Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Just Get The Job Done

"Just get the job done." The sentiment is one that one might express in frustration toward a hire who's presented his still uncompleted work as “done”, with nothing but rationalizations and excuses for the unsatisfactory job. The former has been my shared opinion of the state of music today. I have picked on Smooth Jazz and Hip Hop as the culprits. But maybe…just maybe the Digital Audio Workstation is more culpable.

If a child pulls a pot-handle suspended above the edge of a hot stove, or shows up at school with his father’s pistol, we eventually place the blame on the guardians. Such dangerous items should be kept out of the reach of children. Humorist Dick Gregory once said that the way we judge crime is based on money: If an old woman is killed and all the home invaders get from her is a dollar and change, it will be said, "That's a shame; they killed that old woman over a buck-fifty.” If the same woman is keeping her life savings in her mattress, and the crooks haul in twenty-thousand dollars cash, people will say, "It's all her fault; she didn't have no business keeping that much money in her house anyway."  So why don't we blame the manufacturers? …for the same reason you don't sue Chevy for damages from a drunk driver's accident: the consequences were unforeseeable.

When David Smith and his cohorts developed the MIDI protocol, they couldn't have imagined that would mark the beginning of the end for commercial studios.
I was one of the first to use MIDI as an alternative to expensive “then” conventional commercial studios. But in 1983, it was all about demos and pre-production. What we offered was a sequencing service that could create demos that, if the song was good enough to take to the next level, could be transferred to twenty-four track 2" multitrack tape where some of the parts might be re-laid by live musicians or at least processed and pre-mastered by a commercial studio musician. With the limitation of early eighties analog synths, any production calling for realistic live instruments had to be played over by real live players. …drums, bass, horns, for example.

As digital samplers and sample-playback keyboards/modules became more affordable and even more realistic, production monies drifted away from commercial studios and toward music stores. Label-funded studio budgets became equipment funds and artists' basements, bedrooms, and living rooms became studios, while studios became painfully open for business until so very many of them closed. When grandpa MIDI passed the keys on to father DAW in the nineties, it was technologically suggested/expected/insisted that the job of a producer/artist/songwriter was to be audio engineer and studio owner. By the time DAW, Jr. matured in the new millennium and Dad DAW handed him the family business, there were very few studios around even as professional alternatives. Nowadays in fact, there are too few of the professional-grade professionals in MOST studios to finish the process.

So what have we done? We've put the job of piloting commercial music in the mostly incapable hands of the passengers. What's the quick fix? See the emperor's fine new clothes. What has happened is demos are called masters and consumers have grown to accept it as masterful, while collections full of masters are dismissed as old fashioned. When you get past the loops and quick beats, a lot of Hip Hop and Smooth Jazz (and even some Electro-Pop) has great potential. If certain DAW production products were given to excellent musicians to play and talented singers rather than auto-tune warblers, some really good recordings might possibly be the long awaited result. Think: Roots. The reverse was exhibited in the production results of Stevie Wonder's "Conversation Peace" album—an unsatisfactory work from which his career never fully recovered.

The DAW has its assignment, and in most cases it is not to enable one-man-bandsmanship.  Now it's sadly so much just about money. Money never shares the love. We have the tools at hand to create some the best music ever heard. If we do, we can rekindle love in the marriage of art and popular music. The final cut decision has to be wrested from blinding/deafening egos. Our job as music makers and music consumers is to settle for nothing but the best (as often as we can). Take your DAW, and let's get the job done.


Mark Drummond Creative said...

Even while(embarassedly) finding some of my own productions devolved into the "loop-de-loop layering with a smattering of live guitar" genre, I have to heartily concur. Lately I've been listening to demos and more completely realized productions I did in the 80s and 90s, and was taken aback at how much more depth, width, and life they contained, even with their many imperfections. I'm gonna jump on this bandwagon and recommit to investing more of my creative soul into my DAW productions....more playing than editing, calling on my colleagues more often to re-interpret the "sketch" tracks of instruments I don't play, and get back to the sense of wide-eyed (and wild-eyed, too!) wonder of music making, rather than producing. Awesomely accurate take on today's musical malaise, Sid!

Tiren Jhames said...

I record live
to 28 tracks....
i am.

SIDney Howard said...

Thanks, Mark...you are, Tiren.