Keith Everette Smith

Producer, Songwriter, Multi-Instrumentalist, Music Director

Birthdays and Music That inspires

Yesterday was my birthday. It was a good birthday. I went up to LA and played in a reading band… it’s a big band where musicians come sit in and play through music… jazz, funk, contemporary stuff mostly. It was a lot of fun and a good way to spend the 26th anniversary of my birth! Without going into details, the circumstances surrounding the rehearsal were a little difficult.  You know how that can be… tense and frustrating. After spending a few hours in my car (without AC!) I was greeted by my friends and family and we had a great evening!

I mention this story because it illustrates something very powerful about music. That is this:

music is much more about tension than it is about perfect harmony.

You don’t notice blissful moments without some tension to remind you that you are actually in a blissful state. Tension is the reason why I love cluster chords rather than simple triads, the reason why I love distortion, the reason why I love an emotive performance and the reason why

perfection is the enemy.

Creating tension can be especially hard in Christian music. I mean, the end result is a Savior who loves us and would do anything for us. We have to look for creative ways to add tension to our music in order that it is something compelling. Christian music is BETTER than it was 20-30 years ago, not just different. Christian musicians, I believe, have become better artists and have found ways to add tension to music. Music in the 90’s was GREAT at this. It was raw and edgy and bands like Audio Adrenaline, Jars of Clay and DC Talk were creating great music that included tension.

Here’s the problem… digital editing has allowed us the “luxury” of releasing too much tension from our music. We can perfect every hit and tune every note until a very important part of our music is tension free. It is the element of human performance. The answer to this is to

use your ears, not your eyes

when editing. Musical tension does not happen with your eyes anyway, it happens with your ears. To use your eyes while editing is pretty ridiculous. When you listen, you will listen for actual mistakes and fix those instead of sucking the life out of your music.

Now, I will say that there are some times when you will say, “I’d like to tighten this up more.” The feel is not flawed, but certain genres call for a tighter feel. Electronic and Pop music is pretty rigid these days… on purpose, though it can be very FRESH to infuse live performances unaltered within your electronic or pop songs. That’s what many producers have done with R&B and Hip Hop. You’ll hear a lot of groove on R&B albums these days. Very cool!

WAYS TO KEEP THINGS TENSE!

  • don’t over-tune vocals
  • don’t over-time align vocals
  • don’t alter your groove too much
  • take the time to record GREAT performances
  • Never say “I can fix it in the mix”
  • Don’t over-compress
  • DO over-compress sometimes
  • release the tension every now and then so you notice it when you’ve got it
  • make music that inspires you to sing along, bob your head and dance!

Check out

Tristan Prettyman’s song “Hello”

for an example of a song that would have been utterly RUINED had it been auto-tuned to death. An amazing vocal performance!

I’m off to over-tune some vocals :)