Friday, January 06, 2012

Re-doing things part 2

We aren't just re-doing the living room.

I've noticed lately that Tim is on the cusp of a music revolution.

It's not all that new--he's been developing it for 10 years. But he's just right on the verge of going over the cliff now, and it's kind of exciting.

What we both noticed is that invariably, a cappella music, both recorded and live, is mixed as solo vocals with background vocals. This makes sense at first glance because all the music is being produced vocally.

But it doesn't leave the finished product with a deeply satisfying sound. It sounds rather vapid, bloodless and soulless (although harmonic). Even when a cappella groups cover dance songs, they never make you want to get up and move. They're just kind of there, being a cute novelty.

Two days ago, Tim sat me down in front of his great studio speakers and said, "Listen," and he began to play songs for me, starting with one by Nine Inch Nails (who I've never listened to ever before. Ever.). We went through a few songs--NIN, the Killers, a couple of rock groups with Eastern European folk influences, Midnight Oil, and more--and I started to hear what Tim was hearing. In the mixing of these rock songs, instruments are not treated the same way as vocals. Especially in rock music (not as much in Pop, especially since modern boy bands came along 20 years ago) instruments are pushed way more forward in the mix than background vocals, so that they are almost competing with the lead vocals (but not quite). Rock is mixed more like live orchestral music or live big band music--every part makes an equal sound to every other part, with the lead or solo line being pushed front and center, but not by too much.

I've been telling Tim that I wanted his recordings and live performances to not hold back, and to have an edge that they have been almost hitting but not quite, and when I listened to all the rock music, I understood what was missing: the background vocals needed to be mixed like instruments, treated like instruments, and given the musical status of instruments, not of background singers. The instruments are core, essential parts of the music. The background singers in most songs are color.  Can you imagine if they put the drums, bass, and guitar into a rock song in a sort of secondary role? The songs would be vapid, bloodless, and soulless.

Just like a cappella is 99% of the time, especially in recording.

And with technology the way it is now, there is no excuse for this.

Tim doesn't want to go from doing things all vocal to fronting a band. There is a sound quality that voices produce--even heavily effected voices--that is unique. You wouldn't want to substitute a tuba in for an electric bass, right? It's just a different sound, even if they can hit the same notes. Same with voices for Tim.  But he wants the voices colored and mixed and "placed" right in the performances and recordings.

Interestingly, one of his good friends stopped by this week with a new toy--a super-cool mega effects pedal. When they were playing with it, I was upstairs and couldn't tell if they had turned on a professional music track or if they were looping. It sounded AWESOME. And the new effects pedal pushed everything into that realm that Tim was looking to reach. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, it's an instrument effects pedal, not a voice effects pedal.

Tim's friend, Matt, pretty  much summed it up. He told Tim, "I don't want to sound like a voice anymore."

So the revolution has begun.

And I predict that very soon people will no longer try to class Tim with the singer-songwriters at events, and nobody will ever again try to put him in a little cafe in the corner at festivals...any more than you would put the Killers there.

Tim is finally defining his sound, and I think it's going to surprise you. In a good way.

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