Underproducing to Produce
I am a musician, and I love music. i am almost always listening to something. Even if it is just resonating inside my head. One thing I have noticed though is the extreme level of production that is put into much of the music we listen to.
Its so produced, and edited that often what you head in the live concert sounds nothing like what you heard on the live album that was recorded that night.
Here is the question, at what point does art become merely product? When does our passion become our paycheck? (Note I am not against making money)
I remember listening to Eric Clapton as a child and being mesmerized by his licks. He still has crazy skills, but then MTV convinced him to do a special concert called “Unplugged” It was a reworking of some of his classics and it just blew people’s minds.
But in an age where digitization is the way to go, and where less and less actual instrumentation is required, what happened to the art form known as music?
It seems like every few months we are hearing about another person who is in trouble because they lip synced through their concert. It seems like music is more about the entertainment than the art. We see women who barely wear anything shaking everything whilst offering nothing. We have traded complex lyrical structures for repetition and simplicity… (Baby? anyone?)
Yet in the midst of this, sometimes a true gem is released. A few months ago I had the opportunity to review “Borderland” by John Mark McMillan for my good friends at All About Worship. (It’s good read it) This album was truly a work of art. With the departure of long time guitarist and collaborate James Duke, McMillan was forced to rework the sound and move in a new direction all his own. Who knew that losing the Duke would be the key to unlocking the deepest brilliance of John Mark’s mind?
The thing about the album is that it didn’t have a huge budget, high production value, or record label backing. All it had was a vision, and some true artists committed to that vision. Yet while it didn’t have the recording depth and quality of previous McMillan studio offerings, it had a reality that grabs the soul. Now, they did a collaboration with Relevant Magazine to shoot two of the songs on video raw and acoustic. Just the guitar, mandolin, and a cello accompanying brilliant harmonies. This somehow managed to take the music up another notch.
Another example of the beauty of simplicity is the newest album from indie rock troubadours Band of Horses. Their live acoustic session recorded at the legendary Ryman auditorium hearkens to the legendary musicians who have played the venue. All of the songs have been reworked to a simpler acoustic edition. Electric guitars were replaced with acoustic. Synth Keyboarding was replaced by Piano, and again it tapped into a reality that music has missed.
Sometimes to truly produce you need to actually under produce. It means stop striving for perfection and being searching for beauty. Why did Borderland captivate the human spirit? Because he was on a journey and it came through so strong in his music. He was real, he was honest, and it was beautiful. He didn’t care if every pitch was perfect or if each song was suited for this person or that.
He cut open his chest and let his passion bleed out through the recording. This album encapsulates his soul better than any other. It shows his love, his life, his questions, his answers, everything. When we stop trying to produce product and begin building beauty we will begin to feel again.