First, news. I had the pleasure of working with Mudhoney in the studio again after 6 years. They booked three days with me to record a couple songs "for a single", they said. Steve was going to overdub the bass parts. Then I got an email from Wayne Kramer, who you may recall was a guitarist for the mighty MC5 circa 1972, saying how much he was "looking forward to working with me on the sessions." Huh?? I had to call Mark Arm and say, hey, what's the story? Turns out that Wayne works as an A+R guy for an internet record company called MusicBlitz.com, and they had commissioned Mudhoney (who are now free agents, having been dropped by Warner's) to give them one song, to be exclusively available on the Musicblitz.com web site. Wayne was going to fly up to Seattle to produce, which implied therefore that I would be "merely" engineering. To which I said, if Wayne Kramer wants to produce Mudhoney while I engineer, who the hell am I to argue? You don't really "produce" Mudhoney, anyway. I figured, I'll just do my thing. As it turned out, Wayne is a sweet guy, and he ended up playing bass on three Mudhoney songs, one of which, "Inside Job", is now available at Musicblitz.com. A second song, "The Straight Life," was finished and mixed; a third, untitled, has no vocals yet but does have Wayne contributing a guitar solo. So much fun was had by all that I think Mudhoney (the three who remain) will probably come in later in the year and do a few more songs... and maybe, just maybe, they will eventually have enough for an album. They're in no hurry, and like it that way. Right now, Mark and Steve are busy with Monkeywrench.
Upcoming work: new stuff from The Day I Fell Down, Zen Guerrilla, Black Halos, Mercury Four, Bottle of Smoke... and possibly Gas Huffer later in the year.
Hopefully you checked out the article by Joe Carducci that I sent you the link for; if not, here it is again: http://www.newtimesla.com/issues/2000-06-15/music.html
Another article you should read is in the current issue of Flipside, the one with Lunachicks on the cover. It's an excellent interview with "Moses Avalon", the pseudonymous author of the amazing book "Confessions of a Record Producer," one of the best books I have ever seen about the music business.
IT'S SOAPBOX TIME!
Minidisc. What the hell can I say about Minidisc? I'm starting to get demos sent to me from Europe (unasked for, of course) on minidisc. I'm sure the quality's fine, but the problem is I don't have a minidisc player, and until VERY recently didn't know a single person here who had one. Tad brought one in a while ago (he got it for xmas) and had me make him a copy of his mixes. I compared the sound of his minidisc to the original DAT, and it was pretty good, WAY better than a cassette would have been. So why hasn't it caught on here in the US of A, and why am I not interested in it?
CD-Rs, that's what. Minidisc has one great, glaring weakness which sinks it as far as I'm concerned: it's a real-time format. If you want to record a 45-minute album, it takes 45 minutes. If you want to do a digital transfer from the minidisc player to anything else, it still takes 45 minutes. There is the same problem with DAT, and one of the (many!) reasons why I am looking forward to the day when the DAT format is killed dead, dead, dead.
Once you've used an audio program to record your mixes directly to a hard drive or JAZ disc, once you've copied the whole album to another hard drive in two minutes, once you've used a CD burner that goes 6x or 8x, once you've used a ripper program to convert audio on a CD into computer files, this business of waiting around for a format that only operates in real time gets mighty old. Especially if you're working in a studio and charging people by the hour for the equivalent of cassette dubbing. This is why Minidisc fails to excite me much. Once you've converted your audio into computer files, you never have to deal with them in real time again until you actually want to listen to them. And blank CD-Rs are cheap and getting cheaper (like 50 cents each now), and guess what, you only need a regular CD player to hear 'em anywhere. So who the hell needs a less-convenient, lesser-quality format, for which you have to buy a special playback machine?
People without computers, I guess. But that's fewer and fewer of us.
Admittedly, there are plenty of editing possibilities with MD. You can play all kinds of games resequencing songs, splicing them, naming them, etc. On the other hand, the machines incorporate the dreaded SCMS, Serial Copyright Management System, the thing which killed DATs in the consumer market: you can only make a one-generation digital copy. And the Minidisc file format (a compressed, compromised form of sound file similar to MP3) is useless with computers and/or the internet, which is probably why the Powers That Be like 'em, while consumers (at least in the US) don't see the point.
So, save your MD demos. Send me cassettes so I can listen in my (six year old) car. (90-minute hi-bias tapes only, please.)
YOU'RE (NOT) SURROUNDED
What about 5.1 mixing? This is the projected multichannel format of the future: Left, Center, Right, Left Rear, Right Rear, Subwoofer (that's the .1 part). It seems to be somewhat horizon-ish: no matter how fast you go, you never get there. Yeah, I know there are people making 5.1 (multichannel) mixes for certain purposes, usually DVDs or movies. I can definitely tell you that they do exist, somewhere. I'd love to mess with 5.1 sometime, if I knew of anyone that had the slightest use for it. I wonder when its going to trickle down to the indy-rock rabble? Or, for that matter, the major-label rabble (those smaller than, say, the Eagles or U2)?
I was just going through some old audio magazines. The 1997 issues of Mix, EQ, Musician, etc, were packed with articles on "The Coming 5.1 Revolution." What they missed was the coming CD-R/internet/MP3 revolution. In one 1997 editorial in EQ, the editor shouts, "Who's holding up 5.1? You are! [Meaning, the consumers and producers of audio, i.e., everyone not in a corporate boardroom.] Let's go, let's make it happen."
The economics of the record business conspire against people making 5.1 mixes. It costs way more in studio expenses, and who pays for it? The artist, out of their future royalties. Good old artist! Few enough artists are making any money from their recordings as it is. Anything that causes artists to spend even more of their nonexistent money in the studio is not going to be greeted warmly. And studios, who are already being hurt from the proliferation of cheap, good-quality home-recording gear, see very little economic incentive to upgrade their gear yet again for something that, basically... nobody outside the movie industry seems to give a damn about.
Nobody really cares. It's the songs, stupid.
The lesson everyone should be drawing from the internet/MP3 explosion, and I say this non-judgmentally, is that consumers don't care about sound quality. What they want is SONG quality.
Think about it. What drives virtually all of popular entertainment, from TV shows to movies to POLITICS to daily "news" and magazines, is the appeal to cheap, exaggerated EMOTION. Greed, fear, sex, romance, melancholia, nostalgia, sentimentality, patriotism even. That's what makes songs hits, something that "statistically average people" can relate to emotionally. That's why huge hits often seem so sappy to some of us who maybe live on a different planet emotionally from everyone else... yech! (Phil Collins? Celine? Whitney? Creed? Get it?) Essentially, a comic book/sitcom/soap opera level of emotional content seems to be the most important factor in popular mass culture. That includes popular music. "Sound Quality" is pretty far down the priority list below "Emotional Content." That's what we should learn from the popularity of MP3s. (And AM radio.)
I'll say it another way, in spite of the fact that it may cost me my career in the long run. People want quality music, not "quality sound." They want something they can hum, and once that melody or catchy lyric has transferred itself from the CD or radio into the listener's short-term-memory and starts playing itself over and over in their brain, the size of the original recording budget (or how many channels, or what sampling rate) no longer has any meaning! Hello? Does anybody get this? A lot of really crappy sounding records have sold millions. A lot of great sounding, expensive records don't sell because they have no songs.
It's all just paint splattered on canvas. No one cares which mic preamp you used for the drum overheads... but does the song have a hook?
Let's tell it like it is. There's no excuse for taking a year and a million dollars to make a record. Either you have songs or you don't. Records that take a year to make usually suck vigorously. Most of them do not sell, as the big labels know so well. The people are not fooled. Can't we all just admit this and get real?
I guess I'm just grouchy today. I'm actually a nice and pleasant fellow...
P.S. Just a reminder, if you change your email address, send me the new one... and include your OLD address so I can delete it! Just want to stay in touch.