HomeBlogsbillhare's blogThe Outside Ear

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I know I tend to repeat myself quite often in this column, but some points are just worth saying again and again!

In previous installments, I have mentioned about objectivity and the whole forest-for-the-trees issue ad nauseum. I (and other producer/engineers) frequently point our clients back to this column to (hopefully) give them a better understanding of the pitfalls and traps that have caught the many who have gone before them by surprise - including us producer/engineers!

We all are still finding one big problem happening over and over – one or two members of the group making all of the decisions, without any clue of how the rest of the world will hear it. Not that the whole group has to be involved – most of the time a complete democracy is TOO much and will cause even more problems, but tempering what an overzealous yet well-intentioned music director or arranger thinks is “cool” will make for a better and cheaper product 99% of the time!

Yes, I’m talking to YOU. Even if you are not using a bona fide producer with dozens or hundreds of albums under their belt, therefore having already made hundreds of rookie mistakes it takes to gain real-world experience - there are still people out there who can keep you from making them, and it won’t cost you a penny!

These people could be your roommates, your friends, your grandparents, whoever are going to be your end listeners. For more A Cappella “expertise”, you can also participate on the various A Cappella discussion groups such as the CASA or RARB Forums, and find several people there who would be glad to give their opinions as well.

Of course, my point being that no one opinion is the absolute right one, a good cross-section of comments can be very revealing. Let’s say that out of 10 comment lists on one given song, 1 person thinks there is too much reverb, 1 other person thinks there isn’t enough, and the other 8 don’t mention it at all. This would probably let you know that it isn’t a very important issue and you can leave that part of it alone. If 4 or 5 people mention a certain line feels funny to them, you definitely want to go back and take a closer look and find out what might be bothering them! It might be that very thing you thought was so cool, so you turned it up to make sure everyone heard it! Too much of a color tone or counterpoint (or even harmony) line doesn’t make sense to the casual listener – this is why when you were arranging or transcribing the song that it may have been very hard to hear on the original. Your “cool stuff” will come through just fine if you don’t force it.

I can’t remain completely objective myself, so I poll a group of people on my IM list to see what they think as well. These will include other very experienced A Cappella (and non-A Cappella) producers, but also more casual listeners, and a lot of the time it will be these non-experts who will give the most useful input!

Don’t go it alone – hard as it is for the artistic ego, you can make much more informed decisions by listening to input from people outside of your group. I do this myself, after decades of doing this, and I listen to people who have never even been in a recording studio – there’s no shame if you do as well!