The Dumbing Down of Electronic Musicians

Posted: April 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

UPDATE: I felt compelled to place an update to this article BEFORE the actual text for any new readers. Francis and I had a conversation on and off my blog about his article and my interpretation.  Francis has clearly stated that his article wasn’t intended to mean that electronic musicians are lazy, and he also iterated that music is an ever evolving concept and traditional views of how to make music aren’t always accurate.  I told Francis that I appreciate him contacting me about my post and sharing his intention. The ironic thing about the whole situation is: just like I may have taken Francis’s words to mean what he did not intent, anyone that hasn’t read my blog for a period of time would not know that I like to bitch about some pretty mundane stuff from time to time that most people wouldn’t give a second thought……it’s in my nature 😉 So, for the record….I, in no way, intend for anyone to stop reading Electronic Musician or Francis Preve’s articles (I still do). The following blog post is simply me doing what I do best…..bitching about stuff.  And now, back to your regularly scheduled programming.

I’m quite disappointed in the irresponsibility and lack of professionalism in the latest issue of Electronic Musician (May 2014). In the article “How To, Master Class: Ten Essential Dance Sounds” by Francis Preve, the author makes being a musician sound like a negative. The stereotypes of the electronic musician as a mere button pusher are positively reinforced and actually encouraged in this article.

Another timeless 90’s sound comes from Detroit, in the form of the minor-triad techno stab…Nowadays, you can do it by programming a minor  triad into Ableton’s Chord device – or, if you have a 3 oscillator synth, tune the first to the tonic, the second +3 semitones, and the third +7  semitones, e.g. a fifth. Now play a simple one note riff in whatever key you like, preferably with a four-on-the-floor TR-909 kick. (If you’re  lazy, just play the black keys; that technique does the Detroit thing flawlessly.)

…”if you’re lazy”

So, according to Preve, it’s actually LAZY to play an instrument. It’s LAZY to use your keyboard to play more than one note at a time. Sounds a bit ironic, huh? It would seem to me that the opposite is true. I also like how PLAYING is almost an afterthought….put in brackets and placed AFTER everything else is mentioned.

Let’s face it, the majority of people reading these magazines, and especially “How To” articles, are most likely new to making music, and probably very impressionable. To discourage PLAYING at this early of a stage in their musical development is damaging and completely irresponsible for a magazine that has MUSICIAN in the title.

It’s bad enough when Keyboard Magazine decides to top publishing notated riffs, but this is a whole other level.

Shame on Francis Preve and Electronic Musician.

  1. dehoward2 says:

    I think you are taking this a little far. All he meant was if you don’t want to program it for one note playing, you can do this. I have actually had Francis as an instructor on multiple occasions and he is more than thorough and definitely not lazy. In fact, the other day we were having a class on creating sounds using softsynths and someone asked him to create a guitar sound. He explained how to do it in detail and it came out sounding good, but he said and I quote, “.. but if you want something that sounds like a guitar, play a guitar and record it.” I understand the way that you took his dry sarcasm, it’s easy to do especially if you don’t know that is his personality. However, I can assure you that he wasn’t trying to discourage anyone from being a proper musician. He has encouraged us on more than a handful of occasions to learn how to play and not completely rely on the technology.

    • glitchfactor says:

      I’m sure your assessment is correct, and I don’t doubt you. However, you can’t glean sarcasm from writing…..much less, sarcasm from a person you don’t know. I shouldn’t have to know the author personally to understand the nuances of his or her writing. It should be evident straight away. Honestly, this is another argument for why we need sarcasm punctuation this day in age!

      • “If you’re lazy…”

        That is to say, if you’re lazy, just play the black keys. Cause “lazy” is what I’m obviously encouraging by writing a thorough set of 10 tutorials on how to design sounds yourself, instead of using presets like the vast numbers of producers in the modern era. But, hey, I make presets for a living, so that’s not my judgement call. I’m just here to help.

        Had I rephrased it as follows, might this blog post have been avoided?

        “Now play a simple one note riff in whatever key you like, preferably with a four-on-the-floor TR-909 kick. (If you’re new to making your own patterns and loops, just play the black keys; that’s a great way to get started with the Detroit thing.)”

        There, I fixed it – and somehow said exactly the same thing. Feel better?

      • glitchfactor says:

        Hi Francis, I appreciate the comment. The reasoning of my blog post is pretty well stated. Yes, many people will know better, but as I said in my post, many of those reading the mag are going to be younger people getting started. If they have not seen another article by you, they may not understand that you are being sarcastic or not actually intending to say that it’s lazy to play rather than program.

        As a writer, you should be fully aware that words have meaning. In a publication as large as this one, they should be chosen with great care. I truly believe that the internet is making us all much more lax in our writing styles. I’m not calling you out directly because this blog is the perfect example of that. I write in a very relaxed, personal style. However, if my blog was in a periodical, that style would be much different.

        It all comes back to not being able to glean emotion from type. It’s a fine line and we all struggle with it on a daily basis.

        Again, I appreciate you commenting on this and saying your peace. This was not a jab at the content of the article or you personally. I just thought the wording was dangerous in a day in age where electronic musicians are treated as “lesser than”. As an electronic artist myself, any perpetuation of that myth gets me going. I was just reading an article this week about how Liam Howlett of the Prodigy was being called out as a “button pusher” during their live shows. This is one of the biggest electronic artists of our time and even he struggles with justifying his work and art.

        So, yes….I was probably a little harsh in my blog post, but hopefully as a fellow electronic artist, you can sympathize with and appreciate my reasoning and that is has good intentions behind it.


      • “I just thought the wording was dangerous in a day in age where electronic musicians are treated as ‘lesser than’.”

        Never in the history of recorded audio has electronic music been more widely accepted as “legitimately” produced. And there’s nothing wrong – whatsoever – with using shortcuts like black keys to create fulfilling musical passages, without the need to know that the scale is actually pentatonic. That preconception is a legacy of a previous era.

        Many musicians, myself included, started out by experimenting, then learning musical terminology and perhaps some theory after they’ve begun their journey as a composer. The Buddhists sometimes refer to this as “beginner’s mind” and it is considered by some to be a desirable trait that is lost once a student begins to approach the various techniques required by composition and production.

        What’s more, the origins of house music and techno in the 80s and early 90s are rooted in “amateur” experimentation by novices with absolutely zero prior music experience, which is why said genres are so innovative – because they break the traditions of conventional music theory in an aesthetically viable manner.

        Furthermore, there are numerous electronic music genres that base their approaches on atonal improvisation and experimentation by artists who are merely exploring what’s possible with their electronic instruments – with the more interesting results pursued to completion (with a 909 kick playing 4-on-the-floor as the anchor). Some of these tracks have become hits.

        I meant what I wrote and have no desire to recant because of what is essentially a semantic distinction based on perception.

        Music is nothing more than sound that is organized with some degree of artistic intent – and as we venture further into the 21st century, this definition will also evolve.

        Okay, I’m done. I feel I’ve made my point here.

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