Thursday, May 19, 2011

Lady Antebellum "Just A Kiss" Song Analysis

Today we look at a song that's #3 on the Ultimate Chart this week called "Just A Kiss" from Lady Antebellum. It's the first release from their upcoming 3rd album by this award winning country trio, although this song doesn't sound much like country music. As with all song analysis, we'll look at the song itself, the arrangement, the sound and the production.

The Song
"Just A Kiss" uses a very simple, yet effective pop form that looks like this:

Intro, Verse, Chorus, Interlude, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Interlude, Chorus, Ending

The intros and interludes are very short, and the song has a real ending, a most unusual thing these days.

The Arrangement
When you have a simple song form, you need a great arrangement to keep the listener from losing interest. "Just A Kiss" uses an excellently crafted arrangement that's about as good as it gets in any genre, which is one of the reasons why it's a hit.

The song develops nicely, opening up with piano, drums and percussion, then adding the bass when the vocal enters. Snare and guitar plus a light Hammond organ are added with the 2nd half of the verse, then the chorus gets even bigger with 3 part harmony and an additional guitar. The 1st interlude shows the arrangement skill with the heavy accents at the end, again keeping your interest. The 2nd chorus then adds a synth string pad to develop it even more.

The 2nd verse develops using two distorted guitar parts and harmony lead vocals, which ends with the bands signature 3 part harmony.

  The Foundation: piano, drums, bass

  The Pad: It's subtle, but the organ from the second verse onward, whole note strums from the electric guitar during the chorus, and synth string pad during the 2nd and last chorus and bridge.

  The Rhythm: A soft shaker adds motion throughout the entire song, entering right at the intro.

  The Lead: Lead vocals

  The Fills: None really, although the string lines in the chorus can almost be thought of as fills.

The Sound
The sound of "Just A Kiss" is really big and present. During the bridge the bass might be a little too big as the notes start to blur as the line gets more complicated, but it sounds great other than that. The vocals have a bit of delayed reverb, but for the most part, all the elements are pretty much in your face with only slight ambiance to develop the layers. The song isn't too compressed, and you certainly never hear it where it's used.

The Production
This is pretty much state-of-the-art Nashville production by Paul Worley. Not only is the song layered especially well, but I love little things that mostly go unnoticed in songs like this. In this one it's the harmony vocals on the last interlude, and the small but effective change in the melody in the last chorus. And of course, it's so nice to have a real ending to a song.

Send me your requests for song analysis.


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Drum Tuning Tips From The Famous Drum Doctor

If you’re doing a session in Los Angeles and you want your drums to instantly sound great, then your first call is to the Drum Doctors to either rent a fantastic sounding kit, or have your kit tuned. Ross Garfield is the “Drum Doctor” and you’ve heard his drum sounds on platinum recordings from Bruce Springsteen, Rod Stewart, Mettalica, Dwight Yokum,  Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters, Lenny Kravitiz, Michael Jackson and many, many more (that's him on the left with Charlie Watts).

Ross was kind enough to do an interview for The Recording Engineer's Handbook, but I've featured some of his tips in other books like The Drum Recording Handbook, The Touring Musician's Handbook, and The Music Producer's Handbook as well. Here's a few of his quick drum tuning tips. For more info on Ross and his company, go to drumdoctors.com.

If the snares buzz when the toms are hit:
   Check that the snares are straight.
   Check to see if the snares are flat and centered on the drum.
   Loosen the bottom head.
   Retune the offending toms.

If the snare drum has too much ring:
   Tune the heads lower.
   Use a heavier head like a coated CS with the dot on the bottom or a coated Emperor.
   Use a full or partial muffling ring.
   Have the edges checked and/or recut to a flatter angle.

If the kick drum isn’t punchy and lacks power in the context of the music:
   Try increasing and decreasing the amount of muffling in the drum, or try a different blanket or pillow.
   Change to a heavier, uncoated head like a clear Emperor or PowerStroke 3.
   Change to a thinner front head or one with a larger cutout.
   Have the edges recut to create more attack.

If one or more of the toms are difficult to tune or have an unwanted "growl":
   Check the top heads for dents and replace as necessary.
   Check the evenness of tension all around on the top and bottom heads.
   Tighten the bottom head.
   Have the bearing edges checked and recut as required.

If the floor tom has an undesirable "basketball-type" after-ring, try this:
   Loosen the bottom head.
   Check the top heads for dents and replace as necessary.
   Loosen the top head.
   Switch to a different type or weight top or bottom head like a clear Ambassador or Emperor).
   Have the bearing edges recut to emphasize the lower partials.

If the cymbals are cracking or breaking with greater frequency, try the following:
   Always transport the cymbals in a top-quality, reinforced cymbal case or bag to avoid nicks that can become cracks.
   Use the proper cymbals felts, washers and sleeves at all times.
   Avoid over-tightening the cymbal stand.
   Use larger or heavier cymbals that you won’t have to overplay to hear.

To read more excerpts from the books mentioned above, go to bobbyowsinski.com.
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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Can Hi-Res Music Be In Our Future?

The reason why we must now endure the dynamically and sonically challenged MP3 is that it and competing formats were created during the days of limited storage and bandwidth. It was literally impossible to stream the 1.411kbs bandwidth of a CD quality song in 1999, and storage space was a major concern everywhere.

We live in a different world today with 10 to 20mbs bandwidth widespread in the US (and we lag behind many parts of the world at that), and you can buy a 2 terabyte drive for about 60 bucks, so we're now getting to the point where maybe we can lift those nasty sonic restrictions that come with compressed formats like MP3 and AAC. Maybe it's time to consider high-res downloads of at least 44.1kHz/16 bits as a real business.

In fact, this is almost happening today. Numerous services like HDTracks, iTrax, Linn Records and more offer full resolution 96kHz/24 bit records for download, and bands like Metallica have been offering their concerts in the lossless FLAC format for a few years now.

Now comes word that Atlantic Records CEO and Chairman Craig Kallman hosted an informal summit last week regarding the labels intentions of offering hi-res releases next year. Apparantly there's a lot of details still to be worked out so there was no details or official announcement, but Kallman did say that they would make an formal announcement at the 2012 CES show in Las Vegas in January.

Seems like good news, right? Now all we need is more good music.

You can read more about the "summit" in an article that Steve Guttenberg wrote for CNET.
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Help support this blog. Any purchases made through our Amazon links help support this website with no cost to you.
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 social media and the new music business.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Guitar Amps: The Reason For Tone Controls

It's interesting to watch guitar players fiddle with their tone controls, since so few completely understand what they're trying to accomplish. Most of the time they tweak them until the guitar "sounds good," but what does that exactly mean? The problem is most don't really knows.

But there's a real reason why tone controls are included on amps, and if used intelligently, they can really make a difference in how a guitar fits into the sound of a band or in a mix. Here's an excerpt from the Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook (written along with Rich Tozzoli) that explains how to use amplifier tone controls to their fullest.
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So often players are confused by the tone controls on their amps (see Figure 7.1). What’s the best way to set them? Is there a method for doing so? In order to get the most out of them, it’s best to understand the reasons why they’re there in the first place.

The biggest reason for having tone controls is so that all the frequencies of your instrument speak evenly so no particular range is louder or softer than any other. Shortly after the first amps were developed with only a single “Tone” control, manufacturer’s noticed that players might be using guitars with different types of pickups with their amps, so more sophisticated tonal adjustments were really necessary. A guitar with a humbucking pickup might sound too boomy through an amp, but if you roll off the low-end with the bass control, the frequencies even out. Likewise, a Strat might be too light on the low-end or have too much top-end, but a simple adjustment would make all frequencies come out at roughly the same level.

Another place where tone controls come in handy is if you have a frequency that really jumps out, as compared to all the rest, either because of the way the amp is overdriven or because of a pedal. Often a slight adjustment of the Treble, Middle or Presence control can alleviate the problem, although these controls will also adjust all the frequencies around the offending one as well.

Where tone controls are especially effective is how the guitar fits within the context of the mix of the song. You want to be sure that every instrument is distinctly heard and the only way to do that is to be sure that each one sits in it's own particular frequency range, and the tone controls will help shape this. It's especially important with two guitar parts that use similar instruments and amps (like two Strats through two Fender Super Reverbs). If this occurs, it’s important to be able to shape your sound so that each guitar occupies a different part of the frequency spectrum. To make our example work in the mix, one guitar would occupy more of a higher frequency register while the other would be in a lower register, which would mean that one guitar has more high end while the second guitar is fatter sounding, or both guitars might have different mid-range peaks.

Not only do guitars have to sonically stay out of the way of each other, but they have to sit in a different frequency space than the bass and drums (and vocals, keys, percussion, and horns if you have them) too. As a result, you either adjust the tone controls on your amp or try another guitar so it fits better in the sonic space with everything else. While the engineer can do this with equalization either during recording or mixing, it’s always better if you get as close to the sound as possible out in the studio first because it will save time and sound better too.

The best way to get an ear for how guitars are sonically layered is to listen carefully to a number of hit songs in almost any genre and really dissect how everything fits together. Of course, the producer, engineer or artist (if you’re playing on someone else’s recording) will also have specific ideas as to the sound they’re looking for in the track, and will guide you in that direction.

To read more excerpts from the book, go to the excerpt section of the bobbyowsinski.com website.
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Help support this blog. Any purchases made through our Amazon links help support this website with no cost to you.

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

New Radicals "You Get What You Give" Song Analysis

Reader David Plantz requested a song analysis of what happens to be one of my favorite songs, "You Get What You Give" by the New Radicals. It's a 1999 song that was a moderate world-wide hit, but unfortunately established the band as a one-hit wonder. Like all song analysis, we'll look at the song itself, the arrangement, the sound and the production.

The Song
"You Get What You Give" follows a pretty standard formula pop form that looks like this:

Intro, Verse, B section, Chorus, Interlude, Verse, B section, Chorus, Solo/Bridge, Chorus, Outchorus

There are several items of interest here. First the intro is unusual in the way it forecasts the song with the entrance of separate instrument elements, the outro is unusual in that it's almost like a total separate part instead of a repeating chorus, and the turnaround from the chorus to the verse has a very unusual chord change that really grabs the ear.

The Arrangement
The arrangement of the song is pretty interesting in that the various elements play different parts in the song than you'd expect.

  * The Foundation: This is held down mostly by the drums.

  * The Rhythm: The double-time piano

  * The Pad: None

  * The Lead: The vocal and guitar solo

  * The Fills: Vocal answers

What's particularly interesting is the bass part played by Sasha Krivtsov, which is very reminiscent of  James Jamerson's best bass lines for Motown. It's melodic and the part is very fluid, so even though it's part of the foundation element, it moves the song along just as a rhythm element would.

The Sound
An excellent example of a modern hit, the sound of "You Get What You Give" has depth without sounding too large. This is accomplished mostly by the use of a timed 1/4 note delay on the voice and guitars, a big snare reverb that's not too predominate in the mix, and a dry piano. Nothing sounds too compressed so that you actually notice it, which is always a sign of good engineering.

The Production
The intro tells you everything you need to know about the production, as you can hear various layers of piano, guitars and sound effects as it builds to the verse. I especially liked some of the background vocal harmony answers like in the end of the 2nd verse, and the wide stereo vocals on the outro. All in all, a very well-made record.

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Help support this blog. Any purchases made through our Amazon links help support this website with no cost to you.

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 social media and the new music business.

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