Thursday, October 7, 2010

"Home At Last" - Steely Dan

Here's a great excerpt from the Classic Albums television series that featured Steely Dan's Aja album. Aja was a giant hit for the band where they cemented their credentials as a hybrid - not quite rock and yet not quite jazz either. This cut is about the song "Home At Last" which features the great drummer Bernard Purdie. Check out his explanation of the famous "Purdie Shuffle" towards the end. You don't have to be a drummer to appreciate his fabulous groove.



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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Dangers Of Loud Playback Levels

One of the things that's difficult for beginning mixers to wrap their head around is the correct playback level during a mix. It takes a while to find the level that's not only comfortable, but allows you to hear the  balances and frequency response of all the instruments. While it does take some level to properly gauge the low end, sustained exposure to loud levels can have a detrimental effect on the mix. Here's an excerpt from my "Mixing And Mastering With IK Multimedia T-RackS" book that explains why.
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One of the greatest misconceptions about music mixers (especially the great ones) is that they mix at high volume levels. In fact quite the opposite is generally true. Most mixers find that they get better balances that translate well to the real listening world by monitoring at conversation level (79dB SPL) or lower.
High SPL levels for long periods of time are generally not recommended for the following reasons:

1) First the obvious one, exposure to high volume levels for long periods of time my cause long-term physical damage.
2) High volume levels for long periods of time will not only cause the onset of ear fatigue, but general physical fatigue as well. This means that you might effectively only be able to work 6 hours instead of the normal 8 (or 10 or 12) that’s possible with lower levels.
3) The ear has different frequency response curves at high volume levels that overcompensate on both the high and low frequencies. This means that your high volume mix will generally sound pretty limp when played at softer levels.
4) Balances tend to blur at higher levels. What works at higher levels won’t necessarily work when played softer. However, balances that are made at softer levels always work when played louder.
Now this isn’t to say that all mixing should be done at the same level and everything should be played quietly. In fact, music mixers (as opposed to film which always has a constant SPL level) tend to work at a variety of levels; up loud for a minute to check the low end, and moderate while checking the EQ and effects. But the final balances usually will be done quietly.
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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Beatles "White Album" Outtakes

Here's a wonderful compilation of outtakes from The Beatle's White Album. Once again, it's fun to hear the boys having fun. What I especially liked is listening to the bits with Ringo's drums. Just listen to the snare pop on the back end of the beat. I usually don't think of him as that kind of drummer, but there he is. He's totally underrated.

It's also great to watch the little bit of Sir Paul playing "Blackbird" live.



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Monday, October 4, 2010

"Lively Up Yourself" Bob Marley Multitrack

After the great response to the multitrack of "No Women No Cry" last week, here's another multitrack from one of Bob Marley's most popular songs, "Lively Up Yourself." The song was the first song on Marley's seminal "Natty Dread" album, and was the first by Marley without his former Wailer bandmates.

1) The first thing you hear is the horn section, which is doubled on two tracks. The horns sound particularly tight and together.

2) Bob's lead vocals consist of two passes on different tracks, with the harmony background vocals of I-Threes doubled on two tracks.

3) The drums are interesting in that they're on three tracks consisting of kick, snare, and high-hat (instead of overhead). Listen to the intricate high-hat work, which is unusual for a reggae song.

4) The guitars consist of standard reggae layering on three tracks - one providing the rhythm backbeat "chucks," the second doing fills in between the lead vocal phrases, and the third doubling the bass.

5) The keyboards are interesting. The organ plays a form of the standard reggae "bubbling" with the bass line doubled on the left hand (bubbling normally requires both hands). The piano outlines the chords on beat 2 with the left hand while doubling the bass line with the right hand, which is very unusual.

6) Once again, the entire song was recorded on only 15 tracks!



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Sunday, October 3, 2010

"Long Train Runnin'" Doobie Brothers Multitrack

Here's a look at the individual tracks from the multitrack of The Doobie Brothers 1973 top-10 hit "Long Train Runnin'." The song was originally a jam song that the band played during their time as a bar band, and they were reluctant to put it on their 3rd album, "The Captain And Me," which became their most popular album. Supposedly, singer Tom Johnson finished the lyrics at the last minute in the bathroom of Warner Brother's Amigo Studios right before the song was recorded.

I've always been a big fan of Doobies, especially of their vocals, and you'll hear some of the secret to their vocal sound on this video.

1) The first thing you notice is the guitar layers. There are two electric guitars that are doubled playing the main chordal phrase, and 3 different acoustic guitars that add both counterpoint and motion.

2) Even though the Doobies are known for their dual drum kit sound, this song has only one kit that's recorded very old school on only 3 tracks - kick, snare and overhead. The stereo spread comes from the 3 tracks of percussion - tambourine, and 2 different conga patterns.

3) Tommy Johnson's vocals are on a single track, while the chorus harmonies consist of two tracks of 3 part harmonies (their signature vocal sound) and a track of gang vocal on the lowest part.

4) The harmonica solo is track-shared on an empty section on two of the background vocal tracks, a practice that was almost standard back in the tape days. Take notice to the difference in levels. In the final mix, it sounds like they used most of the loud one with a few phrases from the quiet one.

5) The outro ad lib lead vocal lives on the lead vocal track, with a second pass on one of the background vocal tracks, again employing track-sharing.

6) Everything you hear was done on only 15 tracks!



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