There is nothing like that driving beat, the snap of a snare drum, a screaming guitar with just enough sustain to fade off into the sweet vocal harmonies. Back in the day when players were players with years of blood sweat and tears developing their techniques, musicians were artists and their canvas a thin layer of tape. That was before the death of the musician, now rapidly becoming a long lost art.
Years ago, groups like The Beatles created amazingly intricate productions through layering a simple 4-track recorder. Parts were sung or played until they got them right. Those subtle imperfections were what made it real, the slight pitch variation of a tired voice stretching for that high note, too weary for another go around.
Enter the digital age. The drummer rapidly becoming a thing of the past, replaced by a machine, a programmer creating “beats” through button pushing. Where is the artistry in that? Singers now enter a massive 64-track studio where, like a Word document, parts are copied and pasted. No need to get it right all the way through the tune. The engineer at the board will do it for them.
Remember strings played by orchestras? Violins, being one of the most difficult instruments to conquer, were added into the mix by true masters of the trade. Today, someone is sitting at a keyboard simulating those sweet sounds. Don’t get me wrong, that pianist is a well-accomplished musician, and they serve the purpose, but at what price?
And, talk about live performance, I have absolutely no respect for a singer lip syncing their songs while their studio-created number is being pumped through the speakers. Where is the talent in that? As far as I’m concerned, if they can’t sing it live, then their skill level is not what you might think. I certainly wouldn’t pay a nickel to see them.
Now, having said these things, I must say that country music still appears to remain true. While I am an old rock and roller and have never been a huge fan, I would much rather listen to those true musicians playing their heart out than hear some stupid machine creating a beat.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some beautiful songs out there on pop radio: nice lyrics and great voices. But that’s where it ends for me. There is no substitute for real instrumentalists weaving the backdrop for those tunes.
It’s all about the mighty dollar. Record and production companies save bundles of money by using the least amount of players both live and in the studio.
I was blessed to have had the opportunity to record in some of the finest studios in the county. One of which was Darkhorse Studios outside of Nashville. It was a thrill to watch highly skilled producers and engineers at work. Whether is was a flute, conga, or saxophone needed, enter the artists, demonstrating their expertise and creativity. Material recorded there is available on iTunes. Does anyone still pay for downloads these days?
Today, that mixing room is a lonely place: a producer, singer, keyboardist or programmer, and if you’re lucky a guitarist. And, quite possibly your favorite melody was recorded in someone’s garage.
Who knows? The next generation, just learning to crawl, may only know about musicians through history books. I take that back. I mean e-readers, as books are already well on their way to antiquity.