Misogynists who know nothing about music shame Courtney Love for not being an entire band

Some sound guy who was hired (by who, it’s not entirely certain) to record a Hole show a few years back has put isolated vocal and guitar parts from Courtney Love playing “Celebrity Skin” up on Youtube.

This video is now being gleefully shared around by mainstream music websites and blogs that invariably describe Courtney’s performance as “terrible” or rhetorically ask if it is “the worst thing ever”.

The answer, to anyone who has the slightest clue about how live music happens, is “no, this really isn’t the worst thing ever”.

Why? Well, firstly, because Courtney actually sounds pretty good here if you like raw vocal parts. But let’s set that aside for a moment.

Live vocal feeds usually sound pretty terrible. There is a lot of processing that happens in a studio, and a reason why slick-sounding albums tend to take days, weeks or even months to record. It’s a very rare singer who can pull off perfect vocals live – particularly if they’re playing rock or punk, which tend to rely on energy rather than technical perfection.

We don’t tend to notice this when we see live bands – because if they’re a decent band, they will have that energy, and the singing will be good enough. This is one reason why you can see a phenomenal live performance at a gig, then watch an imperfect live recording on TV a couple of days later and wonder why it doesn’t seem anywhere near as good.

Similarly, guitar parts tend to undergo a lot of processing even in a live setting. Many professional bands don’t have pedals on-stage, and will rely on a sound technician to process any distortion or tone effects for them. Moreover, amps will be adjusted for the acoustics of a venue. Unless you apply serious production to a live recording, it will tend to sound a lot more tinny and empty than a studio recording.

Finally, it’s worth noting that Courtney isn’t even really playing much guitar in this video in part because she doesn’t need to. “Celebrity Skin” relies largely on one guitar part and the rhythm section (bass and drums) to provide the bulk of the song, with the second guitar throwing in a bit of additional “oomph” now and again. Of course the guitar parts in this video are minimal and imperfect – quite aside from the sound issues, Courtney is pretty much smashing the strings for occasional effect. This would sound a lot better if you were doing this in your room because you’d have the volume, distortion and acoustics that were clearly present in the room at this gig. But it’d sound even better if you had an entire band filling out the rest of the song for you.

Surely, the guitar could have been played a lot better here, but it’s clear from the audience response that no-one actually in the venue cares. Why? Because there’s an entire band filling out the sound, which means that one punk musician’s performance doesn’t have to be perfect. Besides, she’s still pretty tight with the rest of the group.

So why is this even a big deal? I’m sure there are those who will claim that this video is just being shared because it sounds shit, but there are plenty of musicians who would sound shit if you shared isolated guitar + vocal parts around the Internet.

Courtney Love is no angel by any stretch of the imagination, but I feel it’s no coincidence that she is being targeted. She’s one of the very few women to ever maintain a relatively high profile as a rock star for the duration of her career, and that has made her the target for the kind of judgementalism, conspiracy theories and ill-informed criticism that just doesn’t stick with well-known male performers.

And that’s misogyny.

edit 15/11/14

This post wasn’t particularly well thought-through – I wrote it in a brief fit of annoyance and threw at at the Internet, not really expecting it to stick. I stand absolutely by what I said – it’s just that if I was expecting to deal with the snobby pedant parade in its full uptight glory I probably would have spent some time making the argument really watertight. Oh well.

Still, since I’m currently getting yet another spike of several thousand hits, I figured I’d address a couple of things that people seem to be massively missing the point on.

Firstly, the guitar. Of course it’s out of tune and sounds shite. I’m a musician, and I’m not deaf. The implicit question in this blog was intended to be – do you think this never happens to other musicians? Love, like anyone else at her level, will not be tuning her own guitar – it’ll be done by a guitar tech on tour with her. And mistakes will be made. If you’re in the middle of a song and attempt to play a nice, big power chord only to find out that it sounds awful, you’re gonna barely play it. Alternatively, if you’re in the middle of a song and can’t hear yourself properly through the monitors and suspect something might be wrong, you’re also barely gonna play it. Were these the reasons Love played in the way she did? Or was it something else? There are many ways this could have played out. Honestly, I don’t actually really care, and I’m baffled at why everyone else does. Which leads me on to…

Yes, of course the coverage of this is misogynistic. There’s some more discussion of the double-standard in rock music at play in this discussion here. This isn’t about whether or not the performance was objectively good or objectively awful – it’s about how this one incident fits into a wider pattern in which female musicians are, as standard, treated differently to male musicians and subject to different expectations. Incidentally, the men who comment on my blog calling me a “bitch” for writing this or declaring that I “HATE MEN” are not gonna convince me that they’re somehow sensitive to the nuances of sexism.

Anyways, I’m off to do some research and listen to Against Me! because I have a life outside the Internet. Toodles.

Comments on this post are now closed, as I have better things to do with my time than approve dozens of comments with exactly the same content.

49 thoughts on “Misogynists who know nothing about music shame Courtney Love for not being an entire band

  1. Hell to the yes! This is exactly what I was saying earlier. I have seen courtney loads and she always puts on an amazing show. I am sure if they did this with a lot of bands they would get the same thing x

  2. This is a difficult one for me. I’ve defended Courtney a lot, because she does get an awful lot of stick and it’s plain it’s because she’s a woman (yes, she can be kind of an unpleasant character on occasion, but that’s not what’s generally being criticised). For instance, the idea that won’t seem to go away that Kurt wrote material for “Live Through This” – he simply didn’t. If anything Courtney influenced Kurt’s writing than the reverse. It seems like people aren’t willing to credit Courtney for writing it because she’s a woman. Ironically the music *was* mostly written by a man, namely Eric Erlandson; if memory serves, “Doll Parts” is mostly Courtney’s music.

    However, in this instance – I’m sorry, this is absolutely *not* a sound quality issue, nor is it anything to do with being pseudo-unaccompanied. I speak as a guitarist myself. Her guitar tone is fine. This is simply very, very bad playing. Whether this is representative of her playing overall I have no idea, but yeah. And I find it extremely hard to believe that if she was male nobody would think her playing here was bad. Hell, spend five minutes reading the comments on men playing guitar on YouTube all you’ll see how absurdly critical people are of men’s playing as well.

  3. Actually, I’d like to add something else. Like I say, I have no idea how representative this is. It’s plausible that the sound guy wasn’t particularly good and she just couldn’t hear herself (it’s obvious from the other live recording that her guitar isn’t audible), so she just thought “fuck it” and basically just mimed along rather than asking to be turned up.

    Or, she could have asked to be turned down low because she knew she wasn’t very good. It could be either.

    There’s a parallel with Richey Edwards from Manic Street Preachers – although nominally a guitarist, all he really contributed was lyrics and he was barely ever recorded on an album (I think he only appeared on record for one song, “No Surface, All Feeling”). When playing live he was turned down very low and pretty much just mimed along.

    In an infamous incident, the sound guy at a festival who obviously hadn’t been let in to the open secret that Richey couldn’t play cranked him right up when it got to the solo of “La Tristesse Durera”, apparently under the impression that he was the lead guitarist, and it sounded absolutely awful

    • Well, for me this is basically the issue. There could be all kinds of reasons for why she sounded bad on that night, during that song. Or she could have just been shit *shrugs*

      The thing is, we don’t know, and one video certainly isn’t compelling evidence for a wider trend.

      At the end of the day, I do think this is about the fact that people are listening some dodgy guitar playing that didn’t matter on the night because Courtney has a band around her for a reason. Even though this particular Hole line-up was pretty much assembled for a Courtney Love solo tour, she’s still playing as part of a band. And the band sounds fine, which is what matters.

      I also think it is a gender issue. Yes, you’re right that if she was male, people would still be sharing this around and criticising it. The difference is, I seriously doubt it would get the huge amount of coverage it’s getting for it being Courtney Love. I’ve seen videos where people are having a go at male musicians with a similar profile and they seriously don’t have the traction that this one has.

      • Yeah, I think it’s irrelevant at the end of the day. Even if Courtney couldn’t play guitar *at all*, “Celebrity Skin” is still one of my favourite songs ever and Hole are in my top 3 bands ever.

        But yeah, this isn’t a sound quality issue as the writer is making out. At all. The sound is fine.

      • Are you serious? Take a look at the criticism Nickleback gets. Justin Beiber. Insane Clown Posse. This isn’t a gender issue, it’s an issue with a shit artist sounding shit. If nobody was giving crap to the plethora of terrible male “artists” out there, you’d have a point. The most you can accuse people of here is schadenfreude, not misogyny.

  4. I can appreciate the defense of Courtney and I myself am skeptical of the veracity of the guitar track itself but a lot of the information here about live sound is incorrect. As a guitarist, vocalist and frontman across two studio albums and 7 years on the stage (and also a producer who has been nominated for and won an award), I can tell you first hand that the band is responsible for it’s instrument and tone choices including things like distortion (besides the most manufactured of bands). It is not the use of effects, processing or any wizardry that makes a live guitar sound well played. It is competent playing itself.

    Great playing resulting from practice and many rehearsals does. Production does go a long way in making that performance translate well across a crowd not too distant from how it does in the studio but there are many misconceptions about studio and live “magic”. If you did not perform something to a certain standard, no amount of processing will make it sound like you did. I do not wish to be misquoted. I am not a misogynist and I do not support Courtney being lambasted over something that cannot even be verified.

    I do not partake in it and have no confirmation bias. I can appreciate she has been through a lot in life. I do respectfully wish for the lengths working musicians live and in the studio have to go to in order to sound as good as we do especially on stage where there are no second chances to not be undermined.

  5. have you ever heard a singer sing in front of you without a band? A good one sounds good regardless thats call being a singer then you add the band and it fills it up but should be good on its own.

  6. Whether you like her or not, to those defending this, it does sound like crap. Admit it. You wouldnt crank this up in the car or rock it in your house. Even if she does a great job some nights, this was not one of those nights. Maybe she was wasted this night? The biggest travesty here though is if the sound guy who spent his valuable time working on this to make it sound good did not get paid for the job that he was hired to do, THAT is the REALLY messed up part. Karma works both ways, what goes around will most certainly come around.

  7. To typecast everyone who looks at this performance as misogynists who know nothing about music is wrong. I am neither misogynistic nor do I know nothing about music having worked in recording studios and on live concerts.
    Many singers who cannot sing live sound great in a studio. Why, because they can do it a small piece at a time. Sing half a verse. Stop, fix one word. Stop. Sing it again, double it, or even triple it. This is the process. You take the time to make it perfect, even if the singers singing is not great. However, what is said is true, no amount of processing will make up for a person who cannot sing at all.
    Live singing is a reflection of true singing talent, skill, practice and training. There are many singers who given the studio time, can sound great and sound lousy live. I can make a long list of male singers who fit that bill, and who have not stood up to the same scrutiny. And there are those who sound great live. And sometimes the great just have a bad day. The way the band is mixed can cover a lot of flaws also. So when you isolate any member or instrument, you find the flaws because there is no masking.
    Now this does not mean that her fans will not enjoy the show. It just means that either she really cannot sing that well, or she had a bad night. Which one, I don’t know.
    Sadly, you are the person turning this into an issue of nothing but presumed sexism instead of an issue of musical tastes (not everyone likes that style of music) or a realistic review of her vocal performance on that night.

  8. love the article except that the technician hired to do the job probably knows more and has worked in the music industry longer than her…

  9. Leave the feminist rhetoric out of this. I’m a woman, a musician, and I like Hole’s music. BUT I have teenage friends in local crusty punk bands that play in crap hole venues that are better on guitar than Courtney in this video, she’s not even trying. The entire band must give the audience some respect and think of the hard earned cash they paid to see your show and make an ATTEMPT to play the correct chords and enunciate the vocals. “I’m richer than God and just don’t give a sh*t anymore” is what it looks like.

  10. Misogyny really? As someone who listened to and saw Hole in the 90’s, amongst other great bands like L7 and Bikini Kill, this is sadly not her worst performance, but is pretty bad. Courtney is a train wreck and should have hung it up years ago. I’m surprised she held it together to do a tour…

    And no, Kurt wasn’t much better back in his day.

  11. That’s a lot of words to try to explain why she sucks without ever coming up with reasons to excuse it.

    Her voice isn’t even that bad for punk rock. So I’m not gonna slam that at all. Although it’s very low energy and sounds like she isn’t really trying. Perhaps she could do with some endurance training if she wants to continue down this path.

    The guitar however, is obviously just there for show though. That’s a horrible example of playing a guitar no matter what you do to it with effects. There is no excuse for that other than it’s just there for show.

    Now I can forgive a lot by saying she can’t hear herself. Obviously though, the vocals are fairly on key so I think she can hear herself. The guitar is clearly being raped though. It’s like she isn’t even trying. Allowing the other players in the band to tow the line for her.

    This is exactly why bands with tons of processing and no skill or talent are taking up space where actual talented people should be. This pay to play band atmosphere and the cult of celebrity bs is ruining music in a big way.

    What used to be a band or an orchestra has turned into an engineering feat. The talent is as the board now which you SHOULD have talent at the board but it should build UPON talent on the stage. I wonder how much tape is running behind this performance as well.

    I try not to be a music snob but I miss the days when any given lead singer could sing alone and without effects and still not suck. I don’t slam genres and people but this is Utter crap. An that has NOTHING to do with being a man. There are plenty of women who can put her to shame in this world. All she has going for her at this point is some catchy old tunes and a crowd of people to hide how bad she is. Just as many guy bands have the same problem.

    It’s nothing to do with being a female and everything to do with sucking.

  12. You’re an idiot. It is a spoof. Totally not her, but that ^ little self-righteous rant up there…wow.

  13. This is a spoof. Plenty of “_____Shreds” videos to look up on the intrawebs.

    But, good on you to blab hot air and stomp your feet like a clueless little brat. You sound like the type of person to blame men when the toilet paper roll is on backwards.

    Ease up.

  14. Anonymous said exactly what I wanted to say. The way the article describes live playing is completely wrong. For a live performance her vocals were actually pretty good, they could be better for sure and are far from a shining example of vocal talent but they were better than a lot of live singers and you can’t complain about them. However that guitar playing was absolutely atrocious. I’m willing to believe that something could’ve been wrong, but to imply that its sexist to say that was atrocious guitar playing is a bit silly.

  15. I am a woman, a studio engineer, a live sound engineer, and a guitar player. There is literally nothing redeeming about this performance, and there is absolutely no excuse for a professional musician to play that way. The singing, meh, whatever, I’ve heard plenty worse. But the guitar playing is plain out awful. It has nothing to do with the fact that she’s a woman, and everything to do with the fact that she is a plainly terrible musician.

  16. I don’t see how this is misogyny. As a music producer/audio engineer, and a musician myself, I’ve heard and seen plenty of great performances, by men and women alike, and some horrible, once again, both men and women. Rock music unfortunately, is a male dominated world, but she’s not bad because she’s a woman, she’s bad because she’s not even fucking trying. She’s barely singing the song, she’s barely playing guitar, and when she does play, she’s off time, and when she does sing she’s out of key. NOBODY SHOULD GET AWAY WITH THAT. People should never pay to see you not try, and if you can’t sing and play, then pick one and stick to it.
    Misogyny is real, and it comes up plenty in every day life and on the internet, but this is not it.

  17. The worst thing I have ever heard. But she’s not a bad person….just a terrible musician.

  18. The reason why it’s the worst thing ever is because Courtney Love only has the guitar with her for effect, the volume is turned all the way down so it looks like she’s playing alright but really it’s just her band carrying her, Her singing wasn’t awful but definitely didn’t have the energy you were describing. If she was a half decent guitarist it would at least sound like the song even if it is “stripped down and tiny sounding.” It’s not “punk” to just thrash on a guitar to make it seem like you can play the guitar. Most punk bands now a days actually care a lot of the musician ship and trying to hit spot on album quality live. The guitar didn’t even sound in tune.

  19. How can you defend that guitar playing? Those songs are easy to sing and play if she only practiced them. She literally played like she never learned guitar before. I feel like this article is trolling everyone

  20. her guitar is inaudible in the main micx because it is horrible and the sound guy probably brought the fader down to make the band sound better….that does not mean she couldn’t hear it…guitar amps are mic’d on stage and usually the amp is loud enough for the player to hear him or herself…i don’t know about her ability on other nights but what i just saw was absolutely horrible…if i was the sound engineer, i would have pulled her guitar out of the main mix as well…if she refused to pay me, i would probably send her a bounce of just her guitar and vocal to let her know how bad she was on that night…i would never put something like that out for the general public to hear…but not paying someone who’s job it is to make you sound good is unconscionable and just bad business. i have had bands not pay me for recordings i have done for them because they weren’t happy with their performance…i worked for them, but because they didn’t like what they heard, they refused to pay…you reap what you sow…

  21. sorry, as a non misogynistic musician who knows quite a lot about music, this is not a very good musician. congrats to her for giving a good performance though. why does it matter if she’s a female? Tons of musicians are females. TONS TONS TONS.

  22. Wow, cry online instead of actually supporting education. “I support feminism, I blah blah blah”. There’s people being oppressed all over the world, for more reasons than anyone can fathom, but the real issue is education, not indoctrination. Being combative will only cause those you oppose to oppose you with more ferocity. Stop pointing the finger, you’re as much the problem as anyone else. I am not blaming the victims, that’s a cop out response. I am not supporting hate, but this is creating it. Educate yourself in peace before you open your mouth. Think about whether or not your words will be well recieved. Only a fool who does not understand their cause, or those who take advantage of othetrs, use violence, hate speech and propaganda. Don’t believe me? I’ll bet most people’s first reaction to my statements here is to argue with the expectation that I will argue back. Think before you react, think about your goal, what are you trying to accomplish and act on that. Learn before you teach. Think before you react. Hate is the enemy, not people. Peace is the goal, not victory. Make sure the people you support are actually helping people and not just creating a hate army for their own benefit. Even people with good intentions are capable of making miatakes as much as people with bad intentions are capable of pretending to be good.

  23. Wow. Misogyny? Really? This asinine claim is almost as rdiculous as Rachel Ray being called racist because she doesn’t make Vietnamese soup the traditional way. People are laughing at this mainly for one reason: because it sounds like shit. Because even an oblivious twit knows that a teenager in a full body cast with 3 broken guitar strings would likely sounds better than this. Isolate the mics on a performer who is actually good and, surprise surprise, it will still sound good. It might not polished, but the skill will be easily audible. Furthermore, you’re making this ridiculous claim without offering a shred of evidence. Yes, there are plenty of misogynist men out there who say terrible things about this woman. And that doesn’t change because of this video. The above-average attention Courtney Love is receiving for this is due to the fact that it’s aweful. So stop trying to stretch this into something it’s not.

  24. HAHAHAHA!!!! Having ears does not make someone a misogynist! Seriously, the people who sold you Courtney Love a female musician role model are the misogynists. Wake Up!!! Girls can live up to the same musical and intellectual standards as boys!.

  25. It’s true many artists suck live. They rely on much of the studio to fix their flaws as musicians. We rarely produce great artists of both male and female. Music has become a sham in which a person speaking lyrics can be turned into a masterpiece. This is just one example, but many artists both male and female have very little talent and a lot of success.

  26. It’s not misogynistic to point out that love plays the wrong chords and it sounds like garbage. It’s funny because it sounds so shockingly awful. There are hundreds of females in the comments. Anyone who thinks the video sounds good needs new ears.

  27. I’m sorry, but as a stage technician (who has worked gigs including Metallica, Bon Jovi, Lady Gaga, The Black Eyed Peas, etc…) and as a performer (a vocalist with over a decade vocal training in multiple genres) AND as a woman, I have to call BS on this article. This has NOTHING to do with “misogyny” or expecting Love to be “the entire band.” What this is is a very clear revelation that the two parts she IS responsible were horrific. That is not “raw vocals” any more than that roadkill you passed on the highway is “skunk tartare” and her attempt at playing guitar is terrible by Rock Band easy standards. Even if every other part is removed, for somebody making money as a professional performer, it should be expected that the sound coming from her instruments should hold SOME kind of tonality, even if it seems odd without the accompanying notes. This is not the case. It sounds like a cat in heat scratching at an old, out of tune guitar. And worst of all… the very reason for this expose comes down to one more, understated fact of this episode… her sound engineer did it because (1) the band didn’t even have the professional respect to pay their technicians, (2) to go for her personally would indicate that rumors are true and she is one of the biggest, most self-absorved, crass bitches on the planet. You know, it is possible for someone to call a woman out for her bullshit without it being a case of sexism. In fact, I find your very suggestion that it is to be far more sexist as it would indicate that all women are delicate little flowers that need to be coddled just for trying and that any attempt to hold them accountable for themselves is a sex based attack.

  28. This is a completely terrible performance. She’s kind of a punk singer but a bad one at that. She’s awful. and this is coming from a fan of all kind of music from punk to folk to thrash to classical.

    Has nothing to do with her being a woman. If she was a man I’d say the same thing.

  29. she is singing to a pre-recorded vocal and guitar track, we get to hear what she is actually playing and singing, not what the audience hears, apparently she didn’t pay the engineer that recorded the live show for over 4 years, this doesn’t add up to misogyny, she just sucks live, lots of artists do, and rely on prerecorded tracks to make it through a show, Im actually surprised she was doing as well as the video shows her, because I have seen her live and dragged off the stage drunk as a skunk, she left her cell phone, we would of looked into it for numbers but no one had the right power adaptor, it was the late 90’s.

  30. She’s a no talent assclown. Those of you making excuses for her know she’s a shit musician and the human equivalent of an above-ground pool. Kurt shoulda done her first.

  31. Thank you for this article. Love sounds just as I would expect her to sound live. Great! She has a punk sound. Too many people these days are used to lip-syncing!

  32. Musician, sound engineer, man here. No projection in her voice, doesn’t even try to hit most notes, misses lines and smoked something at a very hot temperature prior to singing this (definitely not cigarettes, probably either tons of weed or crack). On my worst day, with laryngitis and at the end of a set, I don’t think I’d put up one tenth as poor a showing as she did. That said, i’ve heard some pretty poor vocalists live, and some worse than her, maybe because her parts are so absurdly easy to sing. Difference is they aren’t world-famous, and anyone could sing like that. In the very least, Kurt Cobain did things with his voice that I could honestly say I’d have trouble doing as terrible as he did sound sometimes. She does not.

    As far as the guitar is concerned, she misses nearly every chord, her rhythms are just so completely wrong and she arbitrarily stops and starts playing. Both the left and right hand are so pathetically off. While you are right: in today’s industry, most bands do not perform well live, I don’t think any professional musician I can think of plays nearly this poorly compared to their studio material. Which is sad, considering just how easy her’s is to perform.

    No misogyny here, just poor (and probably authentic, not fake) performance. Move along, and if you wanna see a woman perform, look up Esperanza Spalding. No one says she sucks, because she doesn’t. In fact she’s probably one of the most talented musicians in the world today.

  33. It’s called punk. And she’s never claimed to be a good guitar player. The entire thing is out of context. I’m sorry. I have a music degree too but music is all relationships. If her wretched sounds are blended into another guitar player, it will work. Might even add something. It seems her rhythm is at least close. Credit the producer or whoever put the band together. She’s a more interesting front person than a lot of others. It’s show biz folks.

  34. This entire column is a joke, right? She sounds absolutely horrible. A good singer and guitarist can sound good with NO processing at all. The cold hard fact is that she is not much of a musician.

  35. Totally agree with the above comment, spot on and as a working musician in a covers band who learns to play songs properly to get paid, this is an absolute disgrace. She is playing in a signed, well supported, famous band and therefore a professional musician, its appalling. And with regard to the actual misogynists post itself, what utter crap. As a working musician, pro, semi-pro, amateur whatever, if you don’t know how to set your gear up to get a half decent onstage sound, then no amount of tinkering by the sound man is gonna make it sound amazing and if you can’t actually play, then turn it down and don’t mic it. As far as the singing goes if you cant sing live, well, you cant sing, full stop. As they say, you can’t polish a turd!

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