by Dr. Bridget Johnson

What is Music Technology?

by Dr. Bridget Johnson

What is Music Technology?

Technology has always held a central role in the creation, recording and performance of music and audio; from commercial Top 40 pop, film and games music, to artistic disciplines that create fire-hollowing sound holes, to dynamic positional generative soundscapes.

Behind all of this technology are special kinds of creative people that combine skills in music and art, with skills in hardware and software development. This person is a music technologist.

The role of the music technologist is multifaceted. Often the most public-facing roles are the sound engineers who operate equipment at live events and in recording studios. Here the music technologist applies technology to help express or capture music. In this role, the professional music technologist must constantly be adapting and learning new skills, stretching their art with each new technological development.

However, recent trends have seen the role of the music technologist expand even further. The ‘democratisation’ of technology – driven by the widespread accessibility of relatively inexpensive hardware, software and online platforms – has changed the face of music technology. Now, music technologists also create new tools for music creation.

Successful technologists apply a hack/build/create ethos that fits tightly with the long-standing tradition of Kiwi ingenuity and DIY culture, making New Zealand an ideal place to launch careers in this field. Young music technologists are already making an impact in the industry here and internationally. Success stories are mounting and include a growing number of companies, such as Serato, Red Witch Analog, Melodics, Dogmatek and Synthstrom Audio, and experimentally by The Cargo Cult plug-ins, speaker.motion, pyxis minor, and SoundMagic Spectral.

These companies are developing new music apps, guitar pedals, MIDI controllers, hardware VST hosts, and software-based plug-ins – and the global market for these are huge. They are used by both home-based and experienced electronic music producers, as well as in music education and as a tool for getting non-musicians interested in making music. So much so that there are now major career options for those interested in building music technology.

New Zealand’s academic music institutions have an important role in supporting growth in this exciting new industry. At Massey University, the Bachelor of Commercial Music includes key music technology design and development skills as part of the Music Technology major. Students learn music-specific hardware and software development, interface design, and interaction development – the theoretical and technical skills needed to design and develop new music technology. Students don’t necessarily need to be accomplished musicians to study Music Technology, all they need is a passion for music, technology and an open and creative mind.

These graduates will be the ones driving the music technology industry. Their developments will change the way musicians produce music and engage audiences with their music. With the growth in this industry expected to continue, there has never been a more exciting time to work in and study Music Technology.

To learn more, visit