How do you create music that affects people? I’m a person, can I not simply create music and media that speaks a certain aesthetic emotion to myself and assume that others will feel the same emotions? Are there universal connections that can be made between the emotions that people feel and the sounds that generated them?
Music is considered one of the most emotionally connecting art forms, it’s can conjure up memories in our heads, make us mentally stronger or help us process heartbreak. Blanchard & Acree talk about music and its effect on emotions, saying that music helps to enhance their emotions and compares it to a close friend.
“Music has been my steadfast friend on my happiest days and on my saddest. It has enhanced my fondest moments and soothed my greatest heartaches.” (Blanchard & Acree, 2007)
This comparison suggests a strong relationship between the music and the emotions it triggers, but are those triggers universally connected to the same emotions for every person? What emotion or affect do you feel when listening to this Adele song?
(Adele – Someone Like You, 2011)
Milliman suggested in his 1973 journal article ‘Using background music to affect the behaviour of supermarket shoppers’ that music is generally used as an entertainment medium but can also be used to achieve other objectives in production facilitates or retail stores to produce certain attitudes and behaviours. But despite the widespread use of the music in the marketplace, research documenting the actual effects of the specific music is limited and the results are varied and inconclusive. (Milliman, 1982)
Most of us feel something when a song connects with us, it might be the lyrics, the melody, or the tone and frequencies of the sound itself. Myskja and Lindbaek talk about this physical effect on the body in their book ‘How does music affect the human body?’. Their research leads to how music can affect physical reactions in our bodies, but again that the specific type of music to create different reactions are unclear.
“Research has shown that music may influence central physiological variables like blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, EEG measurements, body temperature and galvanic skin response. Music influences immune and endocrine function. The existing research literature shows growing knowledge of how music can ameliorate pain, anxiety, nausea, fatigue and depression. There is less research done on how music, and what type of music, is utilized and administered specifically for optimum effect in specific clinical situations.” (Myskja & Lindbaek, 2000)
In 2009 Marin and Bhattacharya discussed in more depth the research and connection between music and emotion (Marin & Bhattacharya, 2009), discussing that different people respond to music emotionally in different ways. Cultural differences, familiarity and even gender can change how different people perceive the specific affect in a piece of music. Also that someone with more musical experience such as musician, might feel a completely different emotion to someone else due to focusing on other technical attributes of the song. Perhaps you are someone that listens to the lyrics and vocals or maybe you are focusing on a particular rising melody on the guitars.
It is possible, however, that our perception of the emotion in music could be connected with other people who have had similar experiences in life to us. Denora also spoke of a similar situation, that we can draw many different emotions from music when listening, attempting to definitively define the specific emotions and how they will affect different people is again unclear.
“At the level of the listening experience, for example, music seems imbued with affect while, at the level of analysis, it seems perpetually capable of eluding attempts to specify just what kind of meaning music holds and just how it will affect its hearers.” (DeNora, 2000)
Serrano-Puche also states when discussing the connection between emotions and digital technologies, that as well as the technology helping deliver the emotion, that this connection also affects those we are connected to around us on social media for example.
“We can conclude that the technology not only serves as a channel for the expression of the affections of the people but also contributes to model these affections.” (SERRANO-PUCHE, 2015)
Focusing back on an initial question of, can I not simply create music and media that speaks a certain aesthetic emotion to myself and assume that others will feel the same emotions? I would say yes, but only if the audience was from a similar generation and geographical location as myself.
Technology also plays a large role in delivering and persuading our emotions today. (SERRANO-PUCHE, 2015) Perhaps our reaction to events, music and film in the western world are closer globally, how we respond to music and the experience we all have is possibly becoming more similar and hence the emotions we take from certain musical cues can also become more similar. Although I would still expect that there is a divide between my perception of emotion in a piece of music and that of people in non-western countries.
Regardless of other people picking up on the same affect I was attempting to put into productions, embedding any emotion into art is most likely going to be beneficial. So assuming the audience has had a similar cultural experience to me, how can I create music that affects people in my production process?
To me, the vocals in most music recordings and productions are often the most human element and the delivery of the lyrics can be as important as the lyric content itself. My production method on most songs starts with identifying the core emotion or narrative of the song. Sometimes this can be from lyric content but it is often more apparent from the tempo, flow and delivery of the main melody and/or vocal. Once this core emotion has been identified and discussed with the artist, we follow through with instrumentation, production, effects and layering that we feel best translates this emotion to the audience.
Below is a list of songs that I would consider have the affect of both heartbreak and then also strong in overcoming that pain.
In the verses of each vocalists tone and delivery, you can hear the dragging of the voice, the slight breakup and vibrato, long slower notes, a more whispered and almost traumatized vocal, suggesting the frailness of the singer. Quieter in level and more dynamic, less if perhaps any reverb/delay and more isolated vocals, often with just one or two other low octave ranged instruments (bass, piano, cello).
This is then contrasted with the change (often in the chorus, sometimes at the end of the song) into a louder and more even tone. A vocal that is rising above the instruments in level and thickness, opening up the diaphragm and projecting. Heavy compression, more balanced frequency range and heavier reverb/delay. Often more instrumentation adds to the rise and change in this emotion.
This change from heartbreak into strong was the same combination of affects that were used when I was producing Holly Terren’s’ song ‘Not The Same’, it was essential to translate the feeling, that the main vocal was delivered in the verses while in the same emotional state as Holly felt when she wrote the song.
(Terrens, H. 2016. Not The Same.)
The track deals with issues of relationship breakdown and the changes we go through in separating from a romantic partner, moving onto the strength of how she has changed. At the time we recorded this song, Holly had moved on from the emotions she felt when it was written and the initial recordings were strong and smoothly delivered, which suited very well for the choruses, but lacked the emotional connection to the original meaning of the song for the verses.
To get the vocal take that best expressed the affect of the song, I asked Holly to try and bring herself back into the emotional mindset she was in when the breakup was occurring. The resulting takes connected better with the intent of the track, coaching her towards the slight dragging of each line and breathing patterns help enhance the affect of the song to the audience. The breaking up of the breath at the end of certain lines added to the feeling that the singer was shaken and in some distress. This fragility in the vocal helped to translate the emotional state of heartbreak to the audience. This is complemented with the melodically complex piano part expressing the confusion in the thoughts by Holly. The underlying cello and flute parts were used initially to drag Holly’s voice and help her rise and fall while keeping the voice isolated and in an intimate space. As stated earlier this could translate differently to someone from a different age group and nationality to Holly and myself.
The transition into the ‘answer’ section is the chorus with the entry of the drums, bass, guitar and extra vocal parts, it changes the tone and affect into a strong and more positive feeling, the rise from the depression and confusion of the verses. The vocals are returning to be on the main pulse, double tracked, more compression and the introduction of thicker layering and more powerful sounds.
As a producer, the direction of the performing artists in relation to their emotional states as they perform is essential to capturing that extra 10% in the part. We are recreating and re-telling the affect that created the songs we write and produce. The choice of key, octaves, melodic and percussive movement, tonality in the instrument, pickups, amp, microphone and preamp choice, equalization, compression and effects all add to the affect, but the essential element was emotionally placing the performer into the mindset of the content. This was done in this case, by removing Holly from the studio, placing her in a more intimate space, changing the lighting and prompting her with questions that lead her back to feeling the emotions she was experiencing at the creation of the song. Followed of course by a hug and bringing her back to her current reality.
I applied a similar technique in the track ‘Kingdom of Glass’ by the band ‘The Matador’ from their 2012 album ‘Decent into the Maelstrom’. A long progressive metal track, it transitions between two main emotions, a softer longing and exploration of the main melody that transitions into anger at around 4mins.
(The Matador. Kingdom of Glass. 2012)
The initial instrumental intro over the first 4 mins is the introduction to the album and the live show, it was explained to me as setting the scene and was to express the amazing technicality of nature, life and the earth. The descending 4ths and overlaying polyrhythms from the bass and drums create two separate lines of production that follow the same base tempo, for this, the band was separated into two rooms and imagery was mapped out to help keep the flow of the progressions.
The issue with applying affect for this track came with the change around 4mins in with the vocals again. Musically and Instrumentally we can change the tonal mix, tempo, time signature, timbre, physical performance and sounds to match the anger aesthetic, but the vocals didn’t match the intensity required. The complexity of the melodies was being overthought and it caused the singer to deliver technically accurate lines, loud and throttled in an angry tone, but lacked the out of control anger required for the change.
To put the vocalist in a mindset to that allowed him to stop thinking about the timing and key changes and focus on the attitude, I removed the band from the live rooms and went in to make him angry. Attacking and somewhat physically assaulting him back into a physically angry emotional state and then making him do the new takes right away yielded a much better result. Again, followed by a hug and an explanation.
Both examples have shown me that while I can adapt the sound and production to suit the affect and emotion required for a song, the emotional state of the performer is required to match to get great takes. The difference in the takes is seen through the audience and industry reaction to hearing the songs. As humans, we have learnt communication through life with other humans and part of this is understanding physical and verbal cues that help us understand the people around us. It is essential to me when performing music that we not only attempt to recreate these emotions in small movements but to return to that mind space to fully and effectively translate this into the physical actions that represent them.
Blanchard, B., & Acree, C. (2007). Making music and enriching lives : A guide for all music teachers(Music for life). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Adele. (2011, September 29). Someone Like You. Retrieved November 23, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLQl3WQQoQ0
Milliman, R. E. (1982). Using background music to affect the behavior of supermarket shoppers. The journal of Marketing, 86-91.
Myskja, A., & Lindbaek, M. (2000). How Does Music Affect The Human Body?. Tidsskrift for den Norske laegeforening: tidsskrift for praktisk medicin, ny raekke, 120(10), 1182-1185.
Marin, M and Bhattacharya, J. (2009). Music induced Emotions: Some current issues and cross-modal comparisons. Music Education. Nova Science Publishers.
DeNora, T. (2000). Music in everyday life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
SERRANO-PUCHE, J. (2015): “Emotions and Digital Technologies: Mapping the Field of Research in Media Studies”. MEDIA@LSE Working Paper Series, nº 33.
Adele. (2011). Someone Like You. 21. [digital] XL Recordings, 11.
Mars, B. (2010). Grenade. Do-Wops & Hooligans. [digital] Atlantic Records, 1.
Tyler, B & Steinman, J (1983). Total Eclipse Of The Heart. [digital] Columbia Records, 1.
Gotye, Kimbra. (2011). Somebody That I Used To Know. Making Mirrors. [digital] UMG Recordings, 3.
Timberlake, J. (2002). Cry Me A River. Justified. [digital] Zomba Recording, 5.
Smith, S. (2015). Latch – Acoustic. In The Lonely Hour. [digital] Capitol Records, 12.
Terrens, H. (2016). Not The Same. [digital] Gold Coast. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=orzlWsHcauM
The Matador. (2012). Kingdom of Glass – Decent into the Maelstrom. [digital] Brisbane. RRetrievedfrom https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2fv_dKJvLA