FIRST THINGS FIRST…
Ok, so I wanted to write an article that – wait a minute, let me back up a moment… I NEEDED to write this article. It should’ve been one of my first articles, now that I think about it.
So, by now, as many of you know, I make music. Sometimes it’s glitch hop, sometimes it’s wonky, sometimes it’s weird skwunc acid chopped n screwed, etc… I try not to be a bandwagon jumper, although I will admit, when there’s a new style that comes along, sometimes I get into it, because I like the ideas or the sounds and vibes behind it… But, as opposed to your typical bandwagon jumper, most of my music has that trademark-StrangeFlow-sound to it… meaning there’s some funk in it, some hip hop rubbed on it, and often, I like to keep things somewhat tripped out, in a musical sense. It’s just the style I tend to go for.
Having said that, there’s a particular aesthetic in music I’d like to talk about… something I have dabbled with, but got pretty frustrated with, as well: for lack of a better term, I’ll call it that “Clean White Crunk” sound. Yea, it’s probably a little racially insensitive, but it sums it up pretty well, and besides, I don’t think it’s TOO horrible giving a little shit to White Folk (a group to which I am a member of) …
And besides, I’m not talking about ALL White Folk… But that aside, my point is: there are a lot of producers who make beats and mixes and tunes and epic-fucking-productions that are… well, *technically* perfect, but lack something very fundamental. DIRT.
You don’t have to bring your laptop into the shower with you. You see my portrait above? Do you see any gear in there? I mean… any computer gear, that is?
A LITTLE HISTORY
A little 90s history for ya… (some of you are probably very familiar with this, though) Some of you might remember back when the CD first popped up and took over the tape and vinyl era. A lot of people thought it was great (except for how fucking expensive they were back then) but after a while, some folks started expressing a certain complaint… They argued that there was something about digital music that lacked a certain authenticity, a certain soulfulness… When I first heard that argument, I dismissed it as naysayer bullshit. But then I learned a bit of the technical aspects of digital recording that got my attention.
If you look at the waveforms of a lot of digitally-produced tracks, they do look a little flat. Maybe, to some extent, it’s hard to work against that, BUT – what basically happened was that a lot of the peaks and variations in volume were compromised and/or truncated… You hear it in pop music more than anything else, so I will admit, it’s not just an electronic-music thing. But, when you’re dealing with digital musical encoding, you are, fundamentally, dealing with electronic music, in a way…
The ‘digital flatness’ argument is a good one, and although one thing I can’t stand is hearing an old 70s or 80s rock musician complain about ANYTHING in modern music (because usually their arguments against modern music are complete bullshit… “Oh, the lyrics were better BACK THEN…,” or, “Everything was better back when we only used guitars, ah these kids with their synths, I’m a crabby old fuck who can’t stand change, poor me, poor me!” etc…) I have to admit, they did have a point about the digital flatness thing…
Though, I must point out, there are DEFINITELY some artists who understand that argument, and act accordingly – and at very least, I must admit there certainly are artists who DO include peaks and valleys in their music. I’m not ripping on ALL electronic music, or ALL music in general, for that matter. Obviously, if I hated electronic music, I wouldn’t be writing this blog, would I?
…OR WOULD I?
No, no; I love electronic music. Don’t worry about that!
DON’T SCRUB OUT ALL THE SOUL!
The problem with making music with computers is that sometimes folks making music come up with sounds that are very vibrant and colorful and rich, but lack grime. And before anyone “calls me out” on that – no, I’m not insinuating that everyone has to make British grime hip hop… I’m just saying, add some dirt. Where’s the dust? Where’s the noise? Why did Americans have such a hard time digesting electronic music for so long? One reason (out of a list of about a hundred reasons… many of them stupid reasons) was that the music “doesn’t sound real.”
Back in the day (and still, to this day, though to a much lesser extent) this was something people would say, and, to be fair, some people still use that argument today (to which I would respond, “oh yea, and what the hell has your precious ROCK music done, besides give us the White Stripes, in the last fifteen years, that isn’t completely trite and unoriginal? To which they would have nothing to say, at which point I’d take out my pocket knife, slash their tires and run off)
But there is SOME reasonability to their argument, even if it came out of their rock-centric bias; where the fuck is the mud? The grime? The blood stains? The cum smudges? You hear all sorts of super-clean sounds in certain styles of electronic music, especially in glitch hop – to a point where some of the beats almost sound like plastic! A tiny little plastic drumset that nerds use to make their little bleeps and bloops on.
Am I hating? Ok, maybe a little bit… But I’m trying to promote a positive idea here… Although it’s somewhat subjective, it IS annoying to hear songs that lack any soulful humanity, aside from subtle velocity variations… or having three different snare sounds going on, instead of just one. Come on, make with the grunge (not talking about grunge rock) and make with the grime (not talking about grime rap) and make with the dust (not talking about pcp…. Or am I?) It’s entirely possible to have a shiny sound but still retain a bit of lint in your new mix’s belly button.
There’s so many things you can do…
SOME THINGS YOU MIGHT CONSIDER
…You could use samples. Actual samples – and please don’t scrub ALL of the 70s dust off of them.
…Distort things. MORE.
…You could even RECORD some feedback or noise and loop that in the overly-clean fashion that a lot of musicians do nowadays.
…You could incorporate real (actually-real) sounds into your mix.
…Accept that fact that it’s not the end of the world to incorporate a TINY bit of randomness or “clutter” into your mix; in fact, it might help…
…You could TRY going for the lo-fi aesthetic, maybe not in EVERY way possible, but it might be something to look into (and to elaborate on this anymore could be a whole ten page article in and of itself, and I’ll save that for another rainy day)
I’m not saying every single aspect of the song has to be a pigpen; in fact, I enjoy the relatively clean bass. But there’s so much more than just the bass…
Why make something that sounds like you jerked off into Ableton for two hours when you can make something that sounds like you not only jerked off into Ableton but then also forgot to clean up after you made that mess? Damn, that’s a really disgusting way of putting it… Ok, I take back that last metaphor, but only on account of it being too gross… The point is, you don’t ALWAYS need to polish your grooves until they sound fake, corny, and nerdy. That’s really what I’ve been trying to get at, with this whole weird rant.
Again, I’m not saying you have to make your mixes as dirty as MY bathroom (I don’t know where all those flies came from…) but why would you want to make music that sounds fake? There’s at least a LITTLE bit of credence to that douchey modern rock fan argument against electronic music, as much as I hate to say it. Even if a mix is ‘technically’ perfect, if it sounds like you asked your computer to make a song for you, what’s the point?
So, this is just my opinion, and certainly, there are fans of the overly-clean sound. I just wanted to get my thoughts out, because, for one thing, it’s my blog and I can rant about whatever I want – but for another thing, I think adding soul (or NOT scrubbing the soul out) might be a piece of advice that too often gets left out of the discussion…
It’s an issue I wanted to discuss, and feel free to ignore this if you’re totally into that Clean White Crunk sound. If you like it, then by all means, I respect your artistic integrity to incorporate it – and I truly mean that, too – I just feel it’s something that’s probably overlooked by a lot of folks. Electronic music has come a long way, and, like I said, there are a good number of folks who already understand what I’m saying, and have been adding soul to their beats for a while now. Even mainstream rock and pop fans are starting to come around to rave and ‘edm’ now, so that’s good, right?
At least they’re not still calling all of it ‘techno’ and then running off to their shitty Saves the Day concert… or whatever it is rock fans do. It’s still a mystery how people are still so captivated by the blandest possible rock music… But, I’ll stop now before I start ranting about that.
Again, that’s a rant for another rainy day…