While looking for some pictures relating to guitar tone, I stumbled upon an unbelievable thing…Air Guitar Championships. Since when in the world was this ever a skill? So what’s next, Air Drumming Championships? Lip Syncing Championships?
How did this happen?
With all the technology available today, everyone and anyone can be a “rockstar” or “pop queen”. But I ask you, does this make real talented musicians look better or worse? Lets dig some more to find out.
The birth of Autotune
Auto-Tune is an audio processor created by Antares Audio Technologies in 1997, which uses a proprietary device to measure and alter pitch in vocal and instrumental music recording and performances. It was originally intended to disguise or correct off-key inaccuracies, allowing vocal tracks to be perfectly tuned despite originally being slightly off-key. The processor slightly bends pitches to the nearest true semitone (to the exact pitch of the nearest tone in traditional equal temperament). Auto-Tune can also be used as an effect to distort the human voice when pitch is raised or lowered significantly. The overall effect to the discerning ear can be described as hearing the voice leap from note to note stepwise, like a synthesizer.
Auto-Tune is available as a plug-in for professional audio multi-tracking suites used in a studio setting and as a stand-alone, rack-mounted unit for live performance processing. Auto-Tune has become standard equipment in professional recording studios. Andy Hildebrand, an engineer working for Exxon, initially created auto-Tune. Hildebrand developed methods for interpreting seismic data and subsequently realized that the technology could be used to detect, analyze, and modify the pitch in audio files.
Auto-Tune was used to produce the prominent altered vocal effect on Cher‘s “Believe“. In an early interview the producers claimed they had used a Digitech Talker FX pedal, in what Sound on Sound’s editors perceive as an attempt to preserve a trade secret. After the success of “Believe” the technique became known as the “Cher Effect”. Today thousands rely on this “effect” to create records of some of the best recording artists.
Guitar Hero is a music rhythm game developed by Harmonix and published by RedOctane for the PlayStation 2. It is the first entry in the Guitar Hero series. Guitar Hero was released on November 8, 2005 in North America, April 7, 2006 in Europe and June 15, 2006 in Australia. The game’s development was a result of collaboration between RedOctane and Harmonix to bring a Guitar-like game to America.
The game features a guitar-shaped controller (resembling a miniature Gibson SG) that the player uses to simulate playing rock music. The gameplay is similar to GuitarFreaks, in that the player presses buttons on the guitar controller in time with musical notes that scroll on the game screen. The game features covers of 30 popular rock songs spanning five decades of rock, from the 1960s up through 2005, in addition to bonus tracks. Guitar Hero became a surprise hit, earning critical acclaim and winning many awards from major video game publications, and was considered one of the most influential games of the first decade of the 21st century. The game’s success launched the Guitar Hero franchise, which has earned more than $2 billion in sales, spawning several sequels, expansions, and other game-related products.
Rock Band is a music video game developed by Harmonix, published by MTV Games and Electronic Arts. It is the first title in the Rock Band series. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions were released in the North America on November 20, 2007,while the PlayStation 2 version was released on December 18, 2007 with the Wii version being released on June 22, 2008. The Xbox 360 version was released in Europe on May 23, 2008 while the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, and Wii versions were released on September 12, 2008. All four versions of the game were released in Australia on November 7, 2008. The game was to be released in Japan and to be developed by Q Entertainment but it was canceled.
Rock Band allows up to four players to simulate the performance of popular rock music songs by playing with controllers modeled after musical instruments. Players can play the lead guitar, bass guitar, and drums parts to songs with “instrument controllers”, as well as sing through a USB microphone. Players are scored on their ability to match scrolling musical “notes” while playing instruments, or by their ability to match the singer’s pitch on vocals. Players with the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions can interact through both online and offline multi-player capabilities. In addition to the 58 core songs included on the game disc, over 2,000 downloadable songs were released for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions.
At launch, the game software was made available in a bundle that packaged it together with the instrument peripherals, as well as for purchase separately. Individual instrument peripherals were released at a later date. The game has received widespread critical acclaim, with sales of 4 million units and global revenues of $600 million. Players have made over 100 million downloadable song purchases since Rock Band‘s release. The game’s success prompted the release of five sequels: Rock Band 2, The Beatles: Rock Band, Lego Rock Band, Green Day: Rock Band, and Rock Band 3.
DJ Hero is a music video game, developed by Free Style Games and published by Activision as a rhythm game spin-off of the Guitar Hero franchise. It was released on October 27, 2009 in North America and on October 29, 2009 in Europe. The game is based on turntablism, the act of creating a new musical work from one or more previously recorded songs using record players and sound effect generators, and features 94 remixes of two different songs from a selection of over 100 different songs across numerous genres.
To score points, the player must press buttons to activate accented beats, adjust their cross-fade between the two songs, and “scratch” the turntable on the game’s custom controller in time to marks that scroll on the screen to score points and perform well for the virtual crowd. The game features both a single player Career mode and cooperative and competitive multi-player modes. The game also features a mode for selected songs for a DJ player to play alongside another player using a Guitar Hero guitar controller. Many DJ and mix artists have contributed to the game both in the game’s development, the creation of mixes, and in lending their images for playable avatars in the game; these including DJ Shadow, Z-Trip, DJ AM, Grandmaster Flash, DJ Jazzy Jeff, and Daft Punk.
DJ Hero was generally well received by game journalists, praising the departure from the Guitar Hero series-style of gameplay, the use of the turntable controller to simulate the motions of a DJ and how the game’s difficulty curve helps the player to become skilled on it, and the game’s soundtrack; several smaller issues were identified as potential improvements for a possible sequel. However, the game did not perform as strongly as expected by industry analysts, believed to be due to the waning interest in music games during 2009; regardless, DJ Hero is stated by NPD Group to be the highest-grossing new intellectual property of 2009 in North America.
Music Education and future of child musicianship
So where does this put future musicians in the grand scheme of things? Here are some interesting stats for music education and younger future musicians from dosomething.org
- Children who study music tend to have larger vocabularies and more advanced reading skills than their peers who do not participate in music lessons.
- Studying music primes the brain to comprehend speech in a noisy background. Children with learning disabilities or dyslexia who tend to lose focus with more noise could benefit greatly from music lessons.
- Research shows that music is to the brain as physical exercise is to the human body. Music tones the brain for auditory fitness and allows it to decipher between tone and pitch.
- Children who study a musical instrument are more likely to excel in all of their studies, work better in teams, have enhanced critical thinking skills, stay in school, and pursue further education.
- In the past, secondary students who participated in a music group at school reported the lowest lifetime and current use of all substances (tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs).
- Schools with music programs have an estimated 90.2 percent graduation rate and 93.9 percent attendance rate compared to schools without music education who average 72.9 percent graduation and 84.9 percent attendance.
- Regardless of socioeconomic status or school district, students who participate in high-quality music programs score 22 percent better on English and 20 percent better on Math standardized exams.
- Much like expert technical skills, mastery in arts and humanities is closely correlated to high earnings.
- A study from Columbia University revealed that students who study arts are more cooperative with their teachers and peers, have higher levels self-confidence, and are more equipped to express themselves and their ideas.
- Elementary age children who are involved in music lessons show greater brain development and memory improvement within a year than children who receive no musical training.
- Learning and mastering a musical instrument improves the way the brain breaks down and understands human language, making music students more apt to pick up a second language.
So it seems that while fun is fun, real musicians are still very sought after. Children grow up better and do better playing music than imitating it. Highly skilled musicians of all types will continue to push the industry while the fake artists ride the coat tails of real talent. While thousands think that waving your hands in the air impersonating a real guitar is “cool”, nothing is cooler than an actual guitarist ripping away a sick riff on his axe. Period. We have all seen Ashley Simpson lip sync. It was just plain horrible.
Have we lost the idea of what true talent is? Have we accepted fake and fraudulent performers as “real artists”? I do not and refuse to listen to pop radio as a result. The real talent in the industry will continue to outshine the fakes and as such still contribute to the scene. My many hats go of to those who still play real instruments and those have made a professional living in the scene based on hard work. I hope to see more people as well as children taking a vested interest into music so they can become virtuosos themselves. With enough practice, hard work, and connections, you are and will be part of the elite. And as always, play on.