I like to do my research. In my experience, I have found that it’s best to know what you’re talking about before you talk about it. This experience has come to me in a kind of roundabout fashion – I have built a pretty good reputation from preying upon people who love to spout off without really knowing what they’re spouting off about. Not to make an ass out of them, but to point out that they’ve made an ass of themselves.
This is especially effective in participating in debates at Universities .. but the need to do your research doesn’t stop at institutions of higher education. I have found it to be of the utmost importance in reviewing music, because these days there are a lot of artists running around promoting their songs when, if you actually know how they “made that song” then you’d realize that they didn’t make it at all, but merely borrowed (or stole, if you prefer) their sound from someone else. Knowing this greatly affects how a song is rated (at least, when it comes up on my desk) because you can’t rate an artist on their work when it’s not even their work.
What I’m talking about here is sampling – not sampling like in the old days, with big fat Akai samplers and blinking lights, holding microphones out the window at passing cars to try to capture a strange effect… but either downloading loops or buying them on CD.
My rhetorical question for you is this : if I take a song by Paul Van Dyk, chop it into 4 measure segments, and then re-arrange them in a different order, am I entitled to call it MY song now? Can I sell it back to Paul Van Dyk for inclusion on his next DJ mix? Not likely.
What if I took those seperate elements (drums, bass, lead, etc) and put them together myself? Is it now my song? Again, not bloody likely.
So why is it that “artists” are so offended when I rate “their songs” so low because their sounds are in fact NOT theirs?
Their reasoning is as follows: “Well, listen to the song – it sounds really good, and this song didn’t exist until I took those sounds and put them together, so I wrote a good song and you’re just picking on me because I can’t afford a big synth!” Sure, the logic flows.. sort of. But a computer could have taken those pre-existing loops and put them together in such a way as to produce a song based on an formula – just add an element every four measures to make it “progressive” and then switch it up on sixteen.
And yes, the recording quality is high. Why shouldn’t it be? The loops themselves were produced in world-class studios by experienced sound engineers who realized that there is a big market for instant-gratification-music-making and they tapped that ass. Straight up.
This is the same thing that I’ve noticed going to raves over the years – a newbie rave kiddie gushes : “this DJ kicks ass!” at the breakdown of a song. Their mind has been blown by the track, and because it’s the DJ’s name on the flier, they figure it’s the DJ who’s doing the mind blowing.
They don’t know the difference between a good DJ and a good record.
And just like that DJ, who went and bought the means by which he could blow the newbie raver’s mind, producers who use pre-recorded samples are buying their sound off a shelf. Or worse, stealing it.
Which is what it really comes down to – every artist should be obsessed with developing their own sound so as to stand out in the sea of mediocrity. Instead, more and more often these days, people aren’t patient enough to learn how to actually write a song or can’t afford to purchase the hardware that will enable them to do so, and they aren’t patient enough to “pay their dues” and rather opt to just get someone else’s kickass sounds and re-sequence them.
This is the pinnacle of instant gratification. I’ve played with these programs myself, and surely it gives you a warm fuzzy feeling to take the seperate elements and build them into a song. But I never kid myself into thinking that it’s “my song” no matter how cool it is. Sure, I can play it for my friends and they’ll go “wow!” but I am also honest enough with myself to know how much work that I put into it, and how much of the song is actually ME.
So now back to the research thing: I like to do my research so I know what I’m talking about. On a few occasions I’ve listened to a song and thought “wow, this is pretty great!” and as I was surfing through their site I see that they are sample kids. Now I _know_ that it’s not their work, so how am I supposed to give them a score for it?
Yes, it sounds great. The loops were written by great musicians in studios paid for by hundreds of thousands of sampler kids who want to be regarded as artists when in fact they’re simply playing a video game. Does that mean that I should provide this kid and his PC with a score on par with the people who DO spend hours and hours building their own loops and indeed SONGS from scratch? How fair is that? How honest is that? It becomes a puffery, and it makes me sick to think that there are artists out there who pour their heart and soul and bank account into producing their music and they go overlooked because some kid who bought some music mixing software at Future Shop for $19.99 has a “phatter sound.” Give me a freakin’ break.
Interesting things can be done with samples – Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim have both built credible careers out of sampling work. The trick is in the artistry that they put into the manipulation of those samples. They hack them from whatever audio source they can get and flip them around and do things that most sample kiddies hadn’t even imagined in order to produce their songs. They do not layer five different loops bought from a sample CD and then stamp their name on it.
It is plagiarism, no matter how you slice it (pardon the pun), and it is possibly the biggest threat to indy music today. The vast majority of the populace – the seething masses, if you will – are completely ignorant as to the production techniques, and are only concerned with the end product. So then you have kids who haven’t programmed a sequencer or fought to trim a low frequency resonance from their oscillators in their life getting 1000 plays a day on MP3.com and selling CDs full of material that rightfully belongs to somebody else. It is for their egos, and although we all know that fraud is eventually discovered, it is most disheartening for the REAL independant artists and their music to be heard when the kid next door is downloading WAV files that were produced and mastered by established professionals.
Which is why I do my research – because when I am asked to review a song that has one guy’s name on it but that guy admits that 98% of it is by somebody else, I am going to rate the song accordingly. And when I do find an artist that uses their synths and creativity to produce a sound that is really ALL THEIR OWN, I will also rate them accordingly. And I would ask that other reviewers do the same, in the spirit of quality journalism.
It is interesting to note that within the “synth scene” there is a debate raging over the use of arpeggios – a program that automatically sequences the synth based on a basic input. Arpeggios are widely used, especially in techno/dance music, and there are a good many people who think that using an arpeggio is no different than sampling somebody else’s work, even if the notes are being oscillated within your own synth. However, that is a far more complicated and interesting debate than the use of pre-recorded audio samples and loops for the purpose of producing music on your PC, and one which will only continue to rage on into the 21st century.
Here, however, there is only one thing you can call someone who uses somebody else’s loops and calls the song their own : a plagiarist. For those who do this in the hopes that it will lead them into money so that they can buy expensive gear and start producing their OWN stuff, I would say that you will ruin your reputation before it even gets started.
Bite the bullet and go hungry, take out a loan, pimp your body… do what you’ve got to do but don’t try to build a name for yourself off of somebody else’s, or else the name that you will get is “fake.”
/me gets off his soapbox.