Exploring Indie

By James Pew

Yesterday I posted an excerpt from my new book, Studio Manifesto: Exploring the Possibilities of Indie, called The power of visualization in a new age of indie music. As I explained yesterday the book is one part “reconsideration” of Marshall McLuhan’s ground breaking media theory in the context of today’s social media movement, and one part indie musician survival guide.

One of the things I love about Marshall McLuhan’s books is his use of the Field, or mosaic approach. A mosaic is the art of creating images with an assemblage of small pieces. The “image” we are creating here comes from the assemblage of various forms of data found in various places (spread out through a wide spectrum of disciplines or “schools of thought”).

The mosaic approach has somewhat of a randomness to it. McLuhan said, when referring to his own books, that it was not necessary to start at page one and read through sequentially to the last page. You can pick up any of McLuhan’s work and start at a random point in the middle if you choose. Later it will be shown that linear sequential ordering of thoughts or events is a product of our previous Guttenberg Age (the age of the of the printing press, “the book”).

In the spirit of the mosaic approach, I am presenting “random” sections of Studio Manifesto: Exploring the Possibilities of Indie. As always, please leave any feedback, criticism, or direction in the comments section. Thank you for reading!

The Friends & Family Factor

The friends and family factor says that your biggest fans will lie to you if it means not hurting your ego. You need objective discerning observers of all types to critique you. If you are not looking for criticism, then how else are you living up to your potential?

The woodshed cannot escape the tribal resonance of the electric age.

The priority is developing your craft. The artists of today can “handle” the input of others and use it to help uncover their own genuine unique sound. It is developing in segregated private compartments, what musicians call the “woodshed,” that often leads to a “sound alike” or a creative dead end.

Reject the Woodshed

Genuine constructive criticism can help you uncover the depths of your artistry. Invite the input of everyone who listens and make them a part of the process. This is the essence of the modern artist.
How big a part of the process you make your listeners doesn’t really matter, it is the stepping out from the woodshed that does.

Note: To effectively harvest useful feedback, it’s essential that your intentions and communication are clear, concise, and on time.

The psychology factor – sometimes called the reverb factor

The indie recording studio is a very interesting microcosm of strange psychological activity. Indie recording artists often use the services of an indie recording studio because they lack the skills, resources or interest to pull off a DIY recording.

In the spirit of experimentation, to be fair, they are sometimes inclined to pressure engineers to perform inappropriate engineering techniques or adjustments. It’s sort of like getting an examination from a medical doctor and telling the doctor how to give the diagnosis. Maybe that would work if you were a doctor yourself – but for the sake of the illustration, there is only one qualified doctor in the examining room.

When in the studio ask yourself how many sound engineers are in the room – and give weight to the quality of their input when engineering issues come up. Its also not uncommon for innovative artistic ideas to come from sound engineers, another good reason for being open to input.

When you produce someone else – you can be objective – when you produce or co-produce yourself it’s not so easy.

Musicians can be insecure about the quality of their studio performance – and sometimes want their part(s) to be turned down, buried in the mix, or otherwise smothered or “covered up” with reverb or some other effect.

Here are a few questions self-producing recording artists should ask during sessions:

1. Are you the only one present that likes or dislikes your performance? If everyone thinks you can do it better, than do it over. If everyone thinks it’s great than maybe leave it alone. If you really can’t live with it, do it over and get it right. But don’t suggest that it be hidden, masked, or fixed in the mix.

2. When asking for a specific engineering treatment – why does the song need it – is it complimenting or distracting from the featured musical parts.

3. What are the featured musical parts – Lead vocal in most pop music – You are not asking to bury or smear the lead vocal are you?

The best scenario is when the artist has faith and trust in the engineer and producer she is working with. A lot of stress can be lifted off the artists shoulders allowing her to focus on performance. The process can be made better if the artist & producer can work together refining and developing the artists performance.

Work with talented people, who you trust to share the engineering/production role – and your studio experiences will be far more rewarding.

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