Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Brief History Of Music Production

At long last, I just received copies of my new book, The Music Producer's Handbook, today, more than a month after it had been released. To celebrate, I thought I'd post an excerpt from Chapter One on the history of music production. I really enjoy doing these history chapters, as I learn so much about where our business came from and what made it become what it is today. I hope you'll enjoy this short piece.


"Although the position of record producer seems like a modern aspect of the record business, the job has been around from the beginning of recorded music. Through the years, the profession has become more refined in terms of responsibilities, but the job has become more complex as well. To illustrate the evolution of the music producer, it’s best to break the profession into three distinct eras which we’ll call “the early record label era,” “the mature music era,” and “the independent era.”
The Early Label Era
Although recorded music goes as far back as 1857, it wasn’t actually turned into a business until around 1900. Because of the primitive nature of the recording equipment, the recordist acted as more of an archivist than a producer in that he (it was almost always a man) was just trying to capture the music onto a medium suitable for reproduction. The composers, arrangers and band leaders of the day had final say in regards to the direction and style of the music, just as many do today.
Several pioneers of the era including Ralph Peer and Lester Melrose (more on them in a bit) began to record less accessible and popular forms of music in an effort to target specific audiences with the music they were recording. The “producers” of this period were part talent scout, part entrepreneur, and part technician, sometimes going on location and holding massive auditions until they found the music that they thought to be unique. They were also some of the people who eventually gave the music industry and record label executives a bad name by stealing copyrights, not paying royalties and stereotyping groups of people with terms like “hill billy” and “race” music.
The Mature Music Era
As the music industry matured, record labels began to employ men (once again, they were almost always men) specifically to discover talent, then shepherd that talent through the recording process. These were know as “Artist and Repertoire” men or “A&R” men that were, in fact, the first vestige of the producer that we know today. Unlike the A&R men of today who are mostly talent scouts and product managers, A&R people of that era were usually well schooled in music, being talented composers and arrangers themselves, and were in charge of everything from signing an artist to finding songs to overseeing the recording, just as many of today’s producers do.
But producers began to have more control over production as magnetic tape became the production media of choice. Now it was easy for multiple takes, and as two, three and four track machines became available, the ability to separate instruments brought a whole new palate of possibilities. For the first time, the producers role became as technically creative as it was musical.
Still, producers of the era were little more than label employees, sometimes not even receiving a bonus despite being directly responsible for the success of the labels artists and their sometimes massive amounts of label income (such as the case between EMI with George Martin and The Beatles).
The Independent Era
As the technical possibilities continued to soar, so did a quiet rebellion on the business side of production. Even though independent record producers existed going back to the 50’s with Sam Phillips (of Elvis, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis fame), Phil Spector, Creed Taylor and Joe Meek, they all had their own record labels and it was lot easier to be in control as a producer if you were the label owner too.
The true revolution began when George Martin left music giant EMI to go independent in 1969. Until then, producers were little more than salaried staff with no participation in the profits they had such a big part in developing. After having to fight for a small bonus after The Beatles literally made EMI a billion dollars, Sir George decided to use his considerable leverage to obtain a piece of the action by leaving his EMI staff position and going independent. Soon many other successful producers followed, being able to cash in on large advances as well as a piece of their best-selling artist’s pie.
But fortunes turned, as they so frequently do. After a while, record labels began to see producer independence as a bargain by being able to wipe out the overhead of a salaried position, and they turned the tables to where hiring the producer became the artist’s expense instead of the label’s. This meant that the label could afford the best production talent in the world and in the end it wouldn’t cost them a dime as long as the record sold.
As time went on, the producer took more creative control, becoming everything from a coach to a guidance counselor to a psychiatrist to a svengali. Some producers like Holland-Dozier-Holland at Motown and Stock-Aitken-Waterman used a factory approach, where the artists were interchangeable and subordinate to the song. Some, like Phil Spector and Brian Wilson, had a grandiose vision for their material that only they could imagine until it was finished. Some like Ted Templeman, Tony Brown and Dan Huff, Moby and Dr. Dre changed the direction of a particular style of music. And some, like Quincy Jones, saved the music industry from itself and started the longest run of prosperity it would ever see."
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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Van Halen's Legendary M&M Concert Rider

By now, everyone has heard of Van Halen's legendary "no brown M&M's" concert rider back in the 70's (a concert rider is an addition to a performance contract that covers the needs and wants of the artist). If you haven't, The Smoking Gun actually has a copy of it, and it clearly states under the Munchies category, "WARNING: ABSOLUTELY NO BROWN ONES."

This received a lot of publicity way back when and has gone down in rock history as one of the most self-indulgent demands during a period of perhaps the most self-indulgence ever in the business, but I believe that this demand was strategically placed with a special purpose in mind.

If the band would get to the dressing room and see that their M&M's still had the brown ones left in, they could be pretty sure that their rider wasn't read that closely by the promoter and it was a sign to look for other places where the promoter cut corners. Brilliant!

Concert riders have tamed down a lot in these days of corporate, ultra-professional touring. Lady Gaga's rider, for instance, calls for "a roast chicken, a plate of cheese on ice with a tray of assorted meats, low-fat milk, salsa dips and whole-wheat bread and crackers." Not exactly party material.

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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.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Beatles "I Feel Fine" With and Without Vocals

Here's an interesting comparison of an early take of The Beatle's hit "I Feel Fine." The first half of the video is a just the backing track and the second is the final product.

1) The take without the vocal isn't the final backing track because the drum beat is different. In the final version Ringo is playing a sort of Latin beat with a tom fill during the verse.

2) John Lennon's feedback guitar in the intro is one of the first examples of that every happening on record. Remember, this was back in 1964, but feedback would become commonplace in rock in only a few years down the road.



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

Monday, August 23, 2010

KISS "Detroit Rock City" - Isolated Vocals

Here's one for the KISS Army out there. It's the isolated lead vocal for "Detroit Rock City." The third single from KISS's hit album Destroyer, DRC didn't go anywhere on the charts except in Detroit. That is, until the B-side of the single, Beth, caught fire.

Today, DRC is still a KISS concert favorite, while Beth is.........that KISS song with strings.

1) Paul Stanley's vocal is doubled with a regenerated short delay and long reverb trail. The sound is state of the art for that period in time (1976).

2) Stanley, Gene Simmons and Peter Criss have always sung very well together. In this case, the harmony vocals on the chorus are very tight, especially the releases, which is unusual for the period. Chalk that up to Bob Ezrin's most excellent production (he also co-wrote the song with Stanley).

KISS has always been under-appreciated for its music skills. Tracks like this show you just how good they were, and still are today.



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

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

"Papa Was A Rolling Stone" Isolated Vocals

There has been some great vocal groups in modern music, but none greater than the various versions of The Temptations. Today we listen to the isolated vocals of their number 1 hit and 3 time Grammy winner, "Papa Was A Rolling Stone."

The song has an interesting backstory. It wasn't originally written for the Temps (it was originally given to The Undisputed Truth), but ironically the first line "It was the first of September/a day that I'll always remember/ cause that was the day/ that my daddy died." sung by Dennis Chambers, hit too close to home since that was the day that his father actually did die. Writer and producer Norman Whitfield didn't know until they were actually recording the song, but he used it to his advantage to get the vocal performance he wanted, which ultimately lead to him being dismissed as the Temp's producer.

Also, the song was originally almost 12 minutes long (edited down to 6:54 for the single!) and one of the first "cinematic"style singles played by radio.

1) Wow, are these guys good or what? It's such a pleasure to hear 5 great voices sing so well together. The only rough note I heard on the whole thing is at about 3:00 on "And when he died."

2) I'm not sure how this was recorded, but my suspicion is that all the vocalists were recorded at once on a single mic. That's because the compression clamps down a lot from the single voice to the group.

3) There's also a distorted edge on the vocal as well. They probably couldn't hear it very well in those days, when playback systems and room acoustics were fairly primitive.

4) The reverb doesn't sound that great, surprisingly enough. It's fairly short with no pre-delay, but certainly works for the song.



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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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