I am a Yid. I like to rock. Veitur!

- [ Thursday, August 19, 2004 ] -
Bands vs. Producers
Psycho Toddler discussed the concept of studio musicians.
BlogInDm brought it to a wider audience and entertained some comments.
Psycho Toddler responded to these comments, and gave some examples.

I figured it out. I know the key difference between shiny-shoe and JFR (Jewish folk-rock).

The difference is not motivation, as MOChassid first thought.

The difference is more about studio musicians, but not entirely in the way that Psycho Toddler says.

The key difference is in the focus of the music. There are four basic creative elements that make up professional music: singers, instrument-playing musicians, writers and producers.

The shiny-shoe genre is centered around the singer/producer, and the JFR genre is centered around the band/writer.

The "singer-songwriter" genre is a little different, and I will get back to it.

A "band" is a group of people who have a committed musical relationship that involve creating music with instruments. Bands' best moments come when they communicate and interact musically, one playing off the next. There isn't a single shiny-shoe band. The Chevra aren't a band, they're a singing group. Neginah are an orchestra. They are people on a list of play-for-hire musicians that read music off a chart. Maybe they understand the words of their songs, maybe they don't.

Between the band and the song-writer, the band rules the song. Usually, the song is written by one or more of the band-members.

In the singer/producer world, a singer is coupled together with a producer. Aside from the mandatory one or two songs per album written by the singer, all songs are bought or commisioned from a song-writer and arranger. After this transaction, the song-writer is out of the picture forever. The producer rules the song.

The best producers are the ones who let the talent of the musicians shine through. The producer should be all but unnoticable when listening to the music. A heavy-handed production is like a great dish smothered with too much ketchup. Spice is nice, but it should bring out the flavor of the food.

Studio musicians, tools of the producer, are excellent musicians by nature. But studio musicians can only be as good as the orders they follow. On some occasions, they are allowed to be creative. Often times in the JM world, they are not. They will be limited by the producer who has the ultimate authority.

Bands may seek a studio musician for a track every now and then, but the original band members usually carry the song.

There are some excellent producers out there, but often I find their albums to be lacking unless they are working with a band. Brian Eno's stuff is boring, artsy crap. But when he works with U2, the end result is brilliant.

An exception to the "band vs. producer" debate is the singer-songwriter. Members of this genre are usually found to be with the JFR scene, as opposed to shiny-shoe. A singer-songwriter is a singer and songwriter who is also a one-man show who also plays an instrument. While Eli Gerstner is both a singer and a songwriter, he is mostly a producer. Gerstner is capable of being a singer-songwriter but that's clearly not his market. Your average JM singer may write a song or two, but the lion's share on any given album is from an outside writer. Big production is the antithesis of "singer-songwriter." Some examples of JM singer-songwriters are Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, Chaim Dovid, Yosef Karduner, and more recently, Avraham Rosenblum.

Unless produced with a light touch, singer-songwriters can fall victim to everything that is wrong with shiny-shoe music. The only thing they have going for them is that they also play an instrument.

Bring in too many session players and an outside producer, you're looking for trouble. Bring in an outside arranger, you might be creating a well-polished turd.

If you think what I just wrote is a bunch of ignorant garbage, you can ignore it. The real difference between shiny-shoe and JFR is preferred instruments. Keyboard/horns vs. guitar.