Your Taste in Music is Terrible

A few weeks ago, we did a piece on the impact that good vocals can have on music, and while at the time, it seemed as if we’d driven the point home, I’m realizing now that simply praising the powerful qualities of good vocals barely scratches the surface of vocal music as a whole, for as things stand, we’ve entirely forgotten to address the detrimental effect that terrible, terrible vocals have begun to impart upon the increasingly tiny population of actual talented singers.

Seeing as I live in Southern California, it doesn’t often strike my fancy to turn on the radio (for those of you who’ve never had the pleasure, the music on air in the town that hosts a huge chunk of the world’s biggest record labels turns out to be significantly underwhelming), but on the rare occassion that it does, I am almost without fail, greeted rather warmly–that is of course assuming that by “rather warmly” I mean by some nothing special nobody using autotune and a nauseating 808 emulator to tell me precisely how they’re going to nail this chick they’ve found in “tha club.”

Let’s start with the autotune. If you’d asked me a year or two ago how I felt about it, I would have told you I didn’t mind it, so long as it was used properly. That is, the technology was invented to help singers who might not quite be able to hit that high note touch up the quality of their tracking, and if I’d heard it used as such, it was all go in my book. And you know what? Two years ago, even modest abuse of the effect could fly if done with dignity. Remember Cher‘s Believe? You can take your best shot at it, but come on, that tune was brilliant. Unfortunately, 2010 begged for a line to be drawn, and we’re drawing it. Over the last decade, autotune has stopped fixing good singers’ mistakes, and has gone on to to fix straight up bad singers. It’s no longer being applied to spotty notes, but rather to entire vocal tracks, and as a result, singers don’t sound like people anymore. They sound like freaking pots and pans robots. It used to be you could dismiss a funny sounding autotuned vocal track as one amongst many not-so-corrected tracks, but this is no longer the case. People even found a way to wreck the Cher effect. And no, not just by using it too often, but by doing it flat out wrong. You can’t just throw it on any generic rapper’s voice and expect it to sound cool: Autotune corrects PITCH. Rappers are called rappers because the vocals they do have nothing to do with pitch, and because of that that we end up hearing the plugin struggle to find a pitch that doesn’t exist, which sounds a little bit like what I imagine Helen Keller would have come up with, had she become a Top 40 artist. Bad. Notice how Beyoncé‘s Single Ladies won song of the year AND Best Female R&B Vocal Performance at the Grammys? Maybe it was because she’s the only artist in the entire category that doesn’t need to autotune her voice. (Okay maybe I won’t go that far, but you get the point)

You know what it is? Autotune takes the uniqueness out of a voice. It takes people who, by nature, all sound different, and produces vocal tracks that all sound exactly the same. A Casio keyboard could produce more original sounds.

Believe it or not, autotune isn’t the only thing wrong with radio music. When did we decide that lyrical creativity was no longer a necessity? I mean, as if autotune doesn’t make everyone sound identical enough, now they’ve got to go and limit their lyrics to “in da club,” synonymes for woman (bitch, trick shawty), and phrases only a step or two shy of “I’ma fuck the shit out of you.” Did anyone ever stop and wonder whether these girls even give a damn whether or not you can make their bed rock?

Or how about rhythm? Does music need rhythm? Apparently not. All you need to do is inform people that there are, in fact, “Way too many people here that I didn’t know last year,” in a plain old conversational voice, and you’re all set. That beat in the background? Oh that’s nothing, you can just ignore it. We’re not even really sure why it’s there anyway.

Does anyone else find it sad that the most popular music in the country right now is comprised of a group of people that can’t sing and probably couldn’t tell you what a downbeat is or how to use one? Do people honestly like this crap, or is everyone just too much of a follower to say anything? I mean, I’m all for the school of thought that says anyone can be a musician, but just because you’re a musician doesn’t mean you need to be picked up by WMG. Producers used to be able to hide the fact that their artists weren’t quite as talented as their recordings might indicate, but we’re getting to a point where even an entire arsenal of DSP plugins can’t make an artist sound decent, and to be quite honest, it’s sad.

Hip hop used to be poetry. Hip hop now consists of a dude picking a single phrase, and vomiting it sloppily all over a weak-ass beat. Need proof? Compare:

Lyrics to Notorious BIG – Hypnotize
Lyrics to Usher – OMG

Mega fail.

Katy B. Lends a Helping Hand

The upside? Being forced to listen to these mountains of crap makes the last remaining natural-born, non-robot singers sound that much more beautiful. This one pulled hard on my heartstrings, and though it’s only a rip, I’ve had no problem giving it the repeat treatment for the better half of today.

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Benga feat. Katy B. – Katy on a Mission

Praise be to you, Katy B. And a nod toward Benga for giving her the means. One day you two will rule the world.

The More the Merrier

A friend of mine recently told me he wished Serato/Ableton/etc. didn’t exist so that fewer people would create and perform electronic music. To him, the rise of music-making software dilutes the talent pool since, “everyone who never would’ve touched a pair of turntables suddenly decides he’s a producer.”

This post is going to take a few different approaches to refuting his observation.

1: The Talent Argument

Software doesn’t replace talent. Rather, software is a means to an end. We don’t look at Mozart and say “he’s the one who got the piano,” because there were thousands of other people playing the same instrument at the same time. It’s just that, well, Mozart was more talented. The piano didn’t matter; the person playing it did. Yeah, more people are making music today. But some people are still more talented than others; those people will still rise to the top. And just for the record: it is possible to make really bad music with really good software. Shoot me an e-mail if you need some mp3s as proof.

2: The Innovation Argument

More people using the same software means that there’s an incentive to innovate. If you’re the only one making music, it’s easy to get complacent. If everybody’s making music, you’ll need to find new ways to distinguish yourself from the rest of the pack. Competition drives innovation. Innovation keeps music exciting.

3: The Numbers/Probability Argument

Even if the truly talented musicians don’t rise to the top (see Argument 1) and nobody does anything innovative (Arg. 2), probability theory tells us that more people making more music means something good is going to get made. All those monkeys on typewriters? Give them synthesizers and a sequencer.

It’s a numbers game, really. If ten people each make a song, there’s a good chance we’ll get ten bad songs. If ten thousand people each make a song, we’re more likely to get something good. Yeah, it’s a depressing and foolish way to look at creativity. But the logic still stands: more songs to choose from raises the chance that we’ll get something good. If you’re choosing between a fully-loaded 10GB iPod or 160GB iPod, you’ll probably pick the latter because there’s going to be something on there that you’ll want to listen to.

4: The Existential Argument

I’m of the personal opinion that creativity enriches one’s life. It’s important to be creative. Yes, there’s a lot of terrible creative shit in the world– bad poetry, boring movies, unfunny jokes and shitty drawings. But if the process behind all that was fulfilling to the author/artist, then I’m happy. Ignore the shit you don’t like. Let the artist enjoy creating it. Win-win.

5: The Inevitability Argument

Not really an argument, per se. More of an observation. Music-making software is getting cheaper; it’s getting easier to use. I don’t think either of those trends will reverse anytime soon. More people are going to make music next year than made music this year. It’s a fact of life that you’ll either welcome enthusiastically or reluctantly learn to accept. (Also worth noting: music is unique it that it’s always been popular. The way we listen has changed, but that’s about it. I’m pretty sure that we’re never going to stop enjoying music the way we might, say, stop playing poker or stop watching baseball or stop skateboarding or–gasp!–stop reading novels.)

Now get back in the studio and make some music. Haters gon’ hate.

Casino Gold

These guys e-mailed me about a week ago with some new stuff they’ve been working on. Casino Gold is DJ/Producer team Luke and Zack Matsuk. They’re from (where else?) LA and in the process of recording their first EP. These songs are made for Friday nights at 2AM, that point in the evening when the softies go home but the rest of us turn the music even louder. These are solid additions to any party playlist.

(By the way, to anyone who’s thinking of e-mails to music bloggers: we can totally tell when it’s a blast e-mail sent to your contact list of fifty different blogs. At least take the time to change the opening line or something. Maybe even write some bullshit like “you have the best website in the world” even if we know you’re lying. Complimenting us won’t make us any less likely to listen to your music. This has been a passive-agressive public service announcement from Uh Oh Disco.)

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FUBAR (Original Mix)

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Juke Dem Hoes (Casino Gold Remix)

Wonderwall Won’t Ever Sound the Same Again

Straight out of the Uh Oh Disco vault, June 1st marked the official release of Questions’ version of Oasis’s coveted Wonderwall. Was it risky? Of course it was. Was it reckless beyond stupidity? Yes indeed. But then, isn’t that what music is all about in the first place? Imagine where we’d be if Skream resigned to the fact that his beats sound like tin cans being mashed against a chalkboard, and gone on to make pop music instead. Where would we be then eh?

So let’s get this straight. The guy remixed a classic. Or rather, he snagged the vocal, and wrote an entirely new tune around it, and though we’ve all come to know the “poorly remixed mainstream track” as almost a genre in and of its own right, Questions’ super fat, yet silky smooth take on Wonderwall simply refuses to fit in.

Don’t believe it? Have a listen:

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Oasis – Wonderwall (Questions Version)

Summer, You Sneaky Little Puppy You

I don’t know how it happened, but somehow, summer has managed to make its rounds, and as much as I’ve grown so curiously fond of gloomy winters in the city, the allure of the pool parties to come is becoming undeniable.

It’s a funny sort of effect that the weather has on us. Had you asked me six months ago what a perfect Friday meant to me, I’d probably have told you I wanted to spend it losing my mind in a dark, loud, and visually ambiguous nightclub listening to something along the lines of what Simian Mobile Disco has recently decided to call “their new direction” (Check out their 2010 BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix). Now, however, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. It’s funny how the weather has such a strong influence on one’s mood. I suppose that’s why Sweden makes such great hardcore bands, huh?

So what am I going to do this weekend? I’m going to use the week’s pent up energy to do the biggest freaking cannonball I can manage, into the biggest freaking pool I can find. Anyone who gets wet gets a margarita on me.

And the soundtrack? I’ll probably be listening to something like these:

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Bonobo – We Could Forever

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Miami Horror – Moon Theory (Punks Jump Up Remix)

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Yael Naim – Toxic (16 Bit Dubstep Remix)

I’ve always been a fan of tunes like these. The ones that remind me just how alive we all are.