Many people say that older records “feel” better. They also complain that much of today’s music seems “sterile.”
I believe a big part of this is because these days so much music is made in sequencers or by bands playing individual parts rather than together. As a result, you lose the dynamics that I feel are important in music.
Live music played by a group of musicians (even if the drummer is playing to a click track) will rush and lay back. Good musicians will all move together if they are able to hear each other clearly enough and are sensitive enough to actually listen to each other.
Although it’s crucial for drummers and bass players to move together, it’s also important for the entire band to follow along and speed up/slow down as well.
I recently recorded a jazz band live and was editing together different takes. The different takes all felt great, but they didn’t always work well when cut together. The reason was that one take may have been a little bit rushed and another a little laid back.
But since the musicians were all good and listening to each other, each take felt tight. Even within a single part of the song if the drummer was laying back the rest of the band did as well. The result was that all of the parts hit together. The down beats hit together, and the melodic elements were properly supported by the rhythms being played.
When the producer asked me to move some sections from take to take, I felt differences in how the tracks felt. One edit went from a rushed solo section to a laid back head section (repeat of the main melody). I thought the contrast may have been too much, but the producer actually liked how the band seemed to relax back and fall into the head together.
He also asked me to move some individual solo parts from one take to another. This did not work well. Since the musicians were leaning forward or back together, moving individual parts from one take to another meant a laid back solo was now being played over a pushing rhythm track. It did not sound tight and professional.
Even when I moved some vocals a mere 8 measures within a single take, the feeling was totally different and it did not work. I had to make sure that each solo part (and even vocal) was heard with the music that it was performed with.
Although some people may prefer for each part to be played tight to a click track (especially to make it easier to move parts around), there is something human in how musicians move together. I believe that music played by a group has an element of communication between the musicians that listeners can pick up on and even ride along with.
Sequenced music is sometimes created with that push and pull intentionally left in. On Jamaica Boys albums, the great Lenny White used to play the drum machine buttons live and never quantized the parts because he wanted to keep the machine sounds feeling “live” (yay Lenny).
It is possible to create sequenced music that feels human, but only by allowing the imperfections to happen and grooving along with them.