Nobody writes their best work sitting in front of a DAW loaded with samples and plugins.
But, reading on:
[W]ith the plethora of excellent sample libraries, effects and soft synths out there today, it’s easy to make anything sound amazing, even if it’s musically bland. When you write on piano, you don’t have those sonic crutches. It has to be well-written. If not, you’ll know instantly. You need to rely on your sense of melody and harmony rather than amazing-sounding samples to wow your audience.
It’s a good point. Good music is good music, regardless of the production or ‘sonic crutches’.
But what does that mean for a lot of modern electronic music where the production is the composition? I’m talking about genres like dubstep and glitch hop where some of the traditional western musical parameters (note pitch, harmony) are almost ignored, yet modern production techniques fill the gap. I’ve always been fascinated and inspired by the ‘studio-as-an-instrument’ approach to making music. And for this music, reverb automation and LFO-tracked bitcrushing is Tolbert’s melody and harmony. The plethora of excellent sample libraries, effects and soft synths is Tolbert’s three-line piano template.
Sometimes composition is about melody and harmony. But sometimes it isn’t.
Composition is the arrangement of sounds in time. A good composition has balanced proportion, depth, thematic development, coherent contour, momentum, contrast, etc. You can do it with an Abm/C# or a granular pitch shifter.