I was listening to a program on radio 4 today about voice correction software. The most popular brand you will have heard of is called “Auto-tune“. I knew about this technology before, as I’m sure you did (They never had it when I was a Producer) but I never knew how widely it was used. Ever wondered why todays chart songs can sound so dull and characterless? Well one could give more than one reason for this: Producers not having a sound musical knowledge anymore? Doing everything too quickly on a laptop? Copying and pasting verses and choruses and ridding the song of character? Or perhaps so many great chord progressions have been written and copywrited, that there’s not much fertile ground available anymore for the new blood to “harvest”. Maybe it’s down to a music business run by materialists and accountants who have an exact formula for making money which precludes individualism and the art that comes with it? One thing seems for sure though; Taking into account what Grace Jones said when quoting Edith Piaf: “Use your faults. They are what make you a star”. Well we’re in a world now it seems where faults aren’t allowed anymore. The golden rule when I was a keyboard player was, if you get it wrong, play it three times and everyone will think it’s deliberate (I never tried that one to be honest) Perhaps this is why Miley Cirus and Lady Gaga not only sound so dull to me, but also sound so interchangable. All Variations of vocal are wiped clean…
To me this is definitely part of the problem. But it’s not the entire story. I think it’s partly audience driven. We live in a world where the bulk of the audience appears to demand a certain blandness in their product. Would people take to a mega band like Queen or Genesis these days? Would disco take off today? (I doubt it – people are trying all the time and are loudly ignored). What is different about prog rock and disco? Well as an ex musician I can tell you. Those bands and these types of music are arguably epic in comparison to say…Justin Beiber or most anyone else in the charts these days. Why? Simple to those in the know. Most dull samey pop tunes use the same simple “triad” chords like C, D, A, and E. these are chords that have only three notes eg: the chord of C has C (root), E (third) and G (fifth). A power chord in a Who song might include the same chord with a suspended 4th added (F). Super groups of yesteryear like the above plus people like Supertramp, Bowie etc. have songs littered with spiced up chords like this because they extend the illustrative possibilties of the song no end. A song is after all, a snapshot of a persons’ mood or thoughts in a given moment right? So why limit the poetic expression to a few bland, easliy digestible, sugarless porridge-like explanation units (chords). The extreme example of chord use is jazz and old skool R&B/soul, who’s menu seems to be too rich for the taste of most white people (audience driven see?), but is lapped up by many musicians who understand whats going on and the skill of both writer and player – See it’s harder to use big words (chords) especially when education is being forever dumbed down to make a more controllable population – Oops! Going off topic there… But it’s harder to play big chords and complex melodies, as it requires a bit of skill and practice with one’s instrument even if it’s one’s voice that’s the said item.
There used to be a band called “Pop will eat itself“. I don’t know anything about them, but their proficy seems to have come true. Pop music is at the over produced stage where it’s so far up it’s own unskilled arse that it’s becoming blind to what is and isn’t good anymore (generally).
Big producers now don’t look for skilled singers. They look for good looking singers. Skill and training isn’t needed. Now you know why few artists of this kind last five minutes. They’re on a conveyer belt and it’s a fast one.
I know what you’re thinking: how do we handle this as DJ’s? Simple. If you’re a club DJ, you’re probably playing stuff most of the night that never gets into the main charts and who gives a crap? Everyone knows dance is dance and screw it, let’s get on the club floor like we came to do and do it. Either that or your audience is happy to dance to Will.i.am type stuff all night. I don’t know about you, but I can only take so much 128bpm house in one set, even if it is peppered with David guetta and Calvin harris.
If your a mobile DJ like me, your saving grace is at most gigs (probably not 18ths) you can dip into 5-6 decades of older music to bolster up the new stuff. Works quite well if you read my reviews. Hmm… my heads aching. it must be getting too big again. Well I AM a DJ aren’t I?
I must just add that there are exeptions to the blandness of course. Some originality is allowed through from artists that don’t sound like they’re on prozac. Check out Disclosurefor some of those juicy chords I mentioned earlier. And thankfully, some decent dance music is still making it through to mainsteam. I won’t mention who. you know who they are. Then there non dance are artists like Adele, who can put some juice into their material even now and still get a recording deal. You’d think more labels would realise how well good songs sell wouldn’t you? Shortage of Adele standard artists? Never! lazy or non existant A & R? Damn sure.
finally for those that want to hear it and how Auto-tune can be used in an artistic way Here is the link to that radio 4 program
Well I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. Music is very subjective after all, but I’m just saying what I see. I’m not an old fuddy duddy either. Anything but. I’m looking at it from the point of view of an artistic person who is ever hopeful of new and fresh sounds. I hope that comes through in the above.
Have a good one,