Updated: May 19
What does it take to create sound art? In the modern age it feels like everything requires a computer. Internet access and a computer open up a whole world of opportunity, and feels essential to create and to be seen doing it.
Is it as essential as it feels? It all depends on what we create sound art for. Is the purpose of art to be seen? Can art be considered successful or unsuccessful?
In terms of sound art, my own journey started with, at the bare minimum, looking for a microphone and a DAW (digital audio workstation) in which I could edit. It never occurred to me that what I was making could exist in a non-digital format; the world of audio drama podcasting was born in the digital/internet age, there was no other way to so effectively promote and distribute what I made. This is, now more than ever, true of music as well. If you look at any article on the internet about “essential equipment” for music production there are many common items. According to Roland:
"If you want to get started in computer music production, there are four essential pieces of studio equipment you’ll need"
Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) Software
Monitors or Headphones (preferably both)
Of course if you want to do vocals you’ll need a whole extra plethora of items to get the cleanest recordings.
These four items represent the modern state of sound art. The list works under the assumption (often rightly so) that the artist wants to digitally distribute. It is the standard; vinyl and tape may persevere, but only in the worlds of those who care for such things, existing in nostalgia or caring about the fidelity to such an extent. But for everyone else, streaming is a major method of music consumption. As of 2019, 81% of respondents to IFPI’s study across 21 countries used some kind of on demand streaming service, and in the midst of a major global pandemic, it does not require a terrific stretch of the imagination to say that this number will only have increased.
What does this mean, then, for the new sound artist/musician/podcaster entering the world in this age? For whom these four items are an impossibility? Is there a world for them to work in? A solution?
It all depends on the individual's purpose in creating sound art. If it is to be heard, to have your work be put out there, it’s getting easier, with a majority of people able to access the internet (some 59.5% according to statista).
Then there's the issue of monetisation. Even in countries with an increasing internet usage it is still an issue to make money from it. In Egypt (despite its internet usage going from ~0.5% of the population to over 50% by 2014), many Egyptians simply cannot afford to make online monetisation work, with credit cards out of the question, as few Egyptians have bank accounts, PayPal having only started in Egypt in 2015, and a plethora of other reasons. It all means that for (in this case musicians) many artists simply have to grow enough to be paid for live shows.
As mentioned earlier, it all depends on why one creates art. Bringing it back to Audio Drama, we can all tell stories to
our friends, or even write them in notebooks for ourselves. You need to ask yourself what you want out of art, catharsis in yourself? To be seen? Monetisation? All forms require different levels of access to different resources.
There is a reason we place our stories in the public eye. It can be any combination of factors: recognition for our stories and experiences, sending a message or making a point, telling normally ignored or suppressed stories of ignored and suppressed groups. The reasons are unique to all of us. It is the being seen that matters, and in the internet age it is an unfortunate truth that the internet is the main way to do this.