The All-Round Electronic Musician

In the current day, music technology and electronic music is everywhere. It’s influence on modern chart music cannot be underestimated, with new electronic based producers scoring big hits, along with more experienced and traditional chart topping artists experimenting with its features. The 2015 Proms featured an electronic set by BBC Radio1, show casing some of the genre’s most popular tracks. With the incorporation of electronic sound design and synthesised elements within film music giving birth to a hybrid combination of orchestra married with technology...

I can remember the very first time I heard electronic music, back in my early childhood, and was simply awestruck by the feeling it evoked. It’s rhythmic drive, syncopated melodies and electronic soundscape were all things I had not yet come across. After deciding I wanted to create this type of music I thought to myself, exactly what is it I need to learn to write like this?  

I’d just begun to take music at school, and was taught the basics of how to use a computer and MIDI keyboard to compose music. However, I quickly realised what would be most helpful was being able to take the ideas that were in my head and play them on the keyboard, understanding what it is I’m hearing. I started having piano lessons, going down the traditional route of taking graded practical and theory exams. At the same time learning about pure sound creation, electronic synthesis and computer music production. Playing and studying classical music I began to appreciate its compositional ingenuity and the theoretical techniques that it was based upon. 

Fast forward to now, after gaining a degree in music technology, I am regularly writing and remixing, having released music on a host of different dance labels and have designed sounds and produced demos for a number of popular synthesisers.  

Along with this I also work as a private tutor in piano, theory and music production. Increasingly I’ve found there are a number of students who come to learn production, often finding they can use the technology well, but where their weaknesses lie is in understanding music theory. Although perhaps not necessarily essential (there are plenty of successful people who do just fine without studying it!) learning theory can be of such great importance. Once they discover that it is not just a set of rules that they must adhere to, but more of a toolbox of descriptions regarding how and why things work, they begin to see how they can use it to help them produce more effectively. Understanding the language, they begin to write faster, work easier with collaborating musicians and ultimately spend more time producing great music. Similarly teaching the piano, it can be fantastic fun for kids to play their pieces on electronic synthesisers (think Switched On Bach!), turning dials and hitting buttons, all the while listening to the many ways they can shape the sound. Learning sound manipulation and how to use technology to make music I feel is just as important.

Thinking back to what my piano teacher told me, about how studying pieces, technical work, aural skills, music theory, sight reading, composition etc. creates an all-round musician, I find all what I learnt incredibly beneficial. Increasingly now I think the same can be said for electronic based musicians, having a decent instrumental ability, understanding music theory, acquiring production and technology skills is simply invaluable…