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Dear Little Bobby,
I have seen lots of bands who rely so much on electronics, effects and other technologies that their songs seem to be an afterthought. Many “artists” no longer put any effort into crafting songs, or being able to play an instrument. They just use a drum machine and Autotune. Are songwriting and musicianship dead? Or am I a “has been” for thinking that this new effects-heavy music sucks?
—Enough Effects Already
Dear Enough Effects Already,
While I agree that too many individuals and groups rely on technology to the detriment of their music, there are entire genres of music which are solely based on electronics or other kinds of technology. When the electric guitar was invented it was immediately demonized. (Decades later when I was growing up, I was STILL being told that certain kinds of music were “Satanic” and “demonic” and blah blah blah…but I’ll save my stories about the religious bullshit which permeated my childhood for another week.)
When I was a first learning how to play guitar, I thought it was so cool to use effects to make one note sound so different, or to make one note sound like several notes, or to make one note sound like it was being played over and over. To some extent, it did sound cool. However it also limited my ability as a musician because I relied on the effects to make a certain sound while ignoring how to better play the instrument. In my case, I was being lazy.
Years ago, when I first started playing in a local band here in Albuquerque, there was a band called The Oktober People, a quartet made up of a drummer, a bass player and two guitar players. The guitar players each had pedal boards the size of suitcase, and so did the bass player. Each of them had the typical rack of pedals such as distortion, reverb, delay, wah-wah—plus a LOT more, maybe 15 or 20 pedals in each rack, allowing them to alter the sounds so just one note would continue, morph, then continue, and change and wah-wah, and loop, and repeat.
As far as local bands went, The Oktober People were known for their effects pedals. When my band would get together for practice and our guitar player would use more than one pedal we would point and laugh and say things like, “Get a load of him! He thinks he’s in Oktober People!” The thing is, I did not hate their music. Some of it was quite good and they were accomplished musicians to boot. But despite their good music and abilities, I always wanted to hear their “songs” more. I wanted to hear the result of their songwriting, not necessarily the result of them playing their equipment, and yes, there is a difference.
With all of that being said, I LOVE the music of bands like Pink Floyd, Electric Light Orchestra and Queen which extensively used effects not only on their guitars but all over the damn place. They used the technology of the studio as its own instrument to be played. However the bands I just mentioned also had great songs. They had lyrics which still resonate with their audiences. They used chord changes which impress people who study music, while remaining accessible to the general public. On the whole, they are known for the composition and performance of their songs, with effects and technology taking a backseat.
It does not matter how prevalent technology is, whether it is studio trickery, guitar pedals or just the fact that an electric guitar is a piece of technology, even it is played in a bare-bones fashion. Because unless you are blowing into an actual bone, you are probably using technology. Even the acoustic guitar had to be invented and built. You are not a “has been” unless you cut yourself off from the world around you. Yes there is a lot of music which relies too much on technology, but I dislike boring and generic music whether it is created with the latest technology or not.
—Little Bobby Tucker
“I fell asleep and lost my sense of time | But the waitress was so kind.” —The Oktober People, “Cheap Hotel On The Side Of The Road” 2004