Thursday, November 11, 2004

Double standard time

So, the recording the band is making is intended to be a demo. What we're going to use it for hasn't been determined, but never mind. Demos don't need to be perfect, they can even have outright mistakes. The point is to show a prospective booker, record flak or reporter what the band is about. It should be no more than four songs and your best one should be first. Other than putting your contact info on every available surface, including the CD itself there aren't any rules. Right now I'm working on the melody line to R ubber D ucky.

The next level up in recording is the Stage Sale CD. This is the product you flog after gigs to get beer money and/or gas money to get to the next gig. These recordings don't have to be perfect either. There shouldn't be any obvious mistakes but little things like finger squeaks or the occasion less than perfect tightness* is ok. The people your selling to are usually friends and family, they'll forgive you.

The last level is the commercial release. This should be as perfect as you can make it. Perfect doesn't mean slick and over-produced, it means that everything on the album is intentional. If you're even a little out of tune then you'd better have a good reason for it.

Last Friday the LUC and I went a fundraiser for the local opera troop. I sat next to a woman who, surprisingly enough, loved opera. We talked quite a bit about music and I tried to explain why I love punk music. [I love opera too, but for different reasons.] She said to me "Aren't they just not very good at playing?", an oft heard refrain. The point isn't that they're not technically adept, but that technique isn't important. The most important thing in punk music is passion. If you're giving it your all, sincerely and passionately, then you've succeeded.

I think classical music can use a little of this ethos. Too many classical recordings sound like they're done by machine. Note perfect beginning to end. Music is a human thing. Perhaps the most human of all the arts because it happens in time. At a live performance you get what you get, perfect or not, just like all human interactions. Humans make mistakes and eliminating them entirely makes things sterile. I'm not saying I enjoy watching people who make nothing but mistakes. What's compelling to me is to watch people push their limits.

Be it opera or punk there's nothing more exciting than a performer who's teetering on the edge of disaster. I end up pulling for them the way you would a tightrope walker swaying in a sudden breeze. "Come on, you can do it! Just a little further!" In punk the limits of their ability are much lower and so you often see performances where this happens. The performers get caught up in the emotions of the moment and the song, and quickly reach their limits trying to express it. Very compelling.

To review: mistakes are ok on demos, indeed they're kind of expected. And, I truly believe that mistakes, especially ones made because of passion, are ok. So why is it that I can't record a melody track for R ubber D ucky that's acceptable to me?

Musician: thy name is double standard.

*tightness is defined as how rhythmically together everyone plays.


Esther Kustanowitz said...

Musician, thy name is not double standard. Thy name is personal perfectionism and a belief that things can always be tighter. And FWIW, Rubber Duckie is a very hard song.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this! I'm encountering problems with my drummer who's not too keen on selling our CDR to people at gigs. He doesn't think it's good enough. Although I admit that it's not perfect, it's important to have something to sell/give to people who want it so your name gets out there. And I don't want to be locked up in a basement for the next six-twelve months practicing the same pieces until he things they're perfect enough. The kind of experience and feedback we gain from playing out and selling 3-song CDRs for $5 is invaluable. But perhaps we're both taking ourselves a little too seriously...

I remind him to take a good look at the demographics that see us play at a bar. Most people who expect perfection from live music NEVER go see bands in bars. They're the ones who stay home and rent movies on a Friday night. Those who do see live music in bars are aging punk rockers who don't like/expect/enjoy over-produced, polished pieces, but rather, expect to see people who love what they're doing, or people who aren't confined by the rules and explore something new and different (if you stand by the belief that it hasn't all been done before - and not all that is new and different is good...)

Thank you for vocalizing what I'm unable to articulate to my drummer.

All the best,


PS: It was great seeing you, even if it was just for a short while.

Coelecanth said...

Esther: had to think about that. It's no secret that I'm a perfectionist, a lazy perfectionist which is no way to run a life. Interesting that word "personal" though. I hadn't thought about that before but it's perfectly true. I can accept other's faults much more readily than my own. Which I guess, is something of a double standard, no? :)

Anonymous said...

Esther is right about you. And I know this because I'm the same way. Don't know if it's double standard, but perhaps it comes from the fear of other's criticism of our work. - MJ