Last year, I saw Twenty Feet from Stardom, a wonderful documentary that tells the story of some of the foremost background vocalists of the 1960s and 70s. (Little did I know that some of them sang lead on tracks attributed to others.)
At one point, a producer from that era remarks on how none of the singers in the movie needed autotune or any of the other technology of the digital recording age.
True, but I wondered if the salient observation might be slightly different: Engineers and producers have now been conditioned by autotune and don’t accept what they might have before the digital age. Autotune and the trappings of digital recording are hard to resist. Had they been available in the era documented in the film, who’s to say producers wouldn’t have used them?
And what a loss that would have been!
Listening to “I Want You Back,” consider that young Michael Jackson’s less-than-perfect tuning is absolutely essential to the power of the performance, one of the greatest in the history of pop. How many engineers of today can honestly say they would have left these tuning irregularities untouched by autotune?
When the technology for tidiness is available, it requires more than great restraint not to use it. It requires something more than a commitment to authenticity. It requires the knowledge and savoring of roughness, wholeness, and life.
Thank you for reading.