Reading Material: Lost Art of Cratedigging

"Veteran producers of hip-hop were scientists dissecting tracks, librarians of musical culture, mathematicians of the BPM, and above all music historians. But the dawn of the new millennium brought a cultural and technological shift. In 1999 Napster arrived, ushering in digital bootlegging and introducing beatmakers to the relative ease of pulling songs off of the Internet in the form of an MP3 file, dragging and dropping them into sampling computer software. The production technology became more sophisticated. Bedroom producers could now create entire songs from start to finish on a small laptop. Downloadable music meant not having to “digitize” music from old pieces of vinyl. In addition, the upswing of sample-light Southern hip-hop eclipsed the sample-heavy hip-hop of the East and West coasts. As younger producers entered the game, the ritual of cratedigging became archaic.
 The new beat-centric producer works differently in an industry that delivers digital music instantly rather than taking months to manufacture physical product. He churns out tracks that within minutes of their creation can leak on blogs and over social media. So hanging out for hours in the few remaining, dusty record stores doesn’t quite fit with the pace of the market and the attention span of the listener. While “digging” has reconfigured itself in a new ritual of scouring websites for MP3s and ripping music off of YouTube, even that process is still very time consuming. And with the points you have to give away on publishing, why sample at all?"

Read more HERE.


pipomixes said...

But wait: weren't "live" musicians also shaking their heads when hip hop emerged with its alternative to traditional instruments. The more things change, the more they...

pipomixes said...

I felt the same way reading the article. There is quite a bit of "in my day..." in the article. That said, musicians did have a point in their critiques of sampling and so do we in our critiques of today's younger generation.

pipomixes said...

The thought fixed in my mind reading the article is how blessed we are here in California with The Beat Swap Meet (Nov 1st) ,The Vinyl Junkies Record Swap (Oct 4th) and San Diego Record Show (Oct 18th) and others. Digging is alive and well here in So Cal though I do miss all record shops on Melrose back in the day.

For the future, since things come and go in cycles, I believe more producers and consumers will grow tired of music being nothing more than a beat and effects and will start to delve into more older music. As with what happened in mid 90's when many producers started to wane with sampling James Brown records and started to delve into more Jazz and obscure Funk breaks to make classic tunes. At least that's my hope.

Will this breed a new crop of music aficionados producers of the likes DJ Premier or Da BeatMinerz? I doubt it but it will produce a new brand of people focusing on quality, which is sorely lacking in today's producers.

pipomixes said...

The quality of sample-based digital instruments, libraries, and emulators is good enough now that digging for most samples is a huge waste of time and money.

Why spend hours hunting for a drum hit or a horn blast when you easily download them for a few hundred bucks (or nothing at all, if you are resourceful)? All that time spent digging is time NOT spent actually learning how to make/play music. It's just not efficient. Any musician who goes digging instead of learning scales and sound design, and etc. is severely limiting their potential.

All these arguments about the importance of digging for samples ignore the fact that what is being sampled was played by a musician(s) who played "the sample" when it was recorded in the first place.

There was a time when loop-based beat production made sense, but at this point it's nostalgic or a crutch. At this point, an up-and-coming beatmaker who depends on loops... is probably not going to be successful.

Also, considering the fact that the days of making money off recordings are over, knowing how to play an instrument and perform have become more important again.

I'm not arguing that people shouldn't use samples or have a raw sound. If that's the style you're going for... do that! But regular digging sessions are simply not required to get there. You'd be much better off getting deep into sound design or music theory.

pipomixes said...

"the fact that the days of making money off recordings are over"

I highly disagree with that. Unless you're referring to selling music to general consumers. However, there are a few artists who make good living selling music most notably Tech n9ne, but you have solely focus on a niche market and dominate it. As well as there over 20 different revenue streams for artists from advances to royalties thus making money off recordings is very much alive.

I'm not sure what you mean by sound design. In my view there's too much sound design and sound engineering as most modern music is nothing more a beat and a combination of different effects. There's a reason classic music from the 60's - 80's still has an impact upon new listeners today as they did back when there were released. The elements of a classic song is not difficult to decipher yet most producers lack knowledge of the basics. Along with bad taste many are incapable of producing any thing lasting.

Now if you're talking about sound design as the effects of certain tones to induce certain emotions, as what was promoted by Al-Farabi and /or use of Maqam then I would agree. Studying sound design would interject new life inter modern music.

"All that time spent digging is time NOT spent actually learning how to make/play music. It's just not efficient."

I don't necessary see that was ever the point of digging it learning was education in the history of Music and inspiration for one's craft. One can spend hours viewing images of graphic design and lettering on Pinterest and it won't teach you design but it will inculcate within in a person inspiration and a sense of the history of design. Far more motivating then listening to lecture or reading a book on music.

pipomixes said...

Thank you for the lively response. You make some good points.

With regard to making money off recordings, the only significant revenue stream left for recordings is "sound for picture" (games, movies, ads, etc). But sales is a side point. It's all about the quality. Most of the greats of the past didn't make much on recordings either. So nothing has really changed. For the 99%, the situation is the same. The recording industry has always been a winner-take-all market. Any pop artist who says they "make money" off recordings is probably heavily supplementing that with live performances (and is probably making mac-and-cheese money, not support-a-family money).

With regard to sound design, I am referring to any production technique where the artist uses recording, effects, algorithms, or synthesis techniques to create a new sound. A few that come to mind are Animoog, Omnisphere, Reaktor, etc. The reason why I think sound design is promising is that you can do something unique without spending a ton of money or time on it. You can explore and create stuff, and the only limit is your mind. You can also build on your knowledge in a way that you can't when you rely on sample digging.

Now, I do have one caveat. Sometimes beatmakers use the sample process to find ideas. And I think that is a good process sometimes. But to rely on that, year after year, instead of learning how to compose and play without samples... is totally limiting. It is not the path of growth and greater possibilities of self-expression.

With regard to digging for "educational purposes"... of course, I heartily agree. Although, depending on the spot, it can be horribly inefficient (especially compared with internet digging, which to me is still just good old fashioned digging). I was responding to the idea that digging samples to MAKE music is still relevant. I also think it is worth noting that sifting through crappy records isn't magic: without some knowledge and education behind it... it won't be productive.

As a parting thought, I want to point out that all that original samples music we are digging, wasn't created by diggers. It was created by mostly educated musicians. Most of their learning focused on a relatively small group of compositions. Instead of learning a little bit about a lot of different compositions (a la digging), they went deep into the art and science behind their music. Any music artist that exclusively "digs" instead learning theory is shortchanging themselves. I guarantee you will never find a musician who regretted learning music theory. But the music industry is littered with folks who fell off because they lacked formal training and couldn't evolve and grow.

Even for educational purposes, I think the idea of driving around town and spending hours in record spots is generally inefficient. Between all the blogs and Soundcloud/Mixcloud... there's an endless supply of great tunes. There was a time when digging was the only path. I was part of that era. I still find myself digging on occasion. But life is short and the internet has changed the whole scene. Even Madlib goes digging on YouTube.

pipomixes said...

I think you both raise valid points. Though using the word "efficiency" in the same sentence as "music/art" makes me cringe, I get your point Eric. Time is not without limit. The question is how we use our time to improve our craft and become the best beat maker/musician we can be given our skill sets. On the whole, to make great music you need to combine technical mastery with artistic inspiration. Crate diggin helps with both (more the latter than the former). Is it the most efficient way to achieve those ends? Probably not. However, to each their own.

pipomixes said...

Agreed: "efficiency" can sound weird in the context of a hip hop romance. But if you actually pay your own bills or, gasp, have a family... you know exactly what I mean. In the end, you gotta quit music or make it more... how about "practical"? ;-)

One of the reasons we have to do so much digging is that we don't invest in music education. both technology and digging can still provide a way around the shortcomings of a person's music education, but in the end it boils down to learning how to play music in a formal setting. Unfortunately, the hip hop community never got that memo. As a result, we look back to 20 years ago as the creative peak, and it's been a slow, downhill slide ever since. The reliance upon sampling is a BIG part of that. You gotta replenish the source. Without successive geneartions of music education, there wouldn't have been any records to sample. And now that's all breaking down. Some of it being replaced by an emphasis on learning software, but that has its limits too.

Okay, sorry to blather on... rant is officially over.

pipomixes said...

great post and comments
Hamza21, Eric Nord & Pipo thanks for the your insight on this