Submitted by Peter Åstedt
When I studied to be a sound engineer inside the console was a small plaque with the message “You can’t make gold out of cowshit”. You could only see this if you were working to clean the channels, so it was a message between professionals and people that were on their way.
Of course, the meaning of the message is that how good a production you ever do on a song doesn’t matter if the song from the beginning is bad. The sound itself doesn’t make a great song. You can save the singer that is not too good with auto-tune but if the lyric is cheesy and bad it doesn’t matter.
I remember the first time I recorded in a studio. I can easily say those songs were not the best in the world, but you need to start somewhere. On one of the songs, we needed a guitar screaming like a solo in the beginning. Of course, we were not to experience making that solo. After we had tried for 40 minutes to make a good solo, the sound engineer stepped in and asked if he could give it a try. On the first take, he put in a great guitar opening to the song. Of course, we kept it. Today I know he did it so we could move forward with the recording otherwise we would have spent the whole weekend recording that solo.
Today when I listen to that song, yes the solo is still great, and the rest of the song is kind of crap. No good hook, and no good lyrics. So you can listen to the start over and over again, but that doesn’t make it a good song.
This is the problem I experience when I get new songs for my festival, radio station or just to review an album. Most of the music is well recorded; it is so slick in the production. But it’s like polishing a turd since the original material is just bad. People today are making demos; they don’t work on the song.
Everything is instantly and without testing anything on an audience. In many cases it feels like they just did something in 10 minutes than they would have spent a month putting makeup on a pig. You can’t really paint over a bad song with better production.
Today you have all the chances to record with really good quality. Computers can fix most of the errors that we had to endure back in the day. After the recording in the studio, we decided to record ourselves on an eight-track cassette recorder instead. The sound could never be good since we ping pong tracks and every time you did it just to give more static into the song. Still then we had to rehearse to be able to record several instruments at once to avoid too much static noise.
To be honest, the best songs were done there. The recording is not good at all, but since the songs are better, I still listen more to those songs than the studio songs.
So, when I review new songs, the biggest mistake almost everyone makes is that they are not good songs. Instead, they are always asking me to comment on the production. It seems like they are not interested in the most important part of a song. A good song can be produced in thousands of ways and still be great. A bad song can’t be produced to be good.
Editor’s Note: Peter Åstedt has been working in the music industry for over 35 years. He has started record labels, distribution systems, and publishing companies. Peter also runs several major showcase festivals and is an advisor for INES and co-founder of MusicHelp/Discover Sensation. He has worked with the Top Ten most streamed songs and had music on both the Olympics and Super Bowl. Peter has currently taken up the seat of Station Manager of Cashbox Radio, working with MD, PD and station owner, Sandy Graham. In 2021, he worked as the European Consultant for Heal the Earth – An Earth Day Celebration. His latest venture is a new Showcase Festival in Sweden, Future Echoes futureechoes.se/ which is about to launch the newest edition in Canada in 2024, Future Echoes Toronto. Peter is a Managing Partner and Editor of the legendary Record World International and also sits on the Board of Directors for the Canadian-based charity, The Drive Foundation.