Are You the Jewelry Lady?

doggyhair.jpgOnce the exclusive domain of vinyl turntablists, ACID and Live have made mashing a commodity venture. With the advent of CDecks and digital enhancements to vinyl turntables, DJs have overcome their biggest obstacle by having the pitch of a record or CD to change without affecting the tempo. But it may be too late. Even without the tactile experience of physically spinning vinyl, the feeling that anything is possible with computers is likely to inspire more and more mashers to flip open a laptop.

The hardware that is irreplaceable are the two knobby things hanging on the sides of your head. ACID, Live and digital decks will only tune to the pitch you tell it is right. You still have to blow in tune. The fact that technology lulls you into thinking it’s been taken care of only makes it worse. And your friends aren’t going to be any help.

Take two analogous scenarios:

- If you’ve ever worked in an office (I did for 27 years) there’s always some woman (usually a secretary) who makes and sells jewelry on the side. She will show you a case full of her work and you will nod and say “looks good, congratulations” — meanwhile, you can’t imagine a human adorning themselves with so much junk.

- you get home after a dinner party (or beer bust) and as you relieve yourself before passing out you catch a glimpse of yourself in the bathroom mirror and notice a big brown piece of lettuce on your front tooth. Then you remember that the salad was the first course. Five and a half hours ago.

I live in constant irrational fear of being the “jewelry lady” or the “salad guy” where people are just too damn polite to say point out what they think should be obvious to you. The more obvious it should be, the less likely they are prone to say anything. I think it’s an English WASP thing.

Now, you’ve done a decent job at strategically masking some of the intonation problems with effects and deep arrangements so people will react more viscerally than explicitly (e.g. they like the mix but it doesn’t move them). When you fix the pitch problems, all of sudden people’s reaction are on a higher plane. In the same way the piece of lettuce doesn’t technically affect the content of the conversation the missed notes buried in the arrangement are an emotional distraction.

You can play digital tricks but you might want to think about carving out some time (20 min a day?) to matching notes until your ears are doing it automatically. Here’s a technique to consider: work with two recording of solo instruments. The dryer the better (i.e. no effects). Detune one so that it’s obviously flat (below the pitch of the other). Slowly tune the track up, very slowly, until you are sure that the two instruments are in perfect tune. Did you land at ’0′ cents? You might be surprised at how often you don’t.

Doing this will mean even when you’re tired or just trying to get the tracks down quickly because you’re inspired it won’t start or drift off key. Just a thought. Or your can keep blowing the kids college fund (bail money?) on expensive plug-ins.

3 thoughts on “Are You the Jewelry Lady?

  1. Jim

    I’ve noticed the “off 0 cent” thing, too. Sometimes, I’ll tune a guitar with the electronic tuner, then I’ll play certain chords in certain positions and they’ll just sound slightly wrong, so then I’ll go back and re-”tune” so they sound right.

  2. Ben

    Training your ear to have good pitch, so to speak, is no easy task. While some people just have a better sense of pitch, just as some people have a better sense of rhythm, I think anyone can work on hearing minor pitch differences better. Just takes practice, practice, practice.

  3. victor

    jim: frets are evil.

    ben: 100% agree. I guess the point was not to let the auto-pitch-match features of the software be your crutch. The first step in getting mixes in tune is to *know* it’s an issue.

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