Goodnight Kiss Music (BMI) & Scene Stealer Music (ASCAP)
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 80s, 90s and
To answer this question properly, Id 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, Ill do my best to shed some light on the style of music Im most associated and familiar with, rock.
Before I try to answer his question, lets 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, its call marketability.
Now lets say your music
keeps hitting a brick wall every time you submit to industry. If
youre 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 whats
the difference and how can production separate the two? Good
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 youre writing. To do this, listen to hit songs that are popular today in the style that is similar to the songs youre 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 Im not suggesting that you copy or follow anyone, Im 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!) Chers Believe is another good example. Whats 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 youre 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 whats 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 songs lyrics stand out and become more original, you have to start thinking about life and subjects that are out of the ordinary from what youve 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, youll know if youre repeating yourself and writing about a subject that youve done before. Shift gears and keep your mind open to new and fresh ways of expressing yourself.
Just as the 70s 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 70s. Eventually, all three bands released singles that would be produced in the sound of the times, disco.
In some cases, (not all!) the market, (whats being played on the radio, whats 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 ones art.
Heading into the 80s, disco was soon to be considered dated. Anything that was produced, (again, the sounds, instrumentation, rhythms, subject matter, and lyrics all constitute production) using 70s 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 its 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, were only addressing one small portion of the music styles of that decade.
For commercial pop rock, many lyric ideas in the 80s 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 80s lets say, and completely start and set-up the next wave of music that will dominate the following decade.
Whats considered new in musical style is not dictated by the actual decade its introduced, more so, its by the brilliant vision of artists who see music in their own light, its 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 80s 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 90s. 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, its not like, 3, 2, 1- Happy New Year! and welcome to the 90s! Now lets 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 lets generalize. You can say that 80s rock music had big choruses, lots of reverb in its production, a screaming guitar solo, perhaps a break-down section, (most instruments drop out and its time for a sing along) and lets not forget the key change during the last chorus!
The 90s 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 couldnt get signed, but then we met....... It suddenly became their time. Overnight? Hardly.
Were already into the year 2000 and whats hot today actually started in the 90s. When youre 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 whats 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 gets 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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(C) 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 Janet Fisher Goodnight Kiss Music (BMI) Scene Stealer Music (ASCAP)