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Saturday, December 02, 2023
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"""Artist"" is a little generous "

I have respect for nearly every kind of music, with maybe a few exceptions.

Good music is good music, be it pop, hip-hop, country, classical, or blues, and I will never disregard a song's quality simply based on its genre. Yes, I can admit that Lady Gaga has pop talent.

With the direction modern pop music is heading though, it is becoming difficult to determine just where to place the praise for a good song. Synthesizers and drum machines dominate the pop music scene. Auto-tune can make any half-decent singer sound impressive. Audio production software and the editing process can correct even the most slightly off-tempo note.

Considering the essential and growing role they play in today's recording process, it does not seem crazy to give just as much credit to the engineers who design the synthesizers and computer programs – and the technicians who know how to use them – as to the musicians themselves.

Sixty years ago, a song was recorded onto a single track with only one or two takes of an entire large band. If they made a mistake, they had no choice but to keep going. But, despite the unforgiving circumstances, some pretty amazing, near perfect songs were recorded.

For the typical recording process nowadays, studio musicians and singers come in separately and lay down their parts onto a prerecorded backing track. The featured "artist" might only be present in the studio for a fraction of the recording sessions. Each track is edited separately, polished to perfection, and "eq'ed" against the others to get the desired mix. I have a suspicion that the final product of a recording session has only a passing resemblance of the raw recordings.

Where untalented musicians were quickly weeded out by the harsh recording process of the first half of the century, the modern process allows artists the luxury of having any number of mistakes corrected, or at least covered up. Judging from the awful live performances of more than a few of today's acts, this is likely becoming a more and more common occurrence.

With the number of tools currently available in the recording studio, the "artist" is becoming more and more a minor contributor to songs, that, for whatever reason, still have their name attached to them. To accredit "Tik-Tok" to Ke$ha is just a slap in the face to every actual musician and sound engineer that created the song.

In my opinion, on the whole, the source of creativity and talent in a majority of pop songs is slowly slipping away from the "artist" and being shifted to the producers and sound engineers. With the amount of control they have over the entire recording process and the final product, it is ultimately their mark that can be heard in the songs they produce.

If you don't agree, just have a listen to any two albums of the same artist with different producers. Differences are almost always immediately apparent.

The importance of the producer can be heard just as clearly in every musician's failed attempt to produce themselves (see John Mayer – Continuum). Producing a song takes a talent and an ear for the big picture that the average musician just does not have.

Admittedly, there have been a few artists in music history who have managed to produce themselves, usually with ground-breaking results. Brian Wilson did it with the Beach Boys and more recently, and unfortunately, Kanye West and Timbaland. Such individuals are exceptions to an almost universal rule, and in Brian Wilson's case, bordering on insanity.

So why do producers seldom get the credit they deserve? Why are albums not put out in their name?

There is obviously something to be said for the fact that songs need a pretty face to go along with them. That unfortunately would not help to explain the incomprehensible success of Ke$ha, but it would account for the majority of pop singers these days.

And to be realistic, at the end of the day, producers do need musicians and artists to produce, but the definition of "musician" is becoming far too lenient.

I think it's about time we go back to the days of single-track recording and see who stays on the scene.




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