Ma-na Music

If music be the food of love, play on.

Month: April 2016

The 7 Qualities You Must Have To Make It In The Music Business

Want to know how to become a successful full time musician in the music business? First, you should forget about all the ‘conventional wisdom’ you’ve been told by those who have NEVER been highly successful in the music industry. It’s a fact that most musicians who try to succeed in the music business will actually fail… but YOU do not need to be one of them!

On the other hand, musicians who build and sustain successful music careers utilize an entirely different set of skills, thought processes and values that help them achieve music business success. These things are not music business secrets that are only available to rock stars and music industry executives – anyone can learn and utilize them (this includes you). Throughout the rest of this article I will discuss these various qualities and help you understand how you can use them to benefit your personal music career.

Contrary to what you might first think, learning to play your instrument at a ‘professional’ level isn’t included in the list below. Why? Because it is a ‘given’ that you must be working towards that goal already every day. In addition, your musical abilities (on their own) will not be enough to guarantee your success in the music business. Fact is, there are countless musicians who can play extremely well, but nevertheless do not build a successful music career… so it is clear that musical talent alone can only take you so far.

Most of the qualities I will be discussing have to do with the way you ‘think’ rather than the specific actions you take. It is rare to find someone who has the right mindset that contains all of these qualities. However, you can get ‘trained’ to develop a success oriented mindset and thus massively increase your chances for making it in the music industry.

Here are the most important qualities to develop for yourself in order to build a highly successful music career:

The Right Work Ethic Mentality

Of course it is obvious that you will need to work hard to build a successful music career. However, most musicians do not understand what ‘kind’ of working mentality is required to truly ‘make it’. The type of dedication needed requires more than just working a lot on your career. It requires:

1. Understanding the ‘correct’ course of action to take in order to make progress. This means not just ‘working a lot’, but working on the ‘right things’ that will lead you where you want to go.

2. Working in the most effective and productive manner possible. Tons of people stay busy throughout the day, but never actually accomplish anything important. You don’t want to become one of these people.

3. Being aware of how everything you do factors into the growth of your music career in the long term.

4. Having the patience and commitment to do all the hard work ‘up front’, long before you get a payoff of any kind. A common example of this would be recording a full length album in the studio before actually making any profit from it.

To develop the right work ethic mindset, work to clearly understand your long term music career goals and find a mentor who will help you determine the steps you must take to reach them.

Steadfast Loyalty

In the music industry, you will not reach a high level of success alone. Music companies, musicians, promoters, managers and other music industry types will all act as your business partners at one point or another in your music career. These people will all invest their time, energy and resources into you and because of this they will expect your loyalty (as you will likewise expect it from them). Musicians who are not loyal are frequently banned from future business ventures and music career opportunities. The majority of musicians take loyalty for granted and only ‘pretend’ to be loyal until they can take advantage of an opportunity at the expense of their partners.

Although there exist many definitions for what ‘loyalty’ is – as a general concept it refers to not pursuing opportunities that will benefit you while bringing down those who work together with you. Of course, being loyal does not mean letting others take advantage of you either. There is a balance here that you must learn as you work in the music industry. Without this balance, you will struggle to achieve great success for an extended period of time.

The Ability To Create Value Outside Of Skills Related To Playing An Instrument

No matter if you are working as an independent musician or together with a music company, you will greatly benefit by knowing how to negotiate, book shows, build a following of fans, put together a tour, communicate effectively, think of profitable business ideas and much more.

Certainly you do not need to be the ‘best’ at all of these things (you should find others who are strong in the areas that you are weak in) and it isn’t always good to attempt to do everything on your own. That said, when you can do these things yourself, you become capable of adding a lot of value to any situation. This gives you the ability to:

1. Become the ‘best choice’ for any bands looking for a new member

2. Determine different ways to earn a living in the music business

3. Reduce the amount of money you need to spend on hiring others to do the tasks you can’t do

4. Make a lot more money due to the additional value you offer

5. Greatly increase the chances for success in any musical project you pursue

The main idea is that highly successful professional musicians are multi-dimensional, and do not merely ‘play an instrument’. This is why other musicians and music industry professionals always want to work with them (increasing their chances for success).

A Positive -‘Everyone Wins’ – Mindset

The majority of musicians are always looking out for themselves without thinking about the effect their actions have on others. Of course, you will need to get your own needs met, but you do not need to do so while bringing others down at the same time. The musicians who become the most successful and gain access to the greatest opportunities in this business are always getting what they want while ALSO finding a way to help the people they work with do the same. In nearly all scenarios, you can find a way to create a great outcome for everyone involved. To do this, you will need to think from a totally different perspective than most musicians (and people in general).

Freedom To Pursue Music Industry Opportunities

It’s a lot a less difficult to pursue any music industry related opportunities when you are free to do so. Gaining this freedom while putting together a music career is a major factor for achieving success in the music industry.

Being Able To Work Well In Situations Of High Stress

In the music business you will need to do things like tour, complete recording sessions and work on several projects at once – while at the same time working together with musicians who all have different personalities, desires and ways of thinking than you. This will create a lot of stress, but is an inevitable and unavoidable aspect of working as a professional musician. Being able to move a project forward without becoming overwhelmed by everyday causes of stress is something most musicians struggle with.

Musicians who achieve the greatest success in the music business have an uncanny ability to stay calm in situations of high stress. When I mentor musicians on how to succeed in music, I help them develop and utilize this ability while working to create new music projects with others. This helps most musicians gain a whole new insight on their personality that allows them to eliminate any weaknesses that would limit their music career success.

Being Able To See The ‘Big Picture’

The music industry contains tons of opportunities and challenges no matter which path you decide to take in your career. Additionally, no matter what path you go down, you will always have limited time and resources to use. To make things even more challenging, you will often have to do most of your work well before seeing any of the benefits of your efforts.

If you do not have a perfect vision of where you want to go in the music business, it will be very difficult not to become torn in different directions that take you far away from your original goals.

The musicians who become successful in the music business are always focusing to align their actions up with the end goals they desire most. This gives them the ability to judge what is best for their music career and make the right choice whenever a potential opportunity comes their way. By doing this, they are able to achieve their goals quickly and effectively.

Now that you have read about the crucial qualities needed for success in the music business, here are 4 things you should do to start building a successful long term music career:

1. Learn about becoming a successful pro musician and avoid the things that will hold you back from developing the successful music career you desire.

2. Get professional insight on how the music industry works and prepare yourself to succeed in the music business.

3. Using the results from step 2 above, put together a plan for how you will improve your weaknesses and make progress in your music career.

4. Get trained by a mentor who has already achieved the things you want to do in the music industry to reach your music career goals faster.

The Seven Different Types of Written Music

As a bassist, bandleader, teacher, and music copyist, I’ve worked with hundreds of singers throughout the years. Though working musicians know hundreds of tunes, singers need to have good charts in order to have their music played the way they want. I define a “good chart” as a piece of written music that effectively tells the musicians what they should play.

Written music comes in seven basic forms: chord charts, sheet music, songbooks, lead sheets, fake books, master rhythm charts and fully notated parts.

As a musician has a responsibility to play the chart before him correctly, the supplier of the chart has the responsibility of providing the right kind of chart. Knowing what type of chart to use for what kind of tune or gig is very important.

This article explains what the different types of charts are, and under what circumstances to use them. I hope you find it useful.

TYPES OF CHARTS

Charts can be simple or elaborate according to the style of music and type of gig. Cover tunes are traditionally learned from recordings; classical and choral music can be found in sheet music stores as well as in various music catalogs; numerous tunes will be found in music books of all kinds; and many public libraries carry recordings and written music for your use.

The word “chart” refers to any piece of written music or any arrangement (music that has been adapted in a unique manner) of a tune. Decades ago it was strictly a “cool” slang term for a tune, but any piece of music could be called a chart these days, though a classical buff might not refer to a Mozart work as a “chart.”

Knowing what type of chart to use for what kind of tune is very important. When you’re playing a gig and someone hands you a chart — it is what it is and you either read it well or not. But, if you buy charts, have them made for you or provide them yourself, you need to know which kinds to use for which situations. Years back, while doing singer showcases, singers brought in all kinds of charts: good ones, bad ones, incorrect ones, inappropriate ones, and it was a real pain. The singers who provided the right kinds of charts got their music played the way they wanted. The singers who had the wrong kinds of charts didn’t, and weren’t very happy about it. Unless a musician already knows the specific parts, he can only play according to what’s on the chart before him. Though a good musician can improvise a good part in any style, if a specific musical line needs to be played, it needs to be written out.

As a musician has a responsibility to correctly play the chart before him, the supplier of the chart has the responsibility of providing an appropriate one.

Without getting into too many music notation specifics, here are the different kinds of charts and when they are used:

1. CHORD CHARTS

A chord chart contains the chords, meter (how the song is counted, e.g., in 4 or in 3 (like a waltz), and the form of the song (the exact order of the sections). This type of chart is primarily used when: 1. the specific musical parts are improvised or already known, but the form and chords need to be referred to, 2. to provide chords to improvise over, or 3. when a last-minute chart needs to be written, and there isn’t time for anything more elaborate.

A chord chart does not contain the melody or any specific instrumental parts to be played. To play from simple chord charts a musician basically needs to have steady time, know the chords, and improvise his part in whatever style the tune is in.

2. SHEET MUSIC

Sheet music is a store-bought version of a song printed by a publisher, which contains the instrumental part, chords, lyrics, melody and form. An instrumental piece will, of course, have just the music. Sheet music is written for both piano and guitar. Guitar sheet music is in standard notation (often classical), as well as in TAB. A good piece of sheet music will always say whether it’s for piano or guitar. Most sheet music is not meant to be completely representative of the actual recording, and the actual arrangement that you’ve heard on a recording is seldom present.

Many people have experienced the frustration of getting the sheet music to a song they like, playing it, and discovering that the chords are different from the recording, and sometimes the form is too. Unfortunately that’s the way it is a lot, and it could be for a number of different reasons. To get the exact arrangement and chords, you need to do a “takedown” of the song: learn it by ear. A takedown is when you listen to a piece of music and write it down. Takedowns can range from simple chord charts to elaborate orchestral parts or anything in between. In order to do good takedowns, you need to have good ears, understand and be fluid with music notation to the complexity of the type of music you’re working with, and preferably understand music (the more the better). Having “good ears” consists of recognizing and understanding the music, whether heard on the radio, played by another musician, or heard in your head.

3. SONGBOOKS

Songbooks are compilations of many tunes and often contain the same information that sheet music does, along with the chords and arrangement being different from the recording most of the time. Sheet music commonly has full introductions and endings, whereas songbook tunes are generally shortened to create space in the book for more tunes. Sheet music is generally written to be played on a keyboard, but songbooks come in different styles and for different instruments. They are compiled by artist, style, decade, and in various collections including movie themes, Broadway hits, etc.

Songbooks are a good reference source when other, more exact charts are unavailable. For example: I needed two movie themes for a gig once (client request). Instead of spending $8 for two tunes of sheet music, I bought a book of movie themes for $16 that contained over a hundred tunes. Sheet music and songbooks are pretty unusable at gigs because of cumbersome page turns and bulkiness; but in an emergency you use them and do what you can. If having to use sheet music or songbooks for live performance, either: 1. recopy the tune onto 1-3 pages or 2. photocopy it and tape the pages together (although, strictly speaking, this may be considered copyright infringement). Make sure to always provide a copy for each musician.

To play from songbooks and sheet music, a musician needs to be able to read the music notation, or at least improvise a part from the chord symbols, i.e., a guitar strum, bass groove, piano groove, etc., or better yet, both. A vocalist can sing the words if they know the melody, or be able to read the notated melody if they don’t know it.

4. LEAD SHEETS

Lead sheets contain the chords, lyrics and melody line of the song and are mainly used by singers, accompanists and arrangers, though they appear on the bandstand now and again. Songwriters use lead sheets to copyright their songs, and very often sheet music includes a lead sheet of the tune as a condensed version to use. Instead of having three to six pages of sheet music to turn, a lead sheet is usually one or two pages long. Lead sheets do not contain any music notation except the melody and chords, so a musician needs to know how to improvise when reading from one. A lead sheet is generally written out by a music copyist, who is someone who specializes in preparing written music. Playing from lead sheets minimally requires playing an accompaniment from the chords and understanding the form directions and symbols (the markings telling you to go to the verse or the chorus or the end, etc.) and maximally having excellent accompaniment skills and reading notation fluidly.

5. FAKE BOOKS

A fake book is a large book of tunes that contain only the melody line, lyrics and chords. There’s no piano part, guitar part or bass part. That’s why they call it a fake book. You have to already know your parts, or improvise them in the style of the tune. Some people call that “faking it.” Faking it means to be musically adept enough to be able to follow along by ear and figure it out as you go: that’s one of the reasons for ear training. When a person’s ears “get trained”, they learn to recognize and understand the relationship of pitches and musical elements. With this understanding you can “hear” your way through tunes, even if you haven’t heard them before, you fake it. However, when you don’t hear so well, you’re really faking it!

Before there was an abundance of legal fake books on the market, there was an abundance of illegal fake books on the streets. (As of this writing, I’ve only seen a few at gigs.) Since a working musician needs to have access to a large number of tunes at gigs, musicians compiled books of hundreds of useful tunes containing only melody lines and chords. A working player doesn’t need all the notes written out, because he can improvise, so large books were made with choice tunes. Some fake books are hand copied, either by a pro copyist or casually done with pen or pencil, while others consist of cut up sheet music where all the piano parts are removed, leaving the melody and chords, all for the purpose of condensing space.

Rather than take stacks of songbooks to gigs, you pop a fake book of hundreds of choice tunes into your gig bag and off you go. A tune taking up five or six pages in songbook/sheet music form can take up a page or less when rewritten by hand or cut up, leaving only the chords and melody. Fake books are often used and I’ve seldom been at a casual where someone hasn’t had at least one.

The reason the illegal books are illegal is copyright laws. With the homemade books, nothing goes through the publishing houses that own the rights to the tunes, so neither the publishers nor the composers get paid for their use. The Catch-22 over the years has been the fact that there weren’t any good legal fake books that pro musicians could use at a gig. In a songbook of 200 tunes, maybe ten were usable. So, the players made their own, and gigging musicians lived happily ever after. But since making these books is illegal, some decades ago a few nationwide distributors were arrested and fined for copyright infringement. But you still see the illegal books on the bandstands, nonetheless.

Over the years many legal fake books have been published and are very good. There are music books for: pop, jazz, rock, country, specific artists and movie themes, and there are special wedding books with all the key music that brides like. Big sheet music stores should have them all. And recently, some of the most popular illegal fake books have been made legal. (Hooray!) The 5th Edition Real Book is an example. Filled largely with jazz tunes, the book is in the original format, but published legally as the 6th Edition Real Book.

Legal fake books are plentiful at sheet music stores, and illegal books… well, you’re on your own. Trade magazines and music union papers often advertise a wide variety of music books as well as joke books, ethnic music and other related entertainment materials. Sometimes instrument stores carry fake books as well.

Fake books are good to have, but the more tunes a musician knows, the better.

6. MASTER RHYTHM CHARTS

Master rhythm charts are charts designed for the rhythm section (piano, bass, guitar and drums). It is one chart that contains the general idea for everybody to play from: a sketch of the tune, a master copy of it all for each player. These charts are like elaborate chord charts with just enough specifics on them to make the music either feel and sound more like the original recording, or to provide just enough specifics to make it interesting and recognizable, leaving the rest to improvising.

Unless a tune is composed or arranged in this style to begin with, which many are, these charts are written by someone doing a takedown from a recording, or created from lead sheets or songbooks. Whereas lead sheets are primarily for the singer, master rhythm charts are primarily for the musicians. When a singer provides charts to the musicians in the band, these are the usual ones to use.

A master rhythm chart contains:

• All the chords

• Key rhythms (the main rhythms)

• Key melodic parts for the instruments

• Key lyrics for reference if desired

• Key background vocals if present

• Dynamics-how loud, how soft, etc.

• Any form, clarifying instructions and symbols needed to ensure a good performance of the tune.

All styles of popular music use master rhythm charts, and it’s common to have one along with a lead sheet for each tune when a singer is involved. Master rhythm chart reading, and writing, entails improvising fluidly in the style of the tune, and requires fluid notation reading abilities.

7. NOTATED PARTS

When the music needs to be extremely specific it will be fully notated. Everything that needs to be played is written on the page. What to play, when to play it and how to play it: the notes, rhythms, dynamics, and any and all notational expressions, such as tempos (how fast or slow), who cues what, etc. Most professional recording sessions and shows require fluid note reading and provide individual parts for each instrument.

LYRIC SHEETS WITH CHORDS

Though they are not written music, lyric sheets with chords deserve a mention.

Singers who play an instrument often use lyric sheets with chord symbols written above the words. For a singer/musician these are very useful, and are often used. I’ve used them myself.

Musicians reading these charts, however, can do well if they are familiar with the song, but this leaves a very large margin for error. Very often the chords are over the wrong words, or the chords are wrong or incomplete: very dicey business. Musicians like specifics.

My students use these all the time, and there are a number of Internet sites with thousands of lyric sheets you can download. For certain situations they are very handy!

Electronic Music History and Today’s Best Modern Proponents!

asdsElectronic music history pre-dates the rock and roll era by decades. Most of us were not even on this planet when it began its often obscure, under-appreciated and misunderstood development. Today, this ‘other worldly’ body of sound which began close to a century ago, may no longer appear strange and unique as new generations have accepted much of it as mainstream, but it’s had a bumpy road and, in finding mass audience acceptance, a slow one.

Many musicians – the modern proponents of electronic music – developed a passion for analogue synthesizers in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s with signature songs like Gary Numan’s breakthrough, ‘Are Friends Electric?’. It was in this era that these devices became smaller, more accessible, more user friendly and more affordable for many of us. In this article I will attempt to trace this history in easily digestible chapters and offer examples of today’s best modern proponents.

To my mind, this was the beginning of a new epoch. To create electronic music, it was no longer necessary to have access to a roomful of technology in a studio or live. Hitherto, this was solely the domain of artists the likes of Kraftwerk, whose arsenal of electronic instruments and custom built gadgetry the rest of us could only have dreamed of, even if we could understand the logistics of their functioning. Having said this, at the time I was growing up in the 60’s & 70’s, I nevertheless had little knowledge of the complexity of work that had set a standard in previous decades to arrive at this point.

The history of electronic music owes much to Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007). Stockhausen was a German Avante Garde composer and a pioneering figurehead in electronic music from the 1950’s onwards, influencing a movement that would eventually have a powerful impact upon names such as Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Brain Eno, Cabaret Voltaire, Depeche Mode, not to mention the experimental work of the Beatles’ and others in the 1960’s. His face is seen on the cover of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, the Beatles’ 1967 master Opus. Let’s start, however, by traveling a little further back in time.

The Turn of the 20th Century

Time stood still for this stargazer when I originally discovered that the first documented, exclusively electronic, concerts were not in the 1970’s or 1980’s but in the 1920’s!

The first purely electronic instrument, the Theremin, which is played without touch, was invented by Russian scientist and cellist, Lev Termen (1896-1993), circa 1919.

In 1924, the Theremin made its concert debut with the Leningrad Philharmonic. Interest generated by the theremin drew audiences to concerts staged across Europe and Britain. In 1930, the prestigious Carnegie Hall in New York, experienced a performance of classical music using nothing but a series of ten theremins. Watching a number of skilled musicians playing this eerie sounding instrument by waving their hands around its antennae must have been so exhilarating, surreal and alien for a pre-tech audience!

For those interested, check out the recordings of Theremin virtuoso Clara Rockmore (1911-1998). Lithuanian born Rockmore (Reisenberg) worked with its inventor in New York to perfect the instrument during its early years and became its most acclaimed, brilliant and recognized performer and representative throughout her life.

In retrospect Clara, was the first celebrated ‘star’ of genuine electronic music. You are unlikely to find more eerie, yet beautiful performances of classical music on the Theremin. She’s definitely a favorite of mine!

Electronic Music in Sci-Fi, Cinema and Television

Unfortunately, and due mainly to difficulty in skill mastering, the Theremin’s future as a musical instrument was short lived. Eventually, it found a niche in 1950’s Sci-Fi films. The 1951 cinema classic “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, with a soundtrack by influential American film music composer Bernard Hermann (known for Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”, etc.), is rich with an ‘extraterrestrial’ score using two Theremins and other electronic devices melded with acoustic instrumentation.

Using the vacuum-tube oscillator technology of the Theremin, French cellist and radio telegraphist, Maurice Martenot (1898-1980), began developing the Ondes Martenot (in French, known as the Martenot Wave) in 1928.

Employing a standard and familiar keyboard which could be more easily mastered by a musician, Martenot’s instrument succeeded where the Theremin failed in being user-friendly. In fact, it became the first successful electronic instrument to be used by composers and orchestras of its period until the present day.

It is featured on the theme to the original 1960’s TV series “Star Trek”, and can be heard on contemporary recordings by the likes of Radiohead and Brian Ferry.

The expressive multi-timbral Ondes Martenot, although monophonic, is the closest instrument of its generation I have heard which approaches the sound of modern synthesis.

“Forbidden Planet”, released in 1956, was the first major commercial studio film to feature an exclusively electronic soundtrack… aside from introducing Robbie the Robot and the stunning Anne Francis! The ground-breaking score was produced by husband and wife team Louis and Bebe Barron who, in the late 1940’s, established the first privately owned recording studio in the USA recording electronic experimental artists such as the iconic John Cage (whose own Avante Garde work challenged the definition of music itself!).

The Barrons are generally credited for having widening the application of electronic music in cinema. A soldering iron in one hand, Louis built circuitry which he manipulated to create a plethora of bizarre, ‘unearthly’ effects and motifs for the movie. Once performed, these sounds could not be replicated as the circuit would purposely overload, smoke and burn out to produce the desired sound result.

Consequently, they were all recorded to tape and Bebe sifted through hours of reels edited what was deemed usable, then re-manipulated these with delay and reverberation and creatively dubbed the end product using multiple tape decks.

In addition to this laborious work method, I feel compelled to include that which is, arguably, the most enduring and influential electronic Television signature ever: the theme to the long running 1963 British Sci-Fi adventure series, “Dr. Who”. It was the first time a Television series featured a solely electronic theme. The theme to “Dr. Who” was created at the legendary BBC Radiophonic Workshop using tape loops and test oscillators to run through effects, record these to tape, then were re-manipulated and edited by another Electro pioneer, Delia Derbyshire, interpreting the composition of Ron Grainer.

As you can see, electronic music’s prevalent usage in vintage Sci-Fi was the principle source of the general public’s perception of this music as being ‘other worldly’ and ‘alien-bizarre sounding’. This remained the case till at least 1968 with the release of the hit album “Switched-On Bach” performed entirely on a Moog modular synthesizer by Walter Carlos (who, with a few surgical nips and tucks, subsequently became Wendy Carlos).

The 1970’s expanded electronic music’s profile with the break through of bands like Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream, and especially the 1980’s when it found more mainstream acceptance.

The Mid 1900’s: Musique Concrete

In its development through the 1900’s, electronic music was not solely confined to electronic circuitry being manipulated to produce sound. Back in the 1940’s, a relatively new German invention – the reel-to-reel tape recorder developed in the 1930’s – became the subject of interest to a number of Avante Garde European composers, most notably the French radio broadcaster and composer Pierre Schaeffer (1910-1995) who developed a montage technique he called Musique Concrete.

Musique Concrete (meaning ‘real world’ existing sounds as opposed to artificial or acoustic ones produced by musical instruments) broadly involved the splicing together of recorded segments of tape containing ‘found’ sounds – natural, environmental, industrial and human – and manipulating these with effects such as delay, reverb, distortion, speeding up or slowing down of tape-speed (varispeed), reversing, etc.

Stockhausen actually held concerts utilizing his Musique Concrete works as backing tapes (by this stage electronic as well as ‘real world’ sounds were used on the recordings) on top of which live instruments would be performed by classical players responding to the mood and motifs they were hearing!

Musique Concrete had a wide impact not only on Avante Garde and effects libraries, but also on the contemporary music of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Important works to check are the Beatles’ use of this method in ground-breaking tracks like ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, ‘Revolution No. 9’ and ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite’, as well as Pink Floyd albums “Umma Gumma”, “Dark Side of the Moon” and Frank Zappa’s “Lumpy Gravy”. All used tape cut-ups and home-made tape loops often fed live into the main mixdown.

Today this can be performed with simplicity using digital sampling, but yesterday’s heroes labored hours, days and even weeks to perhaps complete a four minute piece! For those of us who are contemporary musicians, understanding the history of electronic music helps in appreciating the quantum leap technology has taken in the recent period. But these early innovators, these pioneers – of which there are many more down the line – and the important figures they influenced that came before us, created the revolutionary groundwork that has become our electronic musical heritage today and for this I pay them homage!

1950’s: The First Computer and Synth Play Music

Moving forward a few years to 1957 and enter the first computer into the electronic mix. As you can imagine, it wasn’t exactly a portable laptop device but consumed a whole room and user friendly wasn’t even a concept. Nonetheless creative people kept pushing the boundaries. One of these was Max Mathews (1926 -) from Bell Telephone Laboratories, New Jersey, who developed Music 1, the original music program for computers upon which all subsequent digital synthesis has its roots based. Mathews, dubbed the ‘Father of Computer Music’, using a digital IBM Mainframe, was the first to synthesize music on a computer.

In the climax of Stanley Kubrik’s 1968 movie ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, use is made of a 1961 Mathews’ electronic rendition of the late 1800’s song ‘Daisy Bell’. Here the musical accompaniment is performed by his programmed mainframe together with a computer-synthesized human ‘singing’ voice technique pioneered in the early 60’s. In the movie, as HAL the computer regresses, ‘he’ reverts to this song, an homage to ‘his’ own origins.

1957 also witnessed the first advanced synth, the RCA Mk II Sound Synthesizer (an improvement on the 1955 original). It also featured an electronic sequencer to program music performance playback. This massive RCA Synth was installed, and still remains, at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, New York, where the legendary Robert Moog worked for a while. Universities and Tech laboratories were the main home for synth and computer music experimentation in that early era.

1960’s: The Dawning of The Age of Moog

The logistics and complexity of composing and even having access to what were, until then, musician unfriendly synthesizers, led to a demand for more portable playable instruments. One of the first to respond, and definitely the most successful, was Robert Moog (1934-2005). His playable synth employed the familiar piano style keyboard.

Moog’s bulky telephone-operators’ cable plug-in type of modular synth was not one to be transported and set up with any amount of ease or speed! But it received an enormous boost in popularity with the success of Walter Carlos, as previously mentioned, in 1968. His LP (Long Player) best seller record “Switched-On Bach” was unprecedented because it was the first time an album appeared of fully synthesized music, as opposed to experimental sound pieces.

The album was a complex classical music performance with various multi-tracks and overdubs necessary, as the synthesizer was only monophonic! Carlos also created the electronic score for “A Clockwork Orange”, Stanley Kubrik’s disturbing 1972 futuristic film.

From this point, the Moog synth is prevalent on a number of late 1960’s contemporary albums. In 1967 the Monkees’ “Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd” became the first commercial pop album release to feature the modular Moog. In fact, singer/drummer Mickey Dolenz purchased one of the very first units sold.

It wasn’t until the early 1970’s, however, when the first Minimoog appeared that interest seriously developed amongst musicians. This portable little unit with a fat sound had a significant impact becoming part of live music kit for many touring musicians for years to come. Other companies such as Sequential Circuits, Roland and Korg began producing their own synths, giving birth to a music subculture.

I cannot close the chapter on the 1960’s, however, without reference to the Mellotron. This electronic-mechanical instrument is often viewed as the primitive precursor to the modern digital sampler.

Developed in early 1960’s Britain and based on the Chamberlin (a cumbersome US-designed instrument from the previous decade), the Mellotron keyboard triggered pre-recorded tapes, each key corresponding to the equivalent note and pitch of the pre-loaded acoustic instrument.

The Mellotron is legendary for its use on the Beatles’ 1966 song ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’. A flute tape-bank is used on the haunting introduction played by Paul McCartney.

The instrument’s popularity burgeoned and was used on many recordings of the era such as the immensely successful Moody Blues epic ‘Nights in White Satin’. The 1970’s saw it adopted more and more by progressive rock bands. Electronic pioneers Tangerine Dream featured it on their early albums.

With time and further advances in microchip technology though, this charming instrument became a relic of its period.

1970’s: The Birth of Vintage Electronic Bands

The early fluid albums of Tangerine Dream such as “Phaedra” from 1974 and Brian Eno’s work with his self-coined ‘ambient music’ and on David Bowie’s “Heroes” album, further drew interest in the synthesizer from both musicians and audience.

Kraftwerk, whose 1974 seminal album “Autobahn” achieved international commercial success, took the medium even further adding precision, pulsating electronic beats and rhythms and sublime synth melodies. Their minimalism suggested a cold, industrial and computerized-urban world. They often utilized vocoders and speech synthesis devices such as the gorgeously robotic ‘Speak and Spell’ voice emulator, the latter being a children’s learning aid!

While inspired by the experimental electronic works of Stockhausen, as artists, Kraftwerk were the first to successfully combine all the elements of electronically generated music and noise and produce an easily recognizable song format. The addition of vocals in many of their songs, both in their native German tongue and English, helped earn them universal acclaim becoming one of the most influential contemporary music pioneers and performers of the past half-century.

Kraftwerk’s 1978 gem ‘Das Modell’ hit the UK number one spot with a reissued English language version, ‘The Model’, in February 1982, making it one of the earliest Electro chart toppers!

Ironically, though, it took a movement that had no association with EM (Electronic Music) to facilitate its broader mainstream acceptance. The mid 1970’s punk movement, primarily in Britain, brought with it a unique new attitude: one that gave priority to self-expression rather than performance dexterity and formal training, as embodied by contemporary progressive rock musicians. The initial aggression of metallic punk transformed into a less abrasive form during the late 1970’s: New Wave. This, mixed with the comparative affordability of many small, easy to use synthesizers, led to the commercial synth explosion of the early 1980’s.

A new generation of young people began to explore the potential of these instruments and began to create soundscapes challenging the prevailing perspective of contemporary music. This didn’t arrive without battle scars though. The music industry establishment, especially in its media, often derided this new form of expression and presentation and was anxious to consign it to the dustbin of history.

1980’s: The First Golden Era of Electronic Music for the Masses

Gary Numan became arguably the first commercial synth megastar with the 1979 “Tubeway Army” hit ‘Are Friends Electric?’. The Sci-Fi element is not too far away once again. Some of the imagery is drawn from the Science Fiction classic, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”. The 1982 hit film “Blade Runner” was also based on the same book.

Although ‘Are Friends Electric?’ featured conventional drum and bass backing, its dominant use of Polymoogs gives the song its very distinctive sound. The recording was the first synth-based release to achieve number one chart status in the UK during the post-punk years and helped usher in a new genre. No longer was electronic and/or synthesizer music consigned to the mainstream sidelines. Exciting!

Further developments in affordable electronic technology placed electronic squarely in the hands of young creators and began to transform professional studios.

Designed in Australia in 1978, the Fairlight Sampler CMI became the first commercially available polyphonic digital sampling instrument but its prohibitive cost saw it solely in use by the likes of Trevor Horn, Stevie Wonder and Peter Gabriel. By mid-decade, however, smaller, cheaper instruments entered the market such as the ubiquitous Akai and Emulator Samplers often used by musicians live to replicate their studio-recorded sounds. The Sampler revolutionized the production of music from this point on.

In most major markets, with the qualified exception of the US, the early 1980’s was commercially drawn to electro-influenced artists. This was an exciting era for many of us, myself included. I know I wasn’t alone in closeting the distorted guitar and amps and immersing myself into a new universe of musical expression – a sound world of the abstract and non traditional.

At home, Australian synth based bands Real Life (‘Send Me An Angel’, “Heartland” album), Icehouse (‘Hey Little Girl’) and Pseudo Echo (‘Funky Town’) began to chart internationally, and more experimental electronic outfits like Severed Heads and SPK also developed cult followings overseas.

But by mid-decade the first global electronic wave lost its momentum amidst resistance fomented by an unrelenting old school music media. Most of the artists that began the decade as predominantly electro-based either disintegrated or heavily hybrid their sound with traditional rock instrumentation.

The USA, the largest world market in every sense, remained in the conservative music wings for much of the 1980’s. Although synth-based records did hit the American charts, the first being Human League’s 1982 US chart topper ‘Don’t You Want Me Baby?’, on the whole it was to be a few more years before the American mainstream embraced electronic music, at which point it consolidated itself as a dominant genre for musicians and audiences alike, worldwide.

1988 was somewhat of a watershed year for electronic music in the US. Often maligned in the press in their early years, it was Depeche Mode that unintentionally – and mostly unaware – spearheaded this new assault. From cult status in America for much of the decade, their new high-play rotation on what was now termed Modern Rock radio resulted in mega stadium performances. An Electro act playing sold out arenas was not common fare in the USA at that time!

In 1990, fan pandemonium in New York to greet the members at a central record shop made TV news, and their “Violator” album outselling Madonna and Prince in the same year made them a US household name. Electronic music was here to stay, without a doubt!

1990’s Onward: The Second Golden Era of Electronic Music for the Masses

Before our ‘star music’ secured its hold on the US mainstream, and while it was losing commercial ground elsewhere throughout much of the mid 1980’s, Detroit and Chicago became unassuming laboratories for an explosion of Electronic Music which would see out much of the 1990’s and onwards. Enter Techno and House.

Detroit in the 1980’s, a post-Fordism US industrial wasteland, produced the harder European influenced Techno. In the early to mid 80’s, Detroiter Juan Atkins, an obsessive Kraftwerk fan, together with Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson – using primitive, often borrowed equipment – formed the backbone of what would become, together with House, the predominant music club-culture throughout the world. Heavily referenced artists that informed early Techno development were European pioneers such as the aforementioned Kraftwerk, as well as Yello and British Electro acts the likes of Depeche Mode, Human League, Heaven 17, New Order and Cabaret Voltaire.

Chicago, a four-hour drive away, simultaneously saw the development of House. The name is generally considered to be derived from “The Warehouse” where various DJ-Producers featured this new music amalgam. House has its roots in 1970’s disco and, unlike Techno, usually has some form of vocal. I think Giorgio Moroder’s work in the mid 70’s with Donna Summer, especially the song ‘I Feel Love’, is pivotal in appreciating the 70’s disco influences upon burgeoning Chicago House.

A myriad of variants and sub genres have developed since – crossing the Atlantic, reworked and back again – but in many ways the popular success of these two core forms revitalized the entire Electronic landscape and its associated social culture. Techno and House helped to profoundly challenge mainstream and Alternative Rock as the preferred listening choice for a new generation: a generation who has grown up with electronic music and accepts it as a given. For them, it is music that has always been.

The history of electronic music continues to be written as technology advances and people’s expectations of where music can go continues to push it forward, increasing its vocabulary and lexicon.

Learning Musical Instruments – How Do I Improve My Playing?

When asked a question like “how can I improve my playing?” It is my experience that most music teachers and musicians will answer “practice” or maybe “practice makes perfect”. And essentially I agree. There is no substitute for practice, especially practice where the musician is wholly focused on the task at hand, concentrating on the various aspects of the music they are learning and listening attentively to their playing. Even musical savants with uncanny musical powers such as seemingly photographic memory and true perfect pitch must complete years of intense practice before being performance ready(1). One of the greatest pianists and composers, Rachmaninoff could according to Harold Schonberg transcribe whole compositions after a single hearing.(2) Even so, when Rachmaninoff decided to earn his living as a concert pianist, he didn’t dare to go on stage until completing two years of further practice. Some musicians may brag that they don’t practice much but generally you will discover they are either lying or that as an adolescent they sat up all night practicing while others were out mucking around or asleep. But what about the many cases of musicians who do have the drive to practice long and hard but never make the grade? I’ve even had musicians tell me they can “get worse” after practicing.

Most musicians must be familiar with hitting “walls” where they find they simply don’t improve even with extra effort. This is a likely reason that many stop playing musical instruments altogether, becoming frustrated, overwhelmed and believing that music simply isn’t for them. It’s my belief that it’s sometimes not mental will or effort that is to blame, but the method of practice.

Over the years I have occasionally heard an objection to the “practice makes perfect” cliche. Some people like to say, “perfect practice makes perfect”. Implicit in this statement is the idea that the way you practice is important. Sure there is natural variation in all human being’s physical and mental abilities, but in my experience anyone can play a musical instrument well with a little perseverance as long as they go about it the right way. Interestingly, researchers have found marked differences between the way amateurs and professionals practice.(3)

Our human bodies have not evolved to play musical instruments. After all, most instruments are fairly recent inventions in their current forms and continue to evolve themselves. Unlike language and other mental functions, there is no “music center” in the brain. Many parts of the brain are required to both listen to and perform music. Playing a musical instrument well is a complex task. A level of physical strength is required, fine muscle coordination and muscle control are essential and of course extensive mental training and conditioning is necessary. It’s no good being able to produce the best tone in the world if you have no rhythm. It’s no use having a well developed musical appreciation and emotional sensitivity if you have no technical ability and vice versa. A good musician needs to master many skills and therefore, to know how to practice “perfectly” becomes a very complex and difficult question.

Like most musicians, throughout my childhood and adolescence I simply practiced instinctively. The problem here is that sometimes you’re instincts lead you astray. In my experience, most teachers do not give extensive thought to the finer details of how to practice. Most teachers simply tell students what to practice. However as an adult who is almost always pressed for time, I need to know that I am improving every time I sit behind the piano or get on the drums.

As previously stated, this is a very broad and complex topic but I’d like to share some basics that I’ve learnt from my travels in the world of music. For clarity, I have broken up this topic into three main sections: Musicality, technical ability and performance.

Musicality:

I have deliberately listed musicality first because in order to develop technical prowess at your instrument of choice, you need to know what sound you are trying to achieve. When it comes to musicality the most important thing to develop is your listening abilities. This may seem obvious but it takes time and effort to be a good listener. A large amount of listening to music in our modern world is done with no conscious thought at all, however as a child all the skills of listening to music must be learnt. Ever heard a choir of kindergarten students? They inevitably sing out of tune. Because their young brains are still learning the pitch categorizations of our 12 note scale. How about asking a very young child to tap along in time to a song? This is something that can be mastered at a very young age but nonetheless, even simple rhythms found in many songs using 4/4 meter must be learnt. Note how difficult it can be to keep tapping perfectly in time once the music stops playing. For most, sensitivity and awareness of harmony is the hardest to learn but deeply rewarding in terms of a listener’s emotional response.

So to develop your musicality, all you have to do is listen! But attentive listening requires effort. Ideally, only listen to music without any other distractions. Try to listen to music in styles that you are not familiar with, and note the differences to other styles of music. For example, various types of dance music emphasize a strong pulse or beat, some types of dance music achieve a dance feel while overlaying several rhythms at once eg/ Latin percussion. Classical music often focuses on thematic and harmonic development, jazz music contains intricate solo lines and variation, pop music highlights catchy melodies. When listening to any type of music involving more than one instrument, focus in on the different parts of the music. For example, when listening to jazz or rock can you sing the bass line? Can you hear what cymbals the drummer is playing? Singling out the different instrument lines in a piece of music will also help develop your sensitivity to harmony both homophonic and polyphonic. A 4-part fugue by Bach is a fairly complex piece of music using four separate but related lines or “voices”. It’s also not the type of piece you will hear on most radio programs. Why not challenge yourself with something like a Bach prelude and fugue or two? Or perhaps a piece by Debussy or Bartok with experimental and complex harmonic development.

For advanced listeners, note the form and structure of the piece of music. See if you can identify the phrasing of melodies or motifs. Identifying repeats and variations will help you to understand and memorize the piece. By focusing on the larger structure of a song you can make a simple song “map”. Knowing the larger structure of a song may lead you develop an appetite for listening to compositions with different forms and structure. If you are a musician, knowing the larger structure of a piece will also help you know where and how to emphasize the different sections. Note the contours of the music, for example, where are the climaxes in the song? Where are the loudest and softest parts of the song?

Good listening involves anticipating what is coming next. Your brain will do this automatically to some degree but you can help it along. For example, try to figure out how the rhythmic patterns repeat so you can predict them. How many repeats are there? It takes listening time and experience to develop a mental portfolio of musical conventions allowing you to anticipate the music to come. And often, the way that a piece adheres to or varies from your expectations will trigger emotional responses from you the listener. A piece of music may set you up for a perfect cadence for example, or for a return to a previously stated melody. It’s often when these “rules” or expectations are not followed that a piece of music becomes interesting and more enjoyable to listen to.

Try to identify in words what exactly it is that you love about your favorite music. Music is so powerful an art form because it can reach inside you and somehow illicit intense emotions and pleasure in the listener. Music goes far beyond being simply “happy” or “sad”. Subtle and beautiful emotional shades can occur when you listen to music you love. For example, I love music with a sad wistful tone, that is reflective, poignant and beautiful but I hate pessimistic or dreary music. Yet both could be classed as sad. I love powerful, energizing and dramatic music, but I don’t like reckless, raw anger. Fully absorb yourself in the music you love. At this point it is helpful to do some analysis and try to identify what specific aspects of the music are combining to give you this powerful emotional response. The timbre of the instruments and rhythms used are important but particular attention should be applied to the harmony of the piece. Are there any chord progressions that really do it for you?

Finally, when playing music, good listening habits are not easy to learn, especially for young children and for amateurs at the early stages of learning a piece. Your brain is focusing on many different activities such as controlling your muscles, counting time, making sure you’re hitting the right notes, relaxing and anticipating what is to come. On top of all this, you need to step outside yourself and listen to the sound you are producing. So whenever possible, shift your focus momentarily, pretend you are a passive observer in the room and listen. Personally, I find it extremely useful to play both the piano and the drums with my eyes closed from time to time. Am I playing it exactly how it should be played? Developing your musicality means being a perfectionist forever developing a finer attention to detail.

Technical Ability:

Music teachers and sports coaches alike tell their students to relax. This is the number one basic rule for technical development at any endeavor that requires fine muscle control. Often teachers simply shout “relax” at their students while the student gets progressively more tense. Obviously, you cannot entirely relax your body or else you will quickly end up lying on the ground, limp and listless. Relaxation is the art of relaxing all the muscles in your body that are not needed to execute the music. In addition the muscles that are needed should contract only so far as required and no more. The phrase “economy of motion” comes to mind. Relaxation is annoyingly difficult to master and it’s something that I am constantly working on every time I practice. Relaxation is muscle coordination. Eg/ Are your shoulders hunched? Is your mid section or upper leg tense? While playing you must observe the state of your entire body. When you decide to play a note or hit a drum skin, you don’t have conscious control over exactly which muscles your body will contract in order to execute the movement. While you may not have full conscious control, when practicing you are conditioning your muscles to move how you want them to move through repetition. Focus in on how it feels to play a particular passage. Experiment with different motions and keep the motions small but not rigid. Practicing quietly and slowly can really help with relaxation. Try to feel the weight of gravity holding your hands down on the piano keys or your feet down on the drum pedals. Often when fully relaxed you will have the sensation of playing from your upper arms or upper legs even though your extremities are where all the action is. Try to learn what it feels like to play relaxed.

One of the biggest differences between amateurs and professionals practice is that professionals focus on the difficult parts of a song and break them up into small fragments whereas amateurs waste time trying to play a piece from start to finish. Small sections are a great way to do many repetitions where it matters. In addition, you can often simplify difficult sections. Eg/ playing hands separately at the piano is essential especially when learning a piece. Or for drummers, try dropping out the right hand momentarily, or left hand, or left foot etc. When practicing small sections do not be afraid to play fast. Slow practice is great for relaxing and for fine attention to detail, but slow playing will most likely use different muscles in different combinations to fast playing. Ideally, small simplified sections of a piece should be able to be played faster than the final tempo you’re aiming for.(4) In addition, vary the start and finish points of these small segments. A smart musician knows that it’s often the notes around a particularly troublesome spot that cause problems. Eg/ Do you have a two octave jump before you have to play that long trill? Then practice the jump and the trill. Do you have to swivel from one side of the drum kit to the other before executing the 4-way coordination pattern?

Performance:

If you play an instrument, sooner or later chances are you will be playing in public. And performing in public is the real test of your ability as a musician. Performing poses many challenges such as an unfamiliar room or even an unfamiliar instrument, often no chance to warm up and of course nerves. Performance can be quite stressful but can also be a hugely rewarding and fun. The better you know your repertoire, the higher the chance of you and the audience enjoying the show. To perform well, memorization is always desirable. To help with memorizing try to spot patterns and logic in the music. Work out the structure of the song. Identifying chords and harmonic elements may help. Memorize small sections at a time through repetition and try to recall the notes visually in your mind.

To become performance ready, there is a lot of mental work you can away from your instrument. Run through the piece in your mind and try to imagine each note. This is actually very hard to do, but it confirms that you really know a piece. The renown pianist Glenn Gould would run through songs in his mind, singing and fingering the music on an imaginary piano.(5) Before the invention of the radio and gramophone, score analysis was much more widespread amongst musicians. It was far more commonplace to analyze a score and sing the musical parts aiding the learning of a piece before even playing a note.

It is certainly worthwhile recording yourself preferably on video as part of your practice. The process of recording is a good test in itself because the pressure is on when you press the record button. And watching or listening to yourself play can help you pick up parts you’d like to change or mistakes you are making.

Before performing, focus on the task at hand and take a few deep breaths. Run through the first song you are about to play in your mind. Realize that you are most likely a little apprehensive and nervous. Your heart is probably beating a little faster than normal and your adrenal glands may even be firing up. Take your time and make a conscious effort to relax. Once you have started, remember to keep focusing on the task at hand and absorb yourself in the music. Don’t shift your awareness to what is going on around you and don’t contemplate how you’re playing. If you catch yourself drifting, focus back on the music and your playing. There’s plenty for your mind to worry about contained in the task of executing your music well so simply concentrate on making the best music you can and you will be fine. It may take a little time before you start feeling a comfortable but generally most people find that once they are away and going, everything’s OK and can be a lot of fun. Try to keep just ahead of the music in your mind, focusing on what is coming up as well as listening closely to your sound. Try to relax before difficult sections. Being too apprehensive of a difficult part is not helpful. Trust yourself in these situations, relax and let your sub-conscious take over. It’s too late to improve now, you might as well have fun. If you make a mistake, never stop. The larger structure and the mood of the music probably won’t be affected. And perhaps you can find some comfort in knowing that even famous concert pianists such as David Horowitz made the odd mistake.

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