Where do your ideas come from? This is a common question asked of artists and other creative people. Austin Kleon, among others, is famous for encouraging folks to “steal like an artist”. In that spirit, I’ve found a couple NPR Tiny Desk Concerts that show some interesting audio production ideas that I thought were worth sharing. The Tiny Desk Home Concerts are interesting because the artists produce the performances themselves from their own studios, which gives us a chance to see different production methods and aesthetics that we can’t see when NPR manages each production at their studio.
The Billie Eilish concert is minimal: just two large diaphragm condenser mics, a guitar, and a synthesizer. The performance has minimal instrumentation and showcases Eilish’s quiet, affected vocal performance very well with the sensitive mics. There are so few effects in this production that Eilish’s breathing and coughing are highly prominent. There are moments that feel like a psychedelic ASMR video as high-fidelity breaths, mouth noise, and coughs mingle with the music. I like the simplicity of this production and performance. I’m not sure what post-processing or mastering occurred with this recording, but it was transparent, and left the recording feel live and impromptu, as well as very clean and professional, which was pretty neat to see and hear.
Contrasting Billie Eilish, the Tame Impala concert does a great job of making a largely pre-produced electronic show appear improvised and dynamic. Two people controlling mixers and electronic equipment, and a guitar & synth player blend a small army of drum machines, sequencers, and synthesizers into a striking lo-fi sound. The camera work feels like a classic MTV music video, and it also gives us a shot of the mixing board that is labelled with all the electronic gear in use during this 16 minute performance. Kevin Parker uses a DJ mixer to great effect in producing fills by high-pass and low-pass filtering the music bed, as well as using other extreme effects like echoes, repeaters, and down-sampling distortion to make the pre-recorded instrumentation, and the live performances, blend together and lock together in an interesting production. This production relies on the electronics to dramatically alter the audio and video, and I think this aesthetic works well here.
Both of these performances provide lots of ideas to use in your own productions: simple, high-fidelity mic’ing and instrumentation; good performance and mastery of the material and instrumentation; and over-the-top lo-fi electronics along with a DJ performance aesthetic. There are many techniques to borrow and try here.