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My band wants less harmonies, I like them. What do you think?


Jxeboy

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Hello,

 

I recently wrapped up recording my bands new album and I kind of went to town on vocal harmonies and stuff, but being a huge lover of queen I really liked how they came out. When the rest of the band heard the new songs they thought they were terrific, but they want me to kill a lot of harmonies because they think it takes away form the tune.

I was wondering what some outside educated people here thought.

 

We haven't shown the music to anyone else yet, we're waiting for artwork to be done before releasing, but do you guys think I should cut out harmonies or leave them like they are. This is just one of the songs, the harmonies kind of kick in on the chorus.

 

http://callingyou.bandcamp.com/track/italy

 

Anyways thanks for the input, its been a while but I do want to get back to posting here!

 

Thanks!

~Jake

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Hi, Jake. Haven't seen you around in a while. Guess you've been busy with all those harmonies. :D

 

Just to fit this into the rules here, let's turn this into a discussion of vocal harmonies in general.

 

I haven't had a chance to hear your new work yet but let me say that I have very mixed feelings about bands that feature a lot of vocal harmonies. Sometimes I really like them. Sometimes I really end up hating them. So much depends on the band, the music, the style, and, of course, the harmonies. It's hard for me to put a finger on what specifically I like or don't like... I will say that the more bland, syrupy, generic those harmonies are, the more they are likely to not do much for me.

 

Also, some folks who do harmonies use Equal Temperament note values (off the keyboard, as it were) rather than using harmonically 'correct' pure harmonies. But those pure harmonies can end up conflicting with Equal Temperament instruments, particularly keyboards like organs and pianos that are using held notes. ET harmonies, like keyboards, will always be a little out of tune, from note to note.

 

The only interval in the 12 Tone Equal Temperament scale that is 'in tune' is, naturally enough, I suppose, the octave. The rest range between ~2 cents ('perfect' 4ths and 5ths) and a whopping 31 cents (minor 7th) off, with most intervals between 12 and 17 cents off.

 

This may sound wacky to those who were taught that 'digital keyboards are always perfectly in tune' (not even true as far as basic pitch goes, since they all have a crystal clock at their core, and those crystal clocks vary from a small amount to very significant amounts -- so you may still need to calibrate such keyboards to an accepted standard pitch served up from one device). But that's because much traditional music instruction is sketchy and slipshod to my rather jaded thinking.

 

At any rate, the difference between harmonies that sound 'OK' and those that sound like harmonies are 'supposed' to sound like is typically one of ear and sophistication of the singers, not to mention the knowledge of the arranger, since the harmony singers must both get in proper harmonic relationship with each other -- but may have to dodge conflicting temperament values in poorly thought out arrangement that uses ET instruments.

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I guess I always thought of harmonies as something that you use to accentuate parts of a song, or create something a bit more interesting to listen to. Although I think the music would sound fine without them I really enjoyed the extra emphasis they bring to the vocal line, where sometimes it may get lost amongst other instruments.

 

At the core the song is very simple and could easily be written off as a predictable "I've heard this before" type of tune.

 

I guess my question in its most basic form is whether the harmonies actually add anything to the song, or are they just over-doing it; and are just an effort by me to squeeze in as much of my "talent" as I can in a 3 minute time frame.

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My opinion: first of all, is there a volume control on your page? It's quite an assault on the eardrums.

 

Second, on this particular tune, the harmonies work, IMO. I haven't heard any of your other stuff, so I don't know whether they are utilized as effectively on other tracks, but on this one, it isn't overdone, seems to accentuate key phrases, gives it just that extra bit of ear candy. So good job on that. I know you've got a bunch of band mates to answer to, but if it were my decision, I would keep them definitely.

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I think the harmonies in this song are appropriately placed and add something to the song.

Having said that, if the same application of harmony has been used in a similar way on all the songs on the CD, then I know I'd get listener fatigue.

Having variation in the arrangements of the tracks is just as important as the arrangement of an individual track IMO.

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Sorry about it being loud, that is one of (i think the only) bandcamp's downfalls.

Yeah, not so much that it's 'loud' -- just that there's no volume control!

 

But Jake's song sounds pretty squashed (heavily compressed -- not an insult! :D -- it's the style nowadays, so I hear ;) ) anyhow. And since I had a warning (Thanks, Kurdy! You saved me a blasting because I'd just been listening to a folk album from the 60s that isn't compressed-to-death in the current fashion...) I was able to spare myself a rude shock.

 

Speaking of which, ReverbNation just redesigned their public-facing UI and it is, overall, a lot better. But they made a very 'interesting' design decision to have the volume control on their site-wide player default to half volume. That might help keep folks from being blasted when first getting there, but if they're listening to someone who doesn't crush their tracks with compression and then they go to someone who does, they're still going to get blasted since they probably turned the playback volume up for the 'quiet' band. (I actually had a lengthy email exchange with someone from RN about that decision. He was on the same page as me but said the management had got complaints about getting blasted and mandated the default setting. You can't explain anything to a suit. :D )

 

Worse, though, about that decision is the fact that many people still listen over 16 bit audio interfaces (laptops, phones, desktops with motherboard audio) and when the volume defaults to half the throw range, that can be a substantial reduction in volume -- and when that is accomplished via a volume control from the 'digital side' -- as almost all the volume controls on modern digital gear is -- that can translate to a substantial reduction in the the digital signal-to-noise ratio -- what is sometimes called 'bit-starving' as the digital signal is afforded fewer and fewer significant bits of signal at the DAC.

 

 

PS... I'm a big fan of BandCamp, mself. It's where I have my music for sale, for the most part. But one thing that doesn't fit my preference: while the downloads (paid or free) can be had in a range from full lossless FLAC (or AL) to phone-friendly 3gp, the streams are all 128 kbps... the same low-ish fi that the old Mp3.com was streaming in the late 90s. Whereas ReverbNation streams the precise file you upload. (They do however have a relatively small 8 MB/song size limit on the free accounts.)

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I think you do a great job of harmonizing with yourself, but in this particular song, I think they way they come and go is a bit annoying. Also, you are in a BAND. But, unlike Queen which had all members contributing to harmonies, it seems you are the only one in your band singing or willing to sing harmonies. You obviously won't be doing harmonies live all by yourself. So, if you won't be performing your songs with harmonies live, then why do them on the recordings and set your fans up to expect something live you won't deliver? I think if you want to do harmonies, you need to get bandmates to do them with you, or your need to defer to the will of the band you have. When your bandmates say that you doing all these harmonies takes away from the songs, they may really be saying they think you're making the songs all about you and your singing, and making them feel like background. Tread carefully over bandmate egos. :)

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There is actually two people doing the harmonies, myself and another bandmate. But that does make sense. I always have taken recordings and live music as two different things. I want to play the best show I can, and I want to record the best record that I can. Of course if I can do something to record a better CD I'll try to do it.

 

That may be against some people's beliefs, but then again we tracked the CD, so it is not like we were playing it live to begin with!

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If you play, and you have another member doing harmonies, then the other guys have no reason to feel left out. With this song though, I really think the harmonies come and go too much. They should actually be used MORE than they are. BTW, I really like the tune! :)

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Newcomer HoboSage has some good insights into the use of harmony in different styles and situations, not to mention an important observation about band egos. ;)

 

I don't really want to get into specifics here (although I did send Jake some observations in a PM) since that (giving feedback on finished songs) is a bit outside the ground rules of the forum, but I think that, while pop punk certainly comes out of punk and, let's be real, most 'punk' these days is pretty much a cookie-cutter-by-the-numbers affair, I'm not sure that the same lack of rules or expectations that punk originally enjoyed in the 70s are pertinent to pop punk nearly 4 decades later. And the audiences are clearly very different. Sadly, much of what passes for 'punk' these days is a lot like the poseur metal of the 80s... it's a heavily defined shtick, with rigid genre and even costume rules. Pop punk, on the other hand, shares much more in common with the teenybopper music of the 60s: upbeat, confectionery pop oriented to young teens.

 

And that audience is a lot more tuned into acts that tend to use lip synch and backtracks on stage so that they can sound 'perfect like the record'... so, on the one hand, they will be more likely to expect the sound of the record -- but they may be considerably more accepting of canned back tracks or even straight up lip and instrument synching -- since they have been exposed to so much of it. (Does that audience even notice when there's one guy on stage moving his mouth but clearly 6 or 7 people 'singing'? I doubt it at this point. Think about how often you've seen concert footage with obvious canned tracks. It's pandemic.)

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Pop punk = harmonies. Those harmonies on that track (it's a really nice song btw - I really liked the synth) were'nt Queen but just typical of pop punk and just pop in general. However, they could be turned down in the mix to make them sound a bit less 'chorusy'

 

VGRxmYXi4Io

 

^ The harmonies are used there in such a way that they merely enhance the vocal line. It's a good idea to do this as it makes the vocal line sound better than it actually is.

 

But, to be honest, the way you've used harmonies sounds nice takes you away from being generic.

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My opinion: first of all, is there a volume control on your page? It's quite an assault on the eardrums.


 

 

Ha! what are all you guys listening on? My two weapons of choice.... laptop or hi-fi both have volume controls!? Odd!

 

 

Anyway.... i think the harmonies work a treat and I think the song would really miss them if they werent there.

 

I don't know if you're done with the mixing of this song...but i would say to turn the harmonies down a little.... although they sound fine they make the main vocal without harmonies feel a little quiet and lost.

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as a general rule, I love harmonies...i think one of the key things is deciding is if a harmony is there as a supporting part or the combination of 2 or however many voices IS the core sound...that would dictate your mixing, volume levels, panning etc, i would say...on your particular tune, i don't find any of the harmonies too distracting, like some others here did...but for voices over part of a line/part or single words, i'd treat the backing vocals like seconds and mix lower than they are here, so the part with full 3-parts etc sounds that much more full and impactful.

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I dig the harmonies... as in they are in the right spots etc... but... IMO... they make that vocal part sound pretty proccessed..now.. if that's what you're going for, great, if not... I'd say pull out a vocal part or two to tone it down a bit... make it sound more natural

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My computer is integrated with my stereo, too (or, more like it, took over my stereo). But the volume control is way over there (not reachable) and the remote isn't always handy, when I'm using my 'good' converters, the Windows system volume doesn't effect them, so it can be handy to have a volume control on the player.

 

That said, reducing the volume by a significant amount from inside the digital realm can leave your output converters 'bit-starved' -- particularly if your computer is working through a 16 bit sound chip/interface. (Reducing the volume from the digital side by, say, 24 dB, could mean that the available signal to noise ratio of a 16 bit interface goes down to around 66 dB. And, depending on the material, that could create a fairly noticeable degradation that would be most noticeable in things like cymbal and reverb tails.)

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I find myself nodding again and again when I read concerns about bg vocals overpowering the lead vocal. I've been continuing thinking about why some harmonies delight me and some (from some really popular bands) seriously turn me off. In addition to the harmonies chosen, the execution (and pitching decisions/skill), I think balance in the mix is another critical aspect for me.

 

(I also think the 70s popularity of syrupy harmony groups like 3 Dog Night and the Doobies really put a dent in my love of harmonies. The first time I heard "Old Black Water," for about a verse and chorus, I was thinking, well, it's kind of nice that a dumb ass rock band has discovered retro harmonies -- I always loved the better doo wop bands and older harmony groups like the Platters and Ink Spots -- but by the end of the song, I was gagging. When someone put it on the juke box again 40-odd minutes later in the bar we were in, I was ready to track them down and start a fist fight. But, of course, it was a girl.)

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I'm too old to enjoy this kind of music. Definitely not the target audience. Sam Cooke & the Everly Brothers are the gold standard against which I judge all things vocally - so that's where my ears are coming from.

 

With that in mind: keep the harmonies. It's one of the best parts of the song. Guys singing together all together with gusto: That's what great records are all about. Load it up with more singing if anything - there can never be too many joyous voices if there's a melody there.There's a melody here. It's punchy & sorta slight but effective to what the song is offering. It's my sense these types of records only go over well broadly when the ladies are all on board and women respond to voices. The more the better. And what's better than a bunch of virile young guys all singing a fun song together? Bullfrogs in Heat, Baby: That be the sound of Rock music, people.

 

But maybe tone down that synthesizer thing or whatever it is that buzzes all over the song like some kinda uppidy bumblebee. It becomes a tad grating after a spell.

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Thanks for the feedback. I think the overwhelming consensus is turning them down will suffice. I will cut them a bit more, and if the band still doesn't like it to hell with them I say!

 

 

 

On the topic of bandcamp the thing I really enjoy about it is the ability for the person downloading to select from a large list of formats. This ensures the music is always the best quality for every kind of listener. As the audiofile I am it's very important to me that the music sounds as best as it can in any situation. I know some may disagree with the ulta-compressed modern sound that the song is recorded in, but that's exactly what I went for. Id say I succeeded? :D

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Thanks for the feedback. I think the overwhelming consensus is turning them down will suffice. I will cut them a bit more, and if the band still doesn't like it to hell with them I say!




On the topic of bandcamp the thing I really enjoy about it is the ability for the person downloading to select from a large list of formats. This ensures the music is always the best quality for every kind of listener. As the audiofile I am it's very important to me that the music sounds as best as it can in any situation. I know some may disagree with the ulta-compressed modern sound that the song is recorded in, but that's exactly what I went for. Id say I succeeded?
:D

Success. ;)

 

I do have to say that I much prefer your vocal processing approach now over that of (I think -- unless I'm confusing your music with someone else's) a couple years ago when I heard a few of your tracks. In those days you were using fairly hard tuning, as I recall, and it was producing a lot of artifacts that bugged out my ears. (Of course, I understood that hard-tuning was all the rage. It just makes me want to pull my ears off the sides of my head and seal them in 4 cubic feet of concrete. :D Definitely glad it's starting to fade.)

 

Totally agreed on BandCamp. I love the fact that your customers can get a non-lossy FLAC or Apple Lossless file (about 55%-60% the size of a 'full' CD audio file -- but all the data, using a special lossless audio data trick that makes use of the relative 'vertical' symmetry of audio files).

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