Lessons from Cherry Bomb: Traditional Mixing and Creative Control

It crossed my mind to write this post in all caps, but that would have made it very hard to read. And that’s what this post is about.

Whether you’re a person who pays attention to the sonic qualities of music or not, if you listened to Tyler, the Creator’s latest release Cherry Bomb, it is very likely something about it struck you as strange. Tyler confirmed it himself:

Traditional Standards

“Not mixed traditionally.” What Tyler meant to say here (I only presume, of course) is that the relative balances of the songs’ elements are not what you would expect. To put it bluntly, the vocal often gets obscured by other instruments and some sounds get overbearing at times.

To put it even more bluntly:

And AB_Kilo has a point.

My first listen of the album was at the gym, on the (notoriously bass-heavy) Apple EarPods. When a song from Cherry Bomb came on shuffle, I kept turning the volume up in order to be able to hear anything – the excessive low end was preventing the main body of the tracks to come out, which I didn’t even realize until I listened again in a quieter environment. In fact, Tyler did say that’s what we should do:

Creative Freedom = Creative Control?

That really might be the only way to ‘enjoy’ this album. As noted above, listening to it in transit on your little earphones just doesn’t work – Tyler made sure of that. He was probably aware that such a move might cost him the number of listen(er)s; but then again, he did explicitly statefuck streaming which undoubtedly limits the number of people wanting to check out his work.

Maximising his potential audience isn’t really Tyler’s priority. Source: Golf Wang Tumblr.

And that’s perfectly fine. It’s his work, his choice. If you want to listen to Cherry Bomb, you have to do it on Tyler’s terms. He decides where you buy it from. He decides how you listen to it. You decide if you want to bother with all that, or spend your time on somebody else’s music.

Start (and Stop) at the Fan Base

Obviously, I did bother with it for a while, and I’m writing this, so I’d consider his tactics successful – this time. If his next album follows the same script, I won’t bother. Admittedly, I’m not a dedicated fan of Tyler’s work, but he seems to have plenty already: certainly enough to be able to do this. The Needle Drop summarized this well.

What it all comes down to, then, is the age old question of who is art for: the artist or the audience (?) Of course, the answer is: for both, equally. However, the artist has the option to intentionally limit his/her audience in a number of ways – the mix/master being one of them.

Is that… Post-hipsterianism? Source: Golf Wang Tumblr.

Many top mixing engineers talk about the emotional impact of the mix, when in most cases all their pupils want to hear is which plugin to use and what gear to invest in. Cherry Bomb definitely made me feel something (even if it’s mostly frustration and ear pain). 

So, did you like Cherry Bomb?

Are you willing to comply with an artist’s ‘Terms of use’ or is the listening experience something you like keeping under control?

Is Tyler saving The Album


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