This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.

Less Is More And Essays On Why A Part Works

Let's say you're working on a song and the MC is doing a line that has too many syllables.

You: Hey man, that line isn't working...

MC: It works because it’s so savage!

You: Can we try something else?

MC: Bruh this line, like, makes the whole song!

Anyone who wants to get their way can talk endlessly about why a part works in theory terms. There are countless phrases like “less is more” or “it is what it is” that lazy morons use to justify their opinion that can be applied to a situation, whether or not these sayings truly are what's best for a song. Philosophizing why parts work as compared to hearing them back and giving them an open-minded emotional reaction ruins songs. Any good communicator can parse words to justify why a part works, but it can never convince anyone to emotionally enjoy a song. “Less is more” has nothing to do with emotion; it concerns quantity, which is not an emotion.

If a part isn't feeling right to a collaborator, that has to be cause for pause to try alternatives to see if the part can be improved. Odds are the part contradicts the intent of the song, so you need to find an alternative more in line with the intent. Taking a short time to try alternative ideas allows us to vet our ideas to make sure they're brought up to their highest emotional resonance. This vetting improves your ideas, even if you keep the original; you know that first idea was great after you hear alternative ideas that don't feel as good.

Using Examples To Get On The Same Page With Your Collaborators

One of the most important parts of collaboration is speaking a common language. Since music is so subjective, we constantly use words without clear definitions, so it’s important to get on the same page with one another. Before I start any project where I'll be producing, I don't allow the project to start unless the band gives me a list of music they enjoy, so I can understand where they're coming from.

I primarily do this to have a tangible example to communicate with. When a guitarist tells me they want a "warmer tone,” this can be very hard to interpret. If you ask five musicians what "warm" sounds like, you'll get five different examples. But if there are examples of tones that someone likes, it's easy to get on the same page. These examples can also help tell me what type of grooves they enjoy as well as if they like a more raw mix or a super polished one.

While I can hear demos and begin to understand them, they give me little-to-no clue about a group's tastes or their aspirations for their sound beyond the tools they have available to demo with. Most demos are demos since the musician doesn't have the tools to make the tones they want to hear. So I ask every band for a list of a few records, which tell me about the tones and productions that resonate with them for each instrument. This list may look something like this:

Drums:

Mars Volta - Deloused In The Comatorium (Drum sound)

Justice - Cross (Drum grooves while still being highly manipulated)

Glassjaw - Worship & Tribute (Drum intensity)

Vocals:

The 1975 - I Like It When You Sleep (Harmonies, backing vocals)

The Clash - London Calling (Use of different voices)

Bjork - Homogenic (Production)

Synthesizers:

Grimes - Art Angels (How unique the sounds are)

Anamanaguchi - Endless Fantasy (The emotional content of the tones)

PVRIS - White Noise (The way the synths play with the vocals)

Bass:

Death From Above 1979 - All (Tone)

Blood Brothers - Burn Piano Island Burn (Diversity of tones)

Tame Impala - Currents (Tone and arrangement)

This is an excerpt of the book Processing Creativity: The Tools, Practices And Habits Used To Make Music You’re Happy With. If you would like to download an excerpt or buy a copy you can do so here.