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Archives: 2006

Not much happened with me in 2006... I stirred the puddin' a little over on the CTG Music forums, and that was it.

Blog & Essay Archive: Main Page
2007 -- 2006 -- 2005 -- 2004 -- Jul-Dec 2003 -- Jan-Jun 2003

An open letter to Louigi Verona - December 12th, 2006

Hi Louigi!

You've gotten me thinking, and I think my response to your e-mail is worth sharing. So I'm also posting this up on www.novusmusic.org and on the forums over at CTG.

You've sent me an e-mail asking for advice on how to run a compo. But I'm far, far more interested in the secondary question posed in your e-mail, because I happen to think it should be your primary question. Basically, you and the fine and dedicated staff over at CTG are looking for ways to "make the post-tracking community fun again."

A compo ain't gonna do that.

There are PLENTY of web-based music competitions already out there in various forms. Just run "music competition" through Google and you'll get 732,000 hits right there. And even assuming that the vast majority of those hits are the usual deadwood that you'll find in any Google search, there's probably at least a couple hundred active and regular web-based music competitions out there. If a music competition was the only thing needed to make the post-tracking community fun again, it would've already been "fun again" quite some time ago. But that didn't happen, did it?

But back to your main question. You've asked me how to run a music competition. And here's the problem.

I've never run a music competition.

"Huh? But you ran CMC and MIC for almost 30 months," I'm sure you're saying right now. And that's true, I did. But CMC and MIC weren't music competitions.

They were TRACKING competitions.

I never ran a music compo. I ran a TRACKING compo. I had a very specific audience: the community of the tracking scene, a small subset of the overall music scene at-large. MIC contributed slightly to that community, but that community is what made MIC possible, not the other way around. The community was already there before MIC, and it continued on for some time after MIC shut down.

There was one thing that made the tracking scene possible, and which made the tracking scene stronger than any other subset of the overall music scene at-large: cooperation. And there were two things which made that cooperation possible.

The first one is that we were basically all using the same software. Sure, there were different programs with different interfaces and names and different features on the side. But for the most part you could fire up any piece of tracking software and get it to do the basics with relative ease. C-4 01 48 G05 pretty much meant the same thing in Impulse Tracker as it did in Fast Tracker 2. We all spoke a common language of sorts, just with different accents. An American, a Brit and an Australian may each speak slightly different forms of English, but it's still English, and that makes it easier for any of those three to communicate with each other than with, say, a Bulgarian.

The second thing was the open nature of tracked files. People could easily share works-in-progress with friends, who could crack the file open, see what you had done, tinker with it themselves and then e-mail it back to you with a note like, "Take a look at how I changed that effect command in Pattern 12." You could do the same thing with a masterwork from a complete stranger, just open their file, study what they did, and apply that to your own work, all without ever having to even send them an e-mail or take up even a second of their time. A skilled tracker could be an influential teacher simply by doing what they already wanted to do anyway with no additional effort at all: just write and release good music.

Those two factors combined to make cooperation absurdly easy. And from that cooperation, the tracking scene eventually emerged. Nobody started the scene or invented it; the scene just sort of "happened" as a natural consequence of how easy cooperation had become. And that community is what eventually provided the audience for MIC.

But that community is gone now. While there were a few people here and there who recognized the true value of the tracking community, the vast majority of people were in the scene for one thing: "It's the music, stupid!" Remember that rallying cry? Most people in the scene were chasing the goal of making better music, and didn't realize that a healthy and robust tracking scene was their best way to accomplish that goal. And despite the fact that a sizable and significant portion of that crowd was putting out some INCREDIBLE music using tracking software, a disturbing meme started to spread. "Tracked music doesn't sound professional enough," a few people started to say. "It's not clean enough. It's not powerful enough." There were some very skilled trackers proving every day that this was simply not true, but that meme continued to spread anyway. More and more people began to believe it, and more and more people began to switch away from tracking software to various sequencers and other types of music software. And some of them even continued to produce some incredible music with this new software. But far, far more people were left out in the cold.

You see, tracking software was inherently designed to make it easy for people to share, study and learn from other people's music. In stark contrast, sequencers and other such programs were written solely to make it possible for you -- and you alone -- to write great music and for other people to hear -- and only hear -- that music. If someone heard some awesome musical technique in another person's song, there was no way to open up the "source file" to see how they did it, the way they could've done with a piece of tracked music. The ability to learn from complete strangers without intruding on their time was gone.

Even worse, the ability to learn from your friends was gone too. There were only a handful of different tracking programs at any given time, and the similarities between them always far outweighed the differences. But now people were scattered across a much broader array of sequencers and programs, each one of which was starkly different from each other, with an even broader array of add-ons and plug-ins. So unless you were fortunate enough to use the exact same program as all of your friends, cooperating on a song with someone you knew was suddenly much more difficult.

It's like the difference between hearing a recording of someone playing a guitar versus being able to watch them play it. If all you have is the final recording, you can hear the final result, but you have no idea how they got the guitar to create those particular sounds. That can only come from watching them play, seeing how their left hand presses into the frets or bends the strings, watching how their right hand plucks the strings, and matching that with the resulting sounds so that you can learn how exactly they created that sound.

Tracking software made cooperation easy, and it was that ease of cooperation that made the tracking community so tight for so long. When cooperation became more difficult, it was only a matter of time before that spirit of community shriveled away. And that is precisely what has happened.

Of course, for those lucky few people who already have some innate musical talent combined with some innate comfort with music software, this doesn't present much of a problem. They don't need as much help, so they're not as hindered by the lack of people to learn from. But those lucky few are far outnumbered by those who don't have as much innate skill, those who need people to collaborate with and examples to study and learn from. When the tracking scene was still thriving, they had both of those in abundance, and it was far easier for someone who was new to computer music to get up and running in a relatively short time, eventually reaching their full potential. But now? Those same people have nowhere to go. What was once a thriving community of thousands of trackers has shrunk and atrophied to an elite few who write music with sequencers and don't even miss the old scene, with thousands of more people left on the outside who don't even fully realize what they're missing. And with each passing day, those elite few become more and more fully assimilated into the overall music scene at-large, becoming more and more indistinguishable from others who use the same sequencers but have never even heard of tracking.

So. Now you're wondering how to make the post-tracking community fun again. And you're still not even asking the right question, because you're assuming that there still IS a community at all! We've gone from using a small batch of remarkably similar programs with an open file format to using a much wider batch of strikingly different and incompatible programs with a closed file format, thus making cooperation extraordinarily more difficult. And because cooperation is more difficult, the post-tracking community has dwindled to a mere shell of its former self. At this point, it's all running on inertia, a few people holding onto personal friendships that will drift and fade over time, with absolutely no reason at all for any outsiders to join in and become a part of it.

You really think starting up a new compo is going to fix that?

What used to be the tracking scene has become almost entirely assimilated into the overall music scene at-large. There is no real "post-tracking community" to speak of. Any compo that tries to make that non-existent community its audience is doomed from day one. And no compo, no matter who runs it or how well-run it is, can create a community out of nothing to serve as its audience.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to listen to "Fallen World" by Chris Jarvis, and then I'm going to bed.

Take care,
Vince "Novus" Young

No, I'm not "back." - April 19th, 2006

This year's news:
Just thought I'd mention that I'm stirrin' the puddin' again. I've been curious lately about what exactly "tracking" has morphed into, so I thought I'd ask the fine folks over at CTGmusic.com for their thoughts. I had two specific questions, and each has its own thread, with interesting responses in both.

CTG forum: Who still uses trackers?
CTG forum: Do you still use any older tracking techniques?

However, I seem to have become a victim of my own capriciousness. It seems I can't even yawn in public anymore without someone who is tangentially related to the tracking scene noticing it and declaring "NOVUS IS BACK!" So, you can imagine the effect of showing up out of nowhere on the most-popular semi-tracking-related web forum and actually starting a couple of threads there, followed by REPLYING to people in the aforementioned threads. Yeah.

So, as I seem to be saying a lot this week, no, I'm not "back," whatever the hell "back" means. Meh.

I will say this, however. People seem to like me a lot more when I'm not telling them what to do.

Why the HELL didn't anyone tell me this sooner? ;)

Blog & Essay Archive: Main Page
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