Are We Still Composers?

Discussion in 'SAMPLECASTS, PODCASTS, VIDEOCASTS' started by ManchesterMusic, Feb 18, 2019.

  1. ManchesterMusic

    ManchesterMusic New Member

    Nov 1, 2018
    I posted this video on Sunday about a topic which had been on my mind for some time and eventually boiled over when a commenter on my Spitfire LCO clip asked a very pointed question: “are the tools we use removing the composer from the composition?”

    No other video I’ve done has generated so many comments so quickly. Would love to get folks’ thoughts.

    Are We Still Composers?
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2019
  2. fiestared

    fiestared Vintage -but- not obsolete

    Aug 18, 2013
    I think YES! We use what we have available, give the same libs and tools to say, ten different "composers" and you'll have ten different results, some very original and some very "copied" and boring... It will very easy to know who are the real COMPOSERS !
  3. AlexanderSchiborr

    AlexanderSchiborr Senior Member

    May 1, 2014
    Thank you for sharing. Very interesting video. As you ask for opinions and before that gets directly to the drama zone here: Its just my opinion guys..:

    I think most of the composers are not even composers by any classic standards and how in the old days musicians learned their craft. There are even people who can´t play an instruments, can´t read one note and call themselves composers, albeit they even can´t write a proper II/V/I. I often even feel that all these looptracks and textured cues are not even compositions, they are just "sound" or even white noise for me. Do they work with media and film? Well..some sort of, so then you can say: Great, mission accomplished. But they feel often like a collage of effects with no purpose and cohesion whatsoever.

    I am very oldschool when it comes to that subject "what composing is" and for each single one of us there is a different idea about that, but I feel we have a big leap or even I dare to say dumbing down in music in general and most composers (or the people who call themselves composers) are not even able to understand the fundamentals about the repertoire anymore and what composition was all about. And that is a missconception because the cool things from the past get more and more forgotten and burried. (I remember a composer in a blog mentioned as an advice: Don´t use Dom7 Chords as they sound oldschool or outdated..I honestly felt to rip of his heart for writing such douchy thing..but he was in one sense right: They might feel outdated and maybe even odd for the common simple instant gratification mind.

    I feel that too much cool things from the past are not learned anymore and overlooked and therefore the quality of music went imo down to a point of simplicity which is banal and sometimes even offending, I simply can´t enjoy banal music and I feel that the market is trashed with all this junk.

    I know I don´t make much friends with that kind of "attitude" or "thinking" because I know that there are many composers out there and also here who exactly do that all the time and they even work as composers out there and it is not against you guys that I don´t like you personally, its just related to subject here.

    And sure all that loopcrap and one keypress instant gratification libraries(oh wow thats great composition) contributes to the lazyness of how tracks are assembled these days as well.
  4. mikeh-375

    mikeh-375 old school

    Feb 8, 2016
  5. nilblo

    nilblo New Member

    Jul 2, 2017
    I second that.
    Pheloung Barrington´s music compositions (Inspectors Morse and Lewis) makes sense whithout the filmframes. He is an oddity.. For me, very few of the "soundeffects" for film in general, is enjoyable as "music". On the contrary, most of modern tv-productions are best watched with zero volume. In my opinion.
    Tim_Wells likes this.
  6. The shortest answer to this is "musical literacy, ability, and the bar to music being used and appreciated professionally is an awful lot lower than it was even 50 years ago".

    That's mainly because people can create stuff that has the impression of being competent, but is musically empty. Or even plain wrong.

    Learning music, and how to write well requires as much time as it always has (and probably some innate improvisational ability too). But making a noise that sounds relatively 'produced' is quicker and easier than it's ever been. So people are even less inclined to learn the hard stuff when it's so easy to make the noises to begin with.

    Samples, loops and all the helping hands we have can make your 4minute ostinato sound professional at least from a production point of view, whereas 50 years ago you would only get that sound from a real orchestra. And the only people writing for real orchestras were composers who could actually write music. And they didn't write 4minute ostinatos...

    The democratisation of music making is great, and there are people with serious talent making great stuff, but given the statistics, there are far more people making bad music. And some of that bad music even gets on to TV.

    So yes - we are still composers! But the scope of ability encompassed in that term is far broader than it ever was.
  7. Vardaro

    Vardaro Active Member

    Feb 16, 2014
    Near Paris, France
    It's the difference between programming in C++ and programming in Java.
    Composition becomes Sound Design.
    EvgenyEmelyanov and Uncle Peter like this.
  8. Akarin


    Jan 14, 2018
    It's like any other job, really. You get better tools. The question is "how are you going to stand out from the crowd with these tools?"

    The old "when I was young, I had to walk 10 miles through mud to get to school."
    Alexandre, EspenH, MillsMixx and 3 others like this.
  9. gpax

    gpax Senior Member

    Oct 22, 2013
    Well, if anyone can call themselves a composer I believe it is you. I think you give a compelling and honest assessment of your stance, and what I’ve heard from you is always first-rate.

    But I do think (and agree) we are not having the same conversations in this forum when the term composer is tossed around. Take for example, when someone asks how to score out a more thematically-themed sample library patch, when its experimental textures are meant to be the final, sample-based performance and medium. Therein is the disparity the video points to, which is often overlooked in discussions when we talk about sample libraries and their intent as compositional tools. We, as a forum, are routinely not having the same discussions at all, even as common terms get tossed about.

    I think that it can also be argued that media-driven genres have wrestled away some of the more traditional expectations (and demands) of what a composer is. Even so, some who meticulously work as composers will reach for textural tools and loops if/when asked for this. Are they not at that moment a composer when that job or client asks for this?

    But there may also be a bit of denial afoot, in believing that laying claim to being a “composer” is still (or must be) guided by traditional training, craft, and principles, particularly in a forum dedicated to virtual tools. The sample library world itself is being tailored to meet (lesser) demands that would have been scoffed at fifteen years ago. I’m not saying this plug-and-play approach is a good thing either, but rather, it is an emerging and persistent new reality, where many now help themselves to the label of “composer,” and call their more readily assembled output, “compositions,” nevertheless.

    All this while a few trained composers, however unknowingly, are routinely making a case here for why virtual instruments ultimately fail as suitable compositional tools. And yet doing so in a virtual instruments forum, no doubt. To be fair, such input and criticisms have also pushed development of orchestral instruments forward as well (at times), but the ensemble, thematic, textural trend for “composing” is clearly and firmly a market that all developers are recognizing now.

    In much in the same way that “mock-up” does not mean the same thing to everyone, or at least what it meant ten years ago, this enduring and underlying sentiment surfaces in the critiques of every new release in a given thread I’ve been involved in: that virtual instruments are inherently flawed, yet we make allowances for them, creatively. Moreover, what was once considered sacrosanct - the notion of “writing to the samples,” - is now the norm for many who see no problem in this, perhaps because the consumer is also content with what they hear, but also as developers are crafting this approach more and more.

    Maybe in addition to the term “making beats,” one could suggest not calling it a composition, or oneself a composer in the purest sense, but a texture assembler.
  10. DS_Joost

    DS_Joost One day I'll fly away!

    Nov 19, 2015
    I'm going to be an outlier to this, and perhaps a bit controversial but... I don't give a hoot about the craft. Really not. I used to, but that got me no where. I am simply just not a theoretical composer. Does that make me less? I have no idea, and I simply don't care.

    I compose solely on emotion. The sounds, textures that I use are simply there to enforce those emotions. I used to be all about this realism thing with sample libraries. Now there is no sample anymore that I don't leave untouched in one way or another.

    I don't read notes... I don't have to, and I really don't care for it because it really doesn't help me in creating what I want to create, it simply keeps me down, at least in the way I work. I don't compose for orchestra, the orchestra is simply one of my colors at my disposal. This is not to be disrespectful of the orchestra and it's vivid and beautiful history. I admire the great classical composers. I love the golden-age of film music as much as the next guy... but I don't want to continue that tradition. I am more experimental, and for experimental, we live in a golden age. The computer, for me, is not a tool. It IS my instrument, and I try to push it beyond simply being a sample playing box for compositions that should've just been written out and played by a real orchestra. It is no substitute, it is what I use to actually make my music. I don't use single note libraries, but I do use loops, and samples. I just process the heck out of them. The textures and colors are just as much a way for me to achieve what I want to achieve as the composition itself is.

    I still see myself as a composer... I just don't feel an obligation to learn that which for me wouldn't be much help. Wether I make crap or not is in the eye of the beholder. I love simplicity in composition. That doesn't mean I don't admire technical prowess, but I think the simple is just as technical to achieve.

    I come from an EDM background. That is often frowned upon. I say, why? I still use many of those techniques to this day, and I use them proudly; EDM can be just as much an artform as any other kind of music. It's just made differently.

    I am not lazy, I just compose differently. And it took me a long time to acknowledge that I am just inspired by different things than what I am 'supposed' to be inspired by.

    My greatest inspirations turned out to be Vangelis, Jean-Michel Jarre, and Chicane. And to this day, they still are.
    Heledir, Eckoes, michelsimons and 6 others like this.
  11. Saxer

    Saxer Senior Member

    Mar 30, 2008
    There were always good and bad composers. There were no samples a few decades ago but there was always a way. A lot of 'producers' (studio owners) of that time called some musicians and let them improvise and said "yes" or "no" or "faster"... and they sang "yeah yeah", recorded it and then they called an arranger and a lyricist and a singer and it was their "composition". Nothing new. They were called "whistle composers".
    I remember some studio work when the producer didn't show up for days. Suddenly he came in and called "More tomtoms!" and disappeared for days again. But he spent his time selling the stuff others produced in his studio and so the musicians had work.
    And there was also extremely bad music in film and TV. We forgot all that because it was better to forget it.

    Fake composers can do a lot today. But they are out when styles become unfashionable and changes, when they have to work with real musicians, when clients have specific wishes and when they are compared to really versatile composers. And sooner or later that will happen.

  12. I do understand this mindset - but I have a couple of issues with it.
    1) The assumption that composers either just tap into their emotions, get a vibe and make music without thinking about the theory OR they sit down with a spreadsheet and plan every note in advance according to their chosen framework.
    Of course, most composers write from an innate sense of musicality - even (especially) the greats. The theoretical knowledge and competence is there, but the actual composition is still done on feeling and instinct.
    2) The idea that learning how to write music might in some way 'cramp your style' - or get in the way of the natural creative process. It won't. I've heard stuff from people on here, the Evenant fb group etc, with the most basic musical issues - dodgy voice-leading, nonsensical melodies, blatant unintentional dissonance that the composer plainly can't hear is happening. Learning a bit of craft would only help those people, not harm them.
    3) As for not reading notes - I know it isn't essential but it does make me a bit sad when people say 'I love writing music, but I can't see the point of learning how music has been written and read for a thousand years.' - what if you wanted to play a particular piano piece, or write/orchestrate a piece for session players, or score study etc?
    ka00, SimonCharlesHanna and Eric G like this.
  13. gregh

    gregh Senior Member

    Feb 1, 2015
    I don't really care that much if it is easier to make shitty schlock music now than before. Just of no interest to me at all. Happy to call a composer anyone who constructs music using whatever means they want. Will have zero influence on what I do or what I get paid to do.
    Alexandre, Eckoes and TheKRock like this.
  14. Prockamanisc

    Prockamanisc Senior Member

    Jul 15, 2015
    New Orleans
    Is a mathematician not a mathematician because she uses a computer to do her calculations? Of course not. They're defined by their ability to see between the numbers and make sense of it all.
    Heledir, Eckoes, Akarin and 2 others like this.
  15. fiestared

    fiestared Vintage -but- not obsolete

    Aug 18, 2013
    Exactly what I wrote.
  16. The word "Composer" can be applied in so many different contexts it becomes dispensable like most words in language. However, I don't think status should be accosted with any word to associate a standard.

    Everyone has the ability to create. We are all composers. To say someone "is" or "is-not" a composer can be construed an "us and them" mentality. Some are just more experienced in certain areas than others. The only real difference (from a status POV) is if you do or don't make a living from it.

    For me the terminology should be:

    If you make a living from it = Professional Composer
    If you make little money = Armature Composer
    If you make no money = Hobbyist Composer / Composer

    If you want to do it based upon their experience / understanding and ability then:

    JEDI Composer (just insanely godlike at making music)
    Master Composer
    Experienced Composer
    Apprentice Composer
    Novice Composer
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2019
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  17. Drundfunk

    Drundfunk Member

    Apr 5, 2017
    This example doesn't really work for me to be honest. A mathematician uses a computer but at the same time learned how to calculate most of this stuff by hand with his own brain. So they understand what the computer is doing for them and probably could do most of the calculation by themselves if necessary (would just take a lot longer). But when composers nowadays don't even know how to read music or know at least basic music theory I don't think you can defend them the same way I just defended the mathematician. Not to say that a calculation should have the same outcome no matter which mathematician calculated it, whereas a written piece of music usually inherits and reflects the personality of the composer in some way.

    I personally thought a lot about this topic the last few weeks. I had to compose a loop for a small student art video game and my first draft was this piece with woodwinds and piano and strings etc. (I can't remember in detail at the moment) and I loved it. To me it was unique and it felt like me. It was just way too melodic since I got carried away at one point because I had way too much fun composing it. When I sent it to them they liked the beginning of the track (which was very minimalistic) but disliked pretty much the rest of it (not because the music was bad or anything but because it was way too melodic and a little bit too much in-your-face). So I re-did the whole thing but focused on the minimalistic aspect. What I ended up doing was using four patches where two were from OT Time Macro (Tremolo Piano and some stuff with harp in it). The piece got accepted and they liked it very much but to this date it is the most hated composition I've ever written. I hate it even more than anything I've written, before I knew what Midi CC data is or how to mix or master. (I have to say here I usually like my compositions, or at least I think they're not shit). Reason for that is that in my opinion one can make anything sound good with these TMacro patches just by pressing a few notes down. The movement of the Tremolo Piano patch and the movement of the other patch is doing the rest. The only thing I actually did was to play in some harp where I felt it is necessary.

    Everybody with this library could press down some notes and it would basically sound the same. I have the same problem with the Eric Whitacre Choir for example (Nothing against SF here, just the first example I could think of). I didn't buy it, for one reason only: Every piece I listened to written with it sounds somewhat the same (at least to me). I think it's the way how the library works under the hood and that it is enough to press a few keys and it will sound good no matter what (could be wrong here since I don't own it, but from what I've seen and heard I don't think I'm so far off here). I personally really started to have an issue with this, because if the library is doing the work for you then it limits your own personality within the piece. I'm honestly not the best with music theory or orchestration or whatever (learning more day by day tho), but I restrict myself from using loops and now even libraries with too much movement if I can't control it myself. That's just not composing for me.

    Conclusion: A piece of music is something personal for me and it pretty much has my DNA in it. The written piece is my voice if you may, and the more a library is doing the work for me the more I lose my voice. If I were using libraries where it is enough just to press a few keys without really thinking about it then I wouldn't call myself a composer. Definitely not!
    SimonCharlesHanna likes this.
  18. DS_Joost

    DS_Joost One day I'll fly away!

    Nov 19, 2015
    I understand where you are coming from. Allow me to explain some things.

    I do know some music theory. Enough for now, at least, to come by. Maybe in the future I run up against a wall and explore some more. There is some essential music theory that truly helps break out of monotony and can help one along the way for more experimentation and growth. A lot of it, however, is fluff. At least in my opinion. And a lot of it can actually hold you back once the theory becomes more important than the actual act of making music. I am not against learning theory, far from, but there is a lot that just isn't important. Can't write in counterpoint? Meh, don't care. A lot of great music was done without it.

    That was just an example. I do know how to write in counterpoint, but I rarely use it.

    The nonsensical melodies, dodgy voice leading part is what gets to me. Music is entirely subjective. This is for me the most important part of the music making progress. What for you might sound nonsensical, is for another the most beautiful thing ever. Now, I don't dismiss some professionalism in composing, but nobody gets to decide what is right and what is wrong. If it sounds good, it sounds good, and that is up to everybody to decide for themselves. This is not meant as an attack, this is just my principal stance on the creation of music and this is the one thing I am firmly against in an area where creativity is supposed to be the all around deciding factor. There are no nonsensical melodies, there only is what sounds good or bad to you and me, and everybody else.

    Don't get me wrong, again, I get what you are trying to say, and would even agree to some extend. But, as much as I don't like some other people's music, it is not for me to dismiss it, or tell them that they are wrong in what they do. Their music, my music.

    If I want to play a piano piece, I do it by ear. Easy. I think notes are tools, and no tool is essential in and of itself. If I have to orchestrate, I give a midi part to a partner of mine who can transcribe it. He loves it, I hate it. I try to orchestrate as well as I can. The reality describes however that this is rarely something I have to do, and should the need arise, there are always options. I hate transcribing, I hate the notation system, and would never want to dive into that ever again. It is for me the most uncreative of tools ever created, and I see it as a necesarry evil, not as something I have ever enjoyed.

    All this, however, does not mean there is an excuse to sound like everybody else. I think the fact we all use the same tools in the same ways is the bigger problem here, especially in an age where the possibilities are endless. I hear too much of the same old same old, and no amount of theory will fix that, I am afraid.
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2019
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  19. redlester

    redlester Member

    Feb 14, 2018
    Nottingham, UK
    I remember having similar arguments with a pal of mine in the early 80's, regarding drum machines, which he claimed were "cheating". For me, absolutely anything goes if it allows a person to release creative urges, providing they don't claim it to be something it's not.

    But I'm speaking from a purely amateur/hobbyist POV where the whole reason for doing it is purely for my own fulfillment. I can see why there are ambiguities in the issue of how to define a professional "composer".

    I'd love a pro composer to release a version of John Cage's 4'33", performed using sample libraries. I'd buy that! :)
    EspenH and michelsimons like this.
  20. FriFlo

    FriFlo Senior Member

    Jun 13, 2011
    In the days of Beethoven and Mozart, the aristocracy used to grace themselves with the feathers of geniuses. Their worldly power gave them the ability to do so. But what was different then is that really nobody could be ANY composer (even a bad one) without some kind of skill. Yes, there certainly were better and lesser composers at all times. But without the help of a computer you have to have at least some skills to write even a mediocre composition.
    Today, it is no longer the aristocracy. Today, business is in power. There still are some old school entrepreneurs like in the days of Beethoven to support the few composers who actually still compose with that Beehovenian ideal of a composer in mind. But that is very much distinct from todays functional music, which film music is a part of. That is the so called music industry and you can read about it form Theodor W. Adorno. He pretty much predicted the decline of musical values due to a commercial music industry. He was not right about everything IMO, e.g. he only saw value in composition that followed the Schönberg school, which is a narrow view from todays perspective, but he nailed it with his "Kritik der Kulturindustrie".
    That music industry is purely driven by money, which is why it is doomed to get more and more empty. A few gems in that crowd of composers are the exception to the rule.

    I beliefe that computers and most of the recent novelties like AI are a danger to mankind as they all destroy our minds and bodies abilities. Let's admit it! We are a lazy species! If you no longer need to be able to play and instrument or work on your ears, as the computer can make you some "suggestions", that will not encourage most people to work hard on those skills.
    Today everyone tells the young kids to learn a lot about computers and programming, as that is and best option to earn a living in the future. It has come to a point where you must really wonder who is using who ... well, we are not in that Terminator world yet, where we are literally enslaved by machines. But we have by now fully arrived in an Orwellian world, where we are ruled and controlled by Oligarchs by the means of those machines. Sometimes I wake up, realizing how far this has come and fear the lack of resistance of that enslavement. Then I google it ...

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