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PRODUCING YOUR WORK TO BE "CURRENT"
A very special article by Producer GUY MARSHALL

I recently had a question in the newsletter which I started to answer, then realized that I had an EXPERT that I could call on. And, like a true Champion, Guy took time for us from his hectic schedule and wrote this SPECIFICALLY for us.
THANKS, Guy. (See some of Guy's credits following this article.)

Question: What are the production differences between the music of the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s?

To answer this question properly, I’d have to first break down the many different styles of music being produced during those decades. I would then have to touch on all the parameters that fall under the umbrella of the meaning of "production". That would include: style, arrangement, melody, sound, lyrics, instrumentation, subject matter, engineering, recording and vocals. Unfortunately, that would take several weeks of research, so for the most part, I’ll do my best to shed some light on the style of music I’m most associated and familiar with, rock.

Before I try to answer his question, let’s first go shopping! If we happen upon an antique furniture store, the contents of the store would include products and styles from a bygone era, it would be "dated". Some people may look at this furniture and consider it "old", some may consider it "vintage", others may consider it "retro". Those who consider it "antique" will validate its high sticker price while attaching an emotional value to it,
"I love it and have to have it!". It becomes very personal and valuable to the person who sees the beauty of its craftsmanship and design, quite similar to a song or a piece of art hanging in a gallery. The eye, the beholder, you get the idea. This analogy is to set up the question at hand, what is considered valuable? In music, it’s call marketability.

Now let’s say your music keeps hitting a brick wall every time you submit to industry. If you’re not getting through to the "powers that be", (record companies, publishers, film music supervisors), it can be for a number of reasons. You receive comments and feedback like, "it sounds dated" or "we would have signed this ten years ago". Remember, most industry professionals who have the power to sign a new artist pretty much have heard it all or have a specific agenda to fulfill at the record label. If you are writing in the style of rock for instance, your music might attract more industry attention if today, your recordings and production sounded more like Bush than Poison. But what’s the difference and how can production separate the two? Good question!

The first and obvious differences are the sound along with the style. Still considered rock music, one is hard and heavy, the other is pure pop. Today, a raw, harder, alternative approach to writing and producing music is more likely to be played on the radio and ultimately find an audience. Although there are many differences between these two bands, each have successfully established a music career during their “time” .

To produce a song, you must first define and understand what “style” of music you’re writing. To do this, listen to hit songs that are popular today in the style that is similar to the songs you’re writing. Give it a name, put it into a category: rock, rap, funk, extra crunchy! Next break down that hit song in your head. Listen to the drums, listen to the guitars, listen to the vocals, etc. What is the difference between your song and theirs? Is it the sound, the arrangement, the vocals? Listen to the “production”. Of course, all songs will be different in one way or another and I’m not suggesting that you copy or follow anyone, I’m simply setting you up to produce a “contemporary” sounding recording, something that sounds current. A good example is Lenny Kravitz, he uses “vintage” equipment, and writes in a style that has a “retro” sound and feel. Is he dated? (check Billboard magazine for that answer!) Cher’s “Believe” is another good example. What’s different about her song? It sounds “contemporary”. When you can start to understand the formula for which today's hit songs are being produced, you will then begin to creatively proceed with the process of recording and producing your original music. Your end result may be the first stepping stone to a long, prosperous career.

When it comes to lyrics, over the years, virtually every style of music has become more aggressive and up-front in their ability to not only tell a story, but to tell a new, different story with more daring subject matter along with aggressive “street wise” lyrics. Today, if you’re writing lyrics that tell the same old story, epically in rock, your song might be starting off on the wrong foot and your music may be labeled as “dated”. Your chances of getting noticed and taken seriously will be greatly diminished if your music just copies what’s already been said. To write about subjects that have a familiar theme, like a love song, you must bring something new to the table. Your songs message and approach must be expressed in your own words and production.

To help make your song’s lyrics stand out and become more original, you have to start thinking about life and subjects that are out of the ordinary from what you’ve been accustom to writing about. To help capture these ideas, start to carry around a small note book or tape recorder and begin to look at things around you in a different light. Write down song titles that might inspire you to write a story and create a melody. Keep the lyrics focused and to the point. Most times, you’ll know if you’re repeating yourself and writing about a subject that you’ve done before. Shift gears and keep your mind open to new and fresh ways of expressing yourself.

Just as the 70’s for the most part will be associated with Disco music, it would be hard to catagorize any decade by one specific style of music. Rock bands and solo artists like Queen, Rod Steward and The Rolling Stones were also very popular during the 70’s. Eventually, all three bands released singles that would be produced in the sound of the times, disco.

In some cases, (not all!) the market, (what’s being played on the radio, what’s selling), dictates how music is being written and produced. After all, recording artists need to sell records to survive. Going with the “times” is sometimes a career necessity rather than a creative expression of one’s art.

Heading into the 80’s, disco was soon to be considered “dated”. Anything that was produced, (again, the sounds, instrumentation, rhythms, subject matter, and lyrics all constitute “production”) using 70’s style sounds and production was regarded as old news. Rock bands were starting to become more popular with main stream audiences and new technology started to work it’s way into recording studios with drum machines and sequencers. In addition, home-studio multi-track recorders were giving “up and coming” songwriters and producers the tools to start developing their skills. This allowed them to experiment and create new music while developing a unique voice for the future. Welcome to the world of Pop. Keep in mind, we’re only addressing one small portion of the music styles of that decade.

For commercial pop rock, many lyric ideas in the 80’s were often light in subject matter and or had a party vibe to it, not a lot of deep stuff here. However, again keep in mind that it would be extremely difficult to completely catagorize music by mere decades. A band can come along during the late 80’s lets say, and completely start and “set-up” the next wave of music that will dominate the following decade.

What’s considered new in musical style is not dictated by the actual decade it’s introduced, more so, it’s by the brilliant vision of artists who see music in their own light, it’s their time, regardless of the decade. In music, when the rules are broken, history will be made. Guess what happened to all those glitter, hair and spandex bands in the 80’s when the scene stealing Guns N’ Roses became a household word, say Bu-Bye! Seemingly, overnight, the music scene had changed. All the bands basking in mainstream success were instantly considered “dated”. It was a new combination of songwriting, style, sound, lyrics, image, (image?, yes image! ) and production that became current and helped kick off the 90’s. Keep in mind, many other styles of music were also evolving with the times. Technology was playing a major part in recording and production where new, digital sounds were keeping superstars such as Michael Jackson on top of his game.

All decades have different styles of music, all styles of music have evolved. What is he difference? The sounds of the instruments, the lyrics, subject matter, the arrangements, et al. Remember, it’s not like, 3, 2, 1- “Happy New Year!” and welcome to the 90’s! Now let’s introduce a band that will be unlike anything before it and change the style of music for the next decade. Did you ever think Gun N’ Roses would be considered old news? No way! they were to tuff, to hip, to cool, to.... “Ladies and Gentlemen, please put your hands together for- “Nirvana” !

Welcome to the jungle, indeed. I think you get the picture.

So let’s generalize. You can say that 80’s rock music had big choruses, lots of reverb in it’s production, a screaming guitar solo, perhaps a “break-down” section, (most instruments drop out and it’s time for a sing along) and let’s not forget the key change during the last chorus!

The 90’s saw a new wave of grunge music, a completely new way of writing and producing rock, (less effects, out of the ordinary arrangements, lyrics that made you think, (thank you Alanis Morissette). Many changes, all geared toward an alternative to what was considered current. All of a sudden, guitar solos seemed, well, “dated” (sorry Eddie).

As you can see, the answer is extremely complex because of all the categories of music being produced during these times and each “style” of music merits a detailed review. It would be impossible to group together all music of any particular decade with just one analogy as well as an injustice to all the great artists that put their heart and soul into their music that do not conform to the sound of the times. These artists may never reach main stream success, and their art should not be categorized by time or record sales. I have many CDS in my music library that will never see the light of day, for one reason or another, but are priceless to me!

Find your niche’, submit only to the person who knows and works with your style of music. You may be trying to sell an A&R person on your music but you sound like Korn and he or she works with and loves Rap! There are many successful artists that will tell you the same story, “We shopped our tape around for years and couldn’t get signed, but then we met.......” It suddenly became their time. Overnight? Hardly.

We’re already into the year 2000 and what’s hot today actually started in the 90’s. When you’re in the music business, nothing happens overnight. As far as the future of music production, where the market is heading, I would have to say look at what’s happening today and let your mind run free. There are no boundaries when it comes to the arts. Great songs will always be priority one and “no song” will always mean “no deal” .

Production techniques will continue to advance with new, hip, sounds that will coincide with the times. Styles may merge, new artists will “hit” onto something fresh and music may take on another new name. The good news? Some artists and styles of music can remain timeless such as, The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. Some music may be retro sounding in style, but your music will be an expression of who you are, the artist, willing to stand up and be a unique voice that can be shared and enjoyed by the audience who “get’s it!” What year? Why, your year of course! Best of luck and never give up perusing your dream!

Written By: Guy Marshall
Correspondence: Tutt & Babe Music; 6506 Penfield Ave.; Woodland Hills, Ca 91367-2733

Guy Marshall has served as a SONGWRITER and PRODUCER for such labels as Arista, Chrysalis, and Relativity; his broadcast credits include work for networks like Turner Broadcasting and hit TV shows like "Baywatch"; his musicianship can be heard in films like "RockyIV" and "Cobra". Guy is a video "author" of the educational video, "THINK LIKE A PRODUCER" (to be released summer 2000), a teacher and guest speaker at many Songwriting Events held nationwide.

You may email Guy.

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