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Shaped By Technology

When sequencers first appeared on the scene, I was concerned that they would distract musicians, specifically keyboard players, away from learning to perform to the best of their ability. After all, MIDI performances could be tidied up after the event, or even typed in as a series of notes and velocities without a music keyboard ever being involved, so why learn to play 'properly'? The jury is still out on whether musicianship suffered or not, but what can't be denied is that the sequencer spawned new genres of music based on rigid timing, hard quantisation and sampling which still exert a strong hold over the pop music scene today. This is perhaps the most powerful example of technology influencing the musical art that we've seen to date.

There have been other ramifications of computer recording — some beneficial, others not. For example, many of today's drummers can now play to a click track or guide groove, not only staying perfectly in time but also being able to adopt the groove of the guide part. This ability is clearly a benefit in some situations, just as long as it doesn't leave the drummer unable to play without a click being present. On the other hand, it can be argued that playing to a pre‑recorded click or groove robs the drummer of the ability to inject subtle tempo shifts into the music, something that a good drummer would always do subconsciously — for example, to push a chorus or stretch a fill.

However, even I was surprised at the latest example of technology affecting performance. During one of our Studio SOS visits a few months back (the results of which you can see in this very issue), Hugh and I listened to a demo recording on which the studio owner's daughter had provided the vocals, and we both thought that he'd been too heavy‑handed with Auto-Tune or some similar pitch-correction plug‑in. He told us that he hadn't used any pitch-correction processing at all, that was just the way she sung. It turns out that she'd grown up on a diet of pop music in which heavy pitch-correction was the norm, and she'd learned to sing by emulating what she heard on record. I mentioned this to UK producer Steve Levine when we met to sit on a panel earlier this year and he said he'd also come across this development, specifically female vocalists who had learned to pitch very precisely and to move cleanly from one note to another without the normal glides and slides you hear in a typical unprocessed vocal.

Which leap of technology will be the next to have a big influence on music making is anybody's guess, but wouldn't it be ironic if a software company came up with a plug‑in specifically designed to put back the very human vocal artifacts that a generation of Auto-Tune indoctrinated singers have trained out of their own voices? And if that became as over‑used as pitch correction clearly has, maybe we'd see a new generation of vocalists grow up with even stranger vocal characteristics. Say what you like about tape, at least it had relatively little influence over the types and styles of music recorded on it!

Paul White Editor In Chief