Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
Pepys 0.1 Blogware © Steve Dix
You know that gag about the black box in aeroplanes? Someone asks: "That black box in aeroplane disasters; it always survives, doesn't it? Why don't they just make the whole aeroplane out of that stuff?"
Well, I remember from quite early on, when I first started getting involved with record companies, that after we'd got some interest, they'd say, " Love the demoes. Right then We'll put you in a good studio with a proper producer."
And that would be the point where the rot usually set in. The producer would spend the first day labouring over the drum sound. When we had a four track studios the drums would have to take up one track. When we went up to eight-track, the drums would have to have at least two tracks, or sometimes four of them, eventually mixed down to two. When we got sixteen track, the drums would be across eight, mixed down to four. Once we got into 24 tracks, the drums and percussion got 12 tracks and just sort of stayed there so we'd have to do a sub-mix of them before we got to mixing the important stuff like vox and gtrs. We'd be in there for hours, losing our objectivity, and after more hours, unable to make any judgment at all.
The producer would say something like: " I can hear two cellos coming in on the second part of the next chorus. Nothing would do but that we got two cellos from somewhere, or if on a budget something which sounded like two cellos. Meanwhile, the guitars carrying the root chords which made the song what it was, would disappear under the mix. Very often, weeks later, after we finished the album, I'd say:"You know what? I think I preferred the demoes."
"Why can't we just release the demoes?" I'd ask. They all looked at me like I was insane. They'd say: "This is a 24 track professional recording." I'd then reason, " Well you only have two ears to listen to them all with."
Seriously, most people are cloth eared, or they make themselves cloth-eared in their recreational time by drinking or using other intoxicants. I tell thee, when I was a virgin-eared young lad of fifteen with only a scratchy single speaker half-watt portable record player, I would listen to old Who and Small Faces singles and no music has ever sounded better to me before or since. During the 70s and 80s, at the height of hi-fi snobbery, you'd go into some know-it-all's bloody flat, where he had installed a Bang and Olafsen deck, with wardrobe size Wharfdale speakers, tweeters, woofers, scratch filters etc etc and he'd play you some godawful record by Gentle Giant or the Eagles. Then he'd pour himself a big drink and shout at you all the way through it. Naturally it always sounded appalling.
Conversely, you could go round to my girlfriend-at-the-time's house, where she had a cheap Garrard turntable, badly wired through a crackly amp, with two dodgy speakers screwed into flimsy old fruitboxes and she'd put Dr Feelgood or Kevin Coyne on and it would sound bloody immaculate!
And the above rant notwithstanding, is the reason why I've made an entire album in Tai Chi Dave's garden shed with two hundred quid's worth of Japanese economic miracle. I didn't want a drummer, not because I don't like them, but because there was neither the room or the time. Oh and I get bloody sick of drums on occasions. You listen to some of those old 80s records now. It's ridiculous. Great cavernous booming crashes at the end of every bar, then epic fills in every lead-in to each chorus, like God's falling downstairs in the middle of the night. And even then, when the producer's finally mixed the drums up to ornament-shattering volume, having struggled with a gated snaredrum sound for three precious days of your recording budget, what happens? It comes out of a squitty paint-spattered radio on a building site, and only sounds like "pfft-tish,pfft-tish." while Steve Wright and the afternoon posse talk over the end and the beginning of it. You know what? It's all shit. Release the demoes. It's never gonna get any better.