Have you ever wondered why adverts for fast cars feature hot men/women driving along with equally hot women/men? It's a simple understanding of marketing companies that many people see a product and think that by owning that product they can be just the same. Marketing is often about suggesting things and for us to believe the "you can be just like them..." narrative.
Now you might be reading this and thinking that you are not that stupid, but we are all taken in, to one degree or another, mainly because we want it to be true.
Now, this is not another polemic about the evils of auto-tuning, there's enough of those to go around. They usually play the line of 'get someone to sing in tune, if they can't sing then find someone else' or a similar argument. It's a fair point and one I would not argue with, but there's a bigger myth around anything that claims to make your vocal or other recordings perfect.
Perfection Is Not The Goal
A great vocal isn't perfect it's unique. In fact, I could write a list as long as my arm that includes Dylan, Fitzgerald, Lennon, Cocker, Wynette and Cash, all of whom have amazing voices but not always perfect ones. They just have a voice that no one else has, and as soon as you hear it you know it's them.
What makes a great voice is different from what makes a technically perfect one.
The same can be said of any instrumentalist - while we can emulate their sound, we can't match their playing, that is what makes them unique.
I'm reminded of the story producer Tony Platt told me, he is often asked how to get the Angus Young AC/DC guitar sound. His answer is you need three things; the guitar rig, the mics and Angus! I chuckle at that answer, but he is right - while we might be able to emulate most of the process we can't be the person who plays the instrument, only Angus Young can do it.
My problem with any plug-in such as those that tune vocals is less about the fact that you can put someone without talent through one and bring them in tune, that is one thing.
My real issue is it is creating a myth for an entire generation who are left thinking that making something technically right makes it good - it doesn't, a vocal without emotion, character, and performance is not going to cut it - however technically 'right' it might be.
There is a better way, and that is concentrating on the following;
Find A Voice or Musician With An Original Sound
It seems some people have got this out of whack. They find a voice with no real unique character or a player with no real original sound and then hope to be able to tweak it into something that sounds great on a track.
The first thing is to find someone worth recording, and that means they have a unique sound and the talent to match. Am I really writing this? I shouldn't have to, but it seems there's so much music being produced that adds nothing to the musical landscape.
Perhaps it is because recording music these days is so easy and cheap, it means people don't need to worry that if they track something average that they are burning £100 worth of tape to do it. There are lots of things we lost when we went digital, one of them was that the cost of tape made you think twice before you pressed record!
Find Someone Who Is Willing To Put The Work In
Talent is the start, but again too many of us rely on tuning, editing, quantize et al to make up for not putting effort into getting the song in shape beforehand.
I recently watched a documentary about Deep Purple recording their latest album. Now these guys have been playing for decades, they played more gigs and have recorded more albums than most of us have had hot dinners. However before they went into the studio to record their latest album, they spent weeks in rehearsals coming up with ideas, perfecting the arrangments, crafting the lyrics and making sure they were ready to go into the studio.
I'm fortunate enough to know some of the best musicians in the world, they play for some of the biggest names and have credits on albums that have sold unimaginable numbers. They have been playing and recording for years. Without exception every single one of those friends continues to practice and perfect their craft. I often don't get to see them when they come to town because they are in rehearsals or preparing for a gig they have played hundreds of times already. If they need to do it, then we all do!
Again, too many of us simply rock up in the studio and start to record with little preparation.
There is no substitute for planning, writing, arranging, rehearsing and perfecting before you get into the studio - there isn't a DAW or a plug-in on the planet that can make up the deficit for lack of preparation.
Spend Time Capturing The Performance
The most important job when going into the studio is to capture the performance. Everything is subordinate to that mission.
Again, the world of modern recording can suck us into a vortex of thinking about the gear, the technology, the process and if we are not careful it stops us thinking about the performance.
If you are the one working the gear then make sure you know how it all works before the talent shows up, do all you can to make the process of capturing the performance the number one priority. This may mean setting up the gear beforehand, rather than having a vocalist stand around while you try and find which socket the mic is plugged into and why the compressor is buzzing.
KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) is a motto that should be carved in all of our studio walls.
There is something to be said for a simple workflow of gear into a board and then out to a recorder then simply hit record. The more we complicate the process, the greater the chance we have of distracting both the talent from a great performance and ourselves from capturing it, only having to fix it later.
As I've already made clear, this is not some rant against modern recording technology. More an impassioned cry that we get our priorities right and don't let the tail wag the dog.
The longer I spend using modern recording technology, the more I feel it has the potential to distract us from the things that really matter.
When it comes to creating something that will last there is no silver bullet, no magic wand - the things that have always mattered still matter today - a unique talent, effort, and a killer performance.
Then when it comes to capturing something great then hit record, shut up, listen and get out of the f**king way!