Time of writing: during U2 at Live8 in London.
There is no doubt that it is becoming more difficult to sing in tune. Either the human species is evolving away from the finely detailed perception of pitch of the great singers of the past. Or more likely that improvements in live sound technology are making it more difficult for artists to hear themselves effectively.
Taking Bono as an example. He is without doubt among the best singers ever. But right now he is plainly not singing in tune much of the time.
One reason for this might be that he is using in-ear monitoring. No-one seems to know why it is so, but it is harder to know whether you are singing in tune when you hear through headphones or in-ear monitors than when you hear sound traveling through air.
In-ear monitoring has undoubtedly contributed to sound quality for the audience, since there is less spill from the monitors on stage. Also the band can hear each other more clearly rather than being confused by a melee of sound.
But vocal tuning has definitely suffered in the process.
It isn't made public knowledge, but it is actually commonplace to do extensive work on live recordings before they are released. This includes replacing vocals as much as necessary - even whole songs.
But normally you can't compare the release with the original sound, because the original was live and it has gone forever (and the outtakes have been consigned to an underground archive somewhere in the desert).
But with Live8, many people will be recording the show at home, so the original will be available for comparison. I for one will want to buy the DVD to see how much work has been done. U2 has just finished, at the time of writing, but I don't think Bono will be the only singer with a tuning problem.
Live8 is wonderful and I am not knocking it in the slightest. But the tuning of vocals is massively increasing as an issue in live sound. Plainly, research is needed.
Got to go now - Coldplay are on...
Response from a Audio Masterclass visitor...
You say Bono is singing out of tune – he always does live!!
My friends rave about U2 but to me, no matter how good the band play, if the singer can’t sing then they are basically no good. Studio tricks are all well and good but so many of these “rated” singers are crap, Danny Bowles, Ian Gillan, Paul Rodgers, Ronnie Dio, these are singers
Bono, Phil Collins - don’t make me laugh – or rather - they do!
Rory Gallagher was a better singer than Bono and he was a guitarist!
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