Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Week In Review

Here's the articles from the week of March 28 to April 1st.

"Don't Stop Believin'" - Journey Song Analysis
There are few songs from the 80's that have had the impact or longevity of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin,'" which was requested for song analysis by long-time reader HF. Surprisingly, the song may be more popular today than it ever was when it was first released in 1981........ Read More...

The Quick And Easy Effects Setup
Ever wondered what effects to dial in so things sound good during tracking without getting into your head turned around by the infinite possibilities available? Here's a quick and easy setup that will sound great.... Read More...

Busting Some Soundproofing Myths
Before you can look at some accepted ways to improve your isolation, it’s important to look at all the things that won’t work. In this excerpt from The Studio Builder’s Handbook (written with Dennis Moody) is a list of various materials that you’ll often see attached to the walls of a space in hopes of increasing the isolation, but although they won't help very much at all. Read More...

"Refugee" - Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers Song Analysis
Reader Henry Y asked for a song analysis of the song that broke Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - "Refugee." The song was from their 1979 multi-platinum classic Damn The Torpedos LP that was TP's first Top 10.... Read More...

The Essence Of Guitar Tone
Beyond the basic body style, there are quite a number of elements that go into giving an acoustic guitar its sound. Here's an excerpt from The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook (co-authored with Rich Tozzoli), that shows why the kind of wood that the guitar is made from makes such a big difference. Read More...


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Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Essence Of Acoustic Guitar Tone

Adirondack Spruce - Ideal For Guitar Tops
Beyond the basic body style, there are quite a number of elements that go into giving an acoustic guitar its sound. Here's an excerpt from The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook (co-authored with Rich Tozzoli), that shows why the kind of wood that the guitar is made from makes such a big difference.
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The size of the instrument, types of strings used, style of picks, finger technique, soundboard, nut material and even the structure of the bracing inside all have an effect on the sound. However, the woods used for the top and body probably are the most important tonal factors involved in the overall sound of a guitar. 
Since most acoustic guitars are primarily made of wood, each will have it’s own sonic character and soul. Rosewood bodied guitars will sound different than mahogany, which will be different than koa. Within a subset of that picture, wood comes in many varieties from countless different parts of the world so even different species of the same wood will sound different when built into the body of a guitar. 
Back And Sides
The most important traits for the back and side wood is that it be both resonant and good at reflecting sound. Rosewood has always been considered the best wood for this because of it’s bass response, with Brazilian rosewood being the most desirable sub-species. It’s hard, dense and resonant, and flavors the tone in a pleasing way as it absorbs the vibrations from the top. The problem is that Brazilian rosewood is now extremely rare and it’s use is restricted, so other types of rosewood are now used instead.
East Indian rosewood isn’t as hard as Brazilian, but it’s the most available and also has a rich bass response, while Cambodian, Amazon, and Madagascar rosewood all have many of the same tonal properties as Brazilian and are sometimes used as a substitute. Tulipwood is also a member of the rosewood family, as is Kingwood, but they both have a problem with availability, quality, and sizes large enough to make guitars from. 
While rosewood makes for wonderful live guitars, they might not be as appropriate in the studio because they may actually have too much bass response. Mahogany, on the other hand, has a very crisp, crystalline and glassine tone that works well for recording because it’s an extremely light wood without the reflectivity of rosewood. However, each type has its strenghts and weaknesses, and both can be successfully used in studio recording situations.
Koa, from Hawaii, is another popular wood for guitar making since it has a density that falls between mahogany and rosewood. Maple has been a traditional choice for violins and many other instruments because it’s extremely hard, but for guitars it doesn’t have the resonance of rosewood and it’s tone is sometimes considered harsh. That can be tempered with the right combination of soundboard wood, however, sometimes resulting in a very projective, powerful sound. Ovankol, which is also called shedua or African teak, isn’t as dense as rosewood so it’s sound is somewhat dark sounding.
The Top
The real job of a top (called the soundboard) is to be light enough to vibrate yet be strong enough to withstand the pull and pressure of the strings. Spruce has the highest strength to weight ratio of any of the woods, which is why it’s a typical choice for a guitar top, although cedar,  redwood, mahogany and koa wood have also been used. None of them are as light as spruce however, so they produce a totally different tone.
Adirondack spruce is known for its great tone but it’s from a protected forest in New York and therefore very rare. Sitka spruce from Alaska is very strong and easily available, so it’s become a popular choice for most guitar tops. Engelmann spruce has a very light weight and produces a very open sound, but because it’s not as strong the others there’s a possible longevity problem, which is also true of cedar. 
Carpathian and Italian alpine spruces from Europe are somewhere between Sitka and Adirondack in their tonality, but they’re also rare so they come at a premium price. 
Mahogany is also sometimes used for the soundboard but it has less projection and fewer overtones than spruce, which produces a punchier sound with less bass.
Figure 10.9 Tonal Qualities Of Various Types of Woods 

Wood Type
Description
Rosewood
Great projection and balanced tone with excellent bass response.
Mahogany
Fewer overtones and less bass than rosewood. Necks are warm sounding.
Spruce
Used for tops because it’s light yet stiff. Good projection and clarity.
Ebony
Used mostly for necks. Lowest projection of all woods used for guitar building.
Koa
Used for soundboards, low projection and lots of mid-range. When ussed for back and sides behaves like mahogany with more mid-range.
Maple
Low projection, few overtones, and sometimes harsh sounding.




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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, March 30, 2011

"Refugee" - Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers Song Analysis

Reader Henry Y asked for a song analysis of the song that broke Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - "Refugee." The song was from their 1979 multi-platinum classic Damn The Torpedos LP that was TP's first Top 10, rising to #2 on the Billboard album chart, and was the album where the band became a superstar act.

As in all the song analysis, we'll look at the song itself, the arrangement, the sound and the performance.

The Song
"Refugee" is as perfect example of a hit rock song as you can get. It's form is classic and looks like this.

Intro (with guitar solo), Verse, Half-Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Solo, Verse, Chorus, Outchorus

It just doesn't get any more formulaic than that. The formula doesn't make it a bad song though. If fact, it's pretty well written, with a strong melody and hook. The only thing that strikes me a bit funny is that the last verse is a repeat of the the first one.

The Arrangement
As with most hits, the dynamics in the song are great, but unlike other songs, they're not created by additional overdub layers but by real dynamic playing of the band. TP and the Heartbreakers have always been a great live band, and this song shows why, as the playing breathes with the song, pushing it to a peak in the bridge, and bringing it back down to a quiet third verse.

Let's look at the arrangement elements (check out this link for a full description of what they are):

  * The Foundation - As with most songs, the foundation element for "Refugee" is held down by the drums and bass.

  * The Pad - You can't get a better pad element than a Hammond B-3, and that's what you hear here.

  * The Rhythm - There's a shaker (played by session drummer Jim Keltner) that's back in the mix a bit so it's not obvious, but it really pushes the song along with a double-time feel.

  * The Lead - TP's lead vocal, and Mike Campbell's tasty guitar in the intro and solo.

  * The Fills - Once again it's Campbell in the verses and the background vocal answers in the chorus.

The song builds and develops in a classic way that every band should learn. In the intro, the full band is playing with the lead guitar, then in the verse, it's just the organ and rhythm section with rhythm guitar strums every four bars. In the last half of the verse, the band gets louder as the guitar kicks in, and in the chorus, the guitars go back to what they played in the intro (but they're lower in the mix) and the background vocals answer the lead vocal.

The only thing fancy in this song is the doubled lead vocal in the bridge, and the fact that the first half of the solo is by the organ, followed by the guitar.

The Sound
The sound was state-of-the-art when it was recorded in 1979 and it's still that today. Everything except the snare sounds big and natural, and you never hear a compressor working anywhere. The snare is very EQed, with a lot of bottom and crispness added, so it's larger than life sounding. It's not to my taste but it works well for the song.

It sounds like only a single reverb is used on the mix and it's slightly delayed (doesn't sound like it's timed to the track though) with the high and low end filtered a lot. This allows engineer Shelly Yakus to use a large amount without it sticking out or being noticeable.

The Performance
As said before, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are an outstanding band. They play together as a single unit with plenty of dynamics that's a shining example for bands everywhere. All of the performances here are great, but I especially like organist Benmont Tench because what he plays really makes the song.

Send in your requests for song analysis, but be sure to add a link to the YouTube video.



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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, March 29, 2011

Busting Some Soundproofing Myths

Before you can look at some accepted ways to improve your isolation, it’s important to look at all the things that won’t work. In this excerpt from The Studio Builder’s Handbook (written with Dennis Moody) is a list of various materials that you’ll often see attached to the walls of a space in hopes of increasing the isolation, but although they won't help very much at all.
  • Mattresses - There are so many things wrong with this that it’s hard to know where to start. Sure mattresses are made up of a lot of soft material, but it’s not the right kind for sound absorption, won’t affect the low frequencies at all (which are what causes most of the the isolation problems), accumulates mold and moisture, and makes nice homes for rodents and other unwanted critters. Plus, it’s pretty difficult to get enough of them to cover a room, and they take up so much space for so little benefit in return.
  • Egg Crates - Egg crates are light porous cardboard and do absolutely nothing for soundproofing. They can act as a sound diffusor at higher frequencies, but the bandwidth is so limited that they’re virtually useless there as well. Plus, they're highly flammable! It’s difficult to find enough of them to cover a room, but frankly, even using one is too many.
  • Carpet - Carpet attached to the wall is another product that will affect the sound of the room yet do nothing in the way of soundproofing since it doesn’t affect the low frequencies, which are the ones that you’ve got to control for good isolation. Carpet has exactly the same problem as mattresses in that it will begin to smell over time. Old or new carpet makes no difference, except that older carpet will smell more.
  • Foam Rubber - Foam rubber does have some acoustical absorption properties, but once again will do very little for the low frequencies that will cause all of your problems with the neighbors. It’s can be as expensive as materials with real acoustic control properties, degrades over time, and will burn like crazy if given the chance.
  • Rubber - Floor matts, mouse pads, neoprene, or any other variation of rubber will do very little to stop sound coming or going from your room. Once again, it’s much cheaper to buy proper acoustic materials that are easier to work with, but they won’t help your isolation problem either.
  • Wall Cellulose - Pumping cellulose insulation into walls can make a slight difference, but it’s marginal since there are much more effective ways to improve the isolation that are much cheaper. It can be helpful if used along with some other techniques that we’ll soon go over, but isn’t particularly effective by itself.
  • Fiberglass Insulation - Common fiberglass insulation once again has little ability to stop enough of the low frequencies that bug your neighbors, although, like with blown cellulose, it can be useful in conjunction with other techniques. Just pinning it to the wall won’t help though, but it will affect the acoustics of the room. It’s also a skin and eye irritant, takes up a lot of space, and the dust can be hazardous to your lungs when left exposed. As you’ll soon see, there’s a much better way to use fiberglass for acoustic control (although it still won’t help with isolation much).
  • Plywood Panels - It’s true that plywood panels provide mass and mass is what’s needed to stop sound transmission (especially the low frequencies), but the problem is that wood transfers sound too well so the construction technique used is crucial. Not only that, if the panels are too thin they’ll resonate and vibrate, causing an even bigger problem.
  • Particle Board - See plywood panels.
  • Bales Of Hay - Unless you live out in the country, it’s unlikely that hay bales are much of an option, but they actually do work. The problem is that they take up a lot of usable space, make a nice home for critters, and are a major fire hazard. Not recommended
  • Acoustic Foam - Acoustic foam is helpful in controlling the acoustics within a room, but it does nothing to stop sound transmission and is expensive to boot. Acoustic foam doesn’t even begin to affect the offending low frequencies, and using too much just makes the room seem dead and uncomfortable. There are much cheaper ways to achieve a better result.
Understand that all of these materials will have at least some affect on the sound of the room (which we’ll cover later in the chapter), but will do almost nothing by themselves to help improve your isolation.
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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, March 28, 2011

The Quick And Easy Mix Effects Setup

This was posted about a year ago, but I recently had a couple of requests for a repost, so here it is.

Ever wondered what effects to dial in so things sound good during tracking without getting into your head turned around by the infinite possibilities available? Here's a quick and easy setup that will sound great on just about any kind of music without having to pull you hair out over parameter settings. It requires only two reverbs and a delay.
  • For drums - Use a reverb with a "Room" adjusted to about 1.5 seconds of decay with a predelay of 20 milliseconds. You can also set a high-pass filter at about 100Hz and a low-pass filter set to about 8kHz to make sure that it blends well in the track.
  • For all other instruments - Use a reverb with a "Plate" setting with about 1.8 seconds of decay and a predelay of 20 milliseconds. 
  • For vocals - Dial in a delay of about 220 milliseconds with a couple of repeats.
It's amazing how well these settings work without any tweaking, but if you can't help yourself, you can time the delay and predelays to the song, but keep the parameter close to the settings above. For instance, if the only delay in the 220 region is a 232 ms quarter-note-triplet, that's the one to use. The decay is set so that the decay of a snare drum hit just about fades out by the time the next one comes around.

Remember, these settings are to be used as a quick way to get your mix sounding really good during tracking. For mixing, they may be a starting point, but you'll probably want to get a lot more sophisticated.
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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, March 27, 2011

"Don't Stop Believin'" - Journey Song Analysis

There are few songs from the 80's that have had the impact or longevity of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin,'" which was requested for song analysis by long-time reader HF. Surprisingly, the song may be more popular today than it ever was when it was first released in 1981, thanks to being featured on several television shows like The Soprano's, Glee and Made In America. The song comes from Journey's Escape album, which was a huge seller for the band and a #1 Billboard Top 200 hit. It's also a unique song in many ways, as you'll find out.

As in all of our song analysis, we'll look at the song itself, the arrangement, the sound and the performance.

The Song
"Don't Stop Believin'" is a highly unusual song in that the chorus never occurs until the very end of the song. There is no bridge either, but the song is constructed so well that it build and develops in tension. Here's what the form looks like:

Intro, Verse, Verse, B-section, Verse, B-section, solo/verse, Chorus, Chorus/fade

The verse and the chorus use the same chord changes. It's only the lyrics and a slight melody change along with backing vocals that makes them different from each other.

The Arrangement
Again, this is a very well constructed song, especially the arrangement. The song starts off sparse with a piano and fretless bass, then adds vocals, then guitar and finally drums in the B-section.

There aren't many overdubs (which I like), but the ones that are there are very effective. There's a guitar and synth double introduced on the B-section, and several subtle guitars and backing vocals in the chorus, which brings the song to a peak.

The Sound
For the most part, this song really sounds good. Steve Smith's drums sound big and natural, and Neal Schon's guitar sounds are great. Ross Valory's fretless bass is a little thin, yet fits the song well. The piano is chorused, which was very much in vogue during this period of the 80's. The sound of the vocal is the only thing I didn't personally like as it's noticeably compressed. Lots of compression can be a good thing as long as you don't hear it working, but you sure do here.

There are not many effects that are noticeable in the song, aside from the obvious piano chorus. The vocal has a medium reverb with a timed delay, as does the synth, but it's back in the mix.

The Performance
Journey was/is a great band. All the players are exceptional, and vocalist Steve Perry has a unique voice (although not that unique since there are 2 guys in the current band that sound just like him). I really liked Jonathan Cain's piano performance. It's a straight ahead part, but he puts a lot of very subtle inflections in it that make it go from potentially sterile to sterling.

Let me know if you have any request for song analysis and I'll do my best to get to them.



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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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