When I think of my strengths as a musician, a lot of skills pop up. Yet, none of them have anything to do with tech. The more I strive to create impactful music in a world that’s increasingly reliant on and fluent with technology, the more I realize there’s a growing deficit in my musical skill-set that needs addressing, and I’m not alone. No matter what kind of music you create in 2020, technology is almost certainly bound to be involved in some way. Whether you use DAWs to write, record, mix with, or share music online through a distributor, tech is integral. A lack of tech literacy hurts musicians of all stripes. Not only that, but the problem will only get worse for the ones that fail to address it.
How bad tech habits can keep us from creating and succeeding
“You badly need to work on your digital file management skills,” my fiancée explained as she scoured my hard drive. After trying to access old music sessions with a new computer and external hard drive, plugins crucial to my tracks mysteriously stopped working, so I asked her to investigate. This is taking away from valuable songwriting time, I thought to myself as she clicked through my files. But the truth is that since I currently rely on my computer to write, produce, and record, my creative process is at the mercy of the technology I use. Knowing how to address tech issues on my own will make my life easier and far more productive as a musician and will keep me from being nagged from my better, tech-savvy half.
A strong approach to digital file management is never going to be as sexy as having a haunting singing voice or being able to come up with memorable melodies. However, ignoring it and other musical tech skills end up making music much harder to write. The more barriers we place between us and our ability to create music, the less time and passion we’ll be able to put towards our processes. This idea is similar to musicians who prioritize having instruments and equipment easily accessible versus those who don’t. Being able to understand how technology impacts our music-making processes means being spared time-sucking frustrations that make arriving at the point of being able to create difficult to get to. The benefits of knowing your way around musical tech don’t stop at the writing process.
In 2020, tech literacy in music helps musicians do things such as having smoother soundchecks, creating better-produced music, and gaining a clearer understanding of how audiences interact with their songs. It’s not easy if you’re a musician like me that isn’t naturally geared towards tech. But the good news is that it’s never been easier to learn.
How to empower yourself musically through technology
For me, one of the first steps towards addressing my music-related tech issues is realizing that doing so is an essential part of my career that I need to reserve time for. If you’re anything like me, wanting to skip the non-musical parts of my music career and skip straight to the writing, recording, and producing parts is understandable. However, doing so ends up hurting my work in the long-run whether I’m rehearsing for shows or setting out to work on a new collection of songs.
Tech’s relationship with music is extremely broad, so the things I need to focus on in order to improve will probably be a lot different than yours. Rather than dropping everything and entirely focusing on improving my tech skills, I’m planning on addressing my issues one at a time to not get overwhelmed. The good news is that there’s an unfathomable amount of resources online for musicians who need help finding their technological footing, from tutorials to message boards to customer service teams ready to dispense advice and walk you through issues. It takes a lot of work, but if you can extend some of the curious energy you (hopefully) devote to your songwriting, you’ll end up learning a lot. Even tech-savvy musicians struggle with their computers and gear from time to time, so it’s important to remember that no one is perfect. How well we continue to adapt to the tools we use to create, perform, and share music with will inevitably impact our work.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.