Is Musicianship Obsolete?

Twenty years ago I held a disdain for music that was not created by people. I didn’t care to hear anything programmed, sequenced, or otherwise adulterated. Like puerile trials of manliness, music had to pass a sniff-test of authenticity. In this case it was the “made by humans” test. I suspect this was a backlash that I and my immediate circle of friends experienced and propagated in reaction to the pop music of the 80’s (a decade which I still think is a low point for pop music) where musicianship was de-emphasized over looks and marketability to an extreme, even for pop music.

Today, not only do I enjoy quite a bit of non-musician music, I can’t tell it apart from the real McCoy. Laptops and more traditional instruments blend in not just pop, but rock, free jazz, out classical, just about any genre. Live shows often feature a full or part time laptop / DJ / turntablist artist.

Electronic music is not new. It has been around in one form or another for 60 years or so. But now it is approaching a level of sophistication that has the potential to render musicians…somewhat unnecessary. Not unnecessary in that we don’t need musicians with strong technical ability at all, but that they are no longer necessary for recording sophisticated compositions.

Ah, compositions. This is the key, I believe. I used to listen to music to hear the chops. The busy drummer, the bass player adding elements of melody to rhythm, the great five-minute guitar solo. Now, I find myself listening to the compositions. The ability of software to bring these compositions to market without solely relying on human players, as well as the creativity of modern composers in figuring out how to do so has had a subtle yet profound impact on the evolution of my musical tastes.

Of course, one can argue that improvised music is composed “on the spot” and therefore real, live, carbon-based-form-of-life musicians are needed. Of course. However there are plenty of solo electronic artists who can do the same thing with their computers, pots and pans, and maybe a cheap keyboard. Sure, the results sound different, but the sounds are no less vibrant.

The direction this is heading? Folks like myself with little technical musical ability may eventually be able to record music that others will find enjoyable (or so I hope). There will always be room for musicians of great technical skill as the demand for live music shows no signs of abating. But a new frontier is available to anyone with an open mind and a willingness to explore. And a sign above the gateway says, “Musical ability not required.”


3 thoughts on “Is Musicianship Obsolete?

  1. I don’t think technology will ever fully replace musicianship, simply for the fact there are so many intangibles that comes into it, particularly chemistry, not only intermusician chemistry, but audience and band chemistry. Then again, those that don’t realize these elements in music from a nonmusician standpoint, might not notice anyway. I know that nearly 95% or better of the studio only projects I’ve heard through promos and whatever are always missing these intangibles. There will always be a chasm between having people in the same room and moving files to one another.

    But Mike, if you ever do release an album, I’ll want to hear it. Probably. :D

  2. Agreed to some extent, though as someone who rarely attends a live show, I’m really more focused on studio projects, and listen to the composition rather than the performance.

    The point is that soon if not now, creation of music will be open to a whole new category of people, who currently lack the skill to do it.

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