The Summer NAMM trade show and convention just ended here in Nashville this past weekend.  If you’re not familiar with NAMM, on the whole, it’s a big gathering of music gear manufacturers showing off their latest goodies to dealers and potential consumers.  But more important, it’s a chance for people to get together — in person — and communicate directly with one another.  To actually speak in person, “press the flesh” as the saying goes, and look each other in the eye.  And for me, that aspect of the show is far more important than all the shiny new gear.

As Nancy and I were driving home from NAMM and all that personal contact, we talked about the double-edged sword of the impact of technology on our lives, especially in the music industry.  On the one hand, technology makes it possible for us to “reach people” in ways that we never could have dreamed of just a few years ago.  We can collaborate creatively, share recording projects in their entirety, and communicate with colleagues and fans anywhere on the planet.  But the flip side is that we have less and less direct, personal contact with one another — in a field that is built entirely on human emotion and creativity!

Here’s a personal example of this dichotomy…  A couple of years ago, I worked on an album for Australian artist, Jason Owen.  Interestingly, I never met Jason in person, and I never left my studio in Nashville to do any part of the project.  Everything was done 100% remotely, and facilitated by the Internet.  I was introduced to Jason’s producer, Bryon “Bry” Jones, via e-mail (Tommy Emmanuel and his manager, Gina Mendello, recommended me to Bry because of work I had done with Tommy).

The project went like this: Bry would send me project files and Jason’s scratch vocals for each song via the Internet.  During the tracking phase, the band and I would gather in my studio in Nashville and record the tracks, and I would send them to Bry via the Internet at the end of each session.  Late in the evening my time (early afternoon in Sydney), Bry and I would have a discussion over Skype video to discuss the day’s tracks, changes to be made, etc.  Then we’d record overdubs and changes in Nashville, and the cycle would repeat.  We followed pretty much the same process as I mixed all of the songs as well.  Jason cut all of his vocals locally, at Bry’s studio in Sydney.

As it turned out, the album, called Friday Night, debuted at #1 on the ARIA country charts (and #9 across all genres) in Australia.  (The ARIA charts are their equivalent of our Billboard charts).  Now, a #1 album is never a bad thing, but for the entire course of the project, the only “personal contact” I had with anyone in Australia was via Skype video.  Interestingly, one of the main reasons Bry sought out musicians in Nashville (and my studio in particular) was that he knew all of the core tracks needed to be recorded live, with all musicians playing together as a unit, at the same time.  That was the only way to get the feel and the emotion that he wanted from the tracks.  In other words, the musicians and I had to be in true, physical contact with one another, in the same room, in order to pull off the project.  The irony was not lost on me!

So that’s the contradiction: although we are physically disconnected, we can do things we never dreamed of collaboratively because of technology.  And yet, there are still things that technology just can’t accomplish, like the emotional (some even call it “spiritual”) element that is instilled into a performance and a recording when musicians perform together.  Some things have always required — and still require — personal contact to work optimally.  After all, music comes from that emotion and “special sauce” that makes us all human.

Over the years, Nancy and I have tried to add more and more of that “personal contact” element to the services we provide.  That’s partly why we offer personalized coaching to our clients.  When we added “live calls” to our online video courses, many students told us that it was their favorite feature of the courses by far.  And the need for the human element was one of the primary drivers behind my decision to offer my Empowering Women in Audio recording and production clinics, which take place — in person — at Azalea Studios in Nashville.

With things being the way they are with technology today, it’s very easy for us all to become extremely isolated from one another.  I call this the “Silo Phenomenon” (picture one of those tall, isolated grain silos out in the middle of nowhere), where we’re all working in solitary in our own little spaces that are totally disconnected from one another.  And while we should use technology for all that it can provide us today, we also need to force ourselves to rely less on the technology when we can — especially when there are other, more personal alternatives available.

So here’s a suggestion: whenever you’re about to do something that involves technology, consider doing it in a more “personal” way.  For example:

      • When you’re texting and/or e-mailing someone, consider making a phone call and talking with them instead, to add a vocal element to the conversation.  There’s no substitute for hearing the tone of someone’s voice.
      • When you’re calling someone on the phone, consider video conferencing with them instead, to add a visual element to the conversation.  There’s no substitute for seeing the expressions on someone’s face.
      • When you are having an interaction with someone who is located near you, whether via text, e-mail, phone or video, consider getting together with them in person instead. Coffee, anyone…?
      • When you are conducting any part of your career with music industry professionals over the Internet, consider finding ways to see them in person occasionally (e.g, at a music industry convention or other group gathering).

Now, you might be saying to yourself, “we have so little TIME nowadays, and each of these things takes progressively more TIME to do!”  True, but consider this: it’s not just time that’s a factor here: there are also the advantages — both tangible and intangible — from getting away from the computer, spending time outdoors, getting away from the same, repetitive routine, and building rapport with other human beings.  All of these things are benefits that have to be measured against how much time we might “save” by using more technology.

I for one am a big fan of music industry conventions, because they are SO much about personal contact and building true, human-to-human relationships.  That’s one of the reasons Nancy and I have attended the TAXI Road Rally for FOURTEEN YEARS IN A ROW!  I’ve said many times that the spiritual “lift” I get from attending the TAXI Road Rally in November of each year carries me through emotionally until at least March or April of the following year.  And I believe that “lift” is 100% attributable to the personal human contact that can only happen at gatherings like the Road Rally.

Technology is a wonderful thing.  In fact, I literally couldn’t do my job without it — not just because of the music production and teaching tools I use every day, but also because of the global reach it gives me to clients and colleagues.  But as wonderful as it is, technology isn’t the answer to everything.  I believe that if we begin to focus more on the human element in everything we do, our music — and our lives — will only be the better for it.

Now… stop reading this, pick up the phone, call someone you love, and let them hear your voice.  Better yet, set up a time to see them in the very near future, and tell them that you love them in person.  You’ll thank me for it!  🙂

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