One of the most important actions behind music production is addressing the dissonant moments. I don’t mean just musical dissonance, like when a singer hits a ‘wrong’ note, or when a drummer misses a few beats. I mean thematic dissonance, when you have melodies, rhythms, licks, lyrics or arrangements that diminish a song’s impact by clouding its inherent identity.
TRIM THE FAT!
Some players jump to protect their ‘organic’ contribution and the notion of their creative autonomy, because let’s face it, participating in any creative pursuit involving co-operation has its moments of contention and disagreement, and egos clashing. Everyone has an ego. We put up those walls first, and then we hear the message, subjectively.
So let’s remember that there is much more to be said for engraining co-operation, and support into one’s development as an ‘organic’ recording artist or band. There is also a lot to be said about our dependence on the ‘organic’ ideal and its implications.
Many bands develop a dynamic where no one takes the bull by the horns to address the dissonant elements in the music, instead jamming on songs for hours, days, and weeks without discussing the material. Bands that neglect the dissonance in their songs are fighting an uphill battle, because it precedes addressing the thematic unity.
We all know that sound: drums and bass not quite locked in; competing musical flurries from guitars and vocals; too little to differentiate a song’s numerous sections; too many musical ideas that amount to less actual music.Everyone in the band feels good to be a part of a team where their role is never questioned and they can rule autonomously over their corner of the kingdom. It is the sound of most of the bands your friends and mine play in, or the bands you see live, fighting for bigger shows but rarely breaking the mould. It is the opposite of what anything on the radio sounds like. Pick a station.
One easy way to address thematic elements in a band is to discuss what each song is about! A songwriter who keeps everyone in the loop naturally, in everyday conversations, gets far more out of his/her band. Some bands have it engrained into their creative process, and it shows.
Another way to improve a song is to simply sit out for a take, while your bandmates play the song. Listen intently. Hone in on the vital sections, always trying to hash out the song’s inherent identity. Mind the shape of the song implied by patterns within the lead vocal, or its lyrical content. Consider your show antics (wild solos, excessive flare) to be separate from the song’s identity, but they need not be mutually exclusive.
Respect where the vocals are, and where the vocals are not. Use the spaces as prime locations for your riffs or fills. Notice the immediate appearance of lyrical, flowing musical ideas, and the emergence of advanced interplay, such as call-and-answer moments, some of which solidify the song’s inherent identity. Musical discernment required!
Emotions are not guitar licks, drum fills and vocal runs. They are far more complex. Pulling off an emotion requires you to know what feeling you are trying to create! Embody that feeling when you play. Every song requires different emotions at different times. That it why everyone needs to be on board. A well-crafted, perfectly played melodic form to end a chorus could just as easily get overrun and nullified by a couple of bass notes or a drum fill, simply because it was never discussed.
Above all, feel confident that you can change a song for the better. Bands are often paralyzed, toward songs they have jammed on for a while. Truth be told, in the big scheme of things, it is favourable to make the biggest changes before the initial momentum dwindles, but that should not justify keeping a repertoire of tired songs. Even if you’re not the lyricist, you should feel free to mention any line that seems out of place! Consider the perspective of an undecided voter. What will make them jump onboard?
As a final thought, there is no manual that stipulates it should be painless to ditch ideas you once held so close, or to incorporate ideas you had previously sworn off. Allow for some discomfort, at times, in your creative process. The idealism of shunning outside influence to one’s creative pursuit, as a musician, artist, or producer, is just as often a sign of isolation and inflexibility and as it is of genuine authenticity. Even more rare is it a sign of quality. To think one’s ‘organic’ potential so fragile that one cannot engage ideas from other sources, or even be exposed to them, shows a lack of discipline.
The most successful people in the recording industry tend not to have bleeding hearts. They make decisions, not in the absence of egos, but despite them.