THE REAL GIG: A MUSICIAN'S GUIDE TO THE UNIVERSE(01/29/2016)



ART AND ARCHITECTURE (aka "THE DOOR")

  
As any musician or artist will tell you, you go through stages in your creative life. Usually they aren’t preconceived. They just happen over time. To use the hugest of examples, listen to The Beatles 1962 vs. The Beatles 1967. Even George Martin himself said he had no inclination that those boys could even write well, let alone become the trailblazers they became. 

Robert Plant has said that Led Zeppelin’s albums were really just a snapshot of where they were at any particular time. 

It seems like some of these albums came from outer space. But really they were just  a reflection of the artist’s headspace and environment at any given time period. Be that good or exceeding awful. 

If you knew the situation, you would understand the music….. 

It happens on all levels. It happens to me. I go through periods of wanting to do really layered and thick recordings with lots of overdubs and edits, to the other extreme of “Screw it……. Let’s record live”. 

These days I’m leaning towards the latter. That will probably change at some point. 

In modern music production, the quest for perfection is rampant. Why do people do that? Because they can. Put everything on a grid and edit, clip, and tune every instrument until it lines up perfectly in all respects. I know from experience that once you go down that rabbit hole it’s hard to get out. The smallest anomaly bugs the living shit out of you. It has to be fixed. You don’t want to be the guy who was too lazy or untalented to see that the background vocal in the bridge is +1 cent sharp!! What would your colleagues say?  If you don’t fix it, you are compromising the project. 

But are you? Really? That’s like making a movie with the continuity and fact checker dweebs in the front of your mind. It will drive you bat shit crazy. You lose the plot.
 
I think it is a simple argument between art and architecture. Architecture needs a high level of exactitude or the building won’t stand. There are blueprints and plans and time tested designs that have been honed and perfected over the years. You are bending nature and the physical world to your will. And your will is following a grid. 

Art is a little different. There are genres, styles, scales, forms, etc. But the details are up to you.   You make them up as you go along. Acting and reacting in sequence. No grid. There are happy accidents and imperfections. That is a part of its charm. The beginning sound of Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog" was actually the end of another piece that was accidentally erased. Michelangelo's David was carved out of a supposedly ruined piece of marble.

I’m not going to say which way is best. I don’t know. But I think at the end of the day what you are looking to do is make a connection with someone. There has to be a humanity to things. You can build an apartment building, measuring every step of the way within a 16th of an inch. But eventually someone is going to have to move in. And chances are they are not going to decorate the place with a micrometer. If they do, they most certainly need medication. 

Art and Architecture. 

Conversely, if the building falls down, who gives a shit about the crown moulding? 

The problem is, one bad review rings 500 times louder in a musician’s ears than 10,000 good ones. So you obsess.  But making music to silence critics is one of the worst ideas ever. Welcome to the rabbit hole. 

The author Saul Bellow once said “Works of art are never finished, they are abandoned.” So how do you learn when to say when? How much is enough? 

There is a land beyond the notes. A land beyond music theory and software. A land beyond critics and hipsters.  A door behind the edit screen and the club stage.
You can’t force your way in. Every once in a while the door just opens and you walk through. Queen got in working on “Bohemian Rhaopsody” for months and months. The Ramones got in in an afternoon. It’s a primal place and it likes who it likes. You just never know. 

I see these snobby musicians online posting that Adele can’t sing. For the record, I think Adele can sing. But whether you agree or not, you can’t deny that she got through that door. She connected. And that’s hard as hell to do. 

Every city is full of people who know the rules and can execute them. But not everyone can connect. If you are playing the averages, almost no one can. Pretty much all of us could make a sandwich better than a Big Mac. But none of us could create a brand like McDonalds. 

It’s called the X Factor. And the pros were calling it that long before the TV show. That intangible something that makes everyone turn around. If record companies and concert promoters knew how to manufacture the X Factor, Axl Rose would be selling shoes by now. 

It’s not just about the money or the quality. You can make someone aware of something with money…… but it won’t last long with that alone. You can impress someone with your knowledge, abilities, and the technical prowess of what you do. But you will not reach their heart. 

Bruce Springsteen spent two weeks of studio time testing drum heads on the Born To Run sessions. Not recording, testing different drum heads! Now, in recent albums, his band records live. Both techniques have yielded magical results. 

But either way, Bruce always has something inspiring to say. And his boys always make a righteous noise. 

And the door likes that. 
  
  
  
  
  

3 comments

  • Joel Stover

    Joel Stover Mifflinburg

    Great artical! That's why I prefer music from the 70's and early 80's. For me, knowing they actually played that, or sang that makes music more pure. I also like hearing the 1 cent off stuff....gives it a human characteristic that a lot of modern music doesnt have....thanks for your insight Bret...

    Great artical! That's why I prefer music from the 70's and early 80's. For me, knowing they actually played that, or sang that makes music more pure. I also like hearing the 1 cent off stuff....gives it a human characteristic that a lot of modern music doesnt have....thanks for your insight Bret...

  • Mike D.

    Mike D. Silver Spring, MD

    I don't actually know the answer. All I can maybe do is describe a pathway that might emerge... I believe that people respond to authenticity and passion; things that I believe to be missing from many of the dwindling "BIG" musical acts these days. You're going to get the greatest shot of authenticity and passion from frisson-inducing live acts, not from re-fried recordings, no matter how technically perfect. I recently saw some friends in a live show in Wilkes-Barre, and they did a live version of a song they had recorded together a couple of years ago, and their live rendition was 50 times better than the original recording, warts and all. I'm tired of elevator music, I'm tired of Classic Rock, so much of what plays today is total packaged idiocy. I think (or maybe just want to believe) that people will increasingly move back toward live local original acts--in the way that they might decide to support minor league teams over the infantile gorillas of the NFL, for instance. I will leave you with a paraphrase of a note from John Adams to Abigail Adams in the darkest hours of the Revolutionary War: "I cannot promise you that we will win; perhaps the best we can do is DESERVE to win."

    I don't actually know the answer. All I can maybe do is describe a pathway that might emerge... I believe that people respond to authenticity and passion; things that I believe to be missing from many of the dwindling "BIG" musical acts these days. You're going to get the greatest shot of authenticity and passion from frisson-inducing live acts, not from re-fried recordings, no matter how technically perfect. I recently saw some friends in a live show in Wilkes-Barre, and they did a live version of a song they had recorded together a couple of years ago, and their live rendition was 50 times better than the original recording, warts and all. I'm tired of elevator music, I'm tired of Classic Rock, so much of what plays today is total packaged idiocy. I think (or maybe just want to believe) that people will increasingly move back toward live local original acts--in the way that they might decide to support minor league teams over the infantile gorillas of the NFL, for instance.
    I will leave you with a paraphrase of a note from John Adams to Abigail Adams in the darkest hours of the Revolutionary War: "I cannot promise you that we will win; perhaps the best we can do is DESERVE to win."

  • Pat Long

    Pat Long Selinsgrove

    There are people who's minds continually analyze the past the predict the likely future. These people make great CEOs, ship's captains and architects, etc. Their plans work out. They finish their complex projects (albums, scores, building) but they may be "distant" and perhaps not-so connected to the moment. Then there are people who live absolutely in the present. These are the great performers, athletes and warriors. They intuitively understand some essential essence, but often screw things up long-term. The great creative artists somehow walk the line. Maybe they switch back and forth? In one moment they are planners and analyzers and in the next they feel things deeply. Or maybe they felt things deeply in the past and are able to recall that and use it in the service of a project. It's a mystery worthy of contemplation.

    There are people who's minds continually analyze the past the predict the likely future. These people make great CEOs, ship's captains and architects, etc. Their plans work out. They finish their complex projects (albums, scores, building) but they may be "distant" and perhaps not-so connected to the moment. Then there are people who live absolutely in the present. These are the great performers, athletes and warriors. They intuitively understand some essential essence, but often screw things up long-term. The great creative artists somehow walk the line. Maybe they switch back and forth? In one moment they are planners and analyzers and in the next they feel things deeply. Or maybe they felt things deeply in the past and are able to recall that and use it in the service of a project. It's a mystery worthy of contemplation.

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