Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word

Has our cordial approach of "soft" critiquing help lead to the degradation of music? The Bernie Taupin lyric starts:

What have I got to do to make you love me?
What have I got to do to make you care?

Then a little later it reads…

What do I say when it's all over?
And sorry seems to be the hardest word?

While the overall narrative along with the singer setting suggests that it is indeed a "love" song of sorts, the words paint a vivid and accurate picture of the awkward place many of us find ourselves when asked our opinion of a far less talented colleague's music offering. Here's my most common scenario:

I play a piece that I've finished and of which I am most proud for someone who has a love for music—like mine. The song finishes and a grin reflects their awe and full appreciation of my artistic accomplishment—like mine, again. Then comes the dreaded response. "Hey. I have something of mine I'd like to let you hear." I play it, hoping for the best. It's nowhere close to the best. Now comes the dreaded question: "Well? What do you think?" What do you say. Fortunately, they haven't asked for my 'honest opinion'—"Oh…and give me your honest opinion." I jinxed it. Again, what do you do? When was the last time you told a friend, family member, or acquaintance that their music, presented to you for your (maybe not) honest opinion, was honestly just mediocre at best? Perhaps the music profession needs one of those common "…professional. Please do not attempt" disclaimer captions. I even saw one used in a Vitamin Water commercial, at the point where a dancer was doing "the worm" Hip Hop dance move.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Ana Digs It

"Ana Digs It", if memory serves, was the pun-ny name given to an analog-to-digital device released sometime in the late 80’s or early 90’s. Nowadays, it would seem that everyone digs Ana–if you know what I mean. On second thought, perhaps you don't.

What is it that captures the imagination so—when the topic of digital vs. analog comes up in techie to quasi techie conversations? Is it just imagined, the hind-sighted 20/20 aural visions of a better sound?

Some will tell you that analog is warmer, while–they say–digital is bright and harsh. I can tell you, I have heard too bright and very harsh analog. When Rufus Harris and I (google him) worked together at Motown songwriter Sylvia Moy's (google her. hint: "My Cherie Amor") Masterpiece Studios in Detroit, there was a certain engineer in training there who would record and mix at deafening levels. As the session wore on, the engineer's perception of highs waned and the situation was "remedied" by this person raising the highs to subsidize the dullness. Rufus told me how he walked in mid-morning to take over the room for his upcoming session. "Captain Ultrabrite" was just finishing, and asked Rufus his opinion of the mix. I don't remember him telling me how he answered, but I do remember him telling me how overbearingly bright and unpleasant it sounded.

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.