What do you think the next decade holds in music?


#1

I saw a video recently by Noire et Blanc vie (great synth youtuber if you haven’t heard of him) where he pulled an article from 10 years ago predicting what is now the last 10 years of music. And he looked at what they got right and wrong, then at the end asked viewers to come up with their own 10 things they think the next decade might hold for music. I did that in a word document and it was far too long to post in a youtube commend (literally, they said to cut it to like 40% of what I had). So I figured this might be a cool topic to discuss here among a bunch of forward-looking producers. Below is the paper I typed:

My predictions for the next 10 years of music technology/business are:

  1. Stereo synths trickle down – Right now, there isn’t much out there in the way of cheap synths that can do stereo sound – and I mean true stereo in at least the filters, if not more of the synth’s architecture. Look at the hardware that can do it today and I don’t think you see anything out there under $2,000 USD that can do stereo sounds. The list is pretty exclusive: Moog Matriarch, Waldorf Quantum/Iridium (with some limitations), Prophet X, and UDO Super 6. That list reads like a who’s who of top dollar synths in production today. Even most of my VSTs don’t have an inherently stereo signal path until you get to effects. And I didn’t think I would care about this until I got a Super 6 about a month ago. Since it came in, I’ve been doing sound design on it at least a few minutes a day. I sat down to make some samples today and I needed Harmor, a mighty softsynth in its own right that can do many, many things that a Super 6 cannot. And within half an hour I was missing the stereo signal path of the Super 6. I was able to fudge my way through my sound with a significant amount of auto-panning and automation to try and add some stereo movement before FX. But even with half a dozen automation lanes and several harmonics moving around in the sound, it just wouldn’t jump out of the speakers at me in the same way that a simple sound will on the Super 6. I imagine as this sound starts to get used in music, more people are going to want access to it and sellers of softsynths and hardsynths are going to bring stereo signal paths to the masses.

  2. Spacial Audio is going to be a big deal – This is my catch all for simulated surround sound and audio in VR/AR that will need to be more spacially aware than simple stereo mixes can be. What for? I already mentioned VR/AR, but this kind of tech may make its way into more common listening systems as well. If I’m not mistaken, Apple’s newest Airpods Pro/Max/Whatever has some spatial audio options, where it can simulate the mix actually being projected in front of you, and then turning your head will keep the mix in front of your body and let you balance the mix more into the left or right ear. The Playstation 5 is selling special headphones to make the most of its newfangled ray-traced audio. Maybe this will be a passing fad like 3-D was in home theater last decade, or maybe in 10 years we’ll all be worrying about surround and virtual sound compatibility of our mixes as much as we do mono compatibility.

  3. Live music is going to change big-time – I don’t mean that live music is going to end, or that I expect there won’t still be some musicians who make the majority of their living by gigging/touring, but I think this is going to be harder than it has been in a long time to break out of your local scene and tour widely. I don’t think the world is going to forget about COVID quickly, nor will all our governments be quick to relax social distancing rules. Will big festivals still happen? One of the more common goals in electronic music is to just get on the festival circuit, where pre-pandemic you could basically play festivals year-round and make good money if you were big enough. If the festival scene shrinks, to some people that’s like taking away Formula 1 and saying that the highest tier of show you can play now is Formula 2. How restricted are clubs going to be, and for how long? A lot of clubs were barely hanging on before, how many will survive the drought, and will they be able to turn a profit with new rules that likely limit capacity? And none of this is to mention the support industry behind tours, everything from equipment rental, catering, logistics, costumes, choreography, and all the labor that makes all that possible. How many of these people have had to leave the industry they love and might not return. Personally, I know a chef who had to quit cooking earlier this year. He sells furniture now, which sounds terrible. In fact though, he finds that even though he doesn’t love it, he makes more money and has much, much better hours. And he still cooks for himself and his family, good as ever. He says there’s a strong possibility he will never be a chef again, and he’s OK with that. If the tour support industries erode in this way, will we be able to put on anywhere near the number of shows that we did pre-COVID? Will they be able to look like what they did before? I doubt it, but only time will tell.

  4. On the flip-side, virtual shows/clubs may become much more common – Building off of points 2 and 3, if in person shows are too expensive and unsafe, and virtual audio is going to get better and better, then why not take the show to your home? We’ve already seen zoom/skype/twitch/youtube shows try and fill the gap that live performances have left in our nightlives. And you know what? For the early days of using technology that was never designed to send musical performances live around the world without latency, it’s going pretty well. This probably serves some genres better than others, but I’ve seen everything from Jazz to Punk to EDM (and all of these put on by local groups) trying out the live-stream show format, and all of them were a joy to be a part of (in one case as a mixer, the other two just an audience member). And for myself, I got into making music because I had a dream of playing live in a certain way that was not going to make financial sense until I had tens of thousands of people paying to see me play. And now, that might never be allowed to happen. So instead, I can take my obscenely complex stage ideas to a virtual show and have some artists make the exact environment I want in VR, while still being able to deliver the sound that I want, and not having to run miles of cable around a jostling crowd to make it happen. In a way, this could be a frontier for performance where we can synthesize a space on the fly, with a different stage for each song, or even each section (or maybe each viewer?). Perhaps fans will gather en virtual masse, or maybe they’ll go to a small stage with a group of friends, or maybe each fan will get what feels like a one-on-one intimate show, even if there’s 100,000 people watching.

  5. We’re going to pay even more attention to what Apple, Spotify, Facebook, Google, etc. are doing – Maybe I’m late to the party on this one, I just got on Spotify about a month ago to add my own music to the service as an artist. And already, I have been sucked into a rabbit hole of running ads on various services to try and point people who I genuinely think would like my music at my music. And already in that month, things have changed. Apple’s new policy that prevents cross-app tracking on IOS (or something to that effect) is going to change how the ads for my music work on Facebook on IOS. I think this is just the start of what is going to change on the internet ad giants this decade. Facebook and Google were both hit with antitrust lawsuits by the federal government last month, which will likely take years to play out. But the results could be huge. Imagine a Google that doesn’t own Adsense, or a Facebook that has to found a competitor and migrate half its user-base to them. These business decisions and lawsuits affect the way our music is advertised, where and how it can be found, and ultimately who has a chance to hear it. Oh yeah, and Spotify? They’re running their own ads on the platform now, which you can buy similar to Google’s or Facebook’s, so just add Spotify to the ad mix as well as the streaming services you need to hit.

  6. Digital interfaces for physical gear – Computers are an essential part of most studios today. And many artists coming up over the past few decades are learning how to make music on computers first (and staying there). And, would you believe that on many synthesizers the most expensive parts are the knobs, switches, and buttons? So what if we made a blank slab of synthesizer and controlled it from the computer? It’s been done before, but with software like Elektron’s Overbridge, we could be in for a more tightly interconnected setup like this than ever before, for a more affordable budget (both in terms of space and money). McDSP is also experimenting with this idea with their APB line, and Eventide has the H9000R in addition to their standard H9000 unit. The pieces are floating around out there, but they seem to be more fringe devices and use cases up to this point. I think a good touch screen interface and some well-coded apps would go a long way to making this more common for a lot of manufacturers. Think a more affordable version of Slate’s Raven or Acustica’s Modula, but for more than just consoles and channel strips that can record automation for all the controls to a DAW. Perhaps an industry standard will develop around a few control surfaces and all manufacturers will work to similar standards.

  7. Owning less of your software (and maybe your hardware) – Subscription plans and rent-to-own models are here to stay. Whether it’s the Slate everything bundle, a Roland Cloud subscription, or Pro Tools subscription plans, they can represent great value for money if you really use all those plugins. And the developers like the recurring stream of predictable revenue, which is much better at funding development than selling a bajillion copies of your software once every other year when you do a major version update. I’m personally not a fan of these systems, but they make a lot of sense in the professional space – subscriptions eat up a small part of your monthly expenses, but in exchange they are again, predictable, and you are guaranteed good support and the latest versions of all your softwares with all the bugfixes, performance optimizations, and security features. And for a more enthusiast class, they can be a great way to try before you buy, see exactly what you do and do not need for as long as you like before you commit to purchasing what you want a license for. And hardware? Access Analog is up and running now – they pipe sound you send them over a network and run it through their primo analog hardware safe at their HQ for a small fee, then send you back the processed audio. Suddenly, you don’t have to settle for the best Fairchild emulation around if a Fairchild is what you want. We’ll see how that goes, but more likely to be widespread is the use of AI tools in music, which may or may not be able to run locally on your computer. You might buy an AI mixing tool in the next few years that is actually a license to run a certain amount of data through a company’s servers with an AI on board that will process your audio in some new way currently unimaginable. Google has given us glimpses of what these tools might look like, things like resynthesizing a convincing violin from scratch with only a few tens of hours of training. You might not be able to “own” tools like this, but just having access to them is a possibility that I am excited for.

  8. AI in music – I don’t have much to say here. AI is kind of already in music production, whether it be in Izotope’s mix and master assistants, some of their RX modules, or Google’s free AI tools that you can mess around with. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say this will become more widespread, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the first free AI plugins hit the web by the middle of the decade. I think the only surprising thing might be how fast AI becomes a standard part of the workflow. Maybe someone will do a neat-o AI-based synthesis method.

  9. Return of Indies? – I’d say this is more of a hope than something I’m really sure is going to happen, but between the COVID putting a damper on huge shows with superstar talent headlining just about every week of the year, and the shifting ground in the ad space that I mentioned in points 3 and 5, I think labels might lose some of their marketing power. Kind of like the 2006-2010 or so era for blogs and early social media letting some acts that might not have had a shot otherwise get onto the radars of many (there’s a genre called blog-house for pete’s sake!), I think the combination of COVID and the move to virtual shows and the antitrust suits against the de-facto online gatekeepers might be enough to let the independent artists have another day in the sun. I know, for myself, that I am and have been part of a music forum for years, and I love it, it’s my favorite online community by far. Facebook has been pushing groups as a way to keep people coming back to the platform, and even easier than making a Facebook group or your own forum (though neither is that difficult) is making a Discord server. I run around in music groups of all three types, and they cater well to my specific tastes. I don’t just listen to house, I don’t just listen to deep house, I listen to lo-fi deep house as posted by Slav on youtube. And there’s a discord for that. I wonder if other people won’t be discovering similarly niche genres and curators while working from home and going directly to them rather than to a broad genre or label. If that happens in large numbers, it would be another flourishing for indie artists of all kinds, I’m sure.

  10. There will still be music, and there will still be a music industry with niches waiting to be filled – I feel like after talking so much about what might change over the next decade, it’d be nice to end by saying that people will still be making new music in 10 years. Some will even be getting paid for it. There will still be people who’s passion is organized noise, who think this might just be their ticket to easy street, or who would give anything to make the sounds in their head come out the way they want so that other people can understand. And I feel pretty confident in saying you won’t believe it’s already been 10 years when we get there.


#2

Wow @White_Noise that’s quite an essay. You make a lot of good points and you’ve introduced me to a few new subjects and lines of inquiry.

I do believe there will be a shift towards more music being shared remotely and less emphasis on live venues. It seems that was already happening in a smaller way before Covid.

I would like to believe that will result in more variety and experimentation… and also result in the actual live events being more about the uniqueness of that experience, versus the experience of just hearing music in one’s personal bubble.

I’m rambling but suffice it to say you’ve given some food for thought. :pray:


#3

I fear that the exact opposite will happen. All the people earning money with events before have extreme problems. The only ones who do not have to worry are a few very big players, well-known artists, often connected to politics and/or subsidies in some form.

I think one reason that people go to regional shows with unknown artists (or completely without artists, just for people to dance and meet and stuff) is to meet other people and experience artists directly. In the virtual realm, everything is magnetized by some big artists with corporate support and the like.

In this respect I am also not very confident. Covid seems to increase most forms of inequalities, I don’t see any reason to assume that it will be different for small-time artists. With increasing economic pressures, people will have to think twice about starting a career in music and so on… Without live shows, small-time musicians often can’t earn enough money with music alone.


#4

A Throwback to a more organic sound imo…
Meaning moar tape machine usage combined with advanced post processing and sampling.


#6

Yeah, I’ve been looking at Deckard’s Dream, because a man can dream can’t he?

Anyways, I came across this patch manager for the synth. But, kind of along the lines of Overbridge, you can also control the synth from your DAW, and even add extra modulation from within the DAW (expanding the hardware’s capabilities in a sort of hybrid way). I’ve seen this done before, but again, this just works inside your DAW and really blurs the line between VST and hardware. And this is not from some big company, this is a boutique brand that probably sells synths in the hundreds per year. I expect stuff like this to be the norm when it comes to hardware synthesizers of the future (or at least I hope it is). From this, and again, that McDSP APB line, it’s not a far cry to imagine a synthesizer without a front panel controlled only through software. Anyways, I just thought this was a really cool example of what I hope will just be taken for granted in the future.


#7

Do you think that someone will start making some kind of tape machines again or some kind of tape-based effect boxes? From what I know when I looked into the cost of getting a tape machine that will actually do something worthwhile to the sound was very cost prohibitive even buy a decent tape machine. Then you pretty much had to plan on having some cash to get it tuned up, some cash to buy tape, and that one should expect repair and maintenance costs.

Or do you mean like cassette and more easily accessible stuff? I played with that an awful lot and it was kind of a huge time suck with moderate to awful results. I mean tried everything from track something to cassette to track a string of samples and then cutting them up and loading them into a sampler.

We are kind of in a hardware renaissance right now (spoiled for choice and price, you can buy three Behringer remakes for the cost of one Dave Smith analog keyboard).

I’m curious to know more about what you mean by organic : )


I can’t even begin to make a guess myself. I don’t spend a lot of time actively seeking new music, I’m always like five years behind.


#8

Not sure about the gear but the sound my guess would be something like this performance

And something like delia derbyshire


#9

Thinking about the future of music with what’s going on now is terribly distressing to me. But covid might have the opposite effect actually: this situation made clear to me that we need live events and I feel it even created a need for the arts to exist outside of the standard insitutional circuit, either through outdoors performances or performances in places that aren’t necessarily designed for hosting live music.
I hope the independent circuit will come out stronger, even though I agree that it’s only the people with the most tenure who can afford to survive this shit right now. What I hope is that small independent artists realize that they really need each other and to be organized in something that is a strong underground as opposed to a scattered individualized scene with small acts ignoring each other (that is obviously very specific to what I experience around me, some cities around the world manage that very well already).

Anyway, talking about stereo synth, I’m deep into this kind of experiments at the moment, and I’m already pretty much satisfied with using a stereo effect pedal like a reverb as a signal splitter (could use an actual signal splitter for that matter) and then treat those two signals through different effect loops (the minimum being one overdriven and one clean). It gives an interesting unequal stereo effect where some frequencies will be heard stronger in one channel and you can actually hear some stereo movement on certain sounds because of that. It means buying a bunch of guitar pedals, but it can’t be as expensive as those super synths. Keep in mind I have never played a stereo synth so maybe I’m not aware of the possibilities that kind of machine has to offer.


#10

A stronger underground scene would be pretty cool. That was pretty much all we had around LA at the start of this business, because real estate is so expensive here that to own a club profitably even before covid was pretty much impossible. So it’s always been parties in warehouses and backyard DJs around here. I’m not too plugged into that scene, so I really couldn’t say how COVID has treated it other than to say I saw a headline that police went in and broke up one of those parties last year, which isn’t something you normally hear about. I don’t know if that was the one big party of the year, if that was the only one that got caught, how many there were before vs. now, etc.

On the stereo synths thing, stereo processing is definitely cool and can get you pretty close, but it’s a lot more work and it still isn’t the same thing.

If that timecode works, then great, if not, I’m going to talk about a sound I made at 8:09.

So, I get that nice stereo filter effect there. I COULD make that happen with VSTs in FL Studio, for sure. I could route left and right audio to different channels, put a filter on each, automate each filter, and offset them slightly, then route them back together for processing. But, on the Super 6, that’s 2 faders - LFO 1 phase difference (which offsets the L/R phase of the LFO) and LFO to filter. Then an extra envelope to LFO speed in the mod matrix. 30 seconds, done. And then, I can still process in stereo after the fact. I’m only using the basic built in synth effects for this demo, but pull that into a daw and get nasty with it… I honestly don’t know if you’d notice less or more difference as you put more effects onto it. I think it’s still really early days for this stuff (hell, the Super 6 is on firmware v 0.25, and USB Midi is on the roadmap), and I imagine it’d be really easy to program VSTs to do all this and way, way more. But right now, I don’t know of any that just spit out sounds like this without diving into some pretty deep routing that I always mess up somewhere along the way.

I’m sure if I really put some time in Harmor, Sytrus, Serum, Vital, Zebra, Hive, Omnisphere, Kontakt, Reactor, M4L, etc. can all be made to do this. But it’s going to require multiple LFOs and multiple filters being hardpanned, and I’m going to have to perfectly mirror all my programming except for the stuff I don’t want mirrored, and so on and so on. I’ve tried with a few of those, and frankly it’s a PITA compared to using something that’s just designed to do it. So anyways, I hope that doing this easily gets cheaper, and I can’t see how it won’t. In software, no one cares that you have to build a 12-voice synth to get 6 stereo voices, and it will probably sound better than my synth with more filter choices and better FX.


#11

If I understand it correctly, LFO phase stereo offset is a cool option, but it would only require 2 LFOs and 2 OSCs in most softsynths (pan the oscillators, route to different filters, assign different LFOs and adjust phase and other potential LFO parameters such as symmetry to taste, or even the LFO speed if you want to go crazy). You need a softsynth with two LFOs and two filter modules for it, since it’s not a simple filter offset, but a LFO phase offset instead - other than that it really should only take a few seconds/clicks. You could also make a simple effect rack with some LFO, envelope and effect modules in Bitwig or M4L which you can then put over every synth.


#12

It’s probably way easier on some synths. My first attempt was on Sytrus and that was not much fun, but I totally believe it can do it. I just got lost in the matrix trying to program that one. I suppose Harmor wouldn’t be too much trouble because of the two layers (just clone your sound and then hardpan each layer left and right). And Hive can do it, you just only get one oscillator (because you can’t pan the sub oscillators, and the main oscillators need to be pretty close in shape/tuning for this to have the same effect). It looks like you can pan the oscillators and then send each through their own filter, as long as the filters don’t sum to mono (and many do). And you only have two LFOs which will amount to one LFO in stereo.

I bet Zebra would do a really good job of this, but I don’t really want to buy it just to find out. Vital I’ve been meaning to download, so I could get that one and see what it can do.

In any case, yes this can be done in software now, but there always seems to be a “but you lose this oscillator and half your LFOs”. I could be wrong about this revolution, it might be a passing fad like 3-D Home Theater - which I always mention because I bought into that one - I don’t always back the right technological horse you know. Even if stereo synths end up in that position, I think there is still fun to be had with the idea. You know, I haven’t even tried modulating the phase of that stereo LFO on the Super 6 yet, and that should be doable…


#13

Yeah it doesn’t work that easy in every synth, including Serum because of its architecture - but in Icarus 2 for instance you could do it with the MSEGs or the LFOs and would still have lots of modulation options.

But to experiment with interesting modulation like that, imho modular software synths have lots of advantages because of the open modulation systems and the fast workflow, especially in something like Bitwig The Grid.