Feeling Music

Back in the day when I was a startving artist, as it were, and a bit of a studio rat, we didn’t always have budgets for top studio musicians, so we had to improvise… and by ‘improvise’, I mean get music students from USC or UCLA to play parts on instruments the bands weren’t proficient at. We could transcribe an arrangement and notate how we wanted it to be played. Notating feel is somewhat possible but not practical.

Typically, we’d secure trained Classical musicians, but the struggle was real to get them to ‘feel’ and not just read the notes on the page. For us, we just ‘felt’ it. We’d find a pocket, find a groove, not care that the tempo might drift or the spacing wasn’t quite in cadence, but getting these trained musicians to get past, ‘but that’s not what you wrote’ was hard. The playing was technically correct, but it was often wooden.

In the day—this is the early to mid ’80s—, synths were not quite ready for prime time when it came to simulating acoustic instruments, 8-bit samplers were shite and 16-bit samplers were out of our price range—and still not quite ready for prime time either. So that was the trade off.

Typically, the best case scenario was to play the parts on a synth for the players armed with sheet music, but that was never as good as when we had a feeling instrumentalist make an appearance.

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