Thursday, February 17, 2011

"Firework" - Katy Perry Song Analysis

Today we're going to analyze Katy Perry's hit "Firework," a song which, in my opinion, epitomizes the best of current production (done by the production team Stargate and Sandy Vee, who are also the co-writers). The song is the third single from her second album Teenage Dream and went to #1 on Billboard charts.

As with all analysis, we'll break the song down into four parts - the song itself, the arrangement, the sound and performance.

The Song - "Firework" is a more or less traditional pop song in that it has a common structure found in most hits - short intro, verse, B-section, chorus, chorus, verse, B-section, chorus, chorus, bridge, chorus, chorus, outro. The form looks like this:

A, A, B, C, C, A, B, C, C, D, C, C, C.

That doesn't mean it's boring though. The song builds nicely and takes us through a couple of peaks, thanks to the song's built-in dynamics. It even has an ending, which is unusual for a pop song.

The Arrangement - The arrangement is state-of-the-art. The intro and first verse are very sparse, with the strings entering at the first B-section and continue to build to a crescendo through the 1st chorus. The chorus repeats with additional movement from the entrance of the bass.


The first half of the second verse drops down to just 8th notes on the keyboards plus the drum pattern, but changes with the entrance of the bass into the second half - a very nice arrangement touch.

Some other things I especially liked is the line in between the repeat of the 2nd chorus, the harmony vocals on the repeat, and the background vocal answers in the outro. Also, listen to how the vocal melody subtly changes on the 2nd and 3rd choruses. 

I always preach about dynamics as the key to excitement, either live or on a record, and this song is an excellent example of how it's done.


The Sound - Once again, here's an example of how the sound of pop records has returned to the 80's/90's in that everything except has some depth to it. Katy has what sounds like a timed triplet delay on her voice that triggers the reverb, so there's depth and spaciousness without washing out. The same is true on the rest of the track in that there's some space around each instrument except for the bass and drums, which are dry and in your face.

The Performance - It's easy to think of Katy Perry as a lightweight because of her celebrity and exposure, but the girl has some pipes and this song proves it. She really sells the song and pulls you in. Plus, she sings harmony vocals very well with herself, which all singers can't do.



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You should 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.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

5 Reasons For Bad Concert Videos

I hate concert videos. Not all of them, just the majority. It's not the music or the artist, it's mostly the directing. It seems like a whole generation of directors learned the wrong way just like a lot of live soundmen did (more on that gripe here).

Many times there's a concert I'd love to watch on VH1 Classic, Palladia, or PBS that I can't get past the first minute or two because it's cut too fast and flat. That might work for music videos (I'm not sure it does) but it sure doesn't for a concert. I want to be engaged, I want to be pulled in and I want to really see the performance in a way I never could before.

So here are my 5 reasons why I think concert videos are so bad. By the way, there's a lot more about shooting and editing concert videos aimed specifically for musicians in The Musician's Video Handbook.

1. The cuts are way too fast.  Give me a moment or two to get a feeling for the artist.  If you cut on every beat I never get pulled into the performance.  There's no rule that says you can't keep a shot on the artist for 5, 10 or even 30 seconds.  I promise, if the artist and the music is great, it's not going to be boring!

2.  There's never enough of the supporting players.  Let me see the rest of the band.  And not just for a second either.  I want to know who the players are.  I want to see how much they're into the music.  And just maybe there might be a great mini-performance within a performance that's worth seeing.

3.  Too many audience shots.  Who cares about the audience?  Unless there's something really special about the audience, I don't have to see them in every song, and not more than once or twice at that.  This constant cutting back to generic audience shots just makes me loose interest.  Sure they like the band.  That's why they're there. You don't have to keep reminding us.

4.  Too many long shots from the audience.  Once I get the feeling of how large the venue is and how many people are there, I don't need to see it again.  Giving me that same shot over and over just disconnects me from the performance.

5.  The shots make the performer look smaller than life.  Please, learn how to frame a shot.  I'd like to see the performance from a perspective I can't normally get, but I don't need to count the singer's nose hairs.  Too many times the shooter frames the shot flat.  A concert is bigger than life so let's shoot it that way.

Too many times a director thinks that the project is his. It's not. It belongs to the artists. Let's give the fans more of them and less of you.
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Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating the music business.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Sound Of Speaker Magnets

Most musicians and engineers know that raw speaker transducers sound different from one another, but few know exactly why. Each speaker has a wide variety of parameters, and most aren't that obvious unless you're a transducer engineer. The one that is obvious is the speaker magnet.

Speaker magnets come in all sort of different sizes and shapes, but the materials that they're made of really makes a difference in the way the speaker sounds. Here's a brief excerpt from The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook that refers mainly to guitar speakers, but the explanation applies to speakers intended for any other application as well.
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"There are three different types of materials used in speaker magnets, Alnico, Ceramic, and Neodymium, with each material having a distinctly different effect on the tonal characteristics of the speaker.
  • Alnico, an alloy of aluminum, nickel and cobalt, is the magnetic material used in the original speakers in all the vintage amps. It produces a classic tone that’s warmer and sweeter at lower volumes that many players feel reacts faster to the touch. Alnico was used for decades because of its strong magnetic field, but once the alloy became a bit pricey, many manufacturers opted for speakers with the less expensive ceramic magnets.
  • Ceramic magnets were developed as an inexpensive alternative to Alnico and have the advantage of being more versatile with a wider range of tones. Speakers with ceramic magnets tend to weigh more, but generally handle more power and sound better at high volumes.
  • Neodymium is the latest development in speaker magnet material. It’s not as expensive as Alnico but costs a bit more than ceramic magnet speakers. It has the advantages of both weighing about 50% less than other speakers and having stronger magnetic properties. Speakers made from neodymium respond to a player's touch similar to Alnicos and have a well balanced frequency response."
So the next time you buy a speaker, pay attention to the magnet. It's influence on the sound is greater than you think.
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You should 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.


    Monday, February 14, 2011

    "Right Down The LIne" - Gerry Rafferty Song Analysis

    Jim Weishorn requested that for an analysis of an enduring hit and staple of FM radio, Gerry Rafferty's 1971 hit "Right Down The Line", the 2nd hit from his huge #1 City To City album from 1978.

    As with all analysis, we'll break the song down into four parts - the song itself, the arrangement, the sound and performance.

    The Song -  "Right Down The Line" uses a fairly simple form consisting of an intro, verse, 2nd verse, chorus (some might call it a bridge), verse, guitar solo, chorus, verse and outro chorus. That seems like a lot of parts, but there are only two that keep repeating, so it looks like this:

    A, A, A, B, A, A, B, A, B

    The Arrangement - This is a rather sparse arrangement with lots of space and not many overdubbed layers or doubles. The chorus gets bigger thanks to the introduction of a grand piano and three part harmony vocals.

      * The Foundation is the bass and drums, both which basically play the same simple repeating patterns, as well as a staccato guitar figure played mostly on beat two.

      * The Pad is provided by a nice Hammond organ with the Leslie on the chorale setting. This is enhanced during the chorus with a grand piano.

      * The Rhythm is an interesting stereo wood block that jumps from speaker to speaker and provides motion to the song.

      * The Lead is a doubled lead vocal and lead guitar playing in the intro and solos.

      * The Fills are provided by two different sounding guitars, one that's fairly clean with a bit of high end, and the other during the verse with the high-end rolled off. The piano also plays flourishes that act as fills during the chorus.

    The Sound - This song was recorded during what many consider to be the "golden age" of audio, so the basic sound is great. There's not a huge amount of compression, so the track breathes nicely.  There are two reverb layers; a short one on the the guitar playing the fills, and a longer one on most of the other instruments. The piano stands out as being particularly well recorded.

    The Performance - This is one of those songs that a particular performance doesn't jump right out at you until the chorus, where the three part harmony shines. The guitar parts fit the song well, but again, don't jump out as anything particularly virtuoso. That being said, the song has endured for 34 years, which is a tribute in itself to the song and the performance. In the end, it doesn't get any better than that.

    Don't forget to send me your song analysis requests, but it helps if you can also send a YouTube link as well.



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    You should 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, February 13, 2011

    The 6 Rules For Auditioning

    Yes, I have another new book out, this one called The Touring Musician's Handbook, a book that tells you everything you need to know to be a musician on a tour with a signed act. Of course, you've got to get the gig first, and here's an excerpt from the book regarding the 6 rules for auditioning.

    You can read a few additional excerpts about The Touring Musician's Handbook here.
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    Depending on how you look at it, an audition can be really fun or so stressful that it makes you want to loose your lunch. The more prepared you are, the less likely you are to do the latter, so here are a number of things to help you through the process.
    1) Know The Material
    You can be a great player with chops that came from Mount Olympus, but the only thing that the artist or MD cares about is if you can play the artist’s material well show after show. If you go into an audition thinking that you’re going to wing it, you’re wasting everyones time, in which case you should be prepared for a very short audition. 
    First off, I want the person auditioning to play the music exactly like the record. I don’t want to hear them improvise, and I don’t want to hear their take on it. I want to hear them play it exactly with the right feel, just like they were playing Mozart or Beethoven. I want them to respect the music regardless of if it’s Pink’s music, or Cher’s or Janet Jackson’s, I want them to play it exactly as you hear it on the record. Then if I ask them to change it, they’re changing it from a place where I know that they know what it is so they can take their own spin on it after the fact.
    Paul Mirkovich
    Go-to guys like guitarist Peter Thorn (Melissa Etheridge, Chris Cornell, Jewel, Don Henley) will learn as much of the artist’s catalog possible before the audition, going as far as to dial in the tone of the parts as well. It’s a lot of work, but if you’re up against another guy that did that and you didn’t, who do you think will get the gig?

    The other thing is that you have to be not only better than everyone else, but you have to be different. It’s basically a sales pitch. In five or ten minutes, you have to prove to them that if they hire you, they’ll get more for their money than hiring anybody else. 
    Ed Wynne
    2) Don’t Be Late
    This will just about eliminate you right from the start. Being late indicates that you have a reliability problem, which is the last thing anyone wants on the road. There are a lot of great players out there, and most of them are punctual and reliable. Who do you think they’re going to pick?
    3) How You Look Counts
    Not only does clothing and grooming make a good first impression, but it’s important to see how you visually fit on stage with the rest of the band. It’s possible to fit the bill perfectly as a player but still not get the gig because of the way you look. 
    As an example, an accomplished touring player that I know recently got a gig with a major artist that lasted one day. He went back to the hotel and received a call saying, “We’re good. Don’t come back to rehearsal tomorrow.” They just didn’t like the way he looked against the other players in the band. 
    You might get rejected because you have a shaved head and so does the artist or another player player in the band and they don’t want two people on stage with that look. Or you might have blond hair and so does the artist. Or you have facial hair and no one else in the band does. Nothing personal, sometimes you just don’t fit in. 
    I always felt that if someone is auditioning players that he’s not already aware of, it’s a clue that he’s looking for something else besides the way you play or the gear that you have. It’s a good tip that they may be looking more at how you look or at your age. I’ve seen that a lot.
    Mike Holmes
    4) Your On-stage Demeanor Also Counts
    If possible, get a DVD or watch a video of the artist and her band playing live and take notice of the on-stage demeanor of the players. A lot of people get gigs because their physicality is right, which means how they look when they’re playing the music. Maybe the artist wants energy on stage and really likes it when a player is so into it that he’s moving all around. On the other hand, some artists just want you to stand there and play, leaving any showmanship up to them. You’ve got to know your place, so you have to tailor your demeanor to the artist.
    5) Bring The Right Gear
    You’ve got to tailor the gear to the gig. If you were auditioning for the job as the Strat player for Lynrd Skynrd, it wouldn’t be a great idea to bring a Les Paul or what some perceive as a metal guitar like a Jackson. If you were auditioning for the touring band of 50 Cent, you wouldn’t bring a drum kit with the snare tuned up high for reggae or ska. Can the artist or MD imagine how you’d play with the right gear? Sure they can. But once again, if everything were equal between two players, the one who will get the gig is the one that has the right sound at the audition. That way, no guessing, imagining or wondering come into play. Remember, what the artist wants most is security and one less thing to worry about. Whoever can provide that gets the gig.
    6) Be Nice To Everyone
    It’s important that you’re nice to everyone, including the crew, while you’re at the audition. If these people are going to spend months on a bus with you, they’d prefer that you didn’t have an attitude of superiority and were very easy to get along with. Remember, if it’s a toss-up between you and someone else, the one who will get the gig will be the one that everyone believes they can live with.
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    You should 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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