The Digital Doldrums

What a great time it is to be a composer working with digital products! This last year has seen major revisions to almost every DAW, packed with lots of new features. Also, lately there have been some great new libraries released, and more announced that are soon to be released.

And yet as I was reading about them, reading the rave reviews from early adopters, and excited speculation about those not yet released and I found myself thinking that I don’t give a large rodent’s hiney :(

Me! Of all people! After all, I work part time for a best selling library developer; I write articles and this column; I consult with Logic Pro users and I teach Logic Pro and write books about it.

I have great libraries, easily up to the challenge of making good music for the kind of composing work I am getting. But can it get no better? Of course it can.

So what is going on with me? I think there are several factors to this that I hope some of you can relate to.

1.For most of my working life, I spent a good deal of my time in recording studios and halls and on stages with a lot of terrific musicians. The joy (and admittedly, sometimes frustration) of this is something I badly miss, spending day after day, hour after hour, alone at my computer with my silicon orchestra, manipulating the sounds with MIDI continuous controllers, etc.

2.In my halcyon days, I often stood in front of a bunch of them with a baton in hand, or in the control room, recording the music I created for the project to picture with a director or producer there, sometimes being asked to make changes on the spot. While it could be truly terrifying, it was also very exhilarating and a valuable learning experience, and I left every session feeling like I had grown as a film/TV composer and/or conductor. Now I get projects with temp tracks that I am asked to essentially recreate, send them off, get notes, and make the changes, all alone at my computer. If I am really lucky I have enough of a budget to go into a studio and add a handful of live players to the mix.

3.I don’t sit down and just write music for the sake of it.

I was discussing this the other day with a developer friend of mine, who is also a fine musician. He said to me, and I paraphrase, ”Jay, you are going through what I call the Digital Doldrums. I know the feelings well. There are days when I cannot bear to open Kontakt (the engine he mostly develops for) or even turn on my computer. When that happens, I jut go to my piano and play and write until that goes away. You need to do something to nourish your musical soul.”

I hung up the phone and thought, “Man, he nailed it, that is exactly what is happening with me.”

Well, as it happens I do not have a really nice acoustic piano to play but I do have a sampled piano that I find very emotional and enjoyable to play from my Kurzweil PC88. So I just started playing.

Those of you who know me know that I started out as a singer/songwriter and that my musical hero was Burt Bacharach. I still love to play and sing the great songs that he wrote with the wonderful lyricist, sadly recently deceased, Hal David.

Back in my last academic year at Boston Conservatory of Music, 1969-70, I was writing lots of songs that were in that style, ready to storm the musical world upon graduation. They were, for all their flaws including being blatantly imitative, nonetheless a total labor of musical love.

I found myself remembering one in particular that I once played for Hal’s son, Jim David, and he nearly fell out of his chair laughing because it was so on the money. For no specific reason at all, I decided to spend a little time doing a basic vocal/piano demo of it.

Well, I had so much fun! This will make me no money. It will never see the light of day. No record producer will be interested. It has zero commercial potential. None. Nada. But it reconnected me with the spirit that got me into writing music in the first place and the joy associated with creating strictly for the sake of creation.

If you want to hear it, here is the link:

Technology, including creating music with sample libraries is a great thing, no doubt. The possibilities of what you can achieve all by yourself are huge and you can do it any time you decide to boot up your rig without booking sessions and players, etc. But it can lead to a soul-sucking and lonely musical life. So every once in a while, perhaps even on a regular basis, we need to either turn away from it, or in my case, use it in a totally different way, to create some music that satisfies our soul and to remind ourselves why we began on this journey in the first place.

1 Comment

  • Tom Higley
    December 6, 2013 @ 6:15 am

    Thanks, Jay. Very nice. Perhaps that drive to create is what truly makes us human.

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