I recently posted a review of the new Toontrack software EZ Keys at my other site, Beards And Gear. I raved about the abilities that it has, and the benefits that it presents to me as a songwriter, arranger, and producer. Much to my surprise, although I’m surprised that I’m surprised, I’ve received several emails about how much people hate EZ keys at the philosophical level. One person equated EZ keys to a Hallmark greeting card that plays music. The question is, is that a fair comparison?
With the advent of EZ Keys, EZ Drummer, EZ Mix, Auto-Tune, Electri6ity, and several other pieces of software that can automate the task of music creation, are we now at a point where you can simply drag and drop a hit song? Can you copy and paste your way to stardom, bypassing all avenues of originality and creativity?
If you turn on mainstream radio there is definitely a cookie cutter effect going on, and you hear the same formula being applied again and again. Danceable beat, catchy hook, chorus “sung” by guy who can’t sing smothered in Auto-Tune, and some canned music happening in the background that you’re quite certain you’ve already heard. It’s pretty easy to take one listen and start cursing the heavens for ever sending us software like the EZ family, or Auto-Tune, but is it really their fault? If you could build a house using a power nailer rather than an old school hammer, wouldn’t you? Isn’t using technology to become more efficient a good thing? Are we losing originality as we go down this path?
None of these are really fair questions, and it’s not really fair to blame software for anything. There has been unoriginal garbage music for as long as there have been recordings. As much as we would love to get nostalgic and think that the great eras of whatever genre have come and passed, and originality ran rampant back in the day, it’s just simply not the case. Pop music has always been appealing to the masses, which by definition means that it can’t be super original. Originality is alienating, as it automatically excludes people who won’t be into that specific type of music. Alienation doesn’t sell records, and unsold records don’t sustain the music industry. That being said, you can catch glimpses of originality, even amongst all of the auto-tuned, drag and drop music, if you’re really listening.
Software is just a tool. If you can drag and drop a piano arrangement that sounds perfect, and like it was played by a professional pianist, it doesn’t mean that you’re music is now unoriginal, or lacking in creativity. Similarly, just because some of the greatest guitarists in the world have arranged their songs alongside a drum machine, it doesn’t mean that they are unoriginal either. The originality may come in the lyrics, in the arrangement, in the production, or maybe in the instrumentation. Maybe it comes in the presentation, the live show, the packaging, or any of the other hundred aspects that are involved in music creation.
My point is that blaming software for the current state of unoriginal pap being played on the radio is just an easy out. Unoriginal people make unoriginal music, and yes they may use software, but they could have just as easily have done it by hiring studio musicians, professional lyricists, and professional arrangers. Just because there are more humans involved doesn’t make something creative, and just because there may be one human with 20 titles of software, doesn’t make it uncreative. Focus on the end result, and don’t worry about how you’re getting there. Use a hammer, use a nailer, use a rock, or use a space age laser guided nail cannon from another planet! If you’re going to build a great house, the tools just simply don’t matter.