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It ISN'T Just about the song. Virtual Instrument Plugins
Old 1st August 2009
  #1
Gear nut
 

It ISN'T Just about the song.

While obviously I'm sure a bunch of people in this forum will agree with me, it always infuriates me when I see comments along the lines of "just write a good song... nothing else matters..."

Of COURSE it would be wonderful if every song everyone wrote was just a FANTASTIC song, but that just isn't always the case. The truth is there are Fantastic songs, great songs, good songs, ok songs and (let's face it) dull or bad songs.

But our job isn't always just writing. Often there's arranging and mixing/engineering involved. It's all too easy to say the term, "Polishing a turd"... but that's too simplistic.

I just saw a musical recently. The songs we mostly ok, a couple great songs, and a couple boring ones. The arrangements on the GREAT songs were GREAT! But on the rest of them, the arrangements were as good or bored and tired as the songs and didn't elevate them.

And that is our job... to elevate! Unless someone is incompetent, it is almost impossible to ruin a fantastic song. That's no indication of your skills and a mixer or engineer. I believe that a good arrangement and/or mix should elevate a song AT LEAST one notch up the quality ladder.

It is very rare where a "turd can be polished" into an excellent song, but when clients are forking out their hard earned money, it is our job to make sure we can lift their work.

Conversely, while it is almost impossible for a competent person to ruin a fantastic song, it is possible for a boring mix or arrangement to knock a song down a notch.

Music is a varied art form, There are many elements that make up the listener experience. When I do write, I work on writing the best song I can. When I arrange, I look for creative elements that will bring the song into the best light. When I'm mixing, I use every tool I have and every trick I've learned to place the song in the best light, whether it calls for a "pristine" mix, an effects laden headphone treat, or a lo-fi garage ethic.

And you know what, I often learn and advance the most when I am arranging and mixing songs that are less than "fantastic."

Any additional thoughts on this?
Old 1st August 2009
  #2
Absolutely agreed that it is the job of a professional to do the best he can for his client. And I like your idea of elevating a given project by one's efforts.

And it's clear that you're not trying to suggest that people will buy a turd just because it's shiny. (As a profession, we need to move on from that utterly useful but unfortunately vulgar barnyardism. PM me if you come up with an improvement on the turd polishing thing. heh )

Maybe it's because I spent my jr high and early high school years as a wannabe audiophile, but I've often had a secret thrill when something just sounds cool. But, no matter how much sweat, tears and skill went into making something sound cool, that, in itself is a surface thing. And surface attractiveness is nice -- but it's usually not a source of real, lasting emotional sustenance, like a great performance of a great song can be.

But it's a great goal to be in the right place to make the next great song/performance that much better -- and having a reputation as someone who can 'elevate' a song/project can help you do that.

But on a more fundamental, professional level, isn't it our job to do a good job for our clients?

If that means polishing the occasional turd, well... there's a rough on every golf course. (I think, I don't play golf.)


[Full disclosure: I, personally, couldn't even polish other folks' non-turds anymore and got out of the biz. Now my only client is me -- but I'm afraid I'm polishing more turds than ever. heh But I have a lot of admiration for the guys and gals who go into the studio every day and give every client their best.]
Old 1st August 2009
  #3
.

it ABSOLUTELY IS about the song:

wing




.
Old 1st August 2009
  #4
I think you just invalidated your own point though. What you heard at the musical is exactly why it's important to focus on a good song to begin with (and some would argue that only the mediocre that can't come up with a good song would argue otherwise).

A great song informs and creates a great arrangement and the arrangement is a part of the song. It's melody, counterpoint and harmony, i.e. part of the song, a song without those things would be a bad rhyme. If the song is mediocre then by definition so is the arrangement, if the arrangement is mediocre, then by definition so is the song, they're one and the same thing.

Unless you're talking about technical accomplishment such as the overall mix, quality of playing, or mere flourishes, what I don't think of as arrangement so much as production then it is songwriting.

It is however easier to hang good parts and build on a good core structure than on a poor one, and it always shows, that's why your point makes little sense, you yourself heard that the poor songs sounded poor and appeared to have poorer arrangements, it's because they were poorer songs = they were poorer arrangements = they were poorer songs! Once again this is exactly why it's important to focus on the song in the first place.
Old 1st August 2009
  #5
Deleted User
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sqye View Post
.

it ABSOLUTELY IS about the song:

wing




.


Great production and arrangement is just going to make a good old fashioned polished turd any way you look at it. A crap song is a crap song. Just listen to the radio. Garbage everywhere and nothing of any lasting value
Old 1st August 2009
  #6
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turnstile's Avatar
It's all about the song.

Thoughts:
Arrangement is part of the song itself, as in the writing aspect so... I don't think a song is great unless the arrangement (both instrumentation as well as structure) is great. One and the same.

I think all great songs can be "heard" with a single vocal and an single accompanying instrument (piano, guitar, bass, etc.)

I also think that great music production (engineering, mixing) can become an instrument in and of itself within the context of the song. And at the minimum can allow for more people to digest, and enjoy the song more easily.
Old 1st August 2009
  #7
Gear nut
 

Actually, arrangement is NOT part of the song.

Listen to Britney Spears version of "Baby... One More Time" and then Travis' version if you need an example. I thought that was a turn song hidden in polish until I heard Travis' amazing cover that revealed the great song it is. In fact, I'm sure all of you could come up with a hundred examples. The song that can't support a hundred different arrangements is a poor song indeed.

The only thing copyrightable is melody and lyric.... that is the song.

The arrangement is someone's job... not always the composer's.

I do much pop/rock/R&B arranging, and more frequently there the writer does that work, but I often get solo artists who have their songs written, but utterly dempend on me to arrange them as well as engineer and mix them.

In musical theatre, the composers RARELY do the arranging. That is someone else's job. And while the composer could have done some better work on the musical I reference, the arranger (that the show's producers paid quite a good fee to) failed to do her work.. Any arranger could have made the good songs work, but she really failed at elevating anything else.
Old 1st August 2009
  #8
Gear Guru
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by mgilboe View Post

The only thing copyrightable is melody and lyric.... that is the song.

you mean, the melody, the lyric, and the organ solo!
Old 1st August 2009
  #9
Gear Guru
 
Sounds Great's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sqye View Post
.

it ABSOLUTELY IS about the song:

wing




.
Why, oh why did I listen?
Old 1st August 2009
  #10
Gear addict
 
Gulliver's Avatar
 

WHERE is the dadgum "sitting back eating popcorn" icon?
Old 1st August 2009
  #11
.




btw - you guys are hilarious...

.
Old 1st August 2009
  #12
Lives for gear
 
popmann's Avatar
I've long said that the idea that the song is the key to great music is like saying that engineering is key to a great record. They're both important...but, the stuff that happens in between is the key--the music being made. Arrangement. Instrument quality. Performance. Get that stuff to a certain level...eases the burden on the composition AND the engineer.

Incompetence is not in short supply in the music world. And is subjective. Jessica Simpson has a range and can sing in tune-I'd say she's "competent"...still, you want to listen to her cover the whole album of Sgt Peppers? I don't.
Old 1st August 2009
  #13
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larry b's Avatar
 

I love this one:

Old 1st August 2009
  #14
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turnstile's Avatar
This is a great example, I think. Here is the first 'peek' at the new Prefab Sprout record. The programming, sounds, and production sound like 1989 or so (around the time this was 1st recorded). Now personally I dont mind the production and 'dated' sound one bit. My point. Even with the former, the song completely shines through.

Then again, it's Paddy McAloon.

YouTube - Prefab Sprout - Let There Be Music

PS - I promise you will listening to the song more than once. Beautiful chorus.
Old 1st August 2009
  #15
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turnstile's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by mgilboe View Post
Actually, arrangement is NOT part of the song.

Listen to Britney Spears version of "Baby... One More Time" and then Travis' version if you need an example. I thought that was a turn song hidden in polish until I heard Travis' amazing cover that revealed the great song it is. In fact, I'm sure all of you could come up with a hundred examples. The song that can't support a hundred different arrangements is a poor song indeed.

The only thing copyrightable is melody and lyric.... that is the song.

The arrangement is someone's job... not always the composer's.

I do much pop/rock/R&B arranging, and more frequently there the writer does that work, but I often get solo artists who have their songs written, but utterly dempend on me to arrange them as well as engineer and mix them.

In musical theatre, the composers RARELY do the arranging. That is someone else's job. And while the composer could have done some better work on the musical I reference, the arranger (that the show's producers paid quite a good fee to) failed to do her work.. Any arranger could have made the good songs work, but she really failed at elevating anything else.
Point taken. However on a commercial level (judging by people buying records) the Travis arrangement didn't do anything compared to the original. I'm not speaking about personal opinions, but speaking pure mass popularity.

btw - I love Travis so...
Old 1st August 2009
  #16
Gear Addict
 



LOL
Old 1st August 2009
  #17
Lives for gear
 
allencollins's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by mgilboe View Post
While obviously I'm sure a bunch of people in this forum will agree with me, it always infuriates me when I see comments along the lines of "just write a good song... nothing else matters..."

Of COURSE it would be wonderful if every song everyone wrote was just a FANTASTIC song, but that just isn't always the case. The truth is there are Fantastic songs, great songs, good songs, ok songs and (let's face it) dull or bad songs.

But our job isn't always just writing. Often there's arranging and mixing/engineering involved. It's all too easy to say the term, "Polishing a turd"... but that's too simplistic.

I just saw a musical recently. The songs we mostly ok, a couple great songs, and a couple boring ones. The arrangements on the GREAT songs were GREAT! But on the rest of them, the arrangements were as good or bored and tired as the songs and didn't elevate them.

And that is our job... to elevate! Unless someone is incompetent, it is almost impossible to ruin a fantastic song. That's no indication of your skills and a mixer or engineer. I believe that a good arrangement and/or mix should elevate a song AT LEAST one notch up the quality ladder.

It is very rare where a "turd can be polished" into an excellent song, but when clients are forking out their hard earned money, it is our job to make sure we can lift their work.

Conversely, while it is almost impossible for a competent person to ruin a fantastic song, it is possible for a boring mix or arrangement to knock a song down a notch.

Music is a varied art form, There are many elements that make up the listener experience. When I do write, I work on writing the best song I can. When I arrange, I look for creative elements that will bring the song into the best light. When I'm mixing, I use every tool I have and every trick I've learned to place the song in the best light, whether it calls for a "pristine" mix, an effects laden headphone treat, or a lo-fi garage ethic.

And you know what, I often learn and advance the most when I am arranging and mixing songs that are less than "fantastic."

Any additional thoughts on this?
Any song can be made exciting and great. Just like any mix can be a great one. It just depends on what lengths you will go to to achieve this greatness.

Sure we all strive to write a great song in one sitting . Or produce a great mix
in a day. We all know it takes time in many cases. Why is it 9 time out of 10 that a band or artists' first cd/record is often their best? In most cases it's because they spent more time writing and arranging and perfecting the songs while they were unsigned and just playing in clubs with no pressure. Then they 'make it' and the then label wants the second record in a week. and they have to throw it together on the road.

I always see the 'top ten favorite cds' posts on GS. almost all of the top ten are records that took months if not years to produce.

I personally don't care much for Sgt Pepper or Dark Side of the Moon. But these records took many months to record and write and produce. How would they have come out if they where recorded in a couple days or in a week like Black Sabbaths first two records? or like Skynyrd's 3rd record which was cut in a week? Or VH II that was done in a couple days? I think some records are meant to come together quickly and other not so quickly.

Another consideration is budget and time. I mean I don't know about you but I work a day job. Between that and my girlfriend bitching at me an all my studio
and musician friends asking for help with PC's gtr setups. gtr refinishing. I don't have a whole lot of time to write and produce.

Plus gear and workflow. I mean how would you like to have abbey road blocked out for 6 months with a rolodex of studio musicians a phone call away and no day job? This is your day job. I don't think it would be too hard to make great records and even make great records from very bad songs.

The hard records are the ones made when everyone in the band has to work and has families. And you cutting it in a home studio. No shi* most records on labels sound great. they had budgets, no day jobs and professional staff to accommodate.

Who couldn't make great records this way? maybe only the 'incompetent'
ones as you put it

Making record is like making pasta sauce. You start with some really nice tomatoes then add the right ingredients at the right time. Let it simmer for hours or days as the ingredients morph into the flavor of the final sauce.

'Production' is/are all the ingredients not too many not to few. It's the great producers who can selectively plan ahead just what ingredients will be required and when. Each great band has their own recipe so often the producer can't flip through a Betty Crocker book a head of time hand plan. It's all on improvising

Producing a great sounding record in a couple weeks or a month takes greater skill and foresight than doing a record that takes many months or years. That's all trial and error and anyone can make a pristine record by means of trial and error.

That's why I think records like Paranoid, Zep I, VHII etc... Are the best records. Cut in a couple days but yet they deliver the sauce. The Sauce has alot of meat but the lamb or pork flavor is not through and through It hasn't simmered long enough. The records are more raw and off the cuff. It only took one try. One recipe. It worked. And these records still taste mighty fine 30+ years later.

Then you got stuff like Sgt pepper, rumors, Dark SideOTM, Back in Black. All great too but it's a different kind of sauce a different kind of greatness. Kinda contrived and calculated. A sauce with a lot of meat that has been simmered in length for flavor and the meat flavor is though and through. It's was all well planned. And probably took 2 or 3 tries at it to make the sauce just right. A couple different recipes before it was done. The recipe is so perfected, the meat flavor is now a constant. It is now formulated to be used again on Magical Mystery tour, For those about to rock, Pyromania, animals, The wall, Wish you were hear, Abbey road. The sauce is now f a recipe that can be recalled at any moment and remade easily with no more though having to be put into it.

I think the true key to being great producer is being able to take charge and say NO. Say NO that sucks if it does but only say no if you have the balls and talent to make it right. Also being able to
say "Do it over" --- "Do it again" that wasn't good enough. Also being able to say 'Try this instead'
If all these methods fail be prepared to pull a Napoleon and just take over and rewrite , rearrange, get different players. Whatever it takes to achieve greatness on tape. who cares about other peoples feelings if they suck and it has to come out great. Do you think Mutt Lange or even George Martin really cared about the feelings of the band members they worked? They may have cared but deep down they new people needed to be stepped on to get the job done right. Bring in outside players
change the songs and arrangements until they were right.
Old 1st August 2009
  #18
Lives for gear
 

i would say :

1) the vocal performance

2) the groove

3) the melody

4) the arrangements

5) the mix
Old 1st August 2009
  #19
Gear interested
 

why would you want to see a movie with a GREAT script shot on a crappy camera with bad sound, bad lighting, etc?

i could be wrong, but maybe the same goes for songs. a great song needs to sound good in order to survive in the cruel world of the entertainment biz.

song>musicians>production/instrumentation>engineering>mix>mastering

that's my hypothetical musical food chain...feel free to knock it down, sure...whatever. notice how i don't have just SONG on there.

in my pursuit of making music, i want IMPACT. on all fronts. the mix has impact. the way the drummer hits has impact. guitar tone has impact. why not make a great song sound amazing? where you BEGIN your journey will have either a positive or negative ripple effect on the whole process, and the end result will give you the answer.
Old 1st August 2009
  #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hankdrummer View Post
i would say :

1) the vocal performance

2) the groove

3) the melody

4) the arrangements

5) the mix
Just wondering if that's the order if importance to you?

Groove and vocal performance shouldn't be above "melody" if we're talking about "what will stand the test of time". Anything on the radio has perfect grooves and professionally sung and recorded vocals by some of the best pop singers out there. What's missing is melody, it's completely overlooked. I think the reason why the music industry is in the current....state ( along with mp3 downloads and the loudness wars) is the list you just posted. Putting vocal performance and groove before actual material. That will only result in McDonalds hamburgers of music.
Old 1st August 2009
  #21
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i'm just speaking in a general point of view :

1) the vocal performance

people turn on the radio because they want to hear SOMEONE singing a song to them. that human being behind the mic is what they relate to.

the voice is simply the most expressive and powerful of all the instruments. everything else is secondary to most people. they barely know the names of the other instruments.

2) the groove

the rythm of the song speaks to our body. we humans like to dance. go out tonight and you'll find a lot of people dancing on stupid music, just for the simple pleasure of that loud BOOOM BOOOM making their body shake.

and even a slow song can have a great groove. it's not just singing or drumming in time, it's an abstract science.

3) the melody

a catchy melody is key to invade people's brain. if the melody sucks, and nobody can hum it, the song is most likely to fail. but a lot of songs have the ugliest melodys ever, yet reach the #1 spot. it just means people don't need a good melody to enjoy music, weither we like it or not.

4) the arrangements

because people like some wine with their food. it fulfills them.

5) the mix

if the ingredients are not cooked properly, nobody's going to come to your restaurant.
Old 1st August 2009
  #22
pia
Gear Head
 
pia's Avatar
 

It IS Just the song.

1-3) melody
4) vocal
5) groove
6) arrangement
7) ...

it is basically all about melody. If that does not work, nothings going to help - nothing. And yes, of cause there are some exceptions, but ...

Quote:
Originally Posted by hankdrummer View Post
i would say :

1) the vocal performance
2) the groove
3) the melody
4) the arrangements
5) the mix
Old 1st August 2009
  #23
Quote:
Originally Posted by mgilboe View Post
"just write a good song... nothing else matters..."
That's backwards. What it should be is "If you don't have a great song, nothing else matters!"

As the Mythbusters proved, you CAN polish a turd. However if you do that all you have to show for your effort is shiny ****!

If you're an engineer your job is to do the best you can with what the client gives you, no matter what.

If you are a producer it is your job to make the tough artistic decisions that the artist cannot make because he is too close to his own music. That sometimes includes calling a turd a turd, hopefully in a diplomatic way.

This, by the way, is a major reason why it is extremely difficult to impossible for the majority of artists to properly produce themselves....
Old 1st August 2009
  #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hankdrummer View Post
i'm just speaking in a general point of view :

3) the melody

a lot of songs have the ugliest melodys ever, yet reach the #1 spot. it just means people don't need a good melody to enjoy music, weither we like it or not..
That makes it seem like it's ALL about having a hit at all costs, regardless of the quality of the music.

Yes, if you have a brand name like Britney, Black eyed peas and so on, you don't need a good melody. Most of the fans of that music don't care about the tune, they just want new sounds from their favorite brand in a cool video where their idols look as awesome as possible. They want sounds that are loud, very easy to process and gratifies instantly. After the songs get radio play they die a quiet death and they sound dated in a couple of years time.

The mcdonalds hamburger is probably the most popular food in the world, plain white bread is the most popular bread, so using your logic you could make draw conclusion that taste and quality isn't that important when it comes to food.

For the record, I'm also a little tired of reading the "It's all about the song" OR "It's all about the performance and skills" on these boards. Everyone KNOWS that these things are important, but isn't this a gear board?! It's like going to a car board to announce "there are more important things in life than cars". Everyone is aware of these things, but this board lets people focus on ONE area of music, the gear side.
Old 1st August 2009
  #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Topgear View Post
That makes it seem like it's ALL about having a hit at all costs, regardless of the quality of the music.
isn't that the goal of the majors ? to sell whatever the quality ?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Topgear View Post
Yes, if you have a brand name like Britney, Black eyed peas and so on, you don't need a good melody. Most of the fans of that music don't care about the tune, they just want new sounds from their favorite brand in a cool video where their idols look as awesome as possible. They want sounds that are loud, very easy to process and gratifies instantly. After the songs get radio play they die a quiet death and they sound dated in a couple of years time.
did i say the contrary ?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Topgear View Post
And the mcdonalds hamburger is probably one the most popular food in the world, so using your logic you could make draw conclusion that taste and quality isn't that important when it comes to food.
important to you and me, not everyone. some people don't care that much about music, and they happen to be the majority of people buying records.

does it mean they're not genuinely enjoying that music ? no, they love it, and good for them.
Old 1st August 2009
  #26
pjk
Gear Addict
I agree with alot of what is said above and its really nice to see some people express opinion on the state of songwriting currently. The last great songs i heard (in the genre i listen to mostly ) were written over 15 yrs ago. Of course you can certainly try and succeed in making a song sound much more appealing with thought into arrangement, choice of tones, better performance etc but you cannot try to write songs - by trying to write songs you defeat the purpose of songs. They either come to you or they dont, and when they dont and you try, you shoot yourself in the foot. Thats my opinion anyway.
Old 1st August 2009
  #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hankdrummer View Post
important to you and me, not everyone. some people don't care that much about music, and they happen to be the majority of people buying records.
Alright, well I know what you're saying. I just assumed your list was your personal list, not a list of what you think people who don't care about music would want.

In that case I'd definitely add "more loudness" as well. The labels are doing that whole loudness war thing because they've proved that most people believe that louder is better.
Old 1st August 2009
  #28
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i think it's the same with the loudness war : people just don't care. most kids haven't heard a single record with dynamic. if they like it loud, let them have it loud.

and what's the dynamic range of an iPod ? with a D/A converter the size of a rice grain, i don't think we can expect a return to dynamic records anytime soon.
Old 1st August 2009
  #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hankdrummer View Post
i don't think we can expect a return to dynamic records anytime soon.
I think you're right. For years optimistic audiophiles have been saying stuff like "we'll start hearing dynamics again soon, once people get tired of the squashed sound".

The problem is, they way they do research is they'll let the average joe hear a snippet of a song, or 40 seconds at best, and then if joe decides that the loud, squashed sample sounds better and stronger than the more quiet sample, loudness wins. They don't take stuff like ear fatigue after listening to several songs into account.

So research will *always* result in louder is better (unless you ask audio professionals) thus it's not going away.

It's kind of like judging a movie, only based on the the opening sequence. Instant gratification beats substance and quality.
Old 1st August 2009
  #30
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sound_music's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by joeq View Post
you mean, the melody, the lyric, and the organ solo!
this is excellent! definately unusual, but in the context of that particular song the guy had a really strong case... can you imagine it without those big lush organ chords in the intro!? hats off to the british legal system on this one.

(double thumbs up, a rare occurance from me!)
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