MAKING THE CUT

/November 11, 2015

There’s a small mountain of music foisted upon the world on a daily basis… so much so that the earth’s rotation is slowing down under the weight of it.

To cut through this verbose outpouring – assuming of course you want to cut through – you need to make a viable product, not just wear the right clothes or play the right instrument…

A few weeks ago I mixed a single by an Australian band that I won’t name for obvious reasons. I first mixed them many years ago, and when they reappeared out of the woodwork more recently the first thing they were at pains to point out was that they “were a lot tighter now.”

“We’d love you to mix the new single Andy, if you’re up for it” they said.

“Sure,” I responded. “Of course. No worries at all.”

They’re good guys, the singer has a booming voice… I was intrigued. I thought they’d broken up years ago.

Then I listened to the multitrack…

I thought I was hearing one of the band’s first recordings; that maybe they’d sent me the wrong file.

‘Tighter’? Um, well no, not really. ‘Looser’ would probably be a more accurate descriptor… ‘as a goose’ even. It was a challenge that really got me thinking.

OBJECTIVE OPINION – AN OXYMORON?

At the risk of sounding like I’m down on these guys, my immediate impression of the single was that it really could have done with some professional help; an outside perspective on things like performance and arrangement at the very least.

Now I know the arguments for and against working with a producer all too well, but in the end it often boils down to this: if you can’t even bake a loaf of bread by yourself, how the hell do you expect to be able to make a decent album without assistance? Personally, I like a crusty sourdough, but that doesn’t mean I know anything about baking it.

Music is a subjective realm of course – most creative processes are – and not everyone agrees that bands should employ a producer. But I hate the ‘subjective’ cop-out, especially when it comes from artists desperately in need of an outside perspective.

Why, if everything is so damn subjective, do I consistently have the same reaction over and over to music that’s produced with little or no help from an objective third-party? I mean, there are thousands of different musical aesthetics and styles out there based on imperfect, heartfelt takes and wonky overdubs that I love. Why shouldn’t this song have felt comfortable in those surrounds? What was it about this single that set my mind rolling downhill about unstable foundations, ill-conceived arrangements and unrealised potential?

In short, it’s all about intention (he says trying to mortar the first objective brick in the wall while no-one’s looking). When someone clearly aims for X but gets Y, chances are the song is on a rickshaw ride to nowhere. It may have been anyway of course, but now the odds are worse.

When a song is this far off target, to someone like me who works with music every day, it’s patently obvious… and if I’d been within cooee of the recording session I could have done something about it.

But the obvious subjective comeback to this is simply this: “Yeah, but just because you don’t like it much Andy, doesn’t mean someone else won’t.” Sure, I concede that point already. No contest. (The first brick goes in the subjective wall).

But then the counter-argument is this (and so the rally begins): “I understand I am but one opinion, but if that’s true, why are you coming to me to mix your single? I’d argue that it’s because I have an opinion that’s informed and insightful… backed up by certain skills that nearly always produce the right musical results.”

I realise this is not really an argument that holds water in any court of subjectivity. In short, no-one wins this argument… it’s a bind.

OBJECTIVITY VS SUBJECTIVISM (Bout cancelled due to irrelevance)

The point I’m trying to make here is that believing in subjectivity – that’s it’s all just one person’s opinion against another – has been the philosophy behind the thinking of countless albums that failed.

There’s no excuse for refusing professional help, if professional results are what you’re after. If you’re not, fine. But if you are, don’t be surprised when you eventually put your song up against your favourite bands on an iTunes playlist and it doesn’t scrub up.

In terms of the single I recently mixed, I was frustrated no end by the notion that if I’d just been employed to produce the song in the first place – which admittedly would have meant things cost a little more at the beginning of the project – the band would have been much better off, and the song far more likely to be heard.

In the end my point is a simple one: you can have success on your own, without outside help, but it’s rare. For every success of this type there are 10,000 releases you never heard about. In the end, if nothing else, getting professional help certainly increases the odds that your song will be heard outside the family ho