A long time ago, a friend and I were driving home after a party out in the country. It was the middle of the night and we were just driving along and chatting. Being good friends, a lapse into silence wasn’t uncomfortable as we drove along.
We drove in silence for a while. The radio was on, at such a level that it was unobtrusive. A song came on, ‘Say it Ain’t So’ by Roger Daltrey’, … and the most interesting aural phenomenon happened. The music was barely audible at the level we had the radio but the vocals were clear. I listened intently to the vocals trying to pick up what was going on with the music.
Now, of course I realize I could have simply turned it up but I didn’t want to change either the mood of the car or the song.
Not being able to hear the music properly sparked up my imagination as far as the song went. It also was a huge complement to whoever mixed that song. Roger Daltrey’s voice is so clear in the first voice and chorus. I can hear at least three acoustic guitar guitars in that first verse and, bass joins in the second first before the song ramps up. The bridge, with the soaring background singers and the odd lyrics sustains the phenom. It is masterful because the same effect is present even as I listen to it now. It is all capped off in the third and fourth verses as the other background singers come in.
That ‘barely audible music’ phenomenon has stuck with me ever since, although, if you listen to the music I have recorded over the years, you’d never know it.
I grew up in the ’70’s. Zeppelin has always been my favourite band but in my formative years, Queen was a huge influence on me. Anyone who has listened to Queen will know that, at times, their production is just a little over the top. I always loved ridiculously over-produced songs like March of the Black Queen, (II), The Show Must Go On, (Innuendo), Now I’m Here, (Live Killers and Sheer Heart Attack) and others. The way Brian May layered his guitars in that way that defined Queen’s sound was something I wanted to do. And I did do it on one song in Particular – Thinking Twice from my Slideways album.
What has all this to do with, you ask
I am recording a song right now, working title ‘Little Prairie Town’. I wrote it in Kimberley BC about a place I used to live, High River, Alberta.
The connection to the ‘barely audible music’ idea is that, after letting the song roll around in my head for a few weeks, the recording that is coming together right now is taking on the feel of the barely audible music. There is drums and bass and separate acoustic guitar tracks for the verse and the chorus. The guitar is recorded to be quite minimal. It fits beautifully with the bass to form an unobtrusive backdrop and, because of its minimalism, stands out more prominently than if it was a solid strumming pattern.
Production experiments amaze me.