It isn't all gloom and doom.
In some ways. It isn't easy. In other ways, nothing has changed at all. It still takes a ton of work and some tasks have become more difficult. However, there's some good news—it isn't all gloom and doom by a long shot—a lot of what we have to know and do it much, much simpler. Here are three examples:
The level of access to information is better than it has ever been.
Ease of access to an abundance of good information and tools is a more sophisticated way of saying that it is easier to sound like a badass. It will always involve a substantial amount of work and obsessiveness to truly master an instrument, but at least now there are so many resources to help you get there it is ridiculous.
When I was at Rutgers, my teacher Mike Richmond told me this and I'll never forget it:
"It has never been so easy to be good."
Finding sheet music, finding good recordings, contacting qualified teachers, connecting with clients, networking with other musicians, and a number of other tasks—crucial to any musician—used to be major sticking points.
Even learning intellectual skills like how to read music, theory, and ear training is more straightforward. At any given time there are a few dozen of these on any of the major app stores, ready to go, for under $5 or free.
I remember that same teacher, Mike Richmond, telling me all about how challenging it was to transcribe jazz solos from vinyl in the 1970's. You had to listen over and over and over to catch the notes and the record would wear a little bit on each play.
Contrast that to now when there are several software options that slow down digital recordings, without changing pitch, that let you grab the notes at your own pace.
A/B testing is much easier
A big part of learning involves testing what works and weighing one option against another.
A/B testing is simple: try A, try B, then go with whichever option is most effective.
How does this affect a musician? The way we practice. If I am working on a technical skill like a bow stroke, I can make a few exercises for myself, do them for a day or two then repeat the process with some different exercises, all while making reference recordings as I go.
The vast majority of the time, I can see if there has been a significant improvement and the video keeps me honest and objective about it. Before I got into recording myself, it was easy to rationalize that things are improving just because I was sawing away making sound.
If you have a smartphone, you have an A/B testing system. Use it.
It is cheaper and easier to demo music
I do not at all subscribe to the idea that everyone can make a record in their basement with GarageBand. It is all just hype from a tech industry that often wants to sell to musicians more than they invest in music.
One legitimate improvement they have made for us is in the area of demoing music.
While we still need recording studios and engineering expertise to make a top notch recording, cheap prosumer recording equipment has made it easier for us to prepare for the recording studio time and make us more effective there.
The one exception to this is in the realm of electronic music—that world has exploded. If you produce electronic music you still need a mastering engineer and possibly someone to mix your work, but it is totally possible to create a close to final mix with just a laptop and software and maybe some external microphones. .
The music industry is still an industry
If you've read all three parts of this series, hopefully you are a little more level headed about the state of things. Take all the music industry/arts funding gloom and doom with a grain of salt. Whenever someone claims to have some revolutionary, amazing new offering for the music community, you should be skeptical. And be honest with the fact that some things never change.
In case you missed the first two parts:
What are your thoughts?
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Want some further reading? Check out the Freelancer's Union article that got my wheels turning about this.
If this made sense to you, so will Make It