What is the purpose of music?
Have you ever thought about that?
Players and songwriters know they have fun playing and making music, most people know they like to listen to music in one form or another, they know they like some music and may not like some other music and may not even be exactly sure why, but what is the purpose of music?
At it’s most basic level, throughout the ages and throughout the continents, the purpose of music has been to evoke an emotional response from the listener which often involves the complex behavior of dancing to the beat but not always. The emotional response could involve a feeling of relaxation, a feeling of being charged up, a feeling of romance and seduction, a feeling of hope, a feeling of sadness, empathy or pain.This is also related to why the soundtrack is such a critical important component of a movie. The sound sets the stage for the emotional response along with the visual element.
Hopefully, this emotional response will be associated with the liking of the music, but that is strictly up to the listener.
So now at this point, ask yourself as a player or songwriter what your goals are. What is the emotional response you are going for? Are you looking to charge people up? Are you looking for people to empathize with your pain, are you looking for people to relax and unwind, etc.?
Furthermore, this can all get very complex because for example, why are minor keys associated with melancholy or sadness? the duder is not sure if anyone knows the answer to this question, but it is well known that they do. So maybe if you are seeking for others to feel your pain you will want to use a minor key, or maybe not. This is all a very complex subject when you get to thinking about it, which is why it is being discussed here. So you can think about it.
So all that said, the most fundamental aspect of the emotional response is the music itself, but how the music is treated in the studio and thus perceived by the listener can also have a large bearing on the emotional response generated in the listener.
Whether or not the listener feels an emotional response is related to whether they listen or recommend the music, which is then related to how far and wide the music spreads. So while this subject may seem somewhat esoteric and ivory tower-ish, it really is not. It really strikes to the core of why people listen to music. They want to get an emotional response out of it. That’s what they really want. So in that sense, everything depends on it.
As an example, if you as a recording engineer and producer took a great performance and made it sound like it was recorded in a parking garage, that would evoke an emotional response, but maybe not the correct one.
Many of the most recognized and widely listened to tracks of all time feature some sort of captivating element which evokes some sort of emotional response in the listener. It could be as simple as a “yeow” or a riff. Complexity is not necessarily the secret to an emotional response as some of the most famous riffs of all time have been 4 notes or less. One of the most famous rock and roll riffs of all time that of Deep Purple’s “smoke on the water”, is a long one at 4 notes.
So as a producer, and engineer what really is your goal here and how are you going to achieve it?
First and foremost, let us notice that there have been very long term trends in the way music is mixed and mastered over time. It can vary depending on decade, depending on genre, depending on country of origin, and just like fashion, certain things about music go in and out of vogue. One year you have to have it, and the next year you wouldn’t be caught dead with it. That sort of thing. Ray Davies of the Kinks actually tackled this topic very well in a song, and in the process evoked the emotional response of smiling, empathy, agreement, laughing even.
The Kinks- Dedicated Follower Of Fashion – YouTube
At the height of the Beach Boys fame, a lot of people were using a lot of reverb in their mixes because the Beach Boys were very heavy on the reverb creating an entire genre of reverb heavy “surf music” which retrospectively has been some of the most widely listened to music of all time, and has stood the test of time.
The Lonely Sea- Beach Boys – YouTube
So as time marches on, the way music is handled in the studio depends on the gear that technology provides for musicians and studios to use, trends in music, genre, and a lot of other factors, but the one factor in common regardless of the process, venue or era is that the music is seeking to evoke an emotional response in the listener.
AWOLNATION – Knights of Shame (Audio) – YouTube
As a matter of fact, many successful and well known bands and musicians have exploited one technology or the other to get “their sound”, the Beach Boys above being a good example.
This leads us to the idea that in the studio, the engineer and producer should strive to work with the artist to focus on creating a track that is memorable. A track that will evoke an emotional response, one that compliments the music and seeks to emphasize the emotional response, and one that will stand the test of time.
Now on to the mechanics.
What tools are available in the studio to help the artist achieve his or her vision of a track that everyone falls in love with?
Bill Evans – The Creative Process and Self-Teaching – YouTube
Please stay tuned for the next blog posting titled “the emotional response” which will involve the mechanics of emotional response generation in the music and in the studio.