Tag Archives: Recording

The genesis of genius

Published 12/14/2021

By Andrew Berthoff

When I was younger, so much younger than today, I grew up with the Beatles. I can thank my music-loving mother for that. Some of my first memories from the late ’60s are of sitting around the house colouring and listening to LPs like the Stones’ Aftermath, the Who’s Tommy (I remember wondering what “Tommy-The-Who” was, and if he was like the Nowhere Man), Blind Faith, Simon & Garfunkel, Cream, and, of course, the Fab Four.

I would have been about five when Let It Be came out. For my mom, a housewife at the time, I was her main daytime companion for a year, with my older brother and sister in full-time primary school.

She would take me to movies like Yellow SubmarineTrue Grit, Woody Allen’s Bananas, and I remember seeing Let It Be at our local Varsity cinema. My most vivid recollections were the shot of an older person scaling a roof ladder on Savile Row to get a better view of the band, and that I was a bit frightened by John and George. I was more a Paul and Ringo kid.

While the Beatles are baked into my brain, I wouldn’t consider myself an ardent fan, compared with others who’ve memorized every detail about the band. But I know their music up and down, and, without hesitation, I would say they’re the greatest band in history. Their writing, song for song, is rivalled only by Cole Porter.

I consumed Peter Jackson’s epic documentary Get Back voraciously. The nine hours flew by, and, even in our attention-deficit-disordered world, I can’t understand the post-release whining from some that it was too long.

Too long? Too long are the 50 years that we’ve gone with nary a new piece of footage or fact revealed about the group. Too long is the endless revisionist history about the band. Too long is the winding road of those who’ve since passed: Lennon, Harrison, Linda McCartney, George Martin…

Relative to five decades of nothing, nine hours of brilliant, unfettered, new footage is everything.

I can’t imagine a more fantastic view of the art and skill of professional songwriting than Get Back. What struck me most was the work these geniuses put into their craft. Anyone who believes that a four-minute song takes a minute to make will be quickly disabused of the notion. Each song is carefully massaged, manipulated, and mastered over intense working sessions for a solid month – many hard days’ nights working like a dog.

Despite being on top of the world, they sat down and WORKED

Get Back is nothing but good for professional music creators. I’m not a songwriter, but I’ve composed and published music, and too often, a life’s work is belittled as throwaway, and somehow “easy.” It’s tantamount to undermining a major league athlete as “getting paid millions to play a kids’ game,” discounting the thousands of hours of continual learning, practicing, and perfecting that got them there.

If there’s a scene in Get Back that resonated with me most, it’s when John, George, and Ringo are off to the left of the rehearsal space discussing some relatively mundane topic with the legendary producer Glyn Johns. Not in the shot, one can hear the first few chords of the song “Let It Be” being tested out by McCartney at the piano. The discussion group on the left doesn’t pay any attention to it. They don’t jolt upright, stop everything and shout, “What’s THAT, Paul?!” No, they continue talking because this is simply the everyday songwriting process.

While I see this moment as several of the genesis-type moments of creation (I picture outstretched fingers about to touch the Sistine Chapel roof), it’s one of many quiet but spellbinding incidents in Get Back. It’s profound; a spiritual, near-religious experience.

I’ve always thought that every time a songwriter humble-brags that their No. 1 hit took “20 minutes to write,” that they do themselves and their fellow music creators a disservice.

The essence of the song might well have been scribbled out in a few minutes, but it ignores the years of learning, practice, and preparation that took them to that point, and the hours, days, eight-day weeks, and months of tweaking, arranging, playing, recording, and mastering that made the song what it is.

Every member of the Beatles had no airs and graces that I could detect. Despite being on top of the world for the previous eight years, they sat down with their instruments and worked. They debated, cajoled, kidded, prodded, tweaked – in a word, collaborated. They didn’t come into the space with pre-conceptions of greatness, or even an indication that I could detect that they were about to create anything great.

Indeed, like the best of us, it was their creative humility that appeared to push them forward, without assumption until, in the end, creativity caved to commerce. The inklings of business interrupting their art creep in during the final part of Get Back. To me, it’s a moment as mournful as first chords of “Let It Be” are beautiful.

We can thank The Beatles for many things, and we can thank Get Back for putting the craft, and art, and hard work of songwriting into real context. It shows the genesis of genius.

About Andrew Berthoff

The value of music is high

Published 06/9/2015

By Jennie Flannery

Before recording an album, I never really thought about all that went into the making of one. I was definitely a LimeWire fan, and had the attitude of “why buy when I can download for free, or borrow a friend’s and burn it?”

I’ve done a 180-degree turn on that kind of thinking, and I’ll tell you why.

Just to write songs, or play an instrument proficiently enough to draw an audience, can take many years of hard work and dedication. That doesn’t include hours and hours of listening to various artists and styles of music in your selected genre to soak up your influences. Then, you need to work at being creative, becoming a musician with your own personal style and take on the music.

Creating original songs requires time and heart, as an expression of yourself and your individuality as a musician. You want, and need, to be unique as a songwriter in order to set yourself apart from all the others out there.

You also have to spend time and money getting out there to perform, and get a feel for what people are, or aren’t, enjoying about your music. You need to learn to feel comfortable in any situation onstage, with or without any distractions, and how to appeal to any audience.

When it’s time to record, you have to do the research to determine who’ll produce your recording, and which songs you’ll perform.

If you play solo, you’ll likely have to find players to accompany you on your recording. That requires more time and effort, talking with or e-mailing fellow musicians and figuring out who’ll do the best job with your songs and playing style. You have to arrange some rehearsal time and figure out the arrangements of the music. So as not to waste time in the studio, you have to spend lots of time rehearsing the songs until they’re as close to perfect as they can be. That takes a couple of days, and whatever the musicians charge to rehearse with you.

You have to choose a recording studio in your area, which involves more time, effort and research. You’ll likely have to spend money on musical “incidentals.” Like, say, piano tuning –  $100. Renting just the right mic for your sound — $150.

Now you begin recording. Even at a small, independent studio, owned by a friendly producer, that’s at least $50 an hour, and usually an eight-hour day, so $400 a day. And you have to pay the musicians again for their time, which also usually runs $50 an hour – each.

And in addition to the hours of recording, unless it’s a raw, live-off-the-floor “feel” you want, you’ll spend a lot of hours mixing – like splicing the intro from take two with the first verse from take four, and the chorus from take seven. Or making the sure the volume level of the guitar solo is properly balanced with all of the other instruments. Sometimes this process requires a mixer, who costs as much as a producer.

If you’re recording an album, you also need to spend more time, effort and research listening to all the tracks and figuring out some kind of order for them. You could put all your best stuff first, to appeal to radio and media, because they might only listen to the first few songs. But then you lose a balance of your strongest tracks throughout. You can listen over and over, continually switching up the order, listening for how each track ends and leads into the next track. Do the keys work together? Is a crazy fast track best followed by a slower track?

Then comes the mastering process, which usually comes in around the $1,000 mark. The disc is sent to the most recommended but still affordable mastering person you can find, to compress the music to give it an even overall sound. Now, you need to give it a final listen to hear what he or she’s done with the mastering. Sometimes there’s some back-and-forth here, and each set of fixes costs more.

For an album, at some point during the recording process, the graphics need to be done for the front and back covers and the insert. You need to hire a photographer for a photo shoot, and hire a graphic artist to design the cover and insert. You need to write out whatever information you want to include with the music. You’ll be reviewing layouts, colours, fonts, and so on. More time and money spent.

If you’re covering anybody else’s songs, you have to research the songwriters, and file the correct forms and pay the right mechanical royalty fees to the CMRRA in order to manufacture your albums, and find out if any need any other licenses, or permission to use. More time and money spent there.

If you want your album to gain some media traction, you’ll likely have to hire a publicist, who’ll write a bio, press release, send out your music to the media, and work to get your music coverage in newspapers, on the radio, on television, and on blogs and social media. You’re looking at about $500, minimum.

If you’re manufacturing CDs or vinyl, you can do a minimum run of 500, but you’re looking at about $2,000 at the very least. But about 300 of those copies are for publicity purposes, so you can’t sell those to recoup.

As you can see, it’s a small fortune – about $10,000 – to record and release an album. Even offset by crowdfunding, it’s likely you’ll still have to spend about $5,000 or so to get it done.

So next time you hear some music that you love, I urge you to give the music creator the credit and respect they deserve for all the hard work they’ve put into becoming the musician that they are, and the recording they’ve made. Buying their music gets them out of the hole financially, and supports their career, which is especially true for a small-scale, independent artist.

Free downloads are really a means of stealing from the artist. Burning CDs is actually illegal, and disrespectful of a music creator’s hard work. No artist could continue providing their music to the public if they’re not being paid for it. Would you provide your own handmade goods or services for free? No. And neither should music creators.