There is a constant imposition of power by producers on to pop and rock music. It's like a tug-of-war. At the end of the 1970s, those big mega-bands like Yes and Emerson Lake and Palmer built themselves up with layers and layers of technological mystique: four keyboards for Rick (even one behind him! What was he going to play that with? His bum?), an electronic relationship with classical music for ELP, massive lighting rigs. The pub rockers and the punks slipped under the pomp-fences and stole the power back.
There was a device called an Aural Exciter in the late 1980s that picked out and magnified to top-end of a vocal performance, creating an artificial clarity and intimacy in the voice. If you knew about it, it was all you could hear when you listened to recorded music- and live, for that matter. I went to see a chap I knew called Spike play double bass in the musical Buddy, which of course was about Buddy Holly. They had one on their mixing desk, and the quantity of Aural Exciter that the sound engineer loaded on to the vocals removed all the wax from my ears, the dandruff from my hair, the pigment from my skin and the plaque from my teeth. These physical benefits were a marvel, but I had gone out to be entertained and the physical makeover was a bit of a shock!
One student is writing about Autotune, a device which is being hotly debated at the moment by producers. Almost all the big
stars' recordings feature Autotune, which tempers the pitch of singing to make it bang-in-tune. It's fun to use in the studio, but hard to subtract once you have heard a dodgy vocal being put in its place.
I helped to organise a conference about music technology about ten years ago, and there was a man from the University of Oslo showing a prototype; his guinea pig was a vocal performance by a guy who had walked into an auto-recording-booth and sung an operatic aria completely off key and with a ghastly timbre, much in the style of a male Florence Foster Jenkins. The academic twitched and twiddled the voice until it was a 'perfect' tenor rendition, and I suppose this research must have found its way into Protools, the professional studio recording software.
Meanwhile, on the singer-songwriter circuit. the London standard tends towards the cautious, careful and self-Autotuned. Outside London, in general people merrily sing their songs and make mistakes, because in a sense, that's what live music is all about. Why stifle your expression and communication by trying to sound as though your voice has been processed by a machine?