Category Archives: Science

A robot walks into a bar…

Hey musicians,

How’s that day job? Well, it looks like the job market is going to continually get scarcer out there. Most musicians have a day job, and so this is not good news. It seems music isn’t the only thing going digital–so is everything else:  Robots are taking all the jobs.

This is a thought provoking article about how most jobs are becoming obsolete, due to automation.  They predict that income disparity will continue to spread, as blue collar jobs are replaced by machines and software, and white collar jobs will get whittled away. And the article describes how we will eventually move into a post-job economy, where there are almost no jobs where you are working for someone. But in the current economic system, the only way to patch up the problem is by continually expanding welfare–or change the economic system.

But, the only jobs that aren’t going away right now are tech jobs. So consider going into tech. You can be a system administrator, or you can be an A/V expert, or perhaps go into development or data warehousing or web development. Or you can go into marketing, or sales. Tech doesn’t mean you have to know how to code. And as a vendor, as opposed to a “permanent” employee, you still have a certain amount of freedom to pursue music. But beware: you still have to stay current in all the latest technologies. But you can do it. Go to IT Tech or something. I know you already geek out over instrument specs, and you may even geek out about the music business. And you will practice the same riff over and over, and you may even be able to read music. So you have it in you to geek out, learn new things, and understand abstract logical and mathematical theory–if you want to.

Then you can keep playing music, because it may not pay much but it does involve real breathing living feeling people.

And help me with a punchline to the joke in the title. :)

You are being replaced by a robot

There’s a really interesting article about how robots will continue to take our jobs. Basically anything repetitive is a target for being replaced by robots. The author points out that a robot doesn’t have to be as good as a human. It can be “good enough”, because it’s cheaper in the long term. For large corporations, this is how you compete. In software, automation is what separates good engineers from great (and lazy) engineers.

In the 1980’s, drummers were hit by the automation of digital percussion. A real cowbell was replaced by the 808 cowbell. A more human shuffle feel was replaced by abstract straight time with digital drums. Those changes were good enough for the gate keepers of the major studios and radio. The revolution was not only a new aesthetic of music, but it had the promise of cheaper music production. These days, we look back fondly on much of that as retro. Well, I certainly do. ;)

There are some good lessons here. For one, the digital revolution of the 80s was an example of how anything repetitive will be replaced by automation, i.e. robots. If it’s repetitive, a robot will learn to do it eventually. Today, even bands like Captured by Robots have actual physical robots replicating analog music in a live context. The songs are written, so why not automate them? It’s human nature to solve challenges to free our minds for more difficult ones. This is no different. Nothing wrong with that.

So we drummers have to remember what it means to be a human drummer. What sets us apart. What cannot be automated… yet. So let’s not fool ourselves: the shuffle feel is back in EDM. We’re starting to figure out how to automate the “soul” of a good drum feel. And at the moment, rock music is dying. Jazz has leveled out. Drums are turning into a folk instrument. EDM is the new reality, where one or two DJs automate all of it. We are becoming folk musicians.

We have to be smart now. If we want to play drums, we have to stay ahead of the robots, or differentiate. But how?

Do we learn to play like them? Probably. We certainly can’t be as technically proficient. So then what? Embrace chaos, randomness, entropy? Learn a song quicker than it takes to program for a one-off event? Become amazing performers, showing off feats of strength, coordination, and endurance? Become great improvisers? Write and perform music on the spot? Become seductive in both our looks and personalities? Have interactive performances? What else?

Or we evolve, and become drum robot managers.

Innovation in art

There is a great article about the areas in science and technology that are going to explode with innovation. Areas like biotechnology, AI, robotics, nanotech, etc.

What grabbed my attention is that there is an image (you have to click on it to enlarge it) that shows some interesting statistics about how companies that have an executive in charge of innovation tend to be successful with it. The reason they are successful is because they have a plan, and someone at the top is accountable.

How can we apply these lessons to our artistic personal growth? Are we haphazard about innovating in our art, or do we hold ourselves personally accountable for some kind of process for brainstorming, discovering, and integrating new artistic ideas?

I think this would go much farther than just subscribing to Modern Drummer.