Music and Technology
“These days, people have so many options and a plugin for everything you want to do. Well, If you sing bad there`s pitch correction,” says music producer Riken Maharjan. That might be the very base line for why technologies were invented, developed and so much invested in every other sector; to enhance productivity. Put on your best headphone and listen to ’22, A Million’ album by Bon Iver; what you witness is technology at its best.
Like any other established profession, doing music has its phases: creative phase, where artistes create their music. Similarly, there’s the production phase, where they are recorded, fine-tuned, finalized and produced. The distribution phase is where these finalized songs are released to audiences and this is the actual time when the artistes relate to and communicate with the audience through their creativity. Then there are the gigs of every size and type. In this age we are living in, all these phases are heavily dominated by advances in technology.
Time and again you come across videos of live recordings from yesteryears at Nepal Television. They may be technically limited, but they are beautiful. Maybe state owned Radio Nepal and its system of voice test for artistes was the reason behind us liking every song from that era. There is a lack of quality check now and record labels would do well to impose such checks to ensure they do not put out recordings of unqualified artistes.
In Nepal, the technology for producing has grown widely, and compared to the past, is very cost effective now. With it, the number of production studios has grown as well. Almost everything is done digitally now, meaning capacity to work on and store is undoubtedly much larger. The best part is that you can manipulate every signal, customizing and transforming it to how you want it to sound exactly. Importantly, post production is a much needed gift that we are blessed with, what needs to be, can be done at the post production. For instance, overdubbing was a big issue back then, but not anymore; it’s just a few clicks away. Sound cards, the most essential requirement for recording come in different sizes and capabilities.Home recordings are much easier today.
Distribution is one of the technological advances we cherish today. With internet and dedicated digital platforms such as bandcamp, soundcloud and YouTube, artistes of all genres are enjoying the benefits. Universal music has turned more global recently, with more reach and instant reviews and feedbacks. Physical distribution in the form of CDs for example is coming to an end slowly and will soon become history; releasing albums in flash memories is not very promising when high speed downloads is possible. But at times, this advantage also becomes a burden. For professional musicians, the lack of online sales of music in our country is a major setback, leaving them with only events as the basic means of making money. Physical sale of music has become a formality as sales are restricted to the first few days of release; the ineffective anti-piracy laws in Nepal cripple sales profoundly. CRBT and PRBT systems that are used by mobile phone companies are a small relief to these artistes.
When it comes to live performances, things have improved steadily. Generally, we have a decent sound system now, from the use of digital mixing consoles, to the technological advances in house speakers, monitors to amplification system and everything involved including the wiring system. Unlike the old days when Indian ‘Stranger’ amplifiers were seen at every concert, we have equipments from renowned international brands. But artistes using technology on the creative aspect is still rare. Excluding guitars, pedals, and other common technologies, Rajan Shrestha (Phatcowlee), Rohit Shakya, RanjenJha, Flekke, Foeseal may be the few artistes using technology as their main element. While the following of electronica music is significant at present globally, here things are just getting into shape slowly.
“New genres of music can get recognition pretty easily and fast if the artiste is good today,” exclaims Suzzeet Shrestha from djent metal band ‘Fragments’. A satisfying number of crowd turning up for their album launch is an example of how musicians can channelize the resources available for one’s promotion.
The dark aspect of modern technological advances also tends to make musicians a bit lazier. Easier, yes, but advances in technology can take them one step away from perfection as Riken admits; there is a plugin for everything. I’m sure everyone has heard it said that ‘musicians in the past were much more capable than today’. That’s simply because primitive technologies meant that musicians had to be perfect in order to record a perfect song in one take. Nothing beats hard work.
“I believe in perfect performances rather than perfect recordings. Bringing in technology to make workflow of music production easier rather than surgical procedure would add to the artistic value of music,” says Kobid Bajra from folk ensemble band MiKu.
Advances in technology and wider reach has also given birth to new genres of music, electronic dance music being one of them. Much needed perfection of sound is available to artists today. But unless artistes are dedicated, technology can very easily take away an important part of him in the production phase. Creativity and technology should always go hand in hand and the latter should not override your musical ability in determining how an album sounds.