HomeBlogsbillhare's blogThe Stockholm Aca-Syndrome

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Hello again, it's been awhile! What to write about?  How about the same freaking thing I always write about? Well, maybe from a slightly different angle, with a good amount of jetlag after a 26 hour trip...

Yes, this is yet another article by Bill Hare about outside ears and forest-for-the trees, but hear me out (again), because no matter how many times I send people to read the articles, they don't think it applies to them:

Musical Director of Random College group: So yeah, we have a few pages of notes on that song.

Me: Oh. Did you read those articles I sent you to?

MD:  Oh yeah, definitely. Anyway, the group took a vote and 8 of them don't like the high hat because we don't do it live, and 7 liked it, so please get rid of it.

Me: But you got lots of outside opinion, right?  What did any of those people say about the high hat?

MD:  No one outside of the group said anything about it, but the group voted.

Me:  Uh huh...  You know it will totally kill the groove if i just take the high hat away, right?

MD:  Well, the group voted...

Me: (my inner voice asks myself whether I should spend another hour of my own time debating this for free, or just give in and do what they are asking).

[A new mix is done and delivered, more money is charged, and the group immediately sends an email back saying they are happy.  I plead with the the MD to have outside people compare the new mix to the previous mix and tell him which they like better...]

Me (a few days later): So, what did people think?

MD: Um, everyone we played them for liked the first mix better, and now that the group has heard them both I think we like the first one better too. 

Me: Good, so you're finally convinced that we should use the first one?

MD:  Well, we're going to vote tonight.

Me:  Crap, I have to write another article about this.  Maybe I should start naming names....

End of rant.  Anyway, this past weekend at the Real Group Festival in Stockholm, Sweden, I got to do a real-time experiment around this subject, and it was quite fun to see this all happen in real time...

The day before I left for Stockholm, I just happened to get some files from my friend Andrea Figallo in Italy, asking if I could mix a German group he had just recorded (Bonner JazzChor).  I knew that group would be going to the festival as well, so I put in a couple extra hours and did a quick mix, as an initial icebreaker (I had not worked with them before, though I had met some members at previous European festivals) and so we'd have some tangible things to talk about.  Little did I know that most of the group still hadn't heard it by the time we all arrived in Stockholm, since they were so busy preparing and traveling as well.

During the festival, Erik Bosio and I gave a workshop on A Cappella in the studio, and that morning I asked the director of the choir if I could use the mix in our class for educational purposes.  An evil plan begins to hatch...

There were about sixty people there attending our workshop, including six from the Bonner JazzChoir.  One of those six had already heard the mix, and was mortified that I was going to play it publicly because "it's not ready yet". 

In my mind, it was totally ready, and something to be proud of, but she was only hearing the delays I added, and the extra heavy percussion and bass that she was not used to hearing live (they DO it live, but usually don't hear it as big as I made it).

During the playback (though a PA system in the room) I watched six people kind of squirming, and fifty-four seeming to enjoy the mix.  At the end of the playback, I asked the members of the group I had just played what their first reaction was.  I told them they wouldn't insult me, it was just the first mix, and to be frank.  "Well...  it was... interesting...  our basses don't sound that low usually, and there are things in there we don't do when we're actually singing (they were talking about some delays carrying over in empty spaces).  Also, the drums in the middle were way too big compared to how we sound".  Someone else in the room said "That was the best part!!"  I then said, "say that again, and tell them that directly". 

The group had performed on the same stage the day before, and I asked if anyone in the room had seen that performance.  A few people raised their hands, and I asked them how the recording compared to the live performance.  They said they really didn't notice anything different, partially because they have an optimized memory of the event (which is why we try to optimize the recordings), as well as not knowing the arrangement as intimately as the group themselves.  They really can't tell if anything was new or added, because there is already so much going on.

Getting a few comments from the other fifty-four people, and again telling people to be critical and it wouldn't hurt my feelings, it was apparent that they all really liked it, no matter the initial shock of the six group members in the room.  Hopefully that experience rubbed off on them,  and I did get a FaceBook message a few days later from the lady who was so concerned initially - she said she was rocking out to it in her car! 

Sometimes you need other people to tell you just how cool you are...  :-)