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The rise of mass media in the last half of the 20th Century turned us all into "consumers" and took away much of the natural human inclination to be creators, performers, singers, musicians and storytellers.

Today, the rapid proliferation of cheap professional-quality media-making tools, paired with the drastic decrease in the cost of content distribution is leading to a quiet, but quite real revolution in the quantity and quality of "amateur" content. It's the democratization of media, the "Big Flip" as Clay Shirky calls it, and we think it's going to play an increasingly important role in how we make, share and consume media. For more, read my introduction to Amateur Hour.

In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

Amateur Hour

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April 19, 2004

GarageBand and Musical Amateurism

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Posted by Jean Burgess

At Game Girl Advance a couple of months back, Sandford parodied the ilife suite by "announcing" the release of "attic author" (thanks to matt jones for the link):

[...]Apple is proud to announce an add-on package to our popular iLife '04 suite of applications -- including the easiest to use music playback and purchasing software available, iTunes, and the new, exciting GarageBand music composition software. Today we bring you AtticAuthor.

No more struggling for the right word, the perfect turn of phrase, the most expedient and direct yet elegant metaphor. AtticAuthor takes care of all that for you. With over 1,000 ApplePhrases, and an additional 2,000 available in the optional PenPack, AtticAuthor will have you immediately writing short stories, plays and even novels. Never has creative writing been so easy. [...]

It's clear from the comments to his post that Sandford has succeeded in his aim to spark debate on the cultural implications of "consumer" level production tools like garageband, betraying a general anxiety over authority, authenticity and cultural value the like of which we haven't seen since the advent of synthesisers and MIDI sequencers in the early 1980s. Since then, we've seen a proliferation of music creation software (from basic sequencers like Band in a Box and Fruity Loops to loop-based multitrack software like Acid, and full-fledged MIDI/audio studio recording software like Cubase), but none so easy to use with absolutely no prior knowledge as garageband - it comes with heaps of loops that you can drag and drop right out of the box, and it comes bundled.

Sandford asks:

In all seriousness, as skills and techniques that heretofore have taken months, years or even decades to perfect are readily available through software, will we refocus on and exalt the quality of the underlying content, or will society write off artistic endeavors as mere smoke, mirrors and Macintosh?

There is a focus on the evaluation of content here that I find frustrating, if predictable. Some of the commenters bemoan the impending flood of poor quality content. Now, that's just silly. Let's assume for a minute that aesthetic quality is what matters most here (I'm not at all sure that it is, of course). Let's assume that thousands of people, not skilled enough to create "interesting work", are going to churn out formulaic pseudo-techno music using the loops provided as part of the software package. OK. But how will their music be distributed so widely as to be a bother to the concerned, discerning, music lovers? No, there is something else going on.

Another worry, implied in Sanford's question and also in several of the comments to his post, is that by "allowing" people to make their own music quickly and easily, "we" (that is, we, the guardians of the Great Mystery that is Art) will allow the mystique and aura of the creative process to be diluted, so that people might dare to think that anyone can create good music, and will therefore lose respect for "real artists", and so there will be no market for "real art", and civilization will collapse in a pile of cheesy guitar riffs.

The debates that spring from these aesthetic panics are interesting, but I'm more interested in the extent to which consumer production tools both enable (through ease of use) and constrain (through the same ease of use) the creativity and cultural agency of their users. And the users, by the way, are actively engaged in the debates over all these questions of cultural value, authenticity, and agency - have a look at the garage band discussion forums, for example.

Speaking of which, I'd love to hear from anyone just getting started making their own music using a computer - it doesn't matter what software you are using. What are you doing with it? Has it changed the way you listen? made you more or less appreciative of "professional" artists? And most importantly, are you enjoying it?

Comments (4) | Category:


1. Cast on April 23, 2004 06:13 AM writes...

Acually I think it made me even more respectfull. Even simple sounding music, well in fact especially "good-simple-sounding" music, is so difficult to achieve! Be it minimal techno or a shiny melodic line... well when you get to do some yourself and don't have the technical/harmonical knowledge to translate what you want into reality...then the respect surely IS there.

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2. phil jones on May 18, 2004 04:58 PM writes...

Bit out of date but ...

Yep I'm enjoying it. How does it affect my listening? Basically I'm more and more appreciative of the quirky, unusual and original than the polished / professional norm.

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3. tom munckton on May 31, 2004 02:54 AM writes...

i'm not totally new to music production but i've not had access to expensive software before.
I have for some time created melodies in my head which i've recorded to dictaphone, but until now had no way to outlay them into any kind of actual musical form.
Suddenly I'm able to play a guitar into my mac, loop it, add vocals, add aditional samples, use a midi keyboard to add bass lines etc.
It worries me that I'm kind of cheating the art, but equally i feel that i am approaching each composition with a huge amount of creativity.
Am I a musician? Or am I a designer?

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4. Ottewell on July 6, 2004 03:52 AM writes...

Join the Linux community.

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