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RARB/CASA Forums • View topic - UMass Dynamics- Barking Mad review/ "energy" in recordings?

UMass Dynamics- Barking Mad review/ "energy" in recordings?

All things Recorded A Cappella Review Board.

UMass Dynamics- Barking Mad review/ "energy" in recordings?

Postby patrickwatson » Fri Jan 21, 2011 1:35 pm

Hey everybody,

So the latest review on RARB is of the latest album from the UMass Dynamics, you can read it here:



I'm a co-music director of the group, an arranger, and a co-producer of this album. I'm not here to whine about poor reviews, although I was a bit puzzled by them. A common sentiment among all the reviewers was that the album was very nice and listenable but that it lacked energy, save for the final track of the album, a rather ambitious medley (if I may say so myself) of Kanye West songs which received unusually high praise from all the reviewers. You can listen to it here:

To see if you might agree with the critics, here are a few more YouTube links of songs from the album:
I Wanna Dance with Somebody by Whitney Houston:
Man In The Mirror by Michael Jackson:
White Room by Cream:
Breakable by Ingrid Michaelson:
Where To Now, St. Peter? by Elton John:

That's nearly half the album! So that should be a good enough sample.

I sat in on over 90% of all the recording sessions that we did with each individual singer (about 16 in our group at the time). In each session I gave critiques and direction to make each singer give their best performance, to be full of energy, verve and personality. We had the album professionally recorded and produced with some of the best equipment available. Yet the critical opinion is that the album is mostly lifeless. My question is, what do you have to do to get the energy of a live performance with the precision that you need for a recording? What are good examples of recordings with "energy"?

Thanks,

Patrick Watson
UMass Dynamics, Co-Music Director, Arranger 2006-2011
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Re: UMass Dynamics- Barking Mad review/ "energy" in recordin

Postby johnhe » Fri Jan 21, 2011 5:58 pm

John He
Executive Producer |
Music Director |
Nominator & Judge |
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Re: UMass Dynamics- Barking Mad review/ "energy" in recordin

Postby patrickwatson » Fri Jan 21, 2011 11:08 pm

Thank you very much for your response.

When I used the word "precision", I was talking about mainly rhythm and pitch. The way we recorded the album is we holed all 17 of us up in a large house for a week and a half, beginning each day by recording the solo scratch track, VP elements and bass parts. The singers would record with a dressed up midi, a provisionary percussion track and the scratch solo playing into the headphones. Next we would record the tenors, altos, sopranos, and then we would record the final version of the solo that evening. After that we would add "sprinkles", last minute ideas for the arrangements, little back up parts or harmonies we had come up with over the time we have been performing the songs. The number of parts in each arrangement ranged from 6-16. After the week and a half of recording was done would come the months-long work for the producer to put it all together. Due to the vast swath of work involved in sorting out all the recordings, it was prudent to try and get every performance recorded as close to the final product as possible, without needing a ton of little corrections for every singer, in every part, in every song which would make a massive tedious job that much more massive and tedious. And that meant making sure each singer sang their part correctly as well as with the appropriate attitude/feeling or sensitivity, which I thought I made sure of for both. I was sure that we were striking a good balance, but critical opinion says otherwise. If that isn't the way you do it, then how is it done? How do you achieve the best balance between accuracy and energy? They shouldn't necessarily be mutually exclusive, but that appears to be the paradigm in which the album was judged. Do the singers really have to party and drink Red Bull before singing happy energetic songs, and should I really be breaking them down to tears before singing a sad song or giving a motivational speech before they sing an inspirational song? Is that what people do? How do you coax an accurate performance with energy?
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Re: UMass Dynamics- Barking Mad review/ "energy" in recordin

Postby billhare » Sat Jan 22, 2011 3:03 pm

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

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Re: UMass Dynamics- Barking Mad review/ "energy" in recordin

Postby jmille22 » Sat Jan 22, 2011 5:44 pm

Don't call me an expert, but these are some of my favorites for their intense, gripping performances. These all made me sit up and LISTEN because in addition to being precise, they convey an emotion.

Cornell Chordials - The Moment I Said It
Cadence - Don't Fix What's Broken
Tufts Beelzebubs - Vehicle
UNC Clef Hangers - Feelin' Good
Any track recorded by Firedrill!

And, of course:

Moosebutter - I Hate Mosquitoes

:)

For an example of hyper-precise yet still emotional, see:

transit - Hide and Seek
Last edited by jmille22 on Mon Jan 24, 2011 7:28 am, edited 2 times in total.

Jay Miller
University of Rochester Alum
Dept. of Mechanical Engineering
B.S. '08/M.S. '09
www.shminaminoo.com
After Hours Co-Ed A Cappella
Business Manager '05-'08
Member '05-'09
www.URAfterHours.net
www.youtube.com/URAfterHours

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Re: UMass Dynamics- Barking Mad review/ "energy" in recordin

Postby johnhe » Sat Jan 22, 2011 6:07 pm

+1 to everything Bill says. "Energy" has become "that word" that you use to describe a good performance, but "performance" and "emotion" are probably better descriptors.

I'd be interested to know about the rest of your production process. Perhaps working with an editor in the future will allow you to worry less about getting it "close to the final product." If you aren't able to afford an editor, perhaps picking up some of the tools to edit (tuning, rhythm correction, etc.) would be beneficial in the future.

In terms of getting a good performance out of every singer, one thing that I've found practically is singing in very short phrases. It allows singers to put everything they've got into the performance for those couple of bars. If every little bit is sung with 110%, then the whole product should be full of life, emotion, and all that good stuff.
John He
Executive Producer |
Music Director |
Nominator & Judge |
johnhe
 
Posts: 108
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Location: Los Angeles, CA

Re: UMass Dynamics- Barking Mad review/ "energy" in recordin

Postby dekesharon » Sat Jan 22, 2011 7:32 pm

One important consideration in this heady brew of perfection vs energy: you can have both.

Background parts, especially those filling the role of instruments are able to be super-tweaked without losing passion.

On the other hand, the lead vocal should be imperfect. Needs to be imperfect. Sometimes more than you're comfortable with, especially if it's you singing, or your group and you're engineering (because you're going to feel as though the "error" is a reflection of your talent).

Everything else you track wants to fall somewhere in between: A rhythm guitar part can be super clean... unless it's a funky line that wants to be a bit out, or a lead guitar part that would be bent and often land in the cracks.

Oh heck, who am I fooling. It's all just a big messy process in which there are no rules. Only taste, and finesse, and decisions. Many decisions.

Just don't always make the decision to tune, or else you'll end up with a giant shiny crystalline tower that's perhaps a little cold and unwelcoming. Unless it isn't. But it probably will be. To some people. But then again not to others.

So there.

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

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Re: UMass Dynamics- Barking Mad review/ "energy" in recordin

Postby patrickwatson » Sat Jan 22, 2011 10:40 pm

Thank you very much for your responses!

Bill - Funny you mention Voices Only...We actually did have a track from our last album featured on Voices Only in 2008, and "Love Games" received even harsher reviews than "Barking Mad"!

johnhe- Well the producer was the editor- he did everything, he was the recording engineer and the producer. I don't know much about what went into production- those are his trade secrets. We trusted him to assemble the best takes from every singer since we know he has good musical instincts as a musician himself, and it was pretty obvious sometimes which takes were the best, which we would note right after we finished recording. Once he came to his first complete drafts, the drafts were circulated to the music directors and we would make comments and suggestions till we were really happy with it and then he would come to the final mix. On the last album "Love Games" we had Randi Stanley do most of the arrangements, we consulted her on the couple of original arrangements we had, and then she gave input on the drafts. This time around for "Barking Mad" all the arrangements were done by members of the group and a couple by another student arranger. I was kind of insistent that we really try to do everything ourselves, but now I wonder if I should have looked for an outside opinion while we were at the stage of reviewing drafts.

We did often record songs in sections instead of trying to get one perfect take the whole way through, definitely helped for some tricky parts.

jmille22- Thanks a lot I will definitely check out the list!

Mr. Sharon - Thanks for responding! I'm a big fan of yours, your arrangements have such a Bach-like clockwork perfection to them that really inspired me in my own approach to arranging. While the reviews weren't so positive for the album, I managed to get a couple of positive shoutouts from the reviewers for my arranging, so I see that as yet more evidence of your enduring bonifying influence in a cappella. ::fanboy gratuitous praise over::. I think you're right. I'm beginning to truly understand what I only passively accepted as true before, which is just what you said, there are no rules, just decisions. There isn't really a list of things that necessarily guarantee something to be a success, you just get there. Having said that though, I stand by my work on the album.
patrickwatson
 
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Re: UMass Dynamics- Barking Mad review/ "energy" in recordin

Postby billhare » Sun Jan 23, 2011 10:10 am

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

billhare
 
Posts: 2002
Joined: Thu Feb 13, 2003 11:14 am
Location: Silicon Valley, CA

Re: UMass Dynamics- Barking Mad review/ "energy" in recordin

Postby patrickwatson » Sun Jan 23, 2011 10:35 am

Thanks for those points Bill, I will have to get back to you later today when I have more time but I can quickly tell you that Jack Ludden of PolyTone Studios was our producer. He recently had to change the name of his business but you can see his site at pinewoodproductions.net.
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Re: UMass Dynamics- Barking Mad review/ "energy" in recordin

Postby dekesharon » Sun Jan 23, 2011 10:43 am

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

dekesharon
 
Posts: 1585
Joined: Fri Jun 13, 2003 8:01 am
Location: San Francisco

Re: UMass Dynamics- Barking Mad review/ "energy" in recordin

Postby patrickwatson » Sun Jan 23, 2011 5:59 pm

I was going to write some more but after reading what you, Bill, and Deke have to say, well basically I just wish I could do the forum equivalent of pressing "like" on Facebook. Thank you so much for taking the time to offer your thoughts, I really appreciate it.
patrickwatson
 
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Re: UMass Dynamics- Barking Mad review/ "energy" in recordin

Postby johnhe » Sun Jan 23, 2011 9:38 pm

John He
Executive Producer |
Music Director |
Nominator & Judge |
johnhe
 
Posts: 108
Joined: Mon Mar 09, 2009 12:48 pm
Location: Los Angeles, CA

Re: UMass Dynamics- Barking Mad review/ "energy" in recordin

Postby WildGuess » Tue Feb 08, 2011 10:47 am

Dear Mr. Watson,

We are a new a capella vocalgroup from Holland and we listened to Umass Dynamics and we like them very much so we are wondering if you could bring us in contact with them because we want to make our repertoire bigger. Could you help us?

With kind regards, Wild Guess.
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Re: UMass Dynamics- Barking Mad review/ "energy" in recordin

Postby patrickwatson » Tue Feb 08, 2011 3:42 pm

Wild Guess,

Uhm, sure! My email is patrickianwatson@gmail.com, feel free to email me more details and I'll see what we can do.
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