How Az Samad takes music to a higher level via technology
Technology is continuously changing our lives not only in the most obvious ways—in transportation, communication, convenient everyday devices—but also in how we appreciate, express, and consume art.
Malaysian musician and educator Az Samad, a participant in the recent 2012 Philippine Jazz Festival, is very conscious of the impact of technology in his field. Ever since his first encounter with a notation and sequencing software that he was able to use to arrange music for his school projects, he has become an advocate of the use of technology as an end-to-end tool for his musical process.
Samad grew up in Kuala Lumpur, but he studied music at San Jose State University and Berklee College of Music in the US, and the University of Westminster in the United Kingdom. Even as a student, he already saw how he can use available technology to further his music.
“I remember bringing my keyboard to college along with my laptop to compose and arrange music in one of the practice rooms,” he recalled. “At that time I thought that was already such a portable setup. Nowadays, I do the same thing with an iPad and a keyboard controller. It’s crazy how much technology has progressed.”
Back then, CD-writing technology just started to become commonplace, and Samad took advantage of that to independently distribute his work.
“It was a very unique time for me as a musician because now I could record music and have my own CD,” he said. “My very first EP, ‘Echoes of Bangsar,’ was all homemade CDs.”
These days, he’s gone beyond traditional CDs in terms of music distribution; he also uses social media and the Internet to reach a wider audience.
“I have fans from all over the globe. If someone had told me back in 1990—before the Internet reached Malaysia—that I would have people from Pipestem, West Virginia listening to my music, I would have never believed that was possible,” Samad admitted.
He has made his music available on his website, YouTube, and various streaming and cloud services like Wowloud, Malaysia’s first and leading music streaming service.
“CDs are more and more becoming a relic of the past, and downloads and YouTube appear to be the main means by which audiences consume music,” he observed. “Musicians have to adapt to this and see different avenues for distributing their music.”
Aside from the distribution aspect, Samad is also pushing the envelope when it comes to his performances.
“In Singapore, I performed for the first time with my iPad. I downloaded a few different software synths and loop based apps,” he explained. “One of them, Alchemy, had the perfect loop that fit over my song ‘Metro Manila Jam,’ which I wrote during my trip to the Philippines. Playing that song with the iPad made it a whole different song; it was a way for me to bring together my earlier experiences with music technology and my acoustic guitar playing.”
And if he can’t physically be present to perform, well, there’s always Skype.
“When I was in California, I used to perform regularly at Bazaar Café. When I returned to Malaysia, I was still keen on participating at their 10th Anniversary Guitar Showcase,” he related. “I was beamed into the Bazaar Café via Skype, and managed to perform for the audience in San Francisco even though I was separated by more than 13 thousand kilometers.”
Samad also uses social media to stay in touch with other musicians, his students, and audiences, and to work on collaborative projects like his latest album, “Our Voice,” for which he called on fans to provide him with song titles that inspired the instrumental music he wrote. The project yielded 12 songs for the album, which he uploaded to his website.
Not your father’s music class
Technology has changed the way Samad approaches music education. Today, he is able to take on students from different countries—around 18 to 20 of them—and still manage to give them the kind of personalized education that used to be possible only through face-to-face teaching sessions.
“Skype has allowed me to teach students who are unable to meet me face-to-face for lessons. I’ve taught students from the US from the living room of my apartment in Kuala Lumpur.”
He also uses a combination of other online resources like YouTube and Google Docs to provide lessons and exchange videos and notes with his students, and Twitter and e-mail to schedule lessons and for quick Q&As.
It may sound tedious, but Samad believes that it all helps to give his students a more rounded educational experience.
“Traditional education tends to end at the end of the class. With technology, the learning can still continue beyond it,” he explained. “The sharing of additional resources is also more convenient now with online media. I often share new videos that I find interesting via email and Facebook, and then we use those videos as points of departure for in-class discussions.”
Samad is also better able to monitor his students’ progress with the help of all these tools.
“I have one student who emails me almost every other day, relating how he’s coming along with his practice,” he shared. “It’s very encouraging, and regular contact inspires him to learn more. With every e-mail, I might give him an additional video or answer a question with a related link so he can read more about what we’ve been covering. It’s great! They can stay in contact with me, so the learning process has steady momentum.”
But do these additional benefits mean additional cost? Samad said it’s all actually more affordable now than ever.
“For most of my students, all you need is a computer with a good Internet connection, which all of them already have even before taking lessons with me. A recording setup is as easy as using the recorder on your mobile phone or using a webcam.”
Well, it will be fun to see what he will do when hologram technology becomes conventional. –KG, GMA News
Az Samad shares more about how technology informs his work as an educator and performer on his website, www.azsamad.com, where you can also find performance schedules, class announcements, and samples of his music.
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