sounds like. Even high-end earbuds do not do an artist's music justice. There is no substitute for the Ambient Sound of a room. Technology can be both beautiful and ugly at the same time.

    As for "isolationism"... there seems to be many contributors to this issue; from the brain-washing effects of commercial radio, TV, and other mediums, to the dumbing-down of specific technologies and methodologies used to deliver music to the end-user. Human beings are easy to 'train' -- and that has never been more obvious than in the entire spectrum of the music industry. 

    An excellent example of "training humans" is when the Clear Channel Network bought literally every major radio market in the USA in the 90s, and proceeded to treat the radio listening audience like Pavlov's Dogs. And it worked. They basically spoon-fed listeners their repetitive hand-picked song lists until the listener's brains decided this is what they 'liked' and they proceeded to go out and purchase it in the form of hard-copy products and concert tickets.If musicians, on all levels, are becoming isolated, it is likely the musician his or her self to blame. I believe it is a choice. 

    For myself and, I believe, most artists... there is nothing more gratifying than getting it right with a group of players; be it vocal harmony or playing as a fine-tuned unit. Isolationism be damned!

    I've never been a 'follower' in life, especially my musical life. That could also be a factor in my unbiased personal choices and having never fallen into Musical Isolationism?

    Great topic. Thanks for the 'Think'.

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    Yes, Isolation is very much the new normal.  When the band situation is so bad someone can call themselves a 'professional' musician if they have a gig at Joe's tavern every Thursday of the month, and the technology exists to create your own multi tracked band,  the results are inevitable.  However, practice and music production are only part of the problem.  More elusive and perhaps as important are creativity and advancement of your art.  I have for anumber of years been attending the Centrum Acoustic Blues camp in Port Townsend, WAa one week class/festival in Washington state.  The instruction is excellent, there is a chanceto play before an audience of about 300, but most important, the emphasis is on all-night jamming, and the sense of 'family'.  The camp gives me a focus for developing my work throughout the year.  For example, I have dedicated this year to learning slide and open-tuned guitar work.  I learned last year about harmonica playing.  I had no idea that you couldget 3-4 notes out of a single reed or that using modes you could play a single-key harmonicain multiple keys.  There was a lot of Zydeco accordian playing, not really common in SouthernCA.  So, you can have it both ways.  do your work alone, but in context with other musicians.Being in a band is great (provided you can persuade a number of wives/ husbands/matesto release their significant others for a regular and probably lengthy period to get to the point where the band is capable of earning real money, and the gigs are actually out there.But as Jimmy Buffett put it, "We do it for the stories we could tell."  Playing well onlyrequires practice.  Being a creative artist is so much more complicated.



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