Rookie mistakes, recording mediums, and the joy of making music for video!
Have you ever had a creative assignment where you had to make an ad for a fake product? Or invent a product? Or write some ad-copy for an existing product?
I remember back in school, my wonderful music teacher gave us an assignment to write the theme song for a new cartoon coming out. He had submitted his version for professional consideration from the production staff, and so he thought it would be wonderful education for us to pair up and compose something that we thought would be suitable for the show. Besides the 45 second time constraint, the sky was the limit.
This was the original theme song, that we never got to hear since it hadn't been chosen yet. To a bunch of Grade 11 students, this was fantastic homework.
It's interesting, though, because as a musician that dabbled in improv since I was 10 or so on my M1 Korg, writing chords and melodies (even lyrics!) was nowhere near as hard as learning the recording technology of the time.
We had the ubiquitous speakers, theYamaha ns10s, which were of no help to me at all in making things sound nice. To the rookie, any speaker is a bad speaker. We had heaps of reverb with the Yamaha SPX90, which of course only served to make Ned sound like he lived in outer space. We recorded our audio to a cassette 8 track, which meant rewind time and punch ins galore.
I actually grew up overdubbing my awesome 4 year old vocals on a dual cassette recorder.
Strangely, we also had Pentium 133mhz computers, the latest and greatest, although that was only for midi, and it would be another year before we figured out how to record audio to our beloved Cakewalk Pro Audio 7.
But the technology sure got in the way. Or at least, to the untrained, we made so little musical progress because we spent all our time focused on the recording and medium and left-brain hurdles and... reverb. The groups that did the best were the ones that despite the recording challenges, actually managed to get some ideas in there. It's the ideas that matter. No one cares how you recorded it.
I have a friend who refuses to do his demos on a laptop. Sticks to multitrack cassette. His arrangements are fantastic, and he comes to the studio knowing exactly what to play, and when and how. 99% percent of the recording problems are solved before he walks in the door, and we just spend our time making things sound great and inspired and comfortable. It has nothing to do with the cassette player, either. It's the focus being 100% on the music.
I was a little bummed in another blog about Peter Gabriel's single, I'm Amazing, cause even though the song is great and the chorus gets stuck in my head and there's even a hint of energy in there, the production of the song just makes it so difficult to listen to. I blame the recording medium and process, not being in touch with what works for you and not keeping your focus on the song at hand.
Another big influence of mine, Sufjan Stevens, has done a lot of tracking using a stereo Zoom recorder, at 32khz to save space even, and then mixed it later on the computer. I sure hope he doesn't switch over to a full computer rig for his demos and start writing over top sludgy loops too.
Incidentally, I've had another client that would ask what my EQ curve looked like on a track, then try to describe the eq curves she wanted instead. And if I used certain process or technique on a song/track, it would bother them, just knowing. Needless to say, we don't get much progress done. Definitely self-defeating.
So I dug around and actually found a Grade 11 year end song I wrote as an exam. It's technically my first real recording since my M1 Korg days, and you can sure hear the struggling with the technology get in the way of both the production and the writing. It's a far cry from the work I did on Katherine's tune, that's for sure.
Well, here it is. Career ending, definitely.
This is me trying to rock out on a Roland SC-88, connected to my computer, running cakewalk. Maxing out the resonant filters. If you played too many sounds at once, you could make it stutter and mess with the timing and sync.
I bet it would have totally sounded so much better had it been recorded to analog tape and mixed on a Neve, right? ;)
But when it comes to making music for video, you get a certain extra freedom that you might not get when you're writing a song. I love exploring sound palates, and though I don't always think a sound will work for a particular song, the visual cues can trigger all sorts of neat sound ideas and arrangements.
I have quite a fun and fast home recording rig, just slightly better than that Pentium 133 I started on, and after 15 or so years practice I'm a bit faster getting ideas out and not drenching them in reverb, so I practice making sounds at night. I'm putting together a portfolio of things that can be used in video, or ideas that were never used for anything significant, or just weird ideas that might never find a place unless I just throw them online. I'm dabbling with tossing on some stock video overtop to give an idea of the practical use with the music.
Then I can get ideas out like this.
Or this. And be all the sharper as a producer for it. It's incredible fun.
And I think most importantly, every hour I spend making music on my rig of choice, makes me that much quicker, more fluid end effortless, and hopefully more focused on the song and the idea. Poor Ned. Stuck in outer space, he is. #spacenewt