I have a feeling that (really) big artists just record their voices, and then studios just synthesizes the instruments. I don't imagine people with guitars, pianos and other things behind then, recording...

I'm not talking about people that have more respect to music, I'm talking about artists that clearly have their songs recorded in big studios that creates everything for them, with a nice beat that people will love and buy. Let's say... Beyonce, for example.

So, is this a reality? Is today's songs more synthesized than recorded?

I'm totally ignorant to music, but I had this curiosity. Thank you so much.

  • 1
    This massively depends on your market. A good chunk of pop music in the UK nowadays is Electronic in nature so is inherently synthesised. Nov 13, 2014 at 10:35

5 Answers 5


No doubt both are used, depending on circumstances.

Having done some recording in both styles (sequenced/synthesized and live-performance) even with my mediocre performance skills and low-quality hardware, I've still often found performing to be less-labor-intensive than sequencing (to my surprise). If you can find any random half-decent instrumentalist it doesn't take that long to stick them in a studio and have them run through a half dozen takes of a song.

That said, it may be the case that each instrumentalist is in their own separate sound-proof room, individually mic'ed, with headphones to monitor the others. This would give greater control to each individual instrumental track in post processing. There's a whole bunch of techniques you can do with a live recording to clean it up. This includes stitching together the best parts of multiple takes, adjusting the volume and panning envelopes, performing time-stretching (to correct misplaced timings) and pitch-correction (which isn't always an obvious autotune effect), adding EQ to emphasize or de-emphasize various frequency bands, adding artificial reverb or chorus effects, and lots more.

OTOH, it really depends on what is being recorded. For a guitar part, its probably easier to find someone to play the part live on a guitar rather than type it into a synthesizer or play a keyboard reduction into a MIDI sequencer. But if you're wanting a string pad, or some background orchestral parts, its certainly much easier and cheaper to play a synth than to rent an orchestra (or even a string quartet).

EDIT: It's also worth pointing out the distinction between synthesized and sequenced. Synthesized music describes sounds that have been created digitally, but such music can be (and often is) still recorded from a live performance on a MIDI controller (such as a piano keyboard), and thus, in some cases, requires the same instrumental skills as playing an actual instrument. Some forms of synthesis even trigger a recorded sound of an actual instrument. Sequencing OTOH is a method of inputting notes by means other than a live, real-time performance.

The point of this distinction is to point out that saying a song is "more synthesized than recorded" is not a meaningful distinction. Synthesized performances are still recorded (as when recording a keyboard player). The opposite of recorded music would be sequenced, where notes are typed into the computer in some type of interface.


Where do you draw the line between synthesised and recorded?

Acoustic Guitar -> Electric Guitar -> Digital Piano -> Synthesiser Keyboard -> Sampled Loops -> Midi Keyboard -> Midi Sequencer -> Simulated Guitar Amps (pedal or software) -> Musical Software Arrangement

Would a top of the range digital piano be considered synthesised? What about an arp on a keyboard? What about bands like Radiohead that took a few macbook pro's to their gigs with native instruments software because it means they can cut down on gear? James Blake loops live! Blue Monday was heavily sequenced on keyboards (decades ago).

With reference to your point, people who have more respect to music.. There have always been artists that have not written their own music. PRS allows you to see who is on the royalties for a song which gives an indication of ownership of the creative rights. A lot of big names have had some songs written for them, like Michael Jackson. You may also be surprised to see some songs written by the artist, such as Justin Beeber.

If you change the word "Synthesised" for "Unable to replicate live with musicians, with those instruments/software" then its easier to make the distinction between the two categories of music making you are pointing out. No one with musical sense wants to pay good money to watch a glorified karaoke, but be careful not to view technology as a bad thing as it is another playground for the creative mind.


Others have answered the production part of your question, so I will answer the value judgement part of your question.

Whether or not an artist respects music and whether their music uses synthesizers/samplers is completely unrelated.

In Nashville you can get a drums/bass/guitar combo to blow over your tune with generic country accompaniment in less time than it takes to choose a few synthesizer/sampler sounds. And for cheaper than the cost of a synthesizer. And you may be respecting music or disrespecting music when you do that also. Completely unrelated.

Creating music is insanely challenging and complicated, no matter what genre you are in or what production techniques are used, and you have limited time and budget even in the best circumstances. You have to choose your battles. Are you going to spend 90% of your time and budget hiring a symphony orchestra, or is it better to spend that time and money on a great lyric and vocal and use synthesized/sampled strings? The latter probably makes a better song that respects the listener’s time more. There are a million examples of this kind of practical decision-making in music production because none of us have unlimited lifespans and unlimited budgets.

And music is insanely broad. Music can be a dance track, a country ballad, a car commercial, a Broadway-style musical, a folk singer. The challenges are different in each case, and the instrumentation or production techniques tell you nothing about the integrity of the performer or producer. That is evident in the totality of the product, including how it is marketed and other factors. You can have a solo electronic musician who works tirelessly on every song and makes a great product and does her own Twitter and treats her listeners with enormous respect, or you could have a 10-piece band of acoustic musicians who phone it in and have a marketing team run their social media.


Depends what you mean by popular music. If you mean "pop" music then by it's very nature it's largely electronic. However rock music is "popular" and in North American in particular Country music is very "popular". In these types of genres the use of real musicians is standard for most of the instrumentation you hear.

Even in "pop" music you'll still get real humans laying down guitar tracks at least.


An entire backing track CAN be synthesised. In some current musical styles this is common. In a lot of other styles live musicians are used. However, today's production style relies heavily on recording each instrument on a seperate, completely isolated track, allowing full scope for processing - and the processing can be very heavy. When recording less accomplished musicians, this is also the stage where "correction" can be applied. Not so much, perhaps, with the highly skilled professional players who do big-time sessions. So much is possible. What is possible, tends to be done! But there's still a lot of real playing in a lot of today's commercial music.

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