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:
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 Rinse.fm rip, I’ve had no problem giving it the repeat treatment for the better half of today.
Benga feat. Katy B. – Katy on a Mission