“No matter how hard you may try, you’ll never be a good singer”. That’s what most of the popular music artists these days should be told. “You suck so get over it. Making music isn’t for everyone”. Instead they are told, “That was great! We will clean it up with the computer. You will look great on the video!” It’s a crying shame.
Do you want to know how popular music should sound in this era of digital music? Listen to Jack White. In January of this year I was watching the Jack White episode of Austin City Limits on PBS. I was blown away by the musicianship of Mr. White and his two different accompanying bands. I was really enjoying the show, but it took me a couple of minutes to realize he was playing music of his latest album Blunderbuss.
My lack of recognition didn’t stem from poor rhythm, singing out of key, or the bands lack of enthusiasm. I realized that they were performing different arrangements of the same songs. It was astounding. They were just as exciting, and engaging but completely different from the recorded album I had been listening too on a regular basis. This is what musicianship is all about.
Do you think that today’s pop artists could do the same thing? I don’t. I really, really don’t. I think whatever singing talent they may have, is completely fabricated and manipulated. Their songs could not be easily translated into other arrangements, or musical genres without a team of writers and directors to fall back on. Without the help of modern computers and high-end editing software there would be nothing musical about the final output.
Popular music has been infected by technology. Auto-tune, multiple tracks, non-linear editing, looping tracks have taken average singers and made them pop stars. They are not what I’d call true musicians.
It’s not that the river of popular music doesn’t ebb and flow, or that one hit wonders has never existed till now. It’s that they are all the same. There is no sound, vocal, or musical hook that sets todays bands apart (and I use the term band very loosely). There’s no soul. It’s like an out of tune tambourine. Shaken, but not very well.
I recently watch the documentary Sound City directed by Dave Grohl. Sound City was a music studio in Van Nuys, California that produced some the seminal rock albums of all times. Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors, Tom Petty’s Dam the Torpedos, and one of the biggest selling albums of all times, Nirvana’s Nevermind. However the documentary was not about the music was produced at the studio, but how it was produced. It was all done with analog mixing boards and reel-to-reel tape recorders. No digital tomfoolery. It took more time to record an album. It meant that the musicians had to know their parts. However the music that came out of that studio had soul.
Sound City however fell to the digital audio state and was sold off in 2011. Computer technology had become so invasive that it took down one of the great halls of musical brilliance. One of the great moments of the film was in an interview with John Fogerty. He and a young musician had been comparing notes on their recording experiences. Mr. Fogerty had asked how much time he spent practicing before going into the studio. The young musician replied that he didn’t need to because the computers allowed him to fix all his mistakes on the fly. There was no such thing as capturing a song in a single take anymore.
Now there is a flip side to modern technology and music recording. Setting up a simple, economic home recording studio has become easier than ever. As an example, I have Apple Garageband and a simple USB 3 device pre-amp. Why is this great? Well, not all of us want to be pop stars. I liken my recordings to putting poems down on paper. It’s my way of keeping a record of some creative thought I may have had.
It’s also much more affordable than trying to rent studio time to put together sample recordings for up and coming bands, or cover bands trying to book gigs at local establishments. These recordings don’t need to be perfect, but clear enough to give a good representation of what the band is about.
Okay, that’s my technological rant for this week
Till next time,
A Clockwork Techie