Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Recent Downfall and Degradation of the Title 'Musician'

The word/title "Musician."
I will start by giving four definitions.
Musician: Someone that plays a musical instrument.
Composer: Someone that composes pieces for musicians to play, or uses pre-recorded samples to compose a track through an electronic platform.
Producer: Someone that produces a piece of music, predominantly original, and gives advice on structure, the message of the lyrics and instrumentation.

Sound engineer: Someone that mixes recorded instruments to form a cohesive bond of sonically equal frequencies. Also helps in the setting up of recording said instruments.
Performer: Someone that sings/raps and/or dances, that is involved vocally or physically within the song yet has no understanding of the music behind him/her.
These are four very similar yet very different things. I will now give my definition of a musician.
Musician: Someone that excels at one or more instruments. They intuitively understand where a piece of music may be going, through years of practice, theory and improvisation. Can write original music with strong understanding of the principles of structure, dynamics and the individual strengths and reasonable traits of their instrument. You can perform live and in the studio to a high degree.
Upon saying this, you might be shocked to read there are some vocalists I do not consider musicians. But if I am being strict with the title 'Musician', which I am, here is why I do not consider them musicians.
They have no idea what is going on in the music itself; they don't know why the piano is now using a Mixolydian scale, they have no idea what a turnaround is in a blues shuffle and they certainly don't understand why the bassist just laughed at the guitarist for playing a major chord instead of minor.
My point is that the term musician used to be taken a lot more seriously, it was something to strive for and achieve through passion and dedication. If you were a musician in the 40's you were immediately respected as someone that knew their instrument inside out.
My two issues:
1. Electronic producers regarding them self as musicians.
2. The term "Musician" being flung around at a moment's notice of picking up a guitar and covering their favourite song so Facebook can shower them with comments of their amazing ability.
I address the first; first.
If you press buttons on your Mac to create an electronically engineered track, this does not make you a musician.
Yes you may be talented, yes you may be musical, but as I will explain, the title 'Musician' is inaptly presumed by you.
As stated at the top, a musician is someone that plays the music. In this case, your Mac speakers are playing the music that a musician played to create the samples. You are in fact a composer/sound engineer. Possibly a producer in facets. You are dragging around pre-recorded material to create a cohesive formation of loops and melody's that create a track of music. You yourself have not created any of the music. I want to use an example to make this clear to those that are still in denial of their mouse tapping abilities not granting them access to the title "Musician."
If a person instructs another person on where to use certain colours, in certain quantities, with certain brushes on a blank canvas to create a painting, who is the painter? The one who actually created the brush strokes or the one who instructed them? I think the answer is obvious.
One argument a friend; a rather misinformed one at that, brought up was "isn't piano merely 'pushing buttons?"
Unfortunately, no. A pianist uses, at times, all 10 fingers simultaneously to lightly dance across the keys, whilst their foot pushes up and down on various pedals of varying effects to create an instantaneous array of articulate, dynamic sounds that range in moods, tempos and feels that usually reflect the players current feelings; an instantaneous display of skill and expression. This, to me, is a defining point of being a musician; the ability to express through music, on the spot, your feelings.
Now, if we were to actually for a second try and work with the notion 'isn't a piano merely pushing buttons', one would have to assume the bridge that is being created between piano and electronic sounds is that which results in something being pushed to make a sound. With that logic, I can go push a lion in the eye and when it roars (quite an audible sound) I am deemed a musician.
I believe I have asserted my point well enough on the basis of electronic producers being composers and not musicians. At this point I would like to mention that I do not see that as degrading, I would just like the correct title used. And I will also mention that I don't mind electronic music at all, and often enjoy its variety ranging from brutal pulses to ambient soundscapes.
And now my second issue.
Lately there has been an influx of 13-17 year olds purchasing a guitar, learning a few chords and piecing together a rough cover to attract attention to their newfound "talent". After several likes and comments they then announce them-self as a musician. When this happens, as it usually does every few weeks on my newsfeed, I sit there at my desk and a black woman appears in my mind fervidly exclaiming "Aw hell no."
As I said before, the title of musician is not to be taken lightly and its recent battering has broken it down. It is now achievable after only weeks of acquiring a taste for music, whereas once musicians were revered to as masters of their craft, now anyone can have an average voice and some quick learning skills and in a month they're a musician. Now don't get me wrong, I am not disheartening new talent from the musician world. I am all for honest and passionate dedication to music. But when a title that I have given my life to; just to proudly claim myself as a musician, is thrown around, when they have no knowledge that you can even play a D chord in a 4th, 5th and 6th string position, all still able to be Major, let alone the vast varieties of shapes and voicing's that a simple D chord can convert into, well it's just wrong.
Music is so much more than a few chords and a melody that you can post on Facebook. It is 10 hour blues jams, it is spicy jazz inversions, it's putting super glue on the tips of your fingers so you can play longer, it's being so emotionally broken down that the only thing you can do is sit at your piano and pour it out, with the skills to be able to even in such a vulnerable state. It's being able to connect with the lyrics you're singing, because you wrote them.
Its Stevie Wonder crying on stage as he plays a Michael Jackson song, still torn up at the loss of such a great musician. No shame in the act. No him trying to make cool faces and telling people to 'Share it'.
Being a musician is a lifestyle, something that encompasses your entire being, which seduces you and begs you to delve deeper into its mystical allure. It is not Pro Tools 9 and a few plug-ins.

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