June 20, 2016 Anna Russell

The Subject of Subjectivity

The subject of subjectivity – in music it’s a big one. Not simply that we, of course, have differing tastes, musical influences and ways of expressing ourselves musically. But we also seem to hear, and certainly feel, music differently. The very definition of subjectivity being ‘based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes or opinions‘ speaks of a purely emotional response, rather than one informed by facts or science. This has given us a rich musical tapestry, none of which is better illustrated than in electronic music– an umbrella term for a diverse and often polarising multitude of sub-genres (here are just some. Gulp). This is no doubt a positive, for both music listeners and music creators; the scope for musical expression being so broad that people of all tastes and influences can find escapism in it. But it can cause an issue when applied to the business of music.

This is never more true than when producers and topline writers come together to create a track. There are a number of reasons this can be the case–a fusion of the twos differing musical styles, ways of writing, and inspiration included. However, it can be far more complexed than that. If people hear and process music somewhat differently to one another, this is a very minor disparity compared to how we describe and talk about music to one another. What is generic to the topline writer may not be to the producer, what is underground to one may not be the next, likewise what commercial, universal, leftfield or catchy are, to use some terms frequently bandied about in electronic music. We even recognise differences in the way sub-genres within electronic music are understood or described. This is largely where misunderstandings and setbacks can occur within the topline process. It is with this in mind that we ask all of our clients (the producers) to provide musical references which illustrate the key stylistic traits they have described to us in their topline briefs. This must then be followed with extremely clear communication of what is required to the topline writer.

One thing that does seem to be widely accepted within commercial music is that all producers (not to mention their respective publishers and record labels) are looking for hooks– those short riffs or phrases which catch as many listeners ears as possible and make a song accessible. Again, not exactly a scientific definition but we all know them when we hear them. They can be created within the produced track itself, but are more often left to the topline writer/vocal to bring to the track. At the very least a producer needs to have allowed the required space and flow within a track for the topline writer to embed them (when writing a topline to a pre-produced instrumental that is). There is a formula to writing in such a way, however to achieve this by speaking purely in (very subjective) musical terms is near-impossible. It is for this reason we ask all of our clients, in addition to the (subjective) style or feel of music they are hoping to create, what their objectives for their track are –who is it to appeal to and on which platforms? Which record labels are they hoping to find a home at? What are their radio targets for the track, ideally?It is in identifying these types of clear-cut goals to a track that musical subjectivity can remain a creative gift, without becoming an obstacle to the topline process.

-AR

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