Less is More

Sometimes, I’m not the best at following my own advice or demands. I know that’s a real shock as most everyone takes the same free advice they offer to others and nobody is a hypocrite. The sad truth that I’m often times big on advice for others and low on the self-application of it.

One of my complaints about mainstream EDM these days is that it’s too busy or at least too complex. There isn’t that “classic” groove that you heard back in the day from any given Hooj Choons release. And back in they day, they not only knew what progressive was they defined it. And so I’ve been a bit harsh on the social and sometimes in person in regards to how over complicated what we call progressive house today is. I also tend to apply this same mantra to electro house and dubstep. I used to love electro house, but I’ve never really liked dubstep.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to sit around with AJ Mora and Alejandro Cesar and listen to them discuss production techniques and issues. One thing they pointed out was similar to my rant, but they put it in a way that for some reason had eluded my binary thinking. When you are producing the track, you have to pick and choose what the most important thing is within that track and you have to make it the featured part of the track. This could be the baseline, the lead or even the percussion.

At the time I didn’t really give this revelation much of a thought. I nodded my head. I agreed with them. Knowing full well that they were absolutely correct. You can’t feature everything in a track. Everything has to have its place. I even offered the idea of taking those other elements that want to be a lead and making additional tracks were they were featured to make a nice cohesive EP.  I’ve even done this in the past.

The core of that conversation though simply didn’t sink in. I knew what needed to be done. I knew how these guys were completely dead on.  I just didn’t realize that it’s something I was struggling with myself until this week.

For months now I’ve been trying to get some new tracks ready for release. None of them really seemed to be going anywhere. I had some great advice from Deeflash and a solid kick in the head from Justin of Shiloh, but things still weren’t coming together like they should.

Here’s my problem: I absolutely love tribal music and I also love progressive house. I have become very successful at turning what could be a great tribal house track into an average progressive house track. At some point during the creative process I start committing the very sin that I accuse others of and I add something new that shouldn’t be there and I make the track more complex that I should. In every case, it’s a mistake and I don’t always catch it.

For years, I’ve listened to various mixes by DJ Wady, Chus or Saeed Younan and thought about how great those tracks are. I can mix tribal like a pro too when I’m DJ. It’s the actual production of it that is killing me and it’s because I ignore this one simple truth: less is more.

I don’t need a massive lead. I don’t need a massive baseline. At least I don’t need them on most tribal tracks. The focus on tribal house should be the percussion and yet, it’s so easy to get lost in the production process and keep adding things to the track until there’s no room left to breathe. And… that breathing room is exactly what is needed to make most tracks work well – tribal house or otherwise.

There’s a term in art called horror vacui. It’s a lot like agoraphobia – the fear of open places. In this case, it’s the fear of white or unused space. Well, it exists in music as well. By leaving that breathing room, we allow a track to retain its groove. We allow for it to be manipulated on stage by the DJ and it becomes an element in the set that can change and evolve over time rather than something set in stone.  It can mean the difference between the DJ simply hitting play and slam mixing all the hits and the DJ building something truly special for the audience to appreciate.

I thought I was immune to this problem. I was wrong. I will still struggle with it, but now that I am aware of it I can deal with it. It won’t be a process of what can be added now, but what can I remove. Less is more. The music needs to breathe. These are the basics and I need to get back to them.