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RARB/CASA Forums • View topic - The Madison Project - Late Night Drive Thru

The Madison Project - Late Night Drive Thru

All things Recorded A Cappella Review Board.

Postby billhare » Sun Sep 28, 2008 9:43 am

Bill Hare Some dude who records and mixes people who can't play instruments.

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Artwork

Postby username855 » Sun Sep 28, 2008 12:21 pm

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Postby bstevens » Sun Sep 28, 2008 7:35 pm

Benjamin Stevens

CASA Director of Education

Educational Officer for Festivals and Events

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Postby James Gammon » Sun Sep 28, 2008 9:39 pm

James Gammon Productions

www.jamesgammonproductions.com
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Postby dherriges » Sun Sep 28, 2008 9:40 pm

I think the process is about as fair as it reasonably can be... but at the same time I sympathize with a group's concern about getting subjected to a reviewer with a personal agenda. It seems Mr. DiMartino doesn't really see himself as having an agenda aside from evaluating the merits of an album as it stands. His review does come across very strongly as having one, though, and I think that's problematic and something a reviewer needs to recognize and try to avoid.

IMO, the fair way to review an album is to judge its success in attaining the artistic goals it was trying to attain, rather than to judge the merit of those goals themselves. Obviously those goals have to be inferred from the final product... but there are reasonable inferences that can be made. There's no clear line between the two, but to me the way Andrew DiMartino claims to feel about heavily "produced"-sounding albums crosses the line. It's one thing to feel that way, but to slam a group that deliberately chose to make an album with that sound for their choice is a bit unfair.

Things that are clearly a deliberate part of a group's sound or artistic vision should get a pass. No reviewer trashes a punk rock album because he doesn't like punk rock. Or to get more specific than "genre" itself, no reviewer trashes a gangsta rap album for the fact that it has violent imagery in the lyrics. It's assumed that violent imagery is part of what defines the genre, and therefore somewhat immune to criticism - the question is "Is this a good gangsta rap album?" not "Should listeners like gangsta rap at all?" Even though both may be valid questions, one is within the scope of a review of a single album; the other isn't.

Still on the question of "what's a valid question" for a review: it's very common within the music press to see fairly unimaginative top 40 pop albums with mostly inane lyrics get good reviews. Now, pretentious indie snobs like me avoid those albums and stick to music that's making an effort to be art rather than product, but that's not the point. If the artist wasn't aiming for artistic profundity but was trying to make a good album for teenagers to shake their booties to at high school dances, and the artist succeeded laudably in that goal, and the reviewer acknowledges that, I have no problem with it.

As has been pointed out here, rightly or wrongly, contemporary pop music is largely lacking in the sort of "dynamics" that Mr. DiMartino prefers. Many people (including myself) lament this, and would argue that the music industry as a whole has gone in the wrong direction. No problem with making that argument. But a reviewer would rightly be faulted for singling out a specific top 40 album for criticism on this point.

Choral music is still expected to prominently feature large, dramatic dynamic contrasts. But contemporary a cappella is not choral music. And it's inappropriate to apply a choral standard to what is flat out a different genre. The Madison Project, from what I can tell, intended to make an album that sounds like the pop records they're covering. Mr. DiMartino can fault them for their execution of that choice, but it's not fair to fault them for the choice itself. If he's going to do that, to be consistent he has to have a vendetta against the vast majority of the albums RARB receives for review, and at that point, it's a "genre" issue and he should stick to reviewing more traditionalist, choral CDs.
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Postby phenylphenol » Mon Sep 29, 2008 1:50 pm

@ james cannon:

First, you would do well to get Andrew's name right.

Second, your post is ridiculous. Starting with "really not trying to be mean here" and following it with what you're "just saying" is pretty silly, especially when you go on to argue circularly around like a dog chasing its tail, while thinking you're drawing on some kind of outside perspective. "To the outside reader it looks like you're being rightfully torn apart" isn't an argument, or evidence -- it's an assertion that you fail to back up.

Third, your arguments are garbage. You start by criticizing Mr. DiMartino by complaining that his stated biases aren't worded in such a way as to put a participating group at ease, and implicitly assume that it's important to separate personal viewpoints from "realities" of the reviewing situation. This is horse dung, and you should know it. I applaud Mr. DiMartino for acknowledging his opinion, having the courtesy of enumerating his stance, and the integrity to stick by it. Meanwhile, you sound like a naif clinging to some imaginary concept of even-handedness in what is obviously a completely subjective field.

This pliability of cultural standards and preferences being the case, your opposition to a different standard of judgment amounts to oppression of cultural heterogenaeity and a willful squelching of dialogue. You should also know that the phrase is "case in point", and of these I shall offer one: you cite the continuing degradation of sound fidelity in pop records as a defense of the degradation of sound fidelity in a cappella recordings. You seem to be didactically defending an ailing status quo by might of its prevalence rather than its merit. I think it's unwise to throw in the towel so quickly, but what's more important is that it's inappropriate for you to morally mandate that ALL reviewers follow you over that cliff.

"unfair and wrong" of him to "impose" his viewpoint? You are deluding yourself if you think that HE is the one making any kind of imposition -- unless you think having a contrary opinion to your own (and one based in reasoned thought no less!) constitutes imposition. It's quite obvious that his views are in the minority; otherwise, there wouldn't be multiple threads and posts addressing the controversy.

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Some Guy Who Used To Do A Cappella
Last edited by phenylphenol on Tue Sep 30, 2008 11:30 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Postby phenylphenol » Mon Sep 29, 2008 1:51 pm

@ billhare:

You offer a great perspective on the nature of RARB and how it's all laid out. I agree that it's becoming more along the lines of "Comparing to the body of RARB Reviewers". It's time for RARB to go viral, and open up the review board to any number of reviewers. The failure is in that only three or four are picked to review an album. If you truly want RARB to reflect real life opinion, then it's important that you rewrite your website to accommodate an Amazon-like system of reviews.

Allowing groups to veto (anticipatedly bad) reviews of their own albums, though, is a bad idea.

You are wise to mention the importance of compression to compensate for road noise! However, I don't think this is solely the reason that dynamic range has been all but squeezed out of modern records: in the late 80s people heard their music over the grumble of the pavement just fine. Rather, it's a fight for the loudest single, and the one that sounds much more present and noticeable amongst the morass. Compression was first applied systematically by radio stations themselves, in order to address this (and to provide a usable signal for the dinky little transistor radios), but soon enough, producers got wise to the idea. Nowadays, each label and single is competing against every other single, and taking the entire boat down with them. A failure of the unregulated free market.

RARB and similar bodies, though, have the potential to regulate the market, by allowing for active dissent to this horrible practice, and educating the consumer as to its effects. This is what DiMartino is attempting to do.

Yuri
Last edited by phenylphenol on Tue Sep 30, 2008 10:36 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby phenylphenol » Mon Sep 29, 2008 1:51 pm

@James Gammon:

Yes, he signed up to review albums for a website that deals with modern albums -- and you are short-sighted enough to criticize him for doing so because of his desire to change it for the better!? How absurd! That's akin to criticizing somebody for running for elected office because they want to reform government. However, I can see why you'd take that view.

Your status as a collegiate a cappella "producer" instantly disqualifies you from making an unbiased judgment in the merits of "production"; your opinion is going to be influenced by it, consciously or not. While I can't speak for Mr. DiMartino, I know that I personally chose not to go into a field where my clients are college students. As such, I would much prefer listening to records in which you can still hear the voices, work, rehearsal, heart and soul of the students themselves, instead of a contracted non-student non-group member who was paid handily to push faders up and down.

I abhor the direction of collegiate a cappella precisely because it has been inadvertently hijacked by well-meaning entrepreneurs.

On a more personal level, I really really enjoyed Scantily Plaid when it came out, and took a lot of inspiration from a lot of the tracks, including Kate. It was more produced than I would have preferred, but the enthusiasm and musicality showed through. Props.

Yuri
Last edited by phenylphenol on Tue Sep 30, 2008 10:36 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Postby phenylphenol » Mon Sep 29, 2008 1:53 pm

@dherriges:

I see your point about how groups would feel wronged, or very unlucky, should they submit a heavily-produced recording, and DiMartino slams it. You make some good points and frame the argument well. I'd like to extend on that by throwing in a question of one of the underlying assumptions about collegiate a cappella.

To me, the more important point here is that while some groups might feel "shortchanged" of some thousands of dollars spent, is incredibly important in redirecting the focus of what a student cappella should be all about. We've gone so far over the deep end towards production and studio wizardry that nobody feels they can produce a nationally-recognizable album without substantial monetary investment. This is not fair, not educational, and most certainly not in the spirit of celebration of music.

_________________
Yuri Broze
Some Guy Who Used To Do A Cappella
Last edited by phenylphenol on Tue Sep 30, 2008 10:44 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby phenylphenol » Mon Sep 29, 2008 1:53 pm

In my perfect world, recorded collegiate a cappella would do as much as it could to support the art form itself as it is on stage, and what it represents as a tremendous learning opportunity for students. This education can be musical, social, performance-based, in business... anything! My concern with producing albums so heavily is that it devalues the products of an excellent musical education.

A heavily-produced recording:
- Will not acknowledge hard work on the part of singers to stay in tune, sing rhythms accurately, maintain good tone and blend, match vowels, or even experiment with fun ways to manipulate their vocal timbre to create effects. This includes basses who have worked hard to round out, support, and project their tone without swallowing it.
- Does not allow an accomplished beatboxer to show his or her competence and successes in having a large vocabulary of sounds, and impeccable rhythmic integrity.
- Misplaces the priorities that should be on the mind of arrangers: The best arrangements are easy and fun to sing, tend to heighten chorister's abilities, and teach them something new about music. They open up singers' ears and make them think hard about the vowels. Some of them put some singers on the spot to teach them how to take responsibility for and lead their section. Over-production hides the value of smart vowel choices with fuzz pedals, and wipes away interesting and dynamic textures with a brush of compression.
- Hides the efforst of the music director to teach his or her singers all of these skills and successfully inspire and lead the group.

Now, there are many groups out there who simply are not as good, and WILL NOT be able to get anywhere near the standard of excellence set by the best groups, unless they resort to sequencing their drums, autotuning their vocals, and the rest of the mess. The problem is, RARB continues to REWARD this behavior, legitimizing the effect of money in "rescuing" a group of talentless bad singers (of course, I'm generalizing to extremes for the sake of argument).

Without any penalty for resorting to these studio tricks, we are encouraging students to abandon their education in music (as listed above) in favor of becoming money-making machines. In doing this, we are encouraging a practice that LOWERS the quality of a cappella on stage in college.

Let me repeat: by supporting highly-produced albums, we are LOWERING the quality of stage performance.

And on top of that, we're placing more and more artistic control in the hands of a producer who is five, ten, or more years OUT of college... and rewarding them for it!

-------
That was a long rant, but I love a cappella music too much to see its incredible potential as an educational tool for students, AND as a fun time for all audiences to see it slip away and get bastardized into the latest "I Kissed A Girl" single.

I have enumerated MY reasons for disliking production (on top of the ones Mr. DiMartino already mentioned). But all I would ask is that you allow reviewers to review based on their judgment of the work that's presented. That's the whole point. You guys are going to disagree with each other. But don't fight about whether or not it's okay to disagree.

_________________
Yuri Broze
Some Guy Who Used To Do A Cappella
Last edited by phenylphenol on Tue Sep 30, 2008 10:44 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby jazzydanziger » Mon Sep 29, 2008 2:18 pm

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Postby dekesharon » Mon Sep 29, 2008 2:49 pm

- Deke Sharon • 800.579.9305 • http://www.dekesharon.com

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Postby phenylphenol » Mon Sep 29, 2008 3:13 pm

Last edited by phenylphenol on Tue Sep 30, 2008 10:43 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby billhare » Mon Sep 29, 2008 3:17 pm

Last edited by billhare on Mon Sep 29, 2008 3:31 pm, edited 3 times in total.

Bill Hare Some dude who records and mixes people who can't play instruments.

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Postby sparkleytone » Mon Sep 29, 2008 3:19 pm

Brent Stephens, BAMF
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