The 4th Jam Collective session is coming up this Sunday and I'm barely half way through mixing the last session. That's partly my fault - I haven't really made time for it until now - but there are other factors. The big one is that we had a 5 hour session last time. That's over 4 hours of audio to work on!
I don't need to listen to the whole session from beginning to end: Normally, once I have a good basic mix, I only really need to cut the tracks where they begin and end, with a cursory check to make sure the levels are still OK.
What makes it challenging is having 3 or even 4 musicians all playing over one another. No matter how well I mix it, that's not going to be pleasant to listen!
I want to write down a few thoughts I've had about the sessions so far, and in particular the common problem of too loud or too much noise. This is not me complaining at any of the musicians who take part - I have so much to learn about my instruments so I'm not in a position to criticise anyone. But I do have experience of mixing and arranging songs and music, and I am also a position to guide the sessions, so there!
A typical song is made up of rhythm, pad, melody and vocal parts (just a basic breakdown), during most casual jams you may not think about these roles, but they are important if you want people to listen to the music later (which I certainly do). There is a difference between this and song structure - the verses, choruses, bridges, refrains etc). In a jam we pick a short musical rhythm or melody or riff - and expanding on it; often staying in the same key throughout.
Recognising your role
Jamming is like being in a football team; every football team has a goalkeeper, some defenders, midfielders and a couple of strikers. Unlike football, where each position is very clearly defined, musicians can switch between roles during a session, and even during a single song.
Think about this before you start playing; who is playing the rhythm section? Who is playing the main melody or riff? Who is playing the lead? In fact, you could ask yourself this multiple times during a single jam.
Filling in the blanks
The answers will change each time you ask yourself. Music is dynamic and changing, as a musician you should be able to adapt to this. If you can identify who is playing each role at a particular time, you should have an idea of what's missing. This is where you fit in.
It is a skill to be able to understand what's missing in a song. Like any skill, it takes practise to improve. Sometimes you may listen to a jam and realise that it sounds good, every part is taken care of. You may not have a part to play just yet. In that case, you should probably just listen and wait.
Of course the reality is that you have your sweet guitar, your tone is dialled in, and the beer is telling you to join in now! Which is fine, we're all human after all, but if the soundscape is already quite full, then you probably don't need to play much. If someone is playing a solo, then support the rhythm section with an arpeggio or some strumming. Or play some accents, hammer some notes or some other techniques.
There's always some space that you can fill. You just have to learn to recognise where it is, what shape and what size it is in.
Sharing the load
It's easy when there are only two or three guitarists playing, but in our sessions we often have three guitarists plugged in, and a keyboard player. I even met a saxophonist who is interested in joining us, that's a lot of instruments, and a lot of potential chaos!
Everyone is entitled to their own opinions about how to mitigate this. I'm no expert, but I think keeping some of the above in mind should help. You may have your own ideas about how to make a jam sound awesome. You may think 'this guy is cray cray, we need MWOARR SOLOS', and that's fine too.
I found this quote which I think is appropriate:
The whole idea of sharing the load is about having a team mentality and working together in order to compliment one another musically
- RICKY RAGONE
I got it from this article, which also contains some useful information about the role of each instrument as far as the frequency range is concerned.
At the end of the day I want the jam nights to be a place where we can all come and express ourselves musically. I have already said that I don't expect every jam in a 4 hour session to be great music. But I also think that if we can take steps to make the music sound better during and after the session, it can't do any harm.
And it might make my job of mixing every session quicker and easier ;)
The playlist for the latest session can be found on Soundcloud, as of *right now* only the first half of the session is uploaded, that's still 16 tracks. As usual, since I record as soon as the first mics are set up, the audio quality of the first few tracks is not that great. Please remember to like your favourite tracks - I'll take the popularity into consideration when choosing tracks for a best of compilation.