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Will Music Lose Its Soul?

If it does, don't expect technology to be the culprit


by Dendy Jarrett



There's a quote attributed to Freddie Mercury: "We are in a golden age of music. There will be a time when technology becomes so advanced that we'll rely on it to make music rather than raw talent...and music will lose its soul." Granted, he’s not around to verify whether he said that. But while it’s true that technology has come a long, long way since the glory days of Queen’s Mercury era, people have been talking about "music losing its soul to technology" ever since we stopped using bones to hit things...so do they actually have a point? Of course not, and here's why.


Back in the 50s, singers started using—horrors!--reverb and EQ, which some felt was simply a crutch for teen idols who were chosen primarily for their looks. Multitrack recording and punching are no longer considered evil, nor are samplers, yet they were originally thought of as "cheating."


Reality check #1: Music technology is like anything else—powerful in the right hands  and horrible in the wrong ones. Reality check #2: Queen could not have released Bohemian Rhapsody without the cutting-edge technology that existed at the time. All of the layering, delay, and chorus effects were so crucial to the song that, in concert, they had to rely on backing tracks (while using video as a distraction from the fact that it couldn’t be performed live with the same sound).

So how many people have argued that technology stole the soul from Bohemian Rhapsody? Show of hands...


Yeah, that's what I thought.


Anyway, it’s true that many of today's stars are the result of a management company that sees "talent" as a commodity (that is, money to be made) and thanks to technology, raw talent is optional. I’ve been backstage at some major concerts (I won’t name names) and saw the pitch correction processors getting an exhaustive workout to keep up with the artist being so horribly out of tune. I’ve participated in radio shows  in which artists were asked to sing a few bars of a hit, and I had to leave the listening room out of embarrassment for the artist.

And yes, in many cases, over the course of a few years and with vocal coaching raw talent may catch up with perceived talent. But sadly, it often doesn't.


Certainly today, we’ve seen the trend come and go (I hope) of the effects-drenched over-the-top vocals that make everyone sound like they stepped out of the movie Tron. While pitch correction wasn’t really necessary for someone with Cher's talent and simply added a fun gimmick, it was necessary for someone like Kanye.


So really, if there's any soul being stolen, look for humans to show up in the security cameras. If you’ve ever recorded in the studio and liked the raw mix much better than the "polished" version...then you've witnessed human-based soul stealing at work. We all know technology can never replace raw talent, but we have to be aware that misused technology can neuter that raw talent.


Perhaps Freddie Mercury was looking much farther ahead than our generation when he supposedly made this statement...maybe to a time when we travel between planets, and forget what it feels like to throw a towel down by a lake, put some tunes on, and feel the sun warm us. Or to spend an afternoon at the park, pull out a guitar, and sing (with raw talent) with some friends. Technology will never kill that—or steal its soul.  -HC-


What do you think? Will technology suck the soul out of music? Join the Discussion here ...




Dendy Jarrett is the Publisher and Director of Harmony Central. He has been heavily involved at the executive level in many aspects of the drum and percussion industry for over 25 years and has been a professional player since he was 16. His articles and product reviews have been featured in InTune Monthly, Gig Magazine, DRUM! and Modern Drummer Magazines.


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gjanie  |  October 20, 2018 at 1:57 pm
If you are an Autotune musica.lly lover that may be true for you but Music is Indeed Soulless for the most part, it Great Lacks Substance.  I don't count the Swifties, Bieber's Mars etc... as Great "musicians". That pop music is Trendy  NOT  Timeless. 
Imran520  |  January 22, 2017 at 11:49 pm
If there's any soul being stolen, look for humans to show up in the security cameras. If you’ve ever recorded in the studio and liked the raw mix much better than the "polished" version then you've witnessed human-based soul stealing at work.
Dameon  |  December 05, 2016 at 6:28 am
Completely find your thoughts on this invalid. Today's music is disposable because of innovation that doesn't enhance talent, but is the talent. The Beatles were the kings of this starting with Revolver. What Page did in the studio could never be reproduced live. They came up with ideas in the studio to enhance and innovate the recording process. And you want to bring out approximately 1:20 seconds of what maybe the greatest song ever written as use that as a backdrop to your opinion.  I don't think so. Freddie did not need a machine to make his voice roar over the din of 300,000 people packed in an arena. The Beatles couldn't even hear themselves on-stage and yet somehow stayed in tune with each other.  Just listen to Zep at Earl's Court during their acoustical break. Then tell me when any band of the last 15 years has done that. Disposable is the key word. We will be talking about these bands still in 2100 - no one will have an idea who Kanye, Jay Z, Taylor Swift or the rest of them ever were.
wedding122  |  September 04, 2016 at 8:01 am
A round of applause for your blog post.Really thank you! Keep writing.
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isaac42  |  September 02, 2016 at 12:31 pm
I saw Queen on the Day at the Races tour, and yes, when they went to the tape backup in the middle of Bohemian Rhapsody, I was royally pissed off! I wanted to see how a great band would pull that off, and instead, they punted.
Dendy Jarrett  |  August 18, 2016 at 3:13 pm
Thanks Delmont!
Delmont  |  August 18, 2016 at 1:10 pm
Dendy -
I think you're batting at a staw man. You're right, of course. There will always be soulful music! But that's not the issue. The issue is that popular music sounds more canned every day. If you live near a Kohl's department store, walk through it to find out what mass-produced music sounds like. Or tune into a "new country" station. Or urban contemporary. Why has Muzak disappeared? Because it's become redundant.
Regardless of the style, most broadcast music is so mechanized, sanitized, segmentized, and osterized that any trace of human-ness has been wrung out of it.
And yes, there are exceptions. I think of - no, wait, I started to type a list, but I deleted it. We know it when we hear it. There is still musical integrity and soul. But it fights an uphill battle to get heard, and the road gets steeper every day.
Thank heaven for places like Harmony Central, where real people can talk about real music without getting screened by taste-makers, gate-keepers, market researchers, and insiders. Love it here. Keep up the good work!
AP_Lives  |  August 17, 2016 at 4:15 pm
When is the last time you heard a song in the top 20 that didnt use drum tracks, auto tune, and loops?....When is the last time you heard a song completely played and overdubbed by real players, with a really good singer not using garbled auto-tune robotic vocals, and it landed in the top 20 on FM or MTV?  So, i think that music became soulless about 20 yrs ago, during the advent of Hip-Hop and Rap, right about the time the record industry died as proof that music had stopped being played and started being built.
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