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Technology in Music: The Mura Masa Generation

Jack Barton looks at how the influence of technology on music production is shaping a new generation of musicians.

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Image Credit: Yoni Lappin, Jack Barton

Technology is everywhere. It influences our lives, from the YouTube we watch to the degrees we take.
So, how has technology changed the music industry? How has this age of constant connections and instant access changed how we consume and produce music? In answer to these questions, modern technology has made musical equipment easier to use, creation and production methods more accessible, and allowed for even those with no expertise to get involved in music.

An early technological stepping-stone for music came with the creation of the pianola, also known as the player’s piano. This was a self-playing piano and essentially an early version of the sequencer which grew from the late 1800s to early 1900s. The pianola signified a change from hitting a combination of notes on a piano and hearing the immediate feedback to being able to write and control the music without being an accomplished pianist. Therefore, it marked the first movement towards a more accessible musical environment. The barrier of cost remained, however, as only the very wealthy could afford such luxury.

The age of electronic instruments began with the mid- 1960s to the mid-1970s which were dubbed “the early years of the synthesizer” by Trevor Pinch and Frank Trocco, the authors of Analog Days. Synthesisers enabled new and interesting sounds to be made through changing analogue circuits and signals. Despite previous synthesisers existing since the 1920s, the new Moog synthesiser was different, it could be played in real-time on the keyboard; marking the first movement to real-time music production. However, this development came with drawbacks too; it was arguably too good at imitating instruments, threatening the livelihoods of session musicians, which eventually caused it to be banned from commercial use. The shift in accessibility was underway though, with the affordable Minimoog being released in the early 1970s at $1,595, which was far cheaper than the six-figure sums of previous synthesizers.

This brings us to the present day, where music production and consumption is at our fingertips, more available and affordable than ever before. Now, the increasing power and mobility of phones and laptops are ushering in a new age of music production.

It was with the 2004 Macworld Expo that things really picked up, when Steve Jobs announced GarageBand would be bundled for free with every Mac. “A major new Pro music tool, but for everyone” which would turn every Mac into a “complete recording studio”. Jobs showed how a midi keyboard and a mac was all it took to create a piece of music, and this approach to music production has only grown since then. What was once a mechanical piece of equipment is now something that can be downloaded from the internet onto a device in our pockets. Since the movement to music software, the new generation of music production continued to grow, with GarageBand being announced for iPhone in 2011 for just $6.99.

Mura Masa is a great example of how this transition has influenced modern music. This Guernsey-born musician, Alex Crossman, started creating music using Ableton Live on a laptop in his bedroom. A career defined by the digital age, it was YouTube and the internet where he found samples and inspiration. Furthermore, it was on SoundCloud that he first started uploading his tracks. The internet was also what brought him his success. Online blogs like Majestic Casual operated as collectives, highlighting new and upcoming music like his own. His songs started as beautiful amalgamations of samples from packs, warped with music software on a simple MacBook. The modern creative process is summed up in one of his most popular songs, ‘What if I Go?’ which is currently at over 70 million streams on Spotify and was produced on a train from London. The fact that a student can produce a commercially successful song on a train with nothing more than his laptop shows that music production has become more accessible than ever. The Mura Masa generation is essentially the new age of music production.

In a time where the internet and accessibility surround us, it is no surprise that stay-at-home studios are the new generation of music production and consumption. A movement that has only grown stronger since Mura Masa released ‘Lovesick’ and his Spotify subscribers tripled. Clearly, the online age of music is only growing.

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Image Credit: Universal Music

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