Ryan McClelland on Keeping it Clean

In a blog post this summer, our friend Ryan McClelland highlighted an often underrated facet of musical polish—the ballad. In a day when quick genres such as metal are grabbing the ears and iPods of many musicians, it is quite easy to gloss over the technique that makes the music possible. Ryan shares his own experiences with tightening up in his post, "Cleanliness is Close To Awesomeness!"

"With a general disdain for Classical Music, being forced into it was perhaps one of the best musical trials I’ve been through. You see, Classical music is planned, structured, layered with synergy and intention, even if it is chaotic at times, and very beautiful. I didn’t really understand this until I was handed a bow and thrown into the pit playing my double bass. I had all of these notes on the page in front of me instead of a chord progression. My mind filled with a dark cloud that blanketed my freedom of expression and restrained my artistry. This was unacceptable, and I wasn’t having even a gram of fun. 

So with all of my frustrations at the surface, I began to play the assigned music. I quickly noticed small cringing from some of the other instrumentalists in my section. A few polite comments “Hey, Ry, you’re just a bit behind. Hey, Ry, a tad flat buddy. Hey, Ry, you're drowning the cellos. Hey, Ry…….” It never ended. So leaving Orchestra that day, head hung low, pretty embarrassed and not really understanding why I struggled the way I did, I went home, grabbed my sheet music, my [metro]nome, rosin and a fresh dose of ego. “This is the easiest thing to do. Predetermined patterns, volumes, notes, movements and parts all laid out for me. No prob!” I really focused on precision and playing clean. Hitting the right note spot on the first time, play it at the right volume, get the right tone, and so on. This exercise was surprisingly difficult. Not nearly as “forgiving” as most other genres. I had to bring that metronome down to a a third of the designated tempo just to have the time needed to be very clear and ready for what I was supposed to do next."

Personally, I encountered this most recently when recording a local hardcore band. Each band member had musical potential, but when combined, it became mostly discordant anarchy. I gently suggested utilizing a click track during the session or reconvening at a later date, but both ideas were hastily tabled.

Ryan emphasizes one of the lost elements in our instant-download-just-click-here culture—time. Not enough can be said for slowing down, focusing in, and giving your music the attention to detail that it deserves.

—A.Hunt, SPCS Records

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