7 TED Talks That Change The Way We Think About Music

By Adam MaidmentMusicngear Contributing Editor

Article photo - 7 TED Talks That Change The Way We Think About Music

When you’re looking for some inspiration and insight from experts in your field, TED Talks are a pretty good place to start. Since its online arrival in 2006, the series has shared more than 2,800 videos on a wide variety of subjects ranging from brain surgery to diversity in the workplace.

There are also plenty of videos surrounding the music industry, fronted by influential and well-respected individuals. With so many to choose from, it can be difficult to narrow down which ones to start with. We’ve unearthed some of our favourite TED Talks involving music, and looked into just what they can inspire from within us.

How Sampling Changed Music, Mark Ronson

We’ve already shared our love for sampling in the past, but this TED Talk from producer Mark Ronson just solidifies it.

Ronson’s talk is a brilliant insight into how he works as a producer, and how he is able to create a whole new sound from existing material. The ‘Uptown Funk’ producer starts his talk off by performing a track made completely out of samples from previous TED talks and then goes on to talk about how he learnt to take elements out of things he enjoyed and turn it into something new for Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back to Black’ album.

Key takeaway: “When we really add something significant and original and we merge our musical journey with this, then we have a chance to be a part of the evolution of that music that we love and be linked with it once it becomes something new again.”

Embrace the Remix, Kirby Ferguson

Similar to Ronson’s talk, Kirby Ferguson looks into the remix and how it can be used to evolve a sound and take it to new ground. Not only that but he argues that everything is a remix, from Bob Dylan songs up to the iPhone.

Take a watch and it’ll give you a new perspective on remixes (not just in music).

How I Started Writing Songs Again, Sting

Any writer will be able to tell you just how frustrating writer’s block can be. But, as Sting’s TED Talk reveals, even some of the biggest names get it too. Sting’s talk focuses on a period of his life where he felt no inspiration and couldn’t put pen to paper.

The singer explains that by focusing on the lives and stories of characters, rather than himself, he was able to find the foundation for his next songs. In doing so, he reveals, he also found out a lot more about himself than he expected.

It’s an approach that’s definitely worth trying for yourself if you’re trying to write that next big hit and just can’t get yourself in the right mindset.

Key takeaway: “As soon as I decided to honor the community I came from and tell their story, that the songs started to come thick and fast. One of the first things I wrote was just a list of names of people I'd known, and they become characters in a kind of three-dimensional drama.”

The DIY orchestra of the future, Ge Wang

Technology is constantly adapting and finding new ways for us to perform everyday tasks. Using computers and virtual instruments are now commonplace in the modern music world, but what does the future hold?

Using a programming language called ChucK, musician and computer scientist Ge Wang explains how he was able to create Stanford’s laptop and mobile phone orchestras. The talk demonstrates just what can be done with the phones in our pockets, and considers how they can start to be introduced into the world of music.

It also makes us wonder whether as to whether ChucK will eliminate the need to invest in pianos and violins in the future. Hopefully not.

Key takeaway: “Computer music isn't really about computers. It is about people. It's about how we can use technology to change the way we think and do and make music, and maybe even add to how we can connect with each other through music.”

The Art of Asking, Amanda Palmer

Perhaps the most-known of all music-based TED Talks, Amanda Palmer’s talk is essential viewing for everyone in today’s music industry.

Palmer talks about how asking for help has not only let her see and experience new things, but also helped form a close-knit bond with her fans. Having taken music piracy and told people to torrent her music if they want, she asked her fans to crowdfund her latest album. She realised that instead of trying to make people buy music, she just asked them if they would help her. And they did.

Key takeaway: “I think people have been obsessed with the wrong question, which is, "How do we make people pay for music?" What if we started asking, "How do we let people pay for music?”

A Virtual Choir 2,000 Voices Strong, Eric Whitacre

Eric Whitacre started playing with synthesisers and drum machines, before being invited to join his university’s choir. From then on, he began a career towards being a professional classical composer and conductor.

His TED Talk is something a little different and showcases the sheer possibilities that the internet has given us. He talks about how he managed to get 2,000 people, who he had never met, to take part in a composition of one of his tracks.

It’s an inspiring story of how we can use social media to our advantage, particularly when it comes to music.

How I Found Myself Through Music, Anika Paulson

Whilst less about the production and processes behind music, Anika Paulson’s TED Talk is an important reminder of the way music can impact us all. The musician shares just how music helped her learn a vital lesson in how music has guided her through life and helped her find herself even at her lowest points.

Key takeaway: “Music is my way of coping with the changes in my life. There's a beautiful connection between music and life. It can bind us to reality at the same time it allows us to escape it. Music is something that lives inside of you. You create it and you're created by it.”

Do you have a particular TED Talk that inspires you in your everyday music-making life? Be sure to share it with us on Facebook and Twitter.

About Adam Maidment

Adam Maidment is a content writer with a keen interest in entertainment, music and pop culture. His music tastes are as varied as his interests, ranging from Kate Bush, CHVRCHES, Santigold, Friendly Fires, and Childish Gambino. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/helloitsadam

Contact Adam Maidment at adam.maidment@musicngear.com

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