Thursday, April 29, 2010

How Cymbals Are Made

If you're a drummer, you're going to love this video. But even if you're not, you'll find it fascinating. It's about the making of cymbals, looking specifically at how Zildjian does it.

Engineers, producers and many drummers don't pay near enough attention to the cymbals and what makes them sound good. If they've been gigging a lot, most drummers learn that heavy cymbals last a lot longer and project better on stage. That being said, they usually don't sound as good for recording, where thinner cymbals can sound a lot more musical (that's a general statement, I know, but usually true).

Another problem that frequently drives engineers crazy is when a drummer mis-matches the weights on his cymbal array, which usually means that the cymbals are unbalanced volume-wise. In this case, the engineer will have to break out a few extra mics to record the quiet ones separately and balance them later.

This video doesn't cover any of those finer points, but you will see how they're made from scratch. Enjoy.




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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

6 Questions For Composer, Guitarist, Engineer Rich Tozzoli

Rich Tozzoli is one of the many "hybrid" musicians who does a lot of different jobs in the music and audio business (I'm one too) . He's a great guitar player and composer whose music can be heard on television shows on Fox, the History Channel, Discovery and more. He's also a great engineer who was one of the first to get into surround sound (check out his book "Pro Tools Surround Mixing". And you probably know him from the articles he writes in Pro Sound News and Premier Guitar magazines.

You can find out more about Rich and his credits on his website and learn more about his new CD "Rhythm Up." Rich and I are also working on a book together tentatively entitled "The Guitar Recording Handbook," which you'll be hearing a lot more about very soon. I'm very pleased that he consented to this week's "6 Questions."


1) How did you break into the business?
Well, break in is the not the right word. Its actually slowly, gradually, and painfully (sometimes) finding your way into better and better gigs. I was lucky enough to hook up with Al DiMeola when I was getting started, and that led to many doors opening. However, you still have to be good, actually, really good, at your job to keep those doors open once you've gotten in there....As for TV music, I'm also lucky that literally my first big break was doing music for Nickelodeon. The late great Tom Pomposello 'discovered' me and helped guide me as to what and more importantly, what not to do. Also, there are no insignificant small things in our business - the smallest connection can literally lead to years of work.

2) What makes you unique?
I have an unusual background for someone in this end of the biz. I went to URI (University Of Rhode Island) for marketing and management, and took no music courses. Then, when I got out of college, I worked in commercial lending for two years at a huge bank. It SUCKED!!!!! Hated every day - no kidding. They use to reprimand me in my reviews for walking around too much (no joke). But it was when you still had to 'stay in your job'. After that ended, I rebelled against the lemmings and have not worn a tie since 95' (no kidding either). Anyway, I also am lucky to grasp things quickly, and Im an avid studier, researcher and listener. Sometimes, I dont even know how I just composed a piece of music, literally mintues after ive done it. Might be someone else inside me.

3) Who was you biggest influence?
Thats a hard one to answer. I think there are too many. I'm an observer. I sit quietly and take in what I just see happen in front of me. That gets stored in my memory banks for later use. So I'm influenced, literally, by everyone I come across. I never stop learning and trying to get better. Everyone can teach you something.

4) What's the best thing about your job?
Wow, there are so many. Having worked on the 'other side' in the corporate world, I appreciate my freedom. I'm ferociously independant, and I always like to do what I want when I want. haaa! But I don't have an alarm clock in my bedroom, and I wake when my body tells me to. Usually, the only time I ever have to get up early is to catch flights. Thats worth a million dollars! I get to play guitar, create music, travel, work with amazing artists and be free. Thats the best thing for sure.

5) When and where were you the happiest?
That's another tough one! I'm always happiest either at the beach or in the mountains. I walk along the Hudson River alot too, in a little town called Piermont, NY. I can detach there, and the water neutralizes me and gets me ready for whatever is coming next. That makes me incredibly happy.

Our business is loud and busy, and I'm sick of being attatched to iPhones, computers and hard drives. I love to get away and 'go analog'. My favorite thing to do professionally is to compose - even more than mixing or engineering. Composing for a show that I know will be on TV makes me the happiest - because I know royalties are coming! Also, with a lot of the TV music I do, I write whatever I want - so I can rock as heavy as Slayer with my Les Paul in one cue and pick like Hank on my Guild in another. Playing guitar makes me happy.

6) What's the best advice you've ever received?
Dont get married. I've stuck to it too!
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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"Under Pressure" - Lessons From The Isolated Vocals

Today we'll take a listen to the isolated vocal tracks from the Queen and David Bowie song, "Under Pressure." There are a number of interesting points to listen for:

1) I don't know how many vocal tracks we're actually listening to (I suspect at least 4), but notice how many other instruments are shared on those tracks - claps, finger snaps, piano and horn.

A bit of history - in the days of multitrack magnetic tape machines, we'd run out of tracks pretty quickly since there were a limited number available (this song was probably done on a 16 track recorder), so the only way to add more instruments was to find a blank space on one of the tracks and record it there. That took a lot of skill to make sure you recorded the part without erasing a bit of the one previously recorded, and it also made for very interesting mixing, since they became complex very quickly when you had 3 or 4 instruments or vocals occupying the same track.

2) Freddie Mercury's vocal mic is a bit distorted at the beginning of the song, which makes me think that this was a one take affair since it cleans up as the song goes along. It might even be that both singers sang into the same mic, since Bowie sounds great but the mic sound isn't very flattering to Freddie. Ken Scott, who produced 4 Bowie albums, once told me that all of David's vocals that he worked on were always done on the first take. If this vocal track was a first take recording, the vocal performance for both singers is great.

3) Check out how the reverb is muted at 2:05, then reappears with a lot more intensity at 2:20. Also, the claps and finger snaps have some reverb at the beginning of the song but not the ending.

Have a listen.




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Monday, April 26, 2010

Lessons From the "Under Pressure" Isolated Drums

Here's another isolated track from a hit song from the past that we can learn something from. This time it's "Under Pressure" by Queen and David Bowie, a big hit in 1981.

Once again, we're contrasting hits from different generations because what might've worked then, might not work today. Here are some things to listen for:

1) Roger Taylor's drum track is pretty solid, but there are some slight hesitations at about 1:00 during the double time feel, and again at 3:15. Would that fly today? It depends how enlightened the producer is, but probably not. I suspect that he'd probably break out Beat Detective to straighten it out.

2) The snare and toms have a LOT of reverb. It certainly works in the context of the song, but if you listen to the drums by themselves, you think right away that there's way too much. That's why the solo button on the console or DAW can do you a lot more harm than good sometimes. You can't really tell what's best for the song unless you can hear everything in context.

3) It's also interesting how they contrast the huge bombastic reverb with none at all like at 1:12. I suspect this was just a way to get rid of the long reverb tail across a rather naked part of the song in the days before console automation, but that's just speculation.

Have a listen.



Tomorrow we'll listen to the isolated vocals.

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Follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating the music business.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

My ASCAP Expo T-RackS Workshop Presentation

I was honored to be asked by IK Multimedia to give a short workshop on their T-RackS 3 mastering software on Friday at the ASCAP Expo in Hollywood. The room (thank you West LA Music) was full and the crowd was great with a lot of really good questions afterwards.

There were a lot of requests for my ASCAP workshop Keynote presentation, so I've put it online. As with most Keynote presentations, it's a lot better if you hear the talk that goes with it, but hopefully you'll get the idea.

That being said, everything in that presentation and a lot, lot more will be in a new book I just finished called, "Mixing and Mastering with T-RackS 3," which will be out towards the end of the year. If you own T-RackS or are thinking of buying it, it will give you a lot of tips and tricks for getting the best out it when mixing and/or mastering. It's a very powerful piece of software and one that I use often.

I also did an interview and book signing for my Music 3.0 Internet Music Guidebook. Click on the link for a short video excerpt of my ASCAP interview.

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Follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating the music business.

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