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Music and tech forever

Great interview in the Guardian today with serial overachiver Mark Ronson. One thing that really caught my eye, when he said this: “All your songs have to be under three minutes and 15 seconds because if people don’t listen to them all the way to the end they go into this ratio of ‘non-complete heard’, which sends your Spotify rating down.”

While the relationship between music and technology often focuses on the platform, distribution, and so on for understandable reasons, the connection between music and tech is much deeper and also impacts on the creative side. There are regularly stories about AI writing songs now and those far more talented than me have explained why it can never create greatness, but I’m less concerned about that and more interested in seeing how technology influences music.

As Mark Ronson explains, our current state of technology has led to pressure for the music to be more hook laden. This follows on other recent trends for music to be louder and more compressed to stand out when listened on current hardware (phones, earphones, etc).

There’s nothing remotely new about technology having such a major impact on how musicians shape their music. Synthesisers and computers created entirely new sounds and genres. LPs encouraged long concept pieces because for the first time you could give people 15/20 minutes of continuous music in the home. Go further back still and the acoustic technology of the very earliest recordings encouraged dance and jazz music as trumpets and other jaunty wind instruments like clarinets could be picked up on record much more easily than the subtle sounds and textures of classical music which basically couldn’t be captured properly until electrical recording was invented. The influence of technology on creativity is as old as they come.

Now high quality home music systems are making a comeback thanks to the huge success of smart speakers. As listening returns once again to a much higher-fidelity experience, we can expect to see more creators taking advantage of that to produce more immersive and rich music.

Music and technology have always been joined at the hip, they can never ever be truly separated. It often feels like they’re siblings who are constantly trying to get one over on the other and finally strike out on their own, but that can never happen as they need each other, always driving each other forward.

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