Why does the music you make sound like it sounds?

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And does it sound like you want it to sound? Are you striving to be 'original'? Do you want to make great pop? Are you following in some sort of tradition? How *calculated* is the music you make? Is it thrown together so you have no idea what the result will be until it's finished? Or is it NEVER finised? Is it the result of your single-minded vision, or a compromise between band members? Do you even care what it sounds like, as long as you're playing/producing *something*? Do you write for you and/or for an audience?

Dr. C (Dr. C), Wednesday, 9 November 2005 12:40 (fifteen years ago) link

everything all at the same or different times.

AaronK (AaronK), Wednesday, 9 November 2005 14:12 (fifteen years ago) link

I just want to make music that *I* like. I've spent too long making music to appeals to other people, it's all about me and my tastes now. Occasionally I will tweak a song, thinking "I bet one of my bandmates will really like it if it does this" but it's pretty much a dictatorship when it comes to the music as I write it all.

I mean, even if I try to go out of my way to write something "different" sounding, I'm still just attracted to certain kinds of sounds, so the music will have a certain feel. I tend to be predictable in my tastes and song structures.

I don't really understand what you mean by "calculated" though. I mean, most of the time, when I write a song, I have a clear idea in my head before I put it down in a sequencer what it should sound like, instrumentation, arrangement and the like. Maybe it's based off a more traditional pop song structure, or something else I've heard. Sometimes I think "ooh, I'll write an electroclash song because it would be silly/fun". But I do it for the sheer challenge of it, not because any kind of logic of "electroclash is hip/not-hip so I should have a go at it".

Streatham's Paisley Princess (kate), Wednesday, 9 November 2005 14:30 (fifteen years ago) link

I'd attribute my band's sound and approach to a few things:

1) We all like certain county and americana music, but we all hate the annoying reverent attitude so many performers take toward it and none of us feel any particular need to "pay homage" to any performer or style or show how much of a "debt" we owe. I think this frees us to be a little more inventive.

2) We all respect the idea that to a certain extent each person's part on a song has to come out of that person, but then we're also willing to go back and edit everything so it fits together better.

3) At some point, we do defer to the lead guy in the band because he does usually generate the original ideas and he sort of anchors the sound.

Hurting (Hurting), Wednesday, 9 November 2005 14:48 (fifteen years ago) link


Kate - I'm not sure what I mean by 'calculated' really! Maybe - are elements/is the song/the whole act intended to get a particular reaction - maybe one as basic as 'they're loud!' or 'they rock' or 'they're fun!'. That sounds a bit half-brained though - will try and recapture original thoughts.

Actually I was thinking of Shimura Curves as I wrote out the question and wondering how you arrived at the laptop/guitar and 4 harmony singers format as a way of presenting the songs. Was it just practical i.e less stuff? Was it so you could present the music differently than if you had a band conventional line-up with several members singing? i.e it frees up the singers for movement etc. I am guessing that at least some of the songs were not written specifically for that line-up, but could be/have been done in other forms?

Hurting - how far do you reckon you stray away from americana/country in not paying homage - i.e what sound choices/structures does this allow?

Dr. C (Dr. C), Wednesday, 9 November 2005 15:08 (fifteen years ago) link

Well, specifically, WRT Shimura Curves... the line-up was because I felt freer and more able to duplicate the sounds in my head with a laptop where I could program an entire symphony, or create synth sounds duplicating icicles a mile long, or any other mad thing I could think of in my head, rather than being held to the limiting drums-bass-guitar format. I have *more* freedom and more creativity with the laptop than I ever had with conventional musicians, because I'm a far better composer than I ever was a technical musician. I found it frustrating to hear sounds in my head that I could not duplicate. Now I don't have that problem anywhere near as much.

The four singers is simply because my favourite thing in the world is harmony, and I wanted as rich harmonies as possible. Many of the songs I wrote had at least 4 and often 8 or even 16 part vocal harmonies. (I'd get a whole choir onstage if I could find the people who could carry a tune.)

Also, it leaves the singers more free to *perform* and interact with each other/the audience rather than being tied to an instrument, which is rather limiting. That's quite important to me.

Streatham's Paisley Princess (kate), Wednesday, 9 November 2005 15:15 (fifteen years ago) link

Well, we're Americana/Country in so much as we use acoustic and lapsteel guitars, and that we sometimes borrow Tennessee Three rhythms (which I guess is a kind of homage, but I guess I'm saying we never feel obliged to do it).

But song-structure-wise we often use alternate time signatures, abrupt changes in feel or rhythm, write songs that go past 7 or 8 minutes, etc., stuff that I guess is more prog or post-rock than Americana or country. What I think we find annoying about the AAA-radio brand of Americana is that so much of it strains so hard to be "simple" and "true" and "pure."

Hurting (Hurting), Wednesday, 9 November 2005 15:16 (fifteen years ago) link

I made the decision to stop writing things in my head and then trying to realise them when I started with Lynskey. It works with me with electronic stuff as I like to get a very rounded sound to things and I'm into working against my own concious leanings of what I think should go somewhere. As many random factors, restrictions as possible. I find that having everything spelt out to you regarding whats going on in a track in a sequencer is a Bad Thing. There's not the mystery there that you get in a traditional live band where you're not sure exactly what the others are doing and you're going on feel. Also, you're on your own working with sequencers. So putting in as many false constructs as I can so I can't tell exactly why some sounds are happening is important. I love getting an existing melody, slicing it up and putting it on a midi keyboard so you've got a non-logical scale in front of you with some keys triggering notes, others a phrase etc.

On one hand I've got myself to blame (Lynskey), Wednesday, 9 November 2005 15:51 (fifteen years ago) link

The brass band is working in a very specific (ongoing) tradition and I think we're all conscious of that. It's not about originality so much as musicianship and sounding (uh oh) authentic.

This doesn't mean that we don't have our own sound, but it's not about forcing a new never-before-heard style or anything like that.

Jordan (Jordan), Wednesday, 9 November 2005 16:02 (fifteen years ago) link

The band I'm in now was consciously created as a "pop band," as kind of a reaction to a more experimental band I was in before. My definition of pop is pretty open-ended but ultimately I think this means that we have to try to make every song catchy in some way, use pop song structures (verse/chorus/bridge/solo), and keep songs somewhere around 3 minutes. I often push against some of these rules, as I don't really listen to that much pop music any more and so other influences find their way in, but my bandmates help push me back to where we're supposed to be.
I think we're also technically limited: this is the first band our drummer has played drums in, I'm a decent rhythm guitarist but a poor lead guitarist, and neither Sarah nor I have traditionally amazing singing voices. But I think this forces us into a technical simplicity that is hopefully pleasing when contrasted with well-written songs.
Our older songs were generally either completely written by Sarah or I, and there were obvious "Sarah" and "Nick" songs. Now we're doing a lot more collaborative writing as a band, the most that either of us will usually bring in on our own is a riff or chord structure from which to build.

n/a (Nick A.), Wednesday, 9 November 2005 16:17 (fifteen years ago) link

Most of my songs are trying to be 'lost punk-pop classics'. I want them to sound like they were recorded and written between 76 and 79, forgotten about, and then unearthed like some sort of punk Nuggets. I try and pack in some hooks, lots of melody, and aim for an instant 'familiarity factor'. I try and have at least one bit where the whole thing takes off and explodes. Secondary influences that I try and rip off and work in are Factory Records type stuff and 60's garage-punk bits and bobs. I rarely write lyrics, just melodies. I am always trying to think of little hooks and tricks that will sound flash when we play live. I tend to be quite a stickler for detail in arrangement, because when you have satirical/observational/fun lyrics, as we do, it is fatal to get pigeonholed as a kind of 'comedy' act where the music is just some kind of unimportant vehicle. The music HAS to sound great on its own. (To get an idea of what I'm on about - The Rezillos combined fun and great music really well, and bands like Half-Man Half Biscuit fail because they rely on the lyrics alone.)

I am only just now starting to bring my songs to the band, because I have been playing mainly keyboards up to now, and I don't really write on them. So far it's worked out very well, although there's more arrnaging to do - our other guitarist has added some great extra riffs (he's more lead and I'm more rhythm).

As for the other stuff we do, a lot of it is basically written by the other guitarist, and is often riffs that are jammed out into songs at rehearsal. It's pretty similar to what I do, melodic n punky. Our bass-player is an interesting writer - he comes up with some less conventional chords and structures, more Fall/Factory than straight-ahead punk-pop.

Dr. C (Dr. C), Wednesday, 9 November 2005 17:09 (fifteen years ago) link

And does it sound like you want it to sound?

Rarely. When I'm working on song alone, it always fall a bit short for me. Although, when I bring a song into the band they will always surprise me with their ideas, and it goes beyond what I thought it could be.

Are you striving to be 'original'?

I don't think that's something you can consciously achieve. Creativity is a funny thing. I mean I try to find unique chord changes, dynamic melodies, and unusual arrangements. But I don't know if that = original.

Do you want to make great pop?

Very much so.

How *calculated* is the music you make? Is it thrown together so you have no idea what the result will be until it's finished? Or is it NEVER finised?

Varies - when I write by myself it's calculated, I suppose. But when we write as a group I never know where those songs are going. And I don't consider a song finished until it's successfully recorded or I'm fucking sick of it.

Is it the result of your single-minded vision, or a compromise between band members?

It's all about compromise.

Do you even care what it sounds like, as long as you're playing/producing *something*?

If I didn't care what it sounded like, I'd join a cover band and actually make some music at this!

Do you write for you and/or for an audience?

I write for myself and the four other people in my band. I cringe when other musicians claim they write for the audience. It implies they know their audiences' tastes better than they do.

darin (darin), Wednesday, 9 November 2005 17:27 (fifteen years ago) link

um... I mean

If I didn't care what it sounded like, I'd join a cover band and actually make some MONEY at this!

darin (darin), Wednesday, 9 November 2005 17:29 (fifteen years ago) link

I care very much about what my stuff sounds like to the point that I have to be careful not to err on the side of doing hundreds of takes, not so much to make sure I played the part right, but to make sure the mic is in the perfect place to capture the sound the way I hear it in my head. I've gotten better over the years because a) I've learned the "right" way to record some sounds that are commonly in my head and b) I've managed to move away from that tediousness and be a little more spontaneous. For one thing, I no longer take quite as obsessive notes about exactly what was used for each and every little recorded effect. If I need to recreate it later, I'll figure it out.

I'm an effects and gear junkie though... That can make it hard to stop tweaking, but as soon as I realized that that was one of my weaknesses I started to consciously work against it to try to free myself up to work more easily.

Like Kate, I've always thought of myself as a better composer/arranger than technical musician, so the dawn of digital audio workstations has been nothing but amazing for me. I don't use a laptop to perform (and even if I did I don't think I'd ever stop using the guitar as my primary instrument), but I do all of my recording on a PC so I can do stuff like use a full string section or create much better-sounding drums than I'd ever be able to record in my current studio. (Mind you, my studio is set up well to record a lot of things. Mostly what I'm missing for recording a kit is just space.) It's gotten to the point where I'm very satisfied with my fake drums. I don't pretend they sound real, but I like that they don't scream "hey I'm fake" unless I actually want them to.

Most of the songs I write are very traditional pop/rock structure because I think the form itself is pretty liberating. I also would rather write a sonnet than something more free verse. Which is not to say that my lyrics always rhyme. It's just to say I like verse chorus verse. I do have songs with non-traditional structure, but most of them are just slightly bastardized versions of trad...

I tend to rely on lyrics a lot even though I usually write lyrics and music together. My tendency is to lean toward the They Might Be Giants school of having relatively cheerful music coupled with much less happy lyrics. That's not something I've ever tried to do on purpose, but it's definitely the case.

At the moment I'm not working with anybody, so the stuff I'm doing these days is just trying to recreate what I hear in my head or trying to mess around until I surprise myself with something that wasn't in my head but is perfect for whatever song I'm working on.

martin m. (mushrush), Wednesday, 9 November 2005 18:04 (fifteen years ago) link

If I'm honest, my music is mainly an ego trip. It's improvised and messy, with a few simple bits that I can play again.

jel -- (jel), Wednesday, 9 November 2005 18:13 (fifteen years ago) link

i've set out to be consciously derivative before and presented something that was a rip of x, x, x and x jumbled together and fucked around a bit. 'they', you know the 'Tastemakers' said: 'that's completley original' (wrong) or 'that's weird and i can't get my head around it' (if they think that's weird they must have pretty narrow points of reference) or 'that's shit' (fair cop guv).

i think we all have our set of quality control filters that make us decide whether an idea rocks or sux and use it/bin it accordingly. life got a lot easier for me when i recognised that most of my ideas were mediocre but that i could identify that and strip tracks out to the good stuff and work from there.

because a lot of my stuff is done under the influence of jazz cigarettes i also twigged that there was a tendency to do these long looping subtly morphing mixes that only sounded good to the stoned ear, so i threw it the other way and went consise, upped the sectional changes and broke down the repetition. maybe i went too far b/c i ended up with something that most listeners would only gain familiarity with after 4 listens or so. my experience is that the world doesn't have time for that many listens ergo the record tanked commercially.

the intro/vs/ch/vs/ch/m8/ch x2 structure works pretty well for me these days. if you work on tunes in absolute isolation with no input from other musos you may end up with a very dense 'headphone record' that doesn't translate well to the live environment. that's a real fucking shame b/c beyond all the logistical hassle, gigging esp. touring can be a lot of fun and a pretty great way of life.

john clarkson, Wednesday, 9 November 2005 18:45 (fifteen years ago) link

p.s. martin i used to do that too, religiously noting analogue board settings for mixes and such. you do get to a point after a while where you let it go and trust you can zero evrything and bring it back up another day and it will work b/c you know how to cover and slot frequency etc etc

john clarkson, Wednesday, 9 November 2005 18:51 (fifteen years ago) link

Oh I was horrible about it right down to writing down which pickup position my strat was in, where all the knobs on however many pedals and the amp were, what angle what microphone what preamp, where the gain setting was at, and everything else in the chain. Fucking ridiculous. In some ways I'm glad I did because it helped me learn by overanalyzing (which is to say now I can hear some things and just know where the knobs most likely are), but it definitely slowed me down and even sometimes sapped all the energy from something so that it turned out poorly or never got completed.

martin m. (mushrush), Wednesday, 9 November 2005 19:35 (fifteen years ago) link

Some v.interesting stuff here!

I am not a tweaker. Everything I intend to write must be able to be played live, so I try to keep in mind that little embellishments will get lost in the general racket. I have no home recording facility.

Dr. C (Dr. C), Wednesday, 9 November 2005 20:55 (fifteen years ago) link

I try to create whatever sound is in my head, but technical limitations and weird sound-making processes turn that into something else entirely. In the 50% of instances that the "something else" turns out to sound good, I try and follow it out into a complete recording.

I'm usually pretty happy about that. When I first started toying with recording things, I was more interested in what developed in the recording process than in writing songs beforehand. But back when I was recording indie-rock songs with guitars, I think I got to a point where I knew what I was doing just enough that nothing "happened" during recording -- it mostly came out as the song I started out imagining and outlining. Switching to assembling things on a computer makes it much more of a long process, and more of a process where things turn out in ways you don't expect, and lately I think I'm less good at sitting down and "writing a song" than I am at dealing with the process in a way that can maybe come out in an interesting spot.

(Though come to think of it I suppose the songs of mine that I like best have come from parallel courses -- conventional songwriting with the acoustic guitar, development with the sequencer, back to mapping it out on guitar, back to the sequencer, and so on until it's done.)

nabiscothingy, Wednesday, 9 November 2005 21:02 (fifteen years ago) link

my music sounds like it does as a result of my love of reverb & delay and the limitations of my technique. i've never particularly consciously sought to sound like any particular band.

i think i'm almost at the point where my guitar sound is how i want it to be. almost but not quite - although i think i know what i still need to experiment with. the next stop is of course working out how to make my recordings sound how i want. no engineer i've worked with has been able to get the sound i have in my head - but i believe i can find it with some trial and error..

john p. irrelevant (electricsound), Thursday, 10 November 2005 00:35 (fifteen years ago) link

nabisco makes good points about introducing unexpected variables when making music on a computer vs recording straightahead guitar stuff.

For me, those variables occur when I take stuff into a rehearsal. One of the others may pick up on a detail that they like that I hadn't thought about, or suggest another section, or just play it differently to the way I had intended. These variables are what keeps it interesting - in the mid 80s I had a go at recording some solo stuff where I played everything and I hated having total control. It just felt *arid*. I guess in those days the lack of software/computers to allow you to record at home was a barrier to quickly trying things that would take a recording off in an unexpected direction.

Dr. C (Dr. C), Thursday, 10 November 2005 08:27 (fifteen years ago) link

It's actually a very different experience, writing in a home recording setup, and writing live with a band. When I was writing for a band, I seldom demoed because all of those little nuances ended up getting overwritten or changed in live situations. I used to compare it to the difference between masturbation and sex with a partner - both are great, but both have their place.

Streatham's Paisley Princess (kate), Thursday, 10 November 2005 11:40 (fifteen years ago) link

...erm, yes!

Dr. C (Dr. C), Thursday, 10 November 2005 12:31 (fifteen years ago) link

That's part of what interests me about the rise of postal-serviced track-trading "we've never met in person" electronic music -- it's a way to turn alone-at-the-computer music-making into a collaborative effort, mutating back and forth, and it's weird the way it's de-linked from the need to be in the same space, or even talk to or know one another. Sometimes I have an urge to try this with someone, because one-person "arid" qualities are sometimes a problem with my stuff.

nabisco (nabisco), Thursday, 10 November 2005 18:48 (fifteen years ago) link


nabisco (nabisco), Thursday, 10 November 2005 18:54 (fifteen years ago) link

Yeah, I think I would enjoy that way of working too. Before my two-person electronic project fell apart, our best stuff would happen not when we were sitting together working on something, but when one of us was busy and we would alternate making changes to a track.

Jordan (Jordan), Thursday, 10 November 2005 19:00 (fifteen years ago) link

I've also found that doing things as simple as changing your environment helps. My band gets together about one or two nights a week and meets at my apartment rather than our practice space. We'll use acoustic instruments rather than our usual electronic gear and just sit on the couch and work on ideas. It's a bit more comfortable and we can always hear different parts and details that are generally masked from the volume generated at our usual space.

darin (darin), Thursday, 10 November 2005 19:40 (fifteen years ago) link

Deadlines are helpful sometimes too. Saying "I'm gonna write one new song today" or whatever. NaSoAlMo has really helped me jumpstart the writing process. Like I've said before, even if I don't get them all recorded in time to "win" at the end of November, the deadline has already helped me out a lot.

martin m. (mushrush), Thursday, 10 November 2005 19:51 (fifteen years ago) link

but it definitely slowed me down and even sometimes sapped all the energy from something so that it turned out poorly or never got completed.

a far more experienced artist/producer than me once heard me bemoaning my tendency to work on something, overcook it, then ditch it and all the attendant frustrations that that brought. his advice to me was: 'when a track collapses on you, you have to realise that it wasn't a complete waste of time. you're always learning from situations like this - you start to recognise the blind dead-end alleys before you go chuntering down them. it's not a quick process, but with time you get better at it.'

when i finally started finishing tracks to my satisfaction i realised how true that was. it can be soul destroying when tunes disintegrate or you get so bored that you HAVE to let go eventually and move onto something different, and this keeps happening over and over and over again, but you have to be strong and just keep throwing yourself at the wall. it will resolve itself. comfort yourself with the thought that you're chasing The Grail - artistic truth - a rare commodity these days, and while you may not go to the grave a materially rich person, you WILL ONE DAY achieve a level of personal fulfilment from your music that a whole host of multi-platinum selling cunts will neither know nor understand.

dissatisfaction is all part of the package. i've noted before that i'm trying to get tunes to the point where they don't irritate the bejesus out of me. it can be done.

remember that a work of art is never finished, only abandoned.

john clarkson, Thursday, 10 November 2005 20:57 (fifteen years ago) link

Well, like I said, part of my learning not to tweak settings and spend so much time making records was gaining the confidence to know I know my equipment (or equipment in general) well enough to get what I want over and over again without having to write every last damn detail down. It was also breaking myself of the thought process that said "everything must be exact" when really it just has to sound good. I mean the needle on a compressor's VU can be a useful tool, but there's no point in worrying about what the needle does if you can't also just listen while turning the knob until you hear what you want.

martin m. (mushrush), Thursday, 10 November 2005 21:25 (fifteen years ago) link

(In the above, when I said "spend so much time making records," I didn't mean recording songs. I meant writing down settings and other information for record-keeping during the process of recording.)

martin m. (mushrush), Thursday, 10 November 2005 21:26 (fifteen years ago) link

and my previous post implies that selling shedloads of records and 'artistic truth' are somehow mutually exclusive, which is of course total bollocks, but i think it applies in the majority of cases IMO.

just wanted to clear that up...

john clarkson, Thursday, 10 November 2005 22:22 (fifteen years ago) link

I'm not sure what's meant by artistic truth - I guess my take on it is just being happy with a song, knowing that *at this point in time there's nothing you would change about it, and you're proud of it & you want it to be heard.

*of course that doesn't stop you wishing you'd done it differently later on, that unfortunate side-effect of getting better as a band/artist!

Dr. C (Dr. C), Friday, 11 November 2005 08:07 (fifteen years ago) link

yeah 'artistic truth' was full of shit - that's australian shiraz for you.

i think your definition is good to go doctor...

john clarkson, Friday, 11 November 2005 08:50 (fifteen years ago) link

We've talked a lot about how the WAY that your music is made influences how it sounds, but something else that interests me is ...why do you make the *genre* (for want of a better word) of music that you make. (I know we all like to think that we're smashing through genre barriers, but you know...BROADLY i.e indie-rock, death-metal, glitch etc etc.)

Obvious answer is 'cos I like it' but lets go a bit deeper. Way upthread n/a said *The band I'm in now was consciously created as a "pop band," as kind of a reaction to a more experimental band I was in before*. That struck me as interesting because I've never really made a big flip like this. Why did you do it? What was hard about it? What came naturally?

Also nabsico said 'back when I was making indie-rock songs with guitars'.

My own answer is that I play pop-punk and Factory/Fall-ish stuff for various reasons, mainly that this stuff mobilized me as a musician in the first place and I still feel at home with it over 25 yrs on. Maybe the feeling was so strong that I've never moved on. I might listen to King Tubby, Chic and Northern Soul as much as Joy Division and The Sex Pistols, but when I pick up a guitar, it just *comes out like that*. Also it's easy to sound good, and we're not great musicians. Competent enough maybe, but I can't do a good Nile Rodgers! Also, I'm not bothered about doing anything *new*, other than in the sense that I want to write the great songs within the parameters I've chosen. I'm not making much sense. Another factor is that I'm interested in live performance first, recorded work second. I'm afraid I'm not making a lot of sense, so I'll press pause for a while...

Dr. C (Dr. C), Friday, 11 November 2005 13:16 (fifteen years ago) link

The genre of most bands I've ever been in has been a reaction against the kind of music I was playing before, albeit within the wide range of my tastes.

I joined a sample-based kraut hop band in the mid 90s because I wanted to do something more technologically aware after spending the early 90s in garage bands. I then started a girly power-pop band as a reaction to that. Post the girlband I started recording classical symphonies as a way of doing something totally different to anything else I'd done before.

Now I'm trying quite hard not to pay attention to genres when I write, except as a stylistic shorthand to a mood. I think it's better that way.

Stress Pig (kate), Friday, 11 November 2005 14:44 (fifteen years ago) link

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