I read an article today (gift link: https://wapo.st/494CKZ1) reviewing a book about the elite fine-art world in New York City, and how it remains a walled-off and exclusionary environment. Maddening, albeit not particularly surprising.
There was one sentence that caught my eye. The writer of the article chides the writer of the book, saying this:
“In her concluding chapters, she tells the reader to ‘demote context,’ which basically means ignoring the intentions of the artist.”
And I just wanted to say: personally I agree with the quoted idea, and disagree with the reviewer. I believe that it’s absolutely necessary and good to demote context vis-a-vis art. And I mention it here because I think about this a lot regarding music production!
It’s great to have context and intentions when you’re making a recording. But the listener can’t hear context. They can’t hear intentions. They can only hear what you’ve recorded.
So take a step back, as you’re working, and ask yourself: is this actually doing what I want it to be doing? Or is it a placeholder for the thing I’m hearing in my head or feeling in my heart?
Or, to frame it differently: would this song conjure the same emotion in an outside listener as it’s eliciting in me as I work on it?
Or, to put it yet another way: is the emotion in me, or is the emotion in the song?
Our job as music-makers is to represent and contain the emotion fully inside the song. A finished recording should work independently from and outside of any relevant context — it should contain everything the listener needs to understand completely what you are working to convey.
In other words: your intentions don’t particularly matter. A listener can’t hear what you were intending to do; they can only hear what you actually did.
If additional context makes for a richer experience, as is so often the case, then that’s wonderful, and a rewarding bonus for people who choose to dig for it. But first and foremost a song should just be a great song. Otherwise it’s reduced to an intellectual and/or academic exercise; and who wants that from an artistic experience?
School’s out — jamie