When it comes to music creation and production in the XXI century, technology provides us with tools that allow us to ‘fix’ any imperfections. Is your singer out of tune? There’s an app for that (ok, a ‘plugin’). Is your drummer ‘out of time’? There’s probably a function in your music creation software to take care of that problem as well. We can move every single note; manipulate every single sound…we can make everything perfect. That begs the question: Are we making that piece of music more beautiful by removing the flaws and making it ‘perfect’? I’m not a purist. I use many of those tools myself and I know how powerful –and creative- they can be. But how far is too far?
“In the same way we can lose perspective on a song by obsessing with symmetry, we can forget that physical beauty should not defined by size, weight, ratios or color.
It is easier for me to speak about this concept as applied to music, but it is also present in all art forms and aspects of life. Photographers have Photoshop, filmmakers have Final Cut and then there are diets and cosmetic surgery to help us pursue artificial beauty standards fueled by very profitable industries. In the same way we can lose perspective on a song by obsessing with symmetry, we can forget that physical beauty should not defined by size, weight, ratios or color.
A few weeks ago I was casually discussing this subject with a couple fellow producers. In this case, we were focusing on working with singers in the studio and opinions about tuning vocals were as diverse as they were interesting; then someone suggested taking a listen to the album ‘Jagged Little Pill’ (iTunes and Spotify) by Alanis Morissette, produced by Glen Ballard. I remembered being blown away by those vocals when the album first came out in 1995…and I was again that day: they were so emotional, raw and moving… so full of flaws and imperfections! But those imperfections were what made it special…the tuning was far from perfect, yet I wouldn’t have changed a thing. It was beautifully imperfect.
Depending on the music genre I find myself working on, the amount of polishing will vary, but I have become more aware of the details that make a phrase, sound or performance special by falling out of line and breaking the monotony. As in life, when leaving some room for change, can help us steer the boat in the right direction.
In the same way that a crack in the voice can convey emotion and the inaccuracy of a pitch can denote a state of mind, our own imperfections are what make us real and beautiful. A snare that happens to fall behind the beat, or a shaker rushing in the chorus can speak to the fact that things rarely go as planned in life –and in music as a reflection of it-. Nevertheless, we find a meaning to most and strive in unexpected situations. Imperfection makes us feel, grow and learn. Understanding the beauty of imperfection allows for tolerance to flourish along with a deeper love and understanding of our own reality. Only by loving imperfection we can connect with the essence of being human, and open ourselves to the full experience of life.