by Evan Schafer
If there is one thing as a musician and composer that I hate, it’s being asked the question, “So what kinds of music do you like/listen to?” Not only is it an unfair and biased leading question. But when folks like myself answer, “Oh, I like everything,” usually that is met with a smile and nod combo or total silence. Nobody seems to know how to react to the fact that … dear lord … he probably likes classical and jazz too. And yes, this is a very true fact. I’ll even throw in new age for the hell of it! Here, I’m going to talk about another aspect of these different listening habits, though. More in the vein of how many genres and artists have and continue to influence me up to this very stage in my composing career.
Listen to the album “Hard to Swallow” while reading the story.
A universe full of music
As far back as I can remember, listening to music in some way has been a nearly regimented part of my daily routine. So, as you might ascertain, there was always something new to discover on which I could allow my ears to feast.
It has been for me at times almost overwhelming. I face a similar issue when reading fiction and recognizing just how many books there are in the world.
To think about all the music I haven’t heard and could be listening to right now but am not. And even about the music, I have heard, and either I had forgotten about for a while, newly discovering again, or giving a sometimes much-needed second listen.
At the beginning there was…
It’s also probably not surprising that the varying types of music have been there since the beginning as well. To this day, I can switch from Enya to Miami Sound Machine (new age and Latin pop) with my dad. To The Beatles, Genesis, and Emerson Lake & Palmer (classic and prog rock) with my mom.
Altogether to alternative artists such as Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, Paula Cole, and Smashing Pumpkins that I discovered on my own as a child in the mostly late ’90s. And to more modern rock such as Blink 182, All Time Low and Linkin Park thanks to my boyfriend.
To straight up classical and jazz, which were mainly my basis for studying music so they couldn’t be left out without them fighting for my attention.
When we’re talking about influences regarding style, there’s really no hard-pressed “genre” that I fall into. I have found this increasingly difficult to satisfy with a reliable answer as I grow as an artist. For instance, I will soon be releasing my first record of new songs in over two years’ time. And the time break is mostly due to struggling for the album to find a groove to fit into stylistically.
The influence of Beethoven’s 5th and 9th
Usually, I fall into the common music producer trap of “over-producing.” Something that can happen easily if you’re at the helm of capturing your own material. And this typically manifests as arranging the shit out of tracks, layering upon layering of different textures and sounds.
I attribute this mostly to blasting Beethoven’s 5th and 9th Symphonies growing up. Learning through listening how the different parts of the orchestra moved separately and also as an almost intrinsic whole.
The foundation lies within listening
Listening to music, for me, though, is on par with creating music. Because I become instantly engaged in the headspace of other artists. Possibly thinking differently than me musically in regards to their approach or perhaps incredibly similarly.
However, this can create almost a wall of sorts. Because I have become very sensitive to what I like and don’t like. This I can pick up on within seconds of listening to something new. I feel this is an important piece to influence. Because if you are able to discern what fits your mold, it fares better as the listener as you will be more actively picking it apart. Wondering just how they got it to sound so incredible. And it makes the experience all the more captivating.
More than anything else, I think listening to so much music growing up was what laid the foundation for wanting to craft sound in a studio environment, and parsing apart the layering of the different audio worlds that recorded music can live within.
For instance, there is a vast difference between the recording process and studio surroundings for Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians versus a Bach piano concerto. Both are lying in roughly the same genre. But the capture of the sound is laid down much more intimately and tightly for the Reich piece. Whereas Bach, calling for greater instrumental forces, is recorded in a much more open, natural sound space.
The process of producing
We could go further here to describe the limiting and compression put on many rock and alternative records. Both methods that more or less condense the intensity into an aurally digestible bubble. With everything on basically the same level, so nothing takes precedence over anything else.
In my personal production methods, taking these various spheres of influence, from style and arranging down to the very visceral and physical act of mixing at the audio desk, I usually combine a bit of everything but still am vying for accessibility.
This isn’t to say I’m striving for commerciality, though. I frankly don’t find much of the Top 40 interesting anymore, or the albums on the Billboard 200 chart for that matter. So many artists are repeated more than twice or three times. There’s not much that is artistically redeemable about the same old tired beats, unoriginal production, and flat-out bad lyrics. However, to each his own. There are plenty of people that buy into this type of artistry and music production as it is appealing to the masses, but personally, I find it distracting.
Musical influences have a taste
With my music, I can hear a little bit of every sound source over 27 years that has entered through my ears, into my brain and back out again. It’s funny because I really consider my own musical style to be very minimalist (and not necessarily in the Philip Glass sense of the word). This is because I work by a very balanced framework of input from my peers and contemporaries, my own ideas, melodies, chord structures, arrangements, etc. And, of course, taking a big nod from those who have come before me, paving the asphalt beneath everything I hold sacred when creating from my heart and mind.
I would be remiss if I were to say that my musical influences had a tasteless flavor in my mouth, so to speak. They have enlivened and even juxtaposed against my own work in both complementary and opposing ways, for which I am grateful. I could hold contention against those influences as some artists do, only listening to other music for its aesthetic or societal value and not so much for the more profound, cerebral, yet intangible meaning as it relates to one’s own work. But I am glad for how influences have touched and continue to move me, and I will always find their importance to be a great motivator.