I'm hoping this topic could end up being a podcast, or a round table discussion. I love having conversations with other engineers or musicians about what music has defined, or heavily influenced them in their music or their engineering. Was it hearing an album for the first time? Was it hearing a band live, and being completely overtaken by the sound? What started it? What started you digging deeper into sounds that made up those songs? I think it's safe to say that if you're reading this, you listen to music differently than people that just listen for the hook on the surface, or the lyric that gets stuck in their head. You hear things that other people don't notice, and it affects you.
Growing up, I always loved music. It was always on at my house. For some reason, i remember hearing CCR alot...I'm not sure if that's true, but when I think of being a little kid, i remember hearing CCR. I liked hearing it, i sang along, it was a good time. I started my own little kid music collection in the late 80's (none of which i will divulge...that's going to the grave), but it was just something fun, the music didn't have a big hold on me.
Then 1991 happened. I was 10 years old, and U2 had just released "Achtung Baby". I put the cassette in my walkman, put on the headphones, and after the blank section of tape rolled, my life was changed..."tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick......BOOOOOOOOODUHDUH.....tick tick tick tick tick". If you've heard "Zoo Station" you know what i'm talking about. It was noisy. It was unconventional (to a sheltered kid of the 80's), the guitar seemed to fly in one ear, and out the other. The snare drum kicks in, and it rang this amazing tone. The bass moved. Bono starts to sing, and his voice is distorted and has this glassy sound to it. It was the most bad ass thing I had heard up to that point in my life. That track still gives me chills. I still can never turn it up loud enough.
It was after that point I started paying attention to the tone, and texture of things in music, in many cases more than I payed attention to the words, or even the melody. It was the sound that got me hooked. When I started playing guitar, i wanted to make my guitar sound like The Edge. When I started mixing, I wanted to have the clarity and definition of the parts that I heard on that record. That album was a masterpiece to me, and I wanted my mixes to measure up to that in my head.
There's been other albums since then that have had the same effect, for different reasons. Hendrix's "Axis: Bold as Love" was a revelation in stereo. Rage Against the Machine's "Evil Empire" to me is a perfect example of how you can get a huge sound with 1 guitar, bass and drums, and minimal overdubs and processing. Hearing Deftones "Around the Fur" was my gateway to heavier music. Their sound is dense, and immersive, but there's subtleties from each instrument that make you listen harder. As I got older, I started listening to more of the classics. The Beatles, Queen, Zeppelin, Pink Floyd. Hearing the birth of rock music, and learning about how they got the sounds that I wanted made me dig in deeper to how sound works. "Dark Side of the Moon" still leaves me speechless.
So if you're feeling uninspired, or frustrated in your audio journey. Go back to the start. Go back to the spark. Remember what sucked you in, and why. What was your spark? I'd love to hear it.