How the Music Industry is Just Like the Cheating Lance Armstrong

For whatever reason, I was never a Lance Armstrong fan. Maybe I never got over the whole Ben Johnson fiasco enough to believe that any high-performance athlete wasn’t juicing.  Thanks to Johnson, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and a slew of others, I am now perpetually suspicious.

And so most of the world.  Doping in order to achieve athletic achievement is something that is considered to be nothing short of cheating, regardless of the circumstances.

So why do we tolerate cheating when it comes to musical talent?  There’s more truth in this video that most realize or would care to admit.

See what I mean?  Why are so many people willing (and almost insisting) to be deceived by talent? Lorraine Devon Wilk expands upon this in The Huffington Post.  Why do we demand honesty and authenticity in sport and turn a blind eye when it comes to musical talent.

Read it and give me your thoughts.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

6 thoughts on “How the Music Industry is Just Like the Cheating Lance Armstrong

  • January 20, 2013 at 4:01 pm

    To me the auto-tune (and other musically corrective digital processes) represent a real lost opportunity. The who idea of using audio production software and digital versions of analog audio tools is to explore the area that was previously limited by their analog counterparts. But, far to often the new digital production tools are used in a corrective or a restorative function. So instead of the attitude being wow we are no longer constrained by the limitations of the analog studio, now we can really explore sounds and textures and give our music more depth and complexity . Instead the attitude is I don't need to develop my rhythm chops because Pro Tools can quantize me and put me in the pocket, or I don't need to work my vocals because autotune corrects my intonation, and screw breath control (and all the hard work that goes into developing that) because I punch-in my performances line by line (even word by word).

    I feel that all of the musically correct technologies make a performance sound far to perfect (inhuman). It accumulates when you work on a given song as you systematically remove all of the human-ness from the performances. The end result is what I feel sounds unnaturally perfect and disgustingly shiny! This sound has a powerful attention grabbing factor on first listen, but subsequent listens have less and less impact (wow factor) on listeners who can't really connect to the inhumanity of it all…even at the sonic level.

    I use auto-tune as a last resort. Our first choice is to get our artists the performance coaching they need and work out the kinks in pre-production. Many of our artists love this approach and appreciate that we want to take the time to truly develop them as artists instead of just fixing their wackiness in the mix. I think that many artists do want to do it right, but far to often studios, engineers and producers are the ones either too lazy, or unqualified, to do pre-production with the artists. Because of this digitally correcting bad music performance has become common practice.

  • January 20, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    Auto tune, fancy new studio tricks, its all just an evolution of our tools. At some point the musician could only use their fingers to snap or hit stuff musically. Then someone tensed strings over wood and all of a sudden new tools allowed the fingers to do unnatural things they could not on their own. A trumpet "auto-tunes" a human breath into pitches and dynamics the vocal chords could never achieve. Hitting a drum is often more musically effective than slapping a rock….They are all just tools that allow us to achieve what was previously impossible.

    And our tools don't replace talent, they just disperse it. The engineer's talent comes through in the final product. We listen to both a singer and an engineer, but this has always been the way. Many talents are included in live and recorded performances. The talent of the person who made the various equipment comes through also the talent of the musician's idols/mentors comes through, even established musical theory is evident.

    The success of a performance also relies on things like stage and album design. Its been proven that what we see affects what we hear, taste, smell and vice versa. Ultimately 'good' music is subjective. Even our own state of mind affects our enjoyment of the performance.

    If the listener is entertained, what is the difference? Seems like the job was done properly…Now i'm not saying i agree with it, but maybe the time of great musicianship is over and we're entering the age of great engineering and great marketing. In the same way there's no longer much call for a guy that's really good at slapping a rock.

  • January 21, 2013 at 1:03 am

    What we really need is a sense of urgency. The pot needs to be stirred. The more writers that come out exposing the transparency of the music industry, the more attention will be drawn to the magnitude of the problem.

  • January 21, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    To an extent, I think things have always been like this, it's just a matter of how far it goes. Back when monaural recordings was all there was, or before pingponging a 4 track to keep adding tracks and effects played by one person, it was down to the engineer to place the right mic in the right location, and have the right environment, and that was pretty much it. Adding tech became a "gimmick" usually at first(psychedelic drums on one channel and bass in the other spring to mind – ouch). Once the usage gets hammered out, it just becomes standard. I don't think anyone would argue that a solid multichannel spread on a drum kit is in any way gimmicky or unfairly representing the drummers talent. Or a click track when playing live? Or a monster sound that makes the bassist sound like they're bringing down the building's foundations? Auto-tuning a singer is just another 'tool', it will always be used, but what exactly is the harm? If it's a pop song it's one less distraction from a hummable ditty(hopefully), and if *anyone* seriously thinks that sustained high note by xxx shows a powerful innate talent, all it takes is one tour to nail that coffin shut. SNL live performances spring to mind.
    I think it's underestimating the intelligence of the audience – they're not as naive as one might think. I mean, Milli Vanilli have come and gone a long time ago, there's a whole new generation of music fans out there that know all about it, and don't care. I think it offends musicians and music geeks more than anyone. The audience will come to respect a musician, or not, all on their own.

    As far as experimentation, I remember vividly the early days of sampling when Peter Gabriel was looping samples of xylophones to make moody soundscapes – loved it. He was hardly the norm, though – most acts were living off the dog bark sample for years. I think there are plenty of musicians nowadays that experiment with sound(Radiohead, NiN, Arcade Fire).

  • January 21, 2013 at 5:58 pm

    Not sure I agree with JC's lumping together " tech use" to experiment musically and tech use to correct musically. In my opinion experimenting with sound is awesome, correcting musical performance with digital tools because the "artist" doesn't know how to practice is lame.


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