Staff Top 10
Top Ten Ways to Make Better Records

By: Nick Southall
2007-10-01



Posted 10/01/2007 - 09:40:39 AM by markrushton:
 11. Don't turn it up to "11".
 
Posted 10/01/2007 - 12:10:35 PM by Bertson:
 "Also, please, please, please don’t fill 80 minutes of a CD just because you can; a concise 40 minutes is almost always preferable to a meandering 75. " This one should have been an entirely separate point, I think it needs that much emphasis. I had hoped that the resurgence in singles due to mp3, and the consequent return of the B-side/non-album cut would mean that people would finally stop shovelling every single thing they recorded onto their albums in order to get it released somehow, but it doesn't seem to have had any appreciable impact on reducing the number of albums that are just plain TOO FUCKING LONG.
 
Posted 10/01/2007 - 12:54:08 PM by florenz6:
 Seen in retrospect, Robert Wyatt has realized most of these rules including the wisdom to add some personal (oblique) strategies. Maybe that´s one of the things that "Comic Opera" is, in my modest opinion, the best album of 2007. The other thing is (no chance for simulation) - genius at work! This response is not so far-fetched, because RW has done some so-called lo-fi-albums like "Old Rottenhat" or "Dondestan" that can still blow you away with their excellence in funny contrast to all the common over-blown synthetic formulas.
 
Posted 10/01/2007 - 02:32:27 PM by bassman08:
 "Bonus tracks" always confuse me. If you're gonna release an extra CD with the album that has maybe 3 to 5 bonus tracks on it, why didn't you just include them on the album to begin with?
 
Posted 10/01/2007 - 02:33:15 PM by samuelbloch:
 not to bust your chops nick but whose are these bands that you've spent years watching in the studio?
 
Posted 10/01/2007 - 02:49:25 PM by NickSouthall:
 Not to bust your chops, Sam, but I don't say I've watched any band 'in the studio'?
 
Posted 10/01/2007 - 02:59:54 PM by smezzer:
 bassman, are you being serious? That's the sort of "cram it all in" attitude that Mr. Southall is attacking. If a song doesn't fit in with the rest of the album then it shouldn't be there, regardless of whether its a better song than everything else on there - you have to look at the bigger picture. But for me the end of the album certainly isn't the place for such "bonus" tracks for one simple reason: albums are supposed to end on the last song. Any music fan worth hs salt knows that it isn't just the sounds happening now which inform the quality of a piece of music, but what is happening around it. Contrasts, light and shadow etc. And so albums are supposed to be silent when they finish, the absence of sound providing resonance and power to what has come just before. This is what reissuers seem to miss when cramming their cds with extra takes to give "more of the picture" - you lose part of the original effect. This is one of the few things where digitalised music is above cds, the fact that you can artificially separate the original album from any tacked on extras. Digression over
 
Posted 10/01/2007 - 03:11:53 PM by Clingerpratt:
 wow, I thought I was going to hate this. but I didn't. kudos on #6 in particular
 
Posted 10/01/2007 - 09:03:17 PM by Bertson:
 smezzer, I think you misunderstood bassman. I read his comment as saying that, if the bonus tracks are good enough to be on the album, have them be a part of the album proper, and if they aren't good enough to be part of the album, just leave them off altogether instead of appending them as bonuses.
 
Posted 10/01/2007 - 11:43:46 PM by samuelbloch:
 i just thought the years you spent watching bands made dumb decisions was literal. is it? have you chilled with these bands during the creative process?
 
Posted 10/02/2007 - 01:25:13 AM by gbutcher:
 Bands should also make sure they have at least ten kick ass tracks BEFORE they think about going into the studio. I'd rather hear one masterpiece record instead of two average ones. And RE: #6 How do you find a balance between being predictable and not losing aesthetic continuity?? Top list.
 
Posted 10/02/2007 - 02:06:43 AM by umcloud:
 #6 really is spot on, and there's really enough to discuss there to fill a whole another article. I was wondering what people think are some of the best and worst sequenced albums out there. For best, a few come to my mind: Sufjan Stevens - Michigan, The Knife - Silent Shout, and maybe Arcade Fire - Funeral. The Flaming Lips continue to piss me off with their poor album pacing - I'm happy to say I finally deleted the "bonus" mixes tacked on to the end of Soft Bulletin so it can actually end where it's supossed to. Unfortunately it seems many of my favorite bands can't sequence their albums for shit (Fiery Furnaces, Deerhoof, Radiohead (gasp!), I'm looking at you...)
 
Posted 10/02/2007 - 05:15:44 AM by NickSouthall:
 Sam: the line about 'spending years watching bands I love make insane decisions' isn't literal, no; it's about being a fan and being flabbergasted when terrific songs get left as b-sides and duff songs get chosen as singles (which then stiff), or the like. I have spent a little time in recording studios and rehearsal spaces with bands, but generally with 'friends in bands' rather than 'bands who are friends'. I'mm not sure entirely why you're hung-up on this one sentence.
 
Posted 10/02/2007 - 10:59:23 AM by cwperry:
 Re: "watching bands"--geez, people, he just means observing them doing their thing in life, not literally sitting next to them at the sound board. I see the fall semester has kicked in for you grad students.
 
Posted 10/02/2007 - 11:49:21 AM by J_R_K_:
 Great article. About the idea of a producer, I think bands should listen to a producer's previous work to get an idea of what sort of sound their records have. A 'mainstream' style producer gets brow-beat by an artist for not making the record sound 'indie' enough. It's the artist's problem, they should have known the producer's records sound slick and not lo-fi.
Also regarding #1 and #5, if the band is nailing takes, keep playing, run over, go late and get more takes of as many songs as possible. Also, don't eat until you are done tracking, no one plays well when they are in a food coma.
 
Posted 10/02/2007 - 04:01:58 PM by samuelbloch:
 i'm concerned because i don't know how, as an admitted outsider to the recording process, you're comfortable with your assertions in recommendations 1 and 3-5. these are sensible maxims that apply to most things anyway, but-- esp for the biggest talk talk fan i know-- have some faith in the creative process!
 
Posted 10/02/2007 - 05:52:41 PM by cwperry:
 smezzer: You know, you can just hit "stop" before the bonus tracks begin; that's any easy way to help you "artificially separate the original album from any tacked on extras."
 
Posted 10/02/2007 - 05:54:42 PM by cwperry:
 samuelbloch, maybe this will help you with your hang-ups on Southall's "assertions": Intellectuals have the ability to think abstractly and conceptually. Gasp!
 
Posted 10/03/2007 - 01:16:58 AM by bassmanO8:
 The Blochman is clearly hung up on the one sentence because he suspects with reasonable probability that it`s bullshit. Not that it`s bullshit lies bullshit, no, just that it`s the kind of claptrap Southall would write to smooth us past the great big flaw in his spiel - that he attempts proleptically to dispel later with his disclaimers about not being an armchair critic. The fact is, Bloch knows he`s blowarsing, I know he`s blowarsing, he know`s he`s blowarsing. That doesn`t stop the article from being interesting. It`s the desperate and intelligence-insulting bid for credibility that grates.
 
Posted 10/03/2007 - 02:52:42 AM by GavinM:
 Haha, I even prefer a concise-er 25 min -- EPs over LPs! Too many groups, few can do a whole album justice, and anyway there's too much music for most people to pay attention, they just want some names to drop. DFA dat shit, dope 12 inches all the way! Keep this in mind during your A&R career, Nick.
 
Posted 10/03/2007 - 02:53:13 AM by GavinM:
 should be 20-25 min... don't want to get too noodly
 
Posted 10/04/2007 - 02:44:55 AM by nixonian:
 great list. i was just thinking that i'm sure half the problems you pinpointed (such as bonus tracks/extra DVD, too-big studios, presentation, demographics) should be attributed to record labels more than artists themselves. it's the labels that talk of demographics and adding bonus tracks to make the album sell more. i'm sure their pretty keen to get the albums frontloaded with singles too. taking nothing away from your list though! : )
 
Posted 10/11/2007 - 02:00:37 PM by hunky_dory:
 Wow, $10US is only worth 79p? Has the US dollar really fallen that far? I mean, I knew it was bad, but shit. Also, classic: "they're not a bonus if they're not as good as the rest of the album." Well played.