Silence is Golden, Space Is More by Matthew Slater

I come from a background in pipe bands. Famed snare drummer Alex Duthart once advised that the most important thing a drummer can do is nothing. That silence sometimes said more than sounds could. This was partly because bagpipes sadly, don’t have a volume control. As such the only other part of the pipe band ( the drums ) needed to provide the dynamics. This advice shouldn’t be limited just the pipe band world however, as I believe it’s an essential piece of advice for any musician.

Since the advent of multi-track recording, fuller mixes have been what musicians, producers and listeners have come to want, have come to expect. Phil Spector and others pioneered walls of sound and fuller, broader, thicker mixes. While this has resulted in some great albums from bands such as Pink Floyd and The Beach Boys, it has become the norm across many genres. Gone, so it seems, are the days that great musicians used simple arrangements to highlight their abilities. To use the multi-tracking capabilities of studios as icing on the cake rather than as part of the mix. Songs are written in the studio and are becoming increasingly dependant on new technologies.

I’m not against fuller mixes exactly, I just believe it’s like 3D films as of late – it’s a technique, a technology that isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Simpler, sporadic mixes can be used to great effect. Pencil on paper, and many colours and shades of acrylics on canvas – they’re both art. They’re both relevant. They both have their place in the world. My argument is that there are too many musicians, too many bands that are scared to be sparse; scared to be “thin”. What they fail to understand is that it allows for some contrast, for a different palette of sounds, a new cache of colours to play with. Simple arrangements can help showcase a golden voice for instance, or smart, concise song writing. Few tracks can still give a larger, round sound without resorting to adding everything and the kitchen sink. Saturation is happening in mixes all over the world, and the result is music that is too heavy, too rich – like a chocolate gateau.

Some will call someone who puts a lot of thought into their appearance a fashionista, some would call them a try-hard.  It’s all about taste and subjective, personal opinions. I believe that musicians and performers should try and cater more for the song and think about the song on the whole. It’s all about working together for the best result possible. Something tangible, something that can be replicated live, something that is a good but polished representation of what you are like. You don’t have to paint the whole canvas – leave space, allow digestion and the audience will do the rest.