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  • Musicians - A Butterfly Effect

    By Dendy Jarrett | (edited)

    Can a small change net a big change?


    by Dendy Jarrett



    Dear Musician –


    Chaos theory says that a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in a large difference in a latter state. In simpler terms, chaos theory means that (in theory) a butterfly flapping its wings in Mexico can cause a typhoon in China due to subsequent changes in the wind currents it creates. While a typhoon in China may be an extreme representation of the theory, we’ve already seen plenty of examples throughout history by which seemingly insignificant events triggered profound changes.


    How can the butterfly effect create change in the music world? Consider the TR-808, which flapped its butterfly wings and sent hip-hop and dance music in a different direction. Or a guy in a college dorm named Sean Fanning, who wanted to create a network so he could share music with friends—and essentially ended the record business as we knew it. Or the Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, when a one-night TV appearance transformed the music industry to such an extent we’re still feeling the aftershocks today. How many thought that the invention of S-VHS videotape would mean the end of analog tape recording, courtesy of the Alesis ADAT? Then there’s the impact Madonna had in the late 80s that affected fashion, music videos, and even concerts.


    Could you have a butterfly effect impact? Someone influenced every musician. Someone showed each of them how to play their instrument(s). Someone, be it a relative, friend, or another musician they heard on the radio, fueled their desire to make music. And those “someones” were influenced previously by yet another group of “someones”…and so on. This underscores the unpredictability of the principles of chaos, whereby we can never know how all the initial conditions of complex circumstance can affect the steering currents of the future.


    So what you do today can have a long-lasting effect on the world of music. Teaching a child to play an instrument could be the catalyst. Playing a song at your next gig that sparks a couple to fall in love, get married, and live happily ever after with “their song” could be a catalyst that changes two lives and the lives of all they touch. You might pen a song that gets sampled as the next dance music anthem—after all, a flag waving in the wind was what caused Francis Scott Key to write the song that became the national anthem of the United States.



    Even something as simple as buying a set of strings helps put food on the table for a family you don’t even know. That guitar pedal you bought could have been the one pedal that a boutique pedal manufacturer needed to make payroll. When our own Craig Anderton wrote the book Electronic Projects for Musicians, he just wanted to pay the bills because Popular Electronics magazine didn’t want to run DIY music projects anymore. Little did he know that, decades later, companies would credit that book as the catalyst for their start in this industry. MIDI began over 30 years ago as a way to have a single keyboard trigger multiple synthesizers, and now it’s in billions of smart phones and mobile devices.


    Imagine what would happen if every musician went out next week and bought an instrument, accessory, or software program—it would be like a GoFundMe on steroids for the industry. Think of the positive effect this would have on the thousands of people who have parlayed their love of music into a lifelong career of making great instruments for those who love to make music. And who knows where that would lead!


    It’s impossible to measure the effects of all the butterflies in the world and how they impact the weather. Likewise, your lasting effect on someone you inspire to make music may never be known. But you can be certain that there is an effect. So go ahead—be a musical butterfly. Flap your wings and keep playing your music. Music will thank you in the long run.


    And before we leave the subject of butterflies…if you like the Make Better Music newsletter and find it inspirational in your musical endeavors, please share it with one other musician. You may never know the impact you’ll be making.  - HC -








    Dendy Jarrett is the Publisher and 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

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    Wouldn't all those butterflys beating their wings be kind of, Chaotic?

    In 1972 when I was a graduate student in electrical engineering/computer science the nuclear engineers approached us, they needed a model of a phenomena they thought might be happening in reactors.   I needed a thesis.   They gave me a non linear equation to model (in Fortran) on our mainframe computer.   Turns out it was very sensitive to initial conditions - with one set it was perfectly stable and well behaved, with only slightly different conditions it was totally unstable.

    Today you could model that on your tablet with any of many free non linear packages, it was fairly difficult with the tools we had.   Oh, the equations was the heat transfer from the fuel rods in a Chernobyl type reactor.

    Watch out for butterflys

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    First there was music, then there was crap, which - by butterfly effect - resulted from someone penning a new tune while sitting on the john. In forced deference to the inescapable holocaust-like results of that event, I am releasing an album which joins the craze for fecal ejections instead of actual music. I've invented a new musical instrument for this: it's an LP record turntable with a Perry Como Hits (His Wife) album on it. What you do is flop a fresh pile of doody onto it, and as it spins helplessly,like Donald Trump on the Merry Go Round which has been his time as President of the reality show, the stink (which is actually a warm gas) thermally activates a circuit alternately, which produces synthetic noises. So it's a sort of pickup, and the poop is your plectrum. BRILLIANT! I'm calling my breakthrough album "Symphony From A Long Dark Passage".

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    Seriously though, it is an interesting thought that one little twist, one otherwise minor event gone viral, could (and regularly does) change the direction of things. Thing is though - for me anyway - I'm from the 70's, and what I see is people now use pitch correction and they push buttons to make synthetic noises. Could you change THAT overnight? Could you  cause a rush of youngsters clamoring to buy real instruments?  Guitars perhaps, and acoustic drum sets? Well, I'm a pessimist, so don't ask me! But yea, it'd be nice if a song that really caught on, just happened to be doing things musically, instead of rappy-disney-vocodery. It could happen. I just think you gotta be younger than I, to get excited at possibilities though. Because change is more like steering an ocean liner than a sports car. (You can turn the wheel sharply and almost nothing seems to  happen at all, and then ever so slowly it begins to alter its course...over a long passage of time).  PERHAPS such a gradual sea change needs to be already under way, before one precipitous event, one Beatles-on-Ed-Sullivan moment, can jolt the new direction into stark visibility. So look at what is afoot already. What is in place now, which could add up to something else?  There's your jumping off point. From there you just need to do the gitchiest coolest jig of the moment ever, and people might go "You gotta see THIS!"And then everyone will want to copy it.  THAT'S THE PATTERN YOU SEEK.  .... So: what does everything that's currently in place add up to? What's the next obvious evolvement? And then put the light on that  new thing with an undeniable #1 hit of a tune.  ....It's harder than it sounds to do, except for that one lucky guy who fell off the log while napping, but this is what I've seen happen over the years. Oh one caveat: it's very unlikely things will change back to a previous state as if it could be a return from a lapse. Only an old hippy would wish such a thing (and I do). So maybe what will happen will be the death of guitar entirely (hasn't that already occurred?),  so people will push buttons now (don't they?), and everyone will make noises like an excited  seal over it..... *sigh*  But someone young could elaborate on this area  properly, not me.  I will head back to my porch rocking chair and my lemonade now. (Oh when you get old you aren't even allowed to party any more) (Yea, aging does suck. Don't do it!)


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