Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Cure "Fascination Street" Song Analysis

Psychonaut4 requested a song analysis of The Cure's "Fascination Street," a US-only single from the 1989 album Disintegration. The album was the biggest selling Cure album ever, with over 3 million copies sold world-wide. As with all song analysis, we'll look at the song form, the arrangement, the sound and the production.

The Song
"Fascination Street" is a good example of a riff song, which means that the entire song is built around a single repeating riff. That makes it particularly difficult to differentiate sections, since instead of chord changes, each section is built on arrangement elements or lyric. Here's what the form looks like:

Intro, Verse, Chorus, Interlude, Chorus, Outchorus

The only time the song varies from the main riff is at the very end when the first half of the bass riff repeats itself for 4 bars. The other thing that's interesting is that the intro is extremely long, taking 1:24 to get to the verse.

The Arrangement
This song is particularly dense with guitar parts that play multiple lines against each other. One of the reasons why we always say that you should never have more than 5 elements going at once is that the listener can get fatigued when there's that much going on. "Fascination Street" pushes the limit in this regard, but manages to pull it off (more on how in the Sound section). The arrangement elements look like this:

  The Foundation: The bass riff and the drums

  The Pad: There's no traditional pad, but the doubled chorused guitars that are panned hard left and right during the intro and choruses serves the function in this case.


  The Rhythm: There's any number of guitar lines that serve the function. Pick one.

  The Lead: Multiple lead guitar lines in the intro and interlude, and lead vocal.

  The Fills: None in that there's not an instrument that plays in the holes between the lead phrases.

The Sound
The sound of "Fascination Street" is particularly English in the massive use of delay on every guitar and vocal. All delays are long (mostly 1/8th and 1/4 note) and timed so they blend into the track. The vocal is interesting in that the delay also has reverb on it, which gives it a nice distant sound. The bass is very mid-ranging and present (sounds like a Rickenbacker) but also has a good deal of low end. The snare has a very tight gated room, which is pretty much of product of the 80's, but it wears well today.

There are a lot of guitars in the song (I counted as many as 5 at once, although there very well may be more). Usually when there are that many lines happening at the same time there are some frequency clashes, or even worse, the song gets confusing because there's so much going on. I don't know if this was just luck or intentionally great engineering, but all of these guitar parts work well together because they're not that well-defined and tend to blend into one another.

The Production
What's cool about this song is it's long and the verses and chorus are short, so there's a lot of space with just guitars in between. That said, the parts constantly change so it never gets boring. In fact, you can think of both the intro and interlude as having almost mini-sections, since you can hear complete theme changes within those parts.

Send me your song requests.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

More Drum Talk From The Drum Doctor

Last week's tuning tips got a great response so I thought I'd post another excerpt from Ross Garfield (The Drum Doctor) that appeared in The Drum Recording Handbook. This one covers a number of topics that drummers, engineers and producers alike will find invaluable.
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Big drums versus small drums
What’s important is to have the right size drums for the song.  If you’re going for that big double-headed Bonham sound, you really should have a 26” kick drum.  If you’re going for a Jeff Porcaro punchy track like "Rosanna" then you should probably have a 22”, but ultimately the music will determine the drum sound you need.  Maybe not so much the drums themselves, but definitely the tuning.

For instance, the drums that I bring for a Hip-Hop session are actually very close to what I bring for a Jazz session.  Usually the Hip-Hop guys want a little bass drum like an 18”, and an 18 or a 20 is what’s common for a Jazz session.  A Hip-Hop session will use maybe a 12 or a 14” rack tom, which is also similar to the Jazz setup. 

The big difference is in the snare and hi-hats and the tuning of the kick drum and the snare.  On a Jazz session I would keep the kick drum tuned high and probably not muffled.  On a Hip-Hop session I would tune the kick probably as low as it would go and definitely not have any muffling so it has as big a “Boom” as I can get. 

How long does it take to tune a drum kit?
If I have to change all the heads and tune them up it’ll take about an hour before we can start listening through the microphones and that’s even on a cheap starter set.  I try to tune them to where I think they should be, a little on the high side for starters, then after we open up the mics and hear everything magnified, I’ll modify the tuning more to the song. 

Prepping The Drums For New Heads
In order for drums to sound their best, the edges of the drum shell have to be cut properly, and this is something that no one ever checks, or even thinks of checking, until it’s time to change the heads.  When you take the heads off, all the edges of the shell should be lie exactly flat against a flat surface.  I’ll put the shell on a piece of glass or granite and shine a light over the top of the shell, then I’ll get down to where the edge of the drum hits the granite.  If I see a light at any point then there’s a low spot on the edge of the shell, and the drum will be hard to tune and probably have some funny overtones.  So the the first thing is to make sure that your drum shells are “true”.  The next thing is for your shell edge to have a bevel to it, and not be flat on the bottom, because again, this affects the tuning and overtones. 

If you have either of these problems with a drum, send it back to the manufacturer.  Don’t try to cut the edges of your drum shells yourself since it doesn’t cost that much money for the manufacture to do it and it’s really something that should be done by someone who knows exactly what they’re doing.  Once your drum shells are in good shape, then tuning is a lot easier.

New Heads
The first thing I’ll do is put a fresh set of top and bottom heads on.  Nine times out of ten, I’ll put white Remo Ambassadors on the tops, clear Remo Ambassadors on the bottoms, and a Remo clear Powerstroke 3 on the kick drum.  I’ll use a white Ambassador or a coated black dot Ambassador on the snare top and either a clear Diplomat or coated Ambassador on the bottom. 

A lot of the decision on the type of head depends on how deep the drum is.  If it’s 5 inches or less I’ll usually go with an Ambassador, and if it’s 6 1/2 or bigger I’ll usually go with a Diplomat.  Just this little bit of information really makes a difference in how the kit sounds.

To read more excerpts from The Drum Recording Handbook, go to bobbyowsinski.com
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Monday, May 23, 2011

Foster The People "Pumped Up Kicks" Song Analysis

Here's a song that's #1 on the iTunes Alternative Songs chart this week, called "Pumped Up Kicks" by Foster The People. The song comes from a three song EP of the same name. Like with all song analysis, we look at the song itself, the arrangement, the sound and the production.

The Song
"Pumped Up Kicks" gets a lot of mileage out of one basic riff that repeats with multiple melodies over the top. The verse and the chorus melodies are very strong though, which really makes the song. The form looks like this.

Intro, Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus, Chorus, Chorus

All of the sections of the song are about twice as long as they normally would be, especially the intro which is a full 38 seconds, yet everything still works. It's about as basic as you can get, but the melodies and arrangement make the song what it is.

The Arrangement
Considering that the song is fairly simple in form and the sections are long, the arrangement makes it go. Take the intro, for instance. It begins with a programmed drum kit, but with guitars and synths constantly fading in and out on both sides of the stereo field, you have something to listen to that keeps you in the song.

  The Foundation: The drums, synth bass and guitar double

  The Rhythm: None

  The Pad: The long synth pad during the choruses

  The Lead: Lead vocal in the verse and lead with harmonies in the chorus

  The Fills: None

This is one of the few songs with only three mix elements, but there's no rule that says that you have to use all five.

The development of the song is interesting in that the verses are very sparse and the choruses are bigger. In the second half of the second verse and chorus an additional guitar double (a triple actually) is added to make it bigger. The bridge is like a chorus except a clean electric chordal solo enters along with group whistling of the melody, then the chorus begins again with only the doubled guitar and no bass or drums. It's tension - release, then tension - release all the way through.

The Sound
There are some nice layers in the song. The drum track uses a medium room sound, while the lead vocal in the verse uses a bandpass filter and about a 100ms delay. The long reverb of the chorus vocals works great contrast-wise, although the verb itself doesn't sound that great. The vocal sound is also helped with a medium delay on the vocal.

The song is interesting in that the drums aren't compressed and punchy like you'd expect in most pop or rock tunes. The mix is also heavy on the vocal and not so much on the rhythm section, but it works nonetheless. 

The Production
There are a number of cool things here. The garage sound of the drum kit set up by the room sound works nicely against the rest of the mix elements. The verse vocal with the telephone filter and short delay contrasts nicely against the clean harmony vocals of the chorus, and the subtle electric guitars against the synths all provide the tension/release and element contrast that any art requires to be popular.

One of the cooler aspects of the song is that the rather round synth bass is doubled with an electric guitar to give the line some definition. That's always a good trick and has been used in Nashville for decades.

Send me your song analysis requests.

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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.

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Foo Fighters And The Beauty Of Analog

There's a great article on emusician.com that has a interview with everyone involved with the latest Foo Fighters album, Wasting Light, which was done in leader Dave Grohl's garage with producer Butch Vig. The album was also a return to recording analog in that not a piece of digital gear was used in its making.

Those of us who grew up in the era of tape machines are all too familiar with some of the things that the Foos willingly put themselves through. First of all, especially back in the 8 track days, you didn't just go for a good drum track when recording basics, the whole band had to be spot on before you moved on. This lead to a lot of takes.

As Grohl says in the article:
“I am no stranger to tape,” Grohl says. “Call me dumb, but the simple signal path of a microphone to a tape machine makes perfect sense to me. There’s not too many options, and the performance is what matters most.”

But not everyone agreed with Grohl’s “analog only” rule. “The first song we recorded, we get a drum take and Butch starts razor-splicing edits to tape,” Grohl recalls. “We rewind the tape and it starts shedding oxide. Butch says, ‘We should back everything up to digital.’ I start screaming: ‘If I see one f**king computer hooked up to a piece of gear, you’re f**king fired! We’re making the record the way we want to make it, and if you can’t do it, then f**k you!’ Nobody makes us do what we don’t want to do. ‘What if something happens to the tape?’ ‘What did we do in 1991, Butch?’ You play it again! God forbid you have to play your song one more time.” 
The good part about this is you're forced to make decisions while you're recording. You get the sounds, the arrangements and performances that work up front. As a result mixes go faster because you don't have so many options that you can get paralyzed.

The other thing is that mixing becomes a performance in itself. Before console automation (which started out only on faders and mutes), you'd get as many people from the band involved with the mix, all with a specific assignment as when to move a fader, or a mute or a send at a specific time. Just like playing, you did it over and over until you got the part right. That made the mix much more of a performance and gave it a much more organic feel.

According to the article:
Everything was mixed with all eight hands (Grohl, Vig, Brown, and mix engineer Alan Moulder) on deck, riding faders in real time to tape. 
There was something that was very pure about those times that's been lost in these digital days. Bravo to the Foos for turning back time if only for one album (it's a great one, by the way).

Read the entire article here. It's long and goes into a lot of depth about how they did it.
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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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