Over-engineering Musical Solutions

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StupidFans

One of the more interesting aspects of living in Europe compared to the US, is how differently they build things.  Lots more concrete, no drywall, attention to air quality inside, more stringent energy saving devices, etc.  Of course, sometimes better is not always better.

Case in point.  The bathroom in our new apartment has a fan and vent system that’s tied into the overhead light.  When you turn on the main bathroom light, after a few seconds the fans in the vents start.  This provides not only fresh air, but also helps get rid of any moisture in the air after say a shower, preventing mold building up and the like.  It’s a great idea on paper, however the people who designed it over-engineered the concept because said fan will stay on for up to 30 minutes after you turn off the light.  Even if you only turn on the light for a few seconds.  And it’s very loud, so loud you can hear it in all of the other rooms.  To the point where it’s extremely annoying, and it basically creates a larger problem than it solves.

As a result, instead of being a practical solution we appreciate having and use frequently, my wife and rarely use the overhead light in the bathroom and instead use the much dimmer one built into the wall.    The point of this post isn’t just to whine about my new bathroom though, because I see music producers doing the same thing all the time when it comes to writing music.

For instance, people will be working to make two instruments sit together better in a mix by using some EQ on both parts.   They’ll go to great lengths to create these radical and steep EQ shapes that precisely isolate specific frequencies, and yes the sounds do fit together better afterwards.  But at the same time, they also lack any warmth or presence, making the mix sound thin and anemic.  They’ve in effect not just fixed a problem, but created a worse one in the process.

Another example I’ve seen has to do with a song’s arrangement.  I was mastering some music for a couple of DJs, and they had written their music so that every 8 bars was more or less a perfect loop.  The thinking was that this way DJs could just pick and choose their favorite parts of the song, loop those, and ignore everything else.

It sounds like an interesting idea on paper, but when you’d hear the songs from start to end, they sounded very disjointed and just didn’t flow that well.  It sounded like…. well a collection of loops.  It was doubtful any DJs would buy the tracks in the first place as they were, much less spend time pulling out their favorite loops.  Luckily I was able to make some suggestions to make things flow a little better, and there was still the ability to grab loops of the important parts of the songs if DJs wanted.  We had to un-engineer the tracks if you will.

There’s dozens of other examples we can all think of I’m sure, but point of all this is just to keep in mind that sometimes the best solution is one that is just good enough to fix the problem.  That putting too much thought and planning into something can occasionally take a good idea and turn it into something that lacks the soul that made the idea good in the first place.  It’s good to step back once in awhile and rethink what you’re doing, make sure that it still solves your problem without creating new ones you didn’t perhaps realize were a possibility before.

Too much of a good thing can sometimes be a bad thing as they say.

Until next time, peace and beats.
Erik

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