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.
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!