According to legendary producer and engineer Max Norman, there are musicians today who aren’t focused enough on the dynamics of their recordings, making such music where “everything has to be in all the time.”
Norman made his name as a producer for Ozzy Osbourne’s first three studio albums and a few of the singer’s live releases. He went on to produce many other names in hard rock and metal music. Apart from Ozzy, the list includes Megadeth, Y&T, Death Angel, Grim Reaper, Loudness, and Armoured Saint, just to name a few.
But although associated with metal music, Norman always focused on having some form of dynamic interplay on records that he worked on. However, while recently appearing in an episode of the Talk Louder Podcast, the producer reflected on some of the bands today, claiming how they entirely ignore this aspect.
“These days, music has changed so much, that now you get the symphonic bands, for instance, that appear to have no idea about dynamics at all because they have every instrument in all the time,” Norman said (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs).
The key to making music a little more exciting isn’t just about what you play but also what you don’t, Norman explained. In other words, playing with contrasts is important.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever been to see a big band or an old jazz band or anything, but a lot of these guys don’t play sometimes,” the producer explained. To prove his point further, he recalled what one of the biggest fusion jazz legends had to say:
“And that’s a very interesting thing — if you talk to Chick Corea or any jazz person, they’ll tell you that silence is more important than what they’re playing, and nobody seems to be doing that anymore.”
“This is an old-school kind of deal,” he pointed out, adding that, today, “everything has to be in all the time.
“But that’s very non-dynamic to me,” Norman offered. “Maybe it’s due to everybody’s social media, and everybody has an attention span of about 5 to 10 seconds, maybe that’s what it is.”
Going more into it, Max also said that this is very much the case with a lot of guitar players as well, offering:
“But it seems to me that I have the same problem with today’s guitar players, who are astonishingly good — and all kudos to these guys — but very few of them that actually speak to me, musically.”
Obviously, no one’s denying talent here. And to explain the “speak to me” aspect, Norman drew a parallel with two electric guitar virtuosos, with one of them still being the epitome of shredding.
“And I can see there’s a thousand of Yngwies, but there’s only one Uli Jon Roth, for instance,” he offered. Was this a jab at Yngwie Malmsteen? Probably. But what Norman wanted to say here is about having something substantial and meaningful in your music.
“If you want longevity, it’s not about how many notes you’re playing,” he said. “It’s really about how beautiful can you make this piece of music. People seem to be going past the musicality and into some technical realm — which is very fine and good, but let’s leave that for the practice room, and come out and play me something tasty.”
Speaking of technicality and guitar solos, the producer also pointed out that not many people really like overly virtuosic lead guitar parts.
“Well, chicks don’t like fast solos anyway,” Norman said jokingly. “So you’re much better off doing the Mick Ronson or Pink Floyd solo than you are doing the Yngwie solo. It’s disappointing because I think these guys are terrific.”
Finally, Max also doesn’t deny that there are countless incredible guitar players today. But there are still guitarists who are unnecessarily obsessed with just playing fast and ditching the most important aspects of musicianship. He concluded by saying:
“There are a couple of astonishingly good players who have very good feel, their timing is impeccable, they play with real beauty, and they play astonishing stuff. Those guys are really fantastic, but there are lots and lots of guys who are just a blur of notes, and it’s not speaking at all.”