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.

2 Replies to “You are being replaced by a robot”

  1. Robotic and automated drums can achieve perfection but I don’t think they can deliver the spontaneous passion of an actual drummer. Of course some drummers could wind up going into robotics.

    1. Seems like it will get harder and harder to deliver spontaneous passion that exceeds that of automation. Perhaps all the free live performances on youtube could be used as training data for spontaneous passion algorithms. I get what your saying, so I guess what I’m getting at is that it will take longer and longer to get any payoff for learning to play drums. But, I suppose it is always fun to go watch your buddy perform…

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