Making music has perhaps become a more and more solitary art. Getting people together to work on something as a group is forever getting harder, whilst making music via the computer (where so many of us spend so much time anyway) is forever becoming easier, more powerful and alluring.
The style of production you choose for your music can not only represent your music, but become a part of the artistic statement.
This has led to the rise of the solitary “producer” who writes, performs, programs and produces and does lots of other things that being with “p”. It’s a self contained way of working, and that has strengths and weaknesses. You can work when and how you want, but you may lack that opposing view that keeps you alert and justifying what you are doing. It has also lead to “production” becoming part of the creative process for more and more musicians. Obviously producers have always had an influence since recorded music became a big thing. Now, however, with many electronic musicians working entirely alone, production has become one of the skills required to be “taken seriously” as an artist.
I’m a pragmatic person, and I like solutions that take everything into account.
In some senses you could think of this as the same as a folk singer/songwriter polishing up his/her guitar skills – an unglamorous and mostly hidden part of the creative musicians art. Production itself is now regularly mentioned in music reviews – the nature of the production may reflect on how the music is regarded. Clean, pristine production may be praised as making the music impressive to the ear. Make it too clean and it can get glassy, and cold. On the other hand, making things intentionally sound grubby can tire the ears…or seem like a stunt. There is an artistic choice to be made too. The style of production you choose for your music can not only represent your music, but become a part of the artistic statement. A rock band might choose to record on tape – rejecting the modern “pro-tools” school, and aligning themselves with “real rock”. A synth fanatic might want to incorporate the imperfections of a real vintage synth in their music rather than a slightly cleaned up software version. Others may claim to hear the different between a real 303 and a software emulation. That’s a production choice, but it can cause furious arguments amongst fans, and indeed artists themselves.
Good and bad production is not absolute – it’s a judgement.
I’m a pragmatic person, and I like solutions that take everything into account. As a musician, and someone who produces music (although I wouldn’t call myself a “producer”) I have had to make these kinds of decisions many times. I view production as a few different things. Firstly, it’s simply the matter of making the music possible for others to hear. That’s simply a necessity. Then you can make artistic choices about what gear you want to record with. This is part necessity and part artistic choice. However, a third option that I don’t really hear anyone talk about is “letting what you have no choice over become a positive”. This is an artistic attitude. It’s about using what you have as well as possible. There is another element to this for me. It is “charm”. Good and bad production is not absolute – it’s a judgement. The way that music is recorded leaves an imprint of the story of it’s creation. Things that might get called “bad” by some, are highly evocative details to others. The time and place and method of recording leave a unique fingerprint in the sound. In my opinion, cleaning everything up to conform to a certain idea of perfection is simply wiping away that fingerprint. The uniqueness goes, the personality is lost and you are left with an army of clones! You know when you hear top 40 rock and RnB songs on the radio and they have ‘that sound’? ‘That sound’ says boldly “we spent £50,000 on making this sound like the other stuff that is on this radio station”. That is their choice, but I would not pay any money to have all the goodness, all the imperfections ironed out of my music. Production, as well as being a practical necessity to get your music “out there”, is also another opportunity to infuse your music with your own unique essence. Don’t spend time eradicating yourself from your music.
About Dave. David Learnt composition (harmony, counterpoint and orchestration) to degree level through studying Schoenbergs Fundamentals of Musical Composition. He is a founder member of Avant Pop duo Cnut, and orchestral doombience outfit Regolith. Make Better Music is updated every Tuesday. For previous articles search for ‘Dave Graham’ Image: Francesco Marino / FreeDigitalPhotos.net