In our third talk with Ramir Martínez, producer and sound engineer and professor of Sound, Electronic Music Production and Live Performance at Microfusa, we had the opportunity to discover how different styles of popular music have evolved in recent years
More than 25 years of experience on the Microfusa faculty, an intense artistic career leading various pop and electronic rock bands and his work as a producer and sound engineer for groups such as Facto Delafé and Las Flores Azules or Mishima and remixer of Love Of Lesbian make Ramir the ideal person to analyze how different aspects of popular music have evolved in recent years.
With him we have talked about how the Internet has been the trigger that defined the new forms of distribution or how the laptop or the phenomenon of bed producers have revolutionized the means of production. Today, a bit by way of conclusion, Ramir tells us how all these changes have influenced the different styles of popular music, making them evolve.
Everything is related, right?
That’s right. If we look at the differences between the music of the 21st century and that of the 20th century, we realize that they depend on everything that we have talked about previously: distribution, production … on how music is made and how it is distributed.
And the keys?
Throughout the 20th century, when you wanted to be an artist there were a series of intermediary agents and specific material technological needs to be able to carry it out. In addition, the musical conception was basically concentrated in the group as a group of musicians and composers. Well, there have always been relevant soloists, but if we analyze popular music since the 1950s we will see that those soloists used to be accompanied by a group or a band to make the music live.
We have a lot of examples: In the 50’s, Bill Haley and The Comets, Buddy Holly, Little Richard or Elvis who, in short, was just a performer always accompanied by a group; in the 60’s, the Beattles, the Rollins Stones, the Who stand out, then comes the California era, groups like Credence, the hippy era; in the 70’s hard rock and then blues rock, … always trends based on groups. There were exceptions like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, but the popular music of the 20th century has always been largely communal.
During the 80’s and 90’s, the same dynamic was followed. In the 80’s punk stands out with groups like Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Dammed. Later, with techno-pop things changed a bit, but we didn’t find soloists either, just duos. During those years we can remember artists like Bruce Springsteen, but inseparable from his E-Street Band who were the ones who made the arrangements. Or soloists like Madonna or Prince who were always accompanied by groups that made music for them.
Although it is true, that the 80 ‘marked a turning point with a large number of soloists coming from the previous decade: Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Tina Turner, etc. To return later to the 90 ‘with a handful of artists who are based on the combo. We find many examples ranging from brit-pop (Oasis, Blur) to grunge (Nirvana, Pearl Jam).
However, it is in the 90’s when the concept of individualistic artist appears with DJs, lonely and self-sufficient guys. Although in reality many of the great electronic releases of the time are created by groups of two, three or more creators (Prodigy, Massive Attack). The same thing happens with pop or hardcore music, keeping the group trend.
How does change actually occur then?
It is from the first decade of this century when the authentically soloist trend begins to crystallize. Although on the one hand indie continues to be based on the group, in electronics and popular music the soloist is more and more soloist. And this evolution is due to two reasons: On the one hand there is the issue of production, the possibility that you can distribute a file over the Internet, without the need for physical support. On the other hand, the versatility of computers as systems to create music. An artist can create his models at home with a very small team.
During the second decade of this century, the phenomenon of bed producers, a paradigm of individualistic electronic music, spread to other groups of popular music. Thus, other styles, such as urban music for example, begin to focus above all on the soloist and we have artists such as Maluma, J Balvin, Rosalía; and in the Anglo world to Billy Ellish, Ariana Grande and others. In fact, if you think about relevant groups, they belong to previous decades that are still active and the bulk of the proposals is moving towards the individual proposal. Although that does not mean that because an artist opens his image to the public it does not mean that he is alone. There is a team behind but notoriety is not shared.
In short, we could say that, over the years, we have seen that, due to new technologies, we have gone from a collective concept of making music to an indiviudalista concept. And, in addition, it is a system that feeds itself. You see solo artists singing and doing their choreography on the Internet, that image is reinforced and your identity will only seek that artistic proposal.
But are we talking globally?
True, this would be a global perspective. At the local level things are not exactly like that. For example, here in Catalonia itself we can observe a very powerful trend of groups with very interesting proposals.
And music, at the level of form, how has it evolved?
Music are rhythms, they are chords… And in popular music it happens regularly that a new trend appears that uses simpler and simpler stylistic resources. This simplicity makes this new trend much easier to connect with younger people and to be quickly replicated. We are living the example of these last years with reggaetón. Its rhythm is simple, it is catchy, easy to dance and to copy.
But it is something that has already happened in previous decades with rock, techno or punk. All were styles whose initial themes were very similar. Partly because the rhythms were similar and because they simplified the harmony.
If you take a song between the 60s and 90s, it usually has a well-defined structure: verse and chorus, or chorus and verse… Any Beattles song, for example, used to always have two well-defined parts. Instead, current productions do something totally innovative by fusing the traditional song structure with the chord-free structures of electronic music and you come across tracks that consistently have the same chord progression. It seeks the simplification to the maximum of the harmony, the verse and the chorus, with the same notes and the same chords.
But this tendency to simplify has always existed among younger artists. Artists who make everything simpler and who want to get to the point. Thus was born simplifying punk, electronics arrived and simplified or we have indie that has been simplified by urban music.
The point is that, in general, two concepts have come together that have come to stay: On the one hand, the “democratization” of music. Many more people now have the ability to create and distribute their own music than a few years ago. And on the other hand the simplification of the musical forms. They are two related concepts that feed back into each other, they have been with us for ten years and so far they have not changed and it seems that they are here to stay.
In other words, by way of summary, that it is so simple is amplified by new means of production and distribution that make musical creation available to many more people. In addition, this situation that we are currently experiencing, with confinements, further favors the trend of musical individualism. Yes, we have seen remote collaboration initiatives, but the true general trend is that of the lonely creator… It is a sign of what the 21st century will be like on a musical level.
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