All In The Best Possible Taste……(and fidelity)

definition: fidelity:the degree of exactness with which something is copied or reproduced

Sitting comfortably? Let me begin.

So I just read this.

The link above is for a great interview with a chap named Peter Gotcher who deserves to be much more well known than he is but chooses to stay fairly anonymous as far as the general public are concerned. He has legitimate reasons for doing so but just so you know in case you don’t read the interview; he’s one of the creators of the Protools recording software.

A point he makes towards the end of this interview piqued my interest and I strongly agree that it is something which is becoming increasingly relevant. It is one of the aspects in modern music production that often gets overlooked during the process and is one of the most important elements which separates good music from bad.

I am referring to ‘taste’ or perhaps ‘appropriate taste’. Some would probably refer to it as ‘production value’ but personally I do not feel that term adequately describes what I’m trying to get at here.

Many ‘classic’ albums, as in the ones that are still bought (or illegally downloaded!) today are by modern record making standards full of errors both musically and sonically. This is due to several factors. One factor might be the format on which it was created but the songs were/are great songs and still have all the character, conviction and solidity that we recognise as ‘classic’ and love them nonetheless.

Why? Because they are usually chock full of great ‘tasteful’ decisions that culminate in a very satisfying piece of ‘art’.

Now, I don’t want to spoil the interview for you so maybe go read it first (as that was the idea!!) and then come back. Ok welcome back. Basically Mr Gotcher talks of his love/hate relationship with his creation. Love/hate in regards to what it has done to music in the modern age. He predicates how some of the albums we now consider classics would’ve turned out if Protools was available 30 or 40 years ago and if they would have …. and I quote….. “had the life sucked out of them [by protools!!]” ed-(Not a direct quote but you get the picture) Quite a bold statement I think you’d agree from the softwares creator. But, I think he’s totally right. We all hear the record makers personal taste in recorded music even if we don’t know we’re hearing it. By record maker I mean the artist, the producer, the engineer, the mixer, the label and even the artists management. Pretty much everyone who has had an input into the overall production of the record. This though can be just one person in this musically democratised era. However, as Peter puts it “having the life sucked out of them” seems to be a common practise in the current musical climate. So loud and bright and quite frankly overcooked through endless hours, days or even weeks of tweaking and revisiting (I’ve been guilty of this myself to a certain extent).

So do records made now have less life than say a record made 30 years ago? Is this due to the software it was produced with or has taste become merely another casualty of the music creator/listeners thirst for a quick fix? Alternatively, is it the labels of today that are left battling so much for our attention that many of these ‘classic’ elements and procedures of record making are simply being abandoned?

Firstly, I think I need to address what I mean by taste.

You just know when you hear something whether it’s right or not. Somehow it doesn’t communicate the desired message or something within the mix puts you off or is just plain annoying. This must surely be where artistic credibility or artistic and appropriate ‘taste’ comes in to play. That special thing in the music that makes us listen over and over again. The lovingly selected ingredients that paint a sonic landscape in our minds that enable us to enjoy the experience of the music and attach those special memories to particular pieces throughout our lives.

I very fondly remember one of the first times on hearing ‘Rumours’ by Fleetwood Mac and particularly the song ‘Go Your Own Way’. It was a record that I’d not paid much attention to for the last 30 years or so but when the 30th anniversary of the record came round a few years ago I listened again with adult ears. I must admit my reaction to it surprised me somewhat. With in the first few bars of ‘Go Your Own Way’ this record was firmly back in my consciousness! So much so that I was immediately transported back to being roughly 4 years old sat on my fathers lap listening to this mesmerising record wearing some oversized white headphones complete with curly cable. The feeling was palpable. Every detail of that moment came flooding back to me in vivid technicolor (well maybe a little sepia, it was the 70’s!!) My surroundings at that time, the time of day, the smell of damp dog in the air!! I quite clearly had/have a very emotional connection to that record……….but why?

Is it purely nostalgia?

I personally don’t think it is. As an audio professional of over 10 years and listener of 1000’s of records over a thirty odd year period I feel I can put forward a fairly solid theory on the subject of musical communication. Just to clarify and justify; I’m not music degree educated but, I am experienced in the ‘real world’ aspects of music. I’ve learnt through trial and error and experiential activities (basically I’ve made lots of mistakes along the way). The experience I have regarding this particular record may have something to do with the story behind the record itself, a very emotional story and one that only as an adult I would have any hope of understanding. But even as a child I must have been able to feel the emotion infused within all aspects of the recording. It grabbed me as an infant, so what was going on there?

Firstly, but not necessarily most importantly is the overall sonic signature or aesthetic of the record. It’s dynamic (not overly loud) and punchy yet pleasing on the ear. I wouldn’t describe it as soft but there is a certain warmth and gentleness that invites you to listen again and again. This warmth helps to also communicate the songs composition to the listener using elements such as correct or appropriate frequency content or balance. Interesting use of instruments even though fairly standard the texture they provide is one that appears faultless but each song contains very human and heartfelt performances. This records overall level of artistic communication is almost impossible to rival in any genre or era.

You can blame any number of factors for the downturn in record sales, the industry didn’t choose the correct model to sustain itself and embrace the way music is consumed, or perhaps file sharing is responsible. The bottom line is music and some other forms of entertainment sales have dwindled over the past few years for whatever reason(s) (you can add your own theory here) but I feel the subject of this blog i.e. taste, has a lot to do with it.

Basically A LOT of the music made today lacks taste. And by taste I mean good taste. Good taste in the traditional sense- high artistic quality, high artistic values, originality, emotional reward etc. You can obviously argue that taste is subjective, a matter of personal opinion, and of course yes it is but, much of the ‘pop’ output of recent years has been pretty awful on many levels. Musically it delivers nothing new or remotely intriguing, It’s often so rhythm heavy that any harmonic content (actual chord progression) the piece may contain isn’t even heard! it plays no or very little part in the emotional communication of the material. On rare occasions the chords aren’t even in key with the vocal! and if they are they are so overused and obvious they might as well not be there. The melodies although deemed ‘cool’ are often so lacking in development that even the lyrics can’t engage the listener long enough that they want to keep listening. Many though still go on to become big hits. This happens for several reasons in my opinion including:

1. There is so much money behind the artist usually major label money and they can afford (through paying the right people) to get the song on the ‘powerful’ radio stations. Then the listenership is basically force fed the song twenty times a day for six weeks BEFORE it’s released! The buying public are then expected to purchase the song even though they’re most likely already bored of it!

2. A song appears on a ‘hip’ TV programme or commercial or even it’s on a popular TV programme designed to ‘showcase’ talent (you know what I mean!) Again this is usually to do with repetition but sometimes a song does hit the zeitgeist at the right time and the public buys into it. It can though still be a terrible song however!

3. Power of the personal brand. Lady Gaga could potentially have a hit with Humpty Dumpty based on her existing brand credibility and loyal fans. Plus no doubt the costume she’d wear for the video would be more impressive than the song itself.

4. It doesn’t actually take many sales to be a hit song these days. Who knows maybe certain record labels even go as far as to purchase enough copies to top the charts (I have no evidence of this of course).

The point or rather point(s) I’m trying to make is that it seems the art of communication via the medium of song has become so dumbed down (especially in the pop genre) that it shocks us when something comes along that surprises us and ticks those boxes we should always hold dear to our hearts as human beings. The sense that we should be moving forward and striving to make even more amazing music than has previously gone before rather than simply pandering to markets where the people with power have the majority say. They choose what gets released into the public domain and choose what will become a hit by basically paying for it to flood the market. They remove our choice from the matter. They don’t give a shit about any of the things that make music mean something to us, it’s all about “business”. Music is a fundamental human right that as evidence through archaeology and research has proven; precedes or at least originates along with the development of language. Its use, the more it is studied goes way beyond this soulless and flippant marketeer nonsense that gets played on most popular radio stations. I’ll say it again we ARE in danger of losing the art. Not that it doesn’t still exist, far from it. Thousands maybe even hundreds of thousands of artists are still pursuing the art of music but the mediums we use and covet for some reason are ignoring these artists purely due to the fact that they won’t get paid to promote them. Millions of people are not getting the opportunity to hear great tasteful music and the people creating it are having their creative expression stifled. I wonder what amazing music is out there in the world that I’ve never heard? It genuinely breaks my heart to think about it.

How can we change this and start getting a serious increase in tasteful music that is enjoyed by the masses rather than niche groups that have to go out of their way to find it?

I don’t proclaim to have all the answers but one thing I’m doing is asking the question and raising awareness. Awareness is the first step towards change so my second thing is to ask YOU reading this is to comment and if you agree with part or all of what I’m saying pass it on, keep the question being asked and raise even more awareness. Yes music can be an industry but music is also part of human and spiritual development and has amazing affects on brain development, memory, wellbeing, connectedness and much more. Great music is good for us and important to humanity, let’s encourage the return and growth of music as art and not just satisfy our need for a hook, the throw away music shared in the office or on mobile devices on buses. Let’s share with our friends, children and grand children for decades to come. Great music that means something to each of us and adds to our experience of life. Let us make music a human experience again instead of the material and mechanical experience it is becoming. It is ALL about taste and it’s diversity, therefore no one is right or wrong but of course it IS about true artistic expression and furthering our ability to innovate and to document our pillars of quality.

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