Academic work: Bachelor Thesis – Hypothesis, Questions and Method (Pt.2)

Out ofI will be posting segments of my bachelor thesis “Out of Touch – The Framework That Is Supposedly Killing Music”. The whole essay can be found at: Link to essay

The main discussion points in the thesis are authenticity, Auto-tune and the obsession with perfection in today’s music.

Throughout this essay I will illustrate the different perspectives that I believe to be the defining factors of the Human touch in music. With each perspectives follows a question that directly correlates with my idea of the human touch.

  • Authenticity – A theoretical perspective
    • Can a pitch corrected and manipulated track still be regarded as authentic?
  • Perfection – A psychological perspective
    • Is the “natural sound” starting to die out or is it simply not wanted?
    • Pitch correction is being used as a first resort instead of a last. Why is this?
  • Pitch obsession – A technical perspective
    • Is it possible to spot vocal manipulation simply by looking at the spectrograms or waveforms?
    • Is it possible to fake the human touch or to remove it using modern technology?
  • The Human Factor – A philosophical Perspective
    • What is the human factor in music and is it starting to get replaced by technology?

Background

When I was 12 I started to discover music in a different way. I have always, or for as long as I can remember, been obsessed with music; much thanks to my dad for always having Beatles or Dylan blasting through the speakers at our house. Around the same time I started noticing things in music, things that might have not been the first thing you hear. Small artifacts, small mistakes, things that make a particular song stand out, or that makes you wonder, why did they leave that in, or why did they add that? These artifacts are starting to, or have been fading away for a long time in my opinion. Today it is more important to achieve a perfect sound, a perfect take or at least as close to it as possible.

This evolution is not only very interesting, but it is also what sparked my interest in writing this essay. What is more interesting is that this phenomenon is not exclusive to pop music. This trend, the so called “perfection” trend is seen in almost every genre. I, being a fan of virtuosity and technicality was rather surprised when I found out how much post-processing there was behind my favorite metal or progressive rock music. Not only is there vocal manipulation, such as pitch shift and Auto-tune, but there are so many shortcuts used to achieve that sterile and artificial sound. The fact that MIDI-drums have become acceptable in professional recordings and, as of lately also amp simulations such as AXE FX and Kemper is not nearly as big of a surprise as the “copy-paste” trend that came along with the EDM and “home studio” trend. You could without, any problems make almost any genre of music with solely the help of a computer. The question is whether this has changed the way we listen to, or even view music?

I have chosen to call this phenomenon the human touch based on the fact that it is basically what it is, namely the human interference with music; from the pluck of a string or the grit of the voice to the press of a MIDI-keyboard. The “amount” of human touch is like authenticity a subjective and frameless thing. With this essay I am hoping to bring some new light on the matter.

Material and Method

The research part of the essay is divided into four different sections that each discusses the human touch in music from a different unique perspective. The majority of the theoretical material is based around previously published research in similar areas such as authenticity, musicology and psychology in music. The analysis section was done using several different software, plugins and original analysis methods. The programs used throughout the essay were Melodyne, Waves Tune and Auto-tune. The digital audio workstation used with these programs was Reaper.

The material surrounding authenticity and perfection were purely academic, while the analysis section used several magazine and internet articles discussing Auto-tune, pitch correction and virtual studio technology (VST) in general. Audio tracks were also used during the analysis sections to point out the use of different manipulation software.

10 Audio Engineering Tips For Live Situations

Live mixing can be a stressful and exhausting task. Here are some tips to IMG_20160219_195509help you deal with the negative aspect of a live situation. Prep work and keeping calm is key and when you feel calm, you work a lot better.

  1. Do your homework BEFORE you arrive at your destination. Learn what gear they have available and study the soundboard either by reading the manual or watching a Youtube video.
  2. If you’re not helping out with the rig or microphone setup, study the board and all the connections. Write down important connections and things that might be problematic.
  3. During the gain setting/PFL stage, mark everything up as obvious as possible. A single letter (like in the photo) can be confusing if disaster strikes.
  4. Go easy on the gain at first. Try to keep it in the yellow section at the highest. Everything has a tendency to get louder and you want to have a little wiggle room when the show starts.
  5. Go easy on the EQ and set your microphones up properly. The less EQ you use, the better (in my opinion).
  6. Bring a flash light, head phones and tools that may come in use (small screwdriver etc).
  7. HPF = golden. With proper mic setups I always use HPF on every single track, even bass and kick (40-45). It helps evening out the floor and removes any mud.
  8. Avoid placing microphones direcly in front or behind each other. This helps with bleed and feedback. This is especially important for vocal mics and drum mics.
  9. Tell the band to play different sections and mix on the go. Don’t overmix during the individual sound checking, do the fine adjustments after a band jam instead.
  10. Do NOT use the faders as volume controls, that is what the GAIN is for. The faders are fine adjusters and not main volumes. This helps with clipping and levels on your master track and gives you a lot of wiggle room.

I hope these tips helped you! Let me know in the comments if you have any ideas or suggestions for any of the tips. 

Academic work: Bachelor Thesis – Introduction (Pt.1)

Out ofI will be posting segments of my bachelor thesis “Out of Touch – The Framework That Is Supposedly Killing Music”. The whole essay can be found at: Link to essay

The main discussion points in the thesis are authenticity, Auto-tune and the obsession with perfection in today’s music.

Are we actually starting to lose the human touch in music? If we look at the way music has been developing in the digital era it might actually seem that way. Songs are getting more polished and perfect, more tools are introduced to
remove the small mistakes that set us apart from the digital world. Auto-tune and pitch correction has become the norm in almost every big genre, and it is rare to hear a pop tune that has not been pitch corrected and compressed to perfection.

Why have we become so obsessed with this “perfection” in music; is it not the small mistakes that will be remembered and that makes music unique? Things like slight variations, the silent count-ins and the false notes are the artifacts that lets us know that we are in fact human and not machines.

The “cleanness” of pop music has become almost sterile, most studios and music producers are simply following a recipe when inside the studio environment. To follow the so called “pop music formula” is nothing new, but with the digital tools of the modern world and the accessibility of these advanced tools everything has a tendency of sounding the same.

This “sterilization” might not be a problem per se, but it makes you wonder. Are we losing the human touch in our music? The human part, the analog aspect, the mistakes, how important are they really? Most of the manipulation and editing work is done in the post process, how does that affect the authenticity of the music?

When reading and researching pitch correction and polishing in music it is almost exclusively about what you can accomplish with today’s advanced technology. With the right tools and experience you could in theory make any singer sound “good” (Upvenue 2015). But what is good, really? I used the word polishing for a reason; when you polish something, you also take something away; the same goes for music. The layer of personality, uniqueness and human touch has a tendency to get wiped away along with the polishing and cleaning. Is that layer not wanted anymore, or is it simply because people cannot sing these days? Joking aside, this layer is something that I feel is being more and more erased both from today’s pop music and in music in general. This change has been exponential along with the development of software and manipulation programs such as Auto-tune, Melodyne and Waves-Tune and also with the rise of home studios. The accessibility of those tools and possibilities have become extreme to the point where almost anybody with a MIDI-keyboard and a DAW can create a commercially acceptable song.

This essay examines the layer that I chose to call the “human touch” in music and how this quality affects music recording practice in general. Is it something we still care about, or have ever cared about?