A producer's blog about music, recording, mixing, songwriting and gear! (I don't know everything, but what I know I'll gladly share!)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Gear Heads Don't Get It!

Jeremy Cowart is one of the most gifted commercial photographers around. I am not a photographer but I do have many friends who make their living at photography and graphic design. (My wife is a fine photographer/designer as well.) I do enjoy going to Jeremy's site to see who he's shot lately. It will most likely be the artist soaring at the top of the pop charts or the stars from ABC's newest hit show.

While looking through Jeremy's blog I was drawn to a title "GEAR HEADS DON'T GET IT." Automatically I am interested. I mean, I am a gear head after all.

You'll want to take a quick glance at this article as it is a simple explanation as to why creativity comes before gear.


I am still a gear head, though, I feel as though I'd recovering. I can admit that I have a problem and I am facing my addiction head on! I have a decent amount of gear... larger than most home studios and smaller than most commercial studios. I have plenty of gear to make my recordings. Gear is one thing.. A TOOL! If you are an engineer/producer you should know your gear inside and out for 2 reasons: #1 - so you know what each piece of gear is capable of and #2 so that you can use your gear quickly.. so you don't interrupt your creativity.

CREATIVITY! - I noticed something a few years ago. When I would ask another professional to critique my work, I never heard comments about the quality of my recordings. I heard critiques of the song itself or the vocal performance. Things like that. I also noticed that when listening to hit songs, the common denominator was not audio quality. The thing that every song had in common was that it was a great song that had character and life!

To quickly get to the point. I hope that all of you are seeking for hone your craft as a musician before crafting developing your craft as an engineer. Even engineers should consider themselves musicians first. Buy only the gear you HAVE to have and learn to create art within the creative walls of your current setup.

10 things you can do to fuel creativity/musicianship...

#10 - Don't compare your work critically to others
#9 - Create things that have nothing to do with your music
#8 - Take music lessons
#7 - Look at nature, don't move, breathe deep and stay a while
#6 - Create something truly unique... something only you may enjoy.
#5 - When being creative, don't compare your work to others' work.
#4 - Share your work with others... often! Share the bad stuff too!
#3 - Be willing to truly hear the opinions of other. You don't have to agree.
#2 - Don't be afraid to have your own taste and your own opinions.
#1 - Smile at your work!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Birthdays and Music That inspires

Yesterday was my birthday. It was a good birthday. I went up to LA and played in a reading band... it's a big band where musicians come sit in and play through music... jazz, funk, contemporary stuff mostly. It was a lot of fun and a good way to spend the 26th anniversary of my birth! Without going into details, the circumstances surrounding the rehearsal were a little difficult. It involved a union! Now you know how that can be... tense and frustrating. After spending a few hours in my car (without AC!) I was greeted by my wife, we had friends over and it was a great evening.

I mention this story because it illustrates something very powerful about music. That is this: music is much more about tension than it is about perfect harmony. You don't notice blissful moments without some tension to remind you that you are actually in a blissful state. Tension is the reason why I love cluster chords rather than simple triads, the reason why I love distortion, the reason why I love an emotive performance and the reason why perfection is the enemy.

Creating tension can be especially hard in Christian music. I mean, the end result is a Savior who loves us and would do anything for us. We have to look for creative ways to add tension to our music in order that it is something compelling. Christian music is BETTER than it was 20-30 years ago, not just different. Christian musicians, I believe, have become better artists and have found ways to add tension to music. Music in the 90's was GREAT at this. It was raw and edgy and bands like Audio Adrenaline, Jars of Clay and DC Talk were creating great music that included tension.

Here's the problem... digital editing has allowed us the "luxury" of releasing too much tension from our music. We can perfect every hit and tune every note until a very important part of our music is tension free. It is the element of human performance. The answer to this is to use your ears, not your eyes when editing. Musical tension does not happen with your eyes anyway, it happens with your ears. To use your eyes while editing is pretty ridiculous. When you listen, you will listen for actual mistakes and fix those instead of sucking the life out of your music.

Now, I will say that there are some times when you will say, "I'd like to tighten this up more." The feel is not flawed, but certain genres call for a tighter feel. Electronic and Pop music is pretty rigid these days... on purpose, though it can be very FRESH to infuse live performances unaltered within your electronic or pop songs. That's what many producers have done with R&B and Hip Hop. You'll hear a lot of groove on R&B albums these days. Very cool!

  • don't over-tune vocals
  • don't over-time align vocals
  • don't alter your groove too much
  • take the time to record GREAT performances
  • Never say "I can fix it in the mix"
  • Don't over-compress
  • DO over-compress sometimes
  • release the tension every now and then so you notice it when you've got it
  • make music that inspires you to sing along, bob your head and dance!

Check out Tristan Prettyman's song "Hello" for an example of a song that would have been utterly RUINED had it been auto-tuned to death. An amazing vocal performance!

I'm off to over-tune some vocals :)

About Me

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I'm a producer, mixer, songwriter. I recently moved from Orange County, CA to Nashville,TN I love making music. It is my means for creative expression. I've been married to my wonderful wife Erin for 7 1/2 years and I have a dog named Dexter.