I have this new website, perfect for letting all interested parties know what kind of music I create and a little about who I am and what I do. That’s great, it’s just what I needed, but I can also publish regular posts and updates in blog format, and that gives me the opportunity explore this space for purposes beyond the initial targets of the website as needed for showcasing my music. I intend to take advantage of this opportunity to dig into the craft from an academic perspective and share my voice in the community of creators. My vision is that those who are interested in the process of music composition and production will find these posts interesting and valuable. Topics will range from music theory, arrangement, orchestration, instrumentation, electronic audio mixing and recording, to dramatic effect and emotional responses to music.
On Theory and Notation
My first passion is the music, the notes, the sounds, the melodies and harmonies. I developed a keen interest in the mechanics of notation and chord structure starting in my youth and I encourage musicians to learn the “rules” of music theory, learn it well but not so well that you live and die by the rules. The ultimate rule above all is to use your ear and your heart; if your ear is telling you something contrary to a rule then by all means disregard the rule and listen to your ear. After all, the rules were just created based on what sounded good to the ears of masters who preceded us. The rules and conventions have merit, of course, and I have much respect for them, but I regard the formal definitions and vocabulary of music theory not as an eternal law but as a tool of convenience for helping us create, preserve, and share musical ideas.
The traditional system of tone classification, harmonization, and notation is an excellent one. The fact that we can represent the pitches and rhythms of works of a wide range of complexity on a concise staff of 5 lines that can be read, played, and understood worldwide by instrumentalists and vocalists of all different types is a wonderfully beautiful thing. As a musician, you should embrace that and know that by learning the formalities of theory and notation, you open yourself up to be able to play a more connected part in the history of humanity that is found within music. The ideas of theory and notation have evolved a lot over history into the very efficient system that we have today, it would be a shame to toss it out the window.
Of course you can be an excellent storyteller and be illiterate, but given the option wouldn’t you also prefer to learn to read and thus be able to appreciate a wider range of art and expression? Your own storytelling would likely benefit too. This analogy is naturally applicable to music and I’m sure it’s clear the point I intend to convey. I will add though that there have been master musicians who play solely by ear and haven’t been able to tell you a C sharp from a B flat by name, this in no way diminishes their achievements, but given the choice, it’s always a good thing to learn the “rules”. You can then reap the benefits available and when the time is right you can surely also learn to break the rules so you needn’t fear that your education will constrict you.
On Gear and Technology
Oh how we love our gear, almost every musician I know gets some childlike excitement out of trying out new instruments or the prospect of adding instruments to their collection and learning the features and benefits of all the various types. While I do love a good guitar, I don’t lose sleep over whether someone is using a Stratocaster or a Les Paul. I’d much rather spend my time picking apart a chord progression than doing A/B comparisons of amps and distortion pedals all day. But tone is important and there is a time and place to get very particular about it and the gear that helps you achieve that tone. I tend to stick to the vintage and classic tools of the trade for the most part; I feel that there is a real relatable quality to those dusty old sounds. On an emotional level I can really get into a track where you can hear the sound of the room and little squeaks and things that some may consider imperfections as compared to the sterile sound of an all digital track that is synched to a click and processed to exactness. So in a way I suppose I am rather particular about gear and tone.
Among the considerations of a modern artist beyond the music itself is the necessity to record your art in a distributable form and in the current setting that is to say a digital format. For a musician today, acquiring at least a basic level of proficiency at audio engineering is almost imperative. You need to be comfortable recording and editing with the apps, digital audio workstations, otherwise known as multitrack recording software. It doesn’t need to take up all your time and attention but take the time necessary as an initial investment to get up to speed here and as you go forward utilizing these skills on a regular basis you will be rewarded.
Finding ways you can take time saving shortcuts with the aid of digital technology is a great way to boost productivity especially when you don’t have to sacrifice any quality. There are a lot of ways that digital technology has made things easier and better for us, one of the biggest benefits is that you can create a professional level studio setup at a modest cost. There will always be more items you can add to your studio that have large price tags but you can definitely start out with a small budget and get great sounding results if you work realistically with the resources available to you.
I have a warning for you regarding digital audio recording: Beware of overdoing it, yes you may have hundreds of plug-ins at your fingertips, you don’t need to use them all! How can we manage having so many options? It’s difficult, there is data that shows that having more options is not always a good thing for the human psyche. Having a few good options is great, but if we have hundreds of reverb options (not a hypothetical situation) then do we have to try them all out on every track we work on to find the best one? I don’t think that activity is even humanly possible, our ears and minds would fatigue to the point that we couldn’t make a sensible decision. My approach is to find a handful of good ones that work for a lot of situations and just stick with those for 90% of what you do. If you try 5 or 6 and find one that sounds great then use it and save that setting for next time. There will probably be a voice in your head that says “but you haven’t heard the other 300 settings! you must try them all!” but don’t listen to this voice. You will never finish your project if you get caught up like that. If something comes up that requires a unique sound then you can spend extra time in those rare instances tweaking every knob but there are a lot of reverb presets in my toolkit that I have still never tried even after making hundreds of recordings.
If my primary goal was to be an audio engineer or producer then I would allow more time to fully explore the nuances of all the bells and whistles of the tracking and processing gear but I am first a composer, and a musician, and second a producer. For me being a producer and recording engineer is a means to an end, the goal being getting a great sounding recording of the music. I still hold myself to a high standard for audio quality but as long as I have met that goal, I move forward with creating new music instead of listening to that voice that would have me spend my time comparing between many passable options. You must define your priorities and determine the correct balance for yourself to achieve your specific goals.
In writing an overview of the scope of what this blog is about I’m seeing that there is a lot to talk about. I’ll dive into specific topics in detail and I’m sure new things will come up that interest me as related to writing and creating music. I’m excited to share my thoughts, procedures and philosophies; I don’t imagine this will cause any big waves but maybe someone out there will get something from it. You can let me know if so, but it’s a good exercise for me regardless.