Emotion Is Independent Of Production Quality [Guest Post]

| Audio Example, Guest Post, Mixing, Tips

That’s a simple statement, but it implies a lot. Let’s dive into it. Emotion is defined as “a natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others.” There’s a few things to note from this definition.

1). Emotion exists within the mind of the recipient — not inherently in the thing causing an emotion.

2). Nevertheless, emotions are “derived” from one’s circumstances — or in our case, music.

Putting these together, for our sake, emotion is defined as “how a listener feels when they hear your track.”

Now I want to pose a simple question to you. How important do you think it is that a listener finds your music emotional?

TRR235 Emotion Is Independent Of Production Quality [Guest Post]

Via Teresa Sedó Flickr

Unless you have some strange goals with your music, the answer to this question is “extremely important.” Emotion is what makes people care about your track. It’s the reason you can listen to a song and have it bring you back to a time when you were younger — or away on a vacation, or a particular time of year that you love.

Now let me pose a second question to you.

How important do you think the production quality of your music is in regards to your listeners deriving an emotional experience? If you read the title of this article, you already know the answer. Emotion is independent of production quality.

Production aesthetic is important. Style. Feel. Emotion.

Here’s two of my favorite examples:

1). Jack White — the White Stripes. Listen to this track:

Sixteen Saltines by Jack White. Listen to it in your best monitors.

First time I heard this I had the thoughts that the vocals are actually a bit too quiet. The song is strong in the mid-range. It’s not really that bright. The drums are mixed entirely dead center — not much thought or effort there. Only a shaker enters on the right side to add some extra panned rhythm. The left-panned guitar is has some bass in it that most people would probably want to high-pass out and is at moments arguably unpleasing to the ear.

Jack is notorious for having a very quick production stage of his music. Mixing and mastering are quick and when they reach “good enough” they’re done.

Why? Because his performance is raw and emotional. Recording and performance is king. The music has a powerfully polarizing aesthetic that a lot of people happen to derive emotional experiences from.

2). Vinyl on Hip-Hop

This one is obvious. You know that vinyl crackle? That tasty noise? Listen to Fall In Love by Slum Village http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=s732BigTxZk

That sound defines a genre. That sound elicits so much emotion and it’s a result of “poor playback.” I literally fake it in my jazz hop beats. Ableton has a built-in plug-in that creates this sound. People clamor to emulate this sound. Other people absolutely hate when people fake it. It’s that polarizing — that emotional.

Need I say more here? This “error” from a playback medium is very aesthetically pleasing. Again, aesthetic and emotion are king.

If you’re interested in learning more about Emotion and the other two parts of what I deem the “Trinity of Music Arrangement” (Energy and Tension), click here to check out my eBook — “Electronic Music Arrangement: How to Arrange Electronic Music.”

Zac Citron aka Zencha is the author of www.zenchamusic.com, a music production site that explores “beyond the technical” — mindset, workflow, arrangement, marketing, and more. He also drinks way too much tea.”


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22 Responses to “Emotion Is Independent Of Production Quality [Guest Post]”

  1. Mike

    lack of production quality alone will not be able to create boredom instead of emotions in the listener. And SOUNDWISE this track is not all too bad, though the things that you mentioned are audible. But I doubt that everybody would have noticed without prior information.
    Boredom is steadily creeping up from a totally different corner. And this kind of boredom is so typical for a lot of today´s music, that has not undergone the critical judgment of the producer, the mixing engineer and finally the mastering engineer and maybe a few others as well.
    Lot of musicians and bands are doing it all by themselves. They are fascinated by the stuff that they have created without having it critisized someone else before delivering it to the public. And there we are listening to prominent guitars in the absolute foreground of the mixing stage that are playing anything else but variable riffs. Frankly telling the riffs sound so similar as if they had been sampled before and played through a keyboard.

    And that creates boredom. And boredom is the exact opposite of emotions.

    Sorry. Just my two cents.

    Try to play a few variations in the guitar parts if you want to have them so loud

    • Mike

      hm, the comment of one user on the “whining” of the vocals brought up the problem of the track very clearly:

      When I was still reasoning about the guitars way too much in the foreground, because they are to monotonous to draw all the attention to them, this user was already pointing at the actual problem of the track!!!!

      What should the mixing engineer put in front? The vocals? Way too far from anything like correct pitch. Intonation problems covered by doubling.

      Drums? Not really exciting
      Bass? Seems to just play the basic notes.
      Guitars? Too boring. And the solo towards the end of the song? Outsch! Needs a lot more practising before recording it.

      Nothing left. 🙁

  2. Andrew Bauserman

    OK – that was a disturbing video…
    But I agree – emotion compels me to listen. When I heard Marina V’s “Babuska” (“Grandmother”) I fell in love with the song – despite the imperfect live recording, and my ignorance of the Russian language.
    The emotion was independent of the production *and* the language! I immediately bought the produced recording. (Why listen to clattering dishes if you don’t have to.) Good production is *nice* – on a song that hits me emotionally.

  3. ant

    Jack White: someone has confused “emotions” with “whining like a petulant pre-menstrual teenage girl”

  4. Aivan

    I think the point is not overcooking the thing and polish it until it loses all signs of its rawness

  5. Chris

    The interesting thing about highly produced music these days is that it’s so scientifically accurate that essentially pro studios can churn out ‘perfect’ recordings every time. What I mean by ‘perfect’ is that the BPM is in the most accessible range, locked into a grid, the bass, guitars, keys and other instruments are all perfectly balanced, compressed, EQ’d, panned and automated. Vocals are all perfectly processed, tuned, EQ’d and automated etc.

    The result, to me, is that music tends to SOUND the same. I think people confused how somehting sounds with how good it is. Any bland middle of the road song and performance can be ‘perfected’ with the above produciton. It can SOUND as good as the hits on the radio and bands and artists will be fooled into thinking their song is good because all of the instruments are balanced the same and the song is loud.

    Say you’re recording a singer that wants to be the next Adele. She can sing well, you get a good budget, you produce the hell out of it. Big fat bass and beats, up front vocal, everything sounds shiny and slick. If the song is crap and the singer simply ‘hits the notes’ instead of actually displaying any emotion then the song is not good won’t connect.

    This, in my opinion, is what makes music so disposable today. It’s so easy to make something ‘sound good’ that listeners rifle through these songs faster than they drink a cup of coffee. They download it, listen to it for a bit and then are on to something else. It’s very rare these days for something to SOUND different AND be good so that people connect to it.

    I love the example of “With or Without You” by U2. That song is so ingrained in our consciousness that we forget how technically ‘wrong’ it was for the time. The bass is WAY too loud. The arrangement is very sparse. Nothing else sounded like it. If they had internet forums at the time and somebody posted it as their own, I’m sure somebody would tell them to turn the bass down and EQ/compress it etc. The point is that the emotion of the song is in the playing and not in the production. Ever listen to “One” by U2? That intro acoustic guitar is so clearly a DI’d acoustic guitar. Does anybody care that it wasn’t recorded on a Martin D28 with five microphones through a Neve board and an 1176? Not one bit.

    Can production ENHANCE emotion? Absolutely. But I think the more accurate statement is that with a great song delivered with genuine emotion, you can capture that emotion and performance by following the most basic ‘rules’ of production like recognizing what is good and emphasizing it. Using a Fairchild vs an 1176 vs a CLA 2A plug are such a distant second.

    A more recent example is the Kings of Leon “Only by the Night” record. When i got it, I thought I had a bad copy because it sounds SO lo fi compared to something like Coldplay. “Use Somebody” could have been produced with the exact clarity and high fidelity as something like “Fix You” and it probably still would have been a hit. When I listen to Use Somebody, it sounds SO different than something like “Fix You” despite being a similar type song. Did anybody care? No because the vocal was audible, the song was great and the delivery was emotional.

    It’s like lower fidelity recordings (see Black Keys, Sheepdogs) stand out from the pack due to their technical limitations/imperfections. It’s a nice irony.

    • Zencha

      Agree agree. I like your point about people churning through things that simply “sound good” rather than appeal to them. Makes sense.

      I think production is best used as a means to aesthetic — as in, those lo-fi bands are doing it very intentionally, which is cool.

  6. Eduardo Trevino

    I agree, imperfections can bee good for your performance.
    But to me is all a mater of aesthetic, it depends of the artist, genre,etc.

    For instance If I wanted to make a hip hop track or a song for a female teen pop singer i’d go for something more perfectionist while If I was making a garage rock track or a drone-ambient piece I’d let the imperfections in the recording to add that specific vibe. to me is all a matter of vision and aesthetic goals.

    • Chris

      True. There are a great number of amazing emotive performances that have been recorded to absolute perfection. The emotion is the key. It usually translates no matter how it is produced (unless the production is just awful and buries the best elements)

  7. Tony Carpenter

    Another great topic!. And, interestingly enough a regular pet peeve of mine. It’s true, plenty of great producers out there doing fast food music. I personally never write songs/music without my heart being in it. Do I get perfect fast food mixes of them each time?, hell no, do I really want that, hell no!. It’s about expressing yourself in music, trying to connect to something in others, by putting yourself out there.

    What I am trying to achieve though is better source of what I do so that it doesn’t turn others off before they get a chance to feel what I wanted them to feel. If it’s not at least listenable, you aren’t going to get very far.

    There’s some great lines in Blues Brothers 2000 Dan Akroyd comes out with after they are out of gas on the side of the road. Bottom line, we are where he threatened we would go. Slush, soulless.. eek..

  8. Nathan

    Agreed Graham. It’s pretty hard to make a good song written and performed from the heart sound bad. I am pretty tired of this standard of recording quality of mainstream music. It’s kind of analogous to the way magazines and pop culture creates this mythical standard of beauty that is completely unrealistic. I guess some people like barbie dolls, but I like natural girls, and that’s how I like my music too. Music is an art, not a science. As you say in many of your articles, it’s best to make the best with the equipment you’ve got. Take an album like Elliott Smith’s Roman Candle which is said to have been recorded using a simple 4 track tape recorder. Using higher quality gear would not have increased the emotion those songs incited in me, and in fact it might have decreased it.

  9. Kyle Cullen

    I agree 100% In my personal recording I’m all about trying to capture the vibe and have it ‘good enough’ the bar for good enough does keep rising but hopefully not at the sacrifice of a good emotional performance

  10. Chris

    I read an interview with Chris Cornell that I identified with. To those of you who write and record your own stuff: have you noticed that the most emotional and best takes of your songs are the ones you recorded or demoed very quickly after writing them? I remember Chris Cornell saying that in an interview (which is why he recorded his vocals at home on Logic through an Apogee converters on Soundgarden’s last album).

    My favourite part about having my own gear is that the line between ‘demo’ and ‘final recording’ has been considerably blurred. There’s no more ‘trying to get the feel of the orignal vocal/guitar part etc.’; instead you can just USE it even if it was recorded quickly in your bedroom on an SM58 instead of at your studio on your U87 through your Neve Pre and Apogee converter. 100% of the time I think thatif you nailed something the first time you should keep it instead of trying to manufacture the same feeling with ‘better production’. The average listener identifies with the emotion of the performance not how produced it is. Can production enhance a great emotional performance? Absolutely. But the performance has to be there first.

    • Tony Carpenter

      Chris, good point. I began writing songs 43 years ago. As time went on I got into recording. The medium has been, and can be, a hindrance more than an asset. The joy of having your own gear is, cool, I have an idea, let me capture that. The less time I spend fiddling, the better it works, it’s a fact!. Initial emotion, if captured right, will triumph. My .02.

  11. David Wright

    Hey Graham, thanks for putting hometown artists!! I see just what you mean… A good ‘song’ is only SUPPORTED by good production value- but it adds a sense of real ‘feel’ to it when it’s just made the way it is.



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