Saturday, July 18, 2009

Top 40 Radio

My friend M. asked me whether the singer on the radio was singing flat today. He said if it was that bad that he could hear it, what was it doing on the radio?

Singers like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Rosemary Clooney, or Bing Crosby had amazing voices. I know. I've left out a plethora of fantastic ones. In an era before you could rework a vocal, they sang with long breaths, great pitch and amazing tone. I sense that most singers today do not really have the vocal "chops" and are entertaining us as much as being profoundly great singers. Of course there are exceptions, and there are entertainers that are also fabulous vocally, but less often, in my opinion.

Recording studios today can manipulate every aspect of a performance. When I was there, we could balance any instrument against the others, tune, move the rhythm to square it up with a player who had come in late or early, and yes, even change the pitch and diction of the singer. There is an entire sub-industry devoted to tuning and tone.

When I watched the New Year's Eve countdowns across the country on the various television stations last year, many of them were proud that they were hosting this or that band "live". Some were not really live, they were lip syncing to a recording without a band behind them. And some of them were just plain awful. Out of rhythm, out of tune, and perhaps on drugs, the music was not what I expected from a nationally recognized recording artist or group.

I'm not a big fan of the many video camcorders that save every precious note of my students' young performances either. Recordings were not available when I was a student, thank you so much for that! Let the performances be what they are, and let us learn from what we remember of them. Sometimes I can tell that my students have studied and watched themselves on these videos so many times, and keep reliving the inevitable mistake, glitch or memory lapse to the point that they believe they are not good pianists. Taping things so that Grandpa can see it, or that it can go on Facebook, or (gasp) a blog have changed the way we listen.

I have to remind students that live performance at their recitals is LIVE. It is not a CD, it has not been digitally "mastered", and it is gone like the wind in time after the last note sounds.


  1. Some really good points. I find recording to be hard work, although I tend to be a relaxed performer--because one knows that a few little glitches here & there don't detract too much from a performance, but detract a lot from a recording. I do wonder about some of the videos I've seen posted--if one wants to record, why not try to get it right?

    You also have good points about the singing--geez, even our fairly modest 1K digital workstation has the capability to correct pitch, & I'll bet a lot of the desktop recording software can, too. My thought is you need to work with your actual voice--in my case, my voice is pretty suited for old blues & similar genres, but I'd be gilding the lily to try to sing Sinatra-Crosby type standards. This is why I think it's important for music students to hear live performances, because they are different from recordings.

  2. I agree with you post 100%. There was a unique quality to a Sinatra or a Billie Holiday record that I find lacking in today's albums. Not all of them, though. You still find performers who want to hit the right notes as well as entertain, but they are in the minority. Many thanks for such a brilliant post. Very good points you made.

    Greetings from London.

  3. I reread my post and it seems rather preachy coming back to it on Monday morning. I'm not usually that negative. I think it must be the pop radio I listened to ALL WEEKEND LONG....


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