Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Where Have All The Talented Artists Gone?

The other night I forced myself to watch the MTV VMAs.  Now I know what some of you might be thinking... What is MTV? What is a "music video"? Why would you do that to yourself?  Well I don't know what MTV is anymore, I didn't know anyone knew music videos still existed, and I don't know what made me actually sit through the almost two and a half hours of the "awards".  I did, however, learn quite a bit from watching the show.

I learned quite a bit about what the majority of the culture thinks about music as an art and what they think talent really is.  The majority of performers, groups, bands, "artists", or whatever you want to call them make me sick.  What happened to the days where artists actually CREATED their art?  Now we've become so complacent with what we get we don't even care if the person actually had a hand in crafting it or even perform it!  What we get is a bunch of bullshit thrown together that, by the end of the musical process, might not even be real.  Now I'm not an expert on pop radio, but I would venture to guess that almost 90% of the songs on pop radio don't have elements or instruments that people would say are "actual" musical instruments.  What we get is garbled samples that some other musician tolled over to make a great song or some electronic mess that is made to fake the sound of a real instrument.  Let's not forget that we then get auto-tuned vocals with so much studio magic put on them that we can't even tell if they are vocals to begin with.  Now don't get me wrong.  I like sampled hip-hop music and electronic music.  There is a place in music for electronic instruments, samples, and auto-tuning, but to get complete products by "artists" out there today full of this is complete crap.

The VMAs also saw Britney Spears get the Michael Jackson Lifetime Achievement Award.  Now before you think that is a joke it gets better.  Before giving the award out we saw a dance tribute for Brit Brit that was all pubescent girls in skimpy clothes doing her dance moves from all her videos.  So I guess the punchline was that we got little girls, in skimpy clothes, dancing for a woman who has always been criticized for being to sexy as an influence to little girls before she gets a lifetime achievement award named after an alleged child molester... ANYWAY... I am still amazed that anyone can think Brit Brit is an amazing "artist" and pays money to see her live.  She openly admitted that she would be lip-syncing on tour!  Why would anyone pay money to see someone stand on stage and pretend to sing when they could either sit at home and do the same or pay money to see someone ACTUALLY PERFORM THEIR SONGS!

The masses accept so much of what's fed to them that it makes my head spin.  Apparently it's okay to make fun of Rebecca Black (don't worry, I think it is HILARIOUS) but when a record label feeds us Kreayshawn people lap it up and think she's amazing and blow up her video to over 14 million views.  You want me to believe that pale little girl totes guns, steals cars, and smokes weed like a fiend?  IT'S SO FAKE!!!  She's just as fake as wanting me to believe that Chris Brown was singing during his "dance" performance, too.  At least Jay-Z and Kanye performed, but the "real excitement" they were showing just didn't feel real to me... it was BORING.  Lil' Wayne even got involved as his closer to the show saw him using live auto-tuned vocals (or he got an auto-tune implant in his throat so he sounds like that all the time) and even had him pick up a guitar, play some chords, then smash it... however I still don't remember hearing any live guitar.  It is disheartening to see these "artists" get this kind of exposure when others who are truly working, crafting, and perfecting their art get thrown to the curb.  However, there were some bright moments during the show.

I don't know anything about her music, what it sounds like, or how she normally performs, but Jessie J gets props from me.  She was the only one performing all night.  While it wasn't all that long on air, she performed with a live band every time MTV cut to commercial and wasn't auto-tuned... I even heard some rough, sour notes!  Now that's not good, but at least she was REAL ABOUT IT and couldn't hide behind some auto-tuned bullshit.  We also saw a hip-hop artist named Tyler, The Creator win an award for his video for Yonkers that's gotten some media attention.  While his hip-hop might not be everyone's cup of tea, he has been working at it pretty damn hard and he doesn't use all sampled beats.  They're simple, dark, dirty and grimy and he brings his vocals hard and real.  Perhaps some of the best performances of the night would go to Bruno Mars, Beyonce, and Adele.  While I'm not a massive Bruno Mars fan, he performed with Amy Winehouse's live band and sang one of her songs as a tribute; no auto-tune, no sampling, no electronics.  After announcing that she's pregnant earlier that night, Beyonce gets on stage, dances around, and belts out a song without having to lip-sync her way through it... then shows her "baby bump".  Adele got up on the stage with just a piano and belted out a song that was real, meaningful, and passionate.  THEY WERE REAL.  I even had to ask myself why Adele would lower herself to performing at such an event, but I'm glad I got to see someone on that stage perform with some heart and integrity.

All in all I think my beef is the fact that people today lap up whatever is presented to them and that is part of the problem.  So few people actually take the time to look for quality and real art in music and now it is the easiest time to do it.  Don't just accept what you're handed; you have to dig deeper and find the art and meaning behind the music and get the quality we all deserve when the labels and "musicians" want us to fork over our hard earned money for their product.  If the minority can influence the majority at all, there would have to be a change in what we are given.  We have to make the majority demand something more than the pills we're being forced to swallow.  It won't take a day, a week, or even a year.  It will take some time for there to be change, but until people can wake up and realize they're being handed meaningless "art" that has no substance at a poor quality true lovers of the art of music will suffer with what is being presented to the masses.  I've lived in the underground so long that I've dug in, but I'm getting tired of it.  Let's try to make a change.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Which one of these doesn't belong

It has become more apparent to me how important all aspects of your drum mix are when it comes to cohesion. You can have the best kick drum sound in the world, followed by killer, punchy toms, trailed by sweet, crisp overheads, but if your snare sounds flat and lifeless, the whole drum mix suffers. As we are all aware, in metal, the two most critical drum elements are the kick and snare; if one falls short, the other will follow.

I was having just this problem. I had a great kick drum I was consistently happy with, however, I couldn't get the snare to fit the music. Not even having 5 inserts, EQ, 2 reverbs, and parallel bus compression could make this snare sounds like it belongs; and that is KEY word - belong. When I soloed the snare it sounded fantastic, alittle cut on the EQ here, a limiting amp for snap, and a touch of reverb to round it out, but as soon as the solo was taken off, it was like the song fell apart. I tried every combination of plugins, reverbs and EQ, but to no avail. Again, it wasn't that the snare sounded bad in its own right, it just didnt fit the overall mix and vision for the band.

So I did what any good engineer or musician would do; got up and walked away. I came back a few hours later and decided to start over. So I went back to the sample we made of the drummers snare (used so there is no cymbal bleed), and thats when I realized you can't make something sound like something it is not. The band wanted a deep snare with body, and the sample I had was of a ringing snare with mostly top end. So I could only take that sample so far. I re-opened the track and popped in another snare sample for fun, and the song came back to life.

So thank you drumagog for saving me and my mix. I was finding it hard to mix anything else when the drums didn't sound together. It was like a roadblock. So after a frustrating evening, we are back on track!

On a side note, I will keep that snare sample in my back pocket for future use!