When I was a kid
[don't ask, long time ago… ...ok, I admit, in the early 70's]
we were far too busy listening to the radio & trying to emulate the look by practising in the mirror with plywood guitars with copper wire strings to have any time to invent any new music style…
…then things changed.
It turned out that the best way to emulate what you already liked to listen to was to actually learn how to play it - not a task completed in 3 months; however, we were playing [bad] gigs at church youth clubs before we could really reliably tune our guitars.
Then came punk - theoretically an excuse to never learn to play or even tune your guitar.
By the time we caught up to that, though… almost miraculously, we'd actually learned how to play [The miracle was actually a whole lot more practise, but we didn't realise that at the time]
Then we got bored…
…We can do that - punk, been there, done that, wore the ripped t-shirt & still have the stains down the front to prove it.
Well, you remember Autobahn? Well, turns out this synth thing is a whole new way of proving you can't play very well - but no-one is going to realise it for a long time - by which time we may have learned to play those too. Let's give it a go…
So, late 70's, early 80's there were these things that made not very convincing boink-squeak noises - but, hell, they gave us something to think about.
They also wanted more of our money to be able to join in. One synth wasn't going to get you far, you also needed a multi-track tape machine to work on; let you bounce tracks together & come up with some fuzzy yet inspiring new songs.
So we wrote songs based on 'what new toy we bought this month' - not the 'best' way to write, but a way to push the boundaries of a bedroom studio.
Next we got a 16-track, some outboard effects & if we were lucky, even a real spring reverb.
As the bionks & squeaks started to pall, then there were samplers.
We could now not just try to emulate "real strings" we could have a Tutti we could play in different keys - & boy, did we use that a lot.
One thing we did learn was how to 'play the studio'.
How to.. use a Sequencer; sync it to timecode; bounce tracks on tape; edit tape, ¼" & multitrack; fly in a chorus vocal down an entire track; make a dub/dance/party/disco/mix 12" single with only a razor-blade; run a synth through a Rockman; make a DX7 sound like a banjo [& how a banjo-player would use his instrument to do the same, if only we could afford one]; replace the drum machine snare with one we nicked from "Let's Dance"…
…we were in hog-heaven.
By the 90's, sampling was starting to become more 'clever', more like 'the original'.
Then we got the first DAWs, though we still called them 'sequencers' - but they could do audio too & we could finally lose the old tape machines… though we'd like to still master to DAT… at 48K, if we were lucky… not realising that sample-conversions back to 44.1 were not doing us any favours in the 90's.
By 2000, we had widespread internet, MP3s & DAWs that had lots of plugins; some free, some 'stolen'… until we could afford to buy them…
..but we had access to more noises than ever in the history of man.
So what did we do with them, this plethora of new sounds & techniques available to us?
We used the presets.
If it didn't satisfy in 6 clicks, on to the next plugin.
We wanted to sound like everyone else - & now it was very possible. We had access to all the same noises they did; a studio in a box. Forget mic technique, forget production style, we all now use the same things, we all sound the same.
There are still good & bad, but the access to the 'noises' is now ubiquitous.
At some point, sometime, someone will actually start to investigate how to "play the studio" again - find something other than presets & instant gratification; stop copying what is 'this month's hit' - because, by then, you're 3 months late to be any kind of fashion statement.
Make something new by actually working at something no-one's tried in a long time…
… be original
Learn from all that has gone before… but learn
Apologies - this was a complete 'stream of consciousness' rant. I may hone it later, if it grabs any interest ;-)