I’ve been a musician since I was 9 years old, and I enjoy almost every type of music - from stadium filling guitar solos to Chopin’s piano preludes and everything in between. I mean it when I say that I love music. I love playing it, and I love listening to it.
I grew up on 90’s Alternative, but my favorite stuff is the music of the 1960’s – especially The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and pretty much everything Motown put out. I love these artists because they wrote some of the best melodies pop music has ever seen, and composed songs that have stood the test of time.
What makes me love the music of the 1960’s is actually not the artists. It’s the recording technology of the time, and what that technology required of the musicians.
In the 1960’s, to make a great recording you had to be a great artist. Take The Beach Boys for example. They were renowned for their layered vocal harmonies. They were unrivaled in this area. And do you know how they were able to make albums that sounded so good? They had to learn to sing really well.
To record their songs, The Beach Boys would stand in a room and sing together into a microphone. There was virtually no overdubbing. No auto-tuning. Nothing like what we have today. If you wanted to sound great on the album, you had to sound great in real life. The recording technology of the time required excellence.
But recordings didn’t have to be perfect, because human beings cannot perform flawlessly onto four tracks of tape. We are not machines, and the records of the early 60’s and before had a wonderful raw character that we rarely experience these days.
Today, digital recording technology has changed the music industry. Musicians don’t have to be excellent to make a great recording. Mistakes can be fixed. Off-pitch notes can be corrected. We have the ability today to make a perfect album, and in the process remove many of the human qualities that make old recordings so endearing and enduring.
This is why so many live performances these days sound marginal (or terrible). The artists cannot live up to the perfect recording they made in the studio. It’s an impossible standard, so they’re doomed to sound bad when they perform live. By contrast, check out some live performances by The Beach Boys or The Beatles from the early 1960’s. They sounded fantastic, even though they often couldn’t hear themselves very well (this was before the era of on-stage monitors).
I wish more artists today would voluntarily hold themselves to the recording standards of the 1960’s. If they did, they could only make a truly great album if they became truly great musicians.
What happened to the music industry is a case study in unintended consequences – the unforeseen drawbacks of seemingly beneficial technological advances. Sometimes these technologies can turn out to be self-defeating. In the music world, better recording technology actually lowered the caliber of musicianship.
We’ve seen the same sort of technological unintended consequences within the Church. Christians used to know their Bibles. Familiarity with the Biblical text was part of what it meant to be a follower of Christ. People had a copy of the Bible that they would read regularly, because that was the primary way to get to know God's Word: actually reading it.
Today, technology has allowed us to outsource our engagement with the Bible. We can wait for Scripture quotations to roll through our social media feeds, watch videos of sermons, and follow Christian bloggers or speakers. Of course none of these things are inherently negative, but they collectively enable us to avoid ever having to open the Bible ourselves.
In the same way that I wish musicians would hold themselves to the recording practices of the 1960’s, I sometimes wish that we Christians would voluntarily hold ourselves to the simple standards of our grandparents’ generation: reading a physical copy of the Bible on a regular basis. We should view that simple activity as our main course of Scriptural engagement.
What would happen to the music industry if all the artists recorded as if it was 1963? It’s safe to say that we would have better musicians.
What would happen to the Church if we all read our Bibles regularly? God only knows.