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Letter to JM Producers

Letter to JM Producers

General — By on January 30, 2012 4:36 pm

Dear Jewish Music Producer,

Hi!

I’d like to introduce myself – I’m Hislahavus. I guess I’d call myself a “semi-professional listener.” Or, as others might call it, a music snob. I’m a music junky. I’m not (really) a musician; I never studied music in a class, I’ve only intensely studied the music that you’ve produced. I’m pretty particular about what I buy and which music sits on my iPod. I’ve always tried to keep my ears focused on quality music, and I deeply appreciate all the effort that has been going into the JM world, picking up the quality of the work out there.

Now that we’ve gotten to know each other a bit, I have a few suggestions. You can call them constructive criticisms, or gripes, or whatever you’d like. But I mean it for the best – I really do. Here are a few thoughts from one of your biggest fans.

• Don’t put an old recording on a new album. And when you rerecord an old song, make sure to add something significant.
o This is a general rule – rerecording songs umpteen times doesn’t necessarily make them any better each time. Find a reason to put it out again – make it better, ala MBD and his English Collection (for the most part. I still like the originals of Pray and Sing and Just One Shabbos better), or Piamentas with Asher Bara on 1990, versus the original, on Mostly Horas. But taking an old song, not doing a thing to it, and just pasting it on a new album? Come on – that’s a waste of a track. And how about taking an oldie that’s been redone dozens of times? Find some new material!

Keep songs over 3.5 minutes and under 6 minutes.
o You know how this works – it could be a wonderful song, but when it just drags on and on and on, with several false endings and numerous modulations, changes of beats and tones, etc… As they say, too much of a good thing is not a good thing. Don’t keep beating the song into the ground! Six minutes is usually about the limit for your listeners. By that point, we’re ready to move on. But the same works on the other end of the spectrum (although hardly anyone does this any more) a song that sits at less than 3 minutes might as well not even be there. You hardly have any time to get into it! 3.5 minutes is about the minimum I can handle.

• 10-13 songs per album is great. More than that is overwhelming.

o As we said before, more is not necessarily better. Let your fans be excited for more, rather than overwhelming them with so much material that they get sick of you. Even more than that – a good album is a work of art. The songs compliment each other, and each time through the album, you get to know each song intimately, as you listen to the messages and the slight nuances of the vocals and arrangements. When there are 15 songs on an album it’s simply too many to put together in my mind, and the album doesn’t retain that critical element of continuation that makes it worthwhile to listen to again and again and again.

• Don’t break up a song/medley into separate tracks.
o Ugh! This is SO annoying for iPod users, who now make up 98% of your listeners!

• Concept albums need to be very good. Otherwise they’re just forgotten.
o I know, it’s so exciting! Another wedding album! Another Shabbos album! Another Yom Tov album! Another… you get the point. I have no problems with good collections. But if you want them album to continue selling past the first week, and for the album to remain one that we’ll listen to for many years, stick to normal music. If you really HAVE to do a concept album, that’s fine – just make sure there’s something original about it, and a reason to listen to it a year from now. This is true of concept songs as well – for instance, Y2K was a bust. Now that song is in the dustbin of history.

• Over-arrangements.
o This is not just a disease. Sometimes it feels like a full-out epidemic. Let a song win us over – don’t add more and more and more instruments and segues and beginnings and endings, and think that it will somehow make things better. Sometimes – nay, often! – it makes things worse!

• High-pitched child soloists.
o I love a beautiful choir, with intricate harmonies and youthful soloists. High pitched screeching and nasal wailing? Not so much. If you need to listen to how children’s voices should be used, listen to London School of Jewish Song’s self-titled1991 album, or Tzlil V’Zemer Boys Choir’s Let Us Grow. Or Meydad Tasa, if you’re looking for something of more recent vintage. A child’s ability should be measured by their control and ability to manipulate the tune, rather than the sheer intensity and pitch height.

I think that’s all for right now. Others may add things that I didn’t think of, or perhaps disagree with me. But, between us, it’s good to get it off my chest, and more importantly, I hope you find some of this unasked-for (and maybe even unwanted) advice worthwhile, coming from a loyal listener. Thanks so much for all you do – bringing quality Jewish music to brighten up our day, to inspire us, and to paraphrase Abie Rotenberg, get us all a bit closer to Hashem!

With love and appreciation, I remain,

Hislahavus

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18 Comments

  1. music.forever says:

    First of all I think we should let the producers who have been in the business for years decide what they want without comments from the peanut gallery.
    However one you are saying I will comment on a few points:
    First of all singers and composers put out songs HOPEFULLY to inspire. Therefore themed songs and albums often come out for the people of the time, to inspire them. There is nothing wrong with that. A true jewish composer does not compose so that he will be the next big hit to last a lifetime. If even is one person is inspired by his song that would have been enough. Y2K by the way has a lasting message for us today as well, and if its, as you call it, “in the dustbin of history” – how come so many people like you and me and my friends know the song? A good song with a good message will last.
    I agree with you about the high pitched soloists, makes my hair stand on end and when i watch them sing I am almost sure their throat is going to burst open.
    As for the over arrangements I must point out that I think you are referring to over orchestrations. The arrangements merely describes the interludes and introductions and those are definitely essential to bring out a good song.
    I happen to also agree with you that 16 songs albums seem un classy since when I see them it looks like the singer is not confident in his songs and therefore has to keep adding more to compensate for that. Id rather 9 great songs then 16 boring ones.
    Again I do think that we should leave our opinions to ourselves but since you brought it up I will comment.

  2. Hislahavus says:

    Since we agreed on a number of points, I’ll answer the two points you disagreed with me:
    1. I think that we as listeners should have a voice, and it’s not just about the producers. Producers need guidance from the average listener – to know what people like, and to know what people want.
    2. Y2K is a song I’ve listened to no more than once. (It so happens that I remember songs that I listen to.) From my conversations with people, many people feel the same way. It’s very different than, let’s say, My Zeidy, or even Ya’alili, that have lyrics that are and were applicable. What happens when you listen to songs like Boro Park 1994? They’ve aged. And themed albums are rarely inspirational – they’re usually quick releases, made for a quick buck. Can you possibly compare MBD’s emotional output in personal albums to his themed albums such as Special Moments or Once Upon a Niggun?

  3. LoveMusic says:

    Hislahavus,I absolutely agree with you. Quite well said.
    And music.forever, there is nothing wrong with Hislahavus stating his opinion. The same way there is nothing wrong with stating your opinion on his opinion.

  4. shloimo says:

    semi-professional listener? how it could be

    like former music producer i can tell you one thing:
    you just don’t understand jewish music show business at all. it’s like patient who’s giving advice to doc in which way surgery should be done for patient

    one more thing i can tell you – now that show business is making real and significance progress (if you follow what’s going on the last 10 years)

  5. Just a fan says:

    We do have a voice! If we like what hte producer/artist/ etc. is doing, we buy the album. If not, we don’t. Supply and demand, we are the only voice there!!!

    I think most of your points are going to be almost universally agreed upon , within reason.

    For example, while of course I don’t enjoy listening to screeching, I love good child soloists. Just thinking about most of my (non-kid) albums, basically all use them (Baruch Levine, Shalsheles, Ohad, Michoel Pruzansky) the ones who don’t usually use a choir instead (Dovid Gabay, Shwekey). A few, like Eitan Katz and the new Beri Weber, don’t use either but that seems to be a rarity. People like the child soloists.

  6. Hislahavus says:

    Shloimo, by semi-professional I mean that I have had the “zechus” (or luck) of people showing me their music to ask me for my opinion of it. I do not do this as a job; I do it because I love music, and apparently some people think as I do. :-) I think the surgery analogy is quite far off base…

  7. Muser says:

    You know, if you don’t like it, why don’t you just not buy it? Clearly, albums made with any of these “issues” are not for you. But do keep in mind, please, that it’s all a matter of taste. There are people who like the things you dislike. I mean, I don’t like high-pitched children singing either, but my sister finds them innocent and charming. To each his own, right?

    “Keep songs over 3.5 minutes and under 6 minutes.” Actually, what used to be one of my favorite songs is barely two minutes long, and I found I got quite into it despite its brevity. What used to be my absolute favorite song is eight minutes long, and I would listen and be enraptured for all eight minutes. So I do agree to this 3.5 – 6 minute range you’ve given . . . but only as the average range of length that songs usually end up falling into out of custom rather than guidelines.

    Anyway, there’s nothing wrong with stating your opinion, but I would prefer if you used a more pleasant tone in the future. I think it’s more the tone of this piece that’s got people riled up.

  8. Amrom says:

    Good points man, well said and written.
    By the way what happened to my favorite singer Yossi roze?
    He released 2 albums a long time ago and nothing since.
    Oh and i also miss Dedi, he was my faforite in Yeshivah :-)

  9. Hislahavus says:

    Thanks for your opinions! BTW, the tone is tongue in cheek. And the point was to rile people up and get a discussion going. If no one ever presents constructive criticism, nothing will ever be corrected. You’re welcome to have your opinions, as is anyone. My “letter” is to present my opinion as to what music I’d like to see more and less of, and to have a fun conversation about it.

  10. Shimmy Shtauber says:

    Hey guys! They say that music is one of those things that “al taam v’al reiach ein l’hitvake’ach applies. to. There is no black and white answers. Take me for example. I was never into Rachem. Do I claim that I have taste and the entire world is wrong? No! They’re absolutely right! Rachem is a great song! Just not for my taste! Hatzlacha!

  11. music.forever says:

    not all of us have connections with websites where we could voice our opinion…

  12. Hislahavus says:

    That’s exactly why you may want to make your opinions known in the comments here – minus any loshon hara (i.e. personal attacks on artists).

  13. UWMusicnetwork says:

    I would have to argue that some of the most incredible songs that I have ever encountered fall outside of your length range.
    however I also think that some of the above “producers” should back off. You really know how to interview artists, and understand more about the music than people who are trying to make a living selling records. The music business today has lost its touch, and that is why some of the best music coming out these days is coming from hard working cats like Omer Avital, and Avishai Cohen (the trumpet player). they put in their hours on others’ projects, and do a fantastic job at it, but when they compose their own music incorporating generations of Jewish tradition, they bring music to a whole new level.
    Keep on keepin’ on.

  14. LA MUZIK MAVIN says:

    Hilavavus… I want u to know that u took the words straight out of my mouth… I agree with 97% of u said and actually wanted to write a piece about this a couple months back… I want to know how i can become a JMR witer (please let me know)… & btw i have more of these kinds of rants( not loshon hora) about jeweish music,

    Hatzlachah,
    Future JMR witer
    LA MUZIK MAVIN

  15. Sara says:

    The people saying that we,the consumer, have no say in what type of music gets produced are way off. When a cd is produced I would imagine that it would be with the goal of people buying it. If the consumer has a preference of what type of music they are more likely to buy it is to the benefit of the producers since they want to sell the music. As they say, the customer is always right. It’s about what we are interested in buying, not what the producer is interested in listening to. Very nice post, shkoyach.

  16. chaim says:

    couldnt agree more about the boy high pitched remark you made

    why the [certain choirs – ed.] tend to scream songs at the top of their lungs amazes me

  17. JtopBlogger says:

    Another problem that plagues the Jewish music world is under-arrangements if you would. Now I’m a seasoned musician if I may say so myself and if someone gives me a song to listen to and formulate my opinion on it, I do my utmost to listen to the actual tune before concentrating on the arrangements. But it really disappoints me when I hear a great song and the arrangements are inadequate.

  18. Sam Glaser says:

    I agree on all points!

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