Classic Techtalk

Guitarist, composer and academic consultant for Trinity College London-India, Mark Haydon, examines the multiple roles technology can play for the classical musician and composer, and explains why the digital platform is a space it is essential to occupy for them.

Over the past few years we have slowly seen orchestras being split into two camps: orchestras that continue to stick to tradition at all costs, and orchestras that perform in pop concerts in tandem with a band, with the objective of engaging a wider and larger audience. Hence, within the industry the purists are seen as being stuck in the past whilst the forward thinking ones are viewed as sellouts. Decades ago, another debate was over the impact of recording technology in classical music. One belief was that recordings depleted the pool of live concert viewers who, after buying a digital download or CD would not pay to hear the same orchestra live, while the counter-view was that recorded music supplemented and indeed, enriched the live listening experience by allowing for familiarity with a work.

Over half a century ago, the established convention of repeating the exposition in a work in sonata-allegro form often had to be abandoned because of certain limitations in the vinyl records. There were many reasons for that repeat, one being the establishing of a clear tonal landscape, and suffice it to say that, having to omit it was a black mark for yesterday’s technology!

Coming back to the present, it is apparent that the use of the term “technology in music’’ can mean different things to different people. For example, while a hip-hop music producer equates music technology with advances in music workstation development, or upgrades to DAWs etc, the classical musician may view technology as a new way of making violin strings or wireless microphones and in-ear monitoring in a concert hall!

One thing is clear – it is important for the classical musician to integrate technology not only in the artistic process but also the marketing and administrative processes. This will enable them to find their place in this digital age, and be more accessible to a wider audience.

Let us take a look at a few of the areas where technology can be of use and benefit to musicians from the classical side of the tracks! One of the problems of classical music compared to other genres such as popular music, is that the artistes tend to be perceived as a little less approachable and somewhat distant. The formal nature of the classical music stage drives that distance between performer and listener home, in no small measure. With the advent of Facebook and YouTube, the new generation of classical artists are coming closer to their audience through performances and talks on Facebook and YouTube. A case in point is the wonderful series of performances of the Beethoven sonatas by the brilliant young pianist, Boris Giltburg. The digital platform enabled him to enter our homes, and he deservedly received a huge viewership. Instagram helps artistes share their day with the audience, thus making an impact on our personal news flow. The global pandemic has made it quite clear that the virtual concert hall is a key place for audience development.

The good news for the composer/arranger of the present is that music composition apps are slowly replacing pencil and paper. Some of them also offer recording and editing features. While it’s beyond the scope of this article to give a detailed description of the numerous apps available, let’s see what some of the popular ones offer. Music Studio, is a powerful composing tool available for both iOS and Android. Its sound quality competes with desktop applications.

Noteflight is an application designed to be used by both smartphones as well as computers. The basic application is free while the premium version comes with a lifetime subscription fee. In technical terms it’s more of a software editor than an app. The features enable composers to write, play, and share their compositions. 

Scorecloud is a software for PC or Mac users, and offers composers a highly efficient tool for writing and sharing compositions. Musical Note Pad is an Android app which offers a quick way for composers to write simple scores on their smart phones. Symphony Pro is an iPad app for composers on the go! (I am irresistibly reminded of the teenage Schubert who had to draw the lines of the stave on blank paper, to pen his works of towering genius. What a waste of time for a genius who had such a tragically short life). And talking of sheet music, some of the best sheet music apps are Nkoda, ForScore, Newzik, Piascore, Power music, Symphony Pro, and I name only a few from the abundance that is out there.

Leveraging technology in the live concert space through live music promoters, is now essential for classical musicians. Streaming and social media platforms have become popular destinations to discover concerts. This empowers fans to buy tickets the moment they discover the show.

The tremendous impact technology has had on the music industry is evident through improved production, easier promotion, better distribution, increased accessibility, and advancement and emergence of new musical genres. The classical musician must firmly embrace this new world.

Mark Haydon is a guitarist, composer, sound designer and studio engineer, based in Ahmedabad, where he teaches at the Xavier Institute of Performing Arts. He is a founder-member of Hammersmith, one of India’s top rock bands of the 80s and 90s. Hammersmith were the first from Asia to have their compositions aired on MTV when the channel opened. Among his compositions are his setting to music of former President  of India Dr APJ Abdul Kalam’s poem ‘The Life Tree’, the music for Mallika Sarabhai’s ‘Devi’, and the music specially composed for ISRO’s Chandrayan launch. Part of Trinity College London-India’s Academic Support Team for music, he has his own youtube channel, and is an enthusiastic advocate of guitar synthesisers.