“For Five Years, no one cared about it, no one was interested”

Astounding details to be found in Joseph Flatley’s essay on Dubstep over at The Verge.

Essentially, it’s pop.

To paraphrase Nick Lowe, it’s now music for now people.

Or, as Skrillex told the crowd at the Grammy Awards: “I guess there’s no formula or format any more. We can do whatever we want.”

Also has great details for the gearheads too:

Another popular trick is to take a MIDI track (MIDI containing no audio itself; it is basically a sequence of parameters such as velocity, pitch, note length, etc. that can be used to “play” any electronic instrument with MIDI input or any soft synth that understands MIDI commands) and connect it to two, four, or half a dozen or more instruments: mid-range lead synths, phased pads, samplers with growling electric punk rock bass samples and deep, dubby, low end bass samples. Everything moves together, the bass line doing double duty as a melodic line, while everything pulses and undulates sort of (but not entirely) out of sync with everything else. On the dancefloor, this isn’t a listening experience — it’s a whole body experience.

Required reading.

► Stop teaching music theory and start teaching music theories.

Great article by Jason Timothy.

My argument is not that one style of music is better than another. It’s that sometimes when you create your own path, it may take longer, but it’s more likely that you’ll find your own sound, and in doing so, a much deeper satisfaction.

As someone with extensive theory training, I wish a stronger middle ground existed between Timothy’s point of view and the classical “no parallel fifths” approach to theory.

While his argument is certainly well meaning, I’d argue that every musician on his list exploits some commonly agreed upon conventions of western music. Tonality, for instance. The function of chord progression, however strong or weak. These aspects are intuitively known to most trained musicians regardless of theory knowledge, but the rulesy approach administered by most professors is off-putting.

Consider a musical universal like time cycles. These are approached in many different ways with many different specifics, but the idea of starting, stopping, and repetition is present in every form of music on the planet.

Now consider a Western universal aspect like chord progressions. Whether the subject is Chopin, Debussy, Eno, Aphex Twin or anything else on Top40 radio, chords and their functions are almost universally present. Even in Schoenberg the dissonance means nothing without the cultural context of the tonality he tries to avoid.

Music theory is culture, and just as the Webster made a strong call for his dictionary to take a descriptive rather than a prescriptive approach, so should music teachers and professors. The basic facts of music are rarely addressed in favor of endless and pointless exercises like Schenker reductions and Hindemith dots and fugues upon fugues upon fugues!

I’d conclude the real issue at stake here is not whether or not to learn music theory. I think it is nothing less than the fact that how music theory is taught needs to be significantly overhauled to maintain relevance for the modern musician.

Sibelius Users: A Pressure Group

Interesting activity going on here at sibeliususers.org.  From their description:

Please join us in convincing Avid that it is in everyone’s best interests for them to sell Sibelius.  This will still ease its cash crisis, but will ensure Sibelius lives on in safe hands.

A few salient points for further discussion:

  • Sibelius likely is not making enough money to support the larger staff that it has enjoyed since being acquired by Avid.  Doing a little back-of-the-napkin math based on the acquisition press release from 2006, Sibelius had 180,000 users back then.  Let’s divide that number by 5 years, (36,000 users per year) times the average price of a copy of Sibelius (let’s say around $100 since there are a lot of upgrades and Ed discounts in there).  This gives you about $360,000,000.
  • BUT WAIT – Sibelius was acquired by Avid in 2006 for only $22M.  So obviously the user base number was either a) inflated; b) a guess; or c) accounted for everyone who pirated the software as well as paying users.
  • By 2012, I would assume the paying user :: pirate ratio has probably gotten worse.
  • However, I doubt that’s the only problem.  In the time between the acquisition and the sell-off, I can anecdotally say that Sibelius is being used less by creators of content than arrangers, and other scribes and copyists types in the music world.  DAW-style apps have become the de-facto creative standard, while notation has become a necessity for those who need it (hint: composers no longer “need” it).  I admit this is a blatant opinion, and not something I’ve researched.

A few more points regarding Avid’s earnings:

  • Right before the sell off, Avid reported revenue of $152.1 million, with a net loss of $15.6 million.  They originally paid $22M for Sibelius, and not only can they not make this money back, but they are losing nearly the same amount just based on operating.
  • Avid is one of the only publicly traded media software/hardware-only companies.  The only other one I can think of is Adobe.  Everyone else is either a giant (e.g. Apple, Sony, etc.) or a private single-focus company (e.g. Ableton, Propellerhead, Aja).  This puts an inordinate amount of pressure on the company to remain profitable for its shareholders’ interest.
  • The main focus of their sell-off seems to be to strategically shed businesses they aren’t totally sure about.  For instance – the Education market (one of the original targets that made Avid want to acquire Sibelius in the first place) is changing very rapidly.  No longer is it mandatory to buy something like Sibelius to teach music in a lab.  In fact, some would argue that notation software is unnecessary altogether in a K-12 educational environment.

These lead me to a conjecture: If Sibelius was spun off back into an independent company, it could no longer stand on its own.  A company cannot simply retreat to pre-crisis levels and maintain modernity.  Since 2006, Sibelius (while apparently not generating much profit) had grown into a multitude of educational products, and integrated into somewhat an appendage of Pro Tools.  These projects require more programmers, more QA, more salespeople, etc.  The group (save Sibelius) seems fixated on saving the main UK office, but ignores the reality that Sibelius has changed quite a bit since growing out of that office.

Between this, and the possible hostile takeover possibility happening with MakeMusic, the notational software market could soon be in trouble.  But remember people, this is what drove you to Sibelius in the first place – you didn’t like Finale.  Now close your eyes and imagine an app that integrates notation smartly into the modern music making workflow.  Who will make it?  Does it already exist as a small niche product or is it yet to exist?  Will Finale or Sibelius figure out how to survive this decade?  I don’t know.  All I can say is that I stopped using both programs a long time ago.