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The Importance of Musicality
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Storyville
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1st March 2012
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The Importance of Musicality

So, my production team and I entered the iStandard NY competition last night. And I noticed something interesting.

The judges were listening to the music from behind the speakers.

It got me thinking how you never really know what circumstances people are going to be listening. So for everyone trying to have the biggest kicks and snares, and the loudest mixes, it's really not about that. What good does having a bangin' kick do if the people listening aren't even in front of the speakers?

Obviously having a great mix helps - a lot. Because one ends up sounding the least bad to the people who are sitting exactly where they shouldn't be.

But what the judges really attached to was the musicality. Keeping it interesting and exciting from point a to point z. And I think that lacks a little. There was a production duo that had AMAZING drums. Like some of the best drums I've heard on any level. I was wowed by just the clarity, the knock, the loudness of those drums - insane. Didn't even place top three.

The people who won had three things in common. (1) The music was exciting on an emotional level - and actually one of the dudes was pretty down tempo, so it wasn't just hard hitting stuff. (2) The music was easily identifiable as "theirs". (3) You could picture the music with vocals, generally from a particular artist or type of artist.

Style was also a big part of it. The first person who went up was really really good. The judges all said the same thing - sounds exactly like what's hot today, and what's on the radio. But unfortunately, it sounds exactly like what's hot and what's on the radio. That dude will probably win the next one because his foundation was super strong. But stylistically he was too in the pocket. In the pocket is good, but dead center in the pocket isn't.


Definitely an interesting case study.
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1st March 2012
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I just erased several paragraphs of insightful thoughts on this topic, but deleted it. I'm not being sarcastic. I didn't want to seem like I was ranting when I wasn't. Why were the judges not facing the speakers during music competition?!

Orchestration, style, melodies will always leave more of impression on listeners. In my opinion anyway.
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1st March 2012
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Appreciate you sharing storyville. Its always good to get a reminder that the musical idea is the most important thing.
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1st March 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Phizal View Post
I just erased several paragraphs of insightful thoughts on this topic, but deleted it. I'm not being sarcastic. I didn't want to seem like I was ranting when I wasn't. Why were the judges not facing the speakers during music competition?!

Orchestration, style, melodies will always leave more of impression on listeners. In my opinion anyway.
You know, it wasn't so much that the judges were behind the speakers that bugged me. The judges aren't dumb, they know they're not listening from the best spot, so they know how to listen. I felt bad for the producers. They listen to everyone else's stuff in front of the speakers - but for their stuff they get on stage which is behind the speakers. Suddenly all the high end drops off from their vantage point :(
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2nd March 2012
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Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't judgement at those events depend on crowd reaction? And you sell your own tickets, right? Maybe I'm mistaken...
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2nd March 2012
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Originally Posted by Studio507 View Post
Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't judgement at those events depend on crowd reaction? And you sell your own tickets, right? Maybe I'm mistaken...
Judgement is left exclusively to the judges - crowd reaction has nothing to do with the scoring. At least in the iStandard competition. I don't know if people sell their own tickets. I didn't pay to get in, so I have no clue.
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2nd March 2012
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Sometimes I lose sight of things.

I start to think about gear more than I think about actual music... I start to get lost in big elaborate, indulgent productions...

And then I think about Daniel Johnston and his boombox, and I remember what's important.
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2nd March 2012
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Composition, arrangement, songwriting, and performance will always be king, imo.

Gear/technology is important too, but I'd put those 4 on my mount rushmore of music importance first.

Nice to hear the judges at a competition like that recognizing it. Could mean there's a shift happening in music, where a&r's no longer want a 1-2 note synth melody with an 808 under it. Adele winning all the grammy's probably has something to do with it too.
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3rd March 2012
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Hey, thanks for the great insight Matt.

P.S. I thought so! (the dead centre in the pocket thing)

Cheers
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3rd March 2012
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interesting point of view. i also think musicality should still be the most important factor when making "music", "beats" whatever...

on the other side, i dont understand why modern urban music gets more and more minimal. Look at Tyga "Rack City", this one has one melodic instrument which plays 3 tones, not to be hating it at all, but this song could have been a lot bigger if there would come some more synths/stabs/pads/orchestration in the hooks/at the end.

Just listened to the new Nicki Minaj "Roman Reloaded" and this song has no harmonics AT ALL! I just dont get it why one producer denies using some catchy melodies and instrumenation nowadays.

We have more sounds and opportunities than ever before and the music on the radio is all about drums which are 808 sounds anyways...

i am not hating, i like a lot of modern music and 808 drums but i still like when there musically happens somewhat in songs. The more i was surprised by the tyga album, he really has some great songs on it. From a musical point of view
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3rd March 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LimpyLoo View Post

And then I think about Daniel Johnston and his boombox, and I remember what's important.
I love Daniel Johnston.A true Inspiration. Got 3 of his albums. Its amazing how something so simple can be so beautiful. I guess its easy to loose sight of simplicity and all its virtues sometimes. I think your right to bear people like him in mind when youve got 4o+ tracks open and your considering adding another layer of synth. lol Less is more!!! Its the notes you dont play that make music great. Its knowing what not to do. And When not to do it. Hendrix for example used to go into his 10 minute solos. And they were great. Dont get me wrong as a guitar player his solos were off the scale every time. A great and impressive demonstration of his ability with a guitar. But in terms of great songs and what stands out as good music,.. its the ones where the producer held him back and cut down his solos which stand the test of time and stand out as good tracks. All along the Watchtower and Hey Joe are a good example of this.
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10th March 2012
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The funny thing is, those producers with the banging drums will probably draw more artists and therefore placements than the downtempo guy. I did the iStandard showcase and to be honest it has more to do with the judges personal taste or what they are looking for. I had a rockish and a pop track that I played that didn't get a lot of love there but literally everyone I played it for before and after, friends, family, strangers, whoever, loved both those tracks. That's my gripe with producer contest/showcases. They really don't matter because a judge can tell you your music isn't mixed properly, lacks musicality, you didn't use the right pad, whatever. But if put an artist on it and it's a dope song that starts making some noise, they'll be trying to sign you.
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10th March 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by goddfodder View Post
I love Daniel Johnston.A true Inspiration. Got 3 of his albums. Its amazing how something so simple can be so beautiful. I guess its easy to loose sight of simplicity and all its virtues sometimes. I think your right to bear people like him in mind when youve got 4o+ tracks open and your considering adding another layer of synth. lol Less is more!!! Its the notes you dont play that make music great. Its knowing what not to do. And When not to do it. Hendrix for example used to go into his 10 minute solos. And they were great. Dont get me wrong as a guitar player his solos were off the scale every time. A great and impressive demonstration of his ability with a guitar. But in terms of great songs and what stands out as good music,.. its the ones where the producer held him back and cut down his solos which stand the test of time and stand out as good tracks. All along the Watchtower and Hey Joe are a good example of this.
Reading the first half of this post while listening to the song you posted was really inspirational
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10th March 2012
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Originally Posted by mp3 View Post
Appreciate you sharing storyville. Its always good to get a reminder that the musical idea is the most important thing.
or producers vision ie dre not the best musician but may be the pest producer
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10th March 2012
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I came in second at december's showcase, and I can say what did me in was mainly one judge's preference. He was a pop guy from g-unit, and I am not a pop guy, so he gave me the "ehh" while the other 2 offered some valid criticism but said my stuff was def good. The cats who won had straight up pitbull'ish beats with fully made hooks (not to mention they were a team of producers with a whole group of supporters wearing tees and whatnot), and I got thrown on stage first. Point is, there is more to it than just having good stuff. Just like all opportunities in the business, there's a definite time and place factor. The musicality is important, but who is interpreting your musicality is equally important in a competition like this.
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Originally Posted by BeatsWilsonian View Post
I came in second at december's showcase, and I can say what did me in was mainly one judge's preference. He was a pop guy from g-unit, and I am not a pop guy, so he gave me the "ehh" while the other 2 offered some valid criticism but said my stuff was def good. The cats who won had straight up pitbull'ish beats with fully made hooks (not to mention they were a team of producers with a whole group of supporters wearing tees and whatnot), and I got thrown on stage first. Point is, there is more to it than just having good stuff. Just like all opportunities in the business, there's a definite time and place factor. The musicality is important, but who is interpreting your musicality is equally important in a competition like this.
That was beast of the beats? With the yelawolf thing?
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To me, it's an interesting subject because I played music for a very long time but didn't really make hip hop until after I had a strong knowledge of classical music but didn't have a clue about creating music.

Secondly, I had listened to hip hop for close to a decade before ever thinking about making music of my own. Even as a listener, the melody was always way more appealing to me than the drums. My order of importance was the melody, then the rapping, then the bassline, then the hook, then the drums. That is quite opposite of how music is viewed in Hip Hip, both old but especially new music. My ear just happened to be tuned to that.


Once you start making your own music, you become much more critical about about the sound quality of your music. Once you start making music all the time, you may be spending more time mixing your music than creating it. At the same time, most develop a style which they improve upon, but rarely approach each song as trying to break the mold, there just is that shift when you know you make good music (you don't have to really think much about what you are doing) and you have time constraints.



I think it's great that music that was more captivating won. I may love a song more than a non artists that has incredibly good elements, even if the overall song is lacking elsewhere. On the flipside, a song that really just "hits me" on some personal level will always shine through a "perfect sounding" song.

Even though I, and most other on here are pretty entrenched in both the musical aspect of a song, and the technical aspects (quality of recording, mixing, etc), you know a song is great when you just think "that is dope" and your "production" side of your brain just isn't present at the moment you hear it. You may analyze the mix later, the drum patterns, the melody, etc, but it's later. For me, with a great song, I just don't do that at first.

With a good, average or below song, I am listening to it as a musician/engineer. A great song seems to transcend that and I am listening to it (atleast the first time) as a listener and my brain doesn't even want to analyze it.

That said, I still don't get why they didn't have a good listening position and the sonic qualities and mix are very important parts of music that should be heard and accounted for, but a captivating song is what we should all strive for.

Note-I am using song in the context of a fully recorded song, as well as a beat/instrumental.
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11th March 2012
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I remember the first time I heard Adele rolling in the deep. I wasn't into her at all but the second I heard that drum beat that goes with that track, I was like, that beat is just awesome (I love my beats). There was a touch of class about this track. I had to replay it just for that beat. N then a year later that same beat is at the grammy's. I know most people are into her singing but for me it was that beat. I knew it was a great track though.

I guess that's what you need, some aspect to pull you in. Whether it be the beat, or my mate is into his bass lines and he's always drawn to the big bass kinda sound. For others its lyrics or perhaps a fascination with the person who sings/raps those lyrics. A bit of star quality is definitely reason enough alone to make a song great through some peoples eyes. Occasionally its the production side of things. I'd say what makes a song great is basically a very personal thing. Its completely subjective and each and every individual will, if a song is great, very passionately believe in those aspects that suckered them in. Musicality is important, in my opinion, but there's a lot of people out there who are gonna love certain tracks, whether it be for the beat, the bass, or just the fact that they just love that performer. Whatever it is that pulls them in. There's no right or wrong answer.

It's a very unfortunate fact of life, for us people that make music, but unfortunately there's a lot of people out there who have poor taste. They wouldn't know a great song if it slapped them in the face. And unfortunately its partly up to them to decide what's great and what isn't. That's why so many great tracks are out there lost on the internet somewhere, whilst cheesy novelty type pop is storming the air waves. Its a bit of a lottery what gets out there and does well. There's a great amount of luck in what achieves greatness in the eyes of the majority. Whilst I'd like to believe that the cream always rises to the top, and talent plays a major part of what's gets to be considered good or not, I know that this is not always the case.
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11th March 2012
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@storyville yea, I think so. I really wasn't on top of what they were promoting to be honest, I submitted for the showcase like 5 days before. To be brutally honest with myself, the speakers at Webster hall truly exposed some of my mixing flaws, which I'm aware of since my mixdowns were all done in reason. But I guess that strengthens storyville's point, bc even with some mediocre mixes, I think my music was more "musical" than some of my peers. I've played guitar for half my life, so things like tuning, timing, and basic composition come pretty naturally at this point. If your bass or synth or whatever parts don't compliment your samples or other instruments, the best mix in the world won't make your beat memorable.
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11th March 2012
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Wouldn't have been Beast of the Beats then. You have to win a showcase to qualify, it's not based on submission. But often times it really comes down to the judge's opinion.

One thing I've noticed is that real Hip Hop, like twisted sample, heavy drums, pavement pounders don't ever do well. Which I think is kind of lame. I remember there was one dude who had straight fire for any lyrical emcee, circa late 90s but still very fresh. He didn't even place, but I was coming up with lyrics in my head while his shit was playing - and that's how I know a Hip Hop track is good.

At the same time, Hip Hop isn't really big business any more. Club music, electronica influenced, and more "progressive" type tracks are more in season. Hip Hop is really blending in with Pop and R&B a lot right now.
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11th March 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Storyville View Post
He didn't even place, but I was coming up with lyrics in my head while his shit was playing - and that's how I know a Hip Hop track is good.
Ha. I do the same thing anytime I hear a great hip hop beat that I like. I'll always be a lyricist first (at heart anyway).

A couple colleagues of mine have submitted to those type of competitions over the years, and it's always the same thing. It mostly comes down to whether or not your beats sound like the stuff they are most influenced by at the time. Their decision seems to have less to do with who displayed the most skill overall.
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11th March 2012
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Ha. I do the same thing anytime I hear a great hip hop beat that I like. I'll always be a lyricist first (at heart anyway).

A couple colleagues of mine have submitted to those type of competitions over the years, and it's always the same thing. It mostly comes down to whether or not your beats sound like the stuff they are most influenced by at the time. Their decision seems to have less to do with who displayed the most skill overall.
It's a mix of both. On the one hand, it's primarily A&Rs, managers, and execs at iStandard. Same people who place songs day in day out. So, it's a reflection of the reality of the business to a certain degree. So, yes, to a certain extent it's about what's in. However, many of the comments went to the extent of "it sounds too much like what's in." Because it's also about ingenuity and being a step ahead of the trend.

And it's totally a random draw, you can get dealt a short hand. At the last competition we had one judge give us straight "10s" across the board. Perfect score. Another judge gave us pretty much straight "8s" and like one "10." Guess he just wasn't as in to it.
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