“We have a tremendous opportunity to be ahead of the curve.” ~ George Massenburg (Grammy Award winning producer/engineer, innovator, lover of music).
There are times when you hear someone speak that may pique your interest in the inner workings of music production, specifically, how it truly contributes to not only an artist’s overall sound but to a particular moment in time.
Then you go to see George Massenburg speak.
Presented by the The Recording Academy’s Washington DC Chapter, they hit pay dirt with landing the Grammy award-winning producer/engineer/inventor in a rare opportunity to hear and see a master at work. Not many people can educate, entertain, enlighten, and enlist simultaneously. Massenburg did it effortlessly by speaking to our universal language: music.
Massenburg had us all in the palm of his hand as he issued his first charge: to simply listen to two audio versions of Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.” Sidebar: you know everyone becomes a world-famous “air drummer” when those drums burst into the final chorus. In those few moments, the room was exposed to the one of the most popular but perilous phenomenon to date: the extreme difference in sound when listening to uncompressed versus compressed tracks, especially as it applies to consumers looking for even faster ways to obtain music. As he demonstrates two additional examples (Metallica and Etta James, respectively), one thing is clear: creating a sound is everything and we as creatives must work diligently to create, maintain, and demand what Massenburg calls “the sweet spot,” a quasi-technical term that pertains to a recording engineer’s ability to find that perfect sound when working with an artist in studio.
Drawing from experience and a rich knowledge of the history of how we listen to music, Massenburg took us on a journey of how disruptive versus sustaining technology is and will continue to shape how we consume our music. Just when you think you have it figured out, he hit us with sheer poetry:
“We are not consumers. We are participants in a community and we want to make better music.”
Perfection. But how when asked how does that occur, his explanation evokes even more thought: “The technology is changing but we haven’t been able to catch up artistically.”
Additional mentions ranging from the CALM Act (Commercial Audio Listening Mitigation, which seeks to lower the volume of commercials to align with the television programming they accompany) to advising engineers on what to do when artists feel the music/recording is not “loud enough” (I have actually seen this occur so he was definitely on point).
I must say when I left, my heart and mind was full. His presentation was a classic “take us back to take us forward moment.” An opportunity to simply LISTEN. Massenburg is a walking case study in having an absolute, pure, organic love for music and sound, so when the discussion turned toward the obvious “money/ownership,” he eloquently expressed that one have the choice to determine which was more important: owning 100% or changing someone’s life with the power of sound.
So here we are in a world with so much noise, can we really hear that “sweet spot” that Massenburg speaks. Has our salacious need to get music instantly contributed to the inability to really listen to a song? One can only tell.
It convinced me to go out and buy a record player and blow the dust off of my vinyl.
Special thanks to the The Recording Academy’s Washington DC Chapter for allowing us to learn from an innovator.
Taking extra time to listen, rather than simply hearing…