Taylor Swift is not a good singer. She never will be. If she came to Nashville 30 years ago singing the way she does I HIGHLY doubt she would have ever even been given a record deal. She may be a great writer....a great communicator....business woman...whatever, but she never has been and never will be a great singer.
Now, PLEASE don't get me wrong....my reason for posting this is not to bash Taylor Swift.....I'm sure she is a sweetheart, and millions of people love her recorded music.....there is no doubt about that!
The reason I am posting this is to say it's not Taylor's fault she sounds horrible live.......IT'S OURS!! Ours, meaning anyone that is involved in making / recording any form of popular music these days. Producers, Engineers, A&R Guys, Mixers, US! People like myself that enable marginally talented people sound like rock stars by way of technology. IT'S OUR FAULT AND WE HAVE NO RIGHT TO BITCH ABOUT IT!!
WE are the ones that take a person that has no God given talent and give them a perfect singing voice with Autotune or Melodyne.
WE are the ones that take horrible drummers who have NO business whatsoever being in a recording studio, and give them perfect timing, add samples to their crappy sounding drums and make them sound amazing.
WE are the ones that edit, copy, and paste guitar tracks because the guitar player sucks and it would "Just take too much time for him to play it right"
It's US!!! We have killed popular music with technology.
THIS is how almost all records are made now! And then when some poor "Artist" has the sad misfortune of having to actually perform live, everyone GASPS at how wretched they sound! And then we all jump on the bandwagon saying this or that.....it's ridiculous!
Why can't we just cut the crap and let the world know the truth?
HEY WORLD.......WE FIX EVERYTHING ON COMPUTERS NOW!!! NO ONE REALLY SINGS THAT IN TUNE IN REAL LIFE!!!! And....YOU WOULD PROBABLY HAVE A RECORD DEAL TOO IF YOU WERE BETTER LOOKING BECAUSE YOU DON"T NEED PURE TALENT ANYMORE AS LONG AS YOUR PRODUCER HAS PROTOOLS!!
JR, Reminds me of the well known Friedrich Nietzsche quote 'God is dead". In fact it goes on and says "God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him."
I remember how Clapton became just another guitar player to me the day I found out his solos were being spliced together. I love technology but it has the tendency of revealing the magicians tricks and removing the magic.
JR, I agree but the technology, while limited back in the day, still allowed performances to be cut and spliced together. So where's the cutoff point at what we in the business should be allowed to and not to do? I know engineer/producers almost 20 years ago that were cutting off pieces of tape to get drums performances in better time and it was like watching a doctor perform surgery. There were guys in the days of Elvis cutting into multitrack tapes and taking lines and moving them into other takes to make a better performance and that sounded even more like surgery. This isn't anything new that we're doing, just on a different scale. So I ask you and anyone else, where do you draw the line? And don't get me wrong, I agree with what you're saying fully.
Seriously though, I think it boils down to what ever is being done for, as Darrell Harris once said, "the pure joy of making it." If it becomes drudgery, tuning those vocals all day, then don't do it.
I also believe, as an engineer, there is a difference from making someTHING sound better and artificially making some ONE perform better. It's all subjective. Most often I will use Melodyne to gently push something to pitch that I missed in the recording phase. It would be a pain just to get them back in to sing one word or line. And trust me, we ALL miss stuff while it is going down.
And this I agree with. If it's here and there, that's fine. But at the same point, say you go, oh man, that guitar lick is a little on top, you shift it back, ahhhh, heavenly. Then you start to go, I wish the background vocals had sung this note, ahhhh, pitch shift, much better. It can become a domino effect or pandora's box very quickly.
Bret, as engineers, we are there to help the client and do as they ask us to do. Do we want to sit and tune a vocal for hours on end, nope, yet we do it anyway. Do we want to sound replace drums? Do we want to beat detective drums? We are there for the clients and their needs and sometimes it goes against our "ethics and morals" as engineers but at the end of the day, that is what we are paid to do. So do you get up and say, I'm sorry, get someone else to do this because this artist isn't worthy or do you politely sit there, do your job and collect your check at the end of the day? There's a fine line here.
I don't have an answer to any of this by any means but if working means tuning, shifting, doing what it takes to make the recording better, I guess I'll do it because I sure as heck don't want to be out there paving roads or working at McDonald's. And it's not me selling my soul, it's me taking care of my clients.
Another issue is the perception of the Grammys themselves. I voted for Taylor for ALBUM of the year, because I thought her ALBUM represented the best sounding, most successful project of LAST YEAR. That does NOT mean I think she is the best female vocalist of LAST YEAR nor of ALL TIME. But since Album of the Year seems to be considered the highest award possible, people automatically link it to performance and musical ability. That's OK I guess, but for me, as a NARAS member and voter, Female Vocalist of the YEAR is about performance and musicality, so I voted for Beyonce. All of the major categories were a toss up for me and it was VERY difficult to choose.
We are WAY past the line!!! We crossed it years ago and we will never go back.
I am not saying in any way shape or form we should not use the tools we have available to make great recordings. You'll have to pry my Pro Tools rig from my cold dead hands! They are just tools.....and when you have access to tools, you can either build a house, or nuclear bomb. In our industry, it is simply my opinion that we have for whatever reason (money, perfection, greed, honor, feeding your family) chosen to build the latter.....and there is no turning back.
I will continue to make records this way.....it is what we ALL do now. This is the music industry of 2010.
My post was for those of you that find yourself bashing what music has become......even though YOU (and I'm included here) are the reason it is this way. WE HAVE NO RIGHT TO COMPLAIN ANYMORE!!
I am NOT a Taylor Swift hater. In fact, I'd love to mix her next record!
I just think it's time we were honest about what it is we do. That's all.
I will say, that after watching the Grammys, providing rolling real time commentary on my FB profile, and seeing a lot of regular non-industry people commenting back, the public perception is that the studios and tuning engineers should be receiving her awards. These aren't my words but the public. There are also a good many that love her and look past any live imperfections, and I guess there are some that really can't discern the difference.
And even though they are complementing the skill of the studio and engineering people, it is almost like they feel it is a sin, what we are doing to make Taylor, and MANY more like her (I should add), sound amazing on recorded product.
Then again, I always bought recorded product because I loved the way it sounded. I bought concert tickets because I liked the way an artist sounded live. There were occasions where I was sorely disappointed in the disparity of quality between live and recorded. I wonder what people would be screaming if Alan Parsons had won Album of the Year for Eye In The Sky, back in the early 80s? He certainly won the gGrammys for Best Engineered Albums. He wasn't a singer and I assure you, he used every tool and trick available at the time to make his records SOUND they way they did.
Now let's talk about how the instrumental side of much of the Grammys performances are pre-recorded and the musicians don't really play it "live." Do you think Taylor should have to live up to a higher standard than her drummer?
Let's take this one other direction, go to a kareoke bar sometime and see the people getting up on stage and singing. Then watch as they go back to their seats and have their friends tell them how great they are. Most people have no clue what is good or bad anymore. I see this with a big hint of sarcasm but this is the public we make records for.