Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Got Dope Beats?

The Hipwaders spent last weekend recording the drum tracks for our next album at Studio Trilogy, in San Francisco.  Just prior to recording,  I read an article in Discovery News about the link between dopamine (the “feel good” chemical) and the enjoyment of music.  Apparently, for the same reasons people enjoy sex, gambling, food & drugs, people enjoy music.  This would explain why as a teenager I would head down to Berkeley and buy stacks of used vinyl to fuel my music addiction.  I liked the rush of discovering new music that “moved” me.  This got me thinking about the direction of the material we were about to record.  Producer by default, I’ve always made the executive decisions regarding arrangements of the songs and what instruments to use primarily because I usually write the songs.  With this being
our 5th album of music aimed toward kids (mostly), I’ve made some observations about what has worked best for us in terms of how the songs are arranged.  It seems, like everyone, kids focus on voices and rhythms.  When it comes to instrumentation, simpler seems better.  Children, for the most part, are unsophisticated listeners.  They don’t understand complex melodies and chord progressions as well as experienced listeners , e.g. adults.
In the Discovery News article they explain how people listen to music:

"You're following these tunes and anticipating what's going to come next and whether it's going to confirm or surprise you, and all of these little cognitive nuances are what's giving you this amazing pleasure," said Valorie Salimpoor, a neuroscientist at McGill University in Montreal. "The reinforcement or reward happens almost entirely because of dopamine."

     As you grow older and listen to more music, you’re able to follow more complex music and are capable of withstanding more “tension” prior to “release” in music.  For this reason, I know that as a kid I wouldn’t have enjoyed Captain Beefheart and Pere Ubu as much as I do now. 

     What’s tricky is creating songs - and the recorded arrangement of songs - that allows the anticipation of knowing what’s coming next while still being able to surprise a listener.  If it’s too simplistic it fails to capture listener’s attention.  If it’s too complex, the listener loses interest.  The tight-rope I have to walk is keeping my own interest in the material and still make the material interesting enough to a young listener.

Nick & DJ with our engineer, Willie Samuels
     Fortunately, we’ve been performing these songs for quite a while and are comfortable with the simple guitar/bass/drums arrangements.  With recording, it’s fun to “fill in the spaces” with a lot of other instruments but I think I’m going to make the conscious decision to try and use voices and rhythm instruments prior to other resorting to melodic instruments.  I think leaving as much space as possible so as to not detract from vocal sounds may be the key to keeping a young listener’s attention.  Our engineer, Willie Samuels, has captured amazing drum sounds.  There seems to be a lot of “space” between the drums that I’ve never heard in our recordings prior to this project.  I’d like to continue keeping the arrangements as sparse as possible.  I think it creates music that sounds more timeless.  I can’t wait to see what our next recording session reveals in the music.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

San Francisco, Open Your Golden Gate...

It seems fitting that our last gig was just a short distance from the studio we'll be using to record our next album. San Francisco's Recess Urban Recreation was the setting for a very fun show with some very active preschoolers & toddlers. I'm not sure if these kids have previously been exposed to the power of live rock 'n' roll but they sure seem possessed by it now:

The show was put together and promoted by the biggest Bay Area cheerleader of kids & family music, Deb Evans-Braun (who also recorded the above video). Hopefully, Recess Urban Recreation will continue to bring live music as part of their program for young children. The Bay Area certainly has large pool of talented musicians who bring their different styles of music to the youngest of audiences. A new meeting group is being organized to work together to improve the local family music scene under the name, Let's Play! Bay Area Music Collective. It's an exciting time to be part of the scene and we hope to do what we can to let families know that there's a lot of great live music out there that is best shared with their children.
 In less than a couple of weeks we'll begin recording our 5th official album.  Personally, I'm excited to be recording in San Francisco as it's where I first began performing live - Mabuhay Gardens (aka The Fab Mab) and Sound of Music, anyone?  The energy of the city has always thrilled me.  I hope to document the progress of the album on this blog along with any observations I may have about the Bay Area family music scene.  Let's see what happens!