Make Better Music 43: Has everything been done?

make better music. Trebuchet magazine
make better music. Trebuchet magazine

What do you write for the audience that has heard everything?

A few weeks ago a musician friend of mine (I like to divide my friends into categories) happened to mention some statements he’d heard that he felt were “secret truths”about making music. Most of them I thought were just silly, but one annoyed me, although I’m not sure I can disprove it.

Saying  “there are no new ideas left” sounds to me like you are saying something more like  “I have no new ideas left”.

It was along the lines of “there are no new ideas left, so all we can do now is steal things that we like”.

I think that’s a pessimistic and unimaginative point of view.

The statement has two halves, so I’ll take them in order.

Firstly, tackling this from a logical standpoint causes problems, as proving a negative is a very tricky area, leading to the complexities of explaining logical arguments and things such as the problem of induction, and finally taking us into the realm of philosophy. My mind doesn’t like that stuff (dealing with it causes me to have one of those attacks that Woody Allen described as “when I start sneezing out of my ears”), and we don’t have time to go there so let’s stay in familiar territory.

As for stealing things that you like, why not – as I’ve talked about previously -emulate and aspire.

Saying  “there are no new ideas left” sounds to me like you are saying something more like  “I have no new ideas left”.
My answer to this is to do two things. They are sort of contradictory, but it works for me. Firstly I try to think of new ways to do musical things, whether it be a new way of playing, writing, thinking or listening, whichever area interests you can always be explored further.

Secondly, I try to be patient. Inspiration comes, eventually, and sometimes you just have to wait for things to come together and create the right time and combination of factors to give you an idea.  There is an awful lot of half-baked music coming out these days. There’s no harm in producing less work, if the quality is better for it.

As for stealing things that you like, why not – as I’ve talked about previously -emulate and aspire.

Rather than take what you like and use it as it is, why not follow the same path as the music you like and let your paths diverge naturally when your own ideas start to take over?

What do you write for the audience that has heard everything?  You write what you would write anyway. There’s a thousand years worth of recorded (in one way or another) music. No one can ever listen to it all, no one will ever get close.  It’s very true that audiences today have listened to more music than any generation before. The average city-dwelling person today probably hears more music in a month than a musician would have heard in a lifetime 300 years ago!

You don’t need to get hung up on what’s been done, or whether the audience has heard stuff like yours before.  The one thing that never goes out of fashion, gets old or loses an audience, is well crafted, expressive music (expressing nothing can still be expressive, so don’t think this means everyone should be a sensitive singer-songwriter type!).

Everything new gets old – and no one ever manages to stay ahead of the pack forever. It’s much more valuable to work on what you want to say with your music over the course of your life, than to spend all that effort trying to be the next new thing!



Make Better Music is updated every Tuesday. To catch up on the series search for 'Dave Graham'.
Image: Francesco Marino / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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About Dave Graham 70 Articles
David Learnt composition (harmony, counterpoint and orchestration) to degree level through studying Schoenbergs Fundamentals of Musical Composition, the classic text on twentieth century harmony by Vincent Persichetti, Henry Mancini's Sounds and Scores, Rimsky-Korsakov's excellent books on orchestration as well as studying any scores that intrigued me. He is a founder member of two bands, avant pop duo Cnut, and orchestral doombience outfit Regolith, and have performed across Europe with them.

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