Why Everything I Don’t Do Sucks! (or, What Happens to Experts)

How many times do you hear someone (or catch yourself) bad-mouthing a new record or act, or even just complaining about the caliber of the current music in general? Or how about hearing someone talk about trying a new piece of gear, or new form of recording, and saying, “it blows”!

Growing up in a small farming community in North Dakota, I always thought it was amazing that when a group of farmers were talking, there was never enough rain (or too much), prices were too low, taxes too high (I agree with that one!), and the crops were never gonna’ be worth much this year, no matter what, it was always really bad. Being rather idealistic, I couldn’t understand how they just kept right on farming? Why didn’t they quit and find a better job, or something that wasn’t always so darn miserable!

So now you say, there you go continuing the cycle of complaining about how things are, by bitching about people bitching about how bad things are! (Wow, I think I just about got sucked into a loop there!) BUT NO! I’m actually just pointing out a few little things I’ve noticed about life in the music biz.

First off, there is a strange thing that happens when someone is asked to give his or her opinion or judgment about something. They become an expert! People cease to be just a listener or a consumer and they become an analysist. This is really nothing bad, it’s just natural. Instead of simply liking or not liking something, they now have to know why! If the business we are in were not as subjective as it is, that would not be much of an issue. But personal likes and dislikes are just that, personal. Some people love the color blue, some hate it, but do we need to know why?
This situation pops-up in many ways, one notable one would be when singles are chosen or records are approved. There is often a “committee” decision made which is really just choosing the song or songs which are the least “polarizing” or in other words, the safest. This helps lead to commercial music that is not offensive to anyone, and is also not exciting or unique to practically anyone either! How many times have you heard,” That song absolutely slays me, but it could never be a single.” Again, people analyze the records that are normally released as singles and conclude this is too different to work, instead of following their “gut” and choosing the song that affects them the most.

Another example of this “expert” opinion phenomenon is when someone is asked about recording equipment or techniques. If a piece of gear doesn’t do what they expect it to do or sound the way they expect it to, it’s a piece of junk. The fact is most gear has at least one great application, and if that application is found and used well it may be a crucial part of a records sound. I know quite a few great engineers who seek out the strangest, grungiest, funkiest equipment, knowing it will make their work different from the “norm” giving them a distinct identity. Another reason to new “tools” is the fact that they keep your work from being stagnant and the same from project to project. There’s nothing more challenging than trying to figure out how to hammer a nail with a tweezers!

The other aspect of the “expert” phenomenon I wanted to discuss is the tendency to make statements that stereotype all elements of the group (could be songs, artists, equipment, etc.). When comments about the state of something are made, it often is not accurate for a specific element in that group. I could say, country music all sounds the same and you can’t tell one act from another anymore. (remember this is just an example don’t get me busted for this, it’s how I make a living! Hehe) From the Dixie Chicks to Aaron Tippin to Faith Hill to Brad Paisley to Shania Twain, country music is more diverse than it’s ever been, and we possibly have more superstar acts than ever. But overall, sales are down and country radio is slumping; so is the state of country music good or bad? It’s really all of the above, but that doesn’t make for an easy answer so we pick one side or the other (country sucks, or country is bigger than ever), and make our statement! The only problem is; neither one is actually true, and paints a picture for the listener which may effect their opinion.

In the world of “gear whores” the same thing happens. Digital sucks, VCA’s suck, heck, all those speakers sound awful! The list goes on and on, but really they’re just opinions and not fact. The facts are great records are made on crappy gear and crappy records are made on great gear everyday! It’s just different opinions. Remembering that we are in a subjective business is often a difficult thing. Connecting art to commerce leads to some funky situations and makes the “black and white” answers difficult to come by.

In closing I just want to say, it’s probably a really good idea to be receptive to new ideas and techniques and to be aware that our likes and dislikes are just that, ours. Try being positive in your statements about the business we’re in, cause it affects the perspective of those who don’t have all the information to form their own opinion. I would now like to leave you with my “expert” opinion. Everything I don’t do sucks! Hahaha!!!

Michael D. Clute
Ego-maniac /Gear-slut / Producer /Engineer
Often found mumbling to himself in studio “caves” in Nashville.