If you’re a regular follower of my blogs, then you know I’ve been on hiatus for some time now with regard to my blogging efforts. My apologies … a certain manufacturer of live sound mixing consoles has dominated my focus over the past few months. It’s good to be back though! I hope these words are worth the wait.
It’s funny what inspires me to open up my laptop and start typing. I’m just on my way to Buenos Aires after a lively few days at the AES show where this blog on the concept of “change” finally crystalized after bouncing around in my head for some time now.
With the recent passing of baseball legend, American treasure—and all-time Yankee—Yogi Berra, I was reminded of one of my favorite “Yogi-isms”, those non-sequiturs he was so famous for; “The future ain’t what it used to be”. Word, Yogi! Positively profound and on point. In eight words Yogi summed up what is likely going to take me 10 paragraphs or more to try to explain and get you to think about and buy in to. Alright Yogi, here I go …
“Life is change” or “Change is inevitable” or even “The only certainty is that everything will change” are examples of age-old adages that I’ve heard countless times in my life. I’ve pulled them out numerous times and more often than not used them as an overstatement of the obvious. But I’ve probably just as often used them to rationalize a change that I can’t seem to comprehend or to comfort me when a change that scares me to death is imminent. Or maybe it is a change that I have very little faith in being right or helpful. In fact, many times those very words are uttered as a statement of surrender or resignation to our rapidly and ever-changing world. I wonder how many of us actually see change coming and embrace it —and, dare I say—celebrate it, compared to how many of us loathe the thought of change. My bet is your age has some bearing on your answer.
For many of us, change causes the most fear and anxiety when we don’t see it coming and it sneaks up on us and threatens to eject us and isolate us from the society that we’ve grown up learning to live in, work in and love. I wonder how many of us willingly track the changes that are on the horizon and recognize how close they are to disrupting or threatening our current existence?
I think any of us would admit we are ALL creatures of comfort and with few exceptions would have to also admit that the farther we get along in life, the more we cling to and lean on those things we’ve convinced ourselves will be, or should be, around forever. But rest assured the future marches on second by second, day by day, year by year. Change—and the evolution that wraps it’s arms around it—never takes a day off. By the time I finish this, it will already exist in the past. Life is change. Change is inevitable. The only certainty is that everything will change.
If you’re of an advanced age, say over 40 (yeah, I know, that stung a little didn’t it?) it’s typically very hard to track and keep pace with the changes that are coming let alone embrace them. At best you probably keep imminent changes in your peripheral view, just at arms length, or worse, stick your head deep into that big pile of sand labeled “denial”. On the other hand if you’re young, you know pre-40, (yep, still stinging here) change and the thought of it is not only natural, it’s expected and encouraged. It completely fills your vision and is comforting to you because you feel like you’re riding the crest of a wave that you’re also helping to create. The only threat you recognize is the feeling that you have caved in or conceded to any form of anything that happened before “your time”. The only possible path to personal or professional validation is to abandon all that came before you and make your own mark without showing any sign of influence from the past. Until you get to about 40 years of age that is, and then the entire thing cycles around for yet another generation. Rinse, lather, repeat.
One of my favorite little sayings with regard to this is the one where a young man is talking about his father and says “ When I was 15, I couldn’t believe how dumb my father was. When I turned 25, I couldn’t believe how much he had learned in 10 years”
Take a moment to ask yourself this question; Is there a difference between “change” and “evolution?” My answer is a resounding yes. There is certainly merely change for the sake of change, and then there is change that is grown out of what came before with the promise of improvement. In our world of music production, this applies not only to technology, but to the users and how they use it, which in turn drives the further development of the technology.
This concept is especially poignant for not only our little slice of the world’s technology pie of music production, but it really applies to all life experiences. Our ability to discern when to break with tradition and “create” something that is brand new and previously unrealized vs. when to simply continue the evolutionary cycle of what has already been realized requires knowledge of what has come before. I think that’s why I’m always so enamored with the rare “true artist” because they can present something that is a reflection of the world both present and past, yet leave you with the feeling that their work is completely original.
Want some examples of what I’m talking about? Okay, here ya go. Let’s start with an easy one. Music: which would you be more likely to gravitate toward; music that stands completely on it’s own, clearly void of ANY influence from any piece of music created before it? Or, music that is clearly influenced by what came before it but offers a very fresh take on it? More? Okay. Technology; which would you be more likely to gravitate toward; technology that is born organically that demands that you to do things in a completely new or different way or technology that is simply a minor step forward or an advancing derivative of what was established before it?
My bet is that for the most part, I could guess your age range by your response. (I know, another stinger)
By all accounts, we as an industry loath change and yet embrace it all at the same time. Test yourself to see if you fall into this line of thinking. “I don’t want a new ______ (FITB), I just want a better version of the one I already have now.” Or maybe; “I don’t want to change the way I do things, I just want what I do now to be easier, faster and better.” Do you see the struggle?
This has never been more apparent than what I have witnessed in the past 15 years for users transitioning from analog to digital mixing consoles. The ones who struggle the most intensely are those who simply demand that the new technology be nothing more than a digital version of their previous analog world. They hold on to this belief like it is a life-saving flotation device while swimming with a 100-pound cannon ball shackled to their ankle. Conversely, the ones who are the most successful are the ones who view the new technology with the same reverence as a digital coffee maker or a new toaster and are able to morph and evolve their approach to mixing in new ways completely unshackled and held back by the mechanics of how they have worked in the past. They are working from a solid base in audio and now just build on it using a new tool.
Robert’s theorem of change: “There’s a very fine, but very meaningful line between being stuck in the past and being grounded in it.” … Yes, you can quote me on that one.
I listen to and read a lot of rhetoric that is on display in the public forums about today’s music production and the associated technologies used in the process and I oft times get the feeling that folks believe that at some time in the future, we’re actually going to get to the point where, technically speaking, everything is perfect. They see an ideal world that is just sitting out there on the horizon and we are driving toward it and will arrive someday. This is the future seen as a destination, not a journey.
This utopian, idealistic world is unified. It is a world where everything operates and sounds exactly like we ALL expect it to. Unified operation, unified expectations, unified results. And having achieved this, there would be no need to develop any further technologies. We don’t need any more new mics, no new consoles, no new recorders, the playback devices we would have would all be perfect. In fact, I know there are legions of folks out there who think we’ve already gotten to this point and passed it by. You know who you are.
But here’s the wake-up call. Technology and most especially music and it’s related technologies are ALWAYS—from here to eternity—going to be changing and evolving concurrently. One, in fact, drives the other and vice versa. And ya know what, YOU are evolving too. You can’t stop it, although you might be able to stunt it or slow it in your own world. Change and adaptability is built into us. We couldn’t deny change and growth in ourselves, or the world around us even if we wanted to.
Now here’s where it starts to get a little sticky… Especially so for our industry, which is one of the purest blends art and science.
Let me explain. I come from a relatively balanced background of both science and art, but I oft times have a tendency to not put much faith in science and more specifically scientists. Scientist, true innovators and explorers, operate with little to no situational discipline or boundary. They are only bracketed by what they currently perceive as facts—which tend to change over time by the way—and are completely unwavering in their desire to get beyond those brackets and “improve the world”. What’s that you say??? Yes, think about it. What area of science can you name that has ever had the discipline to say, “we’re not going to move forward and explore this, or develop that, because what we have is perfect, or we think we should not explore it because it could actually end up being bad for; mankind or the planet … or … music … or _________ FIB ”.
I have the answer for you: never, not one time. It’s a completely foreign concept to the scientific mindset of study, explore, discover, master, innovate, improve. It is both science’s curse and its greatest attribute. In its quest for discovery and refinement, a level of hubris exists that may just result in destroying the thing it is trying to improve or refine.
So what’s the context for this thinking in our world of modern music production? And how does it fit in to my discussion of “change” vs. “evolution”?
Well, let me try to answer with a couple of questions to get your gears turning. How many times have you every heard the idea that “the electric guitar destroyed music as we know it” … ? There was a time in fairly recent history when that was regularly said. How many times have you heard “the computer has destroyed music as we know it” … ? That one is common in today’s world. Or how about “even with all this new technology, things don’t sound near as good as they used to?” or “nobody knows how to play an instrument, or actually mix a show any more” … blah de effing blah blah blah.
Okay, I’ll bite. Does ANYONE actually believe we’re going to go back to the way we used to record or do live sound? Does ANYONE think that the genie is going back in to the bottle? Really? REALLY?
Ya know what friends, we all need to be willing to take hard looks at what we do and evaluate our path, but its also important to remember that you’re doing so in the eye of the evolutionary hurricane. You can’t stop it. You can’t even slow it down. In fact, you really have two stark choices. 1) Get on board and embrace it, at least at the cursory level or, 2) Concede that you’re going to live and work in a bubble. You’ve decided to live the remainder of your professional life dwelling on the past, drowning in the frustration and disappointment at the thought of “everything new sucks”.
So, I ask you; are you going to dwell on the past and be stuck in it, or are you going to take all of that invaluable insight and foundation you’ve acquired through years of study and hard work and apply it to the new world and share it with the folks who are going to follow in your footsteps? Are you going to contribute to evolution or try to stunt it?
It’s not about some faux nobility of honoring what has come before by demanding that we not go one step further. It’s about moving forward and applying and sharing what we already know with a world that is moving forward and in turn, making it better for everyone including yourself.
Here’s an interesting quiz to see where you might stand. Which of the following do you believe to be true?
Someday, humans will fly faster than the speed of sound.
Someday, you’ll be able to instantly communicate with anyone on the planet.
Someday, a surgeon will use a 3D printer to create replacement human organs right in the operating room.
Someday, we will create a man-made power source equal to the capabilities and life span of the sun
Someday, the United States will cease to exist.
Someday, the sun will not rise.
Okay, okay, I get it. You want something a bit more grounded in our own livelihoods? Okay then, which of these do you think are true?
Some day gaming will be the most popular spectator sport in the world.
Someday, there’ll be concerts were all audience members AND artists share a virtual reality space.
Someday, there’ll be a virtual reality mixing environment where the mixer will work “inside” the console.
Someday, someone will create a way to capture the human voice that does not require a microphone.
Someday, someone will create a music delivery mechanism that is not based on a transducer or speaker.
Someday someone will create a way to capture, edit and mix music that is not a multi-track DAW.
Someday someone will create a way to mix music automatically.
Someday, people will live their entire life and will not know the names The Beatles, The Rolling Stones or even Mozart.
The answers? They are ALL true, folks. It’s just a matter of time if you travel out far enough into the future. Not to say they will happen in your lifetime, and not to say you have to endorse them, but they are all on the “inevitable” list.
So, my advice? Everyone take a deep breath, but then DON’T relax. Allow yourself to consider, and even embrace change or evolution even when it is slapping you right in the face and do so without the fear that you are abandoning the comfy past. Live in the moment, but respect what has come before you. Learn to hold on dearly to what you know and then apply it to the new world without shunning everything you see racing toward you out on the horizon. Conversely, don’t speed off into the future without a rear-view mirror and a GPS. You might find some creative avenues and inspiration that you didn’t even know you had. Learn to be grounded in the past, not stuck in it. Learn to embrace the future with respect for what came before. In fact, learn to be “comfortable with being uncomfortable”.
Life is change. Change is inevitable. The only certainty is that everything will change.
Wanna watch a GREAT show on the future about just how fast our world is changing and evolving? Warning: it’ll make our myopic views of technology advances in music production seem infantile and literally standing still by comparison. You’ve been warned. 🙂 Enjoy.
Fareed Zakaria’s GPS Moonshots (developments that may happen within “ten years”)
Build a Star.