Hey there Music City explorers,
Rock and rollers are typically what we consider “loud” yet the following words apply to all genres. We’re gonna cruise down a quiet tributary and examine the life happening below the boat. Time to unfasten those life jackets. Laugh a little with me and get learn-ed up. I’m not expert, but from my experience…..I write this.
The ENdie Chick
ENdie Music Essay No. 1:
Soft is the New Loud
One of the most frustrating aspects about Rock and Roll music is that the people on stage often have a lack of interest in “going soft”. Sure, everyone likes a good quickie, but isn’t it so much more enjoyable to engage in foreplay once in a while? Wouldn’t it be possible for the grand finale to feel so much stronger from an incline—like that thrill of climbing up the rollercoaster track before you fall? Pretty hard to think about while your ears are being boxed by a stack of pulsating amps.
Keith Richards. Yeah, he can rip some ravishing chords but it IS entirely possible to get your jollies just by the tickle-y softness of his feather adorned costume. Or if you prefer Steven Tyler, that’s totally different, but hey! You get it right…oooodillybooodilly.
Duuuuude get your head out of the gutter. I know the equation of fun includes what you are thinking about in addition to drugs and rock and roll, but do you really have to obsess about it?
Haha. YEAH you do.
Music is something that should be relished not only in sound intensity, but also in detail. Textures created by quietly tapping a string, hitting that sweet overtone or running fingers down a fretboard in a folksong give that intimate, relatable quality that brings the listener closer to you. ONLY When you can cup their face with both of your hands, do you have permission to grip…then rock it off.
So, what I’m trying to say is that music doesn’t have to be “in your face” to attract people. I feel that the current trend of music is headed in a very loud, yet boring ass direction. Seems like many local groups these days are only interested in forcing people to dance. While the music is beating the eardrums of their audience, artists shout things like (and I have actually witnessed), “Shit’s about to get fuckin’ crazy, get on the dance floor and SHAKE. THAT. ASS.”
I roll my eyes at you demanding guitar plunkers all the while wishing you had more clothes on.
Have you ever noticed that lately on the radio, there are hardly songs that back off on volume? Unce Unce. Bang Bang. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for mind numbing power chords, but with the exception of hearing loss, let’s consider what else might be dwindling when music stays loud;
Volume plays a very important role in a piece of music. Much like the light dimmer switch in venues, it sets the “mood”. For example: Want romance and people to buy more liquor—turn down the lights. Want those annoying customers to GTFO so you can clean up the tables and go home—turn up the lights.
In a musical sense: Want romance and people to buy more liquor—play some Ella Fitzgerald and Diana Krall. Want people to feel like they are having a good time: Play some 80s hits during Happy Hour. Want those annoying customers to GTFO—turn the music OFF. (or UP if you work at a Picadilly)
Yes. Rock and Rollers want so badly to encourage dancing and excitement…so they play as loud as possible and beat their drum heads into a pulp—but are they really converting listeners into dedicated fans or just entertaining one-night stands?
Volume matters. No question about that, but when speakers are blown, it doesn’t guarantee that all minds follow suit. Pressuring people to dance by cranking your amps aren’t working because there’s another rock group at the next venue doing the same damned thing and probably with bigger boobies. If you continue to select just another wall of death punching song, expect they will be tabbing out and wiggling to the bar somewheres else.
Even KISS can be soft and cuddly.
Yes! There is pressure to keep people interested. I get it. Choosing the right song formula, a good sequence, and stirring people’s energy is important. However, Wam-Bam Thankya Man, is not gonna build excitement every time if you are just a one-trick pony.
I remember asking an indie rock musician once—“Why haven’t you played that nice song, SUCHANDSUCH from the BLAHBLAH album. I loved the lyrics and thought the music was incredible.”
His/Her Response was, “Because if we did, people would either go to the bar and talk to their friends, or just leave.”
I thought: Wow. Did you not learn ANYTHING from our forefathers in classical music. They’ve been going soft for HUNDREDS OF YEARS SUCCESSFULLY. To every concerto there is a slow section. Ears NEED a break and MINDS need attention. If this CERTAIN SONG was performed it might have sold more records for you. Yet it gathers dust on the merch table because the Wah-wah pedal was never unplugged during your, let’s call it what it is…AUDIO INFOMERCIAL. Customers start buying something when it’s reasonably priced and offers versatility.
What’s wrong with flipping someone over and letting them rest before coming at them again with a force so intense they’ll feel it tomorrow. Play a sweeeet one off the B side.
It’s sad that musicians often forget that volume is RELATIVE. When speaking about degrees of sound, musicians and some really smart sexy Italian music lovers use the word “dynamic”. More dynamic range is what is desperately needed in this town. Loud, Louder, and Loudest are not offering versatility. Things are starting to get predictable.
Has everyone forgotten that the power in volume is that you can turn it up AND DOWN. One of the greatest rock songs of all time used a wide dynamic range as a strategy. Check this Out :
Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” Dynamic Progression:
Acoustic folksy-mood (dynamics: p, mp)(guitar, recorders (not sure if real or mellotron), voice)
Limited electric Instruments, vocals (mp, mf)
Additional electric Instruments, DRUMS, vocals (mf, tempo increases)
About 5 min, 30 seconds into the 8ish minute song, we’ve reached a climax. (mf, f)
Harder-rock section, (beginning with an increase of instrumentation) (f,ff)
Vocals Increase, and Guitar become MUCH more prominent. (We’ve hit f, ff, Crescendo MOLTO)
Then a sudden release of sound (subito piano),
resolved with solo vocals.
Oh baby, can I bum a cigarette?
As you can see, the sound gradually crescendos throughout the entire piece. Zeppelin increases the texture by adding instruments and later by transforming the acoustic sounds into electric sounds. The gradual change of volume is what builds the tension, and the sudden drop in dynamics by stripping the song from all instrumentation with only a voice remaining, “relieves” the listener—dramatic and inspiring.
Without unplugging, the recorders wouldn’t even be heard by Mr. Plant if they were pointed right into his ear. Diversity in instrumentation is like sprinkles on the cupcake.
A pop-classical example of this would be 1812 Overture, where it goes from a quiet religious hymn composed of a quartet of cellos and a duo of violas to a blasting of cannons, ringing chimes, and brass fanfares. It doesn’t end quietly, but it does end in a unison note. Boom. Tonic. Square one. Bitch please.
Technically, I think what scares some musicians about “going soft” is the amount of control required at intimate sound levels. Wind players in orchestras and vocalists just holding a note at pppppppp takes a great deal of skill and air-pressure consistency. As the decibels go down, the audience starts to pay MORE attention which put players under stress to retain a good quality of musicianship. Don’t be drunk or high unless it doesn’t interfere with that, MIGHT I ADD.
Technical ability is being judged by listeners when dancing isn’t a distraction. This is where the real performing unfolds…and the true musicians cast love spells on their fans. They’ll be willing to take a long distance collect-call from yo Epiphone, Hello it’s Me…<strong>I’ve thought about us for a long, LONG time.
I love Todd Rundgren. Go listen to him and come back.
If you are a guitarist looking to be more effective in yo pickin’, I would advise you to start by spending every hungover Sunday morning for just ONE MONTH replacing your usual unplugged Nirvana tunes for any Baroque lute suite played on guitar you can find. If you are a nerd like me, check out Göran Söllscher. He’s not well known in the states, but in Asia/Europe they are crazy for him. His voicing techniques will bring you to Jesus. I love his Bach interpretations and every single John Dowland Renaissance song he diddles. The lines of melody move with such synchronicity, it’s unreal. He records for the Deutsche Grammophon label. His (2005) Renaissance album is ridiculously good. He is also famous for arranging BEATLES songs for classical guitar.
Another great guitarist, John Williams (not the one that wrote Jaws of Cape Cod but Smoking Guitarist of Australia) has performed here in Nashville, but it’s been YEARS. I recommend his Bach Lute Suite recordings. If you like Santana, the Spanish guitarist Andres Segovia will fire you up.
After you’ve listened, why not attempt to learn a lute suite? You’ll need to trade guitars probably, but it may be very interesting for you. If you don’t read music, you should still do some research…or call up a local university and take a lesson or two. Baroque demands precision and if you invest the time, it’s a great cleanse for the mind and fingers. Don’t believe me? Then what about that whole movement in the 1960s …Baroque-POP/Rock/English Baroque?
You’d look pretty hot leaning on the brick wall of Three Crow playing the shit out of the Frog Gailliard. Chicks dig it.
So back to Volume..
I’ve seen shows where people use loud volumes to mask their inability to make good music. Believe me, it doesn’t cover anything up. People recognize when musicians don’t practice. Loudness is just a proclamation of that. Sometimes it’s the EGO that gets in the way of ‘going soft’. STFU-ing is seen as ‘passive’ and ‘weak’. Ego Rocker might say, “If I play quiet music, then people will call me a wussy. Rockers are supposed to be tough, in your face, and unapologetic. EFF YOU”.
Beethoven on Rock and Roll…
LOUD does not work as a barrier against being judged by listeners. In fact, unplugging once in a while will earn you great respect(provided you do a good job). Remember…“FREE WILL” is what guides people in selecting which records to buy. You can’t force someone to love you or your music.
Remember what I said about details? Stronger decibels RESTRICT how clear technical passages will sound. Especially with bass players. Do you ever notice how MUDDY things get when the volume is turned way up? Being quiet will draw a listener to you and amplify your strengths in ways volume could never achieve. Let people hear what you are capable of doing.
Soft Songs that Stick:
“Take a Walk on the Wild Side” by Lou Reed demonstrates how keeping the volume down brings attention to the elegance of his voice. Classical version of this: Moonlight Sonata, never gets too loud and it’s hypnotic.
Cowboy Junkies have made an entire career out being quiet. “Sweet Jane” and “Misguided Angel”. Quiet as hell. Never gets above MP. Kurt Cobain was a master of loud, yet had a delicate side…a.k.a. soothing riffs in “All Apologies”.
“Beth” was (wait for it), a KISS song. OMG. Face paint, woodwinds, and STRINGS?! Soft devils.
“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones has some quiet acoustic sections, choirs singing, and FRENCH HORN.
Freddie Mercury is whispering like a CHAMP to his fans.
So you see, being quiet shows SENSITIVITY. It also shows you got some chops. If people don’t pay attention to that, then they aren’t worthy of your work. If you truly suck, then go practice and come back when you CAN go live.
Sure, one has to be brave to incorporate a slow song between rocking people’s asses off–but the softer sections of music were created to exhibit the musician’s emotional, more artistic side. Get vulnerable and really show your abilities. Don’t be afraid to quiet down in a show—because the down time will increase the intensity of your next face shattering guitar solo.
Let people go to the bar and get that next drink. It will ensure they will be drunk and ready for the next big…uhm…
The ENdie Chick