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Too Many Chords

Updated on June 11, 2013
The song gets changed by a turn of a knob
The song gets changed by a turn of a knob

A disease of today's music recordings

Basically, what today’s music suffers from is overproduction and misdirection in what makes for good music.

Too many #$%^ing chords, and they are the wrong type.

Modern Day Music is Overproduced

Today’s sound is not in the hands of the musician who created it. It is totally controlled by the sound engineers and producers who have worked more on getting rid of the external sound modules and the electronic cords that connect them than they have on the musical chords and phrasing that make up the songs melody.

Yes today’s digital audio workstation is removing physical cords and the sound modules are being replaced with virtual instruments that are about as true to form with the original solid, heavy and sometimes not so transportable real counterparts as possible. The sampled-to-death version of the real instrument resides in the computer memory of the digital workstation or an interconnected computer hard drive but it is up to a skillful artist to make that virtual instrument sound like the real one.

True enough, that a lot of these are played by session musicians who indeed have “the chops” necessary to create the right sound but then the sound technicians jump in and can alter any and every aspect of the recording with more computerized adjustments. Some are designed to mimic the equipment of another era like tube-amplifiers and randomization of drum qualities so it doesn’t sound so mechanical.

A Computer Technician is not likely a Creative Musician

But the technician (usually) isn’t a saxophone player, guitar player, vocalist, or drummer and certainly they do not possess the proficiency at their various instrument like the Claptons, Prestons, Charles, Bakers, Knights, Butlers, Perlmans, Robinsons, Atkins, etc. all demonstrated in recordings that were largely just take after take of the analog source onto a solitary track of reel-to-reel tape. And each musician is often recorded in isolation of the others, leaving out the subtleties that can only appear due to the interaction of musicians with slightly different approaches to the melody. Talk to your friendly music store personnel and you will find out that it is highly unlikely that they are extemely computer literate.

That doesn’t mean today’s technology is at fault. By no means, the clarity of sound and flexibility in editing capabilities is a positive benefit of the new methods, but it shouldn’t be overused. Motown greatly benefited from the hands-on production of people like Smokey Robinson but it was more about the performers than it was about the production.

Overdoing the Phrasing of a Song Destroys It

It’s much like watching performers today butchering the American National Anthem. Instead of staying true to the song and adding subtle personal touches, they try to make it into another whole new production and fail miserably. The sound technicians are doing a similar thing to today’s music by tricking, manipulating and altering the original musical sound to something that they only understand as music. It isn’t all like that, of course. Some songs do still stand out, but maybe there should be a limit to the number of tracks and alterations that the engineers perform. It is next to impossible for a lot of the creations to be recreated live without the aid of prerecorded audio since the technicians would not likely be travelling with the recorded performer to their performance dates.

There is an easy way to phrase this simple correction in musical terms—less is more.


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    • Hezekiah profile image


      7 years ago from Japan

      In terms of chords, I think that as along as you stay within a given key. You can put as many chords as you like into a track. e.g. with correct phrasing, extended chords will can be disguised as part of the melody if playing chords on the keybaord with two hands.

      You are correct about space, I make tracks with limited amount of instuments as possible and add if needed.

      This is why I listen to mainly neo-soul. The production is live sounding instruments and very few synth sounds. The engineers will only compress and normalize the sound levels that's all.

    • AlanSwenson profile image


      7 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Ok now here is the flip side of the argument. This same thing was happening in the 70s and will continue to happen for ever. The only difference is those crap songs from the 70s everyone has forgotten about by now but the new ones are still fresh. In 2020 the crap songs from today will be gone and some gems will shine through. I attribute the problem to the "Good Old Days" syndrome. Being an Audio Engineer myself I can tell you that it is the producer that is making the changes and the Engineer implementing them. Engineers just press buttons, they rarely get any creative input.

      Anyways a modern example of what you are talking about is an Arcade Fire song call "No Cars Go" Their first album was recorded and mixed entirely by the band. The song was featured on an EP and sounded great. However this same song was featured on their newest album 6 years later but re-recorded and mixed by one of the top engineers in the business and sounds horrible to me as a sound engineer but has sold millions and million of copies and the band won a grammy the second time. So whatever sells records even if the band is ultra talented.

      In summary I think it was always a problem and it is sad just not a nowadays compared to the good old days problem.

    • Bozoplay profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from London

      The good ones are easier. Listen to The Cisco Kid by War, anything from the following CD's -- Blues Summit - B.B. King with a whole bunch of others, Genius Loves Company - Ray Charles with many others and Rhythm, Country and Blues - Duets by one classic R & B singer and one country and western singer. The duets meant that the producers had to ensure that the vocal performances weren't lost in the midst of the bands but the musicians are all outstanding and aren't lost in the mix either.

      The bad is harder, because I flush those from my iTunes library. One song that stood out on the radio the other day was Lay It On The Line by Divine Brown. The technicians thought that it would be cool to use the pitch bend wheel on the backup vocalists. The girls were getting into a really nice groove and this technique disrupted it for me, anyway. I don't know how they would be able to repeat this in a live show on a regular basis. It sounded out of place. It wasn't something the performers intended. It was contrived in the studio. Maybe that helps some.

    • AlanSwenson profile image


      7 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      agreed on all fronts but I meant a specific track example for each.

    • Bozoplay profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from London

      It is just my opinion here since everyone has a different idea of what makes good music. Here's some of my thoughts. First of all the track isn't so full that you can't hear the individual parts. You should at time hear some silence in a song. That helps build tension and interest. Too much going on and you create mud. Instruments of the same frequency will cancel each other out if there are too many. Above all the feature performer stands out in the mix and doesn't get lost in it. A good track has peaks and valleys. A steady mechanical beat is just plain boring. A good track should be something the performer could repeat live on stage without the assistance of a horde of studio technicians.

    • AlanSwenson profile image


      7 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Can you give me an example of what you think a well produced track is and a poorly produced track?


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