May 13, 2015
I recently had some down time and decided to pick up some records I hadn’t listened to in ages. The Complete Motown #1s Box was a great place to start. Killer songs, great arrangements and beyond stellar performances.
What I noticed on many of these #1 records was that there were noticeable “mistakes”. Some were in engineering, some in the musicality. There were distorted snare drums, out-of-tune harmonies, flubbed guitar strums and out-of-time tambourines. And we’re talking about accomplished, renowned artists such as Stevie Wonder, The Contours, Martha and the Vandellas, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes and The Temptations. Pretty heavy hitters. Yet they all had minor mistakes in there that I could pick up even with my rinky-dink iPod headphones. But it didn’t matter. The song was still strong and cut through any imprecision.
For these musicians, at this time, it all came down to how they used their craft. It was their performance. Their vibe. It was their insanely good song. I often hear musicians asking about which guitar or amp to purchase. Some say they want to sound like “x musician”. My opinion is that it’s not the guitar, it’s the fingers and the playing. You stick John Bonham or Ringo Starr in front of a kit and it will sound like them. You stick any other drummer on John’s or Ringo’s kit and it’s going to sound like any other drummer. Not John or Ringo. Same thing goes for the latest tube microphone or bass amp.
My point is that it’s not the $100,000 mixing console or British pre amp or German microphone you are using. It’s the song and the performance (mistakes and all) that matters at the end of the day. Remember, back in the good ol’ days of recording they didn’t have all the bells and whistles we’re spoiled by and not everyone had guys in white lab coats that knew how to work the gear. They had excitement and vibe, amazing instrumentalists, vocals and songs. So, rather than feeling bummed that you can’t afford a piece of equipment you believe will transform your music, spend that energy practicing, listening, writing and playing to craft and capture your own sound with whatever you have laying around.