Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Music, Photoshop, and the Burden of Perfection...

“Artists who are conscious of all this know too that they must labor without allowing themselves to be driven by the search for empty glory or the craving for cheap popularity, and still less by the calculation of some possible profit for themselves.” - Saint John Paul ll
         I remember the day my heart broke for contemporary music. I’ll preface this, first, by saying that many of my thoughts pertain to a larger, more general, set of circumstances in the music industry, and that there are certainly many heroic exceptions the code of faux-ethics by which many music salespeople live by. That is to say, too, that I am not opposed to making money performing and writing music. Anyhow, I was performing with an artist a while back who asked me to listen to a song that he had recently written. He played it for me and asked for my opinion, to which I replied, “I think its catchy and rather nice, but also, that it has been written a thousand times before and sounded like everything else I was hearing on the radio at the time. His response was simple, “Great! That means it’ll sell!” This discourse left me a little disoriented, and I haven’t performed with this artist since.
         When we sacrifice the quality of music for the fleeting promise of quick recognition, popularity, and wealth all in the name of the burden of a perception we place on our listener, then we diminish our ability to create a beautiful experience effective enough to move our audience. Further, pertaining to many practices in music production, many have redefined the practice of sacrificing quality to mean, simply, that we are “perfecting” the music. Take for example, the cover of a popular magazine…let’s use Cosmopolitan. After Cosmo picks the image of the “woman of the month” whom they choose for their publication, the image is then sent to editing. In that process, the image is often augmented, diminished, darkened, lightened, and accentuated to no end. Often, too, the headshot is taken from an entirely different photo shoot…so add decapitation to the mix. The end result is an image of a woman that may be up to 90% altered from her original state. In the eyes of the media, it is then made “perfect”. What are some of the effects of this burden of perfection? For women, when they view this image, they can fall into the trap of comparison, often asking themselves, “Why don’t I look this way?” This comparison breeds insecurities that can prove to be too hard to heal from, all in the name of perfection. I wont even try to get into what it does to men, and the devastating results of when a man places this burden on a woman.
         The point is that this is happening in modern music. The burden of certain production practices places a tremendous amount of pressure on an artist to create perfection. Employing synthesized instruments opposed to the real thing, auto-tuning the voice and piecing together a vocal track which combines many takes, recording above and beyond your ability to reproduce that sound live are all examples of the way that music is “photoshopped” in the name of a false sense of perfection. When an aspiring writer hears a song recorded at the level, they may find themselves discouraged thinking that they could never amount to anything that perfect. I have seen countless artists turn from their intended journeys because the artist had lain to them.
         We are an imperfect people meant for greatness. We achieve greatness by accepting our imperfections as opportunities to bear them to the world through our music, and make them relatable. In that way, instead of nurturing a false sense of perfection, we embrace more inclusive relationships with our listeners. 
Be blessed.

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