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Old 2nd September 2008 , 02:38 PM
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Location: Edinburgh
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Default Is perfection really all that?

(Edit: This began as a three-paragraph peice, I swear. My apologies for the ramblefest that will now hurt your brain)

Y'know, something I've always believed is that a perfect take is just that - perfect. I've canned takes in the past for mistakes, like getting words wrong, not singing them right, or things like fluffing cords, or hitting a wrong note, or whatever. It's the way I've been educated in production. Accept nothing short of that perfect, 'magic' take I've always read. But I've been thinking about this recently, and I'm beginning to have my doubts.

Take Nirvana's Unplugged as the first example. If you listen to it carefully, you'll spot loads of fluffed notes. Loads of chords with notes accidently muted. Guitars go slightly out of tune in places, all sorts of stuff. REM's Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight is a studio-recorded track, but if you listen to that, Michael breaks down in laughter half way through. Skip to 2:30 in the video below, if you want to catch it. If anyone here's every listened to the 24-track bootlegs of Bohemian Rhapsody (we'll talk about this later if you haven't), you'll know how sloppy the bassline is in that. The Manics' If You Tolerate This is supposed to have several mistakes in its bassline, not fixed because the bassist had a headache and couldn't be bothered. It got to Number 1. So did everything else in this paragraph, and Nirvana's Unplugged is considered by many to be their best album.

And it all leads me to think, have we been sold a lie in this whole thing about getting things perfect? Should we just chill out, and not worry about mistakes that people probably won't notice anyway, but that even if they do, they won't mind?

Y'see, I'm starting to think that we should. And I say this having considered the alternative - American pop music.

Something Bill Bryson pointed out about Americans in his book I'm A Stranger Here Myself is that they are obsessed with following the rules. I'm not going to waffle on for the next couple of hours about how right he is about that, but I raise this point because it seems relevant. To the modern American mind, perfection is essential because we have to follow rules. Rules in music are your scales, and your timing, and mistakes. Dynamic range isn't quanitifyable by rules, so is dealt with using super-compression that flattens all music, and that doesn't break any rules. Hence, they give us mechanical music that might as well come as a .mid file. And it sounds really boring, doesn't it?

I mean, compare the music of the mid-90s to today. Back when it was still okay to leave mistakes in the final mixes, and today, when everything has to sound slick and perfect. Today's music is utterly lifeless, isn't it? I'm not saying the songs are bad, but they just don't sound anywhere near as captivating as older stuff, do they?

Bands are always going on about how they want to capture that 'live energy' in the studio. They never quite manage it though. Do they just get bored playing the same part over and over, trying to get it exacty right?

So, what do you all reckon? As producers, should we aim for click-track perfection, or should we aim just to get the freshest take?

Do the mistakes you hear in music grate on you as errors, or just remind you that you're listening to something real?

Lastly, which do you prefer - the studio version of a song, or a well-recorded live version of it? Why?

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Last edited by RedDavid; 2nd September 2008 at 02:59 PM. . <
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Old 2nd September 2008 , 03:53 PM
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Join Date: Aug 2008
Location: England
Posts: 3,829

a friend of mine (who is a multiple platinum grammy winning producer) once said "we sell emotions and there are no emotions in a grid". After I first worked with him I stopped using beat detective.

Providing those mistakes are small and only perceptible if you listen carefully then they become somehow magical. They are the little things that only fans notice and love. I strive to capture them (I always have a mic open when I have a band in the studio just on the offchance I can capture something that I can add back to the song - recently I captured a singer coughing in tune with a kick drum so used it to replace the kick in one part of the song - if they ever become huge, one day someone will notice that and a whole lore will grow up around it).

There are other mistakes too. Not nice ones. Ones that make your skin crawl. Like the lead guitarist recently who at the end of the take (which was so bad I can't even describe) I asked "what did you think of that" (I couldn't think of anything else to say and was trying to be diplomatic). When he told me he thought he might have have hit one or two bum notes I couldnt help but splutter that I thought he might have hit one or two notes which were in key. Or the lead singer whose vocal had to be melodyned to within an inch of its life. After I did it and got the band back in for a final consultation he wanted to know what I'd done with the vocal. He didn't like it as it just didn't sound like him... IMO these are the kind of mistakes the music industry can do without. That's the beauty of recording today. You can make them disappear. (cue discussion on PT destroying musci). YMMV. That's what makes life such a rich tapestry!
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Old 2nd September 2008 , 04:19 PM
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Location: Kent, UK.
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Pretty much agree with Trev. If it's one of those mistakes you hear every time you listen back, the kind you avoid listening to, then re-do it.

In one of my tracks I have the noise of both a digital clock "beeping on the hour" and my cat meowing, but both are in time with the music and "fit sonically", so I've left them there... mind you, I quite often involuntarily look round to find where the cat is or glance at the clock (even though it's no longer in my studio!) whenever I listen to it.

It's the little "happy accidents" that give some tracks that little magic charm...
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