Updated: Mar 4, 2019
Do musicians ever wonder why they have two ears?
As a record producer and A&R man on the French music scene, I always wonder why artists hardly ever think about why they have two ears. Obviously, it has a lot to do with successful communication, but communicating what? Close your eyes and listen. Now, try that in the jungle at night and you'll come closer to the answer.
Your brain only knows where a sound comes from because you have two ears. One is enough to recognize sound, but only two can evaluate distance and location. Your very basic instinct, as a living entity, tells you that you only have one priority: reproduction of the species. To do that you have to stay alive! Thus, your two ears are an important part of your survival kit. While you don't live in the jungle any more, (rather the concrete jungle), your surroundings can still shorten your life.
What has at this got to do with music? Because of this basic instinct to survive, all living beings fear the unknown. Suppose there is too much sonic and musical information for your brain to deal with at a given time in a musical piece. What would your natural reflex reaction be? Your brain will urge you to flee, to get away from there, because it is programmed by nature to keep you safe from danger. A "confused environment" might be a potential danger.
So the very first question I ask myself as an arranger or producer is, is the musical message confused? or is it clear and understandable? A follow-up question might be, is there enough excitement in the music to keep the listener on guard? You have to keep things relatively symmetrical and simple so that listeners don't get scared away, while at the same time keeping the song interesting and edgy enough to keep the listener's senses sharp so they don't get bored. This is true regardless of the musical style.
Listen to your favorite records with this in mind and note how much detail there really is in each of the songs. More than likely, your favorite songs contain minute changes, placing sounds in space and moving them around a bit to keep your brain excited. Notice how much is done to keep the audible message clear and not confused. This, to me, is a major aspect of a producer's job.
When some A&R person says your music is too complicated, remember that, as Miles Davis used to say (quoting Stravinsky), "Less is More." Ignoring those basics will make your music difficult to sell.
Eric Barouti, credits on 150 indie records marketed and selling well and 20 years behind a mixing board.