What Does It Mean To Make Your Music “More Raw?”

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I like mine medium well

I was reading a news item somewhere this week where Joe Elliot – lead singer of the rock band Def Leppard – stated that he wants the new DL record to be “more raw.” I’ve heard this a million times in the past but never really paid much attention to it until now.

I’m not sure I understand what “more raw” means. For a piece of meat, sure, but I suspect by the time you get it and want it “more raw” it’s already too late. For music, however, I am trying to figure out if this is just marketing hype or a truly legitimate desire by the artist to go in another direction.

At first, it seems like it’s just marketing b.s. It’s almost as if the artist is saying, “Yeah, we know our previous music was watered down crap that we wrote just to sell units, but now that we’re rich and famous, the industry has passed us by a bit, and people aren’t into us as much anymore, we want to try and fake our way into a new direction so people will like us again.”

I can’t help but think at the very least that’s the conversation they are having in their own heads. And I’m not targeting Def Leppard, in case you’re wondering; I’m speaking in generalities. I actually like Def Leppard a lot. One of the best shows I’ve ever been to. But I digress…

There are also bands that intentionally change up the production of a recording to make it “more raw.” Not to dwell on Death Magnetic twice in one week, but there’s a perfect example. So, essentially I think we’re talking about two types of “raw”: songwriting and production.

Let me backtrack a bit. I guess saying I don’t understand what that means isn’t entirely accurate. I think what I’m trying to say is that I don’t really trust the intent behind the words. Metallica is perhaps the only band I’ve ever heard that took the term literally. It ended up being a monumental disaster in the form of a completely unlistenable CD, but at least they were true to their word. They wanted to try something different, to break the mold; and, for the most part, they succeeded.

But for many others I just can’t help but think it’s all lip service. We write music the way we write music, and unless you are one of those rare composers who can write in many different styles and genres, you’re going to sound like you no matter what. Being influenced by the music around you is one thing, but purposely forcing yourself to do something different usually ends up in massive failure.

So is there a way to make your music “more raw?” I suppose. But what’s wrong with the music you’re making now? If you want to truly make your music raw, do what the jazz guys did back in the day – keep in all of the mistakes. Sure, seems blasphemous now, doesn’t it? But that’s the only way I can see that will live up to the words. Listen to any Miles Davis record and you are bound to hear a bunch of miscues, flubbed notes, and squeaks. But you know what? It’s raw as hell and, more importantly, honest. Miles may not have been as proficient as other trumpeters, but the songs have integrity. I know nothing about the lo-fi music scene, but purposely not tuning your guitar when you record is not being “more raw” either; that’s just being moronic.

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  1. More mistakes? I don’t know if that is necessarily the case but I do think it has to do with what does the band sound like live. Recording all in the room would help. I think lack of processors too help the cause.

    In Def Leppard’s case I think it is easy to compare High-n-Dry to Hysteria. Both have well written songs but High-n-Dry is raw.

    • Josh says:

      But was it a conscious decision to “go more raw?” I’m not sure I see what the point of trying to go more raw is. Is it a new vibe kind of thing?

  2. New vibe? That I am not sure of, but I will say after 2 albums of tracking separately & to a click, Palomar took the opposite approach for this new album. We recorded all the basics live in the room and decided to simply choose the best takes, no punch ins. Our reason was because we felt our last couple records felt like they lacked a little energy and didn’t feel very real. It’s hard tell anymore who is real in this day of Protools.

  3. Willem says:

    I guess making music `more raw’ means making it `less polished’. It’s easy to define the latter; the more you tweak a piece of recording, whether it is mixing-wise, by adding additional layers, or backing vocals, or other bits and pieces, the more polished it becomes.

    So, in this sense, the rawest you can get is to record a song in one go and call it the final version. The way it should be done really.

    In fact, do you remember the MTV Unplugged sessions? That’s probably as raw as it gets!

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