Sometime in the spring I was eating lunch at one of the dining halls at Penn. I was just trying to enjoy my chicken tenders and do a little bit of tweaking on an instrumental I was working on when I overheard two guys talking about electronic music. And while I can’t remember the specifics of their conversation, it boiled down to them not understanding how two artists whose primary instruments were DAWS, could collaborate.

“I mean, it’s not like they’re playing instruments. Does one guy just sit there and watch the other do stuff on the computer?”

“Well, I mean I’ve heard that you have to put together a lot of different sounds to get it to sound right. So I guess that’s what they do….”

And the discussion continued, rather fruitlessly. At the time, though baffled by their ignorance of the modern music making, I myself struggled with how I would respond if someone asked me such a question. Honestly, a lot of the “collaboration” and “co-production” that gets listed on albums is about the adding and substituting of certain sounds for others. And while the pompous “musicheads” who say such collaboration is non-musical or lacking of talent and originality are certainly incorrect, this kind of collaboration is not the extent of it.

I realized quite recently that the reason why those two Penn students I overhead had trouble understanding or imagining the workings of modern music is because most of us have never understood the workings of music period.

We think we know how Beethoven composed his symphonies, but we really don’t. We think we know how Na$ wrote his lyrics, but we really don’t. Hell, we don’t even really know how certain writers, professors, and famed scholars put together their work.

Na$ and Jay Electronica, who allegedly ghostwrite lyrics for Na$’ Untitled

If it’s hard to imagine how two people using a computer can collaborate on music ask yourself this: how did Ashford and Simpson? It’s the same thing.

Music isn’t made of instruments playing sounds…music is made of sounds. Two computer-wielding musicians can share music ideas and make one song or an album.

Household Hip Hop producers J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League started out with each of the three members working on the same songs. Many prominent groups featured the dynamic songwriting and production of groups and duos. It’s not strange to think of them collaborating because you may hear the distinct voices of people and instruments, but you cannot hear the extent of someone else’s songwriting as it relates to a whole song.

The three producers who make up J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League (Kenny, Rook, and Colione)

This is really scattered, but my point is this: Music doesn’t need to be performed on different instruments to be “collaborative”. On a small scale, if I made a suggestion to change a small part of a song, I became a collaborator. On a larger one, we might figure out the best melodies to play as a team, and then only one of us might actually do the technical programing of the sound.

Now, more than ever, the sharing of melodic thoughts and ideas is extremely important to music and has become more observable. However, just because you didn’t hear or see signs of Erykah Badu in the studio with Common, doesn’t mean she didn’t have a major and direct impact on the music he made.

I hope that made sense.



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