Over-engineering Musical Solutions

Discussion of music production, audio, equipment and any related topics, either with or without Ableton Live
Tarekith
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Over-engineering Musical Solutions

Post by Tarekith » Wed May 13, 2015 9:00 am

Image

New post from my blog:

One of the more interesting aspects of living in Europe compared to the US, is how differently they build things. Lots more concrete, no drywall, attention to air quality inside, more stringent energy saving devices, etc. Of course, sometimes better is not always better.

Case in point. The bathroom in our new apartment has a fan and vent system that’s tied into the overhead light. When you turn on the main bathroom light, after a few seconds the fans in the vents start. This provides not only fresh air, but also helps get rid of any moisture in the air after say a shower, preventing mold building up and the like. It’s a great idea on paper, however the people who designed it over-engineered the concept because said fan will stay on for up to 30 minutes after you turn off the light. Even if you only turn on the light for a few seconds. And it’s very loud, so loud you can hear it in all of the other rooms. To the point where it’s extremely annoying, and it basically creates a larger problem than it solves.

As a result, instead of being a practical solution we appreciate having and use frequently, my wife and rarely use the overhead light in the bathroom and instead use the much dimmer one built into the wall. The point of this post isn’t just to whine about my new bathroom though, because I see music producers doing the same thing all the time when it comes to writing music.

For instance, people will be working to make two instruments sit together better in a mix by using some EQ on both parts. They’ll go to great lengths to create these radical and steep EQ shapes that precisely isolate specific frequencies, and yes the sounds do fit together better afterwards. But at the same time, they also lack any warmth or presence, making the mix sound thin and anemic. They’ve in effect not just fixed a problem, but created a worse one in the process.

Read More: http://innerportalstudio.com/over-engin ... solutions/
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TomViolenz
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Re: Over-engineering Musical Solutions

Post by TomViolenz » Wed May 13, 2015 9:10 am

Tarekith wrote:Image

New post from my blog:

One of the more interesting aspects of living in Europe compared to the US, is how differently they build things. Lots more concrete, no drywall, attention to air quality inside, more stringent energy saving devices, etc. Of course, sometimes better is not always better.

Case in point. The bathroom in our new apartment has a fan and vent system that’s tied into the overhead light. When you turn on the main bathroom light, after a few seconds the fans in the vents start. This provides not only fresh air, but also helps get rid of any moisture in the air after say a shower, preventing mold building up and the like. It’s a great idea on paper, however the people who designed it over-engineered the concept because said fan will stay on for up to 30 minutes after you turn off the light. Even if you only turn on the light for a few seconds. And it’s very loud, so loud you can hear it in all of the other rooms. To the point where it’s extremely annoying, and it basically creates a larger problem than it solves.
Faulty logic. If anything it is still under-engineered. Providing an off switch for the vent would be an obvious engineering solution to the issue.
As a result, instead of being a practical solution we appreciate having and use frequently, my wife and rarely use the overhead light in the bathroom and instead use the much dimmer one built into the wall. The point of this post isn’t just to whine about my new bathroom though, because I see music producers doing the same thing all the time when it comes to writing music.

For instance, people will be working to make two instruments sit together better in a mix by using some EQ on both parts. They’ll go to great lengths to create these radical and steep EQ shapes that precisely isolate specific frequencies, and yes the sounds do fit together better afterwards. But at the same time, they also lack any warmth or presence, making the mix sound thin and anemic. They’ve in effect not just fixed a problem, but created a worse one in the process.

Read More: http://innerportalstudio.com/over-engin ... solutions/
Thanks for the work, I will check it out. 8)

Richie Witch
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Re: Over-engineering Musical Solutions

Post by Richie Witch » Wed May 13, 2015 11:55 am

TomViolenz wrote:Faulty logic. If anything it is still under-engineered. Providing an off switch for the vent would be an obvious engineering solution to the issue.
The glass is neither have empty nor half full. The glass has been over-engineered to hold twice the capacity of the required liquid.

I couldn't resist.... 8)
"Watching the Sky" ~ A 4-track EP of piano, strings, and Native American flute

S4racen
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Re: Over-engineering Musical Solutions

Post by S4racen » Wed May 13, 2015 12:17 pm

Ha my bathroom does that too.... Very Annoying!

Cheers
D

jbw
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Re: Over-engineering Musical Solutions

Post by jbw » Wed May 13, 2015 12:28 pm

Thanks for the post Tarekith. Good stuff as always. 8)

My approach of late has been to only resort to "production tricks" if I have to, and even then keeping them as minimal as possible. To do that I try to think ahead and envision a track's elements first. Not always easy, especially the more complex a track gets.

As for composition, I'm not too keen on the whole concept of loops in music, and instead use the term "phrase" when describing a snippet of music. I realize the two terms are similar, and I probably sound a bit snooty in rejecting one in favor of the other, but "looping" in music just seems to me like too much of an easy way out. Though I will admit looping can be done to nice effect, if done right.

Angstrom
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Re: Over-engineering Musical Solutions

Post by Angstrom » Wed May 13, 2015 12:33 pm

The biggest problem with over-engineering tricks like EQ carving is that it becomes a house of cards. So while the carved up monster pad and the carved stab and the carved drums and the carved riff noise all sound great for the 4 bars where the mix was set up ... As soon as you move to a different part of the arrangment it all falls apart. When the pad drops out it reveals the stangely carved riff noise in all its anemic glory.

The EQ carving aproach is similar to the technique used in MP3 encoding where similar frequencies are deemed unnecessary and are discarded. Of course in MP3 encoding this frequency discarding happens from millisecond to millisecond. But even then it's a brutal solution aimed to reduce the amount of data / information in a song. In the context of a mix we cant modulate the EQ carving from millisecond to millisecond, so mixes and arrangements aim to compensate, stacking another bandage on top of the first one.


Meanwhile, take a listen to a good recording of "Take Five" by Dave Brubeck. It's just 4 microphones in a room. What mixing there is came from the mic positions. The EQ too, is just room, and mic choice. It sounds great.
Image
Recording back then was almost a factory process. They recorded live to 3-track in three-hour sessions.
Then the tape went to the editor, then to the mixer, who mixed three tracks to two. Little or no compression was used.
We compared the master tapes with early pressings, and they were very similar. It’s amazing how little the mastering engineers did to the sound.
By the way, Columbia’s acetates were quiet as digital, even though theory says they aren’t supposed to be.
http://www.prosoundweb.com/article/rema ... r_and_son/

tl;dr
We should choose our instruments with the mix in mind and write for them so that they work together, not against each other.

Tarekith
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Re: Over-engineering Musical Solutions

Post by Tarekith » Wed May 13, 2015 1:48 pm

I think one of the things you learn the longer you write music is that all this stuff is interconnected. A good song sounds good because of many steps and decisions along the way. You can salvage quite a bit after the fact today, but nothing beats a solid understanding of what makes things sound good, and applying that at every step of the process with the goal of the end result in mind.

Tom - I hear you about the under-engineered thing, but for the sake of brevity I (perhaps mistakenly) didn't expand on the fact that many things in our new apartment are like this. Turn the stove on, the kitch fan comes on. Walk into the hallway, the lights come on automatically, etc. Back in the US my house had seperate switches for the fan too, and yes in hindsight for this case it was a much better design choice.

I used the phrase over-engineering because here there was clearly a goad to take that decision out of the hands of the end user. An attempt to make things easier by making them automatic. Thus, over-engineered compared to just putting a fan switch on the wall instead.

God I miss my fan switch....
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Re: Over-engineering Musical Solutions

Post by beats me » Wed May 13, 2015 2:00 pm

Your place sounds like a dream come true for me as I am a huge fan of, um, fans. Regardless of temperature I always have fans on at my place, when I drive, and even have a desk fan at work always on. Partially a moving air thing and partially a white noise thing. The only time I don’t like a fan is when it’s not a steady hum and is filled with random clicks and buzzes. Then it’s just time to get a new fan, which is always an exciting prospect to me.

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Re: Over-engineering Musical Solutions

Post by Tarekith » Wed May 13, 2015 2:11 pm

I'm a fan of you being a fan of fans.
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Re: Over-engineering Musical Solutions

Post by beats me » Wed May 13, 2015 3:52 pm

I think part of the problem is producers marrying sounds too early in the process. Loop something long enough and it starts gluing itself together in your head and then you start attempting to shoehorn it all in, in the final mix. I wonder if this is part of the reason music (especially EDM) has started to become so minimal and samey. Use what is proven to work because trying to go outside that can be painful or involve a skillset people don’t want to learn.

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Re: Over-engineering Musical Solutions

Post by Tarekith » Wed May 13, 2015 3:55 pm

I'd blame that on marketing myself.
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Angstrom
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Re: Over-engineering Musical Solutions

Post by Angstrom » Wed May 13, 2015 4:11 pm

I don't think the issue is limited to EDM, its a plague which spans most current genres.

I was rewatching a Classic Albums, on Pink Floyd, and that band made a lot of full-spectrum noise, but as they played each of the instrumentalists knew how to vary their playing to leave holes through which the other members could be heard. It's something which derives naturally from a few people jamming together, each learns to choke notes, or minimise what they are playing in a certain section to let the song shine through the other player.
The recording of that album was simply takes of them doing what they did live, then polished up.

These days a song's "guitar riff" or whatever, is likely to be 2 bars of comped together loop of all the best chosen parts the guitarist did, compressed, spatially enhanced. The produce simply re-uses that slab over and over, in a loop. Perhaps the volume of the guitar track is attenuated when the singer sings, or perhaps the mid range is "carved", but the actual fluidity of restraint and agression is not there.

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Re: Over-engineering Musical Solutions

Post by beats me » Wed May 13, 2015 4:23 pm

It’s kind of insane to think of all the “fix it in the mix” automation that happens now when before you had to rely on the talent of the musicians and automation was actually hands physically on knobs and sliders. One person fucks it up and you started the whole choreographed process over again.

I watched a tutorial on mastering EQ and they were automating the EQ throughout the track. I was 8O :x :x This is a far cry from just tossing an Ozone preset on the master and calling it a day.

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Re: Over-engineering Musical Solutions

Post by Tarekith » Wed May 13, 2015 4:54 pm

Sometimes I think unless people are actively doing something they don't feel that what they are doing is worthwhile. Or there's some desire to always put your stamp on things. I can think of two times in 15 years I had to automate anything in the mastering phase, and then it was a truly a last resort for some really bad mix issues.

Then again we all work different and who am I to say my way is the right way.

I think not working with other musicians one to one definitely means that people take longer to learn how to leave or carve room so "everyone" is heard in a mix. There's a desire to have everything always in the front, without realizing that often its the little subtle things that aren't so obvious that make really great tracks standout over and over.

Different eras and different workflows I guess.
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Re: Over-engineering Musical Solutions

Post by Angstrom » Wed May 13, 2015 5:14 pm

Also we have a very modern problem where the producer has become the narrow point of the funnel, the one-man filter for everything. The nature of the job is quite logical now, so little details that would have been intuitive for a drummer to achieve jamming with a band now "require" careful logical action.

Where a drummer might intuitively ease up on the hat pedal making it rattle about more when struck (whatever that's called) ... the producer has to decide that, and do lots of logical actions to make it happen.

It's like trying to design a tree versus letting one grow - the outcome takes more man-hours and despite all the hard work seems devoid of personality. What should the bark texture be? How deep? What colour? How many branches? How different is each one?

Producing is now a logical chore of emulating spontaneity

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