Recently, a video artist friend of mine was critical of a clip we were watching, and I was commenting about the audio portion of the video. We were both interested in each other’s point of view to better understand what a professional in different fields felt the video could improve on.
In any domain you’ll eventually find the connoisseur, this is someone with a great depth of knowledge in his/her field, and is always searching for the best within his area of expertise. We can think of wine, poetry, painting, fields where true excellence is sought after. In any area of interest the more you are part of that which you love, the more you’ll be able to distinguish the highest quality.
People with years of experience in any field will have a much deeper understanding and perspective than those fresh to the scene. Without question, an experienced ear will recognize fine details and maturity in the music and can quickly tell if the producer has been around for a little while. This brings up the question –
What is a mature sounding track?
Sometimes I hear sarcastic questions such as “how can dance music be mature”? Different people will always have different standards, yet in this post, I thought I’d share how I perceive a song, both from my engineering point of view but also from the perspective of a label owner.
Firstly, I believe song maturity goes beyond if “it’s good (or not).” I’ve talked about if a song is good or not before but I’ll comment again because many people confuse maturity with if the track sounds good or not. I believe it has nothing to do with that. If we compare it to food or art, highly acclaimed works are often not accessible from the general public opinion. In music, the more you discover and expose yourself to, the more you recognize patterns, ideas, clichés. To sum up a song by “this is good” has no resemblance to what the track/song may have been intended to do. You’re likely judging based on your preferences, which is biased by how you feel or what trends you are following.
The song brings to light it’s initial intention. An experienced producer will have a particular idea in mind that will be made fairly clear when he makes his song. In some cases, he may have a second purpose working within that track. What I mean here is, what the listener decodes from the song might not be what it is initially suggested, as there might be a second, hidden message behind what is going on sound wise. This depth of songwriting can play a huge factor in demonstrating the craftsmanship of the producer.
The song has a clear voice and something to say. Hence the “aha” moment or the “wow” you might have after listening to just a few seconds of a song. Sometimes the light bulb moment may come only after an exhaustive and focused listening session, or after listening to the full song several times. What’s unique about electronic music is that very often there are no lyrics, yet through the use of sound textures, melodies, tensions, and releases, a producer can communicate a state of mind and emotion that words may not be able to express. Just like the word Saudade which comes from the Portuguese from Brazil only, describes a definite feeling that other languages can’t clearly relate to. The use of certain frequencies can suggest specific feelings, and moods, quite powerfully. I’ve always felt the title of a song is critical and provides context for the music. As artists, we have the power to shape information to make a statement, which can be very powerful when presented right.
It’s not a matter of complexity or simplicity. I’ve had someone who felt that complexity was a sign of maturity. All the crazy tricks and effects up front, yet the thing is, with experience, you realize that sometimes doing less will often have more impact than overdoing it. Like I said above, creating a wow effect on people is something, but to capture their attention over the whole duration of a song is often a wow effect in a more subtle way.
Time invested in the song doesn’t make it mature. If you spend 5 hours in a row working on a song, you might bring maturity to the song yet perhaps you’ll dilute the original essence of what you originally heard. Over the years, I’ve noticed the significant benefits of letting a project in early development sleep and settle for a time before returning to develop it further.
Timelessness is one of the central points. Songs that don’t age and those that seem to haunt you are often the results of something very well planned or completely improvised. But in one way, this is the often the result of well-paired elements coming together in the right way. There’s part knowledge, culture, innovation, exploration, risk and good taste. The thing that is magical is when someone, no matter how experienced, gets inspired by a moment of grace and comes up with something even himself, cannot explain. That part, which is often pure intuition, is what fascinates me. It is in those moments that you get the best out of yourself.