Sunday, October 23, 2011

Coming Home by Tavius

I have to first express my gratitude to Tavius for being the first artist to take part in this project.  I was put in touch with him by a friend of mine and when I asked which song he wanted me to listen to, Tavius told me to take a look at "Coming Home".  Click here to listen to the track that I'm going to be discussing.

If you would like to submit a track for me to review, please send me a message at 

One of my favorite parts of this endeavor is the fact that I have no idea what's going to be coming through my speakers when I hit that play button - no idea for style, tempo, tone, or artist intent. I just get to enjoy the creation without any bias.

So I have to say my first reaction to what I saw was "A 9 minute song!  Ok this should be interesting."  As it started to play I liked intro right off.  Beginning a song subdued and with some subtlety is never a wrong way to go, and in fact has been proven to not only draw a listener in, but also get them to turn up the song before the bigger hits in the music begin.  By getting the listener to adjust that volume dial at the very beginning of the song, the artist/engineer can almost create a musical bubble when the song finally reaches the first peak, as if to surround your listener and really pull them into the song.

It was the next few minutes that I found myself getting a bit lost.  I kept hearing the same looped creations cycling through nearing just about 4 minutes in. The loops in and of themselves I found to be creative.  Incorporating several different tones and textures for the drums, pulling string pads in and out while generally having a central tone in either keys or strings that would carry underneath the arpeggiated melodies. 

What caused me issue with the song was more about the fact that it never actually went anywhere.  There was no build beyond those first few seconds of the introduction.  Once that was over it was just transitioning from one loop into the next.  The transitions were not bad ones (as the artist has voiced concern over them before when I asked him if there was anything in particular he wanted me to listen for), but they were so frequent it made it very difficult to really dive into any portion of the song because as soon as I got a feel for a loop and its beat, I was listening to the next transition and loop. 

I would have loved to see these loops spread out over more time.  Taking each one individually and as opposed to cycling them as frequently as was done, really spend the time to build them.  They have a great simplicity to them in the orchestration that makes this a very easy song to listen to, even for someone that isn't generally a fan of electronic music, but it lost me on the fact that there was no build or climax for the music.  The song transitioned in and then stayed on an even line for the next few minutes before hitting the final transition out at around 8:45.  I will definitely say that I really enjoyed the outro.  I thought it was a great way to deconstruct what had been happening before in the music.  The very end was a bit abrupt, but that's an easy fix. 

Overall, I would have liked to hear a little more texture in the instrumentation used.  Specifically, I would have liked to hear more than string pads and drums, and the use of more effects to create a deeper and wider listening environment.  I also would have liked to hear the song develop the loops more, taking the chance to construct the loops during the song as opposed to cycling the pre-built loops.  While all those are things I would have liked to hear, I still find myself clicking play for the ambient music in my earbuds while I'm working away at my desk during the week. 

It just goes to show a fact that many musicians and engineers often forget: a perfect track is nearly impossible to create, so build something that seems true to you and stand behind it.

Thanks again Tavius for helping me get this started.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

I Didn't Pay to be Insulted

When did it become a trend for new musical artists to force sarcasm to prove that they were clever or funny or edgy? 
I recently attended an independent singer/songwriter showcase of young artists (who shall remain unnamed) and witnessed something that I can only describe as the least professional stage presence I have ever seen. 

The first artist was extremely shy and forthcoming about it as she flat out stated that she was going to allow the audience to command her songs for the evening and would only pretend to look at her song list as a delay tactic until someone shouted out a request.  Now, I can understand that in an intimate venue like we were in (about 50 attendees) this was a great way to involve the audience, but to stand on stage without having done any preparation as to what songs you want to use to convey who you are as an artist to those that might not be familiar with your music just demonstrates to me that you’re not interested in commanding your audience while you’re on stage. 

This performer sang every song from beginning to end with her eyes closed, which never helps when you’re trying to connect with your audience.  I’ll write off a lot of this to just generally being young and inexperienced and needing someone to help her overcome all that by encouraging her and pushing her to believe in what it is that she’s doing.  However, the second artist committed stage sins that I just can’t fathom (as someone that has been both a band leader and a side man). 

She began her set by commenting on the fact that she prefers to have a microphone on stage because it allows her a physical item that demonstrates she’s better than her audience.  Between each song there would be a 2-5 min diatribe about either the origins of the song, or just banter between her and the audience.  These chat sessions would involve comments that were continually demeaning nearly driving me to leave, had I only driven myself to this show.  My “favorite” part of this was that after continually trying to show how witty she was by sarcastically insulting her audience, she then asked continually for them to support her by purchasing her CDs or other merchandise. 

All I could do was think to myself throughout her performance, you honestly expect me to spend more money on you?! You’ve shown a complete and utter lack of appreciation for those that paid money to come here and see you perform by a) insulting us and b) not actually performing for your entire allotted time because you had an overwhelming desire to chat.  So essentially, I’ve gotten to see 50% of your show because you elected to not do what I had expected you to do, which was sing, but you want me to support your career?  It’s artists like you that have no appreciation for those that have come before you or the audience that has worked hard to be able to afford to see you perform.  In essence, shut your mouth unless you intend to sing.  If I wanted to see a comedian I would have paid to see stand up.  I wanted to see some new up-and-coming singer/songwriters that had talent and drive.  Instead I saw young artists that have developed an unjustified overinflated ego about their value as a musician. 

And this is my message to young artists out there everywhere: you used to be a dime a dozen and now it’s probably closer to a dime per 50 – appreciate the fact that people are spending their hard earned money on you.  In the current state of the economy expendable cash is less and less in everyone’s pockets.  Don’t act like you deserve the attention more than anyone else out there, be thankful and grateful for the opportunity allotted you for the chance to play and be paid at all.  You’ve earned that right by being talented, and each show is a new opportunity to show people just how talented you are while being exceptionally humble about the fact that they are there to appreciate you.  Never forget that your career can be over in seconds if you say the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time.  So please, keep playing, keep developing, and strive to create something new everyday, and appreciate the fact that someone, somewhere out there wants to hear it and pay you to do it.  If you can make a living being a musician you are one of the lucky few – don’t discount that and always remember that there’s probably someone else out there that can do exactly what you’re doing just as well if not better that would kill for your opportunity.  Check your ego at the stage door and just show me what you got.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Call for Submissions

So, Now that I've said what I'm trying to do here, I want to ask you all to submit your songs.  We all have friends that are musicians, so forward this on to them.  I'm happy to listen to anything and offer any help I can.

The best thing I can say is send me the link or song and tell me what it is you want me to listen to.  Do you want me to listen to the lyrics, arrangement, mix, or just give you a general commentary?  My goal is to help in any way I can so I will make your request the primary focus for where I direct my comments, but I will also add in a few thoughts on some of the other components as well.

I can't wait to hear the creations that you're putting together!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

What is Musicality for Engineers?

I have worked throughout the audio and music industries in a technical aspect and met some of the most brilliant engineering minds, as well as some of the most amazing artistic talent you could ever hope to find.  The key difference between the two groups is how they go about constructing a song.

Let’s take, for example, your unknown singer/songwriter.  What is it they concern themselves with when constructing a song?  Most of the time, you will find that a singer/songwriter will look at the arrangement of the music and the lyrics as their primary focus.  You’ll note that the lyrics are usually trying to convey a message, a feeling, or just reach their audience in order to form a bond of relation.  As much as we all like to think we are completely and totally unique individuals, we have often gone through amazingly similar experiences as our lives progress.  These lyrics allow them to generalize their story and create that shared experience with the audience.  

Looking at the arrangement of a song gets a little more complicated as it depends on training, vision, and the ability to play a musical instrument, sometimes more than one.  Many engineers are musicians in their own right that can help in the development of the music, but often don’t have the understanding of how an artist wants to orchestrate and arrange a piece.  The top engineers listen to a song repeatedly in order to make sure that there is clarity between the instruments and the voice, that the instruments all sound like they are meshing together in a particular space, while trying to make it sound as grand as possible.  Engineers want to hear subtle tones on the far left and far right of a stereo pair of speakers.  They want to hear the big bass hits that cause people to get up and dance.  They also want to be able to hear the intricate finger work of an acoustic guitar.  It is the understanding of how to place these recorded sounds in space that makes an engineer great. 
These qualities that I’ve talked about above are what music is all about.  Creating that environment that draws a listener into your song, developing an instrumentation that complements the message you want to convey, and finding a way to deliver your message.  Everyone has their own take on how music sounds and every opinion is valid in its own right. 

What I’m hoping to do here is provide a service to those of you out there seeking help in finding out why a song “isn’t working” or what it is about a recording that could be tweaked in order to achieve that grand nature.  What I am offering here is the chance to have someone listen to the music you write with a critical ear and a place to get that third party perspective.  Essentially, treat this like a final listening process from an educated outsider that can help solidify the album that you want to make and might catch a few details that managed to slip through your grasp during the creative process.  When it’s all said and done, I’m here to listen and offer my perspective to the music you create.  I won’t be comparing you to other artists, or critique the song as a reviewer would.  I will be objectively analyzing the product that you put in front of me in order to try and help you develop a product that represents you to the fullest of your capabilities.  

I truly believe every song has an opportunity to be brilliant; all it takes is putting the right pieces together to achieve that.  I’m just looking to help those of you that aren’t sure where to go.  So if you have a song, send it in.  I will be someone to listen, someone to help you figure out what can make the song great, and someone to offer a direction.