Maybe you missed the Grammy’s last weekend. I didn’t bother, either.
Maybe you missed Dave Grohl’s speech after the Foo Fighters won a Grammy for Best Rock Album. It went a little something like this:
This is a great honor, because this record was a special record for our band. Rather than go to the best studio in the world down the street in Hollywood and rather than use all of the fanciest computers that money can buy, we made this one in my garage with some microphones and a tape machine…
To me this award means a lot because it shows that the human element of music is what’s important. Singing into a microphone and learning to play an instrument and learning to do your craft, that’s the most important thing for people to do.
It’s not about being perfect, it’s not about sounding absolutely correct, it’s not about what goes on in a computer. It’s about what goes on in here [your heart] and what goes on in here [your head].
What I read was the statement of a man who was proud of the hard work he and his band put into their latest album, Wasting Light, an album they recorded old-school in a garage studio.
What I read was the thoughts of someone who fears technology is removing the human element from music.
Did I miss something? Did Grohl punctuate his speech with calls of “Death to Disco!” and “Death to Dubstep!” Did he burn effigies of Skrillex and Deadmau5 as he and his band exited the stage.
It’s not surprising dance music fans chose to read between the lines instead of reading the actual lines. Their culture is often marginalized in the mainstream music press, only grabbing headlines when someone overdoes at a large outdoor rave. But in this case, was there really an insult to be had? Was there really an ulterior motive on the part of Grohl?
A similar game is often played in the world of American politics. President Obama will send out a holiday card and instead of having a picture of a sweet baby Jesus, the card may have a tree or a fireplace. Right on cue, someone on the right will claim Obama is a Muslim because the card didn’t have Jesus and the card didn’t say Christmas. Or, maybe Obama gives a speech on the budget. The same thing will happen. “Obama didn’t say ‘Jesus’ during his speech on the budget. He must be a Muslim!”
Dave Grohl bashed technology! He must hate dance music!
And just like American politics, others picked up on this line of attack and amplified it, few voices of reason spoke up, because, really, they was nothing to speak up about, and Grohl ended up issuing an apology for something he didn’t say (The full text of which is below).
To be fair, there has been some decent writing on this non-controversy. The Village Voice’s Michael Tedder rightfully reminded people that Grohl has worked with electronic and rap types like Trent Reznor, Alec Empire, and Puff Daddy, and he even performed with Deadmau5 during the very same Grammy broadcast. He went on to speculate that Grohl could just as well have been commenting on the soullessness of mainstream rock.
The truth of the matter is human interaction with technology and what technology can and cannot replicate when it comes to human interaction is a real topic of concern in our society. Many researchers and tech types, when speaking about facebook, twitter, youtube will quickly point out how modern communication, with all of its benefits, is still a poor substitution for real face time with a real person. Consequently, how we can make these technologies more closely resemble real human encounters is an important area of research.
Similarly, as technology becomes a more prevalent element in music of all genres — Rock, rap, pop, and dance, we will have to have the real conversation about how we can use this technology and still make our music sound like it was made by humans using machines and not as if it was made by a machine without the aid of a human.
As all of us, musicians and fans, are working these issues out, some truths are already becoming clear. Making your voice sound like a robot with auto-tune is not the answer. Neither is stuffing a song with an incomprehensible number of tracks, artificially boosting sound levels on your recordings, or tweaking your career statement into perfection because you can. To reduce Grohl’s comments to an attack on a group of people who weren’t explicitly attacked ignores this larger problem and stifles any significant progress on this front.
“To me this award means a lot because it shows that the human element of music is what’s important. Singing into a microphone and learning to play an instrument and learning to do your craft, that’s the most important thing for people to do… It’s not about being perfect, it’s not about sounding absolutely correct, it’s not about what goes on in a computer. It’s about what goes on in here [your heart] and what goes on in here [your head].”
Not the Gettysburg Address, but hey……I’m a drummer, remember?
Well, me and my big mouth. Never has a 33 second acceptance rant evoked such caps-lock postboard rage as my lil’ ode to analog recording has. OK….maybe Kanye has me on this one, but….Imma let you finish….just wanted to clarify something…
I love music. I love ALL kinds of music. From Kyuss to Kraftwerk, Pinetop Perkins to Prodigy, Dead Kennedys to Deadmau5…..I love music. Electronic or acoustic, it doesn’t matter to me. The simple act of creating music is a beautiful gift that ALL human beings are blessed with. And the diversity of one musician’s personality to the next is what makes music so exciting and…..human.
That’s exactly what I was referring to. The “human element”. That thing that happens when a song speeds up slightly, or a vocal goes a little sharp. That thing that makes people sound like PEOPLE. Somewhere along the line those things became “bad” things, and with the great advances in digital recording technology over the years they became easily “fixed”. The end result? I my humble opinion…..a lot of music that sounds perfect, but lacks personality. The one thing that makes music so exciting in the first place.
And, unfortunately, some of these great advances have taken the focus off of the actual craft of performance. Look, I am not Yngwie Malmsteen. I am not John Bonham. Hell…I’m not even Josh Groban, for that matter. But I try really fucking hard so that I don’t have to rely on anything but my hands and my heart to play a song. I do the best that I possibly can within my limitations, and accept that it sounds like me. Because that’s what I think is most important. It should be real, right? Everybody wants something real.
I don’t know how to do what Skrillex does (though I fucking love it) but I do know that the reason he is so loved is because he sounds like Skrillex, and that’s badass. We have a different process and a different set of tools, but the “craft” is equally as important, I’m sure. I mean…..if it were that easy, anyone could do it, right? (See what I did there?)
So, don’t give me two Crown Royals and then ask me to make a speech at your wedding, because I might just bust into the advantages of recording to 2 inch tape.
Now, I think I have to go scream at some kids to get off my lawn.