I’m becoming more and more interested in the art and science of producing an album-recording techniques, mixing, mastering, etc. You can read on the subject for hours and barely scratch the surface. With today’s technology and thanks to the Internet, anybody can record, mix, and put out an album very cheaply. This has definitely leveled the playing field between the ‘big time’ metal producers and the “bedroom” producers, which in itself is a very interesting topic that I may have to revisit in a future post.
But what I’m curious about is what you people out there want in a modern metal production. Besides the obvious stuff like “I hate sterile sounding production” or “I hate triggered drums and autotune,” what sonic qualities do you need to hear done right in order to enjoy an album? What are some of the things that, when they are done wrong, either annoy you, drive you nuts, or full-on rape your eardrums in the worst way? Can poor production ruin an album for you?
Generally speaking, I myself am not very picky. I think the idea of crappy production ruining your listening experience of a record is kind of ridiculous and I’ve never had it happen to me, except maybe once or twice. As long as I can hear everything that’s going on (or not, if we’re talking about black metal recorded in caves and shit) that’s really all I need. Go back and listen to some early Black Sabbath; all those records still sound great to me, and they came out thirty to forty years ago! There were no fancy recording or production techniques; just capturing the essence of a great band playing great songs together.
So it really baffles me to hear the varying views, the praise and criticism for albums by big name, in-demand metal producers like Jason Suecof, Erik Rutan, or Adam Dutkiewicz, to name but a few. I think these guys all do a great job, yet I see lots of picky folks out in the blogosphere complaining about how they are terrible or for whatever reason have a passionate distaste for their work. I’ve seen countless examples to the effect of “I like the band, I like the album, but the production is terrible”. If the guys who are supposed to be the best in the industry – the guys who have bands lined up out the door to work with them, the guys who make a living producing the best heavy bands in the business – can’t make an album that you deem to even be sonically listenable, then what hope do I have as an amateur trying to get my music to that point?
What I’m getting at is this: I’m not even sure there is a difference. Is there? It’s so subjective; no matter what your level of expertise is, there will be people who love it (assuming the music is good) and people who hate it. This is true of established, big-name producers as well as bedroom producers who are just now recording their first project.
So what are you listening for? I ask you not as an expert but as someone who has roughly no idea. I like to like music, and I will definitely look past any obvious production or mixing flaws if the tunes are good and the vibe is right. And that’s assuming I can even detect such flaws. Let’s look at a few quick examples off the top of my head:
Exhibit A, Big Name Production:
Job For A Cowboy is band that I have always enjoyed, and I think their new EP Gloom is their best work yet. I think Jason Suecof’s production sounds more or less amazing, but I’ve seen a lot of differing views on the topic. I’ve seen some hate for Suecof’s work-that it’s too clean, clicky, and compressed. What do you think? What exactly would you change?
Exhibit B, Bedroom Production:
Tre Watson is a friend of this website, but I was entirely unbiased towards his music when I started writing here. I can truly say that I am a fan of his, and I spent probably way more time than I should have blasting his album Death of A Monarch in the early months of 2011. It is really damn good, and when I first heard it I got kind of depressed because his production and mixing skills were so much better than mine. So I remember being totally shocked when MetalSucks posted a link to his album on release day, and there was some misguided rage toward Tre’s production in the comments section. Comments that basically suggested that Tre has no idea what he’s doing, the mix is crap, the guitar tone sucks, and on and on, blah blah blah. Blame some of this on trolling maybe, but still-I fully disagree. You can pick out some flaws yeah sure, but you can pick flaws out of anyone’s production. Flaws are invented in your own mind anyways, they can be just figments of the imagination, man. How is Tre’s album really anything but a good-sounding album? Bands like Sabbath would have killed for that kind of clarity and mix 40 years ago, ya know? It’s all relative.
Your turn. What are your thoughts?