This question comes from @runthejoseph on Twitter:
Q: Recently I've been listening to a hip hop group named Doomtree which employs a 7-member (5 rappers, 2 producers) team. While each person in the crew is unique they release music together with everyone involved that's easy to listen to. After seeing an interview with them, they brought up a word that I don't see that often when talking about bands/music collaborators. That word was "digestibility". That word stuck out to me because of course, being in a band, i am only 1/4 of a greater whole. My question is how important is digestibility in terms of success? Is it something that every successful person luckily pulls off or is there a "science" to taking several inputs and turning it into one output? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thank you.
A: Any time I’ve heard someone talk about digestibility it’s a misnomer. I think this passage from the book sums up how most people discuss digestibility:
Just as you can perfect a performance too much, you can also jam it full of too many great parts to the point where it distracts the listener from being able to focus. Music is a balance of how to work within a constraint, whether that constraint is how many melodies can be played at a time or how long a song is before it's exhausting. Figuring out how to maximize your resonance within these constraints is essential to crafting a great song.
One of the most under-discussed parts of music is there can be too many great parts in a song. If you study your favorite songs, you'll find a balance where one or two of the instruments play parts that are playing a supporting role that doesn't call for the listener's attention. A mistake musicians make when trying to "perfect" a song is to try to make every part catch your ear at the same time. There's only so much a listener can pay attention to and there's only so much space in a mix before emotion is diluted by a lack of focus. This thought can also go for arrangements. There's a reason that the past few centuries of music still only have rhythm (drums), bass, accompaniment (commonly guitar or keyboard) and melody (usually a vocal or a monophonic lead instrument). There's not room for much more without it being distracting.
I point to the Smashing Pumpkins record Siamese Dream, which is praised for its huge sound. When you inspect this record, you find a buried bass track along with tiny cymbals that contrast to bombastic drums and extremely loud guitars with a vocal as tucked in the mix as possible. Whether you take that to the hip EDM song of the day or the latest prog rock song, there's a tightrope act where one or two of the parts keep it simple while someone else has attention drawn to them. You can find this balance of give and take in nearly every classic record.
With that said, I think the reason this is a misnomer is this goes back to what I discuss throughout the book, what many people perceive as digestibility is actually emotional resonance in a song. What we find easy to listen to is music that is emotionally powerful, and what is often easier to digest is just listening to what you find pleasing and continuin to shape that to your own voice and emotional makeup.