The Big Think

September 15, 2012

Mania Is A Curable Affliction (or: Would Someone Please Quantize The Drummer?)

Filed under: Music — jasony @ 9:15 am

So what was the fuss all about anyway?

I’ve done a fair amount of studio work to know that studio time is when you get everything right. If you have a project to complete, you want to make sure that all of your performances are as good as they can be because, as the saying goes, film is forever (or vinyl, or cds, or mp3s or whatever). If it wasn’t right you redo it. This goes double if you know millions of people are going to listen to your end product. I just finished a project that might have upwards of a million listeners throughout its lifespan, so you can bet that I did my very best to make sure that every aspect of it- the performances, the sounds, the mixes, the vocalists- were as high quality as the budget allowed, and I wrote some of the largest checks of my professional life to make sure that the vocalists were as good as possible. Film is forever and my audience was worth the work.

So I’m listening to a track from the Beatles’ mid-period right now and thinking about how so many Baby Boomers worship at the altar of John, Paul, George, and what’s-his-name. One thing I’ve noticed is that the drum track- the drum track, for crying out loud, the track that acts as the foundationally foundational foundation of the rest of the song- drifts in and out of time as if it’s being played by someone with a pair of rubber sticks attached to their elbows with sodden bungee cords. As if I’m playing it.

I’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers where he talks about the Beatles and how they gigged for years and years in obscurity to perfect their sound. How they labored in the salt mines of Hamburg to bring us the Holy Grail That Is Rock and how they were greatly responsible for modern music and we’d all still be hopeless squares without them so bow down, bow down.

But I don’t see it.

The song I’m listening to starts at 114bpm and within two measures drops to 108bpm. stays there for a while without commitment and then meanders around 112 like it’s early for a train and needs to wander around the platform looking for a bathroom. It’s horrible. I know anyone can have a bad day, and obviously these guys could play (Sgt. Pepper, blah-blah-blah), but even with the clunky 1960’s studio technology, if you lay down a drum track and it varies by 6bpm you lay down another track. Film is forever.

Or maybe they should have just kicked old Groucho out of the band.

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