Cover Album

Occasionally I find an exceptionally interesting piece of music. It’s not often that this happens, I’m firmly stuck in the 1970s Punk era, and they just aren’t making any more 1970s Punk music. I’ve heard it all before, and the more times I hear it, the better I like it.
However, a very interesting “tribute” CD was released in 1996, with contemporary bands (and even some old school punks) covering their favorite Buzzcocks songs.
It took me a while to figure out why I liked this album so much. I did what I usually do when listening to music, I picked up my electric guitar and played along. Some of the arrangements were eccentric, and it was jarring to hear the Buzzcocks as heavy metal. I listened to the songs and then wondered why I don’t listen to the original tracks very often. This is just the sort of music I like to play my guitar with.
The Buzzcocks appeared on some of the first recordings to come out of the British punk scene. They were rough, poorly recorded, but full of the new Punk energy. I bought all those tunes on vinyl when they first came out. Now I have them all as mp3s. So I went to my iTunes collection and pulled up some originals, tried to play along, and immediately discovered the problem.
The Buzzcocks just could not tune their instruments properly. That’s a common problem with a band with only guitars and bass, they tune to each other, it doesn’t matter if they’re at the wrong pitch as long as they’re at the same pitch. So almost all my favorite songs were recorded out of tune with my guitar at standard tuning.
I could tune my guitar to the song, but that isn’t very practical, since each song might be slightly out of tune with the others. Then I recalled what I did, some 33 years ago, when I played along to the Buzzcocks on vinyl. Every turntable has a “pitch control” so you could adjust the speed of the turntable. You could take that out of tune track and raise or lower it’s pitch a little bit, enough to get in tune with your guitar. But the tempo changes too, so you can’t be too aggressive with your pitch control.
But that was enough to play along with the records on a turntable. I don’t know of any similar digital process on a computer or mp3 player. There are programs like the “Amazing Slow-downer” that will slow down your song without changing the pitch. I want just the opposite, to change the pitch without changing the tempo.
I could change the pitch in any audio processing program and then write it back to another mp3. But it would be difficult to get a precise match, and I don’t know how to get it at the correct pitch and preserve the tempo. None of this is as easy as just turning the dial on the turntable until the song’s key matched your guitar tuning.
But the new modern album has all the advantages of modern technology, including digital tuning. With my guitar software, Guitar Rig, and my guitar that is well set up with pro tuning pegs, I can get my tuning accuracy to within 1/1000th of a note. And you need to be tuned to the correct standard, especially with modern digital production techniques. Your track might not be recorded at the same time as other tracks, the artists might not even be in the same room at the same time. So they need to have a common standard tuning.
So the new album of cover songs are all in tune. I can play along with them and sometimes I think “Oh, so that’s the chord progression I’ve spent decades searching for.” And now I have enough skills to play them, unlike when I was a teenager with my first new electric guitar, when I heard these songs for the first time.

© Copyright 2016 Charles Eicher