This is a cool video I just stumbled upon summarising the impact of eight milestones in recorded sound, courtesy of CDZA
. It goes through:
- The phonograph
- The gramophone
- Stereophonic sound
- Audio manipulation
- Multitrack recording
- The cassette tape
- Digital audio
- Audio manipulation exposion
Entertaining and clever as always from these guys. Enjoy!
I recently posted the article "Auto-Tune: So Right, It's Wrong
", a summary of points I found especially quotable from this article on the topic of Auto-Tune
. As is often the case, some of the most interesting and valuable feedback I received to the article was posted in LinkedIn groups, not readily accessible or directly attributable to the article. As an addition to my original post, following are some of the comments received on other sites - hope you take interest as much as I did, and thanks to all contributors. -
- -I had a phone call from the late Terry Howard just after he sent me a copy of Genius Loves Company. I was blown away by the Gladys Knight Vocals !!!I also felt on THAT Particular Track that Ray's Vocal sounded anemic and distant. Turns out they were the same Exact Mic (Name withheld to prevent spam issues).What's going on? I asked. They'd Pitch Corrected Ray's Vocal!!My takeaway - if the TUNE is Perfect and the TONE Sucks, what use is it? (So people can vote for the best dancer on American Idol without distraction?)I'm for Tools if Properly Used. If the end result is sonically better, great. If the end result has more artifacts and sonic-density issues, not so great... - Lawrence Villella-
- -Yes, but try turning an untuned vocal to the Disney Channel for one of their pop songs and see how far you get. As much as it hurts to say it, it's part of the style. Also, there could be other factors at play. Maybe Ray just wasn't in good voice that day. Tuning him wouldn't be my first choice, but sometimes there isn't another. Wasn't that record released after his passing? - Steve Shepherd -
- -In the old daze they just substituted a session singer for the Disney "star." It was and still is all about extra income for TV stars. This shouldn't be confused with actual musical artists.Way too many musician-producers get carried away with tuning and completely screw up the timing and believability of vocals. The test is to sing along with the vocal and feel what it does to your breath.As an Ex-Motown engineer, I can't believe how many songs today choke you up instead of liberating your soul while you sing along with them. This is simple physiology and not fashion. It's just another reason people aren't interested in buying records. The idea of a record is to play it over and over singing and moving to it. Why would you buy a recording you only wanted to listen to passively a few times or use as a "hip" background ambiance? - Bob Olhsson-
- -I agree that Auto-Tune and Melodyne suck the life out of a performance most of the time it is used. However, there are engineers that understand how music "breathes" and don't put Auto-Tune on the whole track - they only correct individual words or syllables that can't be replaced by editing from another take. Used this way, Auto-Tune is no worse or lifeless than EQ or compression, and you may only end up using it for two or three words per song.I agree that a "professional" singer should be able to sing every single lyric to a song correctly, but sometimes time runs out in a session, and you can't do those last punch-ins you need. Isn't it more pleasant to just fix the few offensive words?If used very sparingly, Auto-Tune style plug-ins can be an irreplaceable tool that can improve a comped vocal take's listenability without compromising a natural tone. I know there other engineers using it in this minimalistic way, but I admit they are probably a small minority.Now could someone explain to me the correlation between Auto-Tune and seismic data analysis software? It is fascinating that Auto-Tune was born from something so different. - Tony Porter-
- -You are 100% correct in your assessment. However, until the majority of engineer/producers realize that, they are just going to insert the plugin and continue on their merry way. The other problem is the one Steve Shepherd mentioned; try submitting a pop song that hasn't been autotuned to Disney or any label for that matter and see how far that gets you. Unfortunately these "musical geniuses" expect to hear that effect in todays music. - Philip Chiore
Love it, hate it, or couldn't care less - Auto-Tune seems here to stay. I've written on the topic of Auto-Tune many times in the past (Please Wait While Your Vocalist Is Loading
, Let Your Music Have Life - Keep it Human
, and Now You Too Can "Sing" Like Antoine Dodson
However I just read a great new article worthy of sharing. Following are a few key points I found especially quotable:"The fact that one can or cannot sing no longer has much bearing on whether one will or will not sing"."Auto-Tune defies the myth of the creative gift"."The microphone, in a sense, was the Auto-Tune of its day, doing for amplitude what Hildebrand’s invention has done for pitch"."I can think of no sound quite as oppressive as the systematic execution of technical perfectionWhat matters most in music—what music is—is sound, and I can think of no sound quite as oppressive as the systematic execution of technical perfection. Auto-Tune, by making every song perfectly correct, makes every song wrong"."To say that someone can sing can mean simply that the person can sing on key, and it is elementally important to hit the right notes. The trouble with Auto-Tune is that it applies too rigid a definition of rightness. It adjusts every tone with unyielding, unvarying precision, squarely in the mathematical center of the note. But no one sings that way—not even the world’s most esteemed opera singers. In every form of vocal music, the scale is a framework for expressive interpretation, not a system of regimentation. What it means above all to say that someone can sing is that the person can communicate the content of the words and music; and emotional expression, in vocal music, involves the deft, intelligent manipulation of pitch. A skilled singer knows how to shade a moment in a song by, say, hovering near the bottom of a note—within the note, in tune, but just below the center of the tone. A great blues singer may use three chords, but find countless possibilities for tonal variation in a single note. The music, the art, is contained in those variations. Bessie Smith, processed through Auto-Tune, would have all the soul of Siri".
View the full article "Imperfect Pitch" by David Hajdu
. For further feedback to this article see the post "Auto-Tune: Further Discussion".
I recently read an article questioning "Does The Digital Album Have A Future?
". This is a great question and one which only time will tell... In this article the author was referencing the range of "immersive" (read "screen-based"...) technologies used to spread music these days, as physical music sales continue to decline from their former heights.
Within the comments I posted that I believe music listening needs to be increasingly separated from screen-based "immersion" on "devices". It's music after all. The enjoyment and immersion should come in via the ears
In the same week I read the article "Young listeners opting to stream, not own music
" on CNN. A notable comment in this article was from Sean Wilson, 21, of Atlanta, Georgia who is quoted as saying "Ninety percent of my friends stream music. To be honest, I haven't seen someone use iTunes in a really long time". The times sure are changing, and changing fast.
Of course, good music should be discovered via as broad a range of means as possible, something which I encourage and do myself. For more on this see my previous posts "Don't Let Inconvenience Stop Your Discovery of New Music
" and "Listen All The Time, Not Just When You're Logged In
I do lament however that there is an increasing lack of separation of music listening from a screen-based environment. It seems that music consumption is becoming increasingly secondary to visual stimulation. This is not a recent phenomenon of course - live performances are as old as performance itself is, and in more recent years the explosion of video clips in the 70s and 80s has just continued with increasing strength.
However the consumption of music from screen-based listening environments leads to a likely increase in distractions from the music also. The experience of listening to music becomes increasingly secondary to what is going on before the eyes.
What do you think - is music now just background for your eyes?
The Music Machine
Around a month ago I wrote an article titled "The Unknowns of the Top 40 Charts - Producers and Front-Liners
The post contained a summary of some less-commonly-known realities of pop music composition.
After some discussion, I ended the article with the comment "When the power to the machines is switched off, all the samples and pre-programmed loops are lost and all you have is your talent, what do you bring to the table?".
The response to this question was fast-received and overwhelming, including the rather comical to-and-fro which appears in the comments directly beneath my blog.
However some of the most interesting feedback I received was through other forums, namely various LinkedIn groups which are not publicly accessible. I wanted to share these as a follow-on to my original article. I hope you enjoy as I did...
- "Here in Nashville, it's all about the words almost to the point of negating the musical content." - Randy Gabbard
- "I'd rather see more musicians who are taking the risk of NOT using the template get in front of the same demographics of those who do. One of my fondest memories, in response to your last comment, Paul, was a time when the power went out at a Chicago venue I was playing. I stepped off the stage, walked into the middle of the crowd, and performed there instead. When the power came back on, the stage manager turned the lights back off. The machine, literally or figuratively, can bring out the best and the worst...and sometimes make you write too much." - Kevin Mileski
- "Had a great night once at a rock club in central Illinois. The power went out so the lead singer and I (on acoustic guitar) sat on the front edge of the stage and played to the crowd that gathered and sat down on the dance floor. Our soundman used a flashlight to "spotlight" us." - Bud Summers
- "In spite of all that is going on in Top 40 today, I believe that this phase shall pass and we will enter a period in the music business where talent and the ability to connect with an audience will be the defining characteristics of popular and successful artists. Adele certainly demonstrated this." - Tom Netzel
- "I think the pop charts have always been this way - a light sprinkling of genuinely creative artists with their own material interspersed amongst the plethora of manufactured pop stars. The latter often have their music carefully crafted for them by a relatively small group of talented composers and songwriters. Thee factory-line approach can produce music that is a little too similar at times, but that is sort of the point - creating or maybe sometimes just following current trends and cashing in. It can still create some seriously classic, memorable pop songs though and shouldn't necessarily be dismissed as less worthy than the more independent acts...
- Motown and Atlantic in the 1960s produced some great stuff with a seriously conveyor belt approach at times. Stock Aitken and Waterman had a few classics amongst their instant throwaway pop as well...
- Speaking from personal experience - working to guidelines / a tight structure / a formula can often be quite motivating and an actual aid to creativity - gives the mind a specific focus. " - Mark Taylor
The Music Machine
I recently read this fantastic post from The New Yorker - "The Song Machine: The Hitmakers Behind Rihanna
It was an excellent read, albeit lengthy, so I want to share some of the main points I took away from it:
- Perhaps showing some ignorance for the hit machine approach to pop music, I had never heard of Tor Hermansen and Mikkel Eriksen, the team of Norwegian writer-producers known as Stargate. These guys have written the music behind some of the biggest tracks in recent pop / RnB including "Rude Boy" ("Come on, rude boy, boy, can you get it up / Come on, rude boy, boy, is you big enough?") and “S&M” (“Na-na-na-na-na come on”) from Rihanna, "Irreplaceable" from Beyoncé, and Katy Perry’s "Firework".
- Stargate are one of a relatively small number of highly successful hit maker producers, who write the backing tracks to many of today's Top 40 songs. However the vocal lines are generally composed by an almost exclusively female group of "top-liners".
- The top-liners listen to the music created by the producer and within a short amount of time come up with the main melody, lyrics and the general "catchiness" of the songs we end up hearing. The outcome of this is a demo track which is then shopped out to keen stars such as Beyoncé, Rihanna, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga.
- Importantly this helps explain why so much Top 40 and commercial radio music is so same-y, familiar, and to many (including me) - mundane. The music is not drawn from a planet full of inspiration but from a very small pool of highly efficient producers and top liners, a small pool of professionals who survive by churning hits out quickly.
- Because of this, sometimes the musical output on the charts can be too similar. In 2009, both Beyoncé and Kelly Clarkson had hits (Beyoncé’s "Halo" and Clarkson’s "Already Gone"). Both were created from the same track from producer Ryan Tedder. Clarkson wrote her own top line, and Beyoncé co-created hers with Evan Bogart. Tedder didn't mention to either artist that the other was working with his track, so both went to market and both were hits. Crazy.
- Successful top-liners include Makeba Riddick, Bonnie McKee, and Skylar Grey - none of whom are household names like the performers who make their work famous. However it is pointed out that creating the hit melody does not mean the top-liner wants (or deserves) the fame of the stars we know - after all, the Rihannas of the world are the ones everyone looks at when they walk into the room, dealing with manic publicity and touring, and needing to produce live what people come to expect from a highly polished studio album.
I enjoyed reading at the end of the article the reality check felt by these hit-making producers, especially in the wake of the monstrous success of Adele and her huge single "Someone Like You". The emotional lyrics and raw acoustic accompaniment in this track are nothing like the digital, arpeggiator-created, effect-laden music typical of the charts and these producers.
With an arsenal of studio equipment and production hours, it is still not possible to formulate a timeless "classic" that will really connect with people.
When the power to the machines is switched off, all the samples and pre-programmed loops are lost and all you have is your talent, what do you bring to the table?
John Butler (by John Dudelson)
In the past 24 hours, much attention has been given to a case of potential copyright infringement
- the track in question being Zebra by John Butler Trio
(official video below).During this week's Super Bowl, an ad for yoghurt made by Dannon in the US has featured music sounding very similar in feel and melody
to Zebra (video of this ad also below) . Was this a case of unauthorised use of the John Butler Trio track? No, it is clearly a different
recording. Is the music similar between the two? Yes.
Now here's the kicker. Is this an infringement of copyright?Well...? Who's to say. Really - who's to say? Who will make a public, legal ruling that there has been an infringement of copyright
in this case? I strongly believe NO ONE will. And I will stand corrected and surprised if this uproar amounts to anything more than an undisclosed out of court settlement between the two parties. Why? Simple. Because music is very complex and questions of similarity are incredibly hard to quantify. The instruments used, pitch, speed, melody, number and placement of rests, time signatures, additional layers added or subtracted all have an impact on how "similar" one track may seem to another - and it is all subjective. But what is the threshold beyond which a track could be seen to infringe upon another?As I discussed over 18 months ago, there is not likely to be a legal precedent set on music copyright infringement in cases like this any time soon, due to the inevitable opening of floodgates which would follow. All manner of claims of
"this sounds like that" and "this bit is almost exactly the same as that bit" begin choking courtrooms. When it comes to copyright infringement like this, who'll be the judge?