The State of the Union (musically, that is…) Part 4

Regarding the extensive use of technology and high tech trickery in the music business, we probably all remember how Milli Vanilli was busted for lip-synching live (and not even singing in the studio on their own records).  In the heyday of the MTV era, they were brought into the project to sell it visually, because they worked out, had ripped abs, looked cute to pubescent girls and could dance.  In Ohio, during one of their shows, the canned music started somehow skipping – and it repeated the same phrase: “Girl, Girl you know, Girl you know it’s true” over and over.  In fact, one of the members of Milli Vanilli stated that it skipped around 80 times, when he was interviewed for VH1’s “Behind The Music.”  One of the two guys ran off stage because he was quite embarrassed. 

Anyway, they were stripped of their Grammy Award and the whole thing turned into a catastrophe.  This career-ending scenario actually pushed one of the two members, Rob Pilatus, to take his own life at the age of 32.  Look, there have been so many people who have faked it all along – Milli Vanilli just happened to have gotten caught — and that wasn’t worth dying for.  I felt just terrible for Rob when I heard the news. 

But regarding this type of slight of hand, you might think that this is a thing of the past – Guess again!  Most of us still remember the Ashley Simpson Saturday Night Live fiasco that happened a while back.  You know, the one where she was gonna lip sync, but somehow the wrong pre-recorded track got started and the whole thing blew up in her face right in front of the whole world, and she briefly did her chicken dance.  Plus, she tried to sell herself as a wild rock chick with a badass attitude — belting out some real rock ‘n’ roll on stage!

Sometimes singers sing live with their prerecorded vocal and the actual live vocal is just slightly brought into the mix – therefore, they are “technically” singing live.  Other times, the lead and / or backing vocals are processed through pitch correction gear right on the spot so as the vocals are sung, all of the harmonies are perfectly dead on – so the listener hears perfect pitch and harmony, all thanks to a machine!

However, this story may sum it all up regarding technology’s place in all of this.  Years ago, after Britney Spears was big, but before her meltdown, someone I knew had a good friend who was the monitor engineer for a major Britney tour.  And he shared with me what this monitor engineer did on that tour. 

First, the entire show was canned – not one note of it was live at all.  The band rerecorded new versions of the songs in the studio that were to be performed on tour, then simply mimed them on stage.  This could have won an air guitar championship award, LOL!  Of course, Ms. Spear’s entire vocal performance was not heard by the audience at all!  So it was like watching a video being taped…

Between songs, the monitor engineer had to boost the volume of Britney’s mic, so she could holler things out like:  “CLEVELAND — I LOVE YOU!!!   HELLO CLEVELAND!!!!!  HOW DO YOU FEEL TONIGHT, CLEVELAND? – LET ME HEAR YOU CLEVELAND!!!!”  Then once a song started, the mic volume was turned off so the audience couldn’t hear her actually singing, and she would lip sync to her pre recorded “perfect” vocal.  Later, portions of her actual vocal performance (not heard by the audience) appeared on You Tube. 

But at one show there was almost a Milli Vanilli-esque meltdown.  Britney was apparently fake playing piano during a balled.  In the middle of the song she actually got up from the piano while the song was in progress, but the piano track kept playing — So she’s wandering around the stage, and the piano kept tinkling its own ivory’s – apparently it didn’t get noticed much as I never saw anything about this little debacle in the press.

Imagine her handlers the next day:  “Now, Britt, babe, baby, I know you’re really into wanting to give it your all onstage, and honey, that’s great!   But lovey, schnookums, you really can’t just get up from the piano when you’re sitting there, as it keeps going but no one’s there playing the piano.  What if the press found out?  I m-m-m-m mean, your credibility would be ruined.  Honey, please don’t be mad at us.  We’re just looking out for you and your image you know.  Just stay at the piano through the song, then you can let that audience FEEL you.  Oh, ho, then they can FEEL you baby when you get up and dance…

If you don’t believe me, just take a moment and click on this link, where you can hear Britney’s actual vocal performance from her HBO performance in Las Vegas!

Let me say that I am not here to criticize Britney Spears or what anyone does with their careers.  In fact, I think it’s great that she just won three MTV Awards a few days ago!  She’s apparently back, and let’s hope that she can find peace in her life and prosper again.

I just find it fascinating as to how much the public doesn’t know.  It raises these questions: “How much would people really go and pay to see a lip synched concert?”  “Would people listen to or buy records that are completely pitch and rhythm corrected from beginning to end?”  Regarding all of the technology involved in music making, I just think it is quite compelling that this is what it has come to.  Singers who don’t really sing – drummers who can’t actually play a straight beat, people pretending to play live who aren’t, or who only partially performing live and plastic surgery gone wild.  With technology, it’s merely a sign of the times – everyone having to look gre-gre-greeeeeat all the time — where everything is pre fab:  Personal trainers, perfect abs and every female being model thin.

There’s a lack of real quality present in all of today’s culture – so why should the art of the period largely be any different?  It’s mostly about appearance, illusion and show biz, just like old style Vegas.  Except today, you don’t dread being arrested because you may lose your middle America audience, you HAVE to be arrested, to keep your street cred, baby!  There’s nothing cutting edge about going to jail – it’s as predictable as heroin overdoses.  

Now, what the public gets are products that are uninteresting.  Even though these products are technologically perfect, they are in actuality, quite imperfect, as what’s largely lacking is the heart, soul and passion.  People really don’t buy into it much anymore, anyway…But is there a solution being sought, or are people more or less, ok with the way it all is?

Coming up next: Part 5 – The winner is…

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