The Madison Project - Late Night Drive Thru

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The Madison Project - Late Night Drive Thru

Postby pujo » Fri Sep 26, 2008 7:41 am

Well, its funny now 5 years later I am posting again on RARB review board. As a young freshman full of fury I went nutty reviewing the review of Rockstar in which I made an argument about digitized voices versus natural raw sound and got eaten alive by my President for it. I was chock full of harsh words.

Now a graduate and former member of Project its time I set the record straight.

Our third reviewer reviews this album the same way I wouldve when I was a freshman. Id have to say I agree in theory but also disagree to the extent of the 3's that cross the board in his review.

I would agree that there is a line to be drawn with digital cd's and this is where my 5 year old post about recording monkeys, digitizing them and selling a cd comes into play. This line, I feel, project hasnt crossed this time around. I am extremely proud of Madison Project for their hard work on this CD. My point is that you can prefer raw sound versus a digital electronica cd. You can even review it how youd like. But among the parts of the CD that may sound digital or even fake, theyre not.

Go to one of Projects shows. Go hear the dirty dirty rumble bass that is Mike Held. Seriously, Ive heard about his balls and supposedly theyre like apples. Talk to Jeff. Thats not a fake bass sound. Its wild how powerful they are. And the amazing blend you hear? Thats actually hours and hours of hard work by Snowball to get it right. The guy is meticulous. And Drew, Zach, Blaine and the other soloists are actually that good.

This isnt my monkey choir making a world tour. The Madison Project put their heart and soul and more importantly their raw natural talent into this CD.

I thank the reviewers for their reviews. This isnt like my old post when i called people morons and almost started cussing. I like the reviews. I think the neg points are actually quite true. Its not perfect, project can definitely still grow and I agree. Of course Im not going to agree with everything the reivews said but thats kind of the point.

The point Im trying to make is that if you listen to this CD and then go see project in person, you wont be disappointed at all. What you hear isnt fake. Thats real raw quality talent.

- Paul Puckett

Madison Project 2002-2007
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Postby Ed Boyer » Fri Sep 26, 2008 8:31 am

I would agree that there is a line to be drawn with digital cd's


I wouldn't. Rather, I don't think there's a line. That's too narrow-minded. Instead, I think every group/project should decide where to draw its own line.

If a group (especially a college group) uses octavization, effects, and all of the other studio bells & whistles, I'm guessing that they're not trying to replicate their live sound. So why review them as if they were? It's not as if everything was going well and then, oops, the mixer's finger slipped and accidentally opened Amp Farm on the baris...automatic 2 point deduction.

It's kind of like writing for Rolling Stone and giving Beck a bad review because it doesn't sound like Arlo Guthrie. It's fine if that's your opinion. But, eventually, you'll have to get over it, or the reviews will just become irrelevant.

While I'm on a tangent, I'll say that I think it works the other way, too. A lot of more natural-sounding recordings seem to get lesser reviews for not wowing listeners with production tricks.

P.S. If someone made an a capella recording with monkeys (or any animal) I would be first in line to buy it.
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Postby dr00bles » Fri Sep 26, 2008 8:48 am

Pujo - thanks for the reactions. I'm going to try to respond to this in a way that doesn't start another endless back-and-forth about whether heavy production is ideologically better or worse for an cappella album, etc. I hear your concerns about my review, but I feel it is necessary to address some points that you bring up.

You encourage the readers to go see the Madison Project live, and as I state in the review, I am well ahead of you. I have seen them several times at various ICCA competitions (I even heard one of their tracks live - the Beach Boys medley), so I know what they're all about. Make no mistake - I like the Madison Project. They are considerably musical and passionate about their work, and I made sure that this was noted in my assessment. Regarding the natural sound on their CD, however: They may have poured their raw natural talent INTO the CD, but it's not quite what comes OUT. Regardless of how strong the bass section is or how well the group can blend, these are not the factors that contributed to the final produced sound on Late-Nite Drive Thru. The bass line thumps and pounds, occasionally in octaves that no human can it (not even Mike Held). But whatever, that's not really my gripe. It's present in virtually all a cappella albums, so it's become pretty standard fare.

My concern about aggressive production is that it often actually gets in the way. I try not to argue against heavy studio magic unless it directly negatively affects the listening experience, and I feel that it did in this case. For example, whether or not the members of Project executed good dynamics in the recording session is yet to be known, because the compression regulates the sound information to a VERY limited range. To me, dynamics is a must-have, and it was lacking on this CD. Also - sampled percussion. If you read RARB reviews from 10 years ago, there's always a line or two calling out the beatboxer, whether he's good or bad, because it's clear that there IS a beatboxer present. Now, we pretty much eliminate any mention of vocal percussion in our reviews, because there isn't any. VP makes a cappella more unique and interesting, and sampling it on this CD made it sound like any old song on the radio. And finally - fade-outs. Honestly. No a cappella group (or any musical group, actually) fades out at the end of a song in a live performance (actually, the Achordants tried it on the song "I'll Make Love to You," and it ended up being horribly awkward). I enjoy discovering the many creative ways that a cappella groups figure out how to end their songs, and this CD often denied me of that experience. (I actually hate fade-outs in general; they make the song feel incomplete.)

Bottom line is, I know everyone's not going to agree with my reviews. That's okay. That's why there's three reviewers per CD. To offer varying perspectives. It's no secret that I have a distaste for heavy production, but I'd like to believe that it goes beyond the typical "MAN, THIS ISN'T REAL!" A cappella is fun because of what it is, and because of its limitations. I approach it as a specific medium, and as soon as some of the key identifying elements of said medium are eliminated, I start to become disengaged. Pujo, I appreciate your effort to defend the group, because you don't feel the review does the GROUP ITSELF justice. That's fair. I don't think this album does the group itself justice either, which is part of my frustration. In any case, hopefully we can all look at a 3-4-5 RARB review as most meaningful and constructive because it offers a wide range of feedback.

Happy to discuss this issue further.
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Postby Nick Lyons » Fri Sep 26, 2008 9:17 am

Ed Boyer wrote:P.S. If someone made an a capella recording with monkeys (or any animal) I would be first in line to buy it.


I mean, when it happens, I'll be in line right behind you, waiting the 6 hours ahead of time before tickets go on sale, discussing how far the art-form has come, and how impressive we've The AcaFarm is.

For as long as I've been involved in a cappella, these guys have been really talented, and entertaining. They hosted us back in 2002 at ICCA semi-finals and put on a terrific show, and they've pretty consistently made it to the semi-finals themselves. They do have great blend, and some really terrific soloists. They're also very charismatic and personable, both on and off the stage.

Andrew DiMartino wrote:Pitch-perfect group sound. Booming, thumping, rich bass. Authentic drum effects. Fade-outs at the ends of songs.


Minus "Authentic drum effects," any number of groups could fall into this category, including MOST top-10 barbershop groups, and Chanticleer. Also, fading out the end of a song doesn't mean it's not a creative arrangement. Not all of us like to end songs on a shiny "ah" chord, or better yet, add the Pickardy Third at the end of a minor tune. I don't know about everyone else, but in some cases, a bad ending can ruin the entire song for me.

Andrew DiMartino wrote:The medium of a cappella is intriguing because it is a testament to what the human voice is capable of accomplishing without the aid of other instruments.


While the argument could be made that no "other instruments" were used, the more important argument can be what the human voice is not capable of accomplishing. Mainly, just about anything below 80 hertz. While most factory car audio systems will pick up some of the bass notes (BELOW G2. Barry Carl, anyone?), it won't do so with any sort of consistency without compression, and even then, because their vocal range will be moving back and forth across the crossover, consistency is not likely. Enter octave.

Regarding "authentic drum effects," aside from isolating specific sounds to treat them more specifically, I think most engineers will tell you there's not much magic to it. EQ, compression, reverb and delay. Occasionally its gets more involved, but based on what I heard on "High Stakes, Old Maid," and knowing Ian and Dick pretty well, I'd have to guess they used those tools.

Put yourself in their shoes. You were fortunate enough to have 3 reviewers who liked the sound you went for, but how would you have felt if one of your reviewers gave you a 2 because they wanted to hear something with more production on it? One argument could be the group choosing to go this route, the other could be the producer opting to push it to X length.

Just my 2 cents. And, for anyone (inevitably) assuming so, Liquid 5th has never worked with MP, nor have I personally. They're good guys and I just wanted everyone to know.

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Postby colton » Fri Sep 26, 2008 11:26 am

WareHauser wrote:
Ed Boyer wrote:P.S. If someone made an a capella recording with monkeys (or any animal) I would be first in line to buy it.


I mean, when it happens, I'll be in line right behind you, waiting the 6 hours ahead of time before tickets go on sale, discussing how far the art-form has come, and how impressive we've The AcaFarm is.


Check out this album, then:

A Froggy Christmas

:-)
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Postby pujo » Fri Sep 26, 2008 12:15 pm

I dont think that there is much of an issue. I appreciate the reviews, and yes a 3-4-5 does make you think there is a wide range of feedback but it also can make you go, whoa, who here was right on? Who was way off? Should I go with the 4 guy and was the 5 guy smokin realllllly good KB and the 3 guy on just the seeds? Or was 3 guy dead on? etc.

To be frank, I dont care. I simply like an honest review of the sound, the songs, the cd, how the group did it and so forth. I can see one guy saying, it wasnt overproduced, and another saying, my god Im listening to robots in harmony. But i dont feel like whether its overproduced or not takes away from such things as energy, orOnce again, I dont mind at all.

If someone loves the sound of the CD, sweet. Buy it, play it in the car. If you dont, save your money. Get a really nice 6 pack of beer and make everything sound good.

I just think the gripes dont meet the review. I dont see how they were supposed to introduce you to new endings or that no one does a fade live. Thats clearly not true. And one of the songs should feel incomplete, haha get it??? Im quick. And there definitely is VP, I can hear it. I dont see anything that would constitute aggressive production. A cappella is cool because of the limitations, but isnt that like saying, you cant slide a snowboard on a rail, its made for snow! How was the railslide? Isnt it still a snowboard?? Looks like hes just progressing the sport to me. Follow the analogy?

My gripe is that you say listening to the cd you wont find a cappella. And I strongly disagree. You entitled to your review. Thats cool, but it definitely is a cappella and damn good to listen to as well. Overproduced or not.

ps. I think we can all agree that watching 3 songs in 12 minutes at ICCA's does not constitute knowing what a group is all about. Is your year end show 3 songs in 12 minutes or 20 songs for over two hours with people dancing in the aisles?
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Postby MPJackV » Fri Sep 26, 2008 12:50 pm

I don't really understand how it's possible to give an objective score if all of the reviewers aren't on the same page of what they consider quality recording.

I'm sure it'd be pretty cliche for me to go into the heavy production vs. natural sound debate, but put this into perspective.

Let's say that two a cappella groups create a CD of similar quality (both leaning towards the very produced style of recording). When they both submit their albums to RARB, what happens if group A gets three reviewers that prefer a natural style of recording, while group B gets 3 reviewers who love that more produced sound? Even though the CDs are comparably just as good, one group will get a lower score and people will get the impression that their CD is subpar when that's not really the case.

I know that I've used a pretty extreme example, but what I'm trying to say is that it seems that a group's score has more to do with them being fortunate enough to have reviewers that like their style of recording, as opposed to receiving a systematic grade.

Personally, I don't really care about what our CD scores, because I think it's a good CD regardless of what it got (although I am pretty stoked that the CD scored pretty well) and I care more about our live performance. I just feel that I've heard so many complaints about RARB's scoring that people are going to stop taking your scores seriously if you don't provide them with a more objective basis for grading.

I realize that truly objective scoring is impossible, but at the same time it would nice if every a cappella group that RARB reviewed was held to the same standard of judging.

Anyway, that's my schpeel. I'm a new a cappella kid, so I hope I didn't come off as too naive and/or ignorant. And for the record, I'm obsessed with RARB reviews. Your website thoroughly entertains me and I thank you for that.

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Postby dr00bles » Fri Sep 26, 2008 1:06 pm

Jack -

Your point is well taken. However, let me try to articulate again that it is not my preference of natural-sounding recordings that resulted in this album getting a 3. I cannot stress enough that it is what this aggressive production RESULTS in that leads me to my opinions. I am not bitter about aggressive production, but when it leads to problems in the final mix, I feel it necessary to call out.

Production debates aside, it's always to some degree about how "fortunate" a group is with what reviewers they get. There are albums on RARB whose reviews span from 5 to 2, so clearly differing opinions are not uncommon. That's why they have multiple reviewers. If you regulate the criteria too much, then there's no point in having 3 people write abotu the same album. Three reviewers, three opinions, three fresh takes.
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Postby matthewnym » Fri Sep 26, 2008 1:19 pm

add the Pickardy Third at the end of a minor tune.


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Postby pujo » Fri Sep 26, 2008 1:37 pm

I have heard that when the stars align and all three reviewers love your cd and you get a 5, Richard Acappella Robertson Bosworth himself comes out of the skies to descend upon your CD and bless its RARB worthy, sounds pretty cool.

I also heard that the numbers done mean anything, and its the experience, or at least thats what my 0-12 little league baseball coach said.

I like that its all diff. My main point is for those who read the last review after the first two and get a really lost feeling as to whether to look into gettin the proj cd or not. Thats where I pop in and go, hey, its actually quite a cappella-ey.

I like your opinion Andrew, its not mine, its yours. Gametime. I also dont think that RARB is here to get an objective view of the cd jacky-boy. I think its more, "hey, heres three different subjective opinions well post online".

I like it, just making myself reviewer number 4.
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Postby dr00bles » Fri Sep 26, 2008 2:39 pm

Thanks for the comments, at any rate. Totally agree that everyone should have their say.
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Postby seth » Fri Sep 26, 2008 3:41 pm

MPJackV wrote:I realize that truly objective scoring is impossible, but at the same time it would nice if every a cappella group that RARB reviewed was held to the same standard of judging.

Whose standard should we use? Groups create their albums using a wide range of standards and listeners bring another diverse set. Standardizing our criteria would reduce surprises, but I'm not sure it would really help anyone. We do define the scope of each scoring category to some degree, and there are sometimes internal discussions about their meaning, but I don't think we'd want to dictate how to decide whether something was good other than to define the context and scope.

The ways in which reviewers disagree are likely to reflect how the rest of us might also disagree if we all had the chance to listen to these albums. I think we benefit from hearing a range of opinions.
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Postby Ed Boyer » Fri Sep 26, 2008 9:29 pm

I hear what everyone is saying about the impossibility of standardizing scores (it's not something I think should be done) and about everyone having a right to his/her own opinion (who would argue that?). I also agree with everyone who's said that reviews should be taken with a grain of salt. But something's still off, and I hope I can explain it.

I'll try an analogy...

If one were reviewing movies for TV or a newspaper, he or she would be expected to judge those movies in terms of their genre, and, to some extent, put aside his/her personal preferences for the sake of servicing the readers/audience.

That said, while character films strive for one thing and action films strive for another, there are some things that ALL movies need to be great (good acting and directing, interesting plot, blah, blah, blah). If the reviewer believes that a production trick interferes with one if those key elements (let's say, for example, that an interaction between a CGI character and a human actor seems unbelievable because the CGI is poorly done) the reviewer should absolutely point that out. That's basically what Andrew is doing when he says he thinks over-compression deprives the recording of its expressiveness. That's all good.

The problem starts when he says he would probably never give a good review to an album with heavy compression or a bass octave. That's like a movie critic saying he would never give a good review to a movie that uses any CGI whatsoever. Or an art critic who, on principal, won't give a good review to anything that isn't representational. Or a political analyst saying Obama/McCain sucks because he is a Democrat/Republican. It's a really fast way to lose credibility and seem like just a dude with an agenda.
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Postby dr00bles » Sat Sep 27, 2008 7:46 am

Ed Boyer wrote:The problem starts when he says he would probably never give a good review to an album with heavy compression or a bass octave. That's like a movie critic saying he would never give a good review to a movie that uses any CGI whatsoever. Or an art critic who, on principal, won't give a good review to anything that isn't representational.


A few things about this point:

1) I said "probably" because there very well might be a recording that uses these effects that floors me, in one way or another.

2) Your analogies are not completely relevant. Here's why: I consider "heavy compression" to be any amount of compression that will strip a group sound of dynamic contrast. To me, dynamics are very important, and listening to 12 songs as one wall of sound is a demerit in my book. Octavized bass often muddies the blend (specifically tone and enunciation) and balance. True, good mixing can still sidestep these issues, but it makes it much more difficult. Again, nothing is absolute. I'd give a "5" to Robot A Cappella if I felt it were deserving.
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Postby jthelegend » Sat Sep 27, 2008 9:14 am

this is going to come out wrong i'm sure...but, it seems that each time you try to defend yourself mr. martino, you open up yet another hole in your logic/argument and insert your foot further down your throat. really not trying to be mean here, but just saying that maybe it would be best to a) wait 'til the hoopla dies a bit before posting and b) really think through your arguments a bit more fully....

again, just trying to help because to the outside reader it looks like you're being rightfully torn apart, and it's hard to give the benefit of the doubt when you keep casting more doubts upon yourself. hope that makes sense. (editing post and continuing below with something a bit more coherent)

------------------------------------------------------------------------
it's more that your comments, at least in my opinion, aren't doing much to show that you *can* separate your beliefs and biases (even if only somewhat) from the content and scoring of your reviews, and frankly, if i were in a college group right now and submitted an album to RARB; i would feel really uncomfortable if your name came up on the review list, and that's where the biggest issue is for me. it feels like you're laying out your hand and exposing all your biases, but not in a manner that is making people feel comfortable in your abilities to separate your personal viewpoints from the realities of the collegiate a cappella reviewing situation.

case & point: if the podunk state university podunkatones were to submit an album to rarb with a few rap covers on it and saw colton's name on the review list...they might worry that he'd say something about his dislike for the medium of expression that is rap music, BUT, would hopefully at least feel comfortable in his ability to give it a numerical score that does not reflect his disdain for the music (as he has shown in his reviews thus far), which is something that, at this juncture, i am not really able to say for you given the content of your reviews.
[not trying to beat a dead horse, but it really doesn't seem as if you're *really* grasping precisely WHAT about your reviews people tend to take issue with, so much as merely paying them lip service in an attempt to quiet them]

lastly, though you love dynamic range...it's pretty much gone in pop records these days. not saying that's a great thing, but it's something to consider when the fact is that most of these groups are covering what they hear on the radio. although, it's cool to have all those *a cappella-y* dynamics in collegiate a cappella recordings...the reality of the situation is that the kids WANT to sound like the songs they're emulating (which are badly compressed, have little to no dynamic range, and ARE tuned within an inch of their lives), so i don't see how actively taking away points for utilizing tools that help them achieve the sound that they wish to achieve [which obviously doesn't prescribe to your notions of what constitutes "a cappella"] is helpful to critiquing their particular artistic vision in any manner.

i would even go in so far as to say that it is unfair and wrong of you to feel you have the right to "impose" your viewpoint upon them by utilizing the inherent power of your scores that you give in RARB reviews to further your naturalistic agenda. i will admit that with this point i'm being a wee bit extreme, but...

again, not trying to unabashedly attack your viewpoint, but i tend to agree with the posters above (boyer, h.f., and a few others) in saying that your reviews to tend to read more as the rants of a pissed off teenage boy than as an actual review of the material presented to you in the light that it's being presented. basically, your job, when you review something, is to review only that which is presented before you and not what you wish was there.
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