Today’s music is embedded endlessly with digital samples and digital products. Some of the biggest and most successful music of our generation is produced exclusive through digital instruments and samples. Even a singer’s voice goes through extensive processing.
In an age where instruments can be sampled and manipulated, are live, real instruments even required – some would say no. After all, it’s cheap and easy not to have to buy and play the instruments yourself or having to hire someone to capture an instrument’s performance. Many of the hip hop demo submissions, pop music demo submissions, and EDM demo submissions we receive contain minimal uses of real instruments. There’s definitely no arguing that digital samples have their place, no matter what kind of music you play. From a listener’s perspective, there are things that can be done with digital samples that you can’t do with real instruments. They can provide an entire track’s worth of unique digital-ness or can be used sparingly for effect. There are many ways to use digital sampling and so it would be unfair to dismiss it outright.
All this considered, there’s also definitely an argument for live instrumentation and real instruments. Listening to tracks that contain real instruments, many listeners report a more ‘human’ sound and more energy. In the same that digital samples have a place, real instruments can twist and turn in ways that samples cannot. Depending on what an artist is more inclined to believe, digital samples or real instruments both have the potential to provide more freedom than the other. From a listener’s perspective, there is an audible difference between the two and so ultimately it comes down to what kind of sound an artist or producer wants to have for their track. As long as one is servicing the track they are working on, it does not really matter whether it is real instruments or samples. Thus, it’s all in the mind as to whether one is better than the other though they both bring to the table unique characteristics.
Much like in every category of business, tech has overtaken and expanded the realm of possibility as to what can be accomplished. Music is no different. Since the 1950s, music and technology have had a strong relationship together. Tech has always directly influenced music and as so many advancements have happened in the last few decades, it would be near impossible to produce contemporary popular music today that does not heavily hinge on the digital. The digital age has arrived and even if one is a pure instrumentalist or an artist who insists on having real instruments, the digital influence is inescapable. Even down to the sound of our voices, digital effects are layered by the dozens across the most popular tracks on the planet today – something that is worth considering for anyone creating a track.
If making money or being adored by an audience is not a primary focus and if the music you make is pure to the bone then, to these artists, we say follow honesty. For some, real instruments are the only way to make music. For others, digital samples are how they get their point across. Keep tracks honest and pure, and make music the way you want to make it. That’s the only way to carry music forward and to create the best track. Whether the muse is digital or real, a true artist should follow it.