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Express Yourself

What is music? This is possibly the most infuriatingly open-ended way to start an article in a magazine that predominantly concerns itself with the production of music but, hey, if The Dog’s articles aren’t written to infuriate musicians and producers, what are they written for?

The general consensus, shared by musicians and philosophers of aesthetics alike, is that music is a form of expression. To paraphrase (by which I mean “misquote”) someone whose name I have either forgotten or (more likely) never knew, “talking about music is like dancing about architecture”. It’s very essence is that it is a form of expression in itself; we strum, hit, scrape, blow and tickle (occasionally) things in order to make sounds, rhythms, melodies and harmonies that will express those things that are otherwise inexpressible, or at least hard to express.

Exactly what we try to express through music varies wildly from adolescent angst to religious fervour to streetwise swagger and all manner of emotions in between, but what all forms of music have in common is that they strive to express something.

Expressing yourself is about communicating your inner feelings to others, and this is what I am rather slowly driving at: without others to express our music to, the music very quickly loses its purpose and, ultimately, its value. This is why the creation of music is inherently a social interaction; it is about people coming together to express things to each other and to the rest of the world, it is about communication.

And how is this relevant to you, O world-weary reader? It is relevant to you because, slowly but surely, musicians and producers like you are being encouraged (no doubt for insidious, shadowy purposes) to make music alone.

As a musically inclined person, it is now surprisingly easy to bypass all forms of direct human interaction when creating music. All the gear you need can be ordered online and delivered to your door. The gear in question can include virtual session players who can replace your friends or, if this isn’t good enough, you can virtually “jam” live online, via services such as eJamming, with other musicians around the world.

It’s only a matter of time before Native Instruments release a VST plug-in called “Rekord Kontrakt” that not only composes a song, plays all the parts, mixes and masters it, but also both submits the resulting track to a record company and generates a meticulously-modelled virtual rejection letter from said company, thus completing the process known only too well to many of us real musicians. Ultimately we lowly humans won’t be required to engage in the process whatsoever. Hooray! Er…

OK – this may be a little bit far-fetched – but it is true to say that every single part of the music production process can now be carried out “in the box”, alone in your room.

But can it really? Yes, the so-called “Communications Revolution” – the rise of the internet and (almost) instantaneous data sharing – has meant that we can share basic information that can be communicated digitally, but does this really apply to live music?

I would argue that it doesn’t, that no super-high-bandwidth information uberhighway, no cutting-edge online collaboration service, can match the immediacy of the communication involved when performing in a room with other players. Anyone who plays in a band will know that, at a good gig or practice, each band member communicates with the others via incredibly subtle signals – the nodding of a head, tapping of a foot, winking of an eye. So subtle are these signals, in fact, that the band members themselves may not even know that they are doing anything. Can we really expect a computer to pick this up? There is an almost magical instantaneity to this process, an instant psychic connection – no latency, not just “low latency” – and, for this reason, there is a great joy to it that cannot be replicated by computer based interactions, let alone by virtual accompanists, and the resulting music has depth, expression and soul.

Many home producers will know the feeling of emptiness that can accompany a day or evening of coming up with perfectly good musical ideas that just don’t seem to go anywhere. This is because music is a conversation – making it completely alone is like talking to yourself, and we all know where that leads…

So what? So stop playing with yourself (fnarr) and get out there and play with others (oo-er), meet like-minded (real, physical) musicians, hang out in your local music shop, go to jam sessions and engage with others, communicate with them and, as N.W.A. would say (or at least sample), express yourself. You will learn to communicate more effectively though your music and your music will thus undoubtedly become richer, more expressive and ultimately better.


By Alex Marten (Managing Director, Red Dog Music)

Originally featured in ‘Sound on Sound’ magazine.


Alex is the owner and founder of Red Dog Music, as well as being the keyboard player and guitarist in afro space-funk band Asazi Space Funk Explosion. His greatest non-musical achievement is having eaten 14 Weetabix in a single sitting.

About The Author

Red Dog Music

Dawsons Music is delighted to announce that the Red Dog Music brand is now part of the Dawsons family. This is an exciting opportunity to bring both communities together and create a stronger, wider network of people passionate about music gear. We both share a common heritage to support musicians throughout the UK and Dawsons want to support Red Dog Music customers in their continued musical journey.

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