The producer’s vision #arp2017 #arp

The producer’s vision: A study into the multi- faceted cognitive design of the popular music recording aesthetic

Brendan Anthony, Griffith University

IMG_0067Abstract: Research into popular music record production and its associated creative practice has highlighted that a song’s production is often influenced by a multitude of stimuli and these can be musically, sonically and socio-culturally diverse. Technology’s influence on musical aesthetics is also at the forefront of scholarly investigations because the democratization of recording technology suggests that the musical spaces producers operate in have changed. Artistic direction however, is still the producer’s responsibility and the current landscape for record production is filled with a multitude of creative practice options that shape the recording aesthetic. These can include live or overdubbed performances and electronic programming versus acoustic instrumentation and when combined with technological choices these decisions ultimately frame the creative stages of pre-production, recording, and mixing. So how does the producer ensure a production process that engages appropriate influences, and subsequently manifests a suitable musical result?
This paper theorizes that the producer’s vision is the constant underpinning of the production rationale and therefore this subsequently designs the recording process and affects musical and sonic aesthetics. It is here that the producer uses multi-modal perception to target genre related outcomes of musicality and the sonic palate, and nurture the capturing of appropriate performances. However the paper argues that this cognitive vision is an individualised trait that is inspired by a ‘field of knowledge’ from which producers innovate. This paper reports on a qualitative investigation into the producer’s vision via a survey of five producers whose experience range from national success in Australia to international acclaim. The paper demonstrates how the data analysis unpacks the discourse surrounding the producer’s vision and is supported by research from the fields of creativity, musicology and popular music production.

Brendan begins by siting his personal research within the producer’s ‘vision’, and he opens with a clip from the movie Begin Again, which describes the producer’s thoughts as he hears a low-key live performance and mentally adds instruments.

Blame It on the Boogie – criteria for good pop music? #iaspm2017

Presenter: Dirk Stederoth – Universität Kassel, Institut für Philosophie

Mick Jackson
Mick Jackson, who wrote and released the original version of Blame It On The Boogie in 1978.

ABSTRACT: The presentation focuses on the question of whether there are criteria for measuring the quality of a pop song that go beyond the scope of a mere musical structural analysis. As many examples demonstrate, such structural analysis, which, according the criteria thereof, is derived from the aesthetic study of classical art music, offers rather unsatisfactory results when applied to pop music. In addition, it is questionable whether harmonic or rhythmic complexity, for example, is even a suitable criterion for the analysis of pop music. Against the background of this problematic situation, the presentation proposes an approach based on musical aesthetics, which assumes a fundamental tension between ideational musical structures and their categories (tonality, rhythmicity/the study of meter and composition) as well as the realization of music. The thesis of this approach proposes that pop music can not so much be considered from the structural perspective of this debate but instead from the perspective of realization. However, studying pop music for the perspective of realization requires comparable categories. These categories in the presentation at hand are sound, groove and performance. After this approach has been presented, I will also apply these categories of realization by means of a comparative analysis of the two versions of the pop song “Blame It on the Boogie” by Mick Jackson and The Jackson Five in order to establish the heuristic value of these categories.

Dirk opens his presentation with these historically concurrent versions of ‘Blame It On The Boogie’. We hear The Jacksons’ more famous version, then the earlier German version by original songwriter ‘Mick Jackson’ (no relation). Dirk tells the apocryphal story of how the song was discovered at the MIDEM show in the 1970s, and then immediately debunks this legend, stating that it was actually a more straightforward publishing deal because The Jacksons needed a more successful hit than their previous one.

Close to the Edge: investigating songwriting’s ‘plagiarism threshold’

Joe Bennett, Boston Conservatory at Berklee

[Presented at IASPM 2017, 26 June 2017]

Wicked.png
Stephen Schwartz’s score for ‘Wicked’ quotes 7 pitches from ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’… but does it infringe a copyright?

Here is the abstract, with references, for the academic paper I presented at the IASPM 2017 conference in Kassel, Germany. At the moment it’s just abstract, slides and references. If it ever turns into a full paper I’ll upload it to this website with the rest.

Abstract: The songwriter Stephen Schwartz once described his ‘Unlimited Theme’ (from ‘Wicked’) as a musical joke, using as it does the first seven pitches from ‘Over The Rainbow’.Schwartz believed that by limiting the number of copied pitches, he was evading an accusation of plagiarism. Schwartz’s belief in a legally defined plagiarism threshold represents a common misconception among musicians; there is a similarly widespread myth that copyright law permits a specific number of seconds of audio sampling (this has explicitly been contradicted in US case law). But borrowing and adaptation is a common form of creativity, and there is a real risk that if creators misidentify the line between influence and plagiarism, they might either inhibit their own creative freedoms, or inadvertently infringe copyright. This paper discusses the mythical plagiarism threshold, using examples from copyright case law, interviews with creators, and comparative analysis of musically similar works to explore the question “how much is too much”?

Download pdf of slides (or click image below)

Slides

References:

  • Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Dimension Films, 383 F.3d 390 (6th Cir. 2004)’. Harvard Law Review 118 (4): 1355–62. doi:10.2307/4093384.
  • Cronin, Charles Patrick Desmond. 2017. ‘Seeing Is Believing: The Ongoing Significance of Symbolic Representations of Musical Works in Copyright Infringement Disputes’. Social Science Research Network. https://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=2967590.
  • Demers, Joanna. 2006. Steal This Music – How Intellectual Property Law Affects Musical Creativity. Athens : University of Georgia Press,.
  • Grand Upright Music, Ltd v. Warner Bros. Records Inc., 780 F. Supp. 182 (S.D.N.Y. 1991)
  • Schwartz, Stephen. 2004. Wicked’s Musical Themes Interview by Carol de Giere. http://www.musicalschwartz.com/wicked-musical-themes.htm.
  • Three Boys Music v. Michael Bolton 212 F.3d 477. 2000 477. 9th Cir.

 

Wayfair, you’ve got just the soundalikes I need

Friends, musicians and soundmen (and women) – lend me your ears. Here are some Wayfair TV commercials in a playlist – let me know (Twitter @joebennettmusic) what songs you think they’re using as a template for the music. Disclosure – this is for academic research, not copyright/client work.

[Health warning – these ads have a level of cheesy catchiness that may be difficult to cure once acquired.]

 

Eurovision 2016 live blog

t1_2016[Next morning]

OK so I got two of the top three, and predicted Australia’s placing, but I underestimated the power of Jamala’s vocal, or perhaps the political impact of the lyric of 1944.

THE WINNERS

  1. Ukraine
  2. Australia
  3. Russia

THE PREDICTIONS

  1. Russia
  2. Australia
  3. France

ORIGINAL PRE-LIVE BLOG

What exactly did ‘Stairway to Heaven’ copy from ‘Taurus’?

And my Spirit is crying…

As mentioned in a previous post, the question of whether Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven (1971) copies a part of Spirit’s Taurus (1968) may soon be settled.

Representatives of the late Randy Wolfe (aka Randy California) are claiming that the four-bar introduction section of Stairway To Heaven copies a substantial part of his 1968 instrumental composition Taurus.

Judge Gary Klausner stated that a jury should be used, because the matter in question is necessarily subjective: “while it is true that a descending chromatic four-chord progression is a common convention that abounds in the music industry, the similarities here transcend this core structure […] What remains is a subjective assessment of the ‘concept and feel’ of two works”.

So let’s compare the works – how similar are they? 

Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven

Led ZeppelinSo the Stairway to Heaven / Taurus controversy was back in the news yesterday, due to the fact that the dispute is to go to a jury in the US in May this year. I participated in a panel discussion about this a couple of years back for a Russian radio station.

In the next couple of days I’ll post proper transcriptions of the two with audio and some discussion points. For now, here’s an interview I did yesterday with BBC Radio 5 live, discussing the songs with presenters Sarah Brett and Ore Oduba.

The Fixer: DIY Recording and the Role of the Audio Professional #arp2015

Adam Patrick Bell, Montclair State University, USA

Abstract: Do­it­yourself (DIY) recording can be a misleading term in the current era of record production as the process often enlists the services of a professional audio engineer. Who performs the recording, mixing, and mastering of the DIY recording? At what point does the professional enter into the picture of production? This paper will examine the working processes of two DIYers who employ audio professionals to assist them in realizing their goals for their home recording projects. Conducted as separate case studies, the ethnographic tools of video­ recording and interviewing were employed to detail the participants’ experiences of producing a recording in a home studio environment. Given that both of the participants discussed in this study had aspirations of producing “professional” recordings of their work to support their respective pursuits of “making it” as professional musicians, how do they conceive of what counts as a “professional” recording and how do the audio professionals they employ contribute to this realization? While popular media ranging from parody (i.e., South Park) to promotion (i.e., Apple) reinforce the perception that the modern digital audio workstation produces radio­ready results in the hands of anyone, the case study participants’ DIY recording endeavours reveal that, at least in these instances, professional help is needed; DIY recording would be more aptly classified as DIWO (do­it­with­others). The implication of this reality for the audio professional is that their services are still in demand, but the point in the record production process in which they commence collaborating with the DIYer shifts on a project­by­project basis. The DIYer tends to remain self­sufficient as long as possible, until their record production aims can no longer be achieved independently. At this point they hire a fixer, an audio professional who must be able to see start mid­process and see the project through to completion.

A New Breed of Home Studio Producers?: A Case­ Study #arp2015

Tuomas Auvinen, University of Turku, Finland

Abstract: Due to the development of digital technology music production has changed. Any aspiring pop musician is required to have a home studio even if the end product acquired in that particular studio never reaches the radio waves. This makes everyone a producer of some kind and, due to cloud drives and the digital space, collaborative music production partly takes place independent of space and time. The problem is that the term “producer” becomes more obscure as the new generation of music makers distinguish between “trackers” or “track guys”, “topliners” and “songwriters”. Furthermore, due to phenomena such as “copyright wars”, in the present­day DIY setting, where most people start their carreers, forward-­driven producers and music makers need a whole new set of skills. These skills increasingly include knowledge about copyright law, contracts and legal processes and less that of traditional musicianship. I base my claims on a case­ study, who is a Helsinki­-based aspiring “urban pop” producer Mikke Vepsäläinen.

Azealia Banks and Gender (2 papers) #arp2015

Stan Hawkins, University of Oslo, Norway

Kai Arne Hansen, University of Oslo, Norway

Track: B – Multipolarities

  1. Aesthetics and Gender Under Construction in Hip Hop: Azealia Banks
  2. Gender Production in `Chasing Time´
Azealia Banks

Abstract: Studying the art of production in popular music involves the subjectivities of artists, producers, engineers, and musicians, and their involvement in the recording process, which have a major impact on the composite recording. This joint paper sets out to locate the aesthetic effects of production as a means to gaining a better understanding of how human agency functions in this context. Our focus therefore falls on the spectacle of sound, with specific focus on the aesthetics of production in Azealia Banks’s 2014 album, Broke with Expensive Taste.

By closely examining a number of tracks from this album, we consider the twists, contours, turns, and transgressions of Banks’ performances. Employing a broad perspective, we draw on theories and methods found in film studies, media studies, and cultural studies to shed light on how processes of production stage the gendered body. Of paramount importance, we argue, are the production techniques that conflate the performer. These take place against a backdrop of referents and sonic markers that are culturally relevant. In the case of Banks, the numerous features that define her unique performativity distinguish her creative endeavors. The main objective of this paper is to throw a light on this through suggesting new ways of intersecting digitized sound, performance, and music technology. The intention is to expose the significance of recording aesthetics from a musicological standpoint. Accordingly, the analytical methods we advocate attempt to probe at the audio image in order to   reveal the signification of gender in relation to musical referents. It is the aesthetic effects of production that offer a platform for grasping how gendered subjectivity functions in popular music.

ARP Intuition and Collaboration in Popular Music Production #arp2015

Philip Chambon.

ABSTRACT:

Collaboration in a creative partnership is often an intuitive process in which separate artists interweave their experience and skills to inform an amalgamated product.

The process in popular music production from the initial inspiration for a track, through to the song writing, rehearsing, arranging, programming, performing, recording, mixing and mastering inevitably involves collaboration at some, if not all stages of this process. Music production has become “…a collective project between recording artists, musicians, producers and recording engineers” (Watson, 2014).

Even when one artist in the home digital studio performs these multiple roles, there is collaboration between the self, the subconscious and the imagined audience for the work (Harvey, 1999).

Intuition is a fundamental element in these collaborative processes, and is particularly relevant in the field of popular music creation and production. It can inform decision­making. It can discover problems that need solutions. It can find solutions in a flash ‘peak experience’ moment arising from apparently little pre­conscious thought. (Boyd, 2011: Csikszentmihalyi, 2013: Dewey, 2005: Harvey,1999).

This paper will explore how the role of intuition can underpin creative partnerships, and how this can contribute to innovation in the field and the dissemination of knowledge across both the academic and practice­based creative industries.

As well as providing an academic research context, the paper will draw on the author’s background as a practitioner in the areas of songwriting, performing, bands, sound engineering, production, and composing for contemporary dance and ballet, and film and TV.

Boyd, J. (2013) It’s not only rock ‘n’ roll. London: John Blake Publishing. Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2013). Creativity: the psychology of discovery and invention. New York: Harper Collins. Dewey, J. (2005). Art as experience. New York: Perigee. Harvey, J. (1999) Music and inspiration. London: Faber and Faber. Watson, A. (2014) Cultural production in and beyond the recording studio. New York: Routledge.

Creative processes in Stock, Aitken and Waterman’s ‘I Should Be So Lucky’

This article is an excerpt from my PhD thesis, posted here after a discussion on the IASPM email discussion list earlier today. I’ve added some media to make it easier to hear the songs. Stock, Aitken and Waterman were one of several case studies I undertook to compare approaches to creative collaboration in songwriting teams (another was Mona Lisa by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans). I was particularly interested in SAW’s ‘hit factory’ approach and rapid production-line methods. Most of the quotations are from The Guys Who Wrote ‘Em: Songwriting Geniuses of Rock and Pop (Egan, 2004). Thanks to Mike Stock and Phil Harding for proof-reading and comments.

——-

4.5.4.   ‘I Should Be So Lucky’, 1987

SAW
Stock, Aitken and Waterman

In the late 1980s the UK’s most successful songwriting and production team consisted of Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman (SAW). Between 1985 and 1990 they achieved more than 100 UK top 40 hits and sold more than 40m records. Stock and Aitken were the studio-dwelling songwriting/production dyad; Waterman did not write music or lyrics but acted as ‘publicist, industry insider and talent-spotter’.[1] All three were credited as songwriters on their recordings, and all received equal royalty shares of the publishing for the majority of the songs.[2] The SAW team provided songs and complete backing tracks for pop artists of the era, including Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, Mel and Kim, Rick Astley and Bananarama. Their success was such that long-established artists such as Donna Summer, Cliff Richard and Georgie Fame recorded their songs as singles in an attempt to capitalise on the ‘SAW sound’.

Sam Smith and Tom Petty – coincidental similarity or accidental copying?

Tom Petty, one-fifth of the co-writing team behind Sam Smith’s ‘Stay With Me’.

This is a blog post about 5 bars of music. As reported in Rolling Stone and The Sun recently, the melodic similarity between Sam Smith’s 2014 song Stay With Me and Tom Petty’s I Won’t Back Down (1989) resulted in an amicable settlement between the writers and publishers sometime in 2014, resulting in Petty and Jeff Lynne, who originally wrote I Won’t Back Down, receiving a 12.5% share of the royalties. The PRS database in the UK confirms the share (members only access).

And subjectively, the songs are pretty similar, as bloggers had been pointing out since mid-2014.

But everyone was relaxed about the settlement, and Petty issued a  statement to this effect:

About the Sam Smith thing. Let me say I have never had any hard feelings toward Sam.  All my years of songwriting have shown me these things can happen.  Most times you catch it before it gets out the studio door but in this case it got by.  Sam’s people were very understanding of our predicament and we easily came to an agreement.  The word lawsuit was never even said and was never my intention.  And no more was to be said about it. How it got out to the press is beyond Sam or myself.  Sam did the right thing and I have thought no more about this.  A musical accident no more no less. In these times we live in this is hardly news. I wish Sam all the best for his ongoing career. Peace and love to all. (Petty, 2015)

Here’s the thing. Petty used the term ‘accident’, which one might interpret as meaning the copying of the melody was inadvertent. Sam Smith’s representatives claimed that the similarity was the result of a ‘coincidence’:

The Impact of a good tune: Forensic Musicology as research

This article originally appeared on the Million+ blog website. Words: Joe Bennett.

Harrison
George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord was an early casualty of songwriter’s cryptomnesia.

The legendary conductor (and acerbic musical quote-mine) Sir Thomas Beecham once said: “a musicologist is someone who can read music but can’t hear it”. And it’s fair to say that, in terms of profile, musicology is not one of the highest peaks in the UK research landscape. Qualitative research in the arts generally can have a difficult time justifying its existence in an increasingly corporeal and impact-centred (some might say philistine) political agenda, and music has particular difficulties in this regard, being perhaps the most abstract art form of all. Sir Thomas’s view shows clearly and painfully how easy it is to accuse musicology of continually Dancing About Architecture. So it may surprise some readers to learn that my own field of research – creative processes and forensic musicology in popular songwriting – was part of an impact case study for my institution in REF 2014.

The Death of the Songwriter – attribution of creative ownership in popular music production #arpOslo2014

Screenshot 2014-12-05 18.46.19Here’s my own abstract and presentation from the Oslo conference. I was delighted to learn that in the audience was Jon Marius Aareskjold, a Norwegian sound engineer (and academic) who was actually involved in the production of ‘Irreplaceable’. We’ll be working together on a research paper about the track sometime in 2015.

Death of the Songwriter – ARP Oslo 2014 pdf version

ABSTRACT: The creation of recorded popular music has always been a collaborative process. Listeners enjoy an audio product that consists of a composition (usually with lyrics) that is arranged, performed, recorded, mixed and mastered. All of these activities combine in an object that creativity psychology would define as creative – that is, original and valuable (Boden 2004; Mackinnon 1963; Weisberg 1993). Sometimes creative contributions are fully demarcated but in practice there is often substantial overlap between roles, and individual creators frequently take on more than one role.

Drawing on the author’s research into creative behaviours in songwriting teams (Bennett 2012) and his experience as a forensic musicologist in copyright disputes, this paper discusses the challenges posed by collaborative popular music production, for copyright law and for the recorded music industry. The traditional binary allocation of creative activity across two objects (the ‘song’ and the ‘sound recording’) was developed many years ago and may no longer be truly representative of the way popular music is made. Creativity that is obviously derivative such as melodic quotation or audio sampling is a form of linear collaboration that makes authorial attribution particularly difficult, not least because of the complex interrelationship between moral and economic rights in copyright law.
Audio recordings of successful hits will be analysed to frame a discussion of the specific creative contributions that led to particular sonic outcomes; these will be contrasted with the Intellectual Property that subsists in the finished work. The paper proposes mechanisms by which the disparity between the extent of creative contribution and ownership of song copyright might be addressed.

Bennett, J., 2012. Constraint, collaboration and creativity in popular songwriting teams. In D. Collins, ed. The Act of Musical Composition: Studies in the Creative Process. Ashgate, pp. 139–169.
Boden, M., 2004. The creative mind : myths and mechanisms 2nd ed., London ;;New York: Routledge.
Mackinnon, D.W., 1963. The Identification Of Creativity. Applied Psychology, 12(1), pp.25–46.
Weisberg, R., 1993. Creativity : beyond the myth of genius, New York: W.H. Freeman.

Cruising for Burgers (Frank Zappa) #arpOslo2014

Martin Knakkergaard, University of Aalborg

IMG_0805ABSTRACT: Frank Zappa’s concept album Uncle Meat from 1969 can in many ways be seen as a key to his art, his view of society and his understanding of life. Even the title seems to cover a simultaneously humorous and odd, almost macabre and somewhat vulgar dramatic universe, and the long program note – Preamble – supports this impression with its semblance of mythology and caricatured science fiction.

In its concrete material Uncle Meat appears both textually and musically as a close-voiced pastiche – a multi-faced stretto, kaleidoscopically put together from a unique debris of mainly rock, jazz, musique concrète, pop, electronic and Neoclassical idioms, which, together with texts, is based on an occasionally absurd imagery, picturing human alienation, degradation and reification.

The paper is a rendering of Uncle Meat as a phonographic universe of its own, pieced together by descriptive analyses of a variety of the piece’ key elements, their phonographic realisation and implicit acoustical idealisations, in order to identify correlations and clashes between production, music, text and ideology. It is also a reflection on the relevance of Zappa’s collected works as a prophetic dystopia.

‘Stay Another Day’: … formula to create a successful Boy Band #arpOslo2014

East 17‘Stay Another Day’: A music composition and production formula to create a successful Boy Band

Phil Harding, producer and PhD candidate

ABSTRACT: Is there a music composition and production formula for a Boy Band? This question is rooted in the trans-cultural context of the 1990s, and it is important for musicologists, entrepreneurs, composers and producers to research this. My study is based on the phenomena of Boy Band success of the 1990s and I am looking at an empirically and theoretically grounded formula proposal that started then and could be contextualized today with ethnographic reflection. In this paper, I will use my own knowledge and experience in the Boy Band genre; I had success as a producer and composer in the 1990s with ‘East 17’ and ‘Boyzone’. I will then contrast this with the views of the managers of those bands – Tom Watkins and Louis Walsh. This will raise some questions around the compositional techniques and the music production technology used today both in professional studios and home recording facilities. What interactive media do composers and musicians in both regional and international contexts use for the collaboration process? Do composition and even recording sessions need to take place in the same room any longer? Pop act ‘The KLF’ (Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond) wrote ‘The Manual (How To Have a Number One The Easy Way)’ 1. This presented the idea of a formula to have a guaranteed No.1 hit single in the UK charts in the 1980s/90s. This will be explored alongside an analysis of data towards my proposed formula for a successful manufactured Boy Band.