The word “organic” is used quite a bit these days. We hear it in business as organic growth and now we hear it with regard to music recording and podcasting. The term “organic” has come to refer to something that is natural, authentic, and has core value. For example, the organic growth in business refers to true expansion in the central core of the company not inflated increases from outside venues or other sources.
According to the online urban dictionary, organic music is music that has a core sound and tone that is natural by use of acoustic instruments and vocals. This definition went on to elaborate about organic music resonating positive vibes or something to that effect. As musicians, the music industry cautions us to be “more organic.” However, in this digital age, recording music in a home studio on a PC via Audacity or Adobe Audition by its very definition is digital.
The sound is stored in a system of ones and zeros. Musicians can record short segments and easily repeat these sections by copying and pasting multiple times. Drums can be manufactured on keyboards or can be made completely inside a computer by using software. Most indie musicians use electronic keyboards, drum machines, and software for instrumentation when recording. These resonating vibrations though, are merely recreations from a computer.
Indie musicians are branching out into selling their music to film and television (i.e. sync licensing or synchronization). This leads to wondering how modern indie recording musicians can obtain an organic music texture?
TROUBLE WITH QUANTIZATION
Quantizing is a digital software adjustment that can move beats to equal other beats.
So if a beat is slightly off, it can be snapped perfectly into place. The same can be used for vocals that are slightly flat or sharp by adjusting the pitch. Anyone doing their own recording and mixing has their own techniques for editing and layering tracks. However, something that I noticed early on with quantizing beats in my instruments was when listening back, some instrumental sounds were canceled out. The aural threshold of human hearing is limited, so by aligning every single instrument to an exact beat meant that the listener wasn’t hearing everything that was intended. This aural phenomenon means that only a few sounds can exist in the same space at the same time. I also noticed that if two instruments had similar timbres or tones, one of them might be canceled out aurally.
Maybe this organic music direction has a slightly different meaning? Maybe it means less perfect?
Let’s compare this to a symphony orchestra or choir where you have multiple musicians playing together at the same time. The orchestra has a thick acoustic sound which fulfills the definition organic music. If all the musicians are playing at the same time how can we hear the various instruments? There are a few factors that make this possible. The musicians are playing at the same time, but no two people can place precisely note for note at the exact time like a computer can. This fraction of a millisecond difference when each musician puts their bow to the string can be multiplied by all the musicians playing. This produces a thickness to the sound texture of orchestras and choirs.
Another reason for being able to hear the various instruments is due to the timbre of the individual instruments or choir voices. No two violins or voices have the exact same tone or vibrato. This variance allows human hearing to differentiate between sounds.
An additional reason for variance is the use of multiple ranges of notes. Orchestras have first and second violins, violas, cellos, and multitude of other instruments playing different notes in different octaves.
The last reason is where the musicians reside in the linear plane of hearing. For example, violins are heard more to the left, cellos basses are heard more to the right, and woodwinds are more central. This is a result of where they are seated in the orchestra during a performance and where a listener would commonly hear them from the audience.
Knowing this information can be vital in providing a more organic sound to recordings.
Instrumentation- If you are using more than one type of the same instruments like guitars from a keyboard or digital strings, try using completely two different textures. You can even adjust one to be more treble sounding than the other. If you are adding a digital woodwind or flute of some type, add in the vibrato. If you are using multiple instruments, use different octave ranges and divergent notes within the chord structure of the song.
Panning - Use the pan feature and place instruments left center, another center, another right center, etc. This allows the listener to hear the individual instruments. If you are a band but want to achieve a chamber orchestra sound, place the orchestra how you would hear them live– violins on the left, viola left center, cello/bass more to the right. Place these instruments more to the back by using reverb while placing your guitar, bass, and vocals more up front.
Quantizing - By all means, quantize your rhythm and drums and a few of the instruments. In other cases, play the instruments all the way through the song and allow for that millisecond variance, as if multiple musicians were playing at the same time.
Timbres - Add a real voice, real percussion, or real other instrument along with your recording. If you are using the digital ah’s in a song from a keyboard, get a real person to sing along with them. Adding in live actual sounds goes along way to making the recording more organic.
All the Way Through - I will use quantization to make drum tracks or basic percussion tracks and bass tracks. The rest I play live, all the way through. It is a challenge to do this and requires practice. The end result is that you can achieve a sound of multiple musicians even if you are recording by yourself.
“Music is a form of emotional communication, and when an instrument is played by a skilled performer, it can conduct that emotion from composer, through performer to listener. But when machines are allowed to have too much influence, then that emotional connection is broken. Yes, the notes, rhythms and timbres remain, but the subtleties that make music truly involving are lost. Non-organic music does often start with good DNA (to continue the analogy), but then it goes through the machine process and is liberally treated with pesticides (quantization) before being packaged and sold to the public.” Reference – Audio Masterclass
Written by Suzanna Reeves @ http://neutrinomusic.com. Suzanna has been sound recording on computers since the advent of home digital recording. She has founded her own record label, recorded and published music and produced audio dramas and podcasts. She also believes that anyone with the right knowledge and tools can do it. You can subscribe to Neutrino Music Articles at our site. Twitter me @suzannareeves.