What do we call what we do?

Hi friends! Every month or so (or every time I have to provide an artist bio), I’m struck by my lack of words to describe what it is – whatever it is – that we as synthesizer- and computer- playing musicians do. If you play cello, you’re a cellist; if you write songs and sing them, you’re a singer-songwriter.

If I compose music for synthesizer and computers, I suppose that makes me a composer, but that always seems like such a self-aggrandizing and self-serious thing to call oneself.

I guess, in the end, we’re “synthesists,” but I see this label used pretty rarely. What is the consensus?

What are we? Does this even matter? Can we as a collective pick a new vocational term – “bleep-bloopers,” for example?


I think we ought to embrace the word composer a little more. After all, all one is is a writer of music.

I do like the word synthesist, since one of my artistic concerns is the exploration of different synthesis methods.

One could probably sidestep these concerns by describing oneself as a musician working primarily with such and such materials, just as a visual artist might work primarily in painting, sculpture or even more granularly, watercolors and clay


So no to the “bleep-blooper”?

To be serious, though, you’re right – that is probably the most accurate, and least limiting, way that we could describe ourselves.


Saying “I play synthesizers” invariably leads to the expectation that I play a keyboard.


Maybe Synthesist (which shows up as a misspelling in my browser fwiw) is esoteric enough to get the point across that you aren’t necessarily a keyboardist.

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It also sounds vaguely like some kind of emergent religion, which maybe isn’t a bad thing.


Or, “oh, so do you do techno”


We fuck with time and space


isn’t that the human condition though?

How I see it:

  • A musician is someone who practice and plays and instrument. It’s less a notion of creation and more of performance.
  • A composer is someone who create music compositions (regardless of the tool and mastery required).
  • A producer is someone who help transforming music into a finished product.

Given the fluidity of tools I use, I don’t want to highlight the specific instruments I can play. And since I spend more time creating and performing music than releasing it, “musician and composer” seems like a fitting description.


A craftsperson, whose medium is sound. I’m all about the craft :slight_smile:

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I don’t feel that strongly about it but I think “musician” is someone who makes and understands music, without necessarily implying performance as a primary activity.

The difference between someone who plays instruments and a performer was really driven home by my time with a taiko drumming group. Aside from some specialist roles, choreography and stage presence were held to be more important than rhythm and dynamics – though I could grasp the logic of that, I’d rather play well than look good playing mediocre.

I usually just go with “electronic musician.” My spouse says I am “a composer of electronic music” and that’s fine, since I accept improvisation and recording as well as sound design as compositional processes, in this medium. (I do think “electronic music,” regardless of its extreme vagueness as a genre, is often something of a different medium from “music” generally.)

Really, whatever term we use it’s going to be like the “what society thinks I do” meme. People are going to picture keyboards, or Deadmau5, or lab coats, or someone with wild hair scribbling on staff paper in a dim room, or whatever.


I make sound. (20 characters)


In this context I don’t mean live performance. For example, learning and playing a tune on the piano qualifies.

But this point about what performance really means is very interesting. More than playing the music it’s also about how you act and present.

I’m struggling a bit with the term electronic music. Even if I get the lineage behind the name, I’m not really comfortable with what it tend to imply. To me it sounds more descriptive of the tools than the approach/goal.

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Electronic musician

Ambient electronic musician

Accidental electronic musician



That’s fair.

I think if I wrote music at a piano or guitar, or direct from brain to sheet music, then arranged it for synthesizers – or worked in such a way that I could do that, at least – I would be less likely to call it “electronic music.”

Since I put the character and behavior of the synths and effects first, encompassing timbre but also aspects or the entirety of the rhythm, and melody and harmony – the gear as almost a collaborator – I do consider it “electronic music.”

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this is such a good question! it’s so hard for me to talk about my music-related endeavors with people. i usually say “i play synthesizers and guitar” and when they inevitably ask about genre/sound, i say “kinda ambient, electronic, experimental” and try to explain those words as little as possible.

i really struggle with the self-aggrandizement part since i’ve never even performed as an adult and only really started recording my synth explorations like a year ago. i barely even want to say “musician,” much less “composer” (who am i, Tim Hecker? Beethoven?). i guess i just don’t want to appear to take myself too seriously since i’m a hobbyist. idk.


I hear you, I validate you, I believe you, you’re the next Beethoven.


I struggle with this sometimes, but I usually just simplify it by saying that I am a “maker and consumer of art and sound.”

i usually say
Sound & Light technology & Design
Audio Design, Projection Design & Advanced Media Systems

Also i have cats