• The Pros And Cons Of The Technological Advancement Of Live Performances

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    Over the last three decades we’ve witnessed a lot of technological advancements in live performances.

    It really looks good for music and musicians with the advancements in technology and we’re literally living in the future that 2oth century musicians fantasized about.

    However, with a closer and critical look at the technological advancements, you’ll see that even with all the problems that have been solved and enhancements that come with all the technological tools at our disposal, there are disadvantages as well.

    But before we go into the pros and cons. let’s highlight a few of the technological advancements we’re seen over the years.

    A Concise Summary Of Technological Advancements

    Time would really fail me to give you all the highlights of the technological advancements in live performances over the past 3 decades. However, I’ll do my best to say a few things I consider necessary and relevant to this discourse.

    Attention: If you think any significant technological advancement is left behind, indulge me.

    “From The 90s To The 2010s…”

    From the 90s, to the 2000s, and up to this year, we’ve seen musical instruments and audio technology go from average to sophisticated.

    From the use of microphones and speaker systems that provide better clarity and acoustic beauty to the use of advanced and superior electric instruments with never-before-seen features, to the use of digital interfaces for music instruments that is popularly known as the MIDI, and more.

    Have you seen those superb keyboards with inexhaustible tones, functionalities, and effects; capable of making one musician to sound like a band; rhythm, chords, bass notes, and every other element in place?

    Heck, you can even “mic in” and harmonize your voice with lots of harmony options: boys choir, men’s choir, mixed choir, and all sorts of stuff.

    “That’s Not All…”

    You can go as far as sequencing other elements to accompany your live sessions with and I’m talking about loops, stems, multi-tracks, etc., and all these can be put together on digital audio workstations (aka – “DAW”) like Reason, Fruity Loops, Cubase, Sonar, Reason, etc.

    The Pros And Cons Of Technological Advancements

    The technological advancements we’ve experienced over the last two to three decades are amazing. However, with the advantages are disadvantages as well.

    So, let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of the technological advancements we summarized in the last segment.

    The Pros Of Technological Advancements

    Before now, there’s this disparity between the studio version of a song and its live version.

    The live version is characterized by missing instruments, vocal parts, and more. But the use of advanced digital audio workstations, sophisticated synthesizers, and high-definition audio speakers, music performance just got a lot better.

    Now, more than ever, you can have a performance outing that sounds exactly like what you have on the recording and all the vocal and instrumental elements that should be missing are played back as a stem or loop.

    “That’s Not All…”

    There are situations where an artiste cannot afford to travel with all crew members. In such situations, the artiste may just go with the keyboard player and a few singers (maybe one or two.)

    You’re probably wondering how he/she would cope, right? Well, with a stem containing the guitar, drums, percussion, bass, strings, pad, and other instrumental and vocal elements in the song, there’s nothing to worry about.

    The performance would still come out full like it would when everyone is playing.

    “There’s More…”

    Keyboard players don’t need to bother much about playing in all twelve major keys because there are shift buttons (+ and -) that can be used to shift any major key to their favorite major key.

    So, if there’s pitch difference between instruments the keyboardist doesn’t have to worry about playing on a new key when he/she can just shift to the new key.

    With the tons of harmony options that come with synthesizers, you can select a harmony type and have your keyboard chords build some delicious harmony around what you’re singing.

    “I Could Go On And On…”

    There are so many advantages that come with the technological advancements and time will fail me to highlight them all. However, I’ll love you to add other important advantages I skipped in the comment section.

    Meanwhile, if you’re yet to leverage on the technological advancements of this day and age to enhance your performance, please do, so that you won’t be left behind.

    The Cons Of Technological Advancements

    A closer look at music performance in the 2010s, you’ll observe that the use of loops and stems has cost a lot of musicians career opportunities.

    A music team that should have two keyboard players, an organist, a guitar player, a bass player, a drummer, and a horn section can actually function with just a keyboard player, a bass player, and a drummer with every other part of the instrumentation sequenced.

    Think about how many musicians whose places have been taken by these stems and loops.

    “Do Musicians Still Handle A Lot During Live Performances?”

    Way back in the days, good old days, live performance was exclusively for top musicians who have mastered their instruments thoroughly. These musicians actually put in a whole lot into the music to make it sound full.

    You’ll see the keyboardist playing two keyboards simultaneously, the drummer locking the groove and still filling-in with other percussive elements of the song, etc.

    But today, things are a lot different and musicians don’t necessarily need to be skillful to perform live and this is because a lot of elements in the song that should be played real time are already pre-recorded and are merely played back.

    So, you have musicians playing just 20-50% of what’s going on live, while the rest of the elements are being played back.

    “Are Keyboardists Getting Lazy Or Not?”

    To be honest, I have no intention of insulting anyone’s sensibility with this point.

    I have a handful of friends who use the shift button to shift keys while on stage and during live performances and to a large extent there’s nothing wrong with not being able to play in all the keys.

    I mean, if you invest in the right resources and put in the right amount of time and effort, you’ll play effortlessly in all the keys in a few weeks or months.

    Before the use of shift buttons in live performances got popular and then became established as a norm, it wasn’t common for a keyboard player to get on stage without having the ability to play in all the keys and this is because he/she knows that if a song is done in an unfamiliar key, he/she will be embarrassed.

    Keyboard players put in extra time to make sure they are 12/12 and can do anything on any key.

    Today, a technological tool that is designed to help below-the-average performers on stage is being used and abused and I want you to make your findings and tell me if contemporary keyboard players are getting lazy or not.

    “I Think We’re Diminishing The Human Elements…”

    Live performances are beautiful because of the human elements behind the sound.

    The human elements bring in various degrees of energy, spontaneous creativity, imperfection, real dynamics, improvisation, and more to the music as opposed to pre-recorded tracks that are played back during live performances.

    In the nearest future, robots will be able to play music live. However, one thing is certain: they will never be able to do it like human beings who are on stage.

    The use of stems and loops that are designed as enhancers to replace humans takes away the human element behind the music and this is not-too-good for live performances.

    The relationship between real musicians and their audience and what goes on when they interact during performances is priceless.

    Playing the recording of a 1975 performance of Oscar Peterson and having Oscar sit down in a concert to perform to your hearing don’t have the same feeling. The difference between the two is the human element.

    Final Words

    The technological advancements we’re yet to witness outweighs all we’ve got over the years put together.

    Although technology is meant to better what we’re doing (whether in the studio or on stage), it’s really looking like the human element in live performances are going down every year.

    That’s why I’m encouraging musicians of this generation and next to make sure that technology doesn’t replace human beings; especially in this present age of artificial intelligence and robotics.

    The comment box is open for your questions, suggestions, and contributions.

    See you in the next lesson.

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as the head of education, music consultant, and chief content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with hundreds of thousands of musicians across the world.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.




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    { 1 comment… read it below or add one }

    1 Douglas Holston

    I am the organist at my church. I am 69 yo. I have been playing since I was 13yo. I don’t consider myself a pianist however, I love playing a piano sound for improvising. I am still learning to improve my piano skills with your digest, as well as other available resources. With regard to the advancement in todays workstations, I find them invaluable. Where I live (Ocala. FL) good church musicians (especially drummers and bass players) normally play/employed by the large churches. In that I play every Sunday, I don’t have much opportunity to visit these churches to establish relationships. So for me to provide music for certain functions (no organ) I rely on my workstation for me to provide a full rendition of selections. I program/arrange all my song/sequences from scratch. I enjoy doing this and each time I play these songs, I am always conscious to keep the solos fresh. But even with the advancement in the technology, basic musical knowledge (arranging, soloing, playing in all keys, PRACTICE) is still essential. At times you may not have the total human interaction, but you are still human and it is what you bring to the music (your heart) will be the difference in making the music/tracks come alive.

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