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This Fear Of Looseness Has Got To Stop

Brandon Drury —  April 15, 2009

I hate musicians. (Okay, I don’t really HATE musicians. Let me explain.) I work with musicians day in and day out. Some of them are very talented, some of them not so talented. Regardless of their talent level, it seems that 95% of them are flat out obsessed with this fear of looseness. This fear is the single greatest hijacker of exciting music there is. So even though I hate musicians, it seems like they have an even greater enemy. Themselves! Here in 2009 it seems that practically every serious musician feels that an iron hand in robo precise, mathematical precision is required in order for that person to be considered “serious”. Yet, in my experience, this fear seldom delivers the desired results in home recording land. Quite the opposite.

One of those talented musicians and I were talking the other day. I’m getting ready to produce his record. He says, “Why can’t it be like the old days when it didn’t really matter if your performances were absolutely (mathematically) perfect?”. This is a question I’ve pondered for some time. After years of thought on the subject and a smidgeon of experience, I’ve come to realize that only you perpetuate this robotic perfection thing. The buying public doesn’t care. It can be the old days all over again if people choose to make the kind of records they want to make. The consumer does not know and does not care about any of the things most musicians obsess about.

I believe that bold people make bold decisions. It’s obvious to me that we like our rock stars bold. They aren’t supposed to be normal people. They aren’t supposed to be what you want your kid to be some day. They are supposed to be dead beats with no jobs with way too much drugs. They are supposed to be riding their motorcycle at 120mph through town while dousing themselves and the 15 year old gear on the back in gasoline. Do you really think that this guy lets fear dictate his record? Do you really think he makes a record with his tail between his legs?

Having the balls to stand up say “The part may be a little loose, but there is something bad ass about it!” is what makes a real recording. It’s the kind of balls that goes into putting black chicks on Dark Side of the Moon. Do you really need rigid perfection? In World War II the average Nazi fox hole was dug 9” deeper than the average American / British foxhole. It’s clear that Germans of mid 1940s were more rigid and more mathematical than the Allies. So what! They through Jews into furnaces! This rigid crap has it’s down sides!

When Looseness Goes To Far
When excessive looseness hijacks the emotional intensity of a song, we need to do something about it. You don’t have to have a degree in music theory to hear this. Any retard (Yes, I’m referring to the people who listen to Slipknot….har har) can hear this. So we do another take. Big deal. Once looseness no longer has any direct impact on the intensity of the music, what do I care? I’m about as interested in winning the “Extra Tight Award” (sounds like something they give away at the Adult Video Awards or maybe a Zionist convention, har har) as I am the color of your cd cover. They are irrelevant aesthetics to me and none of my business. I’m paid to help make sure the recording is exciting. That’s it.

It needs to be said that when I sit down to track drums or vocals or whatever, the word “tight” is the furthest thing from my mind. I want exciting! I want thrilling! I want dangerous! While I’m not sure I ever achieve my goals, but tell me what you buy when you go to the music store? Do you look for the “tight” section or do you look for the “exciting, thrilling, and dangerous” section.

The guy that produced Radiohead’s “The Bends” can’t play a single instrument. We’ve heard Rick Rubin’s view on producing. So why is it that these two dudes, who have avoided the musician way of thinking and certainly don’t make scared records, have been wildly successful and been part of music that is often so exciting? My answer is they just happen to be good at measuring music and they don’t use a ruler or a quantized grid to do it (unless the music SCREAMS for that). They use the good ol’ goosebump meter.

On the Audio Recording Forum today a new member, Formula77, said that he preferred to play his own drum parts either on a real kit or a edrum kit, but often needed to quantize those parts. http://forum.recordingreview.com/f66/bfd-vs-drumagog-vs-toontracks-18218/ For the life of me, I can’t think of a reason why a person would want to bother playing a part and then de-humanize it. If I want techno or hip hop drum beats that are snapped to a grid, I’ll just use the mouse. I’m not against that style of production when it’s called for. However, it seems a bit self defeating to humanize a part and then dehumanize it. It’s like intentionally using a Strat when you have access to a Les Paul and then using gadgetry to make the Strat sound more like a Les Paul. Maybe this production technique is a time saver for our new member, but I’m beginning to feel the aura of “fear of looseness” in the air.

I think all this snapping drums to a grid is a complete waste of time. What is the point of the real drummer if we are just going to make the drums sound unreal? Does this production method REALLY require a person to start out real and then make it unreal. Is there a chemical change in there that requires the real element just temporarily? Why couldn’t we have just started with the mouse to begin with?

I just don’t get all this “snapping” stuff on real tracks. This may be what Collective Soul does these days, but what do I care? Is Collective Soul still making money? I’m sure this is what Fall Out Boy is doing too. However, is this quantizing of real drums what makes Fall Out Boy so successful? Hell no! This excessive need for robotic perfection has a whole lot more to do with insecure producers (or producers who prefer the sound of a real drum performance converted to a quantized drum performance) than it does the music itself. Fall Out Boy still sounds like Fall Out Boy on Letterman or whatever. They could start with those live Letterman tracks, do their overdubs, and release it as the next album, and there wouldn’t be one single Fall Out Boy fan who noticed. Not a single sale would be effected and there wouldn’t be one less illegal download for it.

Production Gains From The Fear Of Looseness?
A few buddies of mine went through the major label boot camp and recorded an EP in the “big boy” modern rock way with the sole purpose of shopping that EP to labels. On those 5 songs, they spent 13 days recording electric guitar. The guy playing those tracks is one of the tightest, smoothest players I know. They were doing all kinds of tricks to make sure the guitars were in absolutely perfect tuning. I’m talking about copying and pasting every instance of the “E power chord” here and the “A power chord” there. They did all kinds of crazy stuff to keep the guitars in tune. They did layer after layer after layer doing all the modern trickery all the while being completely obsessed with perfection.

I wouldn’t say they were afraid of being loose. I’d simply say they were obsessed with perfection. The end result? A good sounding rock recording that is nowhere near the league of Hoobastank, Seether, or any of the modern rock bands known for their gargantuan production.

So What?
In the end, life is way too short. You don’t have time to make scared, boring recordings and there is no guarantee that your recording will be more exciting simply because you over-analyzed everything. Some things need to be rough about the edges. Sometimes that thing that makes you say “Screw you! I like it how it is!” is the very same thing that allows you to write ballsy lyrics that really make an impact. To kill one is to kill the other.

There are grammar errors in this blog. Apparently, you made it through it, however. I could wuess out and hire someone to proofread this mess. I could wuess out and remove my jokes making fun of Porn stars, Jews, and Slipknot fans. I’m of the opinion that the second I write blogs with my tail between my legs is the second you go over and read some other asshole’s blog.

Have the balls to have a personality!

Brandon Drury

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Brandon Drury quit counting at 1,200 recorded songs in his busy home recording studio. He is the creator of RecordingReview.com and is the author of the Killer Home Recording series.
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9 responses to This Fear Of Looseness Has Got To Stop

  1. It’s very much genre and tempo driven, and rightly so. Putting loose rhythm parts on a techno track is pretty pointless. Machines make the beats. Why would you loosen them? It doesn’t make them sound more authentic. Quantizing, at least partly, a rock drum track isn’t pointless. You kind of imply that looseness is the ONLY human element in drumming. It’s not. Choice of instrument and dynamics are way more important. If a 145bpm funk track is loose, it sounds like a train wreck. On the flip side, if an 80bpm funk track is loose, it sounds dirty… in a good way!

    Go with your gut. There are times when music should be tight. There are times when loose adds to the personality of the track. Don’t pigeonhole one way or the other. Sometimes its important, sometimes its not.

  2. This little rant of mine was in no way a recommendation for making a sloppy recording. I quantize my techno productions all the time. I do it because I WANT them to sound mechanical quite often. I think I mentioned this in the blog.

    This article was more about attitude than anything. In particular, it was about why a person hits the quantize button. Are they hitting it because they are looking for a specific feel? Are they doing it because “the system” says all recordings made in 2009 are supposed to be mega rigid.

    You may be surprised by how many do the latter. If I want to sound “professional” I need to go in and chop up my human performance. I don’t make recordings to sound “professional”. If I wanted to be professional, I’d put on a suit and lie. I want to make recordings that are exciting.

    As a person who makes a living recording people in the rock/metal/pop genres I know how worried some people are about “competing” with the big boys. This competition idea fueled by insecurity is the problem. It’s a dramatically different state of mind than a musician demanding X style of playing (and tightness level) because it’s right for the song.

    I could see how this article could come out one-sided, but that really wasn’t my intention.

    Brandon

  3. Your rant strikes a chord with me…
    I’m one of those musicians (with some talent I like to think) and while painstakingly editing some tiny little part of a mix my good friend and engineer said “you should be so lucky anyone would listen that carefully to your music”
    Now when that song comes on I can’t even remember what I was trying to fix.

  4. Well JJ,

    A big part of this process is for ourselves…especially now. While most of us want to entertain an audience, in the end we do this because WE want to do it. If you gain satisfaction from a job well done, that’s a great thing!

    Now, I do have to pose a question. Are you making these edits because you want to or you feel your music is better for making or are you making these edits because you are worried what the people at the label are going to say?

    Brandon

  5. When my band made its CD, it cost a lot of money. The engineering costs were small compared to some of the costs. What’s the point in spending thousands of dollars making a half-assed product?

    When people listen to your CD, they don’t have the visual, atmosphere or beer that they have at a live gig. Expected standards are generally higher.

    Personally, I wouldn’t want to put anything but my absolutely best performance on CD. Anything less would make me hate to listen to the CD. Any tiny mistake would make me cringe. I’ve done it. Wouldn’t do it again.

    Looseness should be a feeling, not a mistake.

  6. Humm? Har Har! I had to laugh at that stuff too! Makes perfect sense. Kinda reminds me of trying to be righteous and comming short of the mark! Then lookin at the cross and the resarection and say OK YOU da Man I can’t controll my life to a certain degree and YOU + take my will and my life! Period!. Well, some of the old school ways have made sense to me! If ya can’t really play it live without cutting and pasting then go pick cotton or work at Home Depot! Give it up as a musician! Some are made to make music! Some clearly not! I wondered and still wonder if I’m sent by GOD to perform and secondly record. KEY here! OK I’m older now and my Mom says persistance, My Dad says when is Glenn goonna get a real job and a house or my older brother sayin pie in the sky, whatta ya wanna play in a band for anyway! My friends really pump me up!! sayin that song is kick ass or some stranger at a gig commin up to me and say NICE SET! or I can’t compair ya or you got some kinda soul about ya! They can’t figure me out neither can I ??? What I do know is a song is like some angel bumpin into ya or the devil strikin ya with lightning! and POW!!! I got an idea well shucks!!! someone’s gotta play it!! So there’s alot of questions here??? We don’t need to figure it out!! Just be you and stop using a technique similar to tracing paper! Humm??? Why did my brother who ripped on guitar get hit by a car? and pass away?? I really don’t need to figure it out and I still have his guiter YEAH A 78 FENDER STRAT- no I haven’t tried to make it sound like a Gibson ,,,Humm maybe? but I gave into that cuz ya can’t duplicate someone elses piece of wood, pick-ups, finger dynamica etc etc! so I never switched from a Fender or an old 12 string Guild cuz its what I learned on and it’s as if I like these old boots! I know a luther in NJ who shapes Fender necks for Springsteen and then sticks the logo on the head stock and lacquers it up and so ya can’t get a guitar like that @ Guitar Center, even the frets etc are custome. Anyway!!!!!Back to the recording world, cut and paste tracks I believe is like going Lilli Vinilli there like lip singing live! Like ya suck! Your just a stage doll!! ya know!OK ramble ramble!!! I hear myself! Just about finished here! THE LYRIC IS KEY and if it has a sweet hook I don’t believe anyone gives a rats ass about perfection; I believe you can tell to a degree who’s cheating and not real when ya hear vocals the same at the end as ya did in the beginning. If ya cant simulate it live as ya did in the studio your setting yourself up for a shitty live sound. I know I’m somewhat guilty here! I only been cuting and pasting tracks when the mic picks up the cars on the street or the dog barkin next door Woof Woof ! or what’s really been pissin me off is power surges leachin into the mic and onto the tracks!ROCKY MOUNTAIN PAWER SUCKS! COLORADO is pretty though! Pwder in UTAH is sweet!
    P.S. Thankx for readin my B.S….cheers!

    MUHAW

    ( myspace.com/muhawrocks )( LastFM – MUHAW ) ( imeem- MUHAW )

  7. OK! a couple more quick comments / a quicky here! I’m a humble musician who is bassically self tought ( yeah! I know there’s room to grow and I’m too poor to pay hourly for studio time ) Is it a myth or a fact that recording live is the way to go? I think I read about U2 approching recording this way. Their sound always was right on live as well as other artists. For example the settings on your effects and the instruments you use should naturally be use live. You can come close but not exact due to acoustical surroundings. I used to use a 2112 Digi Tech processor and now keep it as a back up incase the stomp peddals go- poop! I found over the years effects sound cool but in a band situation the guitar sounds muddy or dround out, not full or tight. Especially when your clean adding effects then get stoned and ya think the guitar sounds like crap or visa versa. So I don’t buy into the myth that getting stoned works in any respect, it wasts time cuz pilots don’t smoke up before takeoff. For an idea ? yeah maybe! But I believe we need to be patient for an idea. I can’t just sit down and make an idea flow, it just comes unexpected….and WOAH! get to the recording gear of last resort your cell voice mail. Cuz believe me when the thought is gone it’s gone! Acoustic instruments ( my guitars / 70 something Guild 12 F-? who knows / and a custom 1996 Mitchell MJC-25 6 string- solid mapel ) I found sound crappy plugging into a processor or direct into an interface; mic the acoustic barebones / dry signal ( I been using a Sterling ST55 mic ) then add a tad of Cubase reverb and de-esser. Especially if I’m using a metal slide on guitar cuz it tends to sound harsh. I haven’t been using any compression cuz I like dynamics and things sound more natural. Also what I been doing and read later via TUNECORE was to record voice and acoustics on a hard surface / the 18th century appartment I live in has a slate kitchen floor. More resonance here I believe? Some think they have a latency issue as I experienced ” HEADS UP HERE! ” HOME RECORDING GEEKS! check your outlets for grounding issuse or power serges. Try a surge protector. I been recording on battery alone but sometimes I pick up surge pops cuz the STERLING ST55 mic is phantom powered. One track at a time play it back to hear defects as mentioned and especially if your digs are not sound proof; it stinks to lay all the tracks and mix it down and hear some ambient noise. Let the force be with you all!…and after mixin down burn a CD in case someone steals your system or the place burns down.

    MUHAW

  8. Sally Mustang April 9, 2010 at 8:07 am

    In his autobiography, Willie Dixon (acting producer/arranger/song writer/studio musician for Chess Records)noted that recordings that contained minor errors tended to sell more successfully than recordings that where far more tight & error-free; his conclusion was that listeners preferred performances that had a more human quality, and that if the band sounds like it is on the brink of falling apart by getting caught up in the groove, then this makes the performance sound more interesting. Of course, music genre has much to do with how much “looseness” is desirable and acceptable – for example, Blues and jazz vs. modern techno pop.

  9. Wow! That’s very interesting! I may have to read that one!

    if the band sounds like it is on the brink of falling apart by getting caught up in the groove, then this makes the performance sound more interesting

    I suspect there are varying degrees of “brink of falling apart”. When I think of the bands I know that sound THIS loose, I usually want to puke. Then again, there are certain industrial bands who do this sort of thing on purpose as a creative tool.

    Brandon