Orchestration……& How to Ruin a Song

Yesterday my wife and I were in C28. Yes, the Christian store. Christian culture is awkward……it seems sometimes like you’re either in the going-all-out-I-just-witnessed-for-Christ-all-day-by-wearing-my-’Bad-Company-Corrupts’-t-shirt-for-8-hours-in-the-mall-today group, or you’re in the yep-you-heard-right-I-just-ordered-a-beer-and-I’m-a-Christian-what-now group. The first group has never even thought about talking with anyone outside the Christian circle…even when they go to In-N-Out, they have to look under the cup and then breathe a sigh of relief once they find the Bible verse reference there……now they can actually drink their Sprite guilt-free. And then the second group just spends all their time trying to find every way possible to awkwardly stick curse words into their everyday conversations, and then gets all giddy when they do, because the Bible doesn’t say you can’t curse. And I’m thinking that there’s just gotta be a middle ground somewhere.

But we did not find it in C28. Not even a little. (Although, we of course were definitely not looking for it in C28.) We found much worse. See, orchestration is the third factor in good music. First is melody, next is how the harmonic progression supports that melody. And thirdly, is orchestration……how the instruments find their supporting lines underneath that melody, and within the harmonic structure. And it’s orchestration that decides whether a catchy melody and good chord progression turns into the great song you can’t help singing all day, or the annoying song you can’t help singing all day. Orchestration can also be referred to as layering. And that’s something that secular producers do very well. Christian producers? Or, rather, the one Christian producer whom all American Christian music has to filter through so that he can compress the daylights out of it, run the vocals through the new Pro Tools plug-in ‘Scott Wyland-ify’, cut out all keyboards, and make every band sound like Creed? Ya, not so much. 

However, since Hillsong is not based in America, I guess they have been granted a reprieve from running all there music through this one producer. Granted, some of their stuff still does find a way to this guy, which is obviously where the filtered ‘I have a Ramones accent’ vocals came from on ‘Break Free’ and ‘Solution’. But a lot of their stuff has some very nice melodies, good chord progressions to support the melodies, and lots and lots of countering, simplistic lines of orchestration. Very un-Christian-music-like. 

And this is obviously unacceptable to the the one Christian music producer who loves Creed. So, as my wife and I learned yesterday in C28 while listening to the soundtrack playing overhead, he has in retaliation for Hillsong not running all their music into his ‘Pro Tools: the Creed edition’ software, commissioned Seventh Day Slumber to ‘de-orchestrate’ the Hillsong music. The beauty of this, is that now we have glaring examples of the enormous difference orchestration makes. 

Original, orchestrated song:

Note the layers of guitars. The way the intro actually flows into the verse. The way the dynamics of the song take you into the driving bridge, making it huge without the entrance of filtered vocals and compressed power chords. Notice that it sounds good. 

And after it’s been Creeded:

Note the complete lack of any countering melodies, keyboard pads, or layers. Note the intro that has nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of the song. Note the ‘look how cool I am’ filtered vocals, and the cookie cutter harmonies. And of course, the ultra-cool syncopation at the end of every other phrase. Oh, ya…and the ‘vocals only’ stop in the bridge, that is an absolute must in American Christian music.

Now, I’m not talking about style. Seventh Day Slumber might totally be your style. And that’s cool. It’s a bit of a heavier style…nothing wrong with that. But it’s the complete lack of orchestration that makes me just have an annoyed headache after I listen to that song. It’s this linear bleh of a song that makes completely takes the beauty out of the melody and chord progression. That song could totally be done in that style (please, with normal vocals, though! This testosterone vocal deal has got to go!), but with layers, even if they’re heavy guitar layers, to give the song more beauty, space, and interest. Not to mention that they just took a song I’d never heard before, and turned it into a song I’ve heard since I was in junior high.

And just so that we’re completely fair here, most of Hillsong’s stuff, admittedly, are U2 rip-offs. But most of what I do is too, so I’m a little more forgiving. ;) Plus, well, I really wanted to segway into a U2 song and the way it was subsequently killed by de-orchestration.

This song is funny, because when U2 originally did this song, it wasn’t Christian enough for Christian radio. But when Sanctus Real, a Christian band, covered it…changing no lyrics whatsoever…it’s now Christian enough. Awesome. And not that I want or don’t want U2 on Christian radio…at this point, I’m totally thinking that lyrical content has nothing to do with what gets played. It only gets played if it runs through our afore-mentioned Creed-obsessed producer. And just to be fair, I’ve put the U2 one on as a live version…so it should be way less orchestrated than Sanctus Real’s studio version, right?

Original, Orchestrated Song:

Note the piano, bass, and kick drum almost playing on the same team, creating the basis. And then Edge’s guitar comes in on a totally different line, but bridging the gap between the vocal melody and the harmonic basis. Note the smooth dynamics. Note the drum layers…they’re not doing much, but they do more each time through the chorus and bridge in intensity. And sweet string pad throughout, just lying there.

And after it’s been Creeded:

Same song, same melody, same progression. But it annoys me now. The took out all the guitar lines, and just power chorded the bass line. Drums decided to syncopate, and they decided to do, of course, the obligatory little stops, filter the vocals, give them a fake accent, and give them more testosterone. And they did, try some dynamics, but they made them jerky and awkward. There’s no ebb and flow…just a really awkward drum beat that takes the song somewhere weird. And to their credit, they did layer a couple guitars…with odd sounds and feedback…but, hey…it’s the thought that counts, right? And if you made it to the ending…what in the world is up with the creepy ‘I’m too sexy for my shirt’ whispers at the end? Yikes.

The weird thing is that this post is not against Christian music. There’s just so many bad Christian songs out there! ;) But note in those songs how hugely different the carefully orchestrated versions are to the Creeded ones. And this weekend, when you play your songs, put in some countering, simplistic musical lines. Don’t syncopate a random beat every 30 seconds. Sing in your normal voice. Have keyboards. Turn down your compressor. And let the song dictate what the music does; stop letting the ‘style’ call the shots. And whatever you do, don’t send your recording to that one Christian producer who loves Creed. He’ll make it sound like this:

Who tried to sound like this:

Who ripped these guys off:

And please note…I have nothing against these bands. Especially STP, who has some good guitar tone…well, live anyway…and who are the original ones to sound like this. And I’m sure that people have been encouraged and maybe even come to know God through Sanctus Real and Seventh Day Slumber. The point is, just because it’s “working”, doesn’t always mean it’s “great”. And I think it’s important to strive for “great”. And sometimes Christian music…and Creed…can give us superb examples of what not to do. ;) And they all make more money than I do (by a lot); therefore, it is okay to make fun of them a bit. Can I do it better? Oh, absolutely! Which is why they’re all out gigging in front of thousands of people right now, and I’m typing a blog! Eat that! Wait……

Splendid.
Karl.

63 thoughts on “Orchestration……& How to Ruin a Song

  1. Awesome, awesome, awesome. 1 producer– agree!

    I just want to buy that guy a mac with garageband so maybe something will sound different.
    Why does CCM really studio compress and auto tune the crap out of all the musak?

    My main pet peeve is how some artists are just now starting to copy Dave Matthews Band, Sugar Ray and otherwise. Wow, 10 years ago guys?

    Our worship leader is astonished that we all love ACDC, U2, and Snow Patrol. Wow, harmonies, layering, ORCHESTRATION…. Just as you said.
    When is the last time you played a song with a memorable intro? What is the last CCM song you heard with a memorable intro that you could name after only 3 seconds of hearing it?

    yeah… we have got to turn some stuff around!

  2. I think most of that is going over my head. I did listen to Seventh Day Slumber’s Mighty to Save — sounds a little “garage bandy.”

    Ok so when you mention compression I presume you’re talking about on vocals. And I understand ‘sing in your normal voice’ — there is one guy being played on 103.9 The Fish here in the Sacramento area that sounds like he has a mouth full of oatmeal, or novacaine in his lips — on purpose. But by testosterone you’re not talking about 3rd Day ( a truly masculine voice ) but something “affected.” ?

    Then there’s a female Christian vocalist who has that affected sound where she does a vocal ‘slide’ up an octave or so at the end of every phrase. Stupid IMHO.

    Perhaps you can elaborate, in laymen’s terms on this paragraph:

    “And this weekend, when you play your songs, put in some countering, simplistic musical lines. Don’t syncopate a random beat every 30 seconds. Sing in your normal voice. Have keyboards. Turn down your compressor. And let the song dictate what the music does; stop letting the ’style’ call the shots”

    thanks,
    Randy

  3. Thanks for ruining my day – Seventh Day Slumber, Sanctus Real – did those guys even listen to the originals and realise just how inferior their versions are?

    Maybe I’m just biased but every time I hear an American cover of a Hillsong track it always seems like something has been sucked out of the song – energy, dynamics, feel. Now I know why – it’s that one producer who loves Creed!

    Makes me realise how lucky we are hear in Australia.. occaisionally people in our team whinge about being tired of Hillsong, but in my opinion they are still producing some of the best stuff around.

    And what’s with your Christian radio stations refusing to play U2 but subsituting that lame version? I don’t often listen to our Christian station here but I can assure you that they do play genuine U2 music… I’m yet to hear any AC/DC on there though..

  4. Ha ha. Gotta love these intros that don’t do anything for the song… It is funny that you call it “Creeded”. I actually like that Creed song with that super compressed sound they get from their electrics. Super compressed clean and heavy power chords. With the cool freaky unnatural man voice (that Todd Agnew though I do like his rendition of Amazing Grace). The song is put together simply and works well for that song Higher… Very recognizable at least. On the other hand, the “Creeded” versions are just bad and pale in comparison to the original. I totally agree about the fake syncopated drums (but I guess they had to change something). Fake rock. Fake vocals. I think they are trying to sound garage bandy. Something to be said though about simplicity in arranging. Sometimes arrangements can definitely get out of hand. Sometimes the simple stuff without the counters work better. Sometimes orchestration is a nice thing to do. I’m a super huge fan of keeping it simple, but have lots of dynamics, ebb and flow, high energy to low energy, etc. That’s definitely absent in the “creeded” versions. Perfect for mindless compressed ipod listening or working out…

  5. Another Good one Karl. You guys must have bought a couple boxes of Wheaties this week because that’s two posts in a row you’ve hit out of the park.

    I really don’t have anything to add. But on the overly compressed nature of this post. I listened to the videos on ultra low volume on my laptop speakers. I could hear the compressed music with no problems. It did sound especially, well, compressed.

    I also know what kind of christian I am, get me another #@*! beer!

    Nate

    • Yeah, i expect that soon enough someone from my past will be sending a He-Brew on FB or a quiz to that effect as if i want to propagate and or otherwise help the govt. / marketing demons develop their demographics profile. The only question will be, “Block This Application” or “Ignore All Invites” from this “Friend”! Hope i don’t sound like i’m yelling. Righteous indignation should be reserved for things of substance such as…”My Father’s House shall be called a House of prayer.” Somehow this is not on par with that but, maybe the word seething fits the bill.

      Sorry, seems i got miles off base of Karl’s tirade on the “one producer” bit ( BTW Karl, i liked the article and i learn a lot from all your posts. OK, most of them – as unbiased as they are – lol! ). This may be a good time to start a “Stop The Quizzes” FB group so that i can develop a profile of my own of people who seethe at the notion of being asked publicly to take a whiz… uh… check that… quiz.

      PraySing Him!

      • haha No worries, bro! You’re so right!

        And how dare you, sir. My posts are completely unbiased!! ;) Well, except when it comes to Edge, U2, tone, gear, guitars, amps, worship, effects pedals, and movies. Other than that…completely unbiased!!

  6. One of the best things about teaching is spring break! I got my new Indian Rosewood/Redwood acoustic prepped and ready for finish yesterday, and today . . . the rain :o/

  7. Is C28 that store which is like the Christian Hot Topic?
    ha ha
    I’ve heard the U2 tribute cd that has the Sanctus Real version of BD and it is pretty horrendous. Chris Tomlin’s version of Streets isn’t so bad but his voice sounds kinda thin compared to Bono. My friend’s band is going to play Magnificent (arty worship song?) next week at a youth event.

    I disagree on PJ ripping off STP because PJ’s album came out first and STP was not as well regarded as the bands coming out of Seattle. 1991 was a good time for music!
    If only Hillsong would admit to ripping off Death Cab :)

  8. I really can’t comment on how many different parts of me died at the same time. I will say though that some mixes stand the test of time, and others just last long enough to make the initial sale.

    what no kutless in this post?

  9. i agree with the “orchestration” bit but i will put it on both the producer and the artist. the producer is supposed to bring out the best out of the artist’s abilities. but the artist should also know when to draw the line and speak up if he thinks it doesn’t sound great.

    on the other hand, we have to understand that, like tone, music is also subjective. some of these songs are for certain demographics. there are people who swear by U2 *wink* but there are some who thinks they are just not great *ducking* :D

    would you mean that a song with only a finger-picked acoustic guitar and vocals not as good or even better than a full band? certainly not! each style has its merits

    btw, i love pearl jam & stp from early 90s! i still listen to them every once in a while :)

  10. Karl,

    This is my first post, so first and foremost I wanted to say that I’ve been reading your blog since it started (just about), and wanted to say that I love it! Anyways, I also wanted to say that I completely agree with you on this one! I don’t mean to complain, but lately I feel like we as worship guitarists are being kind of trapped. The one “creed” producer dictates not only what we hear on the radio, but also what is acceptable when we play on Sunday mornings. What people hear on the radio kind of tunes their ear to that “style” and so we get funny looks when we don’t follow suit.

    Also, speaking of the song “Mighty to Save”, I’m sure you’ve all heard the Michael W. Smith version by now. If you haven’t you should check it out– but prepare yourself (it’s an abomination). I like some of the music that guy puts out, but whenever that song comes on the radio (every 10-15 minutes) I have to turn it off. There is just a real lack of feel and dynamics, and all the guitar work done is just a severely diluted and simplified version of the original.

    -Padraic

  11. Karl,

    I love you Man! (And I barely know you. So, I guess that shows what kind of Christian I am. ;))

    At our last worship meeting, I decided to vocalize similar ideas at the tail end ot thee, sitting around the stage, talkin’ about stuff, that didn’t have to do with the lack of bass players and people that don’t want to come to practice prepared. Most (Key word most.) of the musicians gave me verbal high fives and some (Key word some.) of the vocalist looked at me like I was the Anti-Christ. The rest, of the most, of the some just ignored me for the short haired hippy conservative that I am.

    Why is it that you’re not allowed to take a critical look at Christian music’s poor arrangement, theologically unsound song writing, and overall lack of creativity without appearing….uh…unChristian. If U2 (God Forbid!) or the Stones or…whoever puts out a garbage album, it’s not only my right but my responsibility to shred it. Yet Christian music gets a pass for the most part. How (Please overemphasize the how while reading.) can we expect Christian music to grab the attention of non Christians (Which “Great Commission” wise should be it’s ulitimate goal.) if it ain’t ringin’ the bell for the choir?

    Mark

    PS- Our pastor asked us to play Beautiful Day at the start of our Easter service this Sunday (He is risen! Yes indeed!). We will NOT be doing a reworked version! I guarantee!

  12. Karl!!!!

    This is an excellent post. I completely agree but I like to dig into the history and sociology of it all.
    This is where the “Christians” who created C28 and christian music went wrong… PEOPLE ARE CHRISTIANS!!!! NOT PLACES OR THINGS OR CLOTHING OR MUSIC!!!!

    Ok got that off my chest. See for many who started walking with Jesus, the burden of being called a Christian became too much to bear so they transferred it onto a sub-culture which includes music, movies, clothing, styles, books, etc.
    Now they could live like everyone else and still feel like a Christian because they are surrounded by christian stuff to make them feel christian.
    A Christian is a person who has been/is being changed by Jesus. The best way people see Jesus is by truly changed Christians living among them, NOT creating their own special society that makes them feel comfortable (and also harbors sin).
    Ha ha sorry this is a hot topic for me.
    STP rocks by the way! Favorite band in high school.

  13. “And then the second group just spends all their time trying to find every way possible to awkwardly stick curse words into their everyday conversations,”

    Well, only those that drink the cheap beer. :)

    After the MWS concert a few weeks ago, the sound guys tossed in U2. My wife said “what’s with everyone playing U2 now-a-days?”

    Regarding covers, I don’t mind a really good cover of a song. “Hey Ya” by Mat Weddle is kickin – just look on youtube. I’ve even heard a jazz version of “Ice, Ice Baby.” Oh, don’t tell me you don’t know that song. I’ve even got a cover of pink floyds “wish you were here” by one guy with a guitar and a great voice. All are kickin!

    But when a song is covered with all the emotion of the original removed, man, that just kills it. I hear that done more than anything.

    I hear ya on the “same producer stuff.”

  14. I’ve always thought most christian music is mediocre. It’s not right, as our God is infinitely creative and original.

    A little something about STP- I once saw them live on TV, and they were accompanied by two members of the violet burning (90′s christian band-liked them) shawn and scott tubbs.
    Not sure what the connection was, maybe karl knows, they’re from california.

  15. Larry–haha Great points! :)

    Randy–ya, by compression I do mean on vocals…but also on the guitars, giving them that processed, lifeless sound, and also on the recording as a whole, giving it that same processed (non-living) sound.

    And the testosterone thing is those vocalists who don’t talk growly, but affect it when they sing to try to sound like Scott Weiland. Not Third Day, because he talks like that too…you can tell when they’re singing if they’re trying, or if that’s their voice. Kutlass, Seventh Day Slumber, Creed, Jeremy Camp, Todd Agnew, they’re all doing it. And then Sanctus Real and others are affecting a British accent for some reason. lol

    And about the last part. By countering lines, I mean different melody lines in the guitars and pianos, even if it’s one guitar finger-picking. But keeping it simple. And the syncopation part, well you’ve got to listen to that Sanctus Real version of Beautiful Day all the way through to get that…it’s hard to explain. Just listen for the random drum hits and band stops on weird parts of the song…more testosterone. Almost like, trying way too hard to be cool rather than just letting the music play. Sing in your normal voice means, again, just sing…don’t try to be cool. If your normal voice is gravelly, be that. If it’s high and tenor-like, be that. If it happens to be more of a classic ’40′s style, be that, too. The human voice is the most human element in the whole band…people connect with it. Don’t affect something it’s not. Keyboards means, give the song some depth and flavor…even if you’ve got just one acoustic, hang on some bass notes or some full chords for awhile instead of just chugging away the power chords. And compression is referring to the compressors that a lot of the churches have at the back with the soundboard. And they crank them to make it sound ‘professional’. But compressors are like the band Sigur Ros…they’re great, but in small doses.

    And overall, it’s letting the music tell you where the song needs to go. Rather than, ‘Oh, we’ve got to be this style’, or ‘that doesn’t sound cool enough’, or ‘is this modern enough.’ As worship leaders, we can get ourselves into trouble by always trying to sing like our favorite artist, or turn every song into our favorite band…I am so guilty of that! Just let the music play you sometimes, rather than the other way around. I guess what I’m saying is, don’t force it.
    :)

    Baggas–lol Great points! You’re so lucky to be in Australia. hehe

    And ya, I’m kind of in this mini Bible belt in Southern California, and there’s an ultra-spiritual movement it seems we’re just moving out of. But then to distance ourselves from that, we’re like, pushing all the way past where I feel we should be, into trying overly hard to be ‘emergent.’ But anyway, a lot of the radio stations are still pretty strict. Which is cool…if you don’t want to play U2, don’t play U2. No worries. It’s just funny that they feel the song changes depending on which hands are playing the instruments.

    Or who knows…maybe U2 charges an arm and a leg for their singles! lol

    Skonger–bro! You’re right. I totally forgot to put in that no matter how over Creed I may be, Mark Tremonti still had and has some very good tone. Props for pointing that out.

    And ya, simplicity in arrangements is key! I’m all for that. It’s just that, for instance, in the live version of Beautiful Day, they probably have ‘less’ going on instrumentally…the instruments are just choosing better lines than the ones in the remake. And sure, different styles are different styles, and that’s totally cool. I just gravitate towards the little picked out notes U2 is doing on the guitar, over the super heavy and syncopated power chords Sanctus Real is doing.

    But totally great points on the simplicity. That’s absolutely essential. :)

    Nate–lol Good times!! haha

    James Orr–haha!

    And do you have pics of the acoustic? That sounds awesome!

    Dan–lol Yes! It’s totally the Christian Hot Topic!

    And ya, I heard some other stuff from that album and was like, ‘Huh?’ Not so good. I agree, though, Streets wasn’t terrible. hehe

    And you are absolutely right. I am totally guilty of not checking my timeline on the STP/Pearl Jam thing. I just posted and hoped for the best. hehe ;)

    Kenrick–lol Awesome!! Yes, that Seventh Day Slumber version is enough to kill anyone, methinks…uh, in my humble opinion, of course. ;)

    And I almost put Kutless in! haha

    Rhoy–I totally agree that it’s the producer’s and the artist’s fault. I just made up the ‘one producer for all Christian music’ thing as kind of a tongue i cheek look at what’s going on. But it just as easily could have been the ‘one Christian music band’ who gives themselves different band names to sell more albums. haha Because I’m sure Seventh Day Slumber and Kutless are the same band. ;)

    And totally! Music is all subjective. Somewhere, there’s gotta be a blog somewhere talking about how horrible U2 is, and how amazing it was when Sanctus Real took their song and totally rocked it!! haha

    And the orchestration thing is more about just giving it ‘some’ orchestration. For instance, I’ve heard acoustic songs that have more and better orchestration than that Seventh Day Slumber version of ‘Mighty to Save.’ For instance, Paul Simon’s acoustic orchestration of ‘Sound of Silence’ below his and Art Garfunkle’s voice–it kills a lot of music that has a full band! So, great point, and I’m totally with you…I think orchestration can be done properly even with one instrument.

    And ya…I do like a good portion of the STP stuff. :)

    Wow, great points in your comment, brother!

    Padraic–well, thanks for the kind words, and it’s great to have you here. And great points! Ya, sometimes it does even spill over into our own worship services…like, do I have to play power chords in every song? Seriously, I can do some stuff that’ll be way simpler and sound way better! hehe (Although I’m way guilty sometimes of looking at people funny if they don’t use U2 delay. haha ;) )

    And I actually have yet to hear the Michael W. Smith version of that song, but I’ll totally check it out. That sucks if he ruined it, too. hehe

    Again, thanks for the comment, and it’s great to have you here!

    Mark–haha Love you, too, brother!

    And wow, awesome points!! Yes, it’s unfortunately way too true that sometimes we’re not allowed to call a spade a spade, if it’s Christian. And we’re not saying that they’re doing anything sinful, or questioning their motives even. Just saying that with the inspiration of God in our lives, couldn’t our art be so much better than it is on the whole?

    I totally hear ya.

    And have fun with ‘Beautiful Day!’

    James–great to hear from you!

    And whoa. Everyone, please read James’ comment. Incredible insight there, and I can’t say it any better.

    Thanks, brother!

    Chris–haha Everyone playing U2 these days is actually all just part of my master plan. It’s working!! ;) lol

    And I don’t mind a good cover, either. Especially ones that are fun…like Alien Ant Farm’s cover of Smooth Criminal. Now that’s fun. But like you said, with the emotion and orchestration and all the things that made the song beautiful in the first place stripped out? Aech.

    And it does sound like it’s all the same producer, huh. Of course it’s not, but it sure sounds like it! hehe

    Don–yep, I feel the same way. I’m not sure why we feel we have to be so cookie-cutter. There’s some good Christian music out there, but I have to look really hard, and usually way off the beaten path; and you’re right…it shouldn’t be that way.

    And I have no idea what the connection is between STP and Violet Burning. An old band I was with played with Violet Burning once, but not enough to really get to know them or have any inside info. In fact, I think they told us we sucked. lol But I do like their music!

  16. GREAT post (as usual), with one exception…

    Pearl Jam did NOT rip off STP! Let’s examine the evidence – one band had a couple of hits but quickly showed themselves to have a pretty low creative ceiling. The other band pretty much defined grunge (and some band called Nirvana) but continued to grow, create, and make great music. STP and Pearl Jam and even close to being on the same level of greatness…

    Eddie Vedder’s voice is Eddie Vedder’s voice – unlike Scott Stapp, who clearly sounds like he’s switching to his “Singing voice” whenever he croons/assaults.

    I demand a retraction!!!

  17. James–Don’t judge?! That looks amazing! You need to not judge me for being jealous of the fact that you build your own gear!! That’s seriously amazing.

    Jeff–Alright, alright, I admit…I didn’t check my timeline at all. ;) Dan called me on it, too. lol I knew Pearl Jam was early ’90′s, and then for some reason, Stone Temple Pilots’ sound has always just sounded mid to late ’80′s to me. I don’t know why. But…I just checked wikipedia (which is never ever wrong, of course), and sure enough…Pearl Jam’s debut album came out in ’91, and STP’s in ’92.

    I am…so hard to say it…officially wrong.

  18. Karl, I have been reading for awhile, but the first time I have posted a reply. Great stuff. I’m new to the wonderful world of delay so feel free to continue write on that and give some advice. :)

    Blogsology: I would argue that STP did indeed grow and evolve. Compare Tiny Music (3rd album) to Core (1st album). Different styles and totally different guitar tone. And to clear things up, Scott Stapp sang, crooned, growled, etc. for Creed, not STP. Scott Weiland sings for STP. Now I’m not vouching for Weilands stint in Velvet Revolver (or better known at GnR attempt number 2). That is a whole other story. That being said, I also really like Pearl Jam. I’m a product of the 90s.

  19. Creed trumps both Pearl Jam and STP. Because they were “Christian” at one point. Yeah, thats it.

    But seriously, I think the Foo Fighters are the best thing to come out of the 90s… and aren’t seriously drug addicted and dead yet (rumor is they are stand up guys, especially Grohl).

    To the topic… Right on Karl ;)

  20. They sound good, but cosmetically I’m not there yet. At least with acoustics. Getting gapless inlays (rosette, binding, etc) has been my achilles. But it’s fun and meaningful work to practice. It helps me connect. Just so the other readers don’t mistake my link for solicitation, I’m still in the friends and family zone. :)

    Karl, is there any way I can get in touch with you regarding “40″??? () :)

  21. Wow!!

    I was reading this last night and thought …. man Karl sure has a keen ear for this kind of thing… I have a lot to learn from him…

  22. Jonathan–great to have you here, bro!! And I’ll try to post some delay stuff this upcoming week. :) Anyway, welcome!!

    Cheers,
    Karl

    Larry–haha I’m not a huge Foo Fighters fan…they’ve got some catchy stuff, though. I did like Nirvana when…wasn’t the Foo Fighters singer the drummer? And did I just totally make myself uncool by having to ask that question?

    And thanks, brother.

    James–still awesome, bro! And ya, you can e-mail me at karl@getlife.tv :)

    Sal–you are waaaay too kind! :)

    Alex–definitely. They’ve got some great stuff! :) Stupid Creed…ripping them and Pearl Jam off. hehe

  23. This is great.

    I’m an electric guitarist and a christian, and I’ve always noticed that christian music has really stereotypical music.
    Its good to see that someone else agrees and is able to analyze the music.
    Good stuff!

  24. Daniel–welcome! Great to have you here. And great site of your own, by the way. And ya, it’s unfortunate that so much Christian music seems to fall into the lame category. I don’t know why it’s that way. There’s a few that don’t (The Listening, Brooke Fraser), but they seem to be few and far between. Anyway, welcome again, and cheers!

    –Karl

  25. Please pardon my newness, but I’ve spent the last 24 hours reading most of these blogs and I’ve decided to post, finally.

    You have no idea how much you’re speaking to me right now. Me and my youth pastor constantly poke fun at bands like Michael W. Smith and SDS for these exact reasons. He and I have similar tastes in music and it just kills us to see all this mediocrity in the church.

    Our recently instated worship director is actually on a kick right now about how if we are called to be the salt of the earth, then we need to not box ourselves in with mediocrity. He also really likes U2, I think you guys would get along swimmingly.

    A band everyone absolutely needs to check out is mewithoutYou. That band is quite possibly the best band ever. As I read this article, I kept thinking of how mewithoutYou doesn’t fit into any of the Creed-ish tendencies that CCM has today.

    BTW, awesome blog, great information.

  26. Colty, welcome! It’s great to have you here. I’m glad the ramblings are somewhat interesting. I’ll totally have to check out mewithoutYou. And anyone who likes U2 is okay in my book. ;)

    But I agree, there’s a lot of mediocrity music-wise in the church. Maybe we’re scared to take a risk, maybe we’re honest-to-goodness really thinking this is what our people like, maybe we’re lazy, or maybe we’re writing music for our jobs rather than our passion for it, and our passion for God. I’m not sure.

    But great comment, and again, welcome!

    Cheers,
    Karl

  27. Compressors: Ok I’m looking for enough reasons to remove my old Boss CS-2 compressor from my pedal board to make room for a distortion pedal. I know I’ll just have to try it — I’ve had the compressor as first in the chain for a very long time, but almost never tweak the knobs.

    So what am I going to experience without it? The 2nd pedal is an RC booster. There’s a Boss od-3 next. I have an unmodified Boss Metal Zone ( ok don’t laugh too hard ) in a drawer at the moment. Would some of the mods available for that work or am I going to have to shell out some money for a good distortion pedal ( I’m using the same pedal board in church and in an outside band so the OD3 doesn’t give me enough )

    “Randy–ya, by compression I do mean on vocals…but also on the guitars, giving them that processed, lifeless sound, and also on the recording as a whole, giving it that same processed (non-living) sound. “

  28. Hey Randy! In those songs, my complaint with the compressed guitar sound is how incredibly compressed it is. Compressors can sound great at low settings…but it’s very easy to cross that line where the compressor is up too high and is killing your tone. The bottom line is your ears. Try your rig without the compressor, and then try it with. Use whichever one you like better. And that old CS-2 is not a bad pedal at all!

    That being said, though, if you have the compressor as your ‘always on’ pedal, I bet you’ll get even better results using that RC Booster at low settings as your ‘always on’ pedal.

    As for distortion, if it’s a first generation DS-1, it might be pretty decent. If not, just personally, I’d start to look into some other od pedals rather than mod it. Just my humble opinion! :)

  29. Thanks Karl, I’ll try taking the CS-2 off for a while. Yes I leave the RC booster on all of the time. The distortion box currently in a drawer is a metal zone mt-2, unmodified. Probably not useful for church but might work for the other band, and removing the CS-2 would make room for it.

    I always thought of the CS-2 as something that would boost up notes picked/strummed too lightly and tamp down those picked/strummed too hard — evening out the volume. And possibly also to add sustain, but I guess the danger is eliminating dynamics which the player should learn to control with his hands.

    Another suggestion here: http://gpawf4christ.com/forums/showthread.php?t=4525 was the MI BluesBoy Deluxe but if that’s still an OD might not be that much more in the distortion range than the od3.

  30. Someone said they didn’t know why CCM has to be so cookie-cutter. I think I know the answer.

    Cookie-cutter is the lowest risk. If they produce the music like other successfully selling music, the risk is greatly mitigated. OTOH, if you try and be creative and do things different, you’re putting your creative necks on the line.

    I totally agree with the dominant sentiments expressed in this great posting.

    I definitely prefer the simpler orchestral arrangements of U2 over their overly compressed Creed-ified counterparts.

    I also think there is something to be said at being creative with color chords.

    As a music theory nut, I often substitute a IV chord with a major chord add #11, or a V chord with say a dominant add 11. And no this doesn’t have to sound jazzy. This is just another way to make the music interesting (and its something I don’t hear U2 or Creed-like bands doing).

  31. Randy–yikes, I guess I saw this comment way late! :) I love that RC Booster you’re running. The Blue Boy is a great pedal, but definitely more of a distortion. Might be too much. If you run it at 12 volts and higher, it gets more headroom, but it’s still a pretty ‘intense’ drive pedal.

    Greg–killer comment! I think you’re exactly right. In the normal music industry, it’s so crowded that you really have to be different to make a splash. In the Christian industry, we have what’s selling, and we don’t want to ruin that. Great point!

    And my music theory probably isn’t up to snuff, but I do like the idea of color chords. So, as an 11th is just an octave up 4th, are you saying substitute a IV chord with any other major chord, as long as you’ve got the 11 in there up top? I could go with that. I used to play with a jazz guitarist who had his master’s in theory, and whoa! The chords he could come up with. I didn’t always like all of them, but there were times when it was just magical, and no, it didn’t have to sound jazzy all the time.

    Definitely a time and a place for it! :)

  32. I love this post. You have nailed one of my big complaints about modern Christian music. Perhaps not too surprising, the exact sentiments can be applied to most modern Country music as well. Both seem to have been, for the most part, composed and produced to convey absolutely no character. They are, from a musical perspective, soulless.

    I can only assume this is a marketing thing on both fronts. Band X made us millions of dollars with Song X, therefore every other band we market must sound like Band X. Although, I expect that the sort of people that listen to these bands require a small repetitive selection of music, and prefer that it be very easy to digest and leave nothing to the imagination. Much like the lyrics, my other complaint.

    (Highway Star, as interpreted by the modern Christian music lyric factory.

    No one shall take from me my car.
    I shall operate it until it no longer runs.
    No one shall take from me my car.
    I will drive it at 343.29 miles per second.
    It is a well designed automobile.
    It is well apportioned with accessories.
    For example, an enhanced engine,
    large diameter tires, et al.

    and so on)

  33. Dude, your articles CRACK ME UP. I was laughing so hard at the 7th Day Slumber’s version of Mighty to Save.

    I couldn’t agree with you more on just about everything you said.

  34. hehe Thanks, bro. Stoked that they can be of some use and enjoyment. And ya…first time I heard that version, I was like, ‘Wow.’ And not in a good way. hehe Cheers, bro!

  35. haha dude. i laughed hard when you compared christian music to creed…i thought i was the only one who saw that…like my parents are like “why dont you like kutless?” so i answer with “they sound like creed…i hate creed.” haha. im glad we see eye to eye :D

  36. Hey Karl,

    I came across your blog from a friend of mine that also reads it. I’m not a seasoned electric player and my gear knowledge is limited, but growing. I am a seasoned acoustic and rhythm player though. I really enjoy reading your blog. There certainly is quite a bit to read too, not that its a bad thing. : )
    You’re writing is witty, clever, and insightful. I sometimes find myself actually laughing out loud after reading some posts.

    There isn’t much more to be said that hasn’t already been posted with this topic, but I wanted to say that I agree with your original post.
    I always wondered about the compression thing (why I can change the radio from a Christian station to a non-Christian radio station and hear the difference in the sound and production). However, I do like seeing when there are some Christian artists that will use a producer who hasn’t done all Christian music (It gives me hope that they will actually put out a decent record). The Christian music that I do listen to and can appreciate for talent or artistry (Phil Wickham, Shane & Shane, Telecast, Michael Gungor Band) doesn’t get played on the radio (at least not the radio station in MD). I guess they like to appeal more to the middle-aged parents, more than 20, 30-somethings. If I turn to a local rock station I can hear a Switchfoot song though, but not on the Christian one.

    About the cover song topic, I’m all for a good cover song (like Bold As Love by John Mayer or Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground by Chris Thile, both great in my opinion). I find it odd (like you pointed out) that if a Christian artist covers a secular song, it becomes acceptable in the Christian community. As long as there’s money to be made, right… oh well.

    Thanks again for your posts.
    If you’re ever in MD, we should get a brew. : )
    God bless,

    Jon

  37. Hey Jonraz,

    Welcome, bro! Glad to have you here, and thanks for the kind words. Man, I totally agree with what you said about flipping radio channels, and right away, you can tell the Christian song. And it has nothing to do with the lyrics. Very unfortunate.

    And you’re right…I don’t mind a cover either, if it is good of its own merit. Like Mayer’s version of Free-Fallin’. But taking a good song and Creeding it…hehehe

    Anyway, if I ever do get out to Maryland, I’ll definitely look you up! Any good guitar shops out there? ;)

    In Christ,
    Karl

  38. Yo! 1st, I love your blog/site. It’s obvious you have a unique calling/vocation/perspective…. to say the least. I sound as neurotic as you do sometimes. Must be a P&W/guitar thing.

    Back to this topic. I think your criticism of Seventh Day Slumber’s is revealing. You seem to have lost your “street cred.” You might to read Romans 14. It is referring to meat and offense but the principle is totally applicable.

    Many of these bands, although their largest market segment is Christians, they know that Christians are the ones who are sharing their music with the unsaved/unchurched.

    Many people who fit that description wouldn’t really be impressed or impacted with Hillsong’s orchestrated arrangements.

    To compare Sanctus Real with U2 is a perfect example of how you have been leavened. Beware the leaven of the saduccees and the pharisees.

    I would take a step back and be thrilled that so many “Cookie Cutter” bands are impacting the world with their “Creeded” sound.

    If I have a friend who listens to a secular band that may be similar to Sanctus Real or Seventh Day Slumber I am surely not going to try to win them with Hillsong.

    That orchestration that you seem to think makes the song is probably the very thing that destroys the song to some.

    To be more direct, quit being such a musical snob. On Seinfeld there was a soup Nazi, don’t be a P&W music Nazi. In Him….Peace

  39. Randy, thanks for your perspective! :) It is very well-put.

    My point, as I believe was put forth in the last paragraph of this post, was to critique music…not people. If Seventh Day Slumber is reaching people, then wonderful. In fact, I hope they are reaching people with Christ’s love through their music. However, I do not believe that that means we cannot critique that music for the purpose of trying to better our own use of music for God’s glory. In fact, I would hope that Seventh Day Slumber and Sanctus Real are doing the same critiquing of their own music, for the purpose of bettering it in the future. I also hope the same for U2, Hillsong, myself, and every reader of this blog.

    I also strive in my blog and personal life to never personally attack things I don’t like. I do my best to critique the product, which is in this case music. But I try very hard to keep it away from personal critiques. As you stated in your comment, and as I stated in my post, these are people who are reaching others with God’s love. There is nothing wrong with that, and they will not be critiqued. But I believe the product is fair game to be critiqued, for the purpose of bettering our craft, and using it in new and better ways for our Lord.

    And again, as I mentioned in the last paragraph of the post, I am one little person who has made a grand total of $.70 in song-writing profits in his lifetime. haha Admittedly, Seventh Day Slumber has made much more than that, and reaches a far larger audience than I do. Does that mean that I am probably wrong about their music being bad? hehe Probably. But that’s just how I hear it personally. Fortunately, I am not the only blog on the internet, and there are plenty of wonderful reviews for some of the bands I mentioned disliking here.

    As for ‘street cred’, the majority of music I listen to is secular, and I find very little of it to sound like Seventh Day Slumber or Sanctus Real. But perhaps I am listening to the wrong music. Most of the kids I know are listening to MGMT, college is Fleet Foxes, young adults is Editors, and adults s John Mayer and even Death Cab. And then of course, a lot of R&B and country thrown in there, too! hehe ;) But those are just my humble observations, and I could be totally wrong. In fact, I usually am! :) However, style aside, I believe I even mentioned in the post that it was not about style…it was about the way in which the style was put forth.

    All that to say, though this post was put forth in a humourous way, the point was to use examples of music in order to try to learn and help our own music. I ended with an admission of humility, and a statement of applaud towards what these bands are doing for the Lord, even if I do not care for the way they do music, or see their music as examples of what not to do. Please accept my apologies if that did not come through in the original post.

    Thank you so much for your time, and your opinion, and as always, I welcome disagreement and discussion. :) It’s really hard to grow in our walks with God without them. Thank you, my friend, and have a wonderful day!

    In Christ,
    Karl

  40. Thanks for the kind response. I appreciate your ear. One of the things that I always try to consider when being a “critical” or “analytical” listener is to consider things like record deal, budget, style, market/ministry target etc.

    As a seasoned old school “Jesus Freak” who considers myself a veritable treasure trove of encyclopedic knowledge on pre-90′s worship renaissance Christian Music, I was listening to Christian music when Christian music wasn’t cool. (Thank you Barbara Mandrel).

    It seems there has been a blurring of lines between music that is Christian in content which is created with evangelism in mind, and music that is created specifically for the church community.

    In the early days of Christian pop/rock music there were more distinctly defined parameters which are all but gone now. It seems that we should revisit the discussion about what the differences are between Praise, Worship & Evangelistic music.

    In the 70′s we never would have dreamed of doing some of the hard driving music that is currently played as P&W music. Now it’s a staple to our repertoire.

    You may remember that when John Ellis of Tree63 was asked if he thinks that the popularity of modern worship ultimately dampens creativity in Christian music? Ellis responded “Yes yes yes! I absolutely believe that the modern phenomenon of “modern worship” dampens creativity amongst music-making Christians.” That seems to demonstrate a complete lack of focus and understanding of the differences in the functions of Christian music. Read the whole interview here.

    http://www.thefish.com/music/interviews/11618064/

    I think now when I hear someone criticize Christian music, especially some of the more raw and under produced stuff, I find myself defaulting to tolerance, acceptance and trying to understanding their audience, budget and intended listening market than being comparative or trying to define what I think is “good” or “better”.

    Apart from the blatant misuse or abuse of the genre of Christian music in general, I prefer to not “critique” style arrangement and production in a way that jaundices the personality of the music.

    I think it was your sarcastic use of terms like “Creeded” and “look how cool I am” filtered vocals” that seemed to convey more disdain than your obligatory kudos in your closing paragraph can make up for. Now I understand what you were attempting to do and it makes sense whether I agree or not….

    P.S. Before there was a Creed who was trying to sound like a Pearl Jam who was trying to sound like STP there was the real pioneer of the NW grunge sound Mother Love Bone.

    P.P.S. How about a little CCM music trivia? Which notorious Christian session guitarist sat in as a guest with STP on their MTV Unplugged show? Peace

  41. Randy F, thanks again for another well thought-out response. You make some great points, and I’ll try to respond more in depth when I have more time. I apologize, it has been a very rough week.

    I completely agree with you that there is a place for music to be reaching out into the world, and not just used for corporate worship. I think for me personally though, that music still sounds different than the bands mentioned here. But again, perhaps that’s just the circles I run in.

    And I absolutely admit to sarcasm, and if I crossed the line, I do apologize. But I would totally invite the members of Sanctus Real or Seventh Day Slumber to read this post; I would hope they would be able to have a bit of a sense of humour about their own music, as I do about mine…well, I kind of have to as I make about 15 mistakes in every demo video I do. hehe Of course, those guys are off making a living and reaching people for the Lord, and probably are not reading my blog. lol (Understatement of the year. ;) )

    And huge props on the Mother Love Bone call. I totally forgot about that, but you are so right! And I have no idea on the trivia question. I’d guess Phil Keaggy, or maybe Paul Jackson, Jr.?

    Have a great night!

  42. The answer to the trivia question “Which notorious Christian session guitarist sat in as a guest with STP on their MTV Unplugged show?”…..is Shawn Tubbs.

    Those who have listened to Violet Burning and wish Michael Pritzl still had the same band line up as played on the stellar and legendary (and never matched) album “Strength” know about Shawn Tubbs. He ranks among the most talented and least celebrated around. That album is a tutorial in late 80′s guitar texture and moody pre-grunge New Wave. Most definitely near the top of my 10 desert island albums.

    Here’s a link to his Myspace.

    http://www.myspace.com/seamismctube

    His personal style is eclectic and complex. Great credentials in Christian music and Nashville in general. Most of Crystal Lewis’ albums, the Grammy house band, and now he is Carrie Underwood’s 1st guitarist.

    Loves Jesus. Plays guitar. My kind of guy.

  43. Considering this is a post on christian music… I thought I’d put a link to a band that was actually on the “small” stage because they weren’t good enough at Spirit West Coast in 2005…. simply stunning…

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQxleg-5UCs&hl=en_US&fs=1&]

  44. Oh and you’ll appreciate this Karl… the lead guitarist (greg hill, great guy by the way. super nice… had coffee with him) his pedal board is comprised of 2 Ibaned DE7′s, an MXR carbon copy, an MXR compressor, Boss DD7 with tap tempo, an A/B/Y switcher a tuner and a tremelo… and that’s it :) He has a vintage vox ac30, and a vintage fender.

    He plays an epiphone sheraton II a vintage gibson es-335 and a vintage silvertone 1454. Killer tone for what they do!

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3janzPQ91I&hl=en_US&fs=1&]

    Also the lead singer and drummer did a full length worship album with their church’s worship team… if you want it I could post the link to download… lemme know.

    oh yea… check out this article… he “plays” his pedal board :)

  45. So, I couldn’t help but notice your choice of the words “ebb” and “flow” when mentioning what Sanctus Real doesn’t have. Are you a Walt Whitman fan at all? haha, just thought I’d ask. Don’t know if I was the only person who caught that.

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