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Old 12-19-2012, 10:59 AM   #1
PossiblyApostro
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The term "instrumental music"

So this has been on my mind a lot lately, and I thought hashing it out on a forum would be great.

I've been writing / recording occasionally with three friends over the past three years. We're a four piece, two guitars, bass, and drums. The music isn't exactly breath taking or revolutionary, it's just the four of us having fun when ever our schedules align (that only happened twice in 2012). But we still manage to share our music. I like to think of it more as a recording project, and less of a band.

However when sharing it, people treat it like a band, and more so they immediately classify it as "instrumental music." I can't tell you how many times someone has heard our recordings and the first words out of their mouth was "see the problem with instrumental music..."

Trust me, I thrive on criticism, it's integral to the musical process. It doesn't exactly shape our writing, but it's really great to hear from 3rd parties what is working for them and what is not working for them. Say, if someone were to have an issue and frame it as "Man, that transition really didn't work for me, it may benefit from some more pronounced dynamic changes." That would be monumentally useful. However, we're generally just given the, "yeah instrumental music can be hard."

This is my disconnect, almost all of the music I grew up with could be considered "instrumental." Miles Davis, Wes Montgomery, Dave Brubeck (you see the theme here?) But when people here it they don't say, man I just can't connect with that instrumental music, they say that is jazz. Because that's precisely what it is, it's jazz music, when you hear it you identify it with a genre of music, you don't say, man Miles Davis was a great instrumental musician. You say he was a great musician.

So here's my jumping off point, why does it seem that people are more likely to categorize your contemporary vocal-less project as "instrumental" as opposed to "rock music" or [insert genre here]. I've provided directions to a video of one of our recordings to give you a frame of reference. To me, we play rock music. But apparently to everyone else, we're "instrumental."

I hope I'm not the only one frustrated by this increasingly abused term.


(if you're interested in hearing the music, please google "Possibly Apostrophe - Good Question")

[edited for dead link removal]

Last edited by PossiblyApostro : 12-19-2012 at 11:01 AM.
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Old 12-19-2012, 11:15 AM   #2
food1010
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I do see your issue. Contemporary instrumental music is a lot harder to market than vocal-led music. The average listener generally classifies genres like rock, pop, blues, etc. by their vocals. As a non-instrumentalist, vocals are more accessible and easy to follow.

I'll listen to your song, but first let me throw this out there: One reason instrumental jazz isn't generally classified as instrumental music is because there is a specified voice for melody. Whether it's actually a singer, or a sax, trumpet, piano, guitar, etc., there is a "vocal" part.

Edit: My prediction was pretty accurate. You do have a "lead" part, or so to speak, but it doesn't really stand out like a vocal melody does. It's got a great groove and great melodic ideas, but most listeners hear this as riffage with some guitar solos here and there. They don't hear that "vocal" part.

Some inspiration to get you going: Derek Trucks Band - Sahib Teri Bandi/Maki Madni. Hear how he develops very vocal phrases? The harmony is secondary. Listen to his version of Maki Madni from the album Joyful Noise to get a feel for it with vocals. Listen to where the breaths are. It's very important that you imitate the human voice if you want to fill the place of a vocalist.

Since you grew up on jazz, you should be able to relate to this one: Wes Montgomery - Round Midnight. Listen to it back to back with Ella Fitzgerald. It's all about that phrasing man. They both add their own style of embellishments, but you still feel that sense of phrase.
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Last edited by food1010 : 12-19-2012 at 11:36 AM.
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Old 12-19-2012, 12:07 PM   #3
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Don't expect a layman to ever be able to give you specific feedback. You're going to have to interpret it.

And what these people are probably telling you, when they're vaguely dismissive and call it instrumental music, is that they're not connecting to the music emotionally because it doesn't feel like there's an engaging melody line.

Listen to Landscape, by Lars Haavard Haugen. Do you see how there's a melody line that you could almost sing? It certainly has enough melodic content to sing, right? There's a clear theme and hook, right?

Develop that side of your music.
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Old 12-19-2012, 01:07 PM   #4
PossiblyApostro
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Quote:
Originally Posted by food1010
Edit: My prediction was pretty accurate. You do have a "lead" part, or so to speak, but it doesn't really stand out like a vocal melody does. It's got a great groove and great melodic ideas, but most listeners hear this as riffage with some guitar solos here and there. They don't hear that "vocal" part.



Food, this is really great, I think this is something we really struggle with as a band, all coming from different musical frames of mind. One of us is into jazz, some others into funk and jam bands, another into heavier rock. You can kind of hear the hints of the influences in the writing, but your insight is really useful to try and bridge the gap between these frames and come together through to one lens.

Quote:
Originally Posted by HotspurJr
Don't expect a layman to ever be able to give you specific feedback. You're going to have to interpret it.


Hotsput, very true, I really don't expect the average listener to give me some profoundly insightful feedback, I was probably way too specific in my example. But I wish it wasn't asking too much for honesty, for someone to be like "Hey...I REALLY don't like that, and this might be why..." Know what I mean? Thanks for the links, they're quite helpful.
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Old 12-19-2012, 05:53 PM   #5
MaggaraMarine
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Maybe you are just playing your music to wrong people. Not everybody likes jazz or classical or whatever music with instruments only. But I'm sure there's somebody that likes your music. I play in an instrumental band.

But I think people that listen to classical or jazz or other instrumental music might appreciate your music more than the average radio pop listeners. There are few instrumental parts in radio pop music. All the songs are just singing and if the intro lasts more than ten seconds without any vocals, people get bored. I like songs that have longer instrumental parts.

But really, if you want to be a successful band (and sell lots of albums), get a singer and start making another kind of music. Or then just start another band. You can have many projects at the same time. For example one for jamming and having fun and another for more serious music and gigging and recording.
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Old 12-20-2012, 04:12 PM   #6
PossiblyApostro
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That's an interesting point to make Maggara, I think it's worth noting that becoming a successful band and selling lots of albums really isn't and never will be a goal of this project. However, tapping into an audience appropriate for this type of music seems to be the real trick.

How do you reach an audience for a genre such as this, without identifying yourself as a "jam band" (because there's clearly no jamming) or without incorporating a vocalist (which just completely changes the music to an entirely different monster)?
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