Why Better Sounds won’t help make Better Music – the Mistaken Strategy

Studio Investment MEME

Studio Investment MEME

markjason appeared in a music maker’s Forum asking this question:

“I have been using Reason for about 6 years, and although I find it easy to use now, I really struggle with having some decent sounds for the dance/house tracks I make. I have bought refills/patches over the years from Propellerheads shop, Wave Alchemy, Loopmasters and a few other places, but never really found anywhere amazing. They all have great sounds in the loops (which I don’t want), but the packages with refills are not so great. If anyone could recommend a few good stores, I would really appreciate it.”

This was my answer:

“The real trick is not in finding the right ReFill or sounds but in making the right composition coupled with the right mix for what you want to achieve.

Think of music as like painting only using sound. If you look closely at the painting it may have lots of what seem like technical errors. Yet a good painting transcends all those by telling a story. Focus on your story and let that decide what sounds and mixing get used. That is how your style will be found. Maybe you won’t turn out to be a House man after all. But it won’t matter – the details never do.

Also as you make pieces that are successful then you will grow in confidence and skills. In time that will lead you closer to what you hear in your head.”

I expect my answer will be ignored. When I make these sort of answers they almost always are. People would rather buy yet another box of sounds that promise to be perfect for their chosen genre. Even though that strategy has failed before, time and again.

So I’m going to write an article about it – even tho that strategy has failed time and again to bring me traffic. Lucky I don’t write only for traffic or attention. I write for posterity like the ancient Greeks did. Maybe a person or two will take what I say and it will help them in some way. That is enough for Art.

It’s All Greek To Me

Bill &  Ted - So-Crates

Bill & Ted meet So-Crates

Everyone is looking for the “trick”. I have spoken about this many times. Few people realize that the trick is right there all along. All you have to do is get out of your way enough to let it happen.

Our society and language derive in some great degree from the ancient Greeks. They were a canny lot. Like the Zen dudes, they were prone to hiding the answer in plain sight because a thing that a persons realizes for themselves is far greater than something repeated by rote:

Q: What is the meaning of life?
A: Living (as expressed though joy).

Or they would point to the answer by talking about everything but the answer:

Q: The Abyss is infinitely deep and infinitely wide (as it crosses our path left to right). How wide is the Abyss (across)?
A: It has no appreciable width. You can step straight across once you realize that the obstacle is in your perception and not reality.

I hear you dismissing this Socratic stuff as irrelevant to your “best sounds for House Music” dilemma. Your call. Even Bill & Ted realize that “old ugly dudes” have a thing or two to say. This is how they pass History in the end of the film.

Opportunities

As Neil from the Pet Shop Boys worked out, you can make your own opportunities. It just takes brains and a little heavy lifting (thanks Chris). Making good House Music, or any other kind for that matter, doesn’t come from just getting the best sounds and plugging them together using some formula. And no it isn’t about side-chaining the mix or using Ozone V3.4 in the Masters. That is the distraction.

The blindingly obvious thing about making music is that you should be making music – music that tells your story, paints the picture you see in your head – and not some random collection of sounds.

Painter, come colour up my life

I will give my love an apple

I will give my love an apple

Let me tell you a story (you should have a pretty good idea why by now):

I know a lady who dearly wants to be a painter, to draw. She really struggles and does very little art despite having the time and support of those around her (oh what artist doesn’t crave that).

Like me this lady has an unusual brain. Whatever callous Olympian was forming her made a smudge. The clay that should have been molded to Logic was left in the Visual part of her brain. As a result, she sees images in her head far more vividly than the rest of us but struggles to make sense of, and act on, practical things.

Norman Doidge showed us that parts of our brains can be developed or enhanced with practice. Sadly, the the brain indiscriminately develops whatever we repeat. Unfortunately an evil teacher (well not really evil so much as well-meaning) told this lady as a child that everything has to be done from repetition of established things:

1 x 1 is 1
1 x 2 is 2…
475 x 2,486 is… oh who cares

That leads to: when drawing, shapes have to be perfect, faces have to be correct, arms in the right places and forms. But they never seem to be and this stops her from expressing her talent for images.

With a brain that is superb at images, the lady should be great at delivering anything she can see. But she isn’t because to do anything she tries to push it through the part of her brain that is weakest. This is a strategy guaranteed to fail. Matter of fact it does more damage than good as all that delivers is frustration and stress. Stress that becomes the baseline for the next time she tries to draw or paint. So she doesn’t even try to express her images.

Possum

Possum

A crying shame for both her self-expression and the world around her as while her art may not be Leonardo (yet) there is a special something in her work that I have never seen in another artist. Her images show a “naive” life that is unique – or “cute”.

My advice to this lady is always essentially the same.

Takin’ It To The Streets

Stop trying to draw the way you think you should draw and just draw. Art, with a capital “A” is self-expression. You cannot ever express yourself properly by using someone else’s voice, patterns or rules. You have to let your voice come out.

So for that lady, she has to see the image in her brain and connect as directly to that as she can. Connect the Picture to her pen or brush. I can’t say exactly how to do that. No one can BUT what I know from my 25 years of practicing to be a musician is that the less I think about planning how to sound right and the more I do, and just be it, the better my music becomes.

I know that this holds true as much for the lady who is driven to draw as it will for the guy who wants to make House music.

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