Two years ago, we started the journey of creating a degree that would address the current and future needs of music students at Houghton College. Today I found out that the degree had been approved by our second accrediting body - NASM (National Association of Schools of Music). The journey has been one of great triumph and, at times, extreme frustration. I have learned a great deal from this process - both personally and professionally. And, while I have wanted to throw the "towel" in and give up at times, it has been the journey that has been the most rewarding.
There have been some key lessons I have learned along the way and wanted to share them here so I could look back and remember this time - and the crazy journey. Here are some good lessons learned on this journey:
1. You will be the greatest champion of something you deeply believe in.
Don't expect everyone to get as excited as yourself when you are on the journey. At times you will feel like a lone wolf. That is not a bad thing. We are motivated by what we are passionate about and others will not be as passionate when it has nothing to do with them or their passions.....and that is OK.
2. Success requires hard work - and a steep learning curve.
Success and the learning curve require focus and perseverance. I will be the first to admit that both of those are not my strongest attributes. I was diagnosed with ADD later in life which brought about an "aha" moment of why I couldn't stay focused for a very long time. Through understanding and hard work, I came up with systems to help me stay focused - and on task - when dealing with my ADD. Now, throw in the mix of putting a degree together and there were days when I felt like the wheels were going to fall off my brain. This degree challenged me beyond what I felt I could be - and taught me more about myself and success then any one single thing I have done. Success in anything is hard work...I kind of knew that from life lessons, but this process brought that "hard work" thing to a whole new level.
3. Failure is going to happen along the way.
I would love to write here and say that our first attempt at having our music industry degree approved was a complete success. It wasn't. With New York State it only took around a month, but our other accrediting body (NASM) took two years with two full out rejections. Failure happens...and when it does we can either give up - or get up. Failure is a way to reevaluate and then readjust our course. It took two failures to reevaluate and then make the necessary changes to make sure the third time was "the charm".
4. Keep the main thing, the main thing.
Along this process I was pouring myself and every waking minute working on this degree. One day my former and wise bossman said to me, "Kevin...you need to keep the main thing, the main thing." What he meant was keep your priorities straight - which is your wife, your home and relationships. He assured me that the paperwork would still need work the next day, so go home and focus on what matters...my wife and home. In life, always keep the main thing, the main thing. Hard work is a good thing, but being a workaholic is not.
5. The journey is the destination.
We have reached our goal and destination...a new degree. All along I thought that the end result was the most important. It wasn't. The journey was the goal all along. The journey was filled with triumph and disappointment, extreme happiness with extreme frustration and moments of fast movement with months of waiting. The journey tested and stretched me along the way, but every step of this journey has been rewarding - no matter the stress or frustration. I don't want to go through this process again, but I wouldn't trade it for anything because over the past two years I have grown more than previous years within my career. I have also learned about myself - both strengths and weaknesses which is a very good thing.
Now...time to celebrate this journey!
In a few weeks, I will be saying goodbye to my assistant - John Buteyn. I have been wanting to write a fitting tribute to my assistant for some time, but every time I started thinking of writing this...my brain went into denial that he was leaving. I would then close my laptop and try not to think about this approaching day.
Many of you who visit this site (and blog) do not know John. But to me, John has been my right hand man for four years or so, and a brother-like friend for over seven. John was the first person I worked with as the new Director of Sound and Recording at Houghton College. From the start, I knew that John and myself would have a good working relationship, and more importantly, a good friendship.
A wise man once told me, "Kevin, when you meet a friend...a true friend, never let that friendship go because true friends are very rare in this life. When you meet the type of friend that 'gets you'...make sure you stay friends. That type of friend will walk the mountain tops and the valleys with you". The wise man, also known as my high school music teacher, was right on. I have traveled this earthly road for 45 years and have rarely found "true friends". I have many "friends", as a matter of fact over 3,500 "friends" on Facebook, but I have very few "true" friends...the kind of friend that sticks closer than a brother and gets me as a person. Many people become your friend with an agenda in mind. For many, that agenda is breaking into the music industry or befriending you to swindle you out of your industry contact list. I have had a few "friends" in my lifetime who attempted to use me as a stepping stone for the next level in their career...a few church tech "friends" come to mind here.
What I have always liked about John is that he never became my friend to "use" me, nor did he have an agenda to gather my contacts. He became my friend because we had so many common interests, especially in music technology and recording. We would sit in the office during the slow conference season time dreaming about Houghton, and what it could look like if we ever offered a music technology or a music industry degree. At the time, that seemed like a big huge pipe dream and talk, but as every year passed our dream and talks started becoming reality. It was the dream and vision that drove both of us at work - and common interests that drove our friendship.
After my first two years at Houghton, John went away to Georgia Southern to pursue his master's degree in music technology. When he left, during that time, you could feel the void that was left in my department. The old Charles Dickens phrase from A Tale of Two Cities, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." was being lived out in real time during the years he was away. The department and staff just wasn't the same with John gone.
Then John came back. At first is was to head up the summer conference tech team. Eventually, after a couple of years and a couple of jobs he worked around Houghton, we were able to hire him in my department as the Assistant Director of Technical Arts. And a new (and very cool) chapter started to be written again.
This past year, John, our boss and myself, started to create and pursue a major in music industry at Houghton College. Everything we had talked about seven years prior to this, started to become reality. We created a music industry minor, had upwards of ten new courses approved and finally a music industry major approved at Houghton. I don't think either one of us could believe how much was accomplished this past year. At times it was stressful...and at others times it was filled with celebration.
And so, it seems right that John is now leaving to pursue the next chapter in his life. In the time he has been at Houghton, and my assistant, we have seen great things happen. We have had a lot of fun and laughs with events, concerts, conferences (for the most part), classes, our team and most of all our friendship. Bill Hybels (a leadership guru - look him up) once said at a leadership conference, "Surround yourself with the best. Because you are only as good as the people you surround yourself with." For me, John was and is the best. He has been the definition of excellence and work ethic. He is a great husband to Kaylan, a great father to Fin and has been a great friend and brother to me. My only hope is that each person who reads this will have the same fortune that I have had these past seven years. I hope that each of you will find that person who makes you not only a better teacher and tech, but a better man or woman. As iron sharpens iron....Yohann, you will be missed.
This article appeared here, but it was too good not to share. A lot of truth in this post.
A few years ago I shared some thoughts on how to annoy your sound engineer. They seemed to be helpful to people so I thought I’d share some more. Obviously, you might not want to implement all these suggestions on the same Sunday.
Make him touch your ears
You’re too important to learn how to put your ear monitors in the correct way, or in the correct ear, so make him do it for you. Bonus points if you make him try to figure out how to put your belt pack on without getting sued for harrasment.
Have long rehearsals
Sound engineers have nothing better to do than sit at the console while you rehearse that one song again. They love being trapped there while you figure out what songs to do. They don’t mind a bit not being able to go home and sleep because you’re goofing around. It’s fun for them!
Sing like you’re telling secrets
If you can master the art of singing with a whimpery, yet raspy, yet emotional, yet passionate, yet secret whisper from the inner regions of your soul, your sound engineer will have no trouble at all finding a good place for your vocals in the mix. Bonus points if you choose random moments to sing normally before reverting to the whisper again. It’s hilarious.
Tell him what you think about the mix when you’re on stage
You’re standing on stage. You’re behind the speakers. You can’t actually hear what it sounds like in the room. But go ahead and tell him it sounds like your guitar isn’t loud enough. Keep telling him. Until your guitar sounds loud enough to you. You’ve successfully made him your best friend.
Display your awesomeness
First song: you’re on acoustic. Second song: you’re on accordion. Third song: back on acoustic. Fourth song: floor tom. Fifth song: you’re on banjo (but let’s be serious: you can’t really play banjo, so he should turn it down so no one knows). Sixth song: you’re on electric. Your sound engineer will love you.
Can you do me a favor and give me a bit less hi-hat, and bump up the kick by 2b, and pan the electric to the right, and give me about 6db more acoustic in my left, and give me a bit more reverb on my vocal?
Oh and can you get me a Latte too? OK thanks.
Throw him under the bus
Lets say you get an email from Verna, a long-time member of the church, and she complains that it was too loud on Sunday. What should you do? Blame the sound engineer. You are not responsible for your music. Throw the sound engineer under the bus and go buy yourself another scarf.
Expect him to do eight things at once
1. Run sound. 2. Run monitors. 3. Run projection. 4. Record the sermon. 5. Hand out assisted-listening devices. 6. Control lights. 7. Play the video at the right time. 8. Touch your ears. He’s superman.
Give feedback feedback
He loves when you do this! Hear feedback? Tell him you hear feedback. Try to recreate the feedback by thumping your mic with your pointer finger. Or, better yet, try to fix the feedback by holding the palm of your hand over your mic. Then you might create even worse feedback, in which case you can prove to your sound engineer that you really were hearing feedback. Then he might kill you.
Pretend his first name is “Hey”
All sound engineers have one first name, and it’s “Hey”. Seriously, it’s so convenient. “Hey, can you turn my mic on?” “Hey, can you give me a bit more keyboard?” “Hey, can you bring me my scarf?”
What am I missing (besides my Latte)?
I remember when I started making music back in high school and college. I also remember the struggle of writing new songs, but there was so much fun in the struggle. Back then I had something to prove, so I would spend countless hours throughout the night writing and rewriting parts, lyrics and rhythms. There was something so amazing and so fresh about those days.
You see, they were the days before life became complicated with bill paying, 40 plus hour work weeks and multiple responsibilities. There are many days I long to go back to those days when everything seemed fresh and new. I also long for those days in the music industry. Things change, we all know that and sometimes for better, other times for worse. Currently, the music industry is a logistical mess attempting to make its way back to the glory days of old. The problem is that those days will never come back. This is a new day in the music industry with digital and streaming services driving the current industry model.
I also know that many artists long for the simple days before the business took over their lives. The reason most artists get into the music business is to make...music. They are artists at heart and they could not picture life without writing or making music. They breathe it and love it. The definition of an artist is; a person who displays in his work qualities required in art, such as sensibility and imagination. Many of today's artists fit that definition through and through. The problem isn't that they have forgotten what the definition of artist entails, it is that the business of music gets in the way of the creative process. We recently watched, in my class at Houghton, the documentary Artifact which follows the story of Thirty Seconds to Mars making their third album This Is War. In the documentary, the band is being sued for thirty million dollars for breach of contract. The film shows the band struggling to create great art while being distracted with the business end of the industry. The question raised in the documentary is, "Can art and business coexist peacefully in the music industry?" I believe it can, but it doesn't. This is the reason why so many artists long for the day when they were a "nobody" and there wasn't pressure to perform or write a hit. You made music... for the love of music.
The other night I was driving home from Houghton College, where I am employed as a the Director of Sound and Recording, and a music industry instructor. It was about 1 AM as I was making my way back through the dark lonely roads between Houghton and my house. I turned on the radio to keep me company and heard these words:
Yeah, yeah, somebody take me back to the days
Before this was a job, before I got paid
Before it ever mattered what I had in my bank
Yeah, back when I was tryin' to get a tip at Subway
And back when I was rappin' for the hell of it
But nowadays we rappin' to stay relevant
I'm guessin' that if we can make some wishes outta' airplanes
Then maybe yo maybe I'll go back to the days
Before the politics that we call the rap game
And back when ain't nobody listen to my mixtape
And back before I tried to cover up my slang
But this is for the hater, what's up Bobby Ray?
So can I get a wish
To end the politics
And get back to the music
That started this sh**?
So here I stand and then again I say
I'm hopin' we can make some wishes outta' airplanes
The song started to move me. I could hear the emotion and passion in the vocals. I could hear the longing for the simple life. I could see the small room as this artist started to write songs. I could see the tiny venues with family and friends supporting the unknown artist. And, I could see myself. I saw myself buying my first piece of studio equipment. I saw the tiny second floor room in Norton Village in Rochester where I started creating computer music. I saw my small beginnings before life became complicated. And at that very moment, listening to those lyrics, that song partly became my story. And in a strange way, at that moment, I fell back in love with this amazing thing called music. We all need reminders from time to time, and that song was mine.
If I were to ask my students to name an amazing producer or mix engineer, many would not be able to do it. Once upon a time, you sat in front of your stereo, unwrapped a freshly packaged vinyl album, cassette or CD and read all the credits while listening to a new masterpiece. For me this magical experience came in the form of Def Leppard and the album "Hysteria". I remember the day vividly as I sat in a dank, cold dorm room listening to this amazing sonic explosion coming out of my speakers - over and over. The album absolutely mesmerized and hypnotized me - so much so that it would stay in my CD player for three months. The album was played so much that my dorm mates would end up giving me a Golden Pear Award for the most likely person to work with Def Leppard in the future. As I was reading the credits inside the liner notes of this incredible album, the name Mike Shipley kept appearing. This was the day before internet and easy access, so you had to do some major investigating to find out about this magical mix engineer. I could go into Mike's long list of top artists that he produced and mixed, but you will have to do that on your own. His credits are truly amazing.
It is sad that we so quickly forget - or maybe don't care - about the people who make the industry "go 'round". If I said the name Lady Gaga many of you would instantly know and visualize the eccentric blonde haired bombshell with the wacky outfits. But if I were to say the name Zedd, who would know of the person I speak? He is Lady Gaga's producer - as in the person who makes her and her songs sound incredible. In this day of iTunes and quick downloads, most of us do not even care to take a look at the "people behind the people". Yet those of us in the industry, know and do care tremendously. So let me take a moment to care and talk about the late Mike Shipley.
Many times we view guys like Mike as being untouchable and unreachable because their accolades are so enormous that they wouldn't even bother talking to us "lowly engineers". Mike was not like that, and to the contrary, was very involved in the lives of us "lowly ones". He would post on the Gearslutz forums and share with us his engineering knowledge regularly. He would answer any question directed at him under the moniker "shipshape". I heard great stories from others about Mike mixing an indie album for a beer and some lamb chops. He was a man who cared more about the industry than money or prestige. His last video appearance, talking about his craft (you can view the video below), was on Pensado's Place where he gladly shared his wealth of knowledge with the rest of the engineering community. He was a giving person, not selfish in the least and was not in the industry for selfish ambition or promotion. He loved music and loved the people in the industry. He was always in his element behind the board - or at the producer's helm. He loved the people he worked with and the people loved him. On July 22nd, we lost this industry giant and amazing talent.
So, what can we learn from a man like Mike Shipley? Passion, excellence and humility. Passion for music and this awesome field of engineering. Excellence in the way he crafted each mix - sonically beautiful and pure. Humble in the truest sense of the word - family members weren't aware of projects he had been involved with. I want to encourage each person who reads this blog to go out and find out about the people who have worked on the albums you love - the "people behind the people". People like Mike.
Though Mike has passed, his music and productions will live on for years, decades and centuries to come. I am a testament to Mike's life. At the age of eighteen, I put on a Mike Shipley mixed album and heard sonic perfection. I decided at that point that I wanted to learn this craft and how to mix like the man who mixed that album. And so began my journey to become the next Mike Shipley. I may never win a mixing or production Grammy like Mike, but my life has been rich in attempting to hit the excellence mark of this man. May you now rest in peace, Mike. You will be missed by all.
Rude and arrogant people tick me off. Yes, they do - big time. Some of the human race should go to some kind of manners training institute. And for others, they need a full degree in ethics and manners - or programming in the fine art of non-arrogance. Let me explain...
Last week I went to a Daughtry, 3 Doors Down, Halestorm and Bad Seed Rising concert. Like any concert, there are people who really love the music and band. These people scream, cheer, dance and sing along with the music. I love people like this. They are passionate about the music and artist. It is refreshing seeing people who are into the music. At the concert there were - for some reason - a lot of older people. I mean like REALLY old - retirement age old. I am not against "older" people going to a rock concert. I believe wholeheartedly that older people can rock just as much as younger people. Except for the older couple sitting in front of me with Grumpy Smurf scowls. Mr. and Mrs. Grumpy Smurf, who stayed seated the whole time, started complaining about the young gal in front of them who was standing up cheering singing, and dancing as 3 Doors Down performed. About two songs into the set list, this old-ish couple stood up, marched down the steps, stopped for a moment to yell at the young gal and then proceeded to exit the concert venue. The young gal just stood there in disbelief. Mr. and Mrs. Grumpy Smurf ruined the young gal's concert experience for a moment. I wanted to run down the aisle and say to Mr. Grumpy Smurf, "Hey there. I noticed you yelled at a young lady having fun at a ROCK CONCERT. I think a Rochester Philharmonic concert is more your speed. Next time go there instead." Many days I scratch my head trying to figure out why manners and hospitable people are hard to find now days. As years pass, I see more and more people becoming more selfish - and self absorbed. I also see a lacking of common sense. Common sense should have told Mr. and Mrs. Grumpy Smurf that if they showed up to a rock concert then people would be on their feet dancing, singing and cheering. Having manners should have told them that yelling at a young person having fun at a concert was a very dumb idea. Duh.
At this same concert, I overheard some people complaining about the price of the concert tickets and other life topics. I thought to myself, "Well, if people bought their music then maybe the prices of concerts would go down a bit". Back in the "good ole days" artists would perform shows for their fans, but it wasn't a concert driven industry. Back then CD sales could support the artists or band. Now in order for artists to survive they have to tour. The industry has shifted. I could go on and on here about illegal downloading and the state of the industry - but I will save that for another blog.
When the concert finished, we were in a traffic line trying to make our way out of the parking lot. I looked to my left and saw this older man with his older man-friend cutting through traffic at a speed not fit for the congestion present. There were a few things wrong with what I was witnessing. The first thing; he was in his later 50's (I would estimate) and driving an ugly banana yellow Porsche convertible. Come on....really? That color...on that car? He should have painted "mid-life crisis" in bright fuchsia on the hood and doors because the car was screaming that out loud. Second thing; he almost ran over one of the concert goers and laughed when it happened. The female concert goer yelled some very colorful words, and I believe was totally justified in doing so. I then chimed in with a few words of my own - and a bit less colorful than hers. I just simply asked, "Having a mid-life crisis, huh?" Third thing;, he came about three inches from hitting us in the front end of our car. That may not have been a bad thing since it was very apparent he had a lot of money - and could have bought me a new banana yellow convertible Porsche. In which, when receiving said Porsche, would immediately go to a body shop and be permanently painted black. This man and his friend were and are the poster children of rude, arrogant and manner-less people. God help us.
In my line of work, I have a lot of contact with interesting people. Some are gems, and I absolutely love being around them. Some are arrogant and manner-less - I leave drained and exhausted when I work with people like that. But one thing that I will never get (maybe its my age) are the young engineers, producers and artists that think they know everything. It just seems like many of the new generation are more rude and arrogant than the previous year's crop - and generation. Some have an opinion on anything and everything. Instead of listening to the wisdom of others, they ignore it and then get frustrated when their careers are stalled. Some think that success is an easy road and that it happens instantly. I like to call that the McDonald's mentality. I want it quick and I want it now. When I try and explain to them that it takes time to be successful, they close their ears and minds. Not every single person is like this - so I do not want to generalize a whole generation. There are rare gems, occasionally, that actually listen and absorb.
When I meet a rare gem, I take great care in teaching and mentoring them. I want to do my best to make sure they are successful. When I meet the arrogant person I do my best to reach out, but if they will not listen or change then good riddance (Ain't nobody got time for that). Sometimes people get a little bit of information, and then think they know everything about music, sound and engineering. Sometimes it gets disheartening having to deal with people like that over and over.
Recently, corporations were asked to list the top things they look for when hiring. Within the top ten, the words teachable and team player showed up. Teachable means you are willing to learn - and want to learn. It means you absorb, like a sponge, the wisdom of industry people. Normally, teachable people make it in this industry and other industries. Yet, every year it is becoming harder and harder to find those teachable gems. Team player means just that - you work well with others. You give credit to the team when you succeed and never take all the credit. Not one person in this industry - or other industries - succeed without good people (or a good team) surrounding them.
So, in this day and age where manners are lacking and arrogance seems to run rampant; what does it take to succeed? The answer is pretty simple....be the opposite. If a person becomes the opposite of the "norm" then that person will stand out as the exception. I (along with many others) want to work with the exceptions. I want to work with the teachable, non-arrogant, well-mannered people who are passionate about this industry.
Be the exception.
I have been a nomad for quite a while, traveling all over the globe with bands and business. I grew up in a small area of New York State - Corning, NY. The older I get, the more I appreciate that small city and area. In my young years, I use to think, "When I turn eighteen, I am going to kick the dirt off these shoes and leave this lame area behind. I am going to become a rock star and make something of myself." When I turned eighteen I applied for a college in the Philadelphia area, and true to the words spoken....I shook the dust from my shoes and left the Corning area. I would only return briefly to work during my college years - and to live there for just a few months after college. I have been away for over nineteen years. Do I still visit? Yes, I do. The reason is that all of my family live there, which forces me to make trips to the area pretty frequently. I love going home now...it feels familiar and warm. It feels like home.
So, what does this have to do with music, music technology or music business? Nothing. I just thought all of you would want to know where I was born and raised....no? OK then, what this has to do with music - and this industry - is never forgetting your roots. During my travels and time away, I started to forget where I had come from and stopped appreciating it. My dad was a hard working contractor who put his dreams on hold so that his kids could see their dreams realized. My mom was a stay at home mother who wanted to get an education to better the family, but she felt a duty to raise us boys so we could get a better education to better ourselves. Both of my parents put their dreams on hold so we could pursue our dreams growing up. I always had a "chip" on my shoulder growing up and thought everything I had accomplished was the result of my own hard work. I forgot the sacrifice my parents had made - and I forgot that small community of people who always cheered me on. In other words....I forgot my roots. Recently I have been reconnecting with old friends from the Corning area. I realized that many never left the area. It hit me one day....I forgot them along the way too. My whole journey has been one of forgetting my roots, but within the past two years I see myself appreciating where I came from more and more. And in a way, I have been returning to those roots quite a bit.
See, many artists and musicians forget their roots too. They forget the struggle to get where they are today. I mean if you travel and perform 200 shows a year, everything eventually starts blurring into one. When that happens, you start forgetting where you came from, what got you to where you are and the people who helped you on the journey. I was there; it happened to me. It is easy to forget. But there are artists who still remember and stay grounded.
The other night I was watching a documentary on Eminem. I had a chance to meet and talk with Eminem before he was huge - back when. He was a driven rapper who wanted nothing more than to succeed so he could give his child a great life. Eminem forgot his roots - but not for long. He had a revelation of sorts, a moment of clarity. He is from Detroit. He knows it, he is not ashamed of it - he embraces it. He embraces it so much that he currently lives in Michigan. Many artists move to LA, NYC and Nashville - but not Eminem. And there are more than just him, but for the sake of keeping this blog, blog length I will stick to Eminem. Eminem hasn't forgotten his roots or the city he loves - Detroit.
It is important to always remember where you are, where you are going and where you came from. Never forget the struggle to get were you are - or forget the people who got you to where you are today. Nobody ever rises to the top on their own accord...it takes hard work and people believing in you (and helping you to succeed). For many, it was a person (or people) who mentored and poured themselves into you. For many, it could have been one person who gave you your "break" to be able to do what you love so much. For others, it was a music teacher (or any teacher) who saw the talent and then did everything they could to help you along on your journey. Roots.
I have so many people that fall in those categories that I would need a separate blog - or book - to thank them all. I hope they all know how much I appreciate what they have done for me - and I hope they know that I will always remember them. Never forget your roots.
Recently our good friend Russ Hughes (at Pro Tools Expert) wrote a blog on "5 Ways To Get a Great Job In Music Production and Keep It". I wanted to post a similar blog for a while, but Russ really nailed it. I would only add that this advice applies to all fields - not just the creative field.
Here are the top five things I tell my kids on how to get a great job, stay hired and get promoted.
I am currently on winter break from my teaching job at Houghton College, and had a little time to post a new blog. If you notice, most of my blog posts take place during summer. The reason is that I have summers off which gives me time to write. If you haven't checked it out yet, I have added some tutorial videos from Shure, Presonus and Full Sail under the tutorial section on this site - there is some great information under that section.
Onto the subject at hand...Autotune or Melodyne aka tuning a vocal. Recently, I saw a Melodyne photo of the Marvin Gaye song "Sexual Healing". I will post the photo on here, but when you see the picture it will show a vocal that is completely out of tune - both flat and sharp at times. The question was raised, "Would Melodyne make it better?". Melodyne is the less known relative of Autotune in the music world - it is a "note correcting" software. The answer hands down (by everyone) simply was stated..."No it wouldn't." As a matter of fact, many opinions (including my own) have stated that it would make it sound worse and robotic.
It is true, note correcting software would (and does) make notes sound unnatural. What would happen if we took Marvin's classic song and turned it into a robotic, computer perfect version? It is a simple answer...it would take away from the original feel of the song. The original is so great (and listed as a classic) because the studio captured the "magic" of the performance with all of its imperfections. It was a day in the industry where talent was signed because singers and artists actually had.....talent. I don't want to go on and make this all technical by explaining how many recorded instruments are imperfect in their pitch and harmonics - but it happens. What if we get to the place where we are correcting everything? If that happens (and we are heading there rapidly) then music will become more stale (and lifeless) than it is already.
The great thing about music is that it is imperfect, and played by imperfect people. It is human at its core and to take the human element out of music, we take out the very soul that makes it live, breathe and that which makes it great. If you are a musician or engineer (recording and mix) reading this blog....please return music to its human element. There may be times when we want to use Autotune or Meldyne for creative effect, but that should be the exception - and not the rule. Let's get back to great art and developing real talent.
Music production is smoke and mirrors. It is mostly manufactured sounds by various effects and software that make you believe it was recorded that way in a studio or manufactured to sound a certain way so everyone thinks it's hip. I am ashamed of where we have landed in recording engineering and the music industry. Everything keeps evolving and is creating a lazy generation of engineers and producers. The saying "we will fix it in the mix" has become the tag line in almost all music productions in recent years. Music production has always had a smoke and mirrors aspect, but not like now. The drums you listen to are fake, the singer is fake, the guitars are at times fake, the Rhodes is fake, the grand piano is fake, the orchestra is fake and the list goes on and on. When I say fake, what I mean is that most Rhodes, orchestra and grand pianos are created by software called virtual instruments.
Every year I have an "ask the producers" type forum where I shoot a question to top industry professionals and have them respond with answers. About a year ago, I asked a panel of experts to give me their view of drum replacement software. Drum replacement software takes the drum sounds that you recorded in the studio and replaces it with manufactured, often synthesized, drum parts. In the answers every producer, except one, stated they used drum replacement so they could compete with everyone else in the industry. Cool huh? Not really. How lazy have we become as engineers that we need to replace drum parts because we can not record them the right way? I may be old school here or not in the hip crowd, but there was a time when engineers would spend hours on the drum tone and sound. A movement of just an inch or two could mean the difference between an amazing drum tone or one that wasn't great. Just placing microphones alone was an art form and there were engineering Picassos "back in the day". It was a different time and place, long before computer software started churning out lazy engineers and producers.
A couple of years ago I played a video for my class called, "It Might Get Loud". In part of the film Jack White is explaining how he still plays his cheap guitar that he had as a child. He makes the statement that he loves the guitar because it makes him struggle with his art. I think that is what makes art so great....the struggle. A vocalist struggling to hit the right note and then hitting it triumphantly. A guitarist struggling to hit that one perfect pitch bent note. A drummer struggling to put, an almost impossible fill, into perfect timing. It is the struggle that makes the triumph so sweet. But, now you throw a singer through autotune, a guitar through a software pitch shift and a drum fill through beat detective, and what does it get us? Lazy musicians all the way through to producers. All of this because somewhere along the line we all decided perfection is what everyone wants, and not the human struggle with real art thus making it imperfect. I will take emotionally imperfect any day over robotic, lifeless perfection.
If you think about it, some of the greatest albums ever recorded were full of inconsistencies and imperfections yet they are emotionally perfect. Sonic perfection should never be the goal in any production, but rather emotional response. If you listen to classic rock you will hear albums that were full of sonic imperfections, but are considered some of the best albums of all time. Modern music has taken the human element out, and has replaced it with mechanical perfection through software manipulation. I say we go back to what made music great from the start....great songs that drew out great emotional responses. I want to pose just one question, how many artists, producers and engineers today could actually be good enough to make it in this industry back when tape was the recording medium? That is something to think about. My answer.....very few.
Kevin "Danger" Jackson is a New York-based producer, engineer, composer, performer, educator and Berklee College of Music alumnus. He writes, produces and engineers music for a wide range of artists in the pop, hip-hop, rock, R&B, classical and electronic genres. His work can be heard daily on a multitude of albums, radio and television stations worldwide.