Posts Tagged ‘art’

The Over-Producers

February 5, 2012 - 12:40 am 1 Comment

Maybe this is a feeling you’ve all had.

Maybe I’m just a pretentious bint.

But I hate music that sounds like it has a purpose.

You know what I’m talking about, you must. Music that was made to fit a sound. And I’m not talking about shitty pop music (though don’t get me wrong, a lot of shitty pop music does fall into this category). I’m talking about the bands who are so obsessed with the way they’re supposed to sound (she said, oozing disdain) that they forget they’re making music, and the music ceases to be for the music’s sake, and it becomes for the sound’s sake.

I’m not making any sense.

Let me give you an example.

The Hush Sound.

Oh, don’t get all up-in-arms, I actually like The Hush Sound. I like their weird folk cabaret hipster pop thing that they’ve got going on.

But I would love The Hush Sound if they weren’t so obsessed with sounding like a weird folk cabaret hipster pop band and just wrote songs that sounded like weird folk cabaret hipster pop. But they aren’t. It’s apparent in all of their full-length albums that the idea of the sound comes before the actual writing of the music. There are a few songs that really get me, songs that are just piano and a lonely vocal track, songs powerful enough to make me cry. Songs I love. And then the next song will come on and it’s all fun and bebop-y and I could love it. But it’s just not honest.

And I’m not just hating on The Hush Sound. I’ll throw Sara Bareilles, A Fine Frenzy, and even Editors (which is a band I really do enjoy) into this category.

I don’t know what studios produce these acts. I don’t care. I just know I can feel the studio when I listen to their music. I can smell it. I can taste it. And it tastes like sodium. Like high-fructose corn syrup. Maybe delicious, but fake, processed, and really not good for you.

It’s not bad music. Some of it is good music. Some of it is great music. But it’s false, and that’s what kills me. It’s putting the cart before the horse. It’s okay if you know how you want your song to sound before you write it, but when the whole of your music is shaped by the idea of the band you always wanted to be (or, if I’m allowed to be really cynical here for a moment, the idea of the music you want to sell), it’s time to take a step back, listen to your heart, and write something honest. Even if it’s not entirely what you thought it would be.

That might even be the point.

The Art of the Mixtape

January 3, 2012 - 9:36 pm 2 Comments

Let me tell you.

There is a hell of a lot more to making a mixtape then just throwing some songs together.

I talk about music a lot on this blog, because it’s always been a major part of my life. From the time I was born, it was more to me than just melodies and lyrics. My dad is a guitarist; my mom played the piano. Both of them are very, shall we say, musically active; they keep up with new stuff, they take an active interest in knowing what’s out there, they still go to shows. Hell, I take them to shows. They even named me after a song. They played music for me in the cradle, everything from Black Sabbath to The Beatles to Bach. I knew how to work a record player before I knew how to work a microwave. (I’m still not entirely sure why a microwave has so many options. If it’s that difficult, put it on the stove.)

Now that I’m older, to repay them, for my parents I make mixtapes.

As gifts for my nearest and dearest friends, I make mixtapes.

When I’m feeling bored or sad or lonely I make mixtapes.

But there is so much more than just throwing a bunch of tracks together.

Mixtapes are something that should be crafted with purpose: an idea pops into your head and you think you could show someone exactly what you mean with music; you hear a song that doesn’t just remind you of another song, it speaks to you about another song; a time in your life is defined by a series of tracks you can’t ever hear again without thinking about that moment, and you can’t ever think about that moment without hearing those songs. Mixtapes are like chapters in books that make up our lives; they’re the narration, not the soundtrack, and all we do is following along. Giving someone a mixtape, a well thought-out mixtape, is a gift that speaks to thoughtfulness and concern and shared emotions and memories.

When you make a mixtape, every song has to say something. It could be musically or lyrically, but it has to be part of a consistent flow. One off song can ruin the entire mix. A truly successful mixtape should go so smoothly from song to song you hardly realised the track changed, but should hold you so captive you wait and watch for each song to pass to the next.

When you make a mixtape, you have to think like you’re writing a paper. You need an introduction, and then you need a thesis statement. You need supporting information but you can’t be redundant. You need a conclusion supported by the information you’ve just given, and more than that, you need each paragraph to be in the right order. And then, if you’re feeling really, very confident, you can say something clever in closing that’ll stick with the reader – or in this case, the listener – even after they’ve reviewed the paper and moved on. Even after they’ve taken their headphones off and walked away.

A mixtape, all on its own, all by itself, with no additional media, should convey a message.

It should create an environment, or a moment, or a relationship, inside your head.

It should be one, whole, complete entity.

A mixtape is not just a collection of similar tracks thrown together.

A mixtape is a collaboration on the part of artists and one independent adjudicator, working together without ever speaking.

A mixtape is powerful and meaningful and beautiful.

A mixtape, when properly constructed, is a work of art.


Someone whose mixtape-creating ability I have always respected is William the Bloody, formerly of William’s Bloody Hell. You can now find him on his Twitter, still making awesome mixes. He sent me two for Christmas. Don’t let me forget, I owe him.

Lately I’ve been exchanging a lot of mixtapes with MannequinneHands. You can see a little of her work on her 8tracks account. Her mixtapes are so carefully crafted. They’re utterly magical.

If you want to see some of my own mixtapes, you’re more than welcome to check out my 8tracks, where I am Paperclippe as per usual. I’ve been adding about one a week, on average, and I always update old mixes when I hear something new that belongs.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that one of the best Christmas gifts I’ve ever received was a mixtape from @wackfiend. I put it on on New Year’s Eve and I’m pretty sure it made my year.

If you’re asking yourself what an 8tracks is, you should really go to http://8tracks.com and check it out. It’s the rebirth of mixtapes as we know it, especially for people who are a) too broke to buy blank CDs or b) make mixtapes too long to fit on CDs or c) want to share a mix with someone instantly. I am all three of those things. Even if you don’t make your own mixes, it’s worth a look just to see what other people create. It’s also an amazing way to discover new music in a more personal way than something like Pandora or last.fm, and I’ve found it’s also a hell of a lot more accurate. You can never substitute the human touch entirely.

So go on. Get mixing. Make some art.