January 12, 2008


by Chris Randall

One thing I don't care for, in the current (well, last five to seven years, anyway) trends of popular music is the incredible amount of production. While my tastes in music generally run to under-produced music to begin with -- Tom Waits, Neubauten, Grinderman, Cop Shoot Cop, that sort of thing -- I still listen to most of the Top 40, just to keep up with the Jonses.

What I've noticed, specifically in rock and R&B but in some other genres as well, is a desire by the producer (or, gasp, the band) to fill every possible moment in the song with the entire frequency spectrum of sound, and at least half of those sounds have some sort of plug-in trickery applied to them. Now, being largely in the business of making plug-in trickery possible, it's probably a bad idea to complain about that too much; it sounds like those "how to stop smoking" ads from Phillip Morris. But even so...

What got me on this line of thinking was that "Ladies And Gentlemen" track from Saliva that is used in the PS3 ad currently playing at every time out in every NBA game. That song is so totally overproduced as to almost be comical. There is literally no possible way a good rock band could play that live, let alone Saliva. It is just as programmed as any song by Autechre or Aphex Twin. (If you're not familiar, and for some reason curiosity gets the better of discretion, you can stream it here.) Another example that just pops to mind is Timbaland's "Give it to Me." I think it would be amusing to watch Nelly Furtado fuck the dropped beats up live; they wouldn't even make it to the first chorus. There is no way that song could be performed as you hear it, either, unless our current crop of pop vocalists learned polyrhythms overnight.

For my next Chris Randall record, which I'm starting this week, I'm going to go the other way entirely. I'm going to see exactly how much production I can do away with. We'll see how that works out, of course, and it may turn out to not work at all, but quite frankly, I'm of the opinion that you gotta start somewhere, and I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is.

In any event, no particular reason for this rant, except that I call 'em like I see 'em, and this is something I've been thinking about. Thoughts? Where do you draw the line when production "tricks" are now part and parcel of pop music?



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Jan.12.2008 @ 12:26 PM
I think it's becoming generally more acknowledged that programming and producing is a type of songwriting, arranging, or "performing" in itself. There's a reason why we're seeing a solo album by Timbaland, as opposed to say, a Rick Rubin solo album. How often do we see producers becoming performing artists as opposed to the reverse?

But will we we every reach a point where the public really understands that Nelly Furtado and Britney Spears may just be part of the producer's toolbox? Probably not, but we're closer. Why will the public accept Ashlee Simpson now, but not Milli Vanilli in the 90s?

I think production is just a newish branch of orchestration that has yet to mature.


Jan.12.2008 @ 12:26 PM
Personally, I'm for whatever works for the song. That's the first I've heard that Saliva song, but it does work (if the desired effect is to feel like you're being crushed by a steamroller).

But I'm also all for experimentation and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. But too often, it's the product of taking oneself too seriously. Fucking around for the sake of fucking around is fine. If it doesn't work, you've gotta be able to step back and admit when it sucks. Just don't get precious about it, and you'll be fine.


Jan.12.2008 @ 12:32 PM
i tend to agree with you but i am quite attached to a couple mars volta records and they are quite dense.

there's a lot of 'big and dumb' electronic music out these days too. sort of punk rock electronic stuff that to me is mosh pit music.it's all just big bass riffs and boom clack boom clack and zero subtlety. it's tiring and boring to me.

i rather enjoy space in music and a wide open sound.. though i do love some total freak out chaos if its done right and has some arc/progression to it... but it has to be more than a novelty.


Jan.12.2008 @ 12:40 PM
Texas campfire tapes.

Jan.12.2008 @ 12:44 PM
On the live Vs. studio debate - whats your opinion on the current crop of electronic acts touring these days with 'live' shows - i.e. Justice?

Jan.12.2008 @ 12:59 PM
Turbonegro does the over produced (and over written) Rock thing with a sense of humor and in my opinion pretty well plus they can pull over a tight show when applying themselves.

Jan.12.2008 @ 1:32 PM
This isn't purely a top 40 thing. Ladytron's last album was massively produced. The hit single sounds like a Pet Shop Boys track and was very polished. Then they show up live with 4 MS-10's, a Roland SH-201, and some pedals, and proceed to slaughter what for many fans should be the pinnacle rock out moment. It was painful.

Jan.12.2008 @ 2:01 PM
I like overproduced music. Just write a new arrangement to play it live. A top-40 band is probably going to lip sync anyway.

Jan.12.2008 @ 2:05 PM
Dave McAnally
I think over-producing can be a bit of an art itself (am thinking Bowie's Earthling album) but the underproduced raw stuff is so much more powerful. To me, The Stooges Funhouse album is amazing, yet it seems like its really sparse.

I know I talked about it on the CR site already, but Patterson Hood's solo album is fucking awesome and all it is is him a guitar and a mic

link [www.amazon.com]">link [www.amazon.com]


Jan.12.2008 @ 2:38 PM
I worked a Jesu show a while back, and their production is great but there's no way they could pull it off live with three guys. So they sent a stereo pair of backing tracks from a laptop into the board. Great, except...three songs in, their laptop crashed, and they spent half an hour trying to fix it, during which about a third of the crowd left. When they did come back, it felt really empty on stage, because there's this huge sound coming from the PA but only three dudes onstage playing really simple parts. If they had gotten a couple more members, there wouldn't have been a crash and it would have seemed a lot more believable.

My feeling is either put together a band that can pull it off, or re-arrange it. A good example is Wilco's live recording of "Jesus Etc", where rather than try to replicate the string section they created a new arrangement with pedal steel, organ, and Mellotron playing entirely different parts.


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