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Dear Steve Albini, I Think I Admire You.
|Dear Steve Albini, I Think I Admire You.|
08/28/09 at 08:48 PM by Julia Conny
|My roommate is a great lover of all things podcast. It's a glorious thing we have - to drive in the car together, listening quietly to This American Life, The Moth, Savage Love or my current favorite, The Sound of Young America. |
I came across an older episode of The Sound of Young America with Chicago producer Steve Albini, and it was just so good, I have to tell you about it. I first heard about Steve when I was in high school, drunk off of underground music and reading books like Michael Azerrad's This Band Could Be Your Life. His resume is in the thousands, and even though most of the bands he has worked with are relatively obscure, he's done jobs on some big clunkers - Nirvana, Pixies, Jawbreaker, Mogwai and the list goes on.
I've only casually glanced at the producing side of the music biz, but that's mostly because it's a mountain I've 1) never climbed and 2) never thought I had the capacity to climb. But as I get a bit older, I start to get it more. I start to realize what I like and don't like. Albini? He's on the like side. Besides being good at his job, he's cheap. He charges a day rate, meaning he doesn't take royalties on any of the records he works on.
In the interview he explains that there are two different career paths for record producers. There are superproducers, guys that can work on only two records a year with superfamous musicians and make bank doing as little as possible. And then there are guys like Albini, who produce music because they love it, and they are fans of the music they work on. Moreover, I think Albini gives a fresh-faced perspective to what we're hearing today (read below).
Young America: Do you feel adverse to superproducing?There are bands that are the sums of their parts, and a producer brings those parts together, makes the pieces fit snug and sound good for general consumption. That's what radio rock has been for decades, but now it's not just about the Top 40. If we open up this idea to our music, the kind of stuff that inhabits our music scene, even smaller pop (or any other genre formula) bands are aiming to parse and reassemble, as Albini said. A band that's a unit, a band that works like an organism and cannot do without even one small piece of its structure is a band to admire. There should be no crutch. It adds extra pressure for bands in a live setting - I almost wish there were no frills in production, no making the band better than they actually are. It's either real skill or a fail. It would certainly weed out the bad bands, and I wouldn't be opposed to that.
Albini: There are a lot of things that come to bear. Having been in band for the whole time I was making records, I know that most bands as they operate are plenty good that they don't actually need a lot of production if you just allow them to do what they do naturally. You'll halve a pretty good representation of the band. Generally speaking, it'll be a satisfying experience. When you start deconstructing a band into its component parts and parsing their music out into lyrics, verses, chorus riffs... you work on all these elements individually and then try to reassemble them into a simulacrum of what the band was doing organically. My experience is that this makes freakish records that don't represent the band very well.
Once again, this podcast was one of the best I've ever heard. I highly recommend checking it out.