Music & Technology: Battle of Wits
As we all know music has been a part of our lives from when we were kids to the time when we grow up. You can find music everywhere and you can create music just by making instruments out of everyday appliances. That is how I was taught when I grew up. But being able to make music is much more than that, so much so, that technology, by way of electronics, has gotten involved. The overuse of electronics in music is taking away from real artists in music and it is more about special effects than real talent in some cases.
In a recording studio, you will see the people behind it using sound and mixing boards, but nowadays people are making recordings in their own homes through computers and flash drives. So that is where the question of do we really need anything electronic to make us better musicians and singers comes in. And how much of it is too much? Supporters of technology in music may say that we do rely on it way too much when it comes to music. So much so, that you see singers and rappers using auto tune technology, be it in videos or live in concert. David Bowie predicted that the electronic technology was going to dominate the music world and change everything from within. “I don’t even know why I would want to be on a label in a few years, because I do not think it’s going to work by labels and by distribution systems in the same way. The absolute transformation of everything that we ever thought about music will take place within 10 years, and nothing is going to be able to stop it”-David Bowie (excerpt from the 2002 New York Times article “David Bowie, 21st Century Entrepreneur” by Jon Pareles) (El Gamal)
According to a CNN article that was published a while back on auto tune they had this to say regarding it, “But the jury is still out on whether Auto-Tune was a boon for the music industry, or a disaster: in 2010, Time magazine included it in the list of The 50 Worst Inventions, calling it ‘a technology that can make bad singers sound good and really bad singers sound like robots.’" (Prisco). Some singers will sometimes rely on auto tune to help mask the sound of their singing voices by making them sound robotic or to aid their voice as they get older with age. Some examples of this would be Cher, T Pain, and Rebecca Black. These are just a few examples of people who use auto tune. Cher, an older singer, did use auto tune in a music video to enhance her voice. (See the video ‘Believe’ for details.) T Pain also uses auto tune in some of his songs to give more of a robotic effect. He even went so far to come out with a toy microphone, complete with an auto tune setting.
There is also Rebecca Black. She is known for that song ‘Friday,’ and she uses auto tune in her singing so much that it caused her to have just that one hit, and only one hit. The auto tune gave her singing voice more of a nasal-sounding effect which definitely did not enhance the singing experience.
However, in addition to artists using auto tune, television music shows submit to this as well. A good example is that of X Factor in which they used auto tune with most of the contestants. This was not really fair because you could not tell who was good or bad. Luckily it stopped airing.
One final example is of Britney Spears’ song “Alien”. There are two versions on youtube.com. One is clearly marked as a “raw vocals” version and the other version does not have any commentary as to the type of singing. There is a stark difference between the raw vocals version and her “secret” auto tune version. It leaves one begging for Britney to always use auto tune.
But auto tune is just an example of how useful it can be; but it can be overused. Sure it is a gimmick, but there are other singers who use it for those purposes such as Peter Frampton who uses a talk box when performing (See the video “Do you feel like I do.”) Also, funk band Zapp uses auto tune for the same purposes. Check out the following songs, “Computer Love” and “More Bounce to the Ounce.” It is okay as a gimmick but the more you use it the less it is about the music. According to Tao and Bushnell (2009), “some see Auto-Tune as our generation's musical phenomenon, injecting life and relevance into the same old artistic routine. Others dismiss it as a cheap way for artists to hide their lack of talent behind the banner of originality.” I agree with this quote because while in some cases it can be used depending on how you do it but you should always let your true talent show outside of it.
Supporters of technology and music say that music and technology have been partners for good reasons. A good example is using it to make holograms of performers who have passed on, such as Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston, to name a few. Though they are not really around anymore, people can still have the experience of seeing their concerts and feel like they truly have not died but rather will live on through their music. According to Variety Magazine, Whitney’s family members decided to scrap the idea of a hologram of her because they thought it was not a lifelike representation of her. This was to be aired on the NBC show “The Voice”.
There is also a well-known pop star that appears as a hologram named Miku Hatsune` who has sold out concerts in different countries. Though she is a vocaloid hologram character, she proves to be entertaining. (See the video “The World is Mine”) While her image is projected on the screen, the rest of the music is played by live band members.
The main rebuttal of this whole argument is, would anyone want to spend money to see something that is not really there or would they prefer to see someone lip syncing? Because all it really is doing is cheating someone out of a good performance and live music in the process.
While in some cases that is true, the thing to remember is what kind of taste other people may have. It is more about what each person thinks of it and most of all if this is something they would want to go see, rather than focusing on what is real in an act.
There is also another factor in music that I must mention that of lip syncing and using teleprompters in concert. Sure you have seen your share of performers messing up in concert, but it is all due to nerves. Other times, some singers want to try to remember the words to their songs without having to read from a small piece of paper or a screen.
A perfect example is from what I have seen on TV regarding some so called live performances which will involve singers or bands who lip sync their own songs. Good examples are the movies and the TV show, “This is Spinal Tap,” “The Rocker,” and the “I Carly” episode “I fix a Pop Star” (iCarly). In the first case the audience got mad at the sellout band Vesuvius when it was revealed that they were lip syncing and got caught and condemned. In the second example Ginger Fox, who was a parody of Britney Spears, embarrasses herself by doing a flimsy job of performing by failing to keep up with the vocal track and just mindlessly marching around onstage despite the audience cheering her on.
Lip syncing at the time was something you got busted for when you did it live on TV or in concert. Some examples of this are Milli Vanilli and Ashlee Simpson who both got busted for lip syncing in a live performance.
For those who do not know who Milli Vanilli were, they were a pop duo who had some hit songs coming up on thirty years ago, “Blame it on the Rain” and “Girl You Know It’s True.” They even won some awards for their work until it was revealed that they did not actually sing their own songs, all thanks to the skipping record of “Girl You Know It’s True” by repeating the phrase “girl you know it” at least fifteen times at a live MTV concert. Because of this new found information they lost their Grammy Award (VanHemert).
Ashlee Simpson was partly busted for that same reason when she performed live on Saturday Night Live and she ‘supposedly’ sang the wrong song, only to blame it on acid reflux. (VanHemert) There is also Technetronic, a then popular Belgium based electro band that had a number of hits in the early 1990s such as “Pump up the Jam” and many other songs. They never charted again after it was revealed that one member was lip syncing since he did not really speak English. (Vidinfo) Though lip syncing is a big deal, nowadays you can do it for fun, but when you are doing a live show or concert, be real to your fans.
I also want to add that there were some movies that depicted technology as well such as “Josie and the Pussycats” which was basically a big commercial in which they used subliminal messages on kids and teens telling them to buy into product placement by way of pop idols. They even went so far as to extensively use brand names throughout the movie. (Blackwelder)
There is also the film “Jem and the Holograms” in which a young girl meets a robot named Synergy who creates holograms. Also, the record label she is with turns her into a typical cookie cutter singer to suit their expectations. But much to the former owner’s dismay, they rebel. It is supposed to be based off the cartoon but was an epic fail. However, it had a good message so there is that.
Another film I have seen before would be “Macross Plus,” found on Anime News Network, in which a woman manages a pop star named Sharon Apple who is really a hologram that she controls. But since she is an artificial intelligent being she takes on a personality of her own, despite her manager’s dismay.
There are also bands that have gotten busted for lip syncing in music videos such as the ground C and C Music Factory who is known for the song “Everybody Dance Now had a model named Zelma Davis lip syncing to the track when it was really Martha Wash of Weather Girls fame who actually provided the vocals. Because of this Wash sued the group for not crediting her on the song. (Vidinfo)
There is also an episode of Hey Arnold that depicts a pop star named Ronnie Matthews who has no real musical talent and was just in it for the money much to the dismay of a contest winner because she felt like his songs were beautiful and meaningful. (Fandom)
According to Corser (2015), “Whether people agree that using samples and automated instruments is live or not, it cannot be argued that these artists are staging a performance incorporating music and technology.” My thought and answer to that would only be that you are disrespecting the family of the artist and the fans by giving them something that is completely staged,
Most people would rather hear and see a live performance by a real performer, not one that they can see through. For example, I myself have mixed thoughts on holographic singers especially since that performance with Michael Jackson at the Billboard Awards that is just what I think.
I tweeted an indie Nu metal band called Hidden Scars to ask them what they thought about technology being overused in music, to which one member responded with, “I agree with you to the extent of that a performer should never use prerecorded music to cover their own role onstage. For example, Hidden Scars will be using prerecorded synths, orchestral instruments, electronic percussion sounds, samples and noises to create our sound. But our guitar, drums, bass, and vocals will always be all organic. And I do not rely on auto tune in the studio either. I just sing it til I get it right!”
I also emailed an actor who is also a singer named Vic Mignogna who had this to state,
“I absolutely agree. Artists do not need to be as good these days because technology helps them so much.”
I also spoke with another band called Blue Helix who is an indie band, to which one member responded with this comment, “Pop and modern country artists rely on it, while rock, acoustic, metal and jazz don’t. I’m in the rock/acoustic genre, so I steer far away from anything that I can’t naturally do. I feel it is overdone when it is in those above genres I have mentioned. And it saturates the music.”
Also another way that music and technology go hand in hand would be an example of talk boxes or wah-wahs used by some guitar player it provides a wah-wah effect by speaking or singing into it creating the sound of the instrument. As I mentioned earlier Peter Frampton was the first musician to use this effect on his guitar, and taking inspiration from him was Motley Crue and Bon Jovi, who used talk boxes on their songs. See “Kickstart My Heart, “Doctor Feel Good, “Living on a Prayer” and “It’s My Life”. They all rock extremely hard.
There are also dancers who use technology to enhance their performance such as special effects. (See NBC Network’s “America’s Got Talent” 2015) There were a lot of dance troupes and dancers who got cut from the competition because their performances were more about flash then the performance itself, which you do tend to see sometimes.
There are also bands that follow this as well when in concert when it comes to smoke, lasers and too many lights flashing. You cannot even see the band or singer in all of that fog and technology. But when you go to a show to see a show, make sure it is one worth watching and does not have too many special effects. That makes it difficult to see the performer especially through all of that smoke.
So the main point that I am stating, is that while technology can be a factor in music, the point is not to rely so much on it and to always practice your instrument, be it your voice or anything else. Keep in mind other peoples’ perspectives on musical tastes.
If it were me, I would see a real singer instead of a poser. I am not all about people who use auto tune because all it does is mask a person’s true voice which is wrong. I have mixed thoughts on holograms in concert because there is no point in wasting money on something that is not there even if it is a singer that died. I should also add that product placement can be a massive influence in music as well as in advertising even in web pages.
I would rather see someone who is about the music and can actually play, but that is just my own opinion. Although, I do not mind a few songs done electronically, depending on who it is or how it is all done.
My final thoughts and conclusion would be that people have a wide variety of tastes and expectations that should be met with their standards and pocket books. But overall it is how you like your music – it is a matter of personal preference.
Stay awesome & rock n roll!