The “Recording Artist”

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The “Recording Artist”

It’s All About Semantics

Semantics  DO matter.  Most introductions for a live recording proclaim:       “(record label) recording artist (name)”.    What many don’t understand is that they are performance artists.   Outside the improvisation (artistic),  you’re hearing a copy of their original recording (maybe artistic, maybe not).  I’m not slighting the skills of the performer.  They have great skills to do what they do.  The question remains: who is a  “recording artist”?

It can be argued that the at present, creation of most recorded music is left to the producer.  This has not always been the case.  The Beatles were true recording artists and had an artistic producer (George Martin) as well.  Why?  They took chances on sounds never before put on record added to masterful songwriting.  There are but few instances of that now, mostly due to economic and political forces.

For the most part, in music today (I’m talking pop music),  we have recordings made largely by matching mediocre (or even rotten) homogenized “songs” with “cookie-cutter”  producers.    Safe, boring ground and because you can market anything to sell, sell it will.  Nothing like hearing that “Millennial Whoop” again!

A work of art must make the rules: rules do not make a work of art...I tell people I am not a musician; I work with rhythms, frequencies and are merely the gossips of music. - Edgard Varese

Edgard Varese

I first heard of Edgard Varese  from Frank Zappa (one of my major influences).  Turns out, Varese was his biggest influence. This, of course, led me to his music.  It is difficult to listen to.  Varese said, “to stubbornly conditioned ears, anything new in music has always been called noise”.   He only had about three hours worth of music published in his lifetime.

Despite lack of  “commercial success”, Varese founded the International Composers’ Guild in 1921 and the Pan-American Association of Composers in 1926.  He has been referred to as the “father of electronic music” for his addition of newly invented electronic instruments such as the ondes Martenot and Theremin , even inventing them himself.

I will cover Frank Zappa at a later date because he deserves his own blog post.  Varese’s influence is all over  Zappa’s music.  They were both true artists and were not shy about blazing trails.

The Road Least Traveled

Being a true recording artist is definitely the road least traveled.  It’s very lonely.  Everyone yearns for acceptance, so it’s totally against the grain to go it alone.  But face it, you are on your own.  Hours and hours spent thrashing things out that you know will probably not even get listened to because it’s different from everything else.  You get to the point that, good or bad, you just want people to hear what you’re doing.

When growing up, I  wanted to be part of a band.  It didn’t work out for me, so I just  wrote and produced the music myself.  I  became a recording artist, spending  90% of my adult life toiling in blue-collar jobs so I would have the artistic license to do music my own way, warts and all.  I learned a lot from my mistakes (Lord knows I made a ton of them).  The fact I am an old white male Christian conservative who doesn’t mince words has certainly had an effect as well.  Reality can suck.  Oh well…

I don’t play live.  It’s not me.  The studio is my instrument.   I use whatever tools are available to get the sounds  to complete my current vision;  fresh every day.   That’s it.  No apologies.  I’m no better, and certainly no worse than anyone else.  I can live with what I’m doing.  How many can look in the mirror and say that?

My motto: “Live to record another day! ”

© 2018  J. Mark  Witters


Music Adventures Now-Technology

Just Do It!

Starting Out

Technology can prepare anyone  to complete a journey.  You must take the first steps and the momentum will keep you going.  

While growing up, I discovered the joy of music and that it has only grown over the years.  I knew what I wanted to hear, but how do I create it? Technology is the answer.

Well, I knew yours truly was not the most gifted of musicians, so my task was to exploit my God-given talents.  I’ve always enjoyed writing, so I wrote poetry of all sorts  (mostly  drivel, but you have to start somewhere!).   I spent my early years learning trumpet, then music theory. Then, I started to learn guitar and put together a lot of stuff (Listened to James Taylor, Miles Davis, the Beatles,  Frank Zappa, and everything in between, so you can only imagine what I came up with!)  

In 1971, I went  to college when synthesizers were first coming out. There was a synthesizer room you actually had to schedule to use! I was able to figure out how to use patch cords (!) to get my acoustic pick-up-mounted guitar to play through an  ARP 2600 synthesizer, unheard-of in my limited sphere.  It was then I decided I wouldn’t become a music teacher, and left to pursue my adventure.  

This was 1973, and did not want to play in a cover band, nor could I find like-minded people, so worked night blue-collar jobs obtained a basic 4-track studio, instruments, and started writing and recording my original music.  It wasn’t pretty, but a start, nonetheless. A lot of isolation, but it was a learning experience for me.

Listen with Open Ears

Along the way, my ears were kept open to all music.  My natural limited-attention span would not let my chosen form of communication be boxed-in.  Rock, jazz, classical, Motown, blues, avant-garde, folk, and everything in between were all part of that gumbo.  Maybe  I didn’t know what I was doing, but kept at it anyway.

I studied “Music Business” in the mid-eighties and knew I wouldn’t fit into any of that mess, so kept my head down and learned Windows,  Finale music notation, VST, and midi-sequencing.  All this kept me busy through the nineties.  Technology is starting to work its magic!

Keeping my ears (and mind) open, I was asked by our daughter (Kerri Hirsch Upton)  to produce her drum/vocal band Spiral Rhythm’s first CD, so I did.  It was recorded right in our living room.  Ric Neyer and Kerri wanted to form an offshoot band from Spiral Rhythm, so  Skyypilot was born.  I joined Spiral Rhythm, and met Steve Collins (he literally built the stage we played on), who had a band named Moonstruck.  He needed a second guitarist, so I joined them for a time. Some nights, I would play three consecutive sets with three different groups!   Steve was a great guy who encouraged me to keep recording, so  I did!

What Technology Brings

Using an early Roland 16-track digital recorder, I recorded the first seven Spiral Rhythm albums, the first three Skyypilot albums, and “The Balance”, a fine album by Heather Jinmaku.  Since 2006, I have been recording all material “in the box” (on computer).  

Technology has been huge.  Now, I can use plugins for a tiny fraction of the cost (and space) of the original hardware.  I have software that replicates pretty much everything the Beatles used on their Abbey Road recordings.  I have software (Amplitude 4) that lets me record a guitar part with dry signal, then manipulate it in any way, then back to original if I don’t like the amp or effects. My music can be released online and streaming almost instantly.  

I decided to make my own Skyypilot music videos, so I subscribed to Videoblocks and began editing downloaded content using Windows Movie Maker.  I set up a website and just started blogging, so it is always a work-in-progress.  No longer doing the blue-collar thing, I am now diving into even more challenges.  One can try to prepare, but there’s nothing like going in there and thrashing it out.  You learn from your mistakes, believe me… Just do it!

Authors note: I received no compensation for any products mentioned above.

© 2018   J. Mark Witters