Thursday, February 24, 2011

"Grenade" - Bruno Mars Song Analysis

Today we're going to analyze the #5 song from this week's Ultimate Chart - Bruno Mars' "Grenade." It's the second single from his hit album "Do-Wops & Hooligans."

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

The Song - If you were going to write a straight down the middle pop song, this is the way to do it. The song is unusual in that it begins right with the verse with no intro, but other than it it's formula all the way, not that there's anything wrong with that if it works (it does here). Basically the song looks like this:

      Verse, Chorus, 2 bar interlude, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, 2 bar interlude, verse as the outro.

The good thing about "Grenade" is that it has a great melody, something that's sorely lacking in much of today's popular music.

The Arrangement - Just as the form of the song follows a formula, so does the arrangement. It develops from the sparse first verse to the big chorus, developing in a less sparse second verse, and finally peaking at the bridge. The tension is released by the stripped-down last outro verse, which is very unusual since most outros retain the tension to the end.

The 5 elements of the mix (check out this post for an explanation) look like this:
  • The Foundation - As is the norm, the Foundation element is this song is held down by the bass and drums.
  • The Pad - There's an organ that plays just underneath everything that acts as the Pad and glues the track together. Once again, pretty standard. You can never go wrong with an organ for this element.
  • The Rhythm - This is interesting in that the arppegiated electric piano line in the verse act as the Rhythm element, but during the chorus it switches to the double time feel of the drums.
  • The Lead - As almost always, it's the lead vocal.
  • The Fills - The Fills are handled by the background vocals and the occasional percussion sound effect.
The Sound - This is a very well made record in that it's not too compressed and the ambience is layered in a pleasing, ear-candy kind of way. The vocal has a medium-long reverb decay on it in the beginning, but then a timed and repeated quarter note delay is added during the second verse. The other instruments have their own short ambiences that make them seem more in-your-face, except for the percussion effect that has a long reverb with a very long, timed pre-delay.

The Performance - Make no mistake about it, Bruno Mars is a star. He's got the chops and his vocal shows considerable passion that effectively sells the song. The background vocals are also well-executed and add to both the motion and the tension of the song as well.

Unfortunately, Elektra Records is restricting the video to YouTube only, so you'll have to go over there for a listen.

Feel free to send me your suggestions for songs to analyze, but make sure there's a YouTube video available.
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Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating the music business.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Where The Music Business Is Located

So you think you know where the music business is centered? Well, think again.

When one thinks of the music business, usually Los Angeles or New York City immediately spring to mind, but the chart below is a giant surprise. In a paper entitled The Economic Geography in the US, Richard Florida, Charlotta Mellander and Kevin Stolarick looked at numerous cities throughout the US and Canada and came up with some surprising results.


Yes, Nashville, although always a major music hub, far and away has the highest concentration of the music industry.

While everyone thinks of Nashville as the home of country music, it's a lot larger and more diverse than that. According to the report:
"Over the past several decades, Nashville transformed itself from a rather narrow country music outpost in the 1960s and 1970s into a major center for commercial music. In 1970, Nashville wasn't even one of the top five regions by this measure. By 2004, it was the national leader, with nearly four times the U.S. average. Today, it  is home to over 180 recording studios, 130 music publishers, 100 live music clubs, and 80 record labels."
But the big surprise is the 3 major Canadian cities ranking before New York, and some of the other cities that usually don't register when thinking about the music business.

The chart is a perfect example of the democratization of the music business in Music 3.0. You can be anywhere and not only register on the industry's radar, but be a major player as well.

For more on the study, check out this article in The Atlantic.

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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.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Most Annoying People At Gigs

There's a great article by Brian Frank over at miccontrol.com called The Top 10 Most Annoying People At Gigs that I thought was both funny and spot on. I haven't gigged in bars for a long, long time, so it's interesting to see that some things never change, and probably never will. I only included numbers 1 through 5, but you can read the rest of the article here.
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Now I will note that alcohol is a major player here in how people become annoying and at times more annoying at a gig.  In the words of Homer J. Simpson alcohol is, "the cause of and solution to all of life's problems."  With that said, let's get into the list.  For those of you non-musicians who happen to read this, I hope to God you're not one of these types and if you are, well....you know who you are.
1. Freebird!!!
I have to say this falls as numero uno for me and from what I can tell other musicians.  I would venture to say at three quarters of my shows someone yells "Freebird!!!"  And once one person yells it, other people start yelling it too.  It is an awesome song,  but it's gotten tarnished because of the people that start yelling it out.  The thing about people who yell out this Skynard song is that they always think it's so funny.  Well, I'm sorry it's not an original thing to say and last time I checked the lyrics, it was not a funny, haha, kind of song.  The thing is, because this is done so often, I don't play the damn song.  And if you get on a musicians bad side we just might give you a freebird--yes, saluting you with the middle finger.
2. "I'm a professional/I can sing" so "let me play/sing"--followed by childish begging
I've run into many folks who want to come up on the stage and entertain.  In fact, often times they make a couple claims to try and accomplish this.  Some people say, "Oh, well I'm a professional musician, it's all good."  Others say, "I can sing, I'm really good."  Let me cut to the chase on why this usually ends badly and is annoying--nine times out of ten they're not a professional and cannot sing.  And if they do come on stage, it can ruin the energy of the show.
Here's why it's annoying though.  First the "professional musician" plea.  If you are a true professional, you don't ask the musician who's show it is to get up and play at their gig.  It's not your gig--time and energy are going into it and you're name is not on the bill.  It is different if the musician playing does happen to know you are a professional musician because there's a respect.  But I have asked people where they've played and they end up revealing they don't play out at all.
For the "I can sing really good" plea, it's a bit different.  If my gig was a karaoke gig, then sure anyone could come on stage and sing while I played.  But I'm not a karaoke host or musician and neither is my gig.  The times I've allowed someone to sing they don't really know the song or we can't agree on a song to play or (most often) they do not sing well (and many people fumble trying to use a microphone).  This situation reminds me of the initial rounds of American Idol--you know those people who think highly of their singing but actually suck.
I have learned to not say "no" to both these folks, but tell them to speak to the management at the venue.  Usually the venue doesn't want people on the stage anyway for liability reasons.  Many times though I've gotten into an argument with someone who starts to beg and whine and not believe they should ask the management.  If the manager allows it, then I'm cool--it's not on me then if suckage appears on the stage.
3. I'll just jump on stage anyway
Even after the management said they can't come on the stage, people do anyway.  Some venues I play have a security person to stop them, but those that don't I'm left on my own to handle it.  I try to just go with the flow, make it quick and get them off the stage.  It can be quite ridiculous at times if they're drunk and not in control--and I end up having a big old mess standing next to me.  Also, doing this worries me because I've had people step on my equipment or come close to spilling their drink all over or knocked into my guitar.  Musicians worst nightmare.
4. Let me make a request/give you a drink/talk to you/let's do a shot while you're in the middle of a song.
This bugs the hell out of me.  I'm playing a song and someone comes to the stage and starts talking to me.  Well, I'll be brutally honest--I can't have a conversation back while I'm in the middle of the verse.  I can't put my hand up to say, wait a sec, since it breaks up the chords of song.  But these folks are just impatient or maybe just clueless as to what is going on.  The best thing I have thought of doing is when there's a break in the song, I just keep strumming a chord over and over or the progression (I can sometimes talk and play at the same time) to see what they hell they want.  Usually I try and say, can you just wait til I finish the song--that has failed though.
I also can't take a drink or a shot in my hand while I'm strumming and I can't swallow liquid while I'm singing either--both are physically impossible.  Some people just can't wait though.
5. "You don't know any of the songs I am requesting.  You suck!"
I know just over 300 cover songs, but I don't know everything.  I admit I feel bad when someone keeps coming up to make a song request and I don't know how to sing or play what they want.  Most people will move on or eventually we'll find something they want to hear.  But other times I've had people give me a look of being annoyed with me and I have had a handful say to my face that "I suck" because I don't know "anything".  Hey, I know what I know--don't get your panties in a bunch.


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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 21, 2011

"Power" - Kanye West Song Analysis

Today's song was requested by our friend from Romania, Emanual Alexandru, and it's Kanye West's "Power." This is the first single from his fifth album, My Beautiful, Dark Twisted Fantasy, produced by Kanye and Symbolyc One, and features a sample from one of my all-time favorite songs, "Twenty-First Century Schizoid Man" by King Crimson.

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

The Song - Like most rap songs, the form is fairly simple, with the same verse repeating and an interlude (The "21st Century Schizoid Man" sample) thrown in. That is, until the outro, when the song changes and basically turns into a bridge. Highly unusual but very cool. So the form looks something like this:
Intro, 2 verses, interlude,
4 verse (the lyrics could make the last one a chorus although nothing else changes), interlude,
4 verses (the last one could be a chorus), interlude
verse, verse, verse, bridge, outro

The Arrangement - This is a perfect example where the arrangement can make a song, since there's always something different happening in every verse. Instruments (including the drums) drop in and out, creating song dynamics and keeping the interest high. If we look at the musical elements, this is what we have (look here for explanations of the elements of a song):
  • The Foundation - This one's easy, since it's the pretty standard bass and drums.
  • The Rhythm - The rhythm element is an instrument that pushes the track along, usually double time or a complimentary rhythm to the foundation. Unusually, this element does not exist in this song.
  • The Pad - This is highly unusual in that it's a sampled background vocal track that's repeated from the intro through most of the song.
  • Fills - There are a lot of musical fills or contrary lines in this song, and there's not much room for them to stand by themselves. That's OK, because the mix is skillful enough to make them work.
The Sound - I'd love to see the track sheet on this song because I'm sure the number of tracks is pretty high. "Power" is a great example of modern layered ambience and accomplished exclusively with reverbs with short (1 second or less) decay times or short delays. You hear big sounding drums (rap records seem to love John Bonham these days), a separate short room on the background vocals, and most other instruments are either dry and in your face (like the vocal), or have their own short ambience.

Speaking of the repeated background vocal sample. it's a little squashed, but most of the rest of track is not.

The Performance - Kanye's vocal delivers on this tune but for me, it's the harmony background vocals way at the end of the song on the outro that really got me.

Don't forget to send in your requests for songs to analyze, but be sure to include a YouTube link.


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You should follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

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Enter To Win A Copy Of The Touring Musicians Handbook

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I'm giving away a copy of The Touring Musician's Handbook, the book all about the musicians behind the great touring artists, and how you can be one too.

Click here to enter the contest.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bruce Swedien's Vocal Recording Tips

For anyone who doesn't know already, Bruce Swedien is truly the Godfather of modern day recording. Having been part of the team the produced Michael Jackson's greatest hits is only one of the things he's done over his long and illustrious career. He's also recorded so many of the jazz greats, from Count Basie to Dizzy Gillespie, and pop giants like Barbra Streisand as well.

There's a great article on ProSound Web (which also runs a few of my articles too) that's an excerpt from his great book, "Make Mine Music." Bruce also was kind enough to contribute an interview in one of my books as well - The Mixing Engineer's Handbook.

Below is an excerpt from the article over on Prosoundweb.com, from which I took some of his points about vocal recording.
  • "First off, the type of music to be recorded is most important. Pop, jazz, rhythm and blues, country, and classical all require a different approach. The biggest single difference in studio mike technique for vocal recording comes from recording of vocal sound sources in classical music, contrasted with pop vocal sound sources. The first and most important consideration is that I would never mike the vocalist in a classical recording as closely as I would a vocalist in a pop music recording.
  • Good choral recorded sound is best achieved by using as few microphones as possible, with the singers placed well back from the microphones. This technique places most of the sound mixing responsibility on the room acoustics and the vocalists. Obviously, this approach requires an excellent studio or a room with extremely good acoustics.
  • Extreme equalization is most definitely not the way to achieve a superb vocal recording, though a small amount of EQ may be beneficial. If you find yourself having to apply a great deal of EQ to the mike channel to achieve an acceptable vocal sound, it’s time to try another microphone.
  • Your choice of vocal microphone should be made on the basis of the artist’s vocal quality and the sonic personality you want to project – nothing else.
  • Stacking, or “doubling,” a lead vocal is helpful. I frequently change the tape speed of the master recorder slightly during the recording of the “double,” or “stack” (or pitch down the cue mix coming from the digital audio workstation) and play that to the vocalists while recording the “double.” During this process, the amount of pitch change used should be very small. The amount of pitching down that I do is usually only 3 or 4 cents in pitch.
  • When recording vocal duets, I frequently look for microphones for the vocalists that have an obviously different sonic character. This difference in microphone character adds to the already different timbre of the two voices and makes the resulting sonic picture more fascinating. 
  • When mixing a “stack,” or “double,” of a lead vocal track, I frequently keep the “double” at a slightly lower level in the mix than the basic lead vocal track. This serves to add support to the vocal without making it appear to be an obvious trick."
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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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