I always find myself engaging in conversations about the importance of “details” in music as a whole. If you check the dictionary, details are particulars considered individually and in relation to a whole. In other words, without the details, it is difficult to understand and see the big picture. These small, elaborated elements make the difference.
The last few years I have been trying to get deeper and deeper in the session scene. I had the privilege of working with many amazing music producers. The more I converse and discuss with music producers, the more I admire their skills, perhaps the same way we admire the skills of top bass players. Bassists like Jaco Pastorius, Marcus Miller, Ray Brown or even some more contemporary bass players like Damian Erskine or Hadrien Feraud are simply remarkable. Their time, feel, sound and most important their “voice” are second to none.
The “best” music producers – or should I say the music producers who pay attention and know how to treat the subtle “details” of a musical composition – are extraordinary individuals as well as musicians. In addition to their amazing musical abilities, they can understand, oversee and know how to use small subtle elements, in order to make their music unique and exceptional.
Top music producers got their skills from working on details. They practiced small things again and again, repeating their lesson with – as well as within- every music principle. By using the information they learned in a normal study room, their skills became second nature. These producers make it look so easy, to compose, re-harm, arrange, program, record etc, when in fact they stumbled through their process for a long time until they became comfortable with all these information they mastered.
If you check top-notch producers such as Rick Rubin, Nicolas Farmakalidis, Peter Gabriel, you will understand what I mean.
A few days ago, I had a great as well as very educational recording at Neilaproductions, for an up and coming singer – songwriter style album. It was probably the most instructive experience of my life. Before the recording, the producer explained the particulars of the recording. The clearer the facts of the recording, the better the result will be and the sooner we will finish.
The producer creatively guided and directed the process of making the record, like a director would a movie. The music producer’s job is to create, shape, and mold a piece of music. What I really found amazing was that during the recording, the producer changed my bass line as well as the strings voicings, doing re-harmonization and arranging on the spot. I did study the “science” of re-harmonization as well, however to be able to do it during a recording session and be absolutely correct without having an instrument next to you, is simply astounding.
If music is played as an art, I personally believe that it is best to be learned as a science though. It can be as specific as chemistry. For instance, if you take a minor third and add a perfect fifth from the root, the result will be a minor triad. Consequently, in chemistry, if you take two atoms of hydrogen and add one atom of oxygen you form one water molecule. The important is to understand the difference. Music is an art that has always offered the best results to students who learn it as a science. However, after you gain knowledge of these certain methodologies, you perform those with passion and a desire to create and touch people’s hearts. My point is that, my friends in Neilaproductions must have been studying arranging and re-harmonization as a science and now they are skillful and knowledgeable enough to be able to use that knowledge in order to create and enhance the beauty of a piece of music.
My last point, which I understand the more I study and record, is the concept of “time”. The performed rhythm – for instance a bass line – can sound very straight, exactly on the beat, swinging laid back or rushed. Important is how a listener perceives the timing of these rhythms and recognizes it as being ‘rushed’ or ‘swinging’, as well as why a rhythm with a slightly shorter note not is simply a different rhythm. These are matters that we do not typically address in music theory. However, they are essential aspects during a recording session as well as they are fundamental in the development of a cognitive theory of music as performed and listened to. Research in the perception of music as well structuring of events in music, is quite different from the concept of time in physics. “Listeners to music do not perceive rhythm on a continuous scale. Instead, rhythmic categories are recognized which function as a reference relative to which the deviations in timing can be appreciated”. (Nicolas Farmakalidis)
In fact, temporal patterns in music combine two time scales that are essentially different: the discrete rhythmic durations as symbolized by, for example, the half and quarter notes in a musical score, and the continuous timing variations that characterize an expressive musical performance – what musicians referred to as “feel”. By being in the studio with talented musicians and producers you understand how important time is and how it varies from every style of music to another.
To sum up, pay attention to details. This is what makes the difference. Every major artist and every truly dedicated student in every art form knows this.