Stanford Mixed Company - Yours Truly

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Stanford Mixed Company - Yours Truly

Postby dherriges » Sat Feb 06, 2010 8:50 am

Thanks to Elie, Kimmie and Catherine for the time and effort put into reviewing our album! Much appreciated, you guys.

A correction, a comment, and a question:

Correction, to Elie Landau's review: the arranger of "Fired" is Patrick Ardinger, not Chris Ardinger.

Comment: Re: Kimmie's review - "Bill (and this is subjective) occasionally oversteps his boundaries by creating patches of interestingness in no way offered by the singers themselves." In fact, the patches you're talking about were very much our idea - Magali and I, as the two group members present for mixing, approached Bill with a sort of proposed production vision for certain songs. In the case of "When Doves Cry," I actually re-arranged the song for the studio very much with that vision in mind - the extended bridge was conceived largely as you hear it on the CD before we got to Bill's. Not to say whether you should like or dislike the things we did with those tracks, but want to be clear that in this case, we asked him to "overstep his boundaries" - for example, with thunder and rain on "Every Time It Rains" and the "lost in space" motif of "Apologize" - in ways that, I still feel, enhance rather than distract from the songs.

Question, which I really hope doesn't sound whiny or defensive:

I see two main thrusts to the more negative comments in these reviews - 1. the soloists lack passion / emotional investment in their material, and 2. the material itself reflects questionable choices. Both fair criticisms. What I am VERY surprised by is to see an overall "Innovation / Creativity" score of 3 - and a 2 from Kimmie - on an album where I very much thought the innovation of the arrangements was its defining feature. As the most prolific arranger on this album, I made it an artistic goal to reinvent well-known songs like "When Doves Cry" and "I Will Follow You Into The Dark" as something utterly different - sort of genre experiments if you will. Even the less radical arrangements on the album, such as "No One" and "Apologize," change the character of their source material without overhauling it. I fully expected these arrangements to be a bit polarizing / "love it or hate it." But I'm very surprised to hear Kimmie mention "lackluster soloists and mediocre arrangements" in the same breath, without much detail as to what makes these arrangements mediocre. Flawed, certainly, but that comment almost sounds as if they're nondescript, which I guess puzzles me.

Kimmie, if you'd be willing to elaborate just a bit on what you found mediocre about the arrangements on "Yours Truly," I'd love a bit more illumination there. I'm sure you're busy and I realize you already volunteered your time to review the album, so if you can't that's fine. =)
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Re: Stanford Mixed Company - Yours Truly

Postby autumnshades » Sat Feb 06, 2010 7:17 pm

dherriges wrote:What I am VERY surprised by is to see an overall "Innovation / Creativity" score of 3 - and a 2 from Kimmie - on an album where I very much thought the innovation of the arrangements was its defining feature.


It's been a while since I wrote my review, so some of my thought process isn't completely fresh in my mind.... but.... to the best of my memory, what brought me to a "3" was more of an average of all the songs. Some songs definitely deserved a 4 in that category, but a lot were (in my opinion) definitely solid 3s there, so that brought the overall innovation/creativity score down to a 3.

For me: song choice definitely factors in to that score as much as arrangement style/creativity. And from my perspective, I didn't hear the group really doing radically creative interpretations of some of the more common songs.

That said - there was a lot on this album that I DID enjoy. I didn't put this in my review, but when I first got the album, I skipped right to your "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" and listened to that one several times before I went back and listened to the rest of the album. There was a lot on this album that was really quite good; I just think there were a few things that could've made it really GREAT. And I look forward to hearing what the group does next!

Catherine Lewis freelance writer & photographer http://www.autumnshades.com

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Re: Stanford Mixed Company - Yours Truly

Postby dherriges » Sun Feb 07, 2010 11:06 pm

autumnshades wrote:For me: song choice definitely factors in to that score as much as arrangement style/creativity. And from my perspective, I didn't hear the group really doing radically creative interpretations of some of the more common songs.


Fair point. I think that happened in part because Mixed Company operates under a system in which anyone can propose a song and put it to a group vote - meaning arrangers typically choose the songs they're going to arrange. My preferred arranging style is creative reinterpretation. My music tastes skew pretty indie. I didn't arrange any of the more recognizable songs on the album, except for When Doves Cry.

I would love to see Mixed Co release a CD that's very deliberately conceived from start to finish - but that's of course a very difficult thing for a large college group to do. Too many cooks. Hopefully your review feedback provides a little push in the direction of more thoughtful album planning.

autumnshades wrote:There was a lot on this album that was really quite good; I just think there were a few things that could've made it really GREAT. And I look forward to hearing what the group does next!


Thanks - it's heartening to hear that. I think the reviews, especially on first impression and especially to group members who aren't RARB dorks like me, can read as pretty harsh. Thanks for taking the time and for thoughtful feedback that the group can hopefully take to heart!

Mixed Co's quite proud of this latest album - and as the primary arranger I certainly am. I think we took some risks, made some potentially polarizing musical choices, and if some of it's hit-or-miss, well, the knowledge that a complete stranger is nonetheless looking forward to hearing what they do next means a lot to a 24-year old group that's had its ups and downs. =)
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Re: Stanford Mixed Company - Yours Truly

Postby davecharliebrown » Mon Feb 08, 2010 7:21 am

dherriges wrote:I would love to see Mixed Co release a CD that's very deliberately conceived from start to finish - but that's of course a very difficult thing for a large college group to do. Too many cooks.

Amen. Most of the considerate, thoughtful music directors and arrangers in the collegiate realm share this very same goal and concern. Just this past weekend at the ICCA QF at Cornell, I had this exact conversation with two different groups.

Some groups have overcome this issue by placing most of their trust (in a given year, or even two years) in one single musical brain. The group doesn't follow blindly like lemmings, but they do trust that one director to lead the way, rather than making everything so democratic. The result is usually a much more cohesive--and usually much more professional--sound. The downside is that not every voice gets heard, not as many people learn as much, blah blah.

There's nothing wrong with the democratic system, but you're right that it does tend to be scattered. It's par for the course.

Interestingly, from what I've observed, the groups that go furthest in the recorded realm (as measured by RARB scores and CARA nominations) and in the live realm (as measured by ICHSA and ICCA and Harmony Sweepstakes wins) tend to follow the one-leader approach.
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Re: Stanford Mixed Company - Yours Truly

Postby autumnshades » Mon Feb 08, 2010 7:44 am

dherriges wrote:Mixed Company operates under a system in which anyone can propose a song and put it to a group vote - meaning arrangers typically choose the songs they're going to arrange. My preferred arranging style is creative reinterpretation. My music tastes skew pretty indie. I didn't arrange any of the more recognizable songs on the album, except for When Doves Cry.


The other thing to think about, as far as song choice goes (and this goes for all groups, not just this one!), is your live concert vs. recorded repertoire. And I think it comes to knowing your audience. Much has been written about the "yearbook" album for family/friends, but that's what it boils down to-- your family/friends will probably love a pretty straightforward version of "Moondance": it's a great song, it's familiar, etc. It probably goes over very well at concerts too. But is it the best choice for, say, an ICCA performance or an album that you're hoping to WOW the RARB reviewers/CARA folks? Maybe if you do something wildly different with it, yes. But otherwise, you're going to be met with the reaction, "Oh, I've heard this before."

So I think that what it comes down to is: what kind of group do you want to be? Whom are you trying to impress in live and recorded form? If your goal is just to have fun and do some gigs around campus and put out a CD that captures that, then it might not matter. (and FYI - there is nothing wrong with having those goals! it can just get frustrating for some people who have different goals to be in a "let's just have fun" type of group-- and trust me, I've been that person in a number of my different musical endeavors over the years.)

If your goal is to compete-- and to compete WELL-- at ICCAs, and/or become a serious CARA contender, then your group will likely benefit from having one single person with the vision to get you there (as Dave so nicely outlined above). Someone who's an expert in where the bar is that you'd have to meet. Daniel, you posted something interesting:

group members who aren't RARB dorks like me

That comment might require a little unpacking-- and not to project too much on the members of your group, but that means that either they're not aware of the aca-world/community, or they're aware of it and they just don't care (see also, "just want to have fun", above). And there's nothing wrong with either camp, but it helps to know what kind of group you're in, to help define your goals/expectations for where your group is headed (perhaps more to manage your own expectations so that you don't get frustrated). Or, they may just be happy with singing whatever-- whether it's commonly-done songs like "Moondance", "Fix You", etc., OR random indie-rock covers {and trust me, nothing would make me happier!}-- they're just happy to sing whatever you put in front of them.

Anyway - sorry to ramble on so long. I don't mean any of this to come across as specific criticisms of Mixed Company at all; just things to think about, for ANY group, really.... and reading Dave's post above got me thinking. And ultimately, you put a lot of time and effort into this album, and it shows-- and i'm happy to continue talking about it for as long as you'd like. (Feel free to read that as: "Catherine has no life and really just enjoys nerding out about music.")

Catherine Lewis freelance writer & photographer http://www.autumnshades.com

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Postby uscpossum » Tue Mar 02, 2010 4:38 pm

So sorry for my super late response. Just returning to RARB from "maternity leave" (put into quotes because this is a volunteer gig and all). However, Catherine said exactly what I would have anyhow. Specifically, it was the album as a whole that contained a lot of "nothing new here".

It never initially bothers me to see well-loved songs land on albums. A cappella is, by and large, about singing covers. Some wish this weren't the case, but realistically, it's what we've got. It's what we do. I love hearing dramatic risks taken on standards like "Moondance", or even just cool ideas on modern hits that everyone wants to sing. "Yours Truly" didn't get there for me, and I found it a touch less inventive than what many other collegiate groups are putting out these days, garnering a 2. I do appreciate you telling me about the "patches", however. I'll be more careful not to assume the engineer is always behind such ideas!

On the argument for one arranger, I've always loved that college groups can have such a huge amount of people working toward one album. I do agree that having one arranger equates to a more cohesive sound, but not necessarily stronger work. Just depends on how skilled that arranger is, of course. Most college a cappella singers end their a cappella experience in college, so having a shot at arranging isn't such a bad thing, for better or worse.
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Postby billhare » Tue Mar 02, 2010 9:49 pm

goodnightLA wrote:I'll be more careful not to assume the engineer is always behind such ideas!


The next question is "does it really matter if an idea comes from a producer and not the group?" After all, that's what a producer is - someone with a lot more experience than the artist, to keep them from making the same mistakes the producer has seen others make thousands of times.

When George Martin arranged a string quartet part for "Yesterday", did the Beatles suddenly suck since they obviously got some help? I mean, John, George, and Ringo had nothing to do with that one at all - how can they put "The Beatles" as the name of the group on the record?? :-)

Sometimes the producer follows the lead of the artist, sometimes vice-versa, but most of the time it's a true collaboration.

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Postby seth » Wed Mar 03, 2010 12:43 pm

billhare wrote:The next question is "does it really matter if an idea comes from a producer and not the group?"

This is like asking whether it matters if a sound came from a voice or not. If you only care about what a product sounds like, then it doesn't mater. If you also care about how it came to be, then maybe it does matter to you.

People like to pretend that groups do everything for themselves because it fits a certain romantic notion of an artist, and makes for a good story of the art. And it factors heavily in people's judgements about it. Often the best thing you can say about a group is that they're pretty good for a bunch a kids doing it all themselves. How much outside help can they accept before you can't say that anymore? How much before they can't even think it about themselves and feel good about (and ownership over) what they've done? A small contribution from a producer is unlikely to push any of this over the edge, and I'm sure part of the problem is that people don't understand how commercial music is made, but in general I think people do care about this topic, even if they approach it with misconceptions. People want the art's provenance to tell a compelling story.

As for the Beatles, I think most people who enjoy their music assume they wrote all of it themselves. That's the story, and that's the image.
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Postby phollens » Thu Mar 04, 2010 11:52 am

Seth wrote:
billhare wrote:The next question is "does it really matter if an idea comes from a producer and not the group?"

This is like asking whether it matters if a sound came from a voice or not.


I don't agree with that, in the end the goal isn't to try to keep yourself in this little protective bubble and only allow the MD or group members input. Then there would be little reason to ever send your album to Dio, Bill, Gammon Etc to mix it! There would be no reason to ever ask past alumni for help with arrangements, or professional arrangers like Deke and Co...

Professionals hire everyone possible around them to allow their art form to take shape and really push themselves farther. Why on earth would we want to shackle our collective creative juices on a collegiate album? From the recording engineer, to the person editing, to the mixer and especially the producer, you should always allow those around you to bring out the best in your performance, your cd, your arrangements. Make your album the best it can be, and use those around you with experience to enhance it.
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Postby seth » Thu Mar 04, 2010 2:24 pm

PHollens wrote:
Seth wrote:This is like asking whether it matters if a sound came from a voice or not.

I don't agree with that, in the end the goal isn't to try to keep yourself in this little protective bubble and only allow the MD or group members input.

I'm not advocating doing everything yourself and ignoring anyone who might help you learn or improve. I'm just saying it matters to people who created something.

PHollens wrote:Why on earth would we want to shackle our collective creative juices on a collegiate album?

Why wouldn't you just pick up a guitar if you want a guitar sound?

While some people have grown to prefer the sound of a dozen voices, studio-engineered for extra richness, it's an acquired taste, and people acquire it because they like the way that kind of music is made. Generally newcomers don't hear a college-group cover and think "that sounds so much better than the original", they think "that's not what I'm used to, but it's cool that they can do that just with their voices".

How many times have people here argued about Code Red? And how many times has Bill explained to people that his contribution was less transformative than they imagined? None of these discussions could change how the album sounded; they were all about how that sound was created.

I'm not saying you shouldn't look outside the group for expertise. But when people ask how much of an album came from the group vs the people they hired, this is not a pointless question (even though it might be a complex one). People want to understand who created it, and it matters because it affects how they appreciate it.
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