Adventures In Audio
Who needs software instruments?

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Adventures In Audio.

Friday December 23, 2005

If you are reading this, then you probably want to be successful in music. My definition of success in music is not necessarily to make a shedload of money, it is simply to make enough money to live comfortably and continue to make music for as long as you like.

Most people who would like to achieve this, unfortunately, don't. And one of the reasons why they don't is distraction.

There are many distractions, but one of the worst is the insistence of the music equipment manufacturers that we must keep buying new equipment and software to keep up and remain competitive with other people who want to achieve success.

So it's worth asking the question whether you actually do need all that new equipment and software.

Let's divide musical achievement three ways...

This covers pretty much everything - if your music doesn't fit into any of the above, please let me know. You have obviously discovered something that no-one else has yet!

In popular music, the emphasis is always on the vocal. Everything else is in support. If you have the talent as a writer, performer or producer, you don't need anything more than good basic instruments and a recording system that can capture a true and accurate sound. So you could, for instance, buy a good keyboard like the Korg Triton today, and there is no reason why it shouldn't last you ten years. Or you could buy a secondhand keyboard. If you were listening to one of your tracks thinking, "This won't cut it, the keyboard sound is too old-fashioned", that is telling you there is something wrong with the vocal. Otherwise you wouldn't notice the keyboard. No-one else will.

Music for TV however is different. Take the case of a composer writing music specifically commissioned for a TV drama. Music budgets are lower than they have ever been, and they are not going up anytime soon. Often, there is only enough money for one person to create all the music cues for the entire show or series. There isn't room in the budget to hire musicians.

So the composer has to be able to create from a wide palette of sounds from rock band to full orchestra. Add to that the fact that many TV shows require creativity - science and technology shows are a good example. So a TV music composer will always be interested in having new sounds available.

My third category... The essence of art, in music as well as any other area, is novelty. A successful art music composer must create a 'sound world' that hasn't existed before, otherwise what would be the point? So an art music composer ideally requires sounds that other people simply don't have. Otherwise, they will not be able to differentiate their art from anyone else's.

So in conclusion, popular music writers and producers don't need anything other than good basic equipment, and there is no particular urgency to upgrade ever. The emphasis should always be on the singer.

TV music composers need a wide range of sounds, and access to new sounds as they become available.

Art music composers need a means to invent new sounds, and not just presets or commercially available sample libraries.

Oh, the answer to the question, "Who needs software instruments". Predominantly it's the TV music composer. If you like playing around with new sounds, maybe that's the business you need to be in.

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