Non-traditional Music Making, Generative Music, & Loops
Generative music - non-traditional music making using loops - could be seen as a musical process that's not legit. It's a very popular belief that in order to be an effective music producer, you need to know how to play an instrument and read music. Being a (well-rounded) musician has allowed us to witness some of the most profound and iconic producers to enter the industry. You got Imogen Heap, Jacob Collier, We Are KING, Kimbra, Chloe Bailey, Anderson .Paak, the list goes on. Many of these producers are masters at the instrument(s) they play, and utilize that expertise into their music.
Imogen Heap, for example, is a classically trained pianist. Though the use of her playing the piano is the foundation of her songs, her producing expertise allows her to use different sounds recorded from her everyday life - sometimes, even warped sounds of the piano keys - to imitate those melodies/harmonies and create an electronic heaven of sound.
Then there's Jacob Collier. Who is, what I like to call, a "master of all trades" type of musician. It seems like he can play any and every instrument under the sun. And, just like Heap, has great expertise in musical production that allows him to not only utilize his musicianship, but to warp it and turn it into a magical soundscape that surpasses anyone's imagination.
Amazing producers like Jacob and Imogen can make the non-traditional music producer hesitant to share how they make/produce their own music. Let's face it. The vast majority of music lovers have a big appreciation for producers/artists that write and/or play their own music. The overuse of loops/samples can be draining for a music listener. And most believe it's not a "real" way to make music. So, the question is, how do non-traditional music producers make a space for their unique craft to exist without getting scrutinized? Simple.
Do it afraid!
Though they may not be talked about or mentioned as much as others, there are music producers who don't fit the mold when it comes to making music. The greatest example is Brian Eno. Back in the late 70's, Eno was the one who pioneered the term "ambient music" with his album, Ambient 1: Music for Airports. Although this specific genre already existed, Eno's album was the first to actually be labeled under that category!
Eno's purpose behind making this album was to diffuse the chaotic atmosphere airports usually held. His interpretation of ambient music, believe it or not, came about through an accident that left him bed-ridden for a while. While recovering, a friend of his brought him an album of harp music. But, while listening to it, the volume was set so low that Eno could only hear the loudest parts of the music.
This, partnered with the sound of rain beating against his window, left him immersed in a gentle and musical experience. It led him to experience music as something that could easily exist in an everyday moment. This led to the making of the album; arranging tape loops of different lengths into four compositions. This music-making technique eventually helped popularize generative music!
Generative music brings an element of chance into traditional composition, and uses technology as a key tool to produce randomized music. Eno used this term in '95 to describe music that was ever-changing and created by a system. With the way technology has evolved down through the years, especially in music, generative music has evolved right along with it. There are DAWs of all kinds that hold sound libraries within their system to help with making music. And artists utilize them in their music.
Take Dirty Loops, for example. They're a Swedish band whose arrangements are a mixture of jazz/jazz fusion, gospel, funk, electronica, pop, and disco. But what makes them so unique are the loops they utilize in their songs. A loop they used in one particular single of theirs, "Work Sh*t Out", is the foundation of the entire song (and one I coincidentally found while scrolling through the loop library of Logic Pro X). Though this loop only stays on the 1 (the dominant chord in a key), the band uses it to play different modes and scales from that loop's set key signature, taking you on a musical adventure that you never want to escape from!
Funnily enough, my dad introduced me to this band. Being a bass player himself, he fell in love with their bassist, Henrik Linder. And rightly so! After "discovering" them, my parents and I spent the next couple months going down the rabbit hole of listening to every song they had officially released. They were added to my list of musical inspirations, right under Beyoncé, Kimbra, and Imogen Heap. Artists like them, with Brian Eno laying the foundation, inspired me to make music the "non-traditional" way, but to also take it a step further.
Have you ever heard of a song being made entirely out of loops?
I'm talkin' a completely digital composition - no live instrumentation, no external recording through an interface (unless you want to sprinkle in some vocals). That's how I make my music. But listening to it for the first time, without any prior knowledge of the process, you wouldn't even know! The music I make wouldn't be considered ambient by any means. While loops are used, they're not put together in a way that would be described as something continual. It's the type of music you'd hear when going on an adventure to a new world - a place that's never been discovered until you showed up. It's the type of music that feeds your wildest imagination.
One of my songs, "We Made It", is one that I hold very close to my heart. It's the first track I worked on for my EP, The Dances of Us, and it features one of the most important people in my life - my dad. This song was made entirely out of loops (give or take a few built-in MIDI tracks to help add depth).
The composition behind this track is completely digital. That's how all of my songs are made, which is why I refer to myself as a digital composer. However, the sequence of the song is quite different than Brian Eno's ambient music compositions. Instead of continual music that puts you in a trance, my music - this track in particular - serves as more of a soundtrack to your life. I draw a lot of inspiration from movie scores and game soundtracks. I always loved how instrumental music could tell a story without having to have a singer paint the picture. I longed to make music like that, but digitally. And after a few years of honing in on my music-making niche, The Dances of Us - EP was created.
At the end of the day, no one can tell you how to make the music you've always envisioned yourself making. While there are a number of people who believe that there's a right and wrong way to make music, others like Brian Eno have proven that music, in itself, isn't a traditional thing. And since that's the case, why make something extraordinary in such a mundane way? All it takes is a leap of faith and that first step to, eventually, change the very landscape of everything you thought you knew!