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Keeping up with technology – how to keep up to date with new technology to enhance practice by James Stanley (Lead Musician on Quench Arts’ Wavelength project)

My opinion is to think of technology as simply another way of making music - just another instrument. How would you stay up to date with your guitar playing? Or your vocal technique? Or your rhythmic skills on the drums or other percussion? Most likely it’s with a routine of practise and with a knowledge of new trends and ideas. Whether you’re a classical musician, a heavy metal artist or anything in between - do you look for new composers, artists and bands who are pushing the boundaries of your favourite genre? Do you look for ways to recreate this, perhaps by learning the pieces yourself? Or by using it to influence the music you make? Even if it’s not on a conscious level - we all do it. It is a positive thing!


When working with others, do you make an effort to do the same thing for the music that you know that group is passionate about? If you work with young people, do you have a list of chord structures for popular songs? Have you learnt specific parts from these songs that you can pass on to others? Have you learnt how to accompany a young person who is interested in rap music on an acoustic guitar even though you yourself might choose to play in a folk style? All of this can, as we’re all well aware, really enhance your practice.


So how does this apply to our ‘instrument’ of technology? How do we keep up to date? Here are my tips.


The first step is to implement a regular routine of practise - just as you would any other instrument. Learn how to do things faster, more efficiently, how to make things sound better and so on. This will help not only with productivity in the sessions you lead themselves but also will help you become more confident with the programs you are using.


Secondly, be influenced by what’s popular at the moment, thinking specifically of the audience that you want to reach. What kind of synth sounds do you hear on Radio 1? How do you recreate those when you’re using technology? What sort of drums sounds are used on a HipHop track and how do they differ from a Grime track? How are the vocals processed on the latest big pop record? All of these questions relate whether you’re using technology in a recorded setting (inside a computer’s Digital Audio Workstation) or in a live setting with tech based instruments like iPads or synthesizers. If you don’t know the answer, time for more practise! Go in depth until you know what you have to do to change a sound in a specific way or until you can recognise a specific drum sample or pattern.


Keeping up to date with technology doesn’t mean you have to be constantly upgrading or changing gear. You don’t have to buy a new guitar every time a new song comes out that you want to play. You just have to learn to use it differently. The likelihood is that you already have the tools for achieving pretty much anything! That’s the wonderful thing about how much music technology has changed in the last 10 years. Apps like GarageBand separate their sounds and loops into different styles and genres to make it easy to grasp the basics of things. Talk to other musicians about things that they’re doing, share sounds and knowledge – if you know someone who works in a particular style – pick their brains! YouTube has a whole host of informative videos on very specific subjects such as, ‘how to make a bass sound like The Chainsmokers…’. The internet has a wealth of information if you have the time to explore it and honestly, you can learn a lot about music technology by even just listening to Radio 1 in the car on the way to work, even if it’s not your usual preference!    


If you make the most of the resources available to you and put in the practise, then you’ll find yourself with up to date skills and a confidence that you can walk into a room and engage with any individual or group in a style that they find engaging and inspiring.