Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Speaking of Nickel Creek reminds me of something: The glaring lack of talent in the music business.

I'm not speaking of studio musicians or touring musicians -- they are usually well-trained professionals who are rock solid at what they are hired to do, which is make music, pure and simple. Some guys in Nashville can walk into a studio, look at a tune they've never heard before, and record something that is radio-worthy in a couple of takes. It's mindboggling how good some of them are.

I'm talking about the people fronting the acts. Namely, the singers. There just isn't much actual vocal talent in the top acts. In fact, I would bet that at any given time, there is more sheer vocal talent among the churchgoers at the First Baptist Church in my hometown, Springdale Arkansas, than in the entire top 40. I say that not as a lawyer, but as a professionally-trained musician.

What do I mean by vocal talent? For one thing, the ability to sing live at all, without lip-syncing or having someone off-stage manipulating the sound so as to keep the singer on pitch (they have technology to do that nowadays). The ability to sing on pitch. A decent range. A smooth and pleasing tone. A voice that has richness and power. A voice that can sing more than a few songs without cracking, wavering, or croaking.

You really don't find that very much in the top 40 music acts. First of all, many of them are rappers who don't even attempt to sing. Then there are the husky-voiced rockers whose vocal cords are obviously damaged by smoking, straining to hit notes that they really can't hit, and generally bad technique. Among the few left over, most can't sing live worth beans. A top producer I know in Nashville says that it is truly amazing how little vocal talent there is in the business. He says that often when he meets aspiring singers, he asks them to sing something live -- the response is usually an embarrassed cough, and then a fumbling excuse like "Here's my demo CD, listen to that." And when singers record, all bets are off -- any recording you hear is so electronically manipulated and edited that it usually exaggerates vastly the singer's actual abilities.

So that's my little rant about the music business.


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