What is a personal voice in music composition?


We all agree that technology has advanced our lives in ways unimaginable a few years ago. One wouldn’t even want to think how life would be without the web, tablets, GPS, tweets every couple of seconds, a sequencer for composers or Sibelius (if you are still one of us who actually write notes on paper…)

Back in the 18th or the 19th century one would have to wait for a concert in order to listen to some music. Later on, the wealthy ones could afford a gramophone and a few records per year maybe. Now, you just go to YouTube, and you have all the music of the world instantly waiting for you to enjoy it… for free, if I may add…

Fifty years ago a composer would write for years not knowing if he will ever be able to listen to how his notes sound with an orchestra… now a days you just buy some VST instruments and you immediately know if what you’ve composed makes sense or if it has any emotional impact. If you then try harder, you may develop this craft further and make your efforts with the VST instruments sound that close to real orchestras that even you wouldn’t know which of your recordings are real and which not.

This is all nice and good, so what’s the problem?

Well… you start to realize that there is a problem when you find that all this plethora of sounds just do not give you a strong enough reason to go search for some new music…

I have to force myself most of the times to search for new works, and I do it because I am a composer and I have to know what’s new at any point in time…

Why do I become anorexic in our music these days? Is it only my problem? Am I becoming a snobbish individual like the ones I always said to myself to avoid?

Maybe, but I think there is also a few other reasons for it.

I speak mainly about Soundtrack music which is basically my prime art-form but one could see analogies in other art-forms if he looks closely.

The fact that cinema works with ‘symbolism’ and ‘typecast’ (and I do not mean the archetypes which is a good thing), although always something to try to avoid, was and is part of every professional’s life. People in the industry understand each other better if they give examples… of work previously done, and done successfully. So, it is not necessarily a bad thing, only you always have to avoid sounding very much like somebody else, even if this is many times implied by directors and studios…

But now, I think we are in a whole new era. New composers (and some of the old ones) are so over-exposed to the works of others that there is a danger that we all grow a similar taste… I need to listen really hard to identify a composer’s voice these days, if he has one. I need to search behind and below his orchestrational techniques (if he has orchestrated himself that is), which are very similar to so many others, search behind the ‘popular’ epic elements in counterpoint and then see what’s left… if there is anything left…

Most of the times there is only a ‘packaging’ of wild orchestration and ‘pre-selected’ rhythmical structures of several lines that only try to sound big and over-produced. If you strip this down… there is very little left…

And I’ve met several composers saying that they prefer ‘sound-scapes’ to themes because themes are one-dimensional… what a hypocritical way to say that they can not write a descent theme…

Or that themes are ‘musical’ statements and like all statements they can be bold, they can be stupid, they can be great… but once they are clear statements people remember you for that… while all sound-scapes in all their glory of vagueness will be forgotten even before the film is finished…

But is this something studios demand? Possibly yes. Is it because the composers like it? Hmm… I do not know… I tend to think that if we all listen to the same music all day long, we will all think the same way (musically or otherwise). And this is the problem!

When you search in search engines of any type, the engine suggests ‘similar’ products. That’s the only way an algorithm can predict what you might like and possibly buy… there is no algorithm that could diversify your musical knowledge, because everything is ‘tagged’ with meta-data that places it in little small boxes ready for a software robot to deliver when the customer appears and with no mistakes, which means well within your already known choices… So, when you listen to something in YouTube, you only get similar suggestions… and this can be from ‘plain boring’ to ‘very dangerous’ if you are a composer…

And this is true everywhere… I do not want to start naming websites because people will think I am trying to create bad publicity for them. And to be honest, I do not blame them because I couldn’t have thought of any other way for doing their job, if I had to do it myself.

All I’m asking is: could someone change the song please?

I need to listen to something different. And do not get me wrong: I do not mean all the atonic avant garde stuff that people fell for in the 20th century… ‘the difference for the difference’, ‘art pour art’ and so on… I mean a truly different, clear voice in music composition. I know some out there already start saying ‘this is not true, have you heard this and this?’ chances are I have, but even if I haven’t my point still stands: with all this music accessible to all of us, how can it be that we all listen to similar things? And take it a step further: produce similar things?

I think it becomes more and more difficult to diversify because the whole world has now become one little society, and we share everything… (that sounds so much nicer than reality) … I mean it in a bad way…

Stop listening through the ‘search a likes’ way of thinking if you can.

And you, fellow composers out there: let’s all try to enhance our own inner voice more… this is needed more than ever now a days… I know it’s hard…