Sunday, March 16, 2014

Feel, Passion, and Delivery

Hey friends -

One thing has been plaguing my mind recently in regards to studio work. I truly believe that music is a life changing thing, and some people just don't seem to take it very seriously. Allow me to explain.

Perhaps the most impressive thing to me in regards to producing music is when a producer has the foresight and knowledge to hear the song as it will be completed, not as it is in the moment. My question is this -- why is this the producer's job? Shouldn't bands be trying to do this more often?

Don't get me wrong, it does give the producer a certain importance and influence - a certain voice above the band that helps him deliver his best work, and really showcase the band in such a way that brings out the good, no, the best, and makes a record shine. But at the same time, I love it when bands come in and have a cohesive direction for what they're trying to accomplish. Not a whimsical, vague, "storybook" image of what their record is going to be, but instead an honest, thought out, carefully arranged set of songs that truly showcase the best that they can do.

THAT is talent to me.

It's so easy in the digital age to lay down the drums, lay down some guitars, lay down some vocals, do some overdubs, and call it a record. I once read an article about a well known producer and his methods for producing a band; it was very inspiring. His method was as follows: the band comes into the studio, they set up, and they begin to warm up. They set up a few mics in the room and have the band play. They spend the next few hours working out the best arrangement for the song, moving some parts, altering some dynamics, altering some parts, maybe even changing a few lyrics, and then they play it again. And again. And again...with tiny bits shaved off or added on each time. They would add a mic here or there, casually, while the band would continue to work out the song and really LISTEN to the feel, the passion, and the delivery of what they were doing. Not only were they listening to their parts, they were really listening for everyone else. Listening for things to pop out and inspire the band and the producer. Listening for tightness, groove, dynamics. Moving together, breathing together. They became a single unit.

The producer then says "okay - that's it. That's the arrangement. Do it JUST like that." He presses record, they play it just like that, and the producer says, "alright, that's a wrap. Next song."

What an inspiration this was to read - that records are being made like this today. After all, anyone that has been doing this a while will tell you that it's ALL about the performance. Such a small part is the equipment, the actual mics or the gear specifically. Sure, that's important, but compared to the delivery, feel, passion, performance, and arrangement of the music itself - it's nothing.

I once had a similar experience. I was working on a track with a band that just wasn't sounding right. The tones were fine, we worked really hard getting these great drum sounds and a beautiful haunting vocal sound, even the guitar sounds were "perfect" to everyone in the room, but the whole thing just felt weird. Not really "sounded" weird, but we really asked ourselves, how does this FEEL when we listen to it.

I said to the band, you know what, maybe we should try this another way. We set up the band live in the room, tried to recreate some of the mic techniques that we did while tracking the original version (although we forgot some of the chains, didn't have enough mics to do some of the things we wanted to do) and we just found a good spot, and recorded a take. We then listened to it raw, unmixed, and said, "okay, when you're playing it together - what do we like, what do we not like?" We sat and talked about music. Not about mics, not about tones or compressors or EQs, about MUSIC. We talked about a few things, and I had the band go out into the studio again to try it.

I hit record, they played it, and boom - that was it. We then compared back to back the previous take, which had the same mics, the same setup identically, to the new one, with a couple of changes, and the band being more aware of each other, and the difference was so astonishing it would make you sick. EVERYTHING sounded different.

It's so hard sometimes to differentiate between what we're really hearing. We might hear something and think that it simply "doesn't sound right" but it's something subtle, elusive, and or, a combination of a few things, that are sort of clouding up our judgement of what is truly wrong with the sound we're hearing. Is it the way we recorded it? Was it the performance? Is it a tonal issue? Is it an engineering issue? How's the song working?

So I challenge you guys - next time you're working on a song, take an extra hour before you hit record to record a quick demo, and listen to it as a music listener would. Listen to it from the ears of a consumer. What would they think? Would they like it? Some musicians say they are their own worst critic, and that's very true for many creatives, but the truth is, that doesn't mean you simply criticize and pass it off as "me being overly critical." It means you constantly improve, adjust, alter your own methods to be better than they were a few moments ago. It means you are always learning, improving. It means you care.

Some things to think about - see you next podcast!