Has Technology Made Modern Music Sound Too Polished?
by Jonathan Jaeger
Many people complain about the tendency of modern music to sound too polished. The proliferation of increasingly more sophisticated and precise recording tools allow artists to make everything sound perfect in the studio: auto-tune, click tracks, drum triggers, pitch correction, compression, and effects are all examples of tools that help artists sound cleaner and more powerful in their musical delivery.
The question that music enthusiasts debate is whether these tools make music better or they strip away some of the natural life that used to be present in older records—that is to say that over the years music has lost its soul. I think there is a happy medium between the two extremes where you can satisfy your need to sound polished with the desire to keep your music from sounding too mechanical or processed.
In a recent article I read, the drummer from the metal band Lamb of God describes the process by which the band records albums and maintains the natural essence of the music they write. Instead of choosing a tempo for a song and setting up a click track that the band plays to, the band records the song first and defines the click track based on what they already played. Lamb of God does not conform their playing to the click track, the click track conforms to the music. In this way, Lamb of God gets the benefit of playing in time with a click track when recording the final tracks, but they do not let the tool ruin their original intentions and vibe. It is not really a compromise, rather it is the best of both worlds.
Lamb of God’s recording strategy can be applied to all of the potential “shortcuts” of using studio tricks to make artists sound more polished. Some artists, unlike Lamb of God, will go to any length to make their records sound as mechanical and processed as possible. Many fans want an idealized version of their favorite bands because they will be listening to the songs hundreds of times. Even if the band cannot live up to its studio sound, does that mean the band should sacrifice sounding good in the studio for the sake of managing expectations for their live performance?
Many fans complain that vocalists are often unable to hit the same notes in concert as they do in the studio. I, on the other hand, would prefer to have the studio track (which is recorded and imprinted into physical or data form for eternity) to sound as good as possible. Sometimes and for some bands, sounding as good as possible means being a little sloppy, dirty, or “not perfect.” That is perfectly fine if that is how your band should sound in your mind. I am not the first person to say music is subjective, so I will leave you to decide how far you want to mutate your sound in the studio.