Since Black Sabbath's self-titled debut album in 1970, metal music has been on a quest for greater heaviness. Although performances have become more extreme, the music's heaviness has benefited from numerous advances in music technology, facilitating dense walls of distorted guitars and hyperreal drum performances.
From cultural and musicological perspectives through to vocational and practice-based production studies, there is a lack of understanding of what heaviness is in a recorded and mixed form. In a music genre that is approaching its half-century of existence, this research is likely to have significant global impact on our understanding of the genre's fundamental qualities. At present, there is a deficit of music production knowledge and educational material that enables those interested to understand how top producers capture, manipulate and present the various qualities that equate to heaviness.
This project will examine how seven leading metal producers specialising in different subgenres define heaviness, and how they process and control the constituent aspects of heaviness during the mixing of recordings. It will analyse the producers' understandings of heaviness, their individual approaches, and how the characteristics of the musical material influence their mixing decisions. It will lead to a theory of heaviness derived from systematic empirical analysis. The project takes seven mainly sequential steps:
1) After compiling existing research on heaviness, the team - consisting of two metal music producers, one also a practitioner, one a musicologist - will 2) compose one metal song with clearly defined sections of three contrasting subgenres (doom metal, symphonic power metal, modern extreme metal) based on previous stylistic analysis. 3) The song will be recorded to professional standards. To allow multiple production choices, multi-amplifier/cabinet setups and clean drum hits for sample reinforcement will be recorded with a variety of recording techniques. 4) The experiment will be pilot-tested with a UK producer. 5) The styles of the main producers will be analysed to inform the experiment and data analysis. 6) The recorded song will be mixed by 7 leading metal producers. The producers present their results to the team, followed by in-depth interviews on the approach taken. The mixing and the interviews will be filmed with multiple cameras and screen-capture. 7) The video documentation and interviews will allow analysis of the producers' individual mixing approaches. They will reveal whether the subgenres require distinct production approaches and whether there are overarching features of heaviness across diverse subgenres of metal. The data will show how leading producers approach the mixing of a metal track, thus documenting the process in a way that is useful as a learning resource for music producers. The analysis of the producers' mixes will be an audible demonstration of their individual understandings of heaviness, showing the breadth - or lack thereof - of possibilities of achieving heaviness. These analyses will form the basis for a theory of heaviness in metal music production filling a gap in knowledge in the disciplines of metal music studies, musicology and the art of record production.
The findings will be published in a research monograph, two refereed articles in Metal Music Studies and Popular Music, one practice-oriented article in Sound on Sound, and presented at two international conferences. All project material including sheet music of the song, the raw recordings, the 7 mix project files, the edited videos of the producers' sessions and interviews will be available on the project website. The resources provide authentic, first-hand documentation demonstrating the crucial decision-making processes and the techniques involved in high-end metal music production for a full song. No print magazine, video service nor commercial educational provider offers comparable resources.