10 Predictions For Electronic Music Making In The Next Decade

The Best Synth Ever?Prognostication is always a dangerous game.

And when it comes to predicting the future of electronic music technology, it’s downright foolhardy.

We’re not going to let that keep us from peering into the crystal ball, though, and sharing our thoughts on the future of electronic music making.

10 Predictions For Electronic Music Making In The Next Decade

Here are 10 predictions for what’s ahead – not just in 2011, but for the next ten years:

  1. Modular synthesis goes mainstream – the price of modular synthesizers has plummeted in the last few years. A Moog modular used to cost as much as a house. Now you can get a sophisticated modular synth for a few thousand dollars. More and more synths, like the Minimoog Voyager XL, are adding semi-modular features, too. Multiple options are available for modular software synthesis and there are even modular synths for mobile devices. Now that modular synths are becoming affordable, they need to become easier to learn. Just as synths have sprouted knobs and become easier to use in the last decade, modular synthesis will become more visual and tactile in the next decade.
  2. Music robots join the band – 10 years ago, the idea of jamming with robots was science fiction. Since then, there’s been all kinds of innovation in the area of music robots. We’ve reported on robots that play the theremin; creepy pop singer robots; robots that improvise jazz; robot orchestras; and gamelan robots. And earlier this year, Pat Metheny replaced his band with robots. This technology is going to go mainstream in the next decade. Instead of playing with sequences, you’ll be remixing the performances of music robots playing “live”.
  3. Handheld music making becomes the norm – hate all those articles about iPad music software? We are really, really sorry – but handheld devices are going to be more powerful than your current desktop in three or four years, and these devices will become the norm for making electronic music. Don’t forget how skeptical people were about laptop music making 10 years ago. The iPad is going to get some serious challengers, though, which will mean lots of cheap and powerful hardware to choose from. But handheld music devices won’t just get more powerful – they’ll be more aware of their surroundings, communicating wirelessly with other devices, GPS’ing their location, viewing the world through multiple cameras and sensing how you hold them and move them. And when you take your handheld device home, it will become the brain of your home studio.
  4. You’ll design your own instruments – in the last few years, synth “hot rodding” has grown in popularity. You can get Roland TB-303’s with mods, keyboards with customized paint jobs and custom LEDs and end panels in the exotic woods of your choice. This is going to go mainstream in the next decade, with gear manufacturers offering you the option to order your gear completely customized. Advances in manufacturing technology are going to push this further though. In a decade, you’ll design your own instruments, you’ll test them out virtually and they will be “printed” to your specifications.
  5. Cloud-based music-making will get real – cloud-based music-making, the idea that you’ll make music in a virtual studio hosted somewhere online, will take off. Current cloud-based virtual studios are about where ReBirth was ten years ago. Project this forward a decade, though, and you’ll be making music in a 3D virtual studio. You’ll rearrange your virtual studio to meet the way you work. Your home studio will be made up of real instruments, flexible controllers and giant touchscreens. You’ll be able to take your studio with you, though, because you’ll be able to access your tracks and racks of virtual gear from wireless devices and any computer that you can log on to.
  6. You’ll see musicians getting electronic music body modifications – the next decade will bring body modifications that let you turn your flesh into a musical instrument. No flute jokes – we are talking about tattoos that can be used as music controllers; embedded sensors that sense your body movements and transmit them wirelessly; and electronics that are so tiny that they can be fused with your body. You’ll control synths with your mind and your body will become a synthesizer.
  7. Everything will be a musical instrument – gestural synthesis and tangible music controller technologies are going to move from being interesting toys to being powerful tools. You’ve seen the Reactable and you’ve seen tangible sequencers and what musicians are doing with the Kinect. In the next decade, your computer will use its camera and microphone to “understand” what you’re doing with your hands and body. Your computer will see you do things like draw a keyboard and then let you use that picture as a controller to play a virtual instrument. Take a chessboard and use it as a grid sequencer. Wave your hands around in the air and you’ll be playing a virtual theremin. Dig a bit deeper and you’ll use the motion of dancers as modulators for synthesizing music. Put a camera on the club floor and the density of dancers can be a modulator for controlling your DJ software. Everything will become an instrument that you can make part of your rig.
  8. Music software will get smarter – the state of the art in digital audio workstations is amazing. But, by and large, DAW manufacturers are still making virtual versions of traditional hardware studios. Most soft synths still look and act like their hardware predecessors, and that’s what buyers are demanding. At this point, imitating traditional studios is horseless carriage thinking – letting what we can imagine be defined by the past. In the next decade, music software is going to get smarter and interfaces will make bolder leaps. You’ll tell your computer that you want to make an drum and bass track and your DAW will anticipate the way you’ll want your virtual studio configured. Ready get started? Say “gimme a beat!” You’ll interact with your DAW to “evolve” new sounds. You’ll hum the bassline and your DAW will notate it. You’ll build the track by saying that you want a 32 measure intro and a drop down to the bass and then bring the kick back in after 16 measures. You’ll draw a curve on a timeline to define the shape of your track, do a run through and improvise over the rhythm track. Then you’ll tell your DAW to add a middle eight and double the bassline and to master it with more “zazz” and it will be saved in the cloud for your fans to listen to.
  9. You’ll have to rethink everything you know about the music industry – The major labels are losing their role as gatekeepers and this has been replaced with chaos. The album is increasingly obsolete. The Internet means you can connect with fans on the other side of the world, in real-time. YouTube has replaced MTV. Your ability to find fans, get gigs and get paid for making music is going to depend on your ability to rethink everything you know about the music industry, in the context of today’s connected world. If you’re making niche electronic music, you may need to find your audience in another city or another country. Or you may find that you can have a thousand dedicated fans diffused around the globe, but struggle to get a dozen to show up at a local gig. If you want to have an audience, understanding how you can collaborate with musicians and visual artists located around the world and how you can publish your work to the Web will become essential.
  10. Music will become intelligent – The idea of selling fixed music will become archaic in the next decade. Why should everybody that hears your music hear the exact same thing, forever, regardless of their sound system, regardless of their location, regardless of what they are doing and regardless of who they are? Music is going to become more malleable. It will adapt to its surroundings and what the listener is doing. We’re already starting to see this with “reactive music” – like the free Inception music app, which adapts to the listener’s location and environment and actions. Apps like BT’s Sonifi let the listener take an active role, interactively remixing singles with movements and gestures. The new decade will bring one-to-one music making. Instead of making one track for everyone, you’ll create unique musical experiences for each person that listens to your music. You’ll make music that incorporates feedback from the user, that can react to their motion, and that adapts itself to blend seamlessly with the previous song the user listened to. You’ll make music that listens to its environment and updates its density to create a customized soundtrack to listeners’ lives. Music will have intelligent decision making embedded into it, giving it a life of its own.

You’ve got our predictions. Now, leave a comment and let us know what you think of them.

And if you can peer into that crystal ball yourself, let us know what your predictions are for making electronic music in 2011 and the next decade!

Image: bdu

57 thoughts on “10 Predictions For Electronic Music Making In The Next Decade

  1. As long as the music stays interesting, I don't care how advanced the tools are. I'm actually more interested in new, more natural forms of expression for electronic instruments, like Madrona Labs' Soundplane A:

    Am I the only one who can't help but laugh when they see a robot trying to play an acoustic instrument? It looks so awkward and Rube Goldberg-esque. Maybe I don't see the appeal. I felt this way about generative music, too, until I talked to a few artists who did it and then I saw the art and creativity that goes into it.

  2. Even with all this new technology. Music…especially electronic music won't change much in the next decade. It'll mostly be rehashing of music that has come before. Popular music hasn't changed much since the 80's. it just got louder with higher compression rates.

  3. the ubiquity of the touch screen marks the end of the mechanical age. the momentum is just picking up now that you dont need to cast and mold hardware to tackle ergonomic problems with what has served us so far.

    we are at the beginning, where sequencers are diatonic 4/4-tards that fight against anybody that encounters a good reason to break out of the orthodox straight-jacket for even the briefest moments.

    some might think of the iPad world as a bunch of d-bags poking at teeny little screens, but the established instrument makers can not try all the crazy ideas fast or cheaply enough. walk into a guitar center and start rocking out their amps, and see the look of realization on their faces when they notice that you are buying $5 brains every week for a platform that they dont sell – rather than more keyboards, guitars, and stomp boxes.

    i'm on it.

  4. Okay, no one has said a word (with the exception of Jeffrey) about stylistic predictions or how any of this has an impact on writing music… maybe because most of folks on this site are more concerned with gear than actual music? I'd be interested in what composition techniques will dominate (is the loop here to stay?) or how the tech will impact composing, song-writing, processes. I guess that's asking too much of y'all… Consumerism is not creativity.

  5. glass surface == fretlessness

    snap to landmarks in the harmonic series rather than fixed frets.

    almost every music system that hasn't been replaced by the European system has perfect fifths and fourths. even in electronic music, the fast fourier transform only has bins for integer multiples of the lowest frequency. 12tet is a hack that simplified mechanical creations. But it's really in conflict with the spectrum. As an example: a string overtone fifth is not the same as a 12tet fifth. The farther you get from fifths and fourths, that more wrong the tones are.

  6. No offense but this is just a stupid article which only focuses on hypes and cover stories without even trying to scratch the surface…

    Harsh words, I know.. My main motivation for this is the "cloud comment". Why? Because it doesn't take a cloud to get this stuff underway! I'm a techie and all the online stuff which has been cheered on was basically plugin stuff. In non-technical terms: the whole stuff ran virtually on your computer while you experienced it to be "online" (=part of the website). Has /nothing/ to do with clouding.

    Then I looked beyond onto the other topics..

    "Handheld music".. Duh… Probably inspired by the rise of i-pad/phone related articles. Why I think as such? "designing your own instruments".. Wel, duh! That we can already do with stuff like Max for Live which also managed to score quite some attention.

    Want more cliches? Software getting smarter? Haven't they been predicting that ever since the last century ?

    Sorry but.. Nothing (serious) to see here, please move about (unless you're into this meaningless hype stuff).

    For the record.. This cloud stuff.. You do realize it was launched as being a virtual entity which would live onto many physical computers and as such could gain or release cycles when required. Most of all: due to its virtual and shared form it couldn't "just" go down, right ?

    Wake up call: All major cloud hosting providers (Amazon, Cloudflux, Google) have one major thing in common: their cloud went down for at least 24 hours (Google) yet commonly speaking for a week (the rest, Google with hickups) whereas a cloud was said not being able to go down. Huh ?

    My take: Don't believe the hype, follow your own judgement instead!

  7. well, it kind of is a gear site. the name is "synthtopia." the topics bar is 80% gear and gear reviews. if you want theory i think there are less frustrating places to find it. just sayin…

    yes I think the loop is here to stay… but is it seriously even a problem? its not like all music is made with loops. There will still be music recorded by live people, playing acoustic / electric instruments, based on composed scores. there will just also be robots doing it to.

    and I kinda feel that for the past decade, there really has not been a definable "music-movement." There is simply too much music and too many artists of all different walks of life with different influences who are capable of being heard and building a following. There isn't one band who gets the attention for a city where a certain sound was developing that was different from anywhere else. The community has expanded beyond regional & cultural boundaries and collaborative capabilities have exploded. I think this next decade will begin to clarify the dizzying torrent of content and allow us some relief from some of the audial option paralysis. and with it, a newer, more perfect market for to distribute / monetize your musical expression.

    I think musicianship will really begin to involve more programming knowledge than performance capabilities, and audio programming will gain even more mainstream credibility as legitimate human expression, just with machines.

    With that said, i think musicians will get lazy and write songs at random by selecting chord progressions from a spinner on their touch-screen device. variation / improv will become automated, machines will calculate pleasing music based on Bach and on-the-fly, and people will love it and clap for it and buy a T shirt and tell their friends. Because at the end of the day, the masses just want to hear what they've already heard, reinterpreted with a phat beat underneath that'll make the ladies start strippin and the men start fightin.

  8. @SynthFan: don't be affraid (of the hype). Those who has innovative ideas and can change the game will do it. Even single persons or companies. That's it.

    About the so called "intelligent music". I have this idea since years and it's great that someone do steps forward this. Interactivity and every changing melodies for the win!

  9. Most of that is nonsense but (9) is interesting. How niche artists make some kind of a living from their music is hard to determine. Looks likely we will have a over-paid mainstream and a struggling underclass of artists who make pennies. Sadly, its the latter group who are the most interesting. At least to me.

    Tech will continue to improve. But I can only offer cynicism & skepticism with respect to predictions. Only one thing is true, as the man said (Gibson), the street will find its own use for tech. And that is where the real interesting stuff takes place.

  10. No offense taken – but "harsh words" don't carry much weight unless there's some substance behind them.

    Do you have any thoughts on where electronic music technology is heading or how it will change the ways we make music?

  11. Curious how modular synthesis is seeing such a revival at the same time as software gets more sophisticated. Personally, I think there's a latent humanism which is increasingly in competition with a technologically directed future; a development of desires that may stray off at a tangent from the availability of capacities. The tech would seem to veer in the direction of the easy; the specifically-moulded; the transient; small. Yet as a human being I relish challenge; I thrive on how well I adapt to circumstances rather than by how well circumstances adapt to me. My favourite keyboard I love because of how big it is and it really doesn't matter that I can't take it on the bus with me. Sometimes it's more rewarding to sit fairly still amongst heavy objects than to be flitting around on jet-power.
    I think the future is in the curious and unpredictable negotiations between humanism and technology, rather than something to be calculated on the basis of either human history or technological feasibility in isolation.
    I would hope for one thing: that more and more people realise that there is no essential difference between 'classical' music and 'pop' music. Unless, of course, we concede that the distinction isn't really about music at all but about cultural tribalism…

  12. I wonder how much will really change. Maybe most of these points will eventually become reality, but the real reality of the past 10 years has been focused on keeping things the same, with only minor improvements and new features incrementally added on. And I think it was that way 10 years before that too.

    One of the major events to happen to hardware synths in recent times has been new analogue gear coming back with companies like DSI, Moog, Future Retro, Doepfer, etc etc. Some of these companies are a little more forward thinking than others, but the face remains that this is more or less technology that's been around for at least 50 years in it's musical instrument format. The DIY movement can be seen as just an extension of this… in the beginning of music tech, there was no other choice than to DIY.

    As far as ipads and cloud computing/recording… why? Sure, in 4 years the ipad or it's future offsprings/competitors will be as fast as our custom built desktops of today. But our custom built desktops 4 years from now will be 20x faster than those future handhelds. And a virtual studio? Will we have to wear those cool laser tag helmets too?

    Currently the analog/DIY trend is converging with the ipad trend. The result is a new hybrid interface to creating music. This actually started a while back with Cycling '74 and the now defunkt lemur. The difference in the future will be the mainstream acceptance arising from cost effectiveness and user configurability. Goodbye M-Audio. Hardware synths will probably start losing their keys and become mainly small desktop units a la DSI evolver, Doepfer Dark Energy, etc. Same game, just a new interface. Great sounding hardware will remain a vital force in electronic music making… just like it always has since the beginning.

  13. Prognosticating:

    * Yup, multitouch interfaces for music are here to stay. Some new-fangled platforms will arise for them, and they will sell well, but in ten years, you will see musicians buying used iPads for the nostalgic feel.

    * A greater division between the Ableton Live style interfaces and the "old school" Pro Tools interfaces. Old folks and purists will insist the latter is the only way to write music, which most new musicans and cutting-edge stuff will come out of the former.

    * Access Music releases the "Virus Touch" in four years. It costs too much, it sounds brilliant. Ten years from now, we're all still arguing about whether the alternatives that crop up are worth it.

    * I agree, modular synthesis will continue to pick up speed, though perhaps not to a wide audience.

    * The only synths currently on the market that will be "classics" ten years from now are DSIs and Moogs. …And, perhaps sadly, the tenori-on.

    * Discontinued VST instruments, on the other hand, will become sought after (in hacked form, of course). Musicians will be pining for the days of z3ta+, for example.

    * M*Audio will be making popular soft-synths.

    * Soft-synths will be dual-priced: a "professional" version with unlimited instances/polyphony, an extra LFO, and access to "pro" presets downloadable monthly for around $400… and a "consumer" version without those features and limited to 8 voices for each and 4 instances, for about $20.

    * No new "synthesis types" will be introduced. Not really. It'll all still be subtractive, FM, wavetable, and additive. But there will be new "names" for minor tweaks to these techniques, like "Harmonic Content Morphing." [rolls eyes]

    * Stacking will come back into style, and new hardware and software will assist in pulling it off gracefully, including preset management and synchronized control-mapping.

    * Synthtopia won't be around any more. Sorry. : ( Instead, there will be "Soft-synthtopia" and "Modular Nirvana" and "Multi-touch Synth Heaven" and more. Each one of these will be equally deep and involved and have a dedicated community. (Let me know when you create "Wavetable Xanadu," by the way.)

    * Algorithmic music will STILL not be popular. …or particularly good.

    ….My two cents. Nice topic, synthhead. Thanks.

  14. My predictions;

    Analogue tape and desks will still be king
    MIDI will still be the standard
    Children will still take piano and guitar lessons, not touch screen lessons
    DIY will still be niche
    Pop music will be less about music and more about popularity of people
    There will be a live version of Melodyne, and will be used alongside Autotune
    Interactive music will grow leaps and bounds (check out Tim Exile). The human voice is the only consistant sound in music, so you will be able to choose the instruments and genre of the music of your favourite singers
    Robots will start to replace session musicians, backing bands/singers, jukeboxes etc. You give them a score and tell them how you want it played

  15. He's right though. For all the leaps in innovation and accessiblity, resolution and functionality we've seen in the last 10 years, 99 out of 100 people who create and post electronic music fail to do more than deliver some generic club-beat w/ some whistling synth behind it.


  16. Music has soul – the connection between the musician's hands/voice and the listeners. In our increasingly virtual world, we are more connected, but it's harder to actually connect and communicate. Somehow we need to find a way to capture the magic of live performance. Technology should be used to augment human experience, not replace it.

  17. This whole article makes me feel uneasy – honestly you dont need a modular synth to stay future proof. Everyone always tries to make themselves feel better by saying the industry is changing, buts its actually the vintage appeal that comes more and more alive because its new kids just learning what us experts have always known <3

    1. Your words are amazing. Thanks to the flood of “hey i made a song” crap, serious producers (and those who want to be serious producers) are taking a hard honest look at what separates quality from innovative convenience.

  18. on better thought lets all run twin ipads running moog modulars and then have a real moog modular and two doepfers and oh wait!! four more buchla’s. yes and all route their signals into eachother and make the best sound everrrr!!!

    … I’ll stick to massive and my nord

  19. You forgot something….People wil need less and less talent to make music and expecially electronic music will be the most crap music around….Real Handmade Composed Music will slowly dissapear and will be replaced by inteligent self composing technology and software for retarded kids that think they are producers and musicians 🙂 you can stick your apps and your loops and your gestures where the sun don’t shine, I’m staying oldskool forever!

  20. People will FINALLY appreciate and except Digital dj’s/Controllerists! lol But, Sincerely.. The whole cdm vs. Digital Controller arguement… Starting to get ridiculous!

  21. Reading this nonsense is like watching a 1960’s documentary about how in 10 years man will have developed multiple colonies on the moon and will begin terraforming Mars. Who is the idiot who write this tripe? iPads more powerful than modern desktops in 4 years time? LOL!!!! ROFL!!!!! Oh, shit, it hurts. It’s going to take a heck of a lot longer than 4 years for iPads to overpower modern desktops, dipshit.

    1. Your reading comprehension is terrible. “Handheld devices are going to be more powerful than YOUR CURRENT DESKTOP in three or four years.”

      This story was published at the end of 2010. My HTC One (let alone an actual tablet computer from this year) gives my desktop from 2010 a run for its money in speed and functionality.

    2. Sorry to burst your bubble, but even Windows sites will admit that iPads have already caught up:

      “The iPad Pro is actually faster than the new Microsoft Surface Pro 4, while also being cheaper to buy”


      Windows (and macs) obviously still beat iPads if you look at high-end desktop machines, but Apple and to a lesser degree Android device manufacturers, have done amazing work to make mobile devices faster without sacrificing battery life.

  22. I remember buying that printed issue of FM. Creativity needs sources of inspiration and try to know the future was part of that moment in Electronic Music History.
    Me encantaba leer FM…

  23. In the future we will crave the gear and software we have NOW, just like I miss my JX3P and Trinity etc. And music will get worse as more and more idiots will have access to software and gadgets, and learning an instrument may no longer be a basic requirement (which is probably no longer the case). RANT!!!

  24. So in short, electronic music will legitimately will make the full move from being an art to being a field of science and engineering. (It always was science for some, but it for now is art also) And LPM you’re absolutely freaken right. The line between “Look mom I made something” and the serious producer will be next to gone, more so than it is now. Luckily (and we have proof just look at Roland’s Aira series and Akai’s rhythm wolf) “old fashioned” music production will firmly hold it’s place. But if I’m making kick butt music on an iPad I’m not gonna complain. It just has to be kick butt, and not, you know, something.

  25. Realtime manipulation of algorithmic sequencing could be at the forefront of nerdy electronic composition along with more connectivity to active visual sources for gigs although this technology has been around for a while with particular bits of kit.
    Gesture movements will become popular but how refined it becomes remans to be seen as again as a passing novelty value has left similar technologies in the past.
    Sound wise things will get harsh and analogue rather than sounding like fizzy VST’s which have dominated too much of late and are a little too mainstream now.
    DJ dance culture electronic will be pretty much the same as where it is now imho but the more innovative electronic music will be darker and performed live.
    The DIY thing is happening now but seems to be more for synth enthusiasts than visionary musicians/producers.
    Loop pedals and other realtime looping will be a much bigger thing for solo performers.

  26. Real talent will never perish, there will always be people capable of appreciating it whether you use a machine or just a piano, technology is just a means to express yourself,what you express is what really matters in spite of the technology used.how come we still listen to vivaldi ir bach after so many year after their conception.they will never die. Machines will.

  27. Sounds interesting but everyone talks about the future as there will be life on earth.
    Maybe the only sounds that will be in 10 years are the wind blowing over our dead bodies and the acid rains dissolving our corpses.
    But making music in iPads sounds cool too!

  28. I don’t want a computer in my synth & midi studio, ever! I put my reel to reel multi tracker in the closet back in 2001 to invest in emagic’s Logic audio and something was missing?!?!?! It was not the same at all and although I moved on to hardware digital multi tracker like the Roland vs-2480, it was the best decision I ever made and since 2003 my computer was left in the bedroom/living room and I made my music and designed ever sound with hands on hardware. The physical interaction with dedicated musical instrument hardware can’t be replaced with a bunch of software. Amen!

  29. i think the modular thing is a fad honestly. its a reaction to the rise and ubiquity of computer-produced music and I think in time it will fade. For every one person who gets a modular and knows how to use it properly, there’s 10 people who spend $5k on kit and basically make a modulated square wave and call themselves “original”

  30. I don’t normally believe predictions, but these are some I can live with…not sure how many or if any will come true, but with the way technology is headed, I’m sure the one about the ever-changing music industry will come true…

  31. Y’all been smoking too much dope. 2020 will roll around and we’ll still have the same DAWs, with the same functions, with the same features, the same sound design capabilities, and very similar user interfaces on Desktop and Laptop computers. The only difference will be the difference in popular music electronic artists choose to make.

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