The State of the Union (musically, that is…) Part 3

Even though we now have You Tube and My Space, along with Facebook and other similar sites, the music business has become so much smaller, and the thing that a lot of people don’t get, is that as the profitability shrinks, exciting and fresh new artistic options also shrivel up.  Simply stated, one has to be able to make money to keep doing it.  (I’m sorry to burst the bubble of someone composing under the moonlight, tra-la-la, being inspired, and never having to pay rent, tra-la-la.)  This shrinkage also reflects upon the current state of society in general.  Not that society has gotten smaller; in fact it’s growing bigger all the time, but people are forever becoming more separate and disconnected from each other.

Society as a whole is more disjunct and fragmented than ever.  With the death of polite society and the increase of narcissistic individualization, everyone is about ME!!!!!!  This sense of today’s MEEE is smug, jaded, cynical, disconnected, self absorbed and detached.  Not that it is necessarily the worst thing in the world to be about MEEEEEEEEE (it’s better than physically attacking people), but society has lost any semblance of connection, regarding overall social concerns and the welfare of everyone as a whole. 

This sense of societal connection and concern for others may have never been as strong as people had hoped it could be back in the 1960’s, but it is certainly WAY less now; and in certain quarters, selfishness is even celebrated.  Just look at VH1 and E! Channel shows where it is glorified to be the most rich, ostentatious, self centered, spoiled brat on the planet!  There’s a sense of false immunity, privilege and the bogus good life that is presented with celebrity and even if the paparazzi kills you, you’re immortalized!!  But wait – stop – we’re stepping on sacred ground here and possibly engaging in sacrilege…The most eternal and pious question must be asked:  Is there anything in this musical world that could possibly be more important than celebrity? – LOL!

Instead of being about the substance of the work, the musical world itself is becoming increasingly more about celebrity (in the Hollywood sense).  What’s frightening is that the one thing that connects this physical world together, the one thread that is universal to all of society is — of all things — celebrity!  Peace on earth, everyone eating, health care, and helping the down trodden should be way more important to every single one of us than Britney’s meltdown, JLo’s twins, trite gossip, and meaningless scandals over sex and drugs etc.  With the fanatical obsession over celebrity, it reflects the type of music largely bought and sold:  shallow, vapid, more based on appearance and technology, with very little to do with innovation, integrity, passion, message, desire and real guts. 

In fact, so many “stars” who aren’t dedicated musicians simply use music as another vehicle to merely spread their fame wings, just like a nice little resting point to put out a record and hopefully make some more money.  However, we may see far less of that happening as real money is hardly made anymore from record sales.  (Here’s my marketing suggestion:  Switch to the clothing line or fragrance thing, LOL.  The titles are easy for fragrance: Fantasy, Passion, Intrigue, Illicit, Desire, Forbidden, Scandalous, Naughty…)

In addition to all of the above-mentioned factors, most people don’t realize just how much of the current state of the musical union is based on the roles that technology plays.  Most of you probably have no idea as to how much gadgetry, computers and technicians are responsible for what you hear and what is bought.  This is not the old days when drum machines were first introduced in the early 1980’s – this is almost unbelievable.

When I was recording my Christmas Jazz record: Tidings of Comfort and Joy: A Jazz Piano Trio Christmas in November 2005, one of my engineers on the session was telling me how elated he was to be doing the record.  So I asked him why?  He started gushing as to how refreshing it was to see real people play with no editing or technological corrections – real people feeling, trying, sweating and succeeding.  I asked him, “Don’t you do other sessions where people just – (I can hardly get the words out – it’s so archaic, I’m trying to push the dinosaur up a mountain and running out of breath – play and sing?”) 

He began explaining to me what he usually does for a living as an engineer.  He spends all day long pitch and rhythm correcting records by famous artists.  As he was telling me how each drum hit played by a real drummer — EVERY ONE OF THEM was placed on a visual computer grid and how he would have to go though every drum hit and correct them, so they would be of all things, in time.  (I know it’s a little too much to ask of a drummer to play a basic drum beat in time.  I mean, I’ve always been known as a slave-driving perfectionist…LOL!)  He spoke of it taking an entire day or more to correct the drums on one song…

Then he talked about pitch correction – where every single —  yes each single last solitary note, breath, and vocal utterance is corrected.  I thought, “How could someone call themselves a singer and not be able to sing in a safe and pristine studio environment for a measly 4 minutes?”  I was in disbelief – “You mean, all of the sounds out of the singer’s mouth,” I asked him?  “Yes,” he sighed. 

Then he told me that there is a studio which recently opened in Nashville that works 24 hours a day – not on recording, mixing or mastering.  Of course not.  How naive of me to presume such an out of date thought.  Its entire function is to rhythm and pitch correct records.  What ever happened to voice lessons, practice, and getting better at your craft?  I swear, I almost fell out of my chair right then and there.

But what surprised me even more, is how all of my engineers looked at me with the vibe of, “What’s the problem?  Didn’t you know this is the way it is nowadays?”  They were so used to this type of thing that they were jaded to the practice of it….

So when you hear a record, listen to hear if it sounds perfect – not just excellent as a classical orchestra sounds, but mechanically perfect  – no variations, no volume changes, the vocal sounding scientifically perfect, the rhythm having not even the slightest variation – this is what it has come to today!  Remember, these records won’t sound like a robot doing them – the industry is much too clever for that – it’s the aural equivalent of looking at a perfectly air brushed photograph, where all blemishes and flaws, wrinkles are removed yet done in such a way that still remains believable.  And these are not musically complex records at all.  Hello?  Does anyone make those anyway anymore?  We’re talking about making records that are not technically challenging to perform as an artist.  So if these “stars” really can’t play and sing the way they are falsely portrayed to do on records, “What happens live,” you might ask?  Well that can be a very interesting, and a potentially quite embarrassing question!

Coming up next: Part 4 – Oops, Britney does it again

2 Replies to “The State of the Union (musically, that is…) Part 3”

  1. Every so often I like to think about all the successful vocalists who would have never made it today if the music business were like it is now. Some of the most charismatic performers could never get record deals because they likely couldn’t be auto-tuned into the blandness that seems so popular now. Yes, I know folks like d. boon and Joe Strummer couldn’t “sing” but I wasn’t looking for perfect pitch, I was drawn in by the sum of the parts – the message, the passion, and the energy (and the freedom to be who I was, which probably wasn’t an option in the Journey scene). And that sum made them and others (including you, sorry for the butt-kissing) so much more endeared to me.

    All the people who look to American Idol to determine their next favorite singer should think about those they’ve enjoyed in the past and ask themselves how many of those people would pass muster if they auditioned on the show. Most would probably be cut before the first commercial.

    Can you imagine how Simon & Co. would react to Joe Cocker (if he were emerging now)? “NEXT!”

    David Lee Roth – nope!
    Mick Jagger – please!
    Prince – they’d laugh him out of the studio
    And on & on

    Sometimes I find myself liking the rough mixes of songs better than the album versions because they display the artist as they are naturally. Reminds me of the line from Ike & Tina’s version of Proud Mary: “We never do nothing nice and easy. We like to do it nice…and rough.”

  2. Ewolf — I think you make great points here! Different vocalists bring different gifts to the table, like Joe Strummer and Jagger. I don’t separate them from say a Frank Sinatra as again, each person brings something invaluable to the collective that is only theirs. There has to be real feeling for a song to cut through and reach out to others and everyone you mentioned does just that, and I appreciate being included with such fine company. Jim Skafish

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