In this installment of guest blogger Frank Klepacki’s series on music production Frank challenges us to fight through the digital-age distractions and reconnect with our music. If you missed Frank’s previous post, you can read it here.
Music means something to us because it triggers emotion. It is the soundtrack of our lives. Songs will remind us of what was happening at times in the past when we hear them again in the future. Anyone who says they are content to listen to whatever is in the background, will still be subconsciously subjected to these memories when they hear those familiar songs. You can’t escape it.
For those of us who are passionate about music, it obviously goes even deeper than memories; it’s part of our daily routines: in the car, at the gym, on the stage, in the club, wherever.
Anything other than what we are force-fed on radio requires us to take time out of our day to seek it out. But people tend to be so distracted now with their gadgets, that this discovery is taken for granted. People forget that without content, these gadgets are useless. But what doesn’t help is the oversaturation of all media available now, which can ironically contribute to the “demotivation” to discover.
By not even knowing where to start, then, we rely more on word of mouth, or the instant gratification of “Shazaming” something. But we’re not giving ourselves the real chance to “connect” with anything when we can instantly click or scroll to the next thing. Listening on a less than ideal sound system also does not allow you to fully appreciate it, and therefore gives you less of an opportunity to connect.
Before the internet, apps and cell phones became so prevalent in our society, music was an organic and ritualistic thing that had more mysticism and magic behind it. It required your undivided attention. You would relax alone and zone out with your headphones on, or you would be excited to play it for your friends, or at parties, or simply to tune in late night to your favorite radio program and wait to hear the next thing you might like. It gave you a reason to care about upgrading your sound system.
I can remember listening every week to my favorite college radio station, and always hearing something different and unique, which compelled me to call the station and ask what the songs were, so I could write them down and find their albums later. Or I’d be the caller that won a package of promotional albums, and it would be all these bands I’d never heard or would never think to look for, but would discover new stuff I liked or not. But the thing is, especially when you’re a young person, you’re trying to hone in on your own identity. Music you genuinely like and connect with, is a part of that identity.
While things have changed now, the internet has several streaming services and podcasts you can discover a lot of new music from – but it still requires your attention and time to connect with it. Something as simple as using the Genius feature on iTunes will generate a variety of other popular choices based on the song or band you like. Spotify lets friends share entire playlists, and Pandora plays music all in the same genre and mood as whatever you put into it. YouTube is like the equivalent of an audio and video encyclopedia where you can find just about any artist or song someone tells you about. So many live clips of bands, or studio sessions, or demos, you never know what kind of stuff you’ll run into. That said, it’s interesting to see how vinyl has made a bit of a resurgence, and I think it’s because the people that are buying it care to have this connection again.
Major concerts used to cost a lot less than they do now, and so I went to them more often. That was another way to connect to the music – hearing it live and loud with an arena full of enthusiastic fans. I’d just lose myself in it. As a listener, being able to turn up the volume and really listen and FEEL the music was the connection. You appreciated the sound quality, the way those soundwaves hit your ears and rattled your chest. It’s a positive energy, a release, a sense of empowerment even. It doesn’t have to be deafening, but loud enough to impact you and command your attention.
Think about this: our greatest artists didn’t create great music by acknowledging constant interruptions or distractions. When they created it, they got in the zone and stayed there until it was finished. The question is, can you listen for the entire length of an album, or even one whole song without distraction now? Or watch a live concert without your phone in hand? Allow yourself to feel something real beyond the pings of push notifications to your devices. Putting our focus on posting where we are and what we’re doing right now, instead of just letting ourselves actually experience it, is defeating the purpose of being there in the moment.
If it’s understood that you should turn off your phones in a movie theater, why not at a live concert? Many artists, whether they acknowledge it or not, find it annoying to perform to a sea of cell phones. It makes it seem as though everyone’s priority is to take video and pictures and experience the whole event through a 4-inch screen, rather than appreciate the larger-than-life show going on literally right before them! When you play that video back, you will not be playing it through the massive sound system, with huge pyrotechnics, and it won’t encompass your entire field of vision as it did when it was live. Are you really going to go back to that and keep watching it? Do you realize you’ve paid a couple hundred dollars to be here, only to stare at your phone?
The whole point here is, if you aren’t feeling it, then it’s for one of two reasons. One, it’s simply not your thing, or two, you’re not allowing it the opportunity to be your thing.
– Frank Klepacki
Frank Klepacki is an award-winning composer for video games and television for such titles as Command & Conquer, Star Wars: Empire at War, and MMA sports programs such as Ultimate Fighting Championship and Inside MMA. He is the audio director for Petroglyph, in addition to being a recording artist, touring performer, and producer. For more info, visit www.frankklepacki.com