ART VS ENTERTAINMENT PT2- THERE IS NO ART INDUSTRY

The other day, I saw a blog posted on Facebook which largely condemned not only contemporary popular music, but this culture that permits and encourages such music and spectacle to take place for us and our children to see. I really appreciated how passionate the writer was and enjoyed many of the points he made.

http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.hipstercrite.com%2F2013%2F08%2F29%2Fforget-miley-how-to-talk-to-your-children-about-their-shitty-music-taste%2F&h=NAQHBz3-EAQGLMGas1KO3U4rACui3lp_2ykXiO6xLFvr-qw&enc=AZNvA4GBwhTZXgO68dwfisGBpt-l1o3EMzYMK8_lRZ37Nbwh9OS_xHdJ9bo2HofJFMVwwHnN2a9ZOCdmSPArUvB0&s=1

That is, until I got to the part where he referred to the individuals such as Miley Cyrus who dispense their wares under the umbrella of the “the art industries”.

Having seen a lot of art and been present for the creation of even more, I can say with great certainty that there is nothing resembling so-called “art industries” (or art) anywhere in the vicinity of these people the writer of this article has identified with said art industries. The fact is, none of these individuals are artists, much as they might want to be in their wildest fantasies.

There is an entertainment industry. There is even a music industry. But there is no art industry.

Additionally, there is no art being created or emanating from the entertainment industry. None. If you require proof of this, speak to any random executive who works at any level of the entertainment industry. Ask him what his prime directives are and those of the corporation he works for. Within a scant few minutes, you should have a good indication of how utterly irrelevant art is to the entertainment industry and everyone in it.

The words “art” or “artist” are terms with a certain cache which are dragged out of mothballs when this cache needs to be applied to a specific entertainer- usually to give his lack of commercial success some degree of credence or to make the more gratuitous amongst the larger community of entertainers appear to the public as being more “serious” than they cause themselves to appear. Relative to this, there was a recent article full of industry apologists explaining why Kanye West’s latest offering is, depending on who you choose to believe, a commercial disaster or a resounding artistic success. Proof once again that reality is the most flexible commodity we possess.

http://www.eurweb.com/2013/07/kanye-west-hits-first-time-sales-slump-with-yeezus-album/

I am someone who feels that art is an indispensible aspect of human endeavor and human existence (and who also likes to believe that he has- to whatever minimal extent- contributed to its advancement). I am equally appalled and angered that anyone, no matter how valid or strong their primary point, would equate and confuse the self-obsessed spectacle of entertainers with the expression of artists.

The fact is, there never could be an “art industry”. The very personal nature of expression prohibits this from ever happening. There may exist industries which have subsidized artists, but never co-opted art. The absolute and only thing co-opted has been people’s perception of what art and an artist actually are.

An artist works to refine and follow a series of inner directives- not appeal to everyone so he’ll amass fame (and presumably, fortune). Any time you get that familiar aroma of seeking approval while trawling for attention by doing something seemingly outrageous, you know you’ve ceased dealing with art.

Art is the product of an individual’s expression for the sole purpose of doing expressing himself, while entertainment has become a means to gain the attention of others, usually by means of a spectacle. These days, that spectacle has no actual point or necessity beyond getting attention. This is why reality TV stars are entertainers, the same as Miley Cyrus.

Artists can, by their own recognizance, be entertainers. Every great performer who ever became an entertainer was, at their core, an artist first and foremost. Entertainers, however- those individuals who crave attention because they never got enough from their parents and don’t actually have anything to say- cannot be artists.

Posted in art, creativity, Downloading, expression, Kanye West, Michael Beinhorn, Miley Cyrus, Music, Music Business, Music Industry, Music Production, Pop Music, Popular Music, record production, Recording, Recording industry, VMA's | 2 Comments

ART VS ENTERTAINMENT PT1

The other day, I went to an exhibition of the artist Edgar Degas at a local museum. It was a great exhibit and I learned a lot. The accompanying commentary was fascinating and demonstrated how far Degas pushed the various media he used in previously unseen ways, all in the pursuit of his own expression. He literally allowed nothing to interfere with his need to free himself from established norms- to employ paints, brushes, charcoals, wax, pastels, etc in ways other than how they were traditionally used and beyond what others had done before with them.

This man- Degas- used everything at his disposal to express himself, completely and fully. No technique, no material was safe from his obsessive need to create, to mutate styles and in so doing, mutate the ways people looked at both objects and art.

He was creating his own language- a means of communication never before seen in visual art. His own personal expression.

He broke down barriers, changed people’s perceptions and changed the world. He was an artist.

The other week, Miley Cyrus got up at the VMA’s and did something roughly resembling a performance in front of a largely disinterested and unshocked audience. Oddly enough, that very performance became the ultimate cause célèbre; the most important item of news throughout most of the free world- trumping such relatively unimportant stories such as the United States building its case to invade Syria for crimes against its own citizenry.

In her few minutes onstage at the VMA’s, Miley Cyrus did nothing that many others haven’t recently done in similar circumstances- playing with taboo aspects of sexuality and race in order to provoke and shock people, to upstage the other performers in her midst and boost her importance as a commodity in the entertainment business marketplace. The only thing that distinguishes her from many others who have been similarly motivated by sheer desperation is that a few years ago, she was Hannah Montana- America’s Sweetheart.

We live in a society which clearly adores degradation as much as it loves lucre- how quickly and far youth will allow itself to fall if only for a few table scraps of attention.

Unlike Edgar Degas, Miley Cyrus is not an artist. She used a one-dimensional medium to put on a deliberate, preconceived spectacle which touches on the most base impulses (extraordinarily easy targets, these) in human beings and creates a canned artificial sexuality. She has broken no barriers, nor has she altered anyone’s perception of anything (apart from how they will now see Hannah Montana reruns).

Unlike a performance artist, who goes to great lengths to shock her audience (the express purpose in this case being to challenge and kick start her audience’s brains), Miley Cyrus clearly wasn’t interested in getting anyone to think. What she did is calculated salesmanship, entrepreneurial oneupmanship- a calculated risk, not expressive and definitely not art.

There is an immutable 100% guarantee that the spectacle of a near-naked, well known young girl acting in a sexual manner, having her actions broadcast with great fervor across media which also purvey news, family related shows, etc, will get a reaction from almost everyone who does in contact with it. This scenario is akin to shooting fish in a barrel.

We, the audience- those manipulated by said spectacle- are always ripe and randy for the plucking.

Since the late nineteenth centruy, artists have been tweaking the noses of the establishment; shocking polite society and art intelligentsia alike in the pursuit of new means of expression and concomitantly helping the collective unconscious to evolve. A classic example of this was Marcel Duchamp’s famous entry of a urinal signed R. Mutt 1917 to a serious art exhibition. This action caused a great furore and literal rioting in the streets.

This variety of provocation is much different than that of our contemporary very famous and mixed up 20 year old whose obvious priority is in keeping her name in the public consciousness by any and all means necessary. Artists such as Duchamp enjoyed disturbing people, provoking their limited views and challenging their prejudices, however, they also saw the obvious social responsibilty of pushing the outer limits of what people found acceptable or comprehensible in art. Art often involves a liberal quantity of manipulation by the artist, however, those reaping the longterm benefits of this manipulation are nearly always the people who encounter it.

Posted in art, creativity, Downloading, Edgar Degas, expression, lyrics, Michael Beinhorn, Miley Cyrus, Music, Music Business, Music Industry, Music Production, Pop Music, Popular Music, record production, Recording, Recording industry, Uncategorized, VMA's | Leave a comment

Yeezus And Anger

Since someone wanted to know what I think about Kanye West, I decided to give his new record, “Yeezus” a listen.

The experience of listening to “Yeezus” is behind me now.

“Yeezus” feels a bit to me like Kanye trying to be edgy a la Nine Inch Nails or Manson by way of Rotterdam circa 2001.

I don’t connect with Kanye West. Or rather, Kanye West doesn’t connect with me.

This is because every time I listen to him, I hear his brain working. He’s a very intelligent man and I feel like he wants the world to know he’s clever no matter what he’s going on about. When he performs, I hear him calculating every single move, every single breath that enters and leaves his body.

This is the polar opposite of what I find moving or meaningful in music. I tend to gravitate toward performers who become unconscious and get lost in their performance. I tend to gravitate away from performers who sound like they are thinking every moment about things like who their recording is going to appeal to while they’re still making it.

When I listen to Kanye West perform, I hear someone who is completely self-absorbed, completely self-conscious. When I feel an artist mentally efforting his process like a chess game while he’s supposed to be emoting and communicating, I experience a unique sensation of discomfort. I can liken this sensation to watching a comedian who many other people think is really funny, but conceals his lack of talent by being loud and vulgar.

I think I experience this sensation because when I listen to an artist’s music, I’m prepared to connect and commune with the artist. In order to commune with an artist, you kind of open yourself up and make room for his vision in your soul. For this reason, when I listen to Kanye West, I’m completely open and the experience feels like an endurance test- like I’m being bludgeoned with his arrogance.

Kanye revels in his arrogance. So do dozens of other artists I enjoy listening to.

The difference is, when push comes to shove, these other performers have the ability to take themselves out of the equation. I don’t hear their colossal egos when they perform- I hear artists who are completely un-self-conscious and coudn’t care less what anyone thinks about them. They are themselves- perhaps jerks, maybe snotty- perhaps awful, even dangerous.

When Kanye West turns on an edgy synth, fuzzes up his voice or turns on that adorable little growl, it makes me giggle. Instead of sounding dangerous or repellent, he just sounds kind of entitled and bratty.

Like he’s got something to prove. Like he cares a great deal about what people think.

One of his songs is called, “I am a God”. For some reason, when Kanye declares “I am a god”, it sounds to me like he’s posing- insisting that he’s a god, instead of actually feeling or believing it. Because of his ambivalence, I don’t know if he’s being self-revelatory, self-parodying, pointing a finger at someone else or some combination of all three.

It’s also worth noticing that he draws the line at being blasphemous and calling his song “I am God”. I personally feel that would have not only been scary (for Kanye, as well as me) and that alone would be worth the price of admission.

I’d be more impressed if Kanye did something completely out of character, something that takes him out of his comfort zone. Something that either demonstrates he’s really human or really in pain- something really intense that really means something to him, instead of a bunch of silly posturing.

Because he’s insistent on playing to type, I have a hard time believing him or taking him seriously. I can absolutely believe that he’s arrogant, but his anger sounds canned- ingenuous. I don’t feel that he’s really angry- it sounds like he plays someone on TV who’s supposed to be. He seems more pissy than pissed off- more entitled than Master of the Pop Universe.

There are the only tracks on “Yeezus”- “New Slaves” and “Blood on the Leaves”-where I actually feel I’m experiencing someone who is viscerally enraged. That’s when I start to feel him- that’s when I feel like he’s being honest about something that is truly disturbing and upsetting to him. That’s when I feel him moving outside of his ego and going unconscious. That’s how I know Kanye West is actually talented and not merely some poseur.

The problem for me is these two tracks are juxtaposed against a bunch of others which have faux-aggro-titles and are full of posing. Plus, I’ve heard people get enraged on records before- some believably- some, not so much. The fact is, the chilling nonchalance of Billie Holiday singing “Strange Fruit” is a thousand times more frightening than Kanye doing “Blood on the Leaves”.

I had the sudden realization that Kanye West’s recording is the tip of a different iceberg.

Anger seems to be the only emotion Kanye is willing to do. And in this, he doesn’t appear to be alone. From there, I started to notice that anger and aggression are the primary elements artists try to project in contemporary popular music.

Over the years, a lot of artists making records have worked extra hard at trying to sound pissed off. Do they feel like it gives them cred to appear menacing? Do they believe that more people will take them seriously if they sound like they’re fixing to get ready to tell their bodyguards to go beat someone’s head in?

When was the last time you heard an artist on a record spill their guts to the point where you felt painfully uncomfortable? Where their pain was their art and you experienced their suffering? Where you got an uncensored look at who they really are minus how they want you to see them?

For me, it was “Daddy” off the first Korn record where Jonathan Davis starts sobbing and runs out of the studio because he’s so completely devastated from the experience of singing his song. Because that experience forced him to relive something unspeakably awful which happened to him in his past. That’s art.

The difference here is that Jonathan wasn’t just evoking rage, but juxtaposing it against a laundry list of other emotions- fear, hurt, sadness, etc. And, he was being completely vulnerable which is difficult almost beyond human understanding for a performer to achieve with clarity- let alone, believability. I feel that 99% of the posing performers do is precisely to avoid experiencing the other emotions which go hand in hand with aggression and anger.

This is because they’re afraid that you’ll see a part of them they don’t want you to see. They don’t want to be vulnerable to you. If they were, they’d feel weak, exposed and out of control.

My experience is, aggression is the easiest emotion in the contemporary popular music-making lexicon to express or simulate. If you have a soapbox and act pissed off about anything, you can convince quite a few people that you have something important to say. There are quite a few reasons to get angry these days and being openly angry isn’t as shocking, taboo or outre as it once was. It’s actually looked upon as socially acceptable- even a healthy release.

There is a general aggression-in-popular-music-101 formula that is was borrowed from “80’s Industrial Music and gradually filtered into the mainstream. If you want to convince the world that you’re angry, dangerous or really mean business; 1- just make everything in your track sound louder and more aggressive, 2- yell or snarl a bit more than usual 3- use dissonant chords wherever the need arises, 4- be obscene and/or vulgar to underscore your point, and 5- put distortion on a synth, guitar, voice, bass drum or sample whenever possible.

I guess artists see aggression as a way to let loose and look good but in and of itself, I find it tiresome. You start looking pretty one dimensional if the only thing you can do is act pissed off when you perform. Divorced from the full spectrum of emotions which go hand in hand with anger, the acting out of anger as a vehicle for popular music actually has very little weight. Without other associated emotions, or some kind of contrast, there’s no depth to reinforce your anger, no conviction to back up your aggression.

I guess that is how I feel about Kanye West, “Yeezus” and most of the music people are making these days. Being loud, obnoxious and pissed off are all efficient ways to call attention to yourself.

However, if that’s all you have in your repertoire, you’ll probably get noticed, but don’t expect your work to have any lasting value.

Posted in art, creativity, Downloading, expression, Kanye West, lyrics, Michael Beinhorn, mp3, Music, Music Business, Music Industry, Music Production, Pop Music, Popular Music, record production, Recording, Recording industry, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

WHAT WE’RE MISSING

I recently had an interesting conversation with my 19 year old daughter. We shot the breeze, eventually arriving at one of our favorite shared topics- music.

She’d been to the Governor’s Ball festival in New York City and described some of the highlights- including a performance by Kanye West. According to her, he was very entertaining. She characterized his performance as “good”.

She talked about some of the other artists she’d seen and the music she was currently listening to. She really liked it; in her words, it was all really “good”.

Not exactly raves, but these days, if something is considered “good”, it’s right about the top of the musical food chain.

We spoke further and she referred to one artist in particular as being really “different” and in a class by herself (although she never used the word “good” to describe her). My interest was piqued and I wanted to know, how, exactly did she feel this artist stands out from all the other music she listens to?

When you hear this artist’s music (I asked my daughter), do you feel as if your perception is being altered? Do you think, Oh my God, this is incredible- what is happening to me? Do you get goosebumps and other weird sensations all over your body? Does it feel like (and, by asking, I wasn’t fishing/didn’t want to know whether or not my daughter has direct experience of this- which potentially makes it a loaded question) you’re on drugs?

When she answered no to all the above (emphatically so regarding being on drugs), I asked her if she’d ever had that kind of experience with anything- music or otherwise. To which, she also responded no.

Right then, I had a profound realization. My daughter, who I consider to be highly intelligent and aware, has never had the complete experience- the full mind/body/emotion experience of what a truly amazing piece of art or music can do to the human consciousness. This is a direct contrast to how I spent my youth, wherein, my consciousness was being altered on a regular basis simply by listening to music that was completely inspired, original and expressive.

This intensely profound way of experiencing music (and all forms of art) embedded itself in me from the time I was very young and continues to the present moment. It’s the one way I can definitively know how the music I hear is affecting me emotionally. Or not.

Having never known this, I feel as if my daughter is being deprived of something extremely valuable and essential to the experience of being human. And, if she’s being deprived of this, I figure that most other people are being similarly deprived.

The reason I feel she- and others- are being deprived is that, presently, there are virtually no artists who can be bothered to make a recording that actually has real expressive power or meaning. Instead of making bold, personal statements, everyone appears to be hiding- either behind a genre or a facade.

And it’s interesting when I attempt to describe this magical, mystical experience of encountering music to my daughter. It’s so utterly foreign to her- kind of like trying to describe a Van Gogh to someone who has been blind all of her life. I wish there was some way she could know this beyond the feeble explanations I’ve given her.

Having lived through five decades of popular music and now watching the emotional impact of music gradually wither and die, I can see how, with the bar dropping progressively lower, people have proportionally reduced expectations. Besides, how can you desire, want or expect to receive that which you have never known?

At best, I can do a very, very poor job of explaining what happens when you hear music that has a powerful emotional impact.

The experience of listening to music- when that music is truly amazing- is so intense that you literally feel like your world is being turned upside down- as if you’re on some kind of mind-altering drug. In this case, it is always a profoundly and utterly transformational experience. You may feel as if up is down and down is up- nothing remains as it was before and everything will somehow always be different afterward.

If the music you listen to is not having some kind of tangible effect on your person (and this is not the same as feeling like your viscera is being mangled because you listen music at 140+ dB)- if you don’t feel as if your perspective has been altered even in some small way; that you’ve either been exposed to something that resonates with you completely, a perspective you’ve never even imagined, or a combination of the two- one of two things is happening. Either you’re not paying attention, or the music you’re listening to is not great and never will be.

You may be absolutely devastated, emotionally confounded and upended by this experience. In an instant, you may be completely transformed on every possible level- life’s meaning and your life’s purpose suddenly illuminated in front of you, plain as day.

You may also not find it revelatory at all- the effect may be barely perceptible- perhaps nothing more than an awareness that what you are listening to simply feels “right”. However, this will always contrast against listening to music that has no emotional resonance and was made by people who are not deeply invested in their work.

You deserve to have this experience. I wish fervently with all my heart that, if you haven’t had it yet- you someday will- even if it only happens one time in your life. It’s something you’d never know about if it never happened to you, but without it, you are truly missing something valuable and magical. It’s as close to connecting with God, a higher self, whatever you choose to call it, as a person can ever get.

Let’s frame what’s missing from a different perspective. Human beings are responsible for some remarkable- almost superhuman feats of art, engineering and expression- many of them having been achieved long before machines or computers existed to add ease to our lives.

One of the greatest achievements in recorded history which combines all of these elements- and more- is St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in Rome. The product of no less than 7 different architects (2 of whom being Michelangelo and Gianlorenzo Bernini), it is one of the most recognizable and important edifices in the world, as well as in Christendom. Its construction was begun in 1506 and ended over a century later in 1626.

When you enter this building, you are immediately struck by several things. First, is the enormity and vastness of the structure itself. Second, is the quantity of remarkable and recognizable works of art throughout the building. Third, is the overwhelming presence of something which could be considered- even by the most unreligious of people- as Divinity.

Then, it suddenly hits you that this massive amalgamation of so many different disciplines may well have been inspired by devotion to some unseen faith, power or god, but it was the result of Herculean effort on the part of human beings.

Human beings no different than you or I, thought this place up and built it. As they have thought up and built every last speck of the civilization we inhabit. As well as all those which have come before.

The people who built St Peter’s were so dedicated to their faith, so prodigiously gifted as artists, they literally allowed that faith to possess and consume them and offered their gifts up to Divinity as the means to express their devotion. Their faith was the inspiration to build this enormous temple to their God, fill it to the brim with remarkable works of art and to allow absolutely nothing to impede them in the process. This was literally their means of speaking with their God and demonstrating their love and piety to Him.

It would be all too simple to explain away the staggering undertaking of these artists by stating that they were commissioned and paid by the Catholic Church. While that may be true, they aren’t exactly known for maintaining fabulous lifestyles- whereas, today, people achieve a great deal less and are compensated with far more.

Imagine that a large part of your existence (if not all of it) revolved around an ideal and your unshakeable service to it. Imagine being so completely devoted, so completely committed to a singular expression of that ideal, you literally gave your entire life to it. Imagine being so completely committed to this singular expression that, even though you put your entire being into creating it, it didn’t matter to you in the least that you wouldn’t live to witness its completion.

Think you have the faith (in yourself, anyone or anything else) to be that committed? Think you have the desire- the inspiration? Think you have the audacity- the balls? Think you know anyone else who does?

Fine. So you think you’re ready to build your own St Peter’s Basilica (or its equivalent in the medium of your choice). Are you prepared to sweat it out and forebear- no matter what happens?

What horror will it take to upend your unshakeable conviction? What could terrify you so deeply that you abandon your absurd dreams in an instant, and run home to the safety and security of your parents?

Or, can you face all those horrors and become greater still through such massive adversity?

Keep in mind, I’m simply referring to commitment and not even addressing the degree of talent a person needs just to be the right vehicle for that commitment….

And this is the kind of commitment a person requires in order to be great. From that greatness, (combined with an almost unfair quantity of natural talent) comes great art. Absolutely nothing less matters- absolutely nothing less is acceptable.

It’s strange- almost futile- to try and relate the concept of an experience- something, that if it never happened to you, you’d never know existed. It’s just as strange to try and relate the concept of an alien state of mind if this, too, cannot be conceived of without it being an innate part of your being.

But I have to try and relate them to you- somehow. Because, they are what we’re missing.

Posted in art, creativity, expression, Michael Beinhorn, Music, Music Business, Music Industry, Music Production, Pop Music, Popular Music, record production, Recording, Recording industry, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Thank you, Daft Punk, Thank you, iTunes

Dear Daft Punk-

I offer you my profound thanks for providing me with an experience I never imagined having, nor did I ever conceive of needing to have.

Shortly after hearing your song “Get Lucky”, I realized that its two primary hooks had become indelibly etched in my brain and could not be dislodged, try as I might. In spite of this, I further realized that there was absolutely nothing about the song which generated any kind of resonance or emotional connection between myself and it. This, in turn, initiated in me a profound experience of what therapists refer to as “cognitive dissonance”. To elucidate, I was confused by the fact that on one hand, I was completely attracted to what I was hearing, and yet, felt completely disassociated from it. The song could be on my mind constantly and yet, I neither cared to physically listen to it and had absolutely no desire to purchase it. Eventually, disassociation evolved into disinterest.

I had never before encountered such a profound and unique disconnect with any music in my life. The only parallel I could draw- however remote- was with the myriad of high school crushes I experienced as a teenager. These would regularly arise with a ferocious ardor and shocking immediacy from out of the sheer ether. They were almost always directed toward random girls with whom I had absolutely nothing in common and the object of my infatuation would generally become transformed into the object of my utter revulsion before the week was out.

Still, this had never happened with art and never, ever with a piece of music.

In the past, I would have found it impossible (and inconceivable) to separate the musical appeal of a song from its ability to resonate emotionally with me. In theory, this phenomena would not only render a work of art immediately disposable, it would also render it completely and immediately irrelevant, in a sense, entirely negating it.

With “Get Lucky”, you have taken this notion from abstract theory to concrete actuality. Yours is a feat I’ve only seen previously hinted at, but never, ever enacted so seamlessly, with such utter precision and perfection. I am truly impressed and humbled by this extraordinary achievement.

Put simply, you have (and most likely, without intending to) created a masterpiece- albeit in an unconventional way. With this song, you’ve built the perfect beast- a fully formed entity replete with all the right moving parts, supple limbs, oversized genitalia, an irresistible appearance, and an insatiable libido- all the external trappings which are considered so essential in order for one to be found attractive and desirable by others in this world. This song is sexy, self-assured and supremely confident regarding its ability to overtake and conquer its prey.

However, in creating your entity, you’ve left out two fundamental parts. You’ve forgotten to imbue it with a reason for existence- a sensibility, intent. You’ve also forgotten to give it a heart- feelings- emotions. It has all the attributes which make it immediately appealing and lacks the very attributes which would make it attractive over the longterm.

In a sense, it is the sonic embodiment of all contemporary popular music and our entire culture. As much as it is an advert for these things, it is also an indictment of them. This creature of yours calls to mind nothing other than the Replicants in “Blade Runner” which are superior in every way to humans, but whose existences are stunningly brief and give them no time to experience and evince substance or meaning.

Still, if popular music can be thought to represent the spirit of the times in which it is created, you should be awarded a Nobel Prize for creating such remarkable social commentary.

As a result of your miraculous phenomena, I can report that the aforementioned hooks, which had all but invaded my consciousness over the past week, have almost completely receded into the distant static of my mind. I actually have to force myself to recall them and can now only do so with some effort.

Congratulations again for this momentous achievement- the creation of contemporary popular music that is utterly infectious, and yet, has a more limited shelf life than anything I’ve ever heard. Plenty of people have written big pop songs which evaporate in 3 months- you’ve managed to create a big pop song which evaporates in a week. Perhaps, the same approach can be used in the future to decrease the half-life of radioactive material.

Thanks also, for helping me recapture some lost moments of my adolescence when mad infatuation so expediently and mercurially soured into disgust.

Dear iTunes-

Thanks from the bottom of my heart for being the best thing that ever happened to a music-centric consumer since Warner Brothers released its “Loss Leaders” series. Making it possible to actually listen to new recordings in the comfort of my own home has proven to be a welcome and money-saving boon. I remember there used to be those little listening kiosks at Virgin Records so one could preview new CDs- the iTunes Store is so much better and convenient. It’s far more fitting, too, since all the music I’m hearing is so disposable; I’m thrilled not to leave the house in order to listen to it.

Consequently, I will not need to purchase new recordings by such noteworthy artists as Black Sabbath, Queens of the Stone Age and the previously mentioned Daft Punk (to name but a few). As a result, I am saving at least $50 which I can now allocate toward such necessities as food, gasoline and cat litter.

O tempora, o mores.

Posted in art, creativity, expression, Michael Beinhorn, Music, Music Business, Music Industry, Music Production, Pop Music, Popular Music, record production, Recording, Recording industry | 12 Comments

Michael Beinhorn Fires Drummers Part 2; Authenticity Vs Vision

I recently published a blog entitled “Michael Beinhorn Fires Drummers”. It was obvious that the title and subject matter were controversial and might ruffle some feathers. I figured that there might be some fallout, but I’d rather people form their opinions about me based on the truth, instead of fabrication.

In spite of this, I was pleased that most everyone who read the essay actually understood its significance and were simpatico with its underlying principle. They got the notion of striving for greatness at all costs and that people must occasionally make hard decisions when faced with pressurized situations.

I did, however, get two responses that appeared to be less than approving of what I’d written. One of these was a relatively terse missive which simply read, “Fuck you!”

How brilliant, I thought- how direct and succinct. This email was like a piece of minimalist art from the 60’s- wrought into a neon sculpture it would have been right at home on a prominent wall of the Whitney Museum in New York.

However, since I was able to only discern the “what” but not the “why” of this email, I felt incapable of responding to it.

However, the other response I received was a little more discernible and it goes a little something like this-

“Of course for that not to be, to a certain extent, bullcrap depends, first, on your artistic judgment being infallible (which you can’t really be arguing, surely?) And, second, on the idea that when someone buys a band’s album they pay to hear the “best produced album” rather than hear the band they actually love and have loved, perhaps, for years. Removing the distinctive texture of a band, removing authenticity, is not always an improvement. In a business full of excellent session players, there will always be a “better” player for hire to reproduce what you yourself hear in your head. That goes without saying. But that isn’t really what recording a band should be about is it? You say you’re scrupulous about getting the rest of the band’s OK first, but any numbnuts can divide a band by telling them that they are being let down by someone else’s performance. You also imply that you’re usually having to tidy up behind junkies and losers but that’s on the one hand a libel on many decent men and women and, on the other, an admission that you’re not at the level of those producers who have coaxed stellar performances out of massively fucked-up musicians. There are always times when a drummer might have to be fired, painful and emotional as it might be. That’s a sad, sometimes a tragic, fact. Proudly embracing the practice as just one of those things that a producer regularly has to do is an admission of failure.”

That’s all very interesting, but my blog post addressed the necessity of firing people when there is no other recourse. Nothing in it even hinted at the perverse notion that I somehow enjoy firing people or that the people I’ve fired were dissolute miscreants. I also don’t recall implying that I “proudly embrace the practice”.

As was stated in my essay, firing people is not something entered into lightly. Admittedly, the title was meant to be tongue in cheek, but surely, anyone who read the essay would have understood this.

Had this individual had actually read my essay? Did he miss the part about how difficult it is to fire someone, especially after a working relationship has been established with them? It was odd to me that someone could, with such authority, address an article that I felt explained my intent and motivation, miss the point entirely and put words in my mouth.

Perhaps he simply didn’t comprehend what I’d written. Was his trajectory way, way off or, had I really portrayed myself as a talentless, blame-casting, Svengali with a Napoleon complex?

Right then, it dawned on me that it made no difference whether or not he had actually read my blog post. This is because he had made up his mind about both me and my essay even before he began reading.

How could this be?

From reading this guy’s email, I surmised that his opinions had been influenced by something he’d heard about me prior to reading my article. He certainly held some very dogmatic, yet ill-informed opinions, some of which I found fascinating.

I suspect his apparent bias was instigated by publicly aired accusations of malfeasance which were recently directed at me based on how I handled a certain recording session many years ago. The fact that I was never asked to provide my version of these allegations should have cast some doubt on their veracity. Nonetheless, they’ve been accepted as fact by a great many people.

The fact is, people love the truth far less than they love drama. They love a good witch hunt. They also love not having to think or feel for themselves and prefer when someone else is available to think and feel for them. Even if they want to believe their righteous indignation is their own.

By assuming I envision my “artistic judgment” as being “infallible”, the respondent to my article touched on the subjective nature of firing performers. I felt this was adequately addressed this in my previous article but for the sake of courtesy, I’m more than pleased to take another shot.

The real question is not about subjective “artistic judgment”, but instead; what is “bad” and how bad is “bad”? Does one require “artistic judgment to know “bad” or is it evident to nearly anyone?

In the case of a performer on a recording, there may be many criteria for what can be referred to as “bad”, but I really know only one. The name most people know it by is “incompetence”. Someone who cannot do his job as it has been mutually understood by him and everyone he works with is generally considered to be incompetent.

Here is the basic premise; if a performer does his job in a manner which falls below the expectations everyone else they are working with has of him- for example, if he is playing sloppily, forgetting parts, playing without any excitement- in short, performing far differently than he did prior to recording, it is understood that he is incompetent and becomes a candidate for expulsion from said project. If, even after acknowledging the situation, he continues to perform this manner, he is guaranteed a ticket off the recording.

As previously noted, this is exactly what happened on the aforementioned notorious recording session. I heard it. Everyone who was involved in the decision to fire this person heard it, too. They didn’t want to imagine that their bandmate’s performance could be that awful, but it was plain as day and impossible for them to ignore.

This performer displayed all the outward signs of being incompetent. They were given every opportunity, coddled and encouraged to do their best. When the issue of their shoddy performance was finally addressed with them, they not only became defensive, they refused to acknowledge it and continued to play badly. Eventually, nature took its course and they were fired. This was not a subjective decision which came from one person’s “artistic judgment”, it was an objective decision made by a group of people working together.

Of course, the possibility exists that those of us who made this decision were wrong. Perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps, I’m simply not good enough at coaxing “stellar performances out of massively fucked up musicians”, to quote my respondent.

Now, if you are naive enough to believe that producers coaxing “stellar performances out of massively fucked up musicians” is the norm, you are either a fool or you know nothing about how recordings are made. I’m not certain as to which category my respondent falls into but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and lean toward category number two.

These days, no one has time for so-called “massively-fucked up musicians” on any recording project. If a “massively fucked -up musician” can’t function, he will immediately be jettisoned- unless, of course, he is the principal artist. Making a recording is already difficult enough without performers who can’t keep their personal lives from interfering with their work- and that of their co-workers. No one on a recording- or anywhere else- has the time to parent an imbecile who has chosen to ruin his life and intends to take everyone he knows down with him.

And while we’re on the subject, drummers who wind up on their band’s recordings but are technically challenged- or “massively fucked-up”- are so heavily edited by their producers that they sound like automatons. Personally, I like the sound of a real drummer who can play real drums without triggers on them, as opposed to the sound of a sloppy drummer with no groove- or emotion- whose performance is edited and triggered to the point where it doesn’t resemble something a human being could- or would want to do.

All this to pretend that everything is ok. All for the sake of maintaining some kind of illusory status quo that no one outside this person’s band gives a crap about. They just want to hear a great record.

Which brings us to my respondent’s insistence on the importance of authenticity. Authenticity is somewhat subjective and its nature depends somewhat on how you define it. My respondent doesn’t really explain his own definition of authenticity, but he does complain when he feels it’s been excised from something familiar to him. Therefore, we can assume that he defines “authenticity” as something that feels real to him- something which he connects with due to its familiarity.

Authenticity is entirely a result of whatever an artist wants to show you- not what actually is. An artist’s genius is the ability to regulate what you see of her and how you see it- her talent to either force herself into you like a mighty tempest or conceal herself from you so thoroughly that you never know who she is or what she actually means.

The subjective nature of authenticity is identical in many respects to the subjective nature of “transparency”. Like authenticity, transparency is also regulated by whomever is controlling the flow of information and is in no way equivalent to truth. With this in mind, an artist can fabricate everything he does and still be entirely truthful. Flexibility- the artist’s mercurial nature- his ability to turn on a dime in a split second when his muse demands him to, is far more important than authenticity.

In fact, authenticity is much less important than believability. The difference between authenticity and believability is the distinction between a performer’s ability to be who he is versus his ability to make you care who he is. This is the difference between being interested in an artist and being passionately in love with his work.

If you disagree, then answer me this- did Paul McCartney write a song like “Yesterday” as the result of his authenticity or is it a work of art, fabricated and made believable by a consummate artistic genius?

“Yesterday” is not based on specific events- it’s a composition, the basis of which came to McCartney in a dream. It exists solely because McCartney created it- not because he had anything profound to say. To give an example of this, the original working title of “Yesterday” was “Scrambled Eggs”. It bore no resemblance to any previous work he’d done and was a result of his constant artistic evolution.

“Yesterday” works because McCartney makes it believable through the conviction of the composition and the conviction in his performance, not because it’s authentic.

The view that authenticity in art must be preserved at all costs comes from an obsessive need to compartmentalize artists instead of allowing them the freedom to explore. Artists aren’t marionettes on a string that do our bidding or your bidding. They also aren’t jukeboxes which spew out the old familiar songs/sound at the pleasure of their fans.

I feel the methodology of an artist is to follow their muse and to express themselves- to communicate in a way that is unique and exclusively their own. My role is to insure the artists I work with are able to perform this function without interferences, impedances, or impasses. Any half-decent record producer (or “numb nuts”, as my respondent puts it) will proudly accept the same responsibility.

There are two options that an artist often chooses from when she is preparing to make a recording. The first option is pleasing her fans, the second is pleasing herself. For this reason, many artists have had to weather public opinion instead of basking in it when they chose to follow a path their audience didn’t approve of.

To be very clear, when I go into a recording studio with an artist, my prime directive is the vision of the artist whose recording I’m making; how this vision becomes implanted in my own mind and how I can best represent it. In order to represent that vision, I literally will stop at nothing.

When an artist becomes too self-conscious, too concerned with how he is seen by others- and this includes his fans- he becomes creatively ill. I’ve seen what this cancer does to artists and it isn’t pretty.

An artist who becomes too concerned about what his public expects from him, feels he must desperately attempt to relive old triumphs. He starts to repeat himself instead of evolving creatively and gradually renders himself useless. Such an artist will lose his audience with great haste. If he worries too much about how best he can please his audience, such an artist will deprive his audience of his greatness in its most refined and pure form.

Artistic vision must always trump the staid notions of preserving a so-called “band sound”- the element of familiarity my respondent insists must be present in a recording in order to retain “authenticity”. The nature of evolution is to grow and if an artist chooses to evolve instead of being a geisha- cranking out the oldies for her customers even as she grows decrepit and the years take their toll- that’s her business.

Still want to debate this point? Watch an interview with Jimi Hendrix and see how he addresses his creative process. If you do, you’ll see how unimportant the notions of a “band sound” and “authenticity”, etc, are when an artist needs to express himself and doesn’t care how he gets his ideas out. He’s not talking about “authenticity”- he’s talking about his truth.

BTW- to put things into a relative perspective, the compulsion an artist has to express himself is about the same feeling you get when you have to take a really bad dump- except the feeling comes from deep in your soul instead of deep in your colon.

Vision, my friend, is what record making is about- to me and the artists I work with- vision and collaboration. You see, contrary to your assumption, I make records with artists- I don’t record bands. The essence of record making is about taking a vision from abstract concept to concrete form- it’s a collaborative undertaking and therefore- yes, when I’m making a record with an artist- my vision- my conception of how a record “should sound” matters a great deal.

It matters because it is an augmentation of the artists vision- an extension, an embellishment that he might not have been able to arrive at on his own. In fact, contrary to your assumption, this is why the artists I’ve worked with chose me- because my creative vision augments and facilitates theirs in a way they find beneficial.

I’ve mainly been hired by artists because they didn’t want to repeat themselves or recycle their old riffs. These artists want a collaborator with imagination who has the nerve to help them create an entirely new vision instead of the one they have become identified with.

I didn’t work with Soundgarden so we could recreate “Badmotorfinger”, I didn’t work with Marilyn Manson to recreate “Antichrist Superstar” or Hole to recreate “Live Through This”. If they’d asked me to recreate something they’d already done, I’d have turned them down flat. Trying to relive past glories is a hallmark aspect of delusion and I would have been doing everyone an immense disservice by assisting in such a delusional task.

And frankly, dear respondent, I’d have been doing you a disservice, too- even if you fervently believe all those artists I’ve worked with should have continued making “authentic” recordings just to make you happy. Whether you have the stones- or introspection- to admit it or not, your world is a better place with artists in it who are bold enough to follow their muse, and people such as myself who help facilitate their vision.

You don’t have to thank me, but I know you’re thinking it.

You’re welcome.

Posted in art, creativity, drummers, drums, expression, Hole, lyrics, Marilyn Manson, Michael Beinhorn, Music, Music Business, Music Industry, Music Production, Pop Music, Popular Music, record production, Recording, Soundgarden, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Michael Beinhorn Fires Drummers

This morning, I received an email from a friend. He found it extremely amusing that when he Googled my name in order to read my latest blog post, the first thing that came up was the following string of words;

‘Michael Beinhorn Fires Drummers”.

That sentiment seems to have been going around of late- in some quarters, it may wind up being my legacy. Apparently, a bunch of people have become obsessed with this idea that I fire drummers- some of whom get extremely animated when discussing it. I’ll address this allegation by first answering the question; is the above statement fact or is it fiction?

To this question, I answer thusly- yes.

Yes- I fire drummers. I’ve fired them off their own projects, with the complicity of their own bands. I’ve fired a few over the years and I daresay, I may well fire a few more before I’m done.

I figure those of my fellow record producer brethren who know me and have followed this drummer-firing debacle have gotten a good laugh from it. But if they’re enjoying the fallout I’ve had to weather (as my friend who emailed me clearly did), they’re also breathing a collective sigh of relief and thinking to themselves, “Better him than me”.

This is because my drummer-firing debacle has collaterally exposed a dirty little secret of record production. That truth is; record producers fire drummers from projects. One of the responsibilities a record producer has is to fire people at any level when they are not performing well enough.

People get fired from projects all the time- generally because they are incompetent. Here’s an example; once, I had to fire a technician because he would take at least 45 minutes to restring, intonate and tune a single electric guitar- a process which should take no more than five- ten minutes max. On top of this, his intonations were always off and he’d have to re intonate a guitar 2-3 times before it played in tune. This meant that we could be waiting as much as an hour and a half before we had the guitar back.

The tech did this consistently and was quite literally costing the artist- whose employee he was- thousands of dollars. In addition, he was liberally using her expense account to buy thousands of dollars worth of equipment for himself- without her knowledge.

When I give it some thought, I realize that I don’t know a single record producer who hasn’t, at some point in his career, fired a drummer off a project. Stating that a record producer has fired a drummer is like stating that a mechanic is changing a tire on a car, or a butcher has sliced a piece of fat off an otherwise lean piece of meat. These are simply different aspects of a specific job. In any system, if something isn’t working right and it can’t be fixed, you have to get rid of it, right?

Performing this function is a form of quality control and a record producer is hired, in part, for her ability to exert the highest level of quality control. She would, therefore, be negligent in her responsibilities if she didn’t exercise this obligation to bring quality into every level of the recording process, in a manner that she sees fit.

As previously mentioned, I’ve actually encountered a bit of righteous indignation over the topic of drummer-firing- much of it coming from people who have no understanding of how records are made and wouldn’t know me if they passed me in the street.

In spite of this, these people who got the idea that I indiscriminately fired drummers off their own recordings without so much as a by your leave, have revered it as gospel, never thinking to ask if the information was true and if it was, why I did so. One would think that if people cared so very much about someone else’ depiction of an event or situation that had immense significance to them (and they implicated other people in this situation as having wronged them in some way), it would be at very least, interesting to know more about what actually happened.

Nonetheless, out of all the people who got so wound up about how Michael Beinhorn fires drummers, only two people- both of them journalists from the UK- have actually asked me the question; why?

Out of all the musicians who play an instrument on a recording, the one person who receives the most scrutiny- sometimes more than the vocalist- is the drummer. This is because in an ensemble of players, the drummer is the first musician to be recorded and she is, therefore, ultimately responsible for the foundation on which the record is built.

The drummer is the backbone of any record and there is a great deal of pressure on him to perform. He must not only be as good as possible, he must be functioning at the peak of his ability when it comes time for her to record.

I’ve known of record producers who fire musicians out of nepotism, so they can throw the vacancy to one of their friends. I’ve also known of record producers who replace musicians because they don’t like them personally- they don’t like way they look or what they say- or perhaps they were just in a foul mood one day and felt like firing someone. Some record producers insulate themselves against the stigma of firing musicians by bringing their own band with them on every record and proceed with the understanding that the only band musician who will be performing on the recording will be the singer. They basically fire everyone on the project- they just establish this understanding before the project begins.

Apart from all this, there is one primary reason a drummer- or any musician- gets fired off a recording project, and it’s the very same reason anyone else gets fired from any job. The main reason a person gets fired is because they can’t do their job.

I’ve fired drummers on roughly 20-40 percent of the recordings I’ve produced. I’ve done this in a variety of situations and permutations. Most of the drummers I’ve had to fire were members of the band I was producing. This is always difficult for everyone else in the band, especially since it’s a decision they must be complicit in. I don’t feel that a producer has the authority to take someone off their own recording and I have never done so without first making sure the rest of the band are first in agreement.

Naturally, there are some criteria I apply in order to ascertain that a drummer must be fired. Firing someone (especially off their own project) should not be entered into lightly, therefore it is important to be absolutely certain that it is the best course of action, prior to doing so.

There is generally a benchmark or optimal level of performance which a producer comes to expect from a drummer. This benchmark develops from having worked with the drummer for awhile and becoming familiar with his playing. If that level of performance ever becomes compromised in any way, the drummer instantly falls under scrutiny.

Some musicians can be terrific in rehearsal, but when they enter a recording studio, they start exhibiting signs of an ailment called “red light fever”. A performer who is thus afflcited will literally psyche himself out of being able to play music he previously executed perfectly.

There are still other elements which can affect a drummer’s ability to perform well, such as- not getting enough sleep, eating poorly and generally not taking care of herself, personal problems which she brings into the workspace and of course, recreational drug usage. These elements often manifest themselves when a drummer forgets or changes her pre-arranged drum parts, stops dead in the middle of being recorded, seems generally confused or flustered and plays her instrument with no excitement.

I dread these things happening, because they are bad omens. They often portend that the drummer will have to be fired and I, as the individual involved in maintaining the highest standard of quality on the recording will have to do the firing. It is always necessary to gently, but firmly let the performer know that things aren’t going as well as they should, but by then, the performer’s morale has been completely rent asunder by the mere thought that he’s not performing up to par. I’ve only worked with two drummers who were able to pull themselves together after being confronted with this reality check and come back playing better than anyone could have expected.

After the first warning shot is fired, the drummer is usually ready for what’s coming next. There are few things more demoralizing than that conversation- both for the person who has to hear it and the person who has to say it. It actually physically hurts.

I’ve gotten good at having these conversations- but only out of necessity.

Have you ever had to fire someone? I personally don’t recommend it, however, if you occupy any type of authority position, you will almost certainly have to. In many cases, the person you are firing is a co-worker and often, someone you’ve had to work with for awhile. Sometimes, they don’t see it coming and you already know how badly the news is going to hurt them before you even open your mouth to tell them. In other cases, they’ve been feeling it and knew it was inevitable. Still, having foresight never seems to sweeten the sting someone feels when they first hear those awful words.

What’s worse is, I’ve often liked the people I’ve had to fire tremendously- even admired their talent and determination. In spite of this, I also have a responsibility to the project we’re doing and the rest of the people on it. I’m always faced with a choice when this situation looms- either fire someone who was doing a poor job or spare their feelings, keep them on and make a poor record. If the same choice stood between me continuing work on a project or being fired in order to ensure a better end result, I hope the person in charge would have the good sense and do what’s best for the project.

In the aftermath of a firing, feelings are hurt and pride is bruised, but, like with all life-altering events, everyone involved is confronted with yet another choice. The choice is to stand right where you are, luxuriating in the pain of rejection and loss or you can pick yourself up, dust yourself off and try to move forward. You can be resentful, bitter and blame everyone else around you for something which you ultimately are responsible for or you can ask yourself- “What can I learn from what just happened? How can I use this as a means to improve myself? How can I turn this negative into a positive?”

On almost every project I’ve worked on, however unpleasant the circumstances, the drummer who was fired inevitably agreed to step aside because he realized it was the best thing to do. Confronted with the fact that he wasn’t doing his job well enough, he put the needs of the project in front of his own needs and feelings. He felt as if he’d failed but he knew that stepping aside was best for everyone. I’ve always had an immense amount of respect for musicians who could take their ego out of the picture and put other people’s needs ahead of their own. Although it didn’t feel good, they chose sacrifice over selfishness.

Everyone has gotten fired at some point. I have been fired from a few recordings and it didn’t feel good. In the aftermath, I was always forced to acknowledge that my being fired was best for the project. I have quit working on projects for the same reason. Leaving anything, either by choice or by concensus never feels good, but it’s usually a necessity.

Ultimately, the smoke screen of scandal around firing drummers exists to conceal a deeper truth. This truth revolves around emotions rather than unethical practices- bitterness, hurt feelings and a need to blame someone else for everything that goes wrong instead of taking responsibility for one’s actions and choices in life.

It’s not my problem or my business if someone chooses to shoot heroin, stay up late and be completely irresponsible about how they lead their life. However, the moment we both set foot into a recording studio under the pretext of working together, the context has completely changed. In this new context, if that same individual forgets how to play all the songs we worked on together for months prior to recording, performs everything far worse than when we were in rehearsal together and refuses to address any of this, they have chosen to make their problems my business.

And if that individual feels that I shouldn’t speak up about their inability to do their job- when this is exactly what I was hired by them and their band to do- they shouldn’t have hired me in the first place.

When a drummer walks into a recording studio and is completely prepared to record, I consider it my duty to support him and recognize his efforts. By contrast, when a drummer walks into a recording studio and instead of being prepared to record brings all his personal problems with him, this is the height of selfishness and thoughtlessness. At that point, he doesn’t care about anything or anyone else apart from bringing everyone else’ work to a screeching halt.

Would I say that someone like this is asking to be fired? I would.

Yes- Michael Beinhorn does indeed fire drummers. But Michael Beinhorn only fires drummers if they can’t do their job.

Posted in art, creativity, drummers, drums, expression, lyrics, Michael Beinhorn, Music, Music Business, Pop Music, Popular Music, record production, Recording, Uncategorized | Tagged | 9 Comments

What I’m Doing About It Now Redux

Ok- back again. I’ve been incommunicado from blog-writing because I’ve chosen instead to write a book which addresses everything I began to address in blog form, but in greater detail. In the meantime, I’ve been developing a more ethical approach to record production. As this has progressed, I’ve completely revamped my entire approach to working creatively with artists.

Along the way, I’ve had many amazing insights into this work, into the work other people do and how to continually improve and build on the result of creative collaboration. It’s been a remarkable process of education and evolution and I feel incredibly fortunate to be on this path.

As wonderful as this has been, it’s not enough. I’m onto something that needs to be shared with other people- certainly with artists who need development and mentoring. I’ve shared my endeavors with individuals at several record companies and while they think it’s brilliant, they are too fearful to implement it.

Wow. Record companies don’t want help developing their artists from people who have years of experience doing it. On top of everything else, I offered to work with their artists for free. It’s as if they’d prefer to continue failing the same old way they’ve been failing- and with such flair- instead of taking a calculated risk on something that could at very least help their artists be far better at what they do. Just because the old way is so familiar and less scary.

Conformity is a survival skill. Keep your head down and it probably won’t get smacked by whoever pays your salary. Don’t make waves. Meanwhile, the world keeps on turning, time is wasting and everything that has blighted popular music is only metastasizing further.

It’s impossible to deny that the music business is on its last legs. Apart from the unmitigated rubbish that record companies release sans remittance, it is a harsh age indeed when an artist can lead the Billboard album chart with an album that sells in the quintuple digits.

And yes, there are pockets of success (as defined by monetary gain), but they are so few and far between, they almost don’t matter. Kind of like oases in a huge desert.

But opportunistic people are everywhere and are still trying to hitch a ride on the money train. They play in clubs with their bands, go to seminars, learn about how to build their brands and how to get endorsement deals once they’ve made it in music.

I recently made an important discovery, which was somewhat upsetting. Much to my chagrin, I realized there are very, very, very few individuals in the world who are truly gifted- certainly, to the point that they deserve to be heard by anyone else- let alone by millions. In spite of this, the field is clogged daily with more poor devils who just know they can strike it rich doing something in music.

Everyone has free will. You have free will. You can believe whatever you want and do whatever you want. You can follow the rules, invest in yourself (as a former manager put it when he was trying to justify my own profligacy to me) and keep chasing the carrot you dangle in your own face (when someone else isn’t doing it for you). Eventually, reality- and fatigue and disillusionment- will set in.

These days, popular music that wasn’t constructed (for constructed, it is) to appeal to the absolute lowest common denominator in the human gene pool is based exclusively on one thing- a cool idea. Unfortunately, cool ideas are interesting in and of themselves- they generally don’t make people interested in an artist. Truth, raw emotions, expression, communication- those are the things in an artist’s work that matter most. And so very few people who make music are really, truly artists who can express themselves with feeling and meaning- and without sounding like they’re whining, rutting or having a temper tantrum.

Choose your side- choose what you serve, because choose you must and choose you will. We all have to choose and if we don’t, the choice will be made for us by someone else.

What will you serve? Will it be your ethics, your gullibility or your gluttony?

In this world, people who make music are less familiar with how to express themselves honestly through their modality of expression than they are with how to operate Pro Tools or manage their “brand” through their website or on Twitter. The audience that hears their musical end product are far more interested in the mode of delivery with which they encounter it than whether or not it connects with them on a visceral level.

It doesn’t matter to me in the least if other people call this “reality”. In most cases, reality is nothing more than a state of perception someone with power tries to get a bunch of other people to believe. Kool Aid by any other name is still Kool Aid and I’m not drinking it.

The fact is, I haven’t made a large budget recording in years- all my recent work has been with artists who have little or no money with which to make a recording. A lot of this work falls under the category of artist development. This isn’t the kind of artist development where a record company executive packs an artist up into a van, tells him to play shows for the next two years and build a following so he can come back and drop a fully-formed money-making machine into the record company executive’s lap. I’m referring to artist development where a very experienced mentor (who has nothing to do with a record company) sits with an artist, takes time with him, works with his songs, his approach and everything that is essential to what the artist actually does.

Ever hear of this before? It actually works and there isn’t a record company under the sun that provides it for their artists.

I stopped trying to make money at this years ago. I’m doing it because I desperately need to hear some truly amazing music in the world. I’m also doing it because there are few things I love more than the utter joy of creative collaboration with a real bona fide artist.

I recently heard some of Adele’s record in passing. I’d heard it before, but I paid more attention this time. It’s just fine- it really is.

No, it’s not. This record has sold upward of twenty million records worldwide, has been universally lauded from every rooftop, hilltop, minaret and steel girded skyscraper the whole world over. And it’s really just ok.

Actually, it’s a towering paragon of great, meaningful virtuous brilliance- for this era. However, if it had been released ten- even fifteen years ago , it would have been lost in the shuffle. Because, compared with everything else (even the crap) that was being made at a time when people did know how to be expressive, it would have been a middling mediocrity. It wouldn’t have mattered. And to further illustrate the terminal stupidity which paralyzes the music business, those record company chieftains, regally enshrouded in their perennial myopia are all hot in pursuit of another full-figured, English white girl. O tempora, o mores.

In spite of this, it’s probably never been easier than right now to be a diamond in the rough. There is a path- a great vista laid open many miles wide that you could drive a fleet of Mack trucks through- a path that just sits there, waiting for any artist who has the stones to make a recording and be raw, be real and have the talent to communicate all of it in vivid relief. And this path grows wider by the moment because however talented any artist might be, no one is actually communicating anything.

This is also the one thing that Adele did properly and made her deserving of her many millions sold. She told the world- all of us- about herself. She was vulnerable. She communicated.

I sometimes liken the confluence of events and circumstance which swirl together and conspire to create a high caliber artist to the development of a serial killer.

Statistically, a large portion of the population (something like two- ten percent) have sociopathic or psychopathic tendencies. Most people are raised in loving homes and aren’t exposed to the specific elements which can take a relatively harmless garden variety sociopath and develop him into something far more savage. Interestingly enough, one potential indicator of this personality is excessive risk-taking. This is one reason why (combined with their magnetic charm and callous disregard for others) quite a few psychopaths apparently wind up and are highly successful on Wall Street.

Only a miniscule handful of people with psychopathic tendencies are exposed to the specific events in life which can lead them down the path to becoming serial killers.

This is (relatively) the same for artists. There are individuals who are born with artistic talent, but come into families where there is no support or appreciation for the arts and the idea is literally or figuratively, beaten out of them. Often, people like these are born into a specific role and are expected to do something more substantial with their life. Someone like this doesn’t even have a chance.

Then, there are those with talent, whose artistic aspirations are supported by their families, by educators, by their community- but their talent is just not quite formidable enough and they don’t have the stomach for it. Most people, no matter how far they come on this path will eventually give up. In some cases, people like these will make exceptional teachers.

But there is always a tiny, tiny handful of extraordinary people who have the resilience, the ambition, the creativity, the talent and most important- the unadulterated ability to use their chosen modality to express themselves flawlessly.

These are the ones who both nature and nurture have adorned with greatness in great, heaping excess. These are the ones who toil not for money- but because they have absolutely no choice in the matter and were nothing more than wise enough to accept their fate instead of continuing to fight the inevitable. These are the ones who are the mirror images of their equally wise comrades in-arms who gave up the same struggle for the exact same reasons.

If your efforts have taken you this far, I am addressing you. I have committed myself to developing and working with artists who possess this level of talent- this degree of depth and brilliance. If you can move me with your greatness, I will work with you (in a manner we mutually agree upon) for no monetary compensation of any kind (which can be revised in a manner mutually agreeable to all participants only if the work we do together generates income).

Years ago, I was paid a king’s ransom for my work. All I desire now is to hear music that can move me once more. My standard for judging artists has not waned- in fact it is more intense than ever- but I pledge to give my all if you can demonstrate your talent to me and I believe I can help you improve on it.

I am open to mentoring people who are serious, highly intelligent and capable in this way and regarding music production. It is apparent to me that the pool of up and coming producers, engineers, etc is growing smaller and dimmer by day. I would like to establish a network of individuals with real talent who live by their ideals instead of viewing a career in popular music as some kind of get-rich-quick scam.

I can’t stand by idly and do nothing. I can’t watch this current state of affairs become the status quo and know that I could have done something to change it, or affected one other person’s life for the good, even if only for a solitary instant.

I am proposing to be part of the solution. I am proposing to help and this is how. This is what I’m doing about it now.

Posted in art, creativity, expression, lyrics, Michael Beinhorn, Music, Music Business, Music Industry, Music Production, Pop Music, Popular Music, record production, Recording, Recording industry, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Any/ all further postings will be on my new site- michaelbeinhorn.com (which has more interesting things on it than mere essays).

Posted in Music, Music Business, Pop Music, Popular Music, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Primer On Feel

I am posting this article here (as well as on my website), due to its apparent popularity.

Music is every bit as visceral as it is engaging for the mind (if it is not moreso). It is a total, fulfilling experience and even though it doesn’t engage other senses (in the way motion pictures and other multi-media forms of entertainment do), it provides the capability for one’s imagination to fill in whatever sensory gaps may exist.

One of the ways that music can be experienced viscerally is emotionally. One other way that music can be explored viscerally is via its pulse and rhythm.

Rhythm and pulse are fundamental building blocks in many forms of music, however, in popular music, they are unique. This is in part, due to the inherently repetitive nature of popular music. Although, classical music can be similarly repetitive, it primarily features the repetition of specific themes. Popular music is more often characterized by short segments of music which repeat and then modulate into new segments (which may similarly repeat).

Additionally, popular music is derived from unique genetics. Although it shares a tuning system and a theoretical foundation with Western classical music, modern popular music is essentially derived from several different folk music forms; the primary form being African.

African music was brought to this country via the slave trade (as it was to several other countries such as Jamaica, Haiti and Cuba, also eventually defining the core of their indigenous musics) and gradually acclimatized itself to its new environs. Over time, it mutated into diverse music forms from field calls to prison raps/hollers to gospel and, to blues. Blues became the pivotal music form which went on to influence early R&B, soul and rock n’ roll.

Every form of modern popular music carries in its DNA, a derivation of African music.

One of the most interesting things about African music (and many other forms of ethnic and folk music) is its general (almost nonliteral, nonlinear) adherence to timing. Perhaps because most ethnic music is not based around a system of notation (and is instead, passed from teacher to disciple in an oral tradition), the concept of timing appears more subjective to the individual musicians than in a piece of classical music (where strict attention is literally paid to timing, and uniformity of performance).

This somewhat general and perhaps subjective adherence to timing (or ‘looseness’) in various ethnic music forms has a curious effect on the performance of a given piece of music. Instead of there being a specific down beat where everyone lands simultaneously, there is a loose (yet general) idea of where down beats are relative to each player (and to each instrument sound).

When one listens closely to a piece of ethnic music, there are miniscule timing differentials perceptible in the performance of each instrument relative to the others. These timing differentials maintain a constant proximity with one another and in so doing, are not apparent to the ear as mistakes. They are occasionally experienced as light flams.

When instruments are played together in this way, a remarkable and unique sensation of movement which is generated. All the instruments are perceived as working together, but they are neither dependent upon one another, nor are they particularly independent. They can be said to be performing together interdependently.

Amidst the instruments playing interdependently, a simultaneous feeling of accord and of tension is generated. The instruments create an invisible latticework amongst themselves which is as magical as it is brimming over with ancient power.

At the same time, it appears as if this creation of human beings is so fragile that, if one person should loose their place for even a faction of and instant, the entire center would collapse.

The fruit of this creation is the work of men and as such, it is imperfect. An, it is for this reason that it cannot be broken or destroyed no matter how many times the players make mistakes or fall out of time with one another.

In it’s imperfection, it is utterly pristine, utterly perfect. It is a tribute to the Gods in the way only humans can offer up such obeisance. The Gods may have imbued humans with the power to worship in such fashion, but could a being as perfect as a God create something so beautiful in all its flaws?

It would be interesting to imagine a piece of ethnic music being performed in a setting where all the performers are classically trained, being lead by a conductor and reading their music from charts. It is doubtful that the essence would remain- instead, something would be lost….

Interdependent playing imbues music with excitement, with motion, with depth, with spirit, with sex. It makes music interesting to listen to, it breathes life into it and takes it beyond form into the formless.

Some people refer to this as ‘the space between the notes’ when they reference an individual musician’s style of performance. This pertains to the specific phrasing which defines each musician as being special or unique.

Others refer to it as ‘pocket’, ‘groove’ or ‘feel’.

Feel can be experienced through hearing one musician play his instrument with the appropriate tension, but it is mainly experienced by hearing a group of musicians interact in this way. This interaction is a place where listeners can have the awareness of musicians communicating with one another through their instruments.

Which brings us to more modern forms of feel-based music.

One obvious example of this performance style would be Led Zeppelin. Zeppelin have their roots in both blues, rock n’ roll and R&B, all styles of music with a direct lineage to African music.

Blues and R&B are structured so that the instruments playing in the bass/baritone range (bass, drums) are pushing ahead of the beat, while instruments in the tenor/alto/soprano range (guitars, vocals, etc) are generally laying back behind the beat. One obvious precedent for this is found in big band and swing music- where the lower register instruments are all pushing ahead, while the solo/upper range instruments are laying far back.

In this way, the low end instruments become like an anchor; they ground the music, give it roots and foundation.

For a long time, there has been a misconception that bass and drums are generally meant to lay back (especially in rock music). This is probably because people’s awareness naturally goes to instruments playing in the tenor-soprano ranges first and are instantly aware that those instruments are indeed, laying back.

It is relatively easy to see where instrument down beats land if one loads a song into a DAW and looks at the resulting waveform. However, by referring to Led Zeppelin (and several other artists), I will provide some examples which present interdependent playing very clearly.

‘Rock And Roll’ from Led Zeppelin 4 is a perfect example of feel-based, interdependent playing.

The song wears its roots on its sleeve. The changes are simple and blues based. The continuous barrage of 8th notes is an homage to the proto-R&B/rock n’ roll of Chuck Berry. Of course, the band have given the song a proper 1970’s update replete with over driven guitars and wailing vocals.

However, it is in the rhythm section where the song truly distinguishes itself. The song has a raw sensuality to it, a sway, a swagger. It has a palpable sense of excitement which belies its deceptive simplicity.

What is causing this to happen?

Because of his legacy (as well as his brilliance), many people will look to John Bonham’s drumming as the answer, but they will only be partially correct. This excitement is actually being generated by the interaction between the bass, the drums and the guitar.

The drums are surging against the beat and are generally hitting a fraction early from (or ahead of) the nearest perceived down beat. The exception to this is the hihat (or ride cymbal) which is generally sitting in the same time differential as the guitar. The guitar is sitting slightly behind the drums and creating the impression that the bass and drums are laying back.

And then, there’s the bass guitar. This is the unsung instrument of all bands, the one which creates the glue between all the other instruments and defines exactly how the feel sits amongst them.

It is indisputable that without a great drummer, a band is generally not good, but without a great bass guitarist, a band is simply not interesting.

The better a bass player is, the better he makes the rest of his band mates appear. If ever a bassist existed who could make his fellow band mates look good (at the considerable expense of going himself unnoticed in the process), that bassist would have to be John Paul Jones.

I would invite you to play ‘Rock And Roll’, listening first to the rhythm guitar, bass and drums. Next, try listening to only the bass and drums- ignore the racket they are supporting. Finally, play the track and try listening for only the bass guitar.

What a revelation that was. Wow. Listen to his choice of notes, how steady he is. Listen to his tone. Most of all, listen to how far ahead of the rest of the band he is.

It’s true. John Paul Jones is pushing the band along. If the drums are the backbone of a band, the bass guitar is the kinetic force which moves everything forward. Hear how the bass guitar is straining ahead of all the other instruments, (even the drums, almost to the point of lightly flamming with them). When he is at the point where he can’t move any further ahead without obviously flamming with everyone else, he has to articulate his phrasing in order to compensate for this.

(Of course, none of this should be surprising since John Paul Jones was a fan of James Jamerson, the house bassist at Motown. Jamerson was one of the most influential bassists of all time, his melodic sense was pure brilliance and naturally, he always played far ahead of the rest of his band).

If you can, try and imagine ‘Rock And Roll’ with the bass playing precise 8th notes on every down beat- no push or pull. Imagine if Zeppelin had cut this track to a click. Imagine if they were making a record today and the producer insisted on gridding and editing the bass (and the drums).

Impossible. No way.

Another (and even more extreme) example of this style of playing is found on ‘Helter Skelter’ by The Beatles. I will request that you listen to this song and if possible, wear headphones. The bass is in the left channel, the drums are in the right. Listen to how the bass and drums interact on this song.

What is significant about this piece of music is not merely that the bass is being played ahead (or how loud it is in the mix), but how far ahead it’s being played. It is almost as if someone decided the drum track was too slow and wanted to pick the tempo up.

Obviously, there are other examples of this, far too numerous to require mentioning. Once you hear and develop a context for this tension, this interdependence, you will be able to hear it everywhere.

You will also be able to detect where it is absent and how lifeless a piece of music can become when it doesn’t have that essence, that sexuality. That feel. You’ll find out for yourself.

Having instruments work together interdependently has many other benefits. The perceived tempo of a song can be made to appear faster- sometimes by a few BPM. Also, the down beats of a song suddenly have a very broad footprint, which means the vocalist has a lot of room to phrase.

Listen to a Frank Sinatra record. The orchestra plays with feel and finesse- so much space, you could drive a Mack truck through it and still have room for a bike path. This space is what gives Sinatra the freedom and ease to emulate a trombone player in his phrasing. Now, imagine if someone tried to edit one of his tracks……

Virtually every rock record done with stellar vocal phrasing was cut by people who were talented musicians and played with feel. This is no accident.

Keep listening, keep exploring- you’ll feel it. And then, you’ll get it.

I am accompanying this post with some audio which can be accessed on my website- michaelbeinhorn.net. Therein, I provided the examples I’ve given, plus a couple of others, including a partial board mix from Led Zeppelin 2 of ‘Ramble On’. This mix consists of the drums playing solo for a few bars, after which, the bass guitar is dropped in. I invite you to listen to the bass relative to the drums, how far ahead it is and how you can actually hear it flamming in places.

Posted in art, creativity, drummers, drums, expression, lyrics, Michael Beinhorn, Music, Music Business, Pop Music, Popular Music, record production, Recording, Uncategorized | 11 Comments