The Temptation to Overproduce Music

by Harvey Reid


Those of us who play guitar do so largely because it produces one of the most versatile and complete sounds. Of the portable instruments, probably only the accordion rivals it for the ability to play melody, rhythm, and harmony all at once. When I listen to a good guitar player, I don't think to myself "Now with some accompaniment this would sound really good." So why is it that so many guitarists, even who are confident and comfortable on stage with just their guitars, are so tempted to make recordings that are far more than just a guitar? Why is it that I can listen to a 6 minute-long song with just guitar and want to hear it again, yet if you took that same tape to Nashville, they would say "Nice demo, now let's make a record..." The answer has something to do with psychology and something to do with our society.

Any solo guitar player/singer who has worked in a club knows about the 50 Tavern Favorites, as my friends and I often call them: the songs that everyone seems to want to hear a guitar player perform. Friend of the Devil, Moondance, American Pie, Mr Bojangles, City of New Orleans, Margaritaville, Fire & Rain, The Gambler... The beloved guitar songs of the mass culture. You are expected to know a lot of these songs if you want to play guitar successfully in a tavern. Now examine the original records these came from: can you name ONE of them that was recorded with just a guitar and voice? Not even close. Most of them feature huge production with full rhythm section, strings, choirs, etc. I think that part of the self-confidence and over-production problem many guitar players have is caused by comparing oneself to commercial music; subconsciously, when you are playing your guitar, implying a bigger sound, trying to generate the energy by yourself that a produced commercial record generated, it creates a feeling of inadequacy and incompleteness.

I think that years of this implied inadequacy have a residual effect on a guitar player's self-confidence, which helps explain why so many players overproduce their recordings, and bury their true essence. The availability of multi-track recording is the other temptation. You go in the studio, sing a song you usually play solo, and when you listen back to it, you may not be happy with it. This could be for any number of reasons. It might have been just nervousness. Performances are delicate. It might have just not been a good performance. But over and over again I see musicians immediately think: "What I did was fine. Obviously, this song needs something else. Harmony? Lead guitar? Bass?..." Maybe it just needed to be played better. Maybe the guitar part needed to be reworked. Maybe a different tuning or a capo. Maybe change the key or the miking technique. Maybe a 12-string. Maybe it needs to be fingerpicked rather then strummed. There are many ways to work on a solo song to make it more effective, other than multi-tracking over it. It is always possible to make a recording with just you, that is complete and interesting, and no amount of added tracks is going to make an uninteresting performance interesting. There are times when you have played that song, and you soared like an eagle, and your listeners were entranced. Chances are it was just you playing and singing. It's like getting your picture taken. A bad picture does not mean you are unattractive. It can take rolls of film to get one good picture, and recording music is the same way, and you have to hold that pose for 3 or 4 minutes instead of 1/32nd of a second.

There are songs that do sound better with harmony vocals. There are songs that are improved with addition of a bass or a rhythm section. But before you routinely do these things, dig down deep and try to find your inner minstrel, and find that place in yourself where you and your guitar is all you need. It's in there. It comes out at the least predictable moments, it's an elusive pursuit, but when you finally do capture something on tape that is just you and that sounds good, it can have a huge effect on your confidence. If you can perform the song adequately by yourself, you can record it adequately. It's not always easy, but it's possible. And that recording may well make your fans happier and get you booked at more new gigs that all the production you could ever do. Anybody can make a produced album. But a real musician can make something musical and communicative with or without a band. I recommend spending some time soul-searching and learning how to capture the essence of your personal music on tape, rather than spending lots of money piling more and more things on top of yourself, seeking to improve the music. I think that there is a greater chance that you will dilute and obscure what you are trying to communicate by overproducing a recording than there is in keeping it simple and real.

©1996 by Harvey Reid

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This web site concerns the music and life of acoustic musician & music educator Harvey Reid.

If you don't find what you want, or if you have comments or questions, please email to

 

WOODPECKER MULTIMEDIA
PO Box 815 York Maine 03909  USA
phone (207) 363-1886


Lyrics
About Harvey Reid
Concert Schedule
Lyrics
Catalog of Recordings
Buy From Us
Say Hello to Us
Books
Newest Recording
Newsletter
Booking Information
Publicity Info
Publicity Photos
About Joyce Andersen
Say Hello to Us
Listen to Audio
About the Partial Capo
Downloads
Articles & Essays
Harvey's Gear
Out of Print Music
Interviews
Reviews
Guitar Tunings
Lyrics
Listen to Audio
The Song Train
Favorite CD's
Listen to Audio
Hot News
Lyrics

Harvey Reid Concert Schedule |Harvey's Blog | About the Liberty Guitar Method|Catalog of CD's and Tapes|Discography|About this Web Site & What's New Here | Hot News | Woodpecker Home Page | About Harvey Reid |The Song Train | Video | Audio | About Joyce Andersen | Books by Harvey Reid | Get On the Mailing List... | Concert & Record Reviews | Interviews with HR | Lyrics to Harvey Reid Songs | Harvey Reid Annual Newsletters | HR's Guitar Tunings | About the Partial Capo | Articles & Essays by HR | HR's Gear | HR's Favorite CD's | HR's Career History | Booking Info | Publicity Info & Download Files |


This web site concerns the music and life of acoustic musician & music educator Harvey Reid.

If you don't find what you want, or if you have comments or questions, please email to