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A song that can't be sung effectively by one person with one instrument isn't a great song

A post by David Mellor
Tuesday November 30, 2010
Written any great songs lately? Did they need a massive production with hundreds of tracks to sound good? Then they are not great songs.
A song that can't be sung effectively by one person with one instrument isn't a great song

I'm reading a book at the moment titled Zen and the Art of Mixing by some guy who calls himself Mixerman.

Actually, he's not just some guy. Since no-one seems to know his real name, we can't assess how good a mixer he is. But you can't write a whole book (or in Mixerman's case two books) without revealing quite a lot about yourself and your abilities. And clearly Mixerman, whoever he is, knows what he is talking about.

I could write a review of the book, but actually that wouldn't do it justice, in my opinion. So I have decided to take some key points that Mixerman makes and give my slant on them here over the next few weeks. Look out therefore for The Mixerman Series, of which this is the first installment.

Mixerman makes an interesting point that if recording technology somehow ceased to exist, truly great songs would live on from generation to generation being passed down through performance.

He goes on to say that a great song can be delivered (a key word there) to the listener using only voice and one accompanying instrument.

I think that is true, although the world doesn't need great songs only. We need fill-in material for when we just want a bit of pleasant music; it would be tedious to be awe-inspired by greatness all the time.

I also think that there is such a thing as a great production, regardless of the quality of the song. A great production can make the listener respond to pure sound, rather than the emotion that a great song might convey.

But - and I don't mind being called an old-fashioned fuddy-duddy if it's really necessary - I do believe that over recent years production has become a substitute for great songwriting.

Back in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, if you wrote a song, you could demo it with voice and guitar on a Revox and take it to a publisher. If he liked what he heard, he would sign the song up (or sign you up as a writer) and hawk it to artists and producers. The producer who took it on would then be responsible for delivering it to the listener.

But now a demo has to sound like a finished production. So the songwriter no longer has only the song to concentrate on, they have to create a whole production too.

So now only songwriters who can produce can ever have a hit. If they can't produce, then their demo won't receive proper consideration and their song will never be heard by the people who could potentially make a difference.

I would imagine therefore that many great songs lie unloved in demo productions that just get in the way rather than showing them off to their best advantage.

This would be a case therefore for saying that a demo of a really good song should just use voice and guitar. Preferably a top-notch singer and an able guitarist.

And if the song is truly great, then it will make quick progress on its way to becoming a hit. That's if whoever listens to it first (the intern probably) can see beyond the lack of a bang-whizz-wow production.

Back to Mixerman. Mixerman makes the point that the production should follow the song and do whatever it takes to deliver it to the listener in the most effective way possible. The mix should follow the song, not necessarily the production. So if the production is cluttered and gets in the way of the song, cut it back and let the vocal sing through.

Our recommendation: Buy the book.


RecordProducer.com has no connection with Mixerman other than he once left a message on our answering machine, he has sent us two of his books for review, and we have an informal agreement to quote each others' websites. We do not receive any commission on sales of the books.

A post by David Mellor
Tuesday November 30, 2010 ARCHIVE
David Mellor has been creating music and recording in professional and home studios for more than 30 years. This website is all about learning how to improve and have more fun with music and recording. If you enjoy creating music and recording it, then you're definitely in the right place :-)