Local band discusses the decline of real instruments in mainstream music — ‘It is the human element that makes live music so interesting’

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Uncertified is a band that performs live at events in Provo. The band says performing live can be challenging because many of the sounds and layers in modern music are created digitally. (Olivia Tillotson)

The band Uncertified, a group of BYU students and graduates in Provo, said real instruments are being increasingly supplemented with technology in mainstream music.

BYU student and band member Marcus Young said that Uncertified has been performing live since March. They have performed at Campus Plaza, The Branbury, The Hut, Provo Town Centre Mall and King Henry. An estimated 300 people attended their last gig, according to the band.

“It is the human element that makes live music so interesting,” Uncertified drummer Devin Eastman said.

David Allen, Uncertified’s keyboard player said mainstream music is starting to see a decline in this human element.

“40 or 50 years ago, what you would hear on record would be pretty easily replicated in a live setting because everything had to be played live in a recording,” Allen said. “Now they’ve started adding layers and other technologically-produced elements that can’t be recreated by a live band, which creates a problem when people want to hear the song the way it sounds on the radio.”

Uncertified is a Utah-based band that performs live across Provo. They face the challenges of covering digitally-produced popular music as instrumentalists. (Photo courtesy of Uncertified Inststagram).

Allen explained that to raise themselves to the professional standard, the band has had to give up the idea that they have to do every single thing in a song that was created in a digital workstation to make it authentic. He said the band has started adding digital components to their music in order to meet the demands of popular music.

“A trend I’m noticing is the newer the song we try to attempt in a band, the harder it is to replicate because I think this whole digital side of things is almost an instrument in and of itself,” Young said. “As far as I’m concerned, David is playing two different instruments at the same time when he adds those digital elements.”

Allen said as much as guitar players want to contribute, it is not always what the song needs anymore. He said the focus has shifted from the skill of the instrumentalists to how good a band can sound while utilizing everything available to them technologically as well.

“To recreate digitally-produced music, you need to be a digitally-competent artist,” Allen said. “It’s just a raise in professionalism so it doesn’t sound like an amateur attempt even if you’re a talented instrumentalist.”

Allen explained that there is only so much that instrumentalists can do to replicate the sounds that are created for mainstream music in the digital world. He said to actually perform some of the songs people love, there would need to be more singers and instrumentalists to produce all the layers, which bands are often unable to fund. 

Allen also said that because of synthesizers, some sounds in current hits are not possible to replicate on stage.

He referred to an experience playing with a band in Las Vegas performing on the strip.

“In this band, there was a guy completely separate from any musical instrument or microphone whose main responsibility was to play the soundtracks, give the performers cues, and even record a click track that played in our ears,” Allen said. “He was still up there performing and creating music even though he didn’t have an instrument.”

Eastman said he has seen more of this trend of performances moving their attention away from instrumentalists and toward other forms of visual and auditory stimulation.

Young said as this transition to EDM-style music grows in popularity, it has created more of a line between bands and single-name artists.

“A lot of pop music nowadays takes a lot of cues from electric dance music, which is all just computer-generated,” Eastman said. “I don’t think it will ever totally replace real instruments though, because we try to make it an interactive experience for the fans.”

Young said visual aesthetics and a backup track can be all the backup an entertainer needs.

“Single-name artists nowadays are pushed to be performers more than they are musicians, and that’s okay,” Young said. “But, I think what it takes to produce live music with real instrumentalists requires a different set of talents than recording something.”

Allen said because one person can write and produce all their own music now, the amount of young instrumentalists interested in pursuing music may decrease. He said it has caused a trend of good talent going unnoticed. 

“It is great and really encouraging for people who want to become single-name artists, but it really is everything that’s been created beneath them that’s pushed them into the spotlight,” Allen said.

Allen explained that in today’s digital age, the competition is much higher for instrumentalists and the market is saturated. He believes that in order for instrumentalists to market themselves professionally, they have to adapt a by letting some of those elements be synthesized.

Eastman said this adaptation does not mean the death of instrumentalist-backed music. He said he believes that it is still more inspiring to see someone play an instrument than to hear a synthesized machine.

Young said Guitar Hero and his favorite bands were part of the reason he wanted to become an instrumentalist in the digital age.

“The only reason I started playing guitar was because of ‘Guitar Hero’ and my favorite bands that I thought were so cool,” Young said. “It has to stick around because unless people see their idols playing the drums, nobody is going to want to learn them. People will do what they see and are moved by.”

More information can be found on the band’s Instagram, @uncertifiedtheband.

“Live music has always been around and it is here to stay,” Young said. “It has just looked different over time, and I think this is just one of the ways it will look different.”

Uncertified plays live at The Hut. They plan to incorporate more digital techniques into their shows to meet professional standards as mainstream music evolves. (Marcus Young)
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