Reviewing: The Go/No Go Decision
Written by Jimmy
For folks that have erred way too much on ‘go’ vs. ‘no go’ we have no right to write this blog! But, we have to share lessons, even if the biggest lesson for all of you in this context is: for goodness sake don’t do what we’ve done!
As usual, we’ve give the theory then our lessons.
Part One: When do you shoot the baby? (vs. throw away smelly fish)
Yep, that’s a terrible image but the right one. We are talking about killing a fully developed song that has been with the band for maybe a year. This is shooting the baby! We’re not talking about the endless trashing of songs, at idea stage, or rehearsal stage, or recording stage. We kill tons of these, but that’s just throwing away fish that begins to smell. We do that very well. There are lots of little ideas that we’ve invest 2 hours with, 10 hours with and then decide fairly quickly that they stink. No problem.
Nope, we’re talking about shooting a baby. This is a song that is done, having been written, rehearsed, recorded, over-dubbed, mixed and you’re now deciding song order for a new album. Where should it go? And then someone raises the question: ‘is this really good enough?’ Oh, my. And you start to get into that second debate ‘good enough against what criteria.’ Elvis Costello asks: what is a good song? Is it a song that makes 1 million people’s summer, where it is a hit, part of a cultural moment, played on beaches? Or is it a song that means everything to two people? It defines how they fell, a critical moment in their lives – it MATTERS. So, what does it mean when someone asks whether the song is good enough?
The debate falls into a couple components:
- Against some basic criteria of song writing does the song stake up? You know the list: good tune? good lyrics? some little X factor?
- Against some basic criteria of ‘performance,’ does the song stake up? Do the singers sing well, the drummer drum well, the bassist do well?
- Against some basic criteria of ‘recording/mixing’ does the song stake up? Are the pets too loud?
- Against some emphermal notion of ‘meaning’ is there a compelling reason to go forward anyway, even if the song is sub-par as a song, as a performance, or a recording?
- Or, having finally taken a listen to the other songs, does the song below on this album?
Part Two: Our 3 Lessons… So, we are the worst in the world at this… we’re good at throwing out smelly fish, but not so good at shooting babies (I suddenly hope no sicko googles that phrase for some reason and finds us!). But, we do have some lessons so far:
- The Parent Has to Ask the Question: You can’t kill a song unless the ‘author’ asks whether it should go… It is very hard for a band member to intervene at the last stage and say, ‘hey, not sure on this one.’ At that point the ‘parent’ can rightly say, ‘why didn’t you intervene earlier?’ So the parent has to be on the one that asks everyone during the reviewing stage, ‘Come on folks, is this good enough?’
- Good Enough doesn’t Mean Not Bad/Standards Have to Rise: You can’t really start killing songs, until you raise the standards hugely. Because by the time the band has invested heavily, the song won’t be horrible. it will stop smelling like a rotten fish that you know you have to throw out. But is it good enough? Well, here’s what we should be asking on the quetions above?
- Against some basic criteria of song writing does the song stake up? At the most basic, does the song have something really special. Is there something you’re really proud of? Did you invest enough in verses, in choruses, in transitions, in intro’s, in outro’s? Does it tell a story better than others have told it? Ed always watches to see if our feet are tapping…
- Against some basic criteria of ‘performance,’ does the song stake up? A good test here is to ask the performers. Often when we do, they admit they’re not too happy with what they did. Equally, if someone says, ‘yeah, I’m really happy with myself on that track’, then, you might be on to something…
- Against some basic criteria of ‘recording/mixing’ does the song stake up? Our debates here are pretty good – they usually involve EQ and I usually don’t understand them.
- Against some emphermal notion of ‘meaning’ is there a compelling reason to go forward anyway, even if the song is sub-par as a song, as a performance, or a recording? This is tricky. We’ve had some songs that needed to be on an album. Don’t ask why.
- Or, having finally taken a listen to the other songs, does the song below on this album? One lesson — this is a good way for the band to let the parent down easy – ‘great song, but not for this album.’ Funny, I get that a lot.
- Ask the Parent Question Early: Does anyone actually like this? Sometimes, you’re just recording on ‘automatic’. Someone brings in lyrics. Someone gets a good tune going and the band gets a good take. Then, the song is just on the schedule. “Let’s meet Tuesday and do some more overdubs.” And the baby keeps growing. But sometimes, there’s not really a parent – there’s not really someone that LOVES the song and is fighting to keep it going. That is a pretty good sign that you should say no. So it is worth asking early and often on the music – ‘hey, who loves this song? Is it worth moving forward.’
Part Three: And this is what can happen if you don’t say no.
- Wild Honey Pie, The Beatles: No one wanted it on the White Album. But Patti Boyd convinced them to include it. This is the woman that inspired Something, Wonderful Tonight and Layla. I guess she figured after inspiring so many great songs, she’d get her own back by forcing Paul to include it. Kill this baby!
- Fool to Cry, Rolling Stones: Sadly a massive hit, from the album Black and Blue. But originally recorded as a way to test musicians. The best indication it was not a band favourite was that Richards fell asleep playing it live in Germany.
- Elton John, Grow Some Funk on Your Own: Key rule of music – if you mention a genre of music in a title, kinda important to use the genre in the music (unless you’re being really ‘ironic.’)
Glad to know the great ones have managed to get some stinkers into the public domain.