Want To Sound Like Exactly the Beach Boys? Chris Cron Explains How
Last week on All Mixed Up, Jim Monaghan played the “Beach Boys” doing a Little Anthony & the Imperials song. And this leads to the question – when you listen to a new recording these days, are you hearing Auto Tune, AI, or if there are even real musicians playing on the track.
Chris Cron is a Nashville-based musician/singer/songwriter with some very interesting thoughts on this new technology and where it’s taking us.
He joined Jim Monaghan this morning on All Mixed Up to talk about that and more (HINT – Chris is a HUGE Beach Boys fan).
Here is an excerpt of their conversation, centered around AI.
JIM MONAGHAN – It’s not The Beach Boys, and it’s not even Chris Cron doing one of his incredible recreations, if you will. That is an AI version, and like I said, it’s fascinating. It’s a little daunting as well. What are your thoughts on this whole thing, Chris?
CHRIS CRON – So I probably jumped the gun in posting it because I went back on the YouTube channel that I found it on. Dae Lims, D-A-E-L-I-M-S is the guy that put it up, and he did a whole hour and a half long video explaining how he did it. And you can tell from an hour and a half long video that there’s a lot more into it than just hitting a button, because that would have taken a minute to explain. What he did was he took another Beach Boys song. I’m trying to remember what it was off the top of my head (NOTE – it’s “Please Let Me Wonder”), but he took the instrumental track and used an AI program to separate out all the parts. So the drums, the piano, the guitars, bass, all that stuff, it’s able to isolate each of those parts. Don’t ask me how it does it, but it does. And then he put those all into a recording program and chopped them up and placed them in time, re-pitched things. It basically took a bunch of samples and repurposed them into this song “Going Out of My Head,” which is incredible. And he’s got to be very musical to be able to do that.
JM – Oh, absolutely.
CC – So he’s programming using samples from another Beach Boy song. So it’s got that sound and that tape saturation kind of thing going on already. And then he actually sang all of the parts and then ran those through AI algorithm that then put Brian’s voice on in the verses and then Al Jardine’s voice in the (singing) “going out of my head” – that’s like an Al Jardine part right there. But I think for me, my first reaction to it was, “Oh, I wish I had done this. This is so good.” It feels like it existed for 50 years already. It feels like something that I would have heard and that they would have written. Even so, on one hand, I’m super pumped about it because it is bringing into existence something that never was, and maybe that’s a bad thing, but as a Beach Boys fan, it makes me excited. The part that I get kind of reticent about is what happens if AI can just start generating new songs out of nothing? Not out of nothing. It’s obviously a lot of input that it has to get, but I think that’s where we’re headed to, where what happens if Spotify just uses this algorithm to generate content and then doesn’t have to pay anybody? That’s what scares me. As a songwriter and as a creator, I’m not fully convinced that the population is going to care if it’s not a human being. If it makes them feel something and if it makes them want to dance, they’re going to buy it. I don’t know, maybe that’s pessimistic of me from a reckless optimist over here, but, yeah, I’m hesitant about that. I think AI as a tool again, can be great. As an assistance, it’s great, but when it takes over and completely replaces human involvement, then that’s where I say no.
JM – I think I tend to agree with you on that. I know the musicians who recorded those tracks originally, all session guys, the infamous Wrecking Crew, those guys, they weren’t going to get any extra money anyway because they get paid by the session and so there’s no residuals there. But the other end of it, that’s a little bit different.
CC – Yeah. I think what’s going to have to come into play is some forms of legislation to protect copyright holders. Because he love it or hate it, he used existing material to create something new, which is what people in hip hop have done for years with sampling. And that’s great, that’s totally a legit art form, but I think there needs to be something in place to protect that. I also think that this is uncharted territory, but that we’re probably going to see voices being copywritten, like a tone and a timbre that is uniquely mine and that’s uniquely yours will eventually be something that will be copyrightable. And that then if they use it without your permission or use it your without getting royalties for it, that there could be lawsuits down the road.
JM – There were a few eyebrows who were raised a couple of weeks ago when the Rolling Stones just released their new single “Angry,” and it was revealed that at one point there’s a little bit of Auto Tune going on with Mick Jagger‘s vocals and you really have to listen carefully to get it. And it’s only in one small part. And I think someone I forget who it was, Chris, but someone know, if you’re in the studio and you get the right take, it’s exactly what you want. But there’s that one note that just needs to be yeah, what’s wrong with know we’re not talking Cher.
CC – Yeah, I don’t see anything wrong with it. And even the Cher thing, that was, I think, an artistic choice because it’s obvious that it’s like robotic, right? I don’t know. There was a time when I was a purist and hated on that stuff, but I’ve come to full circle, to where it’s like a recording is all illusion anyways. Drums don’t sound like that in person, where like a kick drum and a snare drum are super punchy and right in your face. That’s something that’s engineered and created to feel that way. Most recordings now are not bands playing live together in a room, but that doesn’t mean that they’re bad. It’s a way of capturing a sound in a sonic way that you want and then you can recreate that live. Sure. I think Auto Tune can be a crutch and there are plenty of quote-unquote singers who have used Auto Tune to mask the fact that they aren’t actually singers. But at the end of the day, I think a recording is a different thing than a live representation of a song.
JM – And if you want to go back to the 50’s and 60’s, you take some of those pop idols who really weren’t good singers. There’s a reason their vocals were doubled.
CC – Yeah, I mean, even the Beach Boys stuff, they doubled their voices on almost everything because it helped mask the rub of five or six guys singing in a room not perfectly in pitch together. Like, widened that a bit. There was a band that I love, this band called Doves from the UK, and on one of their records called Kingdom of Rust, they intentionally didn’t tune things as closely as they normally would. Like guitars are slightly out and pianos and synthesizers, because actually, when you tune everything perfectly, it becomes smaller. When you let things spread a little bit, it becomes wider. That’s why all of these older records where nothing is perfectly in a 440 has this width to it that you just don’t get if you tune everything perfectly.