Music production is smoke and mirrors. It is mostly manufactured sounds by various effects and software that make you believe it was recorded that way in a studio or manufactured to sound a certain way so everyone thinks it's hip. I am ashamed of where we have landed in recording engineering and the music industry. Everything keeps evolving and is creating a lazy generation of engineers and producers. The saying "we will fix it in the mix" has become the tag line in almost all music productions in recent years. Music production has always had a smoke and mirrors aspect, but not like now. The drums you listen to are fake, the singer is fake, the guitars are at times fake, the Rhodes is fake, the grand piano is fake, the orchestra is fake and the list goes on and on. When I say fake, what I mean is that most Rhodes, orchestra and grand pianos are created by software called virtual instruments.
Every year I have an "ask the producers" type forum where I shoot a question to top industry professionals and have them respond with answers. About a year ago, I asked a panel of experts to give me their view of drum replacement software. Drum replacement software takes the drum sounds that you recorded in the studio and replaces it with manufactured, often synthesized, drum parts. In the answers every producer, except one, stated they used drum replacement so they could compete with everyone else in the industry. Cool huh? Not really. How lazy have we become as engineers that we need to replace drum parts because we can not record them the right way? I may be old school here or not in the hip crowd, but there was a time when engineers would spend hours on the drum tone and sound. A movement of just an inch or two could mean the difference between an amazing drum tone or one that wasn't great. Just placing microphones alone was an art form and there were engineering Picassos "back in the day". It was a different time and place, long before computer software started churning out lazy engineers and producers.
A couple of years ago I played a video for my class called, "It Might Get Loud". In part of the film Jack White is explaining how he still plays his cheap guitar that he had as a child. He makes the statement that he loves the guitar because it makes him struggle with his art. I think that is what makes art so great....the struggle. A vocalist struggling to hit the right note and then hitting it triumphantly. A guitarist struggling to hit that one perfect pitch bent note. A drummer struggling to put, an almost impossible fill, into perfect timing. It is the struggle that makes the triumph so sweet. But, now you throw a singer through autotune, a guitar through a software pitch shift and a drum fill through beat detective, and what does it get us? Lazy musicians all the way through to producers. All of this because somewhere along the line we all decided perfection is what everyone wants, and not the human struggle with real art thus making it imperfect. I will take emotionally imperfect any day over robotic, lifeless perfection.
If you think about it, some of the greatest albums ever recorded were full of inconsistencies and imperfections yet they are emotionally perfect. Sonic perfection should never be the goal in any production, but rather emotional response. If you listen to classic rock you will hear albums that were full of sonic imperfections, but are considered some of the best albums of all time. Modern music has taken the human element out, and has replaced it with mechanical perfection through software manipulation. I say we go back to what made music great from the start....great songs that drew out great emotional responses. I want to pose just one question, how many artists, producers and engineers today could actually be good enough to make it in this industry back when tape was the recording medium? That is something to think about. My answer.....very few.
Kevin "Danger" Jackson is a New York-based producer, engineer, composer, performer, educator and Berklee College of Music alumnus. He writes, produces and engineers music for a wide range of artists in the pop, hip-hop, rock, R&B, classical and electronic genres. His work can be heard daily on a multitude of albums, radio and television stations worldwide.