Monday, November 16, 2009

To Err is Human

From NPR, an article on The Death of Rock, which will come about because people can no longer make mistakes (or human variations in pitch and beat) due to Pro Tools. There's a beautiful paragraph in there detailing the mistakes in the Beatles' song Rain, followed by the video so we can hear it for ourselves.
Now imagine what would happen if some band of 25-year-olds with radio aspirations wrote and recorded "Rain" today. That take would probably be thrown out, or at least digitally edited to fix the screw-up; even if they played it right, the drum track would get imported into ProTools and snapped back into strict rhythm any time it drifts behind the beat. The lead singer's wobbly notes, and the not-quite-in-tune bass guitar, would get fixed with AutoTune. The all-over-the-place guitar dynamics would be tightened up with a compressor-limiter. It'd still be a fine song, but the recording would be impossibly boring -- as frictionless and dull as the recordings even the best mainstream rock bands often end up making now.
Do you agree?

It seems to me that there have always been perfectionists - Queen mixing down thousands of tracks of the tiniest pieces of sound from the strangest sources, back in the days when it meant slicing tape with a scalpel and splicing it back together. And there have always been first-take bands. I think the only real change is that mediocre bands can be made to sound good by a producer armed with auto-tune and pro-tools, thus 'fooling' us. In the old days they just used to do that by kicking the band out and bringing in session musicians, so I'm not sure even that's much of an innovation.

On the other hand, I really hate auto-tune.

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