In our efforts to make available as much music business information as possible for Alabama music artists, Alabama Music Office.com has asked music business professionals from all over the world to share their knowledge and experiences.
The argument is always the same. As time passes by we’re getting lazier, slower, fatter and more stupid. Our attention spans are shortening and our ability to retain information is dwindling. Everyone wants to point the finger at the media, smart devices and the internet. Are these the demons that are turning our brains to mush? Or could it be something we never saw coming? Turns out the extinction of human kind may not be from an asteroid, Cybernet becoming self aware or a zombie apocalypse. Our end may in fact come from terrible lyrics.
Are lyrics getting dumber or is it the audience? The devolution of lyrics may mean an 8 year old child with a texta can pen the next number 1 hit.
Dumb lyrics are nothing new in musical history. Give The Beatles credit where credit is due for their prolific song writing ability, but you can’t look a keen music fan in the eye and tell them that Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da is a hallmark of godly lyricism. Sorry Sir Paul, but even John Lennon called that song “Granny shit”. The point being is that there have always been cases of lyrics being plain silly, incomprehensible, rude and straight out moronic. One best not look at a band like Steel Panther too hard (lest your eyes melt from being overwhelmed by witnessing so much botox housed within a grown man, so don’t watch the video), but they released a song called Fat Girl a few years ago, and you guessed it, is about having sex with an overweight woman. I dare not repeat the lyrics here, but needless to say there are some poorly hidden innuendos involving melons and mayonnaise.
Steel Panther is an obvious target when discussing horrible lyrics, but the science has revealed that lyrics these days are genuinely getting dumber. US researcher Andrew Powell-Morse recently conducted a study to analyse the reading level of 225 songs that held a position in the US Rock, Pop, Hip-Hop/ Rap and Country charts for three or more weeks. What he found can be considered a little startling.
Currently the average reading level for a popular song is that of a kid in year two or three. That’s roughly the age of eight or nine. Whereas ten years ago the average level was children in years three and four. Yikes. That means one of two things; songs are getting dumber or your pre-teen could easily pen Beyonce‘s next world dominating hit. Or worse, the three other people who co-write her songs have the collective intelligence of a person who is yet to sprout pimples.
Powell-Morse’s research finds that country music can be considered the smartest genre. Why? You can chalk it up to the use of longer words, which scores higher when judging a reading level. Good old country songs were found to feature longer words like “Hallelujah” and “Hydrostatic Transmission“, so it pays to have a wider vocabulary when it comes down to the average intellect level of your music. Which means if you want your song to be considered clever you’d best steer clear of words like “Oh”, “Yeah” and “Baby“, not necessarily in that order.
That’s not to say that having longer sentences and words makes your song better, or by any means more worthy of artistic praise. Looking at Powell-Morse’s stats of the top rock songs ranked by school grade level Nickelback‘s Something In Your Mouthranks in with a 4.2 average grade level. Considering the highest is Dani California at 5.5, it’s not that much of an achievement, yet still ranks higher above many other songs featured in the study. Again, we’re not going to repeat the lyrics here, but anyone who has a listen to that song knows it is absolute lazy garbage.
Sure, you can argue that because a song is popular it doesn’t need to have substance, but isn’t that low expectation we have only prove that we aren’t seeking more sophisticated tunes? We’re not here to hate on pop music. Pop music is a whole lot of fun. Throw on Run the World (Girls) and you can bet I’ll dance my ass off, complete with sassy wrist twisting and hip gyrating. But music is first and foremost a form of artistic expression, a way to expand the mind, to draw in conversation on what makes you passionate and seek out answers through intuition. A romanticised notion at best, yet that is the seed of all artistic expression.
The thing is, it’s hard to sell artistic expression to the masses and make a living from it. Trust someone who works in the business, not many people in the music industry are making much money. In a world where Married At First Sight actually exists as entertainment, the best way to make a sure profit is to paint your expression in as broad a stroke as possible. But who is truly to blame? The few select moguls who hold all the dollars? Or is it the audience themselves, the masses who unquestioningly accept every bread and butter song that floats across the airwaves before being replaced but its doppelganger a month later?
So where do we draw the line between art and fun? Chances are the only person at a Kanye West gig who is judging the artistic quality of the show is king Yeezy himself. Getting down to some sweet jams what being a fan is all about, but to truly engage with it requires more. Lyrics to popular songs are getting dumber. The proof that was in the pudding was served and eaten up a long time ago. Yet does that mean we can only sit idly by and bemoan the the deteriorating nature of music and quite possibly our society? Of course not.
The research for Powell-Morse’s study focused on 225 songs in recent US chart history. His data was just for fun, and while it does paint a very true picture, it neglects the millions of other songs that have been written over time. From our own Aussie classics to the bloke on a shabby stage with a dingy PA system, there are plenty of intelligent songs out there. Ones that maintain a sense of artistic pride and vision whilst remaining fun and accessible. The artistic apocalypse is always looming, what maters is the audience. We all have our embarrassing music crushes from back in the day, but as people we evolve and our tastes diversify. There is more out there than what is on the top of the charts, and as any fan of Happy knows, a lot of it is both intelligent and amazing!
A music publicist breaks down seven basic tips to help you stay focused and confident and help you learn how to give a good interview to media or radio.
As a music publicist, I’ve worked with a lot of bands and musical acts, from many different levels of success. In more than a few cases, I’d say the artist’s interview skills could have used a tweak or two. Allow me to share some interview tips that will not only get you more comfortable, but will make you way better at giving interviews and help you better understand how to give a good interview.
1) Know your history
Make sure you have all the basics about your own career in the front of your mind before you start doing interviews. Go all the way back to refresh yourself on when and why you started doing what you do, how you met your band mates, the first songs you wrote, the first gigs you played, etc. If you have trouble recalling the essentials, you’ll be stumbling out of the gate, and you don’t want to end up sounding like a chucklehead.
When you become an established act, the ability to articulate your history will become even more important because music journalists will be able to Google reams of information about you before an interview and can catch you off-guard with obscure questions.
2) Be yourself
Lots of people already think being a performer is about the most ego-based decision someone can make, so be sure to keep the arrogance in check. Even if you think the questions are lightweight and tedious (which they often are), don’t give the interviewer that impression. Keep your enthusiasm up and be respectful, whether you’re big or small. The journalist often doesn’t need to be talking to you, so appreciate the opportunity even if you’re bored to death.
3) Don’t waste time
There was an acclaimed artist I once worked with who just couldn’t stop talking about comics and sci-fi. That made him awesome to hang out with, but he short-changed some interviews because of this. Several times I had writers ring me up to set up a second interview because they didn’t get all their questions answered the first time around.
You may feel like buddying-up and getting chatty with the journalist, but don’t distract from the agenda – they will end up with less to work with, which can result in a watered-down story. The clock is ticking, so limit the personal interest talk and tangents and stick to what you’re promoting.
4) Stay “on message”
Before you give an interview, decide in advance the point you want to make and drive it home. The best example of this is a politician running for office. They give up only what they have to regardless of the question. Your mindset should be that the journalist is there for YOU to use, not vice-versa.
5) Less is more
Anything you say to a journalist can be used. Be as succinct and direct in your answers as possible. The more you digress and wander in your responses, the more information you offer, and the more likely it is that your quotes will be taken out of context.
6) No dirty laundry
If you have issues with former band mates, other bands, your manager, your record company, or most anyone else – keep it to yourself. You may think you’re undermining the other guy, but it almost always backfires, often making YOU look like the jerk.
Want a worst case scenario? One time I had an artist who used an entire interview with a national magazine to bad mouth the label. The writer called me up to tell me what happened and that the interview was unusable. The feature was lost. I told the A&R guy, who then told the big boss. Later that day the artist was dropped.
Seek your justice behind the scenes or use your songs as the rage outlet. The media is for promoting your works, not your feuds.
7) Be confident
A journalist is not your friend, priest, or therapist. He or she is not there to validate you to other critics or the public at large. Don’t seek reassurance from them, don’t try to impress, and don’t apologize for anything. Stay in control, take charge of the conversation, and remember that the interview is a means to a promotional end for you.
Also consider that the impression you give is more than likely the impression the journalist will take away, which is especially important as the journalist always has the last word. Decide your message and implement it, and most of all, don’t sweat your interviews. If someone is interested enough to want to talk to you about your music, have some fun, and don’t ever take anything in the resulting coverage personally.
Equalizers are one of the most common tools we use. Although there are “no rules” when it comes to working with audio, some EQ tips have been reiterated so often that many of us take them as gospel. If you’re anything like me, you’re probably guilty of going on “autopilot” and high-passing everything from time to time. How about accidentally cutting an instrument’s tone to shreds, boosting frequencies like a drunk, or not really listening to how something fits in the overall mix? We’ve all done it. Don’t worry, I won’t tell.
With that in mind, I decided to ask a few of the best engineers and producers around today for some real-world insights on how they use EQ to transform and enhance the music they work on day after day.
Garbage In, Garbage Out
First of all, no amount of EQ will make a terrible singer incredible. EQ can enhance a sound, but it can’t do magic. (Even if you’re using the greatest gear on the planet.) So focus on the big picture: An instrument can sound awful soloed but still work wonderfully in the song. Try not to get too stressed about it, and trust your ears.
Cut / Boost
It doesn’t matter what an “EQ chart” you found on the Internet says. Blindly tweaking frequencies will typically do more harm than good. If you’re making a cut or boost, have a reason for it. Will it help the mix?
“I try to cut rather than boost whenever possible,” says Rick Kwan[My Morning Jacket, Bruce Springsteen, Jimi Hendrix]. “One thing that I think [most] people don’t know is that in the Avid EQ III plugin, you can hold down ctrl+shift while you adjust the frequency and it works as a band pass filter for finding problem areas. I use that shortcut all the time!”
It’s also worth remembering that sometimes a static EQ setting won’t work throughout the entire song. Don’t be scared to make different adjustments for each section.
Making bold moves can be worthwhile. “There’s a reason EQs have a plus and minus 15dB or more setting,” notes Joe Barresi[Queens of the Stone Age, Bad Religion, Chevelle]. “Don’t be afraid to use it.”
Dan Korneff[Pierce the Veil, Crown the Empire, Motionless in White] adds, “When I was first starting out, I had always read that you should never do too much when EQing. Subtle changes at most. And you should always cut first. Get rid of the stuff that you don’t like. It wasn’t until I sat down at the console with one of the truly great mixing engineers (Andy Wallace) that I adopted the exact opposite practices. He was doing some really drastic moves. Up to +15dB boosts all over the place…and it sounded unreal.
“It opened my eyes to the fact that you should never limit yourself. Do whatever you have to do to get the sound you want. Don’t be afraid.
“With that being said, there is a time and place for everything. Don’t boost 20kHz on a bass guitar, and don’t boost 50Hz on a hi-hat track. Those instruments don’t live in that frequency range and you’ll be wasting sonic space with useless energy. I’m a big fan of using HPF and LPF to eliminate unneeded frequencies. You end up leaving so much more space for other tracks to play with.”
Just because the plugin has a preset that says “guitar” doesn’t mean it’ll sound great on your guitar. Presets can be a decent starting point, but there’s almost always tweaking to be done. You need to trust your ears and not rely on any one company’s proposed EQ curve. And, sure, the UI might look awesome but it’s not about the fancy colors. Close your eyes, hit that bypass button often and make sure you’re actually improving the sound.
Play Nice Together
Some gear just seems to work better for getting certain sounds. Abe Seiferth[Yeasayer, Bear in Heaven, RAC, Susanne Sundfør] points out, “When EQing a track, you don’t have to do everything with one EQ. It can help you stay organized if you use certain EQs for specific tasks. For instance, on a vocal I’ll use Logic’s EQ to notch, a Neve 1083 to color and a Pultec to add clarity and air. The same can be said for kick drums. I like to have a dedicated EQ just for the low end as well as one for body and one for the attack.”
“Learn to match different pieces of gear to get the sound you want and learn what combos work for different musical parts,” suggests James Sáez[Social Distortion, Jerry Lee Lewis, Morgan James, Porno For Pyros, Marcus Miller]. “Save multi-chain setups in your DAW or on your console and refine them over time for a quick starting point.
“It used to be that whatever console you were working on was the EQ and gain structure that defined the sound of your project, but these days flavors in and out of the box abound I find myself combining effects a lot more often and utilizing dynamic, parallel and mid side EQ/compression daily. Technology now makes these elaborate setups much easier to recall so take advantage by building and storing the signal chains that make your ears smile.”
Time and Patience
It’s not about getting things done the fastest. EQing is a delicate process. “It’s always best to make EQ adjustments in rounds – a little bit at a time,” says Andrew Maury[RAC, Penguin Prison, High Highs, Panama Wedding, Ra Ra Riot].
“Let’s say you’re scanning the mix for things to improve. You notice a kick drum is feeling a bit dull…and you go to boost the top end. It’s very easy to become overzealous and fall victim to a snowball effect in the reward center of your brain. Go bold where your instinct says it’s improving the sound, then split the difference! Put your hands up and calmly step away. Circle back to it later and see how you feel.”
Fix It First
“EQ isn’t just that button on your console or plugin,” remarks Sáez. “It’s in every part of your signal chain from the microphone you use, the instrument you record and even the room you do it in — so don’t forget to think before you print.
“If the drums sound a bit dull and lifeless, try pulling up the carpet, putting on coated heads or moving the whole set to a different spot in the room. Do you find yourself really needing to push the high mids on that guitar track that’s getting lost? Maybe the part is more suited for a Telecaster than a Les Paul and you may want to try less distortion on a smaller combo amp. Is the vocal sounding muddy? Before you grab that EQ, try the roll off on the mic, some room treatment or maybe that multi $ huge diaphragm condenser just isn’t the right mic for your singer.
“The bottom line is that if you make a mess upfront it’s gonna roll down hill and no amount of EQ later is going to make it sound better than if you take the time to handle it now.”
Side to Side
“Don’t forget the sides of your mix,” says Heba Kadry[Chief Mastering Engineer at Timeless Mastering].
“EQing just the sides can completely transform a track and fix issues without resorting to drastic stereo EQing strokes. For example, taming harsh or overwhelming cymbals without messing with the snap of your snare, or creating a better and more concise image without using all those image widening plugins that can completely collapse your mix.
“You’ll be surprised to hear how much information you’re missing out on utilizing when you’re not focusing on what’s happening in the sides.”
Don’t Touch That Dial
You shouldn’t EQ just because you’ve heard that you “should”. Sometimes, the more you tweak, the worse things get. Occasionally, an instrument will sit perfectly in a mix without needing any real adjustments at all. When that’s the case, just go with it and don’t do any surgery.
Sáez adds, “I was really lucky to work with many amazingly talented engineers and mixers when I was coming up and one thing I noticed was that the guys who did the best work often spent a good amount of time working on levels, panning, and arrangement before they ever started grabbing for the EQ knife.
“Loudness is a perceived thing and it can really change as the structure of your mix comes together. Figure out what makes a song tick and try to bring that energy to the forefront before you attack each instrument. Just because you solo a track and it’s not the coolest thing you’ve ever heard doesn’t mean that it’s not the sonic key that’s holding things together. Think big first…carve and sand later.”
Michael Duncan is an up-and-coming producer/engineer based in NYC. He has assisted several notable producers, including Andrew Maury, Dan Romer, and John Siket.