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soapfoot

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Apr 14 17 8:40 AM

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I'm listening to a new release from an artist whom I like, and sonically I find it largely to be remarkably... unremarkable. Many of the mixes sound sort of like rough mixes to me. Which is sort-of common on new-ish releases, I find. It could almost be an intentional choice, except they're not quite rough enough to be "rough on purpose" (if that makes sense).

One or two tracks on the album, though, sound exceptional. And it's amazing how much they stand out from the rest.

And it got me to thinking about how, if an artist really wants to stand out, assembling great engineering talent might be more helpful now than ever. Now that it's easier and cheaper than ever to record and release something, a product that really sounds great is better-differentiated.

I think we went through a phase where we were, as a culture, sort of enamored of the so-called "democratization" of the recording process. But I wonder whether we're ripe, as a culture, to tire of the sameness that tends to result, and to begin looking for things that really stand out as exceptional again.

Consumer playback on speakers is still bad, but expensive headphones are seen as a status symbol among young adults now, same as expensive hi fi gear was seen as a status symbol among young adults in the 1980s. 

 

brad allen williams

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maarvold

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Apr 14 17 9:06 AM

soapfoot wrote:
...One or two tracks on the album, though, sound exceptional. And it's amazing how much they stand out from the rest.

And it got me to thinking about how, if an artist really wants to stand out, assembling great engineering talent might be more helpful now than ever. Now that it's easier and cheaper than ever to record and release something, a product that really sounds great is better-differentiated.
 

 
I hope you're right.  I was the implementation/installation/setup/analog tape backup person on a live-to-2-track (vinyl, analog 2 track & digital) record a few weeks ago.  Prior to setup we were all talking and the mixer said something to the ME about making sure the engineering was not going to be compromised and I said, only half-facetiously, "Oh... engineering is important now?"  Time and time again I see people forgetting about engineers, engineering aspects, etc.  When engineers I know complain about it I say, "What do you expect--[the clients] spend all their time looking at the backs of our heads".  

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jesse decarlo

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Apr 14 17 11:18 AM

I think you're right, Brad. Perhaps the major stumbling block is still the cost of good engineering. We can (and/or are forced to) do really good work for much less money than was required in the pre-digital era, but it still can be tough for many artists who don't have financial backing, and of course that's probably harder to come by now than in the past. But in any case I hope more people will see that hiring good engineers is money well spent if all of the other pieces are in place.

That is a big "if" though...

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chrisj

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Apr 14 17 11:54 AM

Depends what kind of intention is in play. I've been trying hard to sell people on not overprocessing. The funny thing is, certain types of engineering tools are way more accessible than they ever were.

I think the cost of delivering a really transparent and big-sounding 'audio chain' must be a tenth or a hundredth of what it was, provided you are comfortable with delivering audio at 24/96 or 24/192 (if that's your jam). So much of the undesirable 'cheap' sound of modern pop comes down to choices and convenience. Also, it's becoming possible to sort of cross-breed sonic tonalities with modern genre conventions.

For instance, I don't think you can autotune without producing a 'modern' tonality, but you can sample at very high quality using minimalist techniques for an 'old' tonality, perhaps process the result in a minimal way, and then load it into a program like Renoise as grist for the grid-quantized mill. Renoise fires samples very, very accurately, and has a whole range of techniques for breaking up, stuttering, pitch-shifting those samples, both in primitive and very modern ways (if I remember correctly, you can choose pitch resampling algorithms on a track by track basis, so some things can be 'gritty' and others can be heavily oversampled and retain high fidelity).

I wouldn't write off audio fidelity just yet. If nothing else, playback technology tends to improve and become more accessible. Yes, some things (like wireless headphones with bandwidth caps, and youtube as a music distribution medium) do damage the audio (in fact I'm not sure what you can put through bluetooth earbuds, but I BET you can't fit 24/192 down that, even if you wanted to).

But people do still respond to interesting and original sounds. You might find the 'stand out' tracks are the hits… assuming they're just as impressive musically. Sometimes, musical merit helps stuff sound better than it even is. The voice of the music comes through and projects, and you hear the best of the audio rather than the worst.

Chris Johnson, airwindows.com

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morespaceecho

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Apr 14 17 12:33 PM

brad, what was the record that prompted the thread?

curious to hear opinions on the last beauty pill record:

https://beautypill.bandcamp.com/album/describes-things-as-they-are

it's a bit too self-consciously arty for me, but the sonics are interesting....dazzling even, and i know this record was very carefully and painstakingly considered. i'm pretty sure most of it was actually done on a laptop.

www.oldcolonymastering.com

morespaceecho.bandcamp.com

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soapfoot

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Apr 14 17 12:38 PM

I'd rather not say, as I have some friends who worked on it, and there are some folks who worked on it that I might like to work with someday!

brad allen williams

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zmix

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Apr 15 17 12:02 AM

morespaceecho wrote:
brad, what was the record that prompted the thread?

curious to hear opinions on the last beauty pill record:

https://beautypill.bandcamp.com/album/describes-things-as-they-are

it's a bit too self-consciously arty for me, but the sonics are interesting....dazzling even, and i know this record was very carefully and painstakingly considered. i'm pretty sure most of it was actually done on a laptop.
I remember hearing this 2 (or even 3) years ago when the mastering engineer played it for me...     I recall that I really liked it upon first listening....  weirdly it sounds like a mess to me now... IIRC, it was also nominated for a Grammy...

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silvertone

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Apr 15 17 5:36 AM

Chad always likes staying off the beaten path. Part of the Beauty to the Pill. Ha ha

One of the nicest guys you'd ever meet too.

I don't mind art that is a mess (we need Pollick's and Rothko's)... I disdain conformity myself... boring...

Vivo Le Difference!

Silvertone Mastering, celebrating 28 years in business.

www.silvertonemastering.com

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zmix

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Apr 15 17 6:40 AM

silvertone wrote:
Chad always likes staying off the beaten path. Part of the Beauty to the Pill. Ha ha

One of the nicest guys you'd ever meet too.

I don't mind art that is a mess (we need Pollick's and Rothko's)... I disdain conformity myself... boring...

Vivo Le Difference!
Not at all what I was implying Larry, and I've heard nothing but good things about Chad, though it  does sound like your implication is that abstract expressionism is a "mess" ...  I certainly wouldn't define it as such,  not even Rauschenberg's most random pieces.

What I heard the first time I was played Beauty Pill and now again is a sense of hyper self awareness, beyond even self consciousness, a sense of a "hand" in the production,  a lack of emotional expression, and this is coming from someone who's worked on a lot of overproduced power pop records, and generally like this sort of thing, this makes me feel like there is someone breathing down my neck, pointing out every production move...  what a mess..!!  smiley: eek

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soapfoot

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Apr 15 17 7:25 AM

seth wrote:
Brad, check out this book: https://www.amazon.com/Cult-Amateur-MySpace-user-generated-destroying/dp/0385520816/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1492178564&sr=8-1&keywords=the+cult+of+the+amateur

It's nine years old already, but it still applies.

Interesting!

I have not read the book, so I shouldn't offer too much commentary, but-- the title and the premise it implies, with all its doom-and-gloom, makes me wonder whether the author may be (along with most of us) trying to fit emerging models of work into old economic paradigms.

Specifically, trying to fit the "perfect machine" of digital content-- which is profoundly anti-capitalist in its nature (it subverts the "supply-and-demand" model of assigning value)-- into the system of market capitalism. It just doesn't work very elegantly, and we're all beginning to learn this the hard way.

It's feeling more-and-more self-evident that old systems where value is tied to scarcity are breaking down in a digital economy (and will continue to break down, now that we have the technology to 3D print, among other things, HOUSES, literally overnight). 

The more interesting question, to me, is "what comes next?" What will "post-capitalism" look like? It's easy sometimes to forget that the system of money and trade which is all we've ever known didn't exist forever. And it probably won't be the last way humans deal with cooperation and pooled labor. Capitalism is, most of all, a strategy for cooperating-- trading time, labor, ingenuity, resources, etc. with other humans. But it's based entirely on scarcity. When something becomes un-scarce, look what happens-- we, who saw the music industry transition from scarcity (records) to abundance (digital files), know this better than anyone.

"User-generated content" is just another way of saying "open source," really. And this CAN be good-- look how handy Wikipedia is, or how much I can learn about electroniucs from the Mr. Carlson's Lab YouTube channel, or even how good Reaper is relative to cost, or even how much I've learned from reading and posting on this very forum, chock FULL of "user-generated content."

In other words, yes, in a way, user-generated content is "destroying our economy." But history might prove that that's a little bit like saying "minting of coins in England destryoed the feudal system." 

When the world changes, it usually changes in a way that "old thinking" has a hard time imagining.

brad allen williams

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zmix

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Apr 15 17 8:15 AM

Yes, Brad, precisely..  

In the current environment of "politics as a means to a business model" etc, I've been re-reading some Hannah Arendt, she writes that capitalism will fail when every inch of the earth has been conquered and all of the earths resources are depleted. 

Clearly we need to embrace some other outcome.

All of this is tied to the subject of your originating post here.   

I believe that (especially in the US) it is rooted in the myth of the "rugged individual". 

We seem to love this myth, we tout it as a feature that art can be produced by YOU and YOU ALONE..!!  (And just when you think it's irretrievably sunk to the lowest level you'll see over the next few days  that your friends are sharing links about one of Kendrick Lamar's producers who did *everything* on his iPhone..PROOF!!!)

Access isn't ability, it's simply enablement.

 Ever since the dawn of the affordable home studio (in the 1970s)  and then MIDI (in the 1980s) , and now the DAW we've been marketed to by this very tactic.
I was  recently lamenting  to a producer friend what a deprivation in our appreciation of others these "revolutions" have left us with.

This is well worth listening to, regardless of your politics:


http://www.bestoftheleft.com/_1085_a_case_against_the_myth_of_individualism_culture

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soapfoot

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Apr 15 17 8:25 AM

Interesting thoughts and observations, Chuck.

Lots to think about here.

Worth saying that occasionally, some "rugged individual" DOES manage to do it all (or a substantial amount) themselves, and do excellent work. But these are by definition exceptional individuals (I believe you spent a fair amount of time working with someone who's usually mentioned when people discuss such exceptional individuals).

And as a culture, we romanticize these stories SO MUCH that people begin to think they're less-valid if they do it some other way. And very often, the "rugged individualism" itself becomes the story, overshadowing even the work, and it's a shame. Because people seek to imitate the do-it-all-yourself individualism FIRST, as though that's going to net them the artistic excellence. Spoiler alert: it won't. Tail wags dog.

brad allen williams

Last Edited By: soapfoot Apr 15 17 8:27 AM. Edited 1 time.

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soapfoot

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Apr 15 17 8:34 AM

...but, of course, there are some people who have honest creative impulses, and do it all themselves because 1) the technology is available to them now, in some fashion, 2) they lack the support or financial means to hire experts, 3) they live in some remote place away from experts, 4) they're introverts and struggle with collaboration, or some combination of the above (and additional factors likely not considered).

And that's honest, and can sometimes result in some very interesting work.

It's difficult, unreliable, and in fact disingenuous, really, to speculate on the motives of others-- why they make the choices they do.

It's straightforward, reliable, and worthwhile, however, to evaluate the results they get. And, more and more, if the goal is to stand out, I think there's a place for better results (in terms of audio).

brad allen williams

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zmix

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Apr 15 17 8:46 AM

soapfoot wrote:
Interesting thoughts and observations, Chuck.

Lots to think about here.

Worth saying that occasionally, some "rugged individual" DOES manage to do it all (or a substantial amount) themselves, and do excellent work. But these are by definition exceptional individuals (I believe you spent a fair amount of time working with someone who's usually mentioned when people discuss such exceptional individuals).

And as a culture, we romanticize these stories SO MUCH that people begin to think they're less-valid if they do it some other way. And very often, the "rugged individualism" itself becomes the story, overshadowing even the work, and it's a shame. Because people seek to imitate the do-it-all-yourself individualism FIRST, as though that's going to net them the artistic excellence. Spoiler alert: it won't. Tail wags dog.
Sure, that's all true, and precisely why we, as a community need to have these very discussions because the music business is one of the places where this libertarian wet dream sells us short...  we need to really be asking of these proported individuals:  Do they "do it all"?  Really?

At a private memorial last year for all of us who worked for Prince, who epitomized this myth, his brother addressed all of us and said "My lawyers will hate that I say this, but is was all of YOU who made Prince who he was, ultimately..".



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soapfoot

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Apr 15 17 9:03 AM

I wonder whether a lot of phenomena we're discussing now are, to some extent, fallout from adversarial relationships (both real and contrived, factual and mythological, honest and exaggerated ) from the heyday of recorded-music commerce. And that whether, once the dust settles, we can move to more mature attitudes, and whether that might in fact be beginning to happen.

Like, everyone older than millennials (who are now in their 30s!) spent their/our childhoods reading and hearing about "this bad producer who 'overproduces' my favorite artist and ruins the art" or "this evil empire record label that tempts my favorite artist to sell out," or "this A&R weasel that encouraged the label to shelve my favorite artist's new album because he didn't hear a single'", or even "this out-of-touch rich music celebrity who has all the money she'll ever need, and will never notice if I burn a CD for my friend." We even heard from the recording engineer/non-producer/anti-producer producer of our favorite band, who insisted that every actual professional in the industry (except him, natch!) was somehow corrupt and money-driven and cynical and didn't care about the art.

With all of that background, why wouldn't we mistrust "outside influences" and professionals? And as soon as we could circumvent their 'corrupting influence,' why wouldn't we? Even if that meant our art was a little rougher-around-the-edges, we were willing to accept that tradeoff. And some of that roughness even began to serve, for our audiences, as a sort of signifier for 'purity' and artistic virtue.

But now all of that is far enough in the distant past that the 21 year old kid with the laptop doesn't really have all those same hangups. She never knew an "evil empire"; never had the "powerful but corrupt major record label" as a dominant bit of imagery. She might not regard professionals with quite the same degree of suspicion, and might even see collaboration with expert specialists as a way to break new ground artistically in her work.

Time will tell, but I'm semi-optimistic, actually.

brad allen williams

Last Edited By: soapfoot Apr 15 17 9:09 AM. Edited 3 times.

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gtoledo3

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Apr 15 17 9:24 AM

I think I have a pretty good guess about what record you're talking about... but I will spare you the on-forum guess! :-)

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morespaceecho

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Apr 15 17 9:44 AM

zmix wrote:

What I heard the first time I was played Beauty Pill and now again is a sense of hyper self awareness....


when i heard it the first time i didn't like it AT ALL, and i think that hyper self awareness was a lot of what turned me off. but i gave it another try the other day and thought it was pretty cool. i think it's easy for us as engineers to hear that hyper self awareness but i dunno that normal people would hear it like that at all. i think they'd be much more likely to just be like WOAH LISTEN TO THIS.

at any rate, chad is indeed one of the nicest guys i've ever met, glad he's doing his thing the way he wants it. 

www.oldcolonymastering.com

morespaceecho.bandcamp.com

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