Production is in the Ear of the Listener

Like many artists, I often try and take an objective look at or listen to what I do. In this case my music. Somedays I think it sounds pretty good and spiffy, other days I listen and it all sounds like crap. Before I go further, I'd just like to say that the things that do give me pause are things which I can change. As a result, my actual songs are never up for debate in my own mind. My songs and writing style are a part of me and can't be changed. For me to write something (like an "oh baby baby" love song) which I didn't feel was an actual extension of myself would feel… wrong. Yes, the cliche is strong with me, I can only be true to myself when it comes to my writing. However, the recorded production style is a different matter.

I've always liked the idea of keeping control of my own art and as a result I've always recorded on my own terms with my own home equipment. My recordings since 2006 were recorded with a stand alone Korg D1600 mkii 16 track recorder. Sure it's no Protools or Cubase, but it does the job pretty well. Of course, like any technology, there are advances and since 2006, computer based recording systems have gotten better and better with more and more features. In addition, styles change and over the past 10 years there has been a steady increase in production fixes on recordings of every genre. It doesn't appear to be good enough that one is able to punch in a short phrase of music to get the perfect take. In fact it may not matter any more. If the timing is off a bit, no worries we can fix it by quantizing. If the vocalists pitch is off a bit, we can use auto tune it so it's in tune. All in all, the musician is having to do less work and the production is picking up the slack. On top of this we have the loudness wars (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loudness_war) where the loudest music seems to be getting the most value. If it was just loud, it wouldn't be so bad, but these volume levels are at the expense of any dynamics originally played or sung by the musicians. We are moving further away from any spirit of the musician or performer and more into the realm of automated and un-natural perfection.
As you can imagine, when I compare my recordings to anything recorded in at least the past 10 or 15 years, there is a noticeable difference. In most cases, any mention at all about my production is usually described as either being "retro" or "dated". Ironically, the thing which made me write this blog or blab is due to me listening to one of the most whacked out Prog bands ever, King Crimson. I came across their album Discipline on Youtube and started listening to it. While I wasn't too fond of the music (very very busy to my ears), I was surprised at how dynamic, how edgy, how live it sounded. After listening to a few songs, I switched over to my iTunes and took a listen to one of my own songs for comparison and realized that my stuff was on par production wise. No quantize, no auto tuned vocals, and lots of dynamics. So, it really is all about context.
So in this context, I guess I feel pretty good about the production and recording of my own songs. Now if only I could write that love song. Everyone loves a love song.

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