There’s a good article on NewMusicStrategies this week:
“the idea of a resurgence in parlour music really appeals to me. The idea that kids will find it a normal part of play and not necessarily a career decision to play music seems like a good thing”
Basically Microsoft have released some new music-making software called Songsmith where you just sing into a microphone and it automatically creates a backing track. It sounds kind of fun but I can’t try it (because I use Macs), and I haven’t seen the apparently excruciating advert for it.
[edit: I just watched it after I found the link. I can’t believe I turned Stereolab off for that.]
It’s the discussion in the article and comments that interest me.
Rich & Famous
From the moment you express an interest in owning a guitar people start saying things like ‘so you want to be a rock star, eh?’ – i.e. rich and famous. There’s a deeply entrenched narrative of; ‘buy guitar’ -> ‘form band’ -> ‘attempt to become famous’. Part two goes like this; ‘spend years working shit jobs’ -> ‘become laughing stock’ -> ‘die alone covered in own piss’.
I’ve seen articles saying the thing most people wish they could do is play an instrument. Perhaps it’s fear of part two that stops so many people trying to learn?
People like simple binaries like success and failure. But you can’t ‘fail’ at playing music. Sure you can fail at having a music career, but the best way to become rich and famous is to fuck a footballer and write a book about it. If that’s all you’re interested in don’t bother forming a band.
Songsmith is probably not very good. I expect that every song anyone makes on it will sound the same. But all musicians are limited by what they have. I started out with an acoustic guitar and a portable cassette recorder. So I couldn’t have drums, orchestras, bagpipes, or eskimo choirs (I don’t know enough eskimos) but I could record a song. This is just the latest version of that.
The old ‘talent’ question rears its ugly head. A lot of kids will have loads of fun making some really awful music. Some people are offended by this. But lots of kids have fun making bad music with ‘proper’ instruments. Lots of boring old men enjoy themselves playing dull-as-shit blues covers too. At least Songsmith will be quicker.
There is no direct correlation between instrumental virtuosity and what you make being any good. Sometimes it helps but not always.
“Change Your Life”
There is a downside in that some kids will look at Songsmith and think ‘because I am so inherently awesome I will use this to make a song, upload it onto myspace and become famous’. Then they’ll drop out of school and end up knifing an old lady for crack.
I blame Simon Cowell. Those poor doe-eyed fucks who queue up in the rain to prostrate themselves before the celebrity panel on X-factor are clutching at a dream which has very little to do with music. They all want to Change Their Lives.
What’s wrong with people’s lives? Is everyone really so miserable? We’re surrounded by adverts telling us to start anew, get away, breed alpacas, quit your job, throw your kids down a mineshaft… Hang on, we need these jobs to pay for all the other crap you try and sell us! Make your minds up.
How about some TV shows which point out to people how nice their lives are already? Like ‘I love going to the pub for a quiet drink and a chat with friends’, ‘The 50 greatest places to have a nice walk’, or ‘Person who knows interesting facts about the history of your local area Idol’.
The Pop Delusion
I saw the final of X-factor this time (by accident), with Alexandra’s film where she went back to her old school and sang, signed autographs, and got treated like a ‘star’. I detected a look in her eyes that seemed to say “I deserve this”.
Alexandra didn’t enter because she had a ‘beautiful’ voice – personally I think she’s got a voice like cold sick on lino. She didn’t have any music in her waiting to get out. It was because she thought herself a suitably excellent human being for the world to hand her universal adulation on a plate. She probably thought it was her destiny or something.
People think Pop Stars are deities who glow from within like they eat nothing but Ready-Brek. Just plain better than normal people in some magical way. X-factor is a fantasy for people who have Lives they want to Change. Everyone who enters ‘knows’ they’re special and will definitely win – even the awful comedy ones they show early on.
So rather than focus on music as an enjoyable activity in itself, the whole creative enterprise is degraded to a scrabble for the golden ticket. Any kid who views music as anything other than an attempt to reach the standard of laminated Leona Lewis is doomed to be mocked by their peers.
Instead kids start to play music for the same reasons their parents play the lottery. Until you can no longer call it ‘play’. Music ceases to be a sandbox and becomes a construction yard. Making big shiny buildings full of flatpack furniture and despair.
But on balance we should be optimistic about things like this.
Think of all the kids who’ll fiddle around with Songsmith and get the bug. In a few years you’ll be reading interviews with the hot new act of the day and they’ll be telling you about how they first got into making music using cheap and nasty software.
And somewhere out there is a kid who’ll use Microsoft Songsmith to come up with something genuinely inspired. I guarantee it.
Meanwhile huffy old men who did everything properly and ‘paid their dues’ (yawn) will still be moaning down the pub and on the internet about how it’s not fair that less talented people are getting recognition (and rich & famous) when they ‘failed’ and are now trying to Change Their Lives.
“You met the girl from Sleater-Kinney
You said you couldn’t understand
Why it was that she continued to play
when she was only earning ten grand p.a.”
Brakes – ‘ Heard about your band’
Apparently Microsoft have done some clever viral shit by deliberately using a Mac in the video so that everyone all over teh internetz can lol their cats off at their ‘mistake’, thereby also watching the advert. Marketing really is sickeningly clever…