Composers' Forum

Music Composers Unite!

This came up in another thread.

And to answer it I think we need to look at just what music is, and is not.

I think that music a multifaceted experience. Most people know it only as a listening experience. But up until the age of recording, music was also a live production experience. The only way to hear music was if someone played it. Music was special. Now it's kind of a throw-away thing.

Music is to be listened to.

Music is to be written.

Music is to be performed ( live ).

As  a recording, music is a reproduction, and as such is certainly a commodity to be bought and sold, and eventually thrown away. 

I grew up playing trumpet. As an instrumentalist, I played in concert band, marching band, orchestra, pit bands, studio band, jazz band, and more. I was inside music as it was being produced. In some ways, I feel there is no better way to experience how instruments fit together, than to be inside the entity producing the music, and contribute to it. 

I know, I know, not everyone plays an instrument, and now there are computers that let us bypass the boring process of having to know anything about music, and go right to the producing part. I get it, I really do. I get the attraction. I produce music with my computer, too. But no matter the quality of any software I might have, it does not take the place of a live performance. 

Learn to play guitar. You hardly need a musical bone in your body to be able to play well enough to play with other equally learned players, in order to feel what it's like to be inside the music. As a guitar player, I can say that.

We all have our favorite recordings of our favorite pieces. But those recordings, no matter how perfect, are static. Every time we listen, the music is the same. We depend on it. We become addicted to it. But a professional orchestra (any group, really) never plays a piece the same way twice. Can't be done, and why would they want to, anyway. The music is alive, apprehensive, leading, pushing, and dynamic. I think our reliance on recording leads some to think that we don't need musicians, any more. Randomness could be programmed into software, but it's not the same. Musicians don't study to play random. Then there are microphones. Mics lie, rooms lie, even our ears lie. Storage devices lie. 

I don't think that music is commodity to be bought and sold. At least not like like a loaf of bread. Although like the baker, the musician should be paid, but paid well. It's not easy to learn to play any instrument.

Do you know who makes the most money every time a recording is sold? The musician makes only a fraction of each dollar. Same in a concert situation. The musician sucks hind teat. Concerts and recording situations are so expensive. Is it because we need thousand dollar mics and several multi channel mixing boards, in special rooms. Well sure, I know all that can make a big difference. On the other hand, I've heard recordings made on a four trac cassette with a $50 mic, that were just awesome. This guy was a fantastic performer who knew how to use his equipment. 

Which brings us to the touchy subject of copyright. Did you know that the creators of costumes for Mardi Gras copyright their creations. Did you know that if you take a picture of a horse, and later you want to make a drawing of that photo, that you need to get the permission of the owner, especially if you might make some money from the drawing?

Yet we all post copyrighted material from YouTube all the time. We think that if it's on the internet, than it belongs to everyone. So far, that is not true. Should it be? 

I could go on. But let's open it up. What's on your mind about this?

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We need musicians.

Copyright is important.

There lie my thoughts.

We are in the process of sorting out when live or synthetic sound is appropriate, and to some degree we have already decided.  Movies, video games, and television lend themselves to synthetic music as everything can be combined, balanced, and edited in studio.  Live singers, actors, and performers require live music.  Musicals, opera, concerts  in any genre, rock, country, classical performed with live singers require live music.

     There has always been and will always be an appetite for live performance.  For the same reason we attend sporting events, picnics, air shows, or firework displays, we attend concerts.  It is for the communal experience, the exercise of getting out, touching, feeling, smelling, seeing and hearing the total experience.  T.V. video, canned music is boring compared to the real world. 

     I may be old fashioned, but the virtual experience, produced by computer, doesn't seem to be catching on.  People would rather play baseball or tennis, race real cars or dance rather than pretend via computer mock up.   

Virtual reality is an oxymoron.  It's either live or it isn't.

As a player, you get to appreciate the value of emotional input as you play, you develop a self awareness of your own musicality and an understanding of music and its power and you also develop an appreciation of the subtleties of sound that can be produced by the instrument. Dedication to an instrument  helps you to grow as a person too and helps to orientate you with purpose and goals. I agree with you Bob about the joy of playing in groups too - a unique insight into the hidden mechanics as well as the social joy.

I guess you are referring to Jerry's thread to which I responded before I saw this thread, so I wont initially repeat anything here although the post could sit here too. Do we need musicians?...well I certainly do, but a more objective answer might be (for composers) maybe, maybe not.

Live? This is a no brainer for anyone who has ever learned to play an instrument and perform both individually and with others however, the question posed is pretty much irrelevant in the big bad world of throwaway media where the majority of non musicians couldn't care less. 

I enjoy playing with my musical toys here and although it would be nice having a tune or two played by a real ensemble, I can live with just having fun in my little room. It just isn't a big deal outside this little bubble called an online forum.

That's a better way of putting it, but who else matters aside from oneself? NO-ONE

Mike Hewer said:

well I certainly do, but a more objective answer might be (for composers) maybe, maybe not.

This thread might be better titled "Do we need other human beings?"  I like Dave's original, to-the-point answer "We need musicians" which might be better expressed as "We need other living, compassionate, feeling human beings."  The more anyone would ask such a question, the more they are missing a vital part of being alive - at least in the life view of the hundreds of people who are gathering in my area this afternoon and evening.

Today real live musicians are gathering here from all over the state, the country and other parts of the world to honor one of the musicians in our community.  She has been a passionate and talented cellist for all of her adult life and a vital part of many performing groups in our area.  Now she cannot hold a bow, or move her hands or perform any of the simple tasks we all take for granted.  She has ALS and is moving into the advanced stage of the disease.  We grieve with her and for her, and we take to music to express our deepest feelings.  We play for her because she can't play for us anymore.  The question asked on this thread is lacking in the very humanity that could make our music real and valued.  Can you imagine if we sent her a link to a performance, or one of our DAW-induced musings instead of showing up in person to be there for and with her?

What a question.  Of course the world needs living, breathing, caring, dying, comforting musicians.  At least my world does, and always will.

Wow. ALS is one of my greatest fears, all I can say is that I hope she enjoys the music and support and faces her condition with all the strength she can.

I may have mentioned Jason Becker on here before now - an exceptional guitarist who launched into a promising career at a young age and almost immediate developed ALS, in the late 80s. He's still alive, still composing using only his eyes and his father's help, and often receives musicians to play for him, or replies to their emails. In every respect, a truly inspirational figure.


Julie Harris said:

This thread might be better titled "Do we need other human beings?"  I like Dave's original, to-the-point answer "We need musicians" which might be better expressed as "We need other living, compassionate, feeling human beings."  The more anyone would ask such a question, the more they are missing a vital part of being alive - at least in the life view of the hundreds of people who are gathering in my area this afternoon and evening.

Today real live musicians are gathering here from all over the state, the country and other parts of the world to honor one of the musicians in our community.  She has been a passionate and talented cellist for all of her adult life and a vital part of many performing groups in our area.  Now she cannot hold a bow, or move her hands or perform any of the simple tasks we all take for granted.  She has ALS and is moving into the advanced stage of the disease.  We grieve with her and for her, and we take to music to express our deepest feelings.  We play for her because she can't play for us anymore.  The question asked on this thread is lacking in the very humanity that could make our music real and valued.  Can you imagine if we sent her a link to a performance, or one of our DAW-induced musings instead of showing up in person to be there for and with her?

What a question.  Of course the world needs living, breathing, caring, dying, comforting musicians.  At least my world does, and always will.

I only put the question out there because I saw it in a passing statement (not Mike's).

When I got into music school in 1969, I'd never heard of general midi. It was starting to make a splash. People were, even then, saying we wouldn't need musicians anymore. And so it goes today. What a shame to think that way for any reason. If music were only a listening experience, it might be different. But it is so much more. 

That said, when my daughter needed an overture and scene change music for a shoestring budget play she was directing, I wrote it for her and produced it with my computer. Wonderful that tools like that come to the rescue. But the whole time, I had real instruments in mind.

Do composers need musicians? Did they ever? Well sure, they have always written for musicians in the past. But to actually compose, that happened in their heads. Mendelssohn would set under a tree with a blank piece of paper and scribble down whole symphonies. But what a shame if all that music was never performed. There is nothing like a live orchestra. And it doesn't matter where you sit. Balance and type of reverb are not a problem. Not only do you hear the music, but you see it, also. You feel it, physically and emotionally. 

Followed, in my opinion, by most any live performance, be it rock band, or musical, or a jam session at home.

I have arthritis in both thumbs, and have no idea how much longer I'll be able to inflict my mediocre guitar playing on the world. But for now, inflict I will. Take that, world. Because it's now, real, personal, and happening like it or not.

As far as copyright goes, I just feel like there needs to be a better way for artists to make money and everyone enjoy the art. 

Bravo to you, Bob, as an advocate of real music and living musicians.  May your thumbs hold out a little longer.  From what I've observed in my 6 decades as a musician, people want to experience other people performing - warts and all.  I agree that the tools we have now can be very helpful, however.  My students, for example, are writing scores for short films that rely solely on Finale, and they are having a great time and learning a lot!  Real people won't be playing behind the movies, but real people love these little snippets when we show them.

There's a place for all of it in the hands of folks like you.

One of my favorite musical experiences is listening to and watching an orchestra tune up.  My absolute favorite is rehearsing with 4 - 5 superb woodwind and string players.  I could listen to one note bowed on a cello and be in ecstasy.  As Ray Charles said "Ain't nothing like the real thing!!"

By the way, Mendelssohn's father housed and fed a bevy of performers who lived in their home, so that when little Felix (or Fanny) had an idea they could immediately try it out.  The country of Denmark "gave" the state orchestra and chorus to Per Norgard weekly while he was writing his 3rd symphony so that he could experiment with ideas and get feedback.  The feedback from superb musicians is worth its weight in gold, and you don't get that from DAWs or notation programs.  I don't think you get it from other composers as much as from performers, for that matter.  More on that another time. 

Just my 2 cents:

Virtual instruments are great and they empower ordinary people who are not "in the scene" to fulfill their desire to create something extraordinary (for most people, composing a piece for several instruments is an extraordinary task or "unusual activity" no matter how ordinary it sounds in the end :); so I am not talking about music professionals here).

But they are, to me, a substitution. I will always prefer a recording or a live concerto to its digital replica.

I guess it goes without saying, but since  the breach of this subject i've not heard it mention that Some music is composed For the electronic medium - and not trying to imitate  an orchestra.. In other words using the electronic medium as it's own compositional Instrument.. like Subotnick  does.. ('the wild bull', 'silver apples of the moon'..

a medium unto itself… Then there is also the question of the fusing of acoustic and electronic… In 'the wild bull' the acoustic trombone triggers various electronic manipulations...

There are infinite possibilities here.. 

If you put an oboe or cello in a room without a musician, very little is going to happen. Musicians aren't a medium, they are musicians.

Em Coston, (MM) said:


To give my answer to the question: I personally see value in both traditional and electronic forms of music. I don't think we "need" musicians as they are quickly becoming akin to a "medium", however they, like an oboe or cello, can make a unique contribution to a composition.

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