Music is Life

Beyoncé Snubbed by Adele

I’ve been sitting on this subject for a little bit; I’m generally not quick to make judgements. After reading what many people had to say about Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” losing Album of the Year to Adele’s “25” I thought that I had arrived at a conclusion, namely, that Adele had won the award per the Grammy organization’s mission statement. I had thought that awards were mostly given out by popularity defined by sales along with a combination of member votes however after doing a small amount of research on the Grammy Recording Academy I found that I was quite wrong:

The GRAMMYs are the only peer-presented award to honor artistic achievement, technical proficiency and overall excellence in the recording industry, WITHOUT REGARD TO ALBUM SALES OR CHART POSITION.*1

If we maintain a sense of objectivity then we have to conclude that both Beyoncé’s and Adele’s albums displayed high marks in the three categories mentioned. Assigning a quantitive value to these—to determine who had the greater score—is troublesome as we begin to venture into subjective territory and this is where we must leave the outcome in the dictates of competition, that is, there can only be one winner.

One of the chief complaints I noted was that Lemonade supposedly had a bigger impact than 25 did. How do we measure that? Another complaint was the race card which is equally difficult to parse out. According to they think that age has more to do with it, the voting members are “aging, white baby boomers” and thus vote in a more conservative manner than the young who are more apt to embrace current cultural trends. While that may be true the award is still given out properly in accordance with the organization’s guidelines.

Looking at the award’s history and practice however shows that the caveat “without regard to albums sales or chart position” is really null. Personally Beyoncé’s and Adele’s albums had little impact on me personally and artistically. When 25 came out I noticed that myself and many of my friends (who work in the industry and academia) thought that it was lackluster and jejune. It was expertly sung, produced, and recorded yet I found it sterile and lacking the emotional and artistic depth of Adele’s previous album. I later found out that Damon Albarn had been tapped to produce some tracks for that record yet nothing came of it. Was he not suited for her particular style? Perhaps, but we’ll never know. As far as Lemonade goes that album had little impact on me for no great reason at all, it just didn’t resonate in me for whatever reason. That’s ok, not every piece of art will be appreciated by every person.

The albums that impact me the most personally and artistically will probably never win Album of the Year in the Grammy’s because they don’t tend to be worldwide best-sellers. I have no problem with that at all. Some of these albums include Lateralis, Deloused in the Comatorium, Zzzooorrrccchhh, Bitte Orca, Patagonian Rats, I could go on. These are all fantastic albums (to me, obviously) but they’ll probably never come close to outselling the likes of Jack Ü or Justin Bieber (whose music I enjoy just as well). What is it that I’m getting at you may ask, it’s this:

there seems to be a general axiom that the more popular something is the more “lowest common denominator” it is.

Though there are always exceptions and outliers in general if you want to appeal to a mass amount of people you must pander to the most basic of tastes and aesthetics. Looking at the Grammy controversy this way it’s easy to see why 25 won and why it deserves to win which is really good news for the Beyhive because it means that Lemonade isn’t watered down, it’s concentrated for maximum effect.


Music, Marketing, and Mind Control

I heard on the radio today in Oklahoma a skit that went like this:

“What does it mean when the radio station plays a pop song next to a rock song? It means you have two DJ’s that hate each other. Don’t worry, you’ll know what side of the fence we’re on ‘cause we only play rock!”

A few weeks ago I read something about some children’s cartoons being cancelled because their target demographic shifted. This in itself wasn’t an issue however the executives line of reasoning was that the new audience wasn’t as likely to purchase related merchandise as much as the previous audience. This logic dictates that to maximize profit consumers must be divided into groups that can be manipulated.

Divide and conquer, it’s brilliant. Unfortunately it sucks for us in terms of humanity. I mean, I like rock AND pop music and I don’t feel that they’re mutually exclusive. These divisive lines drawn by those in power are meant to control us, our thoughts, and ultimately our dollar flow. I have no problems with selling a product nor programming a radio station to play exclusive genres of music but to employ the “us vs. them” mentality reflects the sad collective mental state we live in especially when that logic is extrapolated to the political arena.

As Jack Kornfield said you have to program your own mind or the world will program it for you.

Recording Spaces

Check out the recording spaces we have available here at Castle Row Studios!

If You Could Only Have One EQ What Would It Be?

I’d have to say Alloy 2 by iZotope. I actually have three go-to EQ’s, the other two being Pro-Q2 by fabfilter and EQ8 which is Ableton Live’s stock EQ plug-in. BUT, if I only could have one EQ it would be Alloy 2 and here’s why: it’s much more than an EQ alone, most producers and mixers would probably call it a Swiss Army knife plug-in because not only does it do traditional EQ functions but it also has a transient shaper, exciter, not just one but two compressors which include gating and expansion functions, de-esser, AND a limiter. Whew, that’s a lot! Let’s look a little at each of it’s functions.
  1. EQ — 8 bands of powerful and customizable EQ types such as analog, vintage, resonant, baxandall, and a slew of filter types.
  2. Transient Shaper — It’s kinda like a compressor that’s always on. No need to worry about setting all kinds of parameters simply turn up/down the attack and sustain portion of your envelope.
  3. Exciter — Add harmonic content with it’s 4 types of saturation, all easy to blend from subtle to aggressive.
  4. Compressors — 2 compressors that feature gating/expansion, wet/dry mix, adjustable detection filter and knee, and 2 modes Peak and RMS
  5. De-esser — helps reign in “s” sounds, sibilance, high-frequencies.
  6. Limiter — 2 modes, stereo unlinkable
At the time of this writing it costs $149 which is a steal considering the quality and number of components this thing comes with. There are also some other great features including side-chaining, zero-latency, module gain (which greatly helps in keeping proper gain staging practice), and multi-band processing.

So what are the downsides? Well, this is superficial but it’s been quite a while since they’ve updated the GUI, it looks a little outdated. Alloy 2 also lacks any M/S—mid-side—processing which is something I do quite a bit of at my studio. That being said I find the best application for Alloy 2 is mostly for sessions which involve a lot of live tracking meaning recordings of bands or some type of live musician ensemble. Most of these sessions will contain numerous mono tracks because they’re typically sources from single microphones such as a mic on a guitar cab or snare drum; no point in using M/S processing on a source that contains no side information!

Why Is Pop Music So Easy?

I’ve always wondered why music like the Classical period has so many chord progressions going on whereas a modern dance track can practically be in one chord the entire time. I remember studying a book called “A Practical Approach to the Study of Form in Music” by Peter Spencer and Peter M. Temko which spoke about music being organized by “structural phenomenon.” These phenomenon included a myriad of things such as melody, rhythm, harmony, register, key, tempo, dynamics, etc. For some reason humans have a tendency to give strong preference to just a few of these, namely melody and rhythm. Just look at any “fake book” and you can find a song or a composition boiled down to a melodic line, chords, and rhythm.

But as we venture into the world of pop, producers—which is really just another name for composer—look to create entirely new sounds, not just melodies and chord progressions. The listener’s ear is now directed to, perhaps, how a particular synth is sculpted with EQ, reverb, and side-chaining techniques or how a drum set is shaped and made to groove with compression. I think that since there is so much tone manipulation occurring that it would overload the senses to include complex counterpoint or a crafty chord progression. I couldn’t imagine an EDM track full of the kinds of melodic and harmonic devices that Bach employed. Who knows, maybe someday someone will come along and change that.

Should Church Musicians Be Paid?

Even though I think it’s hilarious that this is even a question I can understand why it’s an issue for many churches. I’ve come to the conclusion that these sorts of thoughts derive from a lack of education, people simply don’t know how to value the arts.

I was surprised to see many articles on Google regarding this and there are good arguments to be had on both sides. Author Joshua Weiss has a short but great list of criteria (see article here) that helps answer this question: Are the musicians truly professional? Do you value them and their time/skill? Can the church afford them? Are there alternatives?

In my personal experience I played for a particular church for many years without pay but was grateful to do it. I never really thought about getting paid until I was finishing up my MFA. At that point in life I just could no longer afford to perform for free anymore. I gave them a year’s advance notice that I would need to start getting paid or else I would have to leave, not as a threat, but simply to earn a living elsewhere. Sad to say they let me go. Even though I felt disappointed I was glad. You see, it had become a burden in many ways: the time, the travel, dealing with toxic behavior from some of the other band members, and the feeling of “carrying” the whole band. If I wasn’t there the worship was mediocre at best. It’s a flattering notion but a burdensome one as well. One of the things Weiss alludes to is people getting “ground up in the church machine” which “leads to burnout or a calloused view of church and Christianity.” Couldn’t have said it better myself, this is exactly how I felt. It didn’t even feel right to lead worship for FREE, my heart simply had no more joy.

At this point in life I see things not necessarily as right vs. wrong but more in the vein of beneficial vs. destructive. Applied to this case the question turns from “is it right/wrong to pay church musicians” to “is it beneficial/destructive to pay church musicians”. The answer becomes much easier to answer now. Most Christian churches today strongly rely on music as part of their ministry. I can’t see how paying skilled musicians a fair and reasonable amount for this vital aspect can be destructive. In my case the church wasn’t wrong for not paying me but that turned out to be non-beneficial for them. If this story is true of me I’m sure it’s true for thousands of other people and churches across the states.

Best Dance Floor Routine of All Time!

It’s not often that a gymnast comes into my studio asking for a specialized mix for her routine but when Sophina DeJesus from UCLA walked in I obliged. Little did I know how big her routine would get! I’ve even read that her routine might be the greatest of all time, crazy! Check it out.

and the original performance here:

I love seeing my clients putting their talents to work. Great job, Sophina!

Christian Music

How religious does Christian music need to be?

Completely In the Box!

Andrew Scheps, a major mixing engineer, recently proclaimed that he now works “100% in the box” (jump to 35:43 in the video). Wow. For most home and small professional studios that are doing the same this is a major endorsement. What does this exactly mean?

Whether you’re a potential client, a newcomer to music production, or a veteran you might have heard the argument of analog gear versus digital gear. When technology first allowed us to document music as sound waves—not just notation :p—we only had analog gear at our disposal. What this meant was that the medium which recorded the music (or sound) transformed the sound waves into something that is directly analogous, e.g. a 33 ” vinyl record has grooves on it that are physical representations of the actual sound waves. Digital gear on the other hand transforms sound waves into digital information—1’s and 0’s—that are encoded and decoded with particular mathematical algorithms which is a fancy way of saying, “computer program”. If you looked at the grooves in the vinyl record closely you could see the actual sound waves but if you look at the digital files of recorded music you would see bizarre computer language. Analog audio also tends to imprint saturation and coloration that pure digital does not provide. Although this introduced distortion may seem unpleasant it can actually be harnessed in a musical or sonically pleasing manner.

Because of this (and other factors which I won’t go into the technical details) people have come to describe digital audio as “cold” and analog audio “warm”. This was certainly true at the advent of digital recording technology however that was about 40 years ago! Today’s technology has evolved to the point where digital recording gear, programs, and plug-ins can process audio not just with high precision but also can emulate the “warm” analog sound that people have come to love. I’ve seen other well known mixers such as Scheps do mixes using only a MacBook and a Universal Audio satellite (and probably other in-the-box plug-ins).

None of this is to the detriment of analog gear and recording, in fact a hybrid set-up of analog outboard gear used in conjunction with digital gear gives you some incredible options but hopefully if you’re a new musician, producer, or are searching for recording studios to work in you won’t have to worry about whether or not they have analog gear.

Enough with the MP3's!

Ok, I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again. Please, please, please don’t give me MP3’s. Or M4A’s. Or MP2’s. Any file with an MP prefix ist verboten! Last week I had at least three clients bring me MP3’s and asked if I could master them. If you’re planning on doing any kinda of editing with your music make sure it’s in WAV or AIFF format at a minimum 44.1kHz/16-bit sampling rate. If you’re wondering why click here, but trust me, no studio will honestly mix/master your MP3 files.