I began reading Mohamed Sadek’s piece A Musician’s White Whale: Perfectly Recreating the ‘Funky Drummer’ Beat with piqued interest as a music maker, session musician, composer, etc. and was, initially, positively intrigued. But as I read on I became less so, increasingly frustrated then ultimately somewhat frustrated with some of the more nascent but now seemingly established aspects within the state of what once was an industry vibrantly comprised of creative players who convene to physically make original magic.
During the largely prevailing process of recording music in that heretofore "classic" era, an ideal was pursued by each session participant. A respectful and respective appreciation, veneration and appropriation of numerous influences within the cultural canon were part of what comprised a collectively inspired performance-based ensemble effort. I find the new laboratory-like process of seek, scan, scroll, review, formulate, emulate and import of existing sounds to be quite the anathema to that collaborative spirit. It's cold and overly calculated and I doubt that the brand of joy in achieving it's aspired result is anywhere near that found and shared at the completion of a recorded physical live ensemble performance.
Production processes have steadily and constantly changed due to innovations, adaptations, fashion/style trends etc., then propelled and echoed by larger economic concerns. But, to me, the most brilliant innovators and pioneers (such as the oft cited and reasonably artistically worshiped Clyde Stubblefield) were bringing their own body, mind, heart and soul to render something truly original, albeit informed by vast and myriad influences, such as ever was the case.
Rap and Hip-Hop brought sampling into the process, which led to further “needle-drop” tactics that were, and are still, exciting within the paradigm of anything becoming art, with and to which I truly agree and occasionally subscribe. Digital recording has accommodated further and admirable “democratization” of music creativity with prerecorded loops that undoubtedly allow less-funded and otherwise under-resourced artists to create on a higher, daresay, competitive level.
I am a proponent of creativity for its own sake, live and let live, live and let play. But I’m also an advocate for Fair Play/Fair Pay, and have been to Capitol Hill lobbying for the rights of my fellow musicians who’ve been historically screwed out of the performance royalties that US terrestrial radio had never been required to pay, based on a legal loophole unchanged since the 1920’s. Those and other efforts have been somewhat successful despite, perhaps due to, the confluence of transitions in market paradigms precipitated by non-unit based sales, digital streaming and subscription platforms. These developments--beginning in the mid 1990's--and the opportunistically manipulative measures that ushered them to the fore have been the culprit for a tragically decimated income stream for songwriters and musicians. Maybe not as much for deejays, but that’s another story.
There are, however, forensic aspects of re-conditioning recorded music that have always been
fascinating, as any conversation with a “remastering” engineer will bear
out, especially those who technically revitalize or restore older, deteriorating
ad/or primitively recorded pieces (hello Smithsonian Folkways).
But when this current "blueprint the lick" niche market emerges (and I’m surely not intending to disparage anyone’s admirable work ethic here, much less those that are cultural and arts-based) whose very existence was born from the sonic pursuit of a “more affordable” requisition option other than the statutory norm, thus enabling the "client/buyer/creator" to sidestep higher fees and royalties that would be paid to the owner of the master recording (which would perhaps but alas, probably not-- eventually trickle down to the artists, players, producers, etc.) then proceeds elaborately, intricately further by laboriously recreating as many nuanced aspects of that original artistic expression as possible, the line from homage-like dedication is thereby brazenly crossed into the realm of “just business”-based cultural appropriation and exploitation (all artistic admiration notwithstanding).
I, for one, have repeatedly seen my own work as writer, arranger and player become part of a larger licensed income stream for other business entities. I've seen musical notes that required reverent artistic deliberation and many hours formulating, creating and expressively performing end up as commercially marketed sheet music, the proceeds from which I saw nary a cent. These situations aren’t rare. Artist's recording deals are signed and recording sessions (contracted and not) eagerly occur, but by the time the lucrative “back-end” is in someone else’s pocket, any efforts to reclaim some rightful share would require lawyers, energy and time. As many a struggling (most are) artist might attest, we’ve got more creative things to do. The litigious process can not only sap one’s muse, it can eat one's spirit along with other more wisely spent resources.
In light of all this, I here read of a fellow musician, surely with formidable talent and craft, admirably profiled for his entrepreneurial spirit and industrious efforts in recreating/re-manufacturing/reselling what someone else has already created, thus achieving a conveyable facility that surgically removes its original purveyors, or their survivors, from any potential income rendered from its use.
On the one hand, it’s quite impressive but on the other, it sheds a scorchingly unbecoming light on our increasingly normalized and lamentably vampiric era. Whose hands made that exact music in the first place?