Is computer-based recording ruining music?

So much of today's new music is so processed and "perfected" by computer recording technology the true sound of the actual band is completely obliterated.

I get a fair number of promo CDs in the mail, but don't be jealous, most of them are instantly forgettable or just awful, and only a few are worth a second listen. Greg Garing's self-titled CD was an immediate standout, and its rootsy, blues-infected grooves hit me hard. The music has a lot of soul, and sounds like it was made by a group of really talented players who were having a good time together. That happens so rarely nowadays I had to learn about how the record was created.

The Garing CD was produced by Lower East Side Records, a brand-new label started by Todd Perlmutter in New York. We eventually got around to talking over the phone and Perlmutter told me Garing not only recorded all of his vocals "live" (they were not overdubbed) with the band, and that every song that made it to the CD was the first complete take (with no edits). Perlmutter's working method stands in sharp contrast to the way most music is recorded nowadays. If it's a great performance, he's not interested in fixing small mistakes, replacing wrong notes, or correcting off-kilter rhythms in Pro Tools, and there are certainly no Auto Tuned vocals on Garing's record. Some instruments were added later to the mix, but the sessions and mixes were strictly analog. The music was converted to digital only to master the CD (an all-analog LP might be released at a later date).

No wonder Garing's record feels different than most contemporary albums, which in some form or another is computer-based. Listen to whatever genre of 1960s or 1970s music that moves you, and you'll feel the energy that's missing from the vast majority of today's computer perfected rock and pop. Older recordings were more likely to capture a band's performance; most contemporary music is assembled out of bits and pieces of sound. So the question is raised, if a band has the ability to lay down a killer take, why wouldn't they? Of course, if they're not that talented they'll need all the help the technology can give them.

Bob Dylan never overdubbed a vocal until the late 1970s, and he made most of his greatest albums in a matter of days. So many landmark albums were recorded without computers, and that music stood the test of time.

So this isn't strictly a digital vs. analog debate, it's more about recording people playing music vs. using computers to assemble and "perfect" music. Anyone could duplicate most of Perlmutter's sound in digital, and use complete, unedited takes, steer clear of Auto Tune, and just capture complete performances. That would be great. I'm not saying Pro Tools assembled recordings can't have soul, just that they are less likely to. Other L.E.S. Record projects are in the works, and Perlmutter is currently looking for another band to record.

About the author

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Home Theater, Inner Fidelity, Tone Audio, and Stereophile.

 

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