One of the composition professors at my school had a quote posted on his door. It said:
“There are only two type of artists, plagarists and revolutionaries.” – By some guy forget who.
It’s a pretty oversimplified view, but for the most part it’s true. But I’m not really writing this article to try to define these terms (which would take way too long), but rather focus on a group of people I seem to see a lot lately. Plagarists who claim to be revolutionaries.
I’m sure all of you have heard those type of people before, where they think they are so clever for using a synth lick in a acoustic band, or visa versa. Or voice effects = avant garde. It’s kind of funny in a way, as reviewers we’re required to crush this optimism, but how do people get into such a frame of mind to begin with?
I’ll use myself as an example. This was when I was just starting off as a musician, writing electronic tracks. Heres a few examples of my musical experimentations:
One day I had the crazy idea of shifting my loops a little bit ahead or a little bit behind to have the loops layered a little differently. Man I thought I was so damn clever.
I have a track made in non 4/4, wow!
Or piano keys…I thought I was a genius when I could make chords out of just pure intervals…3rds 4ths 5ths or whatever. Wow!
Or layering two or more different melodies…holy crap!
How about separating the white keys of the keyboard and the black? Dang!
Now looking back, I could’ve saved myself a ton of time if someone would’ve just told me these methods have already been done! Many of them are already standard exersizes in classical training, which made me feel really stupid at the time.
Some people take pride in the fact that they haven’t had any training, which is something I don’t really understand. They think they’re breaking all the rules (when more often than not they arn’t), but do they even know what rules they’re breaking to begin with? Or maybe they think they are “just that good” without training so they have an excuse not to be great? Who knows.
Before people start to get mad and point out to me all the great musicians who have been successful without training, I will acknowledge that as well. But whats the difference between them and those who never really get anywhere?
I think the key point is in the listening aspect of the musician. Every type of music has its good and bad points, (“good and bad” being subjective) but there is always something to learn from them. Especially musicians who only listen to mainstream radio or one type of genre, they never really sound original because when they write thats all they know how to write. At that point talent or skill doesn’t matter since they’re just regurgitating whats already been done a trillion times before. They do things that sound slightly different from other groups and think they’re original…simply because they don’t know what else is out there.
Listening, in my opinion, is more important than training. Even if you don’t know the exact details of the “rules” if you have a good ear you can replicate and analyze what you like and don’t like about a certain effect, solo, or chord progression, etc.
The main problem, I think, is many musicians don’t listen to an enough variety of musics, which in turn makes whatever they write extremely narrow and cliche. Worse yet, there are a few musicians who ONLY listen to their own tracks which is even worse.
It’s one thing to write in only one genre, and another thing to only listen in one.