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Thursday, June 16, 2011

5 Steps For Getting The Best Out Of Musicians

We musicians are a strange bunch. We're brimming with confidence on the outside but trembling with insecurity on the inside. In the studio when everything is under a microscope, it doesn't take much to bring that insecurity to the surface. A wrong look, an innocent comment, the producer or engineer taking too long to speak to you on the talkback; any of these things can send a wave of dread through most musicians minds.

That's why it's important for a producer or engineer to be hyper-aware of just that kind of situation in the studio. Here's an excerpt from The Music Producer's Handbook called "The 5 Steps For Getting The Most Out Of Musicians" that can help that session go smoother, and get the player or singer to give a better performance that even he thinks he's capable of.
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"Even if a musician is completely comfortable about his environment and headphones, there are things you can do to help him take his performance to another level. Unless  you’re a studio pro, most musicians can be very self-conscious about what they’re playing, especially after hearing a playback that uncovers some flaws they were unaware of until that moment. It’s important that their confidence doesn’t flag and it’s directly up to you to keep that from happening. Here are a few tricks that will help.

1. Stay positive. Regardless of how badly things might be going, how off-key someone is singing, or how out-of-the-pocket someone is playing, never be negative in your body language or your comments. Remarks like, “You suck,” or “That really sounds bad,” don’t ever help the situation and can even completely undermine a performance. If something isn’t going as well as you think it should, give the player a reasonable chance, sit him down for a listen in the control room, then firmly but respectfully describe why the part isn’t working.

2. Explain what’s wrong. Players hate it when they’re just told to, “Do it again,” without any explanation as to why you think what they just played wasn’t good enough. If the take wasn’t a keeper for any reason, explain what was wrong in a kind and gentle way. Statements like "I think you have a better one in you," or “I’ve heard you play it with more excitement before,” might work if you can’t put your finger on the problem, but players appreciate it if you can be specific so they can concentrate on that part the next time they play it through. “You’re falling behind the beat every time we come out of the chorus,” is an example of a specific statement. If the player continues to get it wrong, make sure you play the part for him so he can hear it clearly and understand what you’re going for.

3. Keep the studio talkback mic on. Communication is one of the most important, yet sometimes overlooked parts of a successful session. Players hate it when they’re speaking to you from the studio and either you’re not aware that they’re trying to get your attention, or you simply can’t hear them. Make sure that the engineer puts up a dedicated talkback mic in the studio and that it’s turned on immediately after every take. It’s important that you don’t miss a single word.

4. Keep the control room talkback mic on. Players also hate when there’s long periods of silence from the control room after a take. They might see a conversation going on, but if they can’t hear it, many players get insecure and feel isolated. You may be having a conversation about what kind of take-out food to order, but as far as the player can tell, you’re talking about how bad his performance was and how you’d like to replace him. Get rid of the insecurity by latching the control room talkback so he can hear you all the time between takes. Once again, communication is the key to a successful session.
 
5. If a player asks to play it again, let him. You may think that the player just nailed the ultimate take, but if he feels he can play it better, he usually can. Players inherently know when they’ve messed something up, were late on a chord, mis-fingered or ghosted a note, or slowed down during a roll. Maybe you didn’t hear it, but the player knew it. Let him go again. This is a lot easer decision to make nowadays than it was back in the analog tape days, thanks to digital recording. Back then, you might only have space on tape for a single take and you might loose a take that was great if the next take didn’t work. That kind of pressure on the producer has now been lifted, thanks to your favorite DAW."

You can read more excerpts from this and my other books at bobbyowsinski.com.
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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A History Of Modern Music

Here's one of the coolest interactive graphics ever. It's a timeline of various genres of recorded music including dance, r&b/hip-hop, pop, rock and indie. Make sure that you click on each of the icons, as it will take you to an article about that particular milestones. Even if you're somewhat of a music historian, I bet you'll still learn something from this chart.
Unfortunately I wasn't able to embed the interactive graphic, but you can see it at the GuardianUK website.
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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 social media and the new music business.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The New King Of Music Production Software?

There's an interesting new chart (seen on the left) making its way around the Internet from Digital Music Doctor that shows the popularity of both Sonar and Cubase exceeding Pro Tools for the first time during the first quarter of 2011. Both Sonar and Cubase are great pieces of software and have quite a large installed base that I'm sure is growing, but there's a flaw in this DAW hysteria.

Digital Music Doctor doesn't measure the installed base of users or even sales of software packages, they measure Internet search results. This is like saying that Rebecca Black should be on the top of the sales charts based on her Internet popularity, when we know that those numbers have nothing to do with actual sales (which are dismal despite nearly 200 million YouTube views).

I'm no shill for Pro Tools but I can tell you that if you really want to work professionally in just about any area of the entertainment business, knowing how to use it is a necessity because that's what the majority of pros use. From music production to film and television post to voice-over work to anything else you can think of, it's a Pro Tools world for the most part. That's not to say that any of the other fine DAWs don't have their place. They're great learning and production tools, every one of them. But if you're looking for a job that has to do with audio, you'll need some Pro Tools operational skill no matter which way you cut it.

This comes from a person who started with Digital Performer version 1.0, then switched to Nuendo 1.0 (which I loved), only to go kicking and screaming into the Pro Tools world after it became just too painful transferring projects back and forth to those other platforms. I've never looked back and my projects never suffered from the change. So just a word of warning when looking at software popularity charts; they don't always tell the whole story.
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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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Monday, June 13, 2011

Michael Jackson "Human Nature" Song Analysis

Reader Greg Fine asked for a song analysis of Michael Jackson's hit "Human Nature," the fifth single from his seminal Thriller album. Some feel that this song set the template for what's become known as "adult R&B." Like all song analysis, we'll look at the song form, the arrangement, the sound and the production.

The Song
Like most hit songs, "Human Nature" follows a stock formula but changes it up enough to make it sound different. The form looks like this:

Intro, Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Interlude, Verse, Chorus, Chorus, Outro

There's no real bridge to the song, but the end of the second chorus and the interlude are both different enough to make you think there is. The outro of the song is basically the intro with a slightly changed ending that's faded.

The Arrangement
All of Michael's Thriller-era songs seem pretty sparse and simple, but they all have a lot going on that isn't exactly noticeable. There's a synth pad throughout that can almost be missed because it's so subtle, but most of the song is carried by some clean guitars and a very full synth bass.

  * The Foundation: Drums, synth bass

  * The Pad: Low synth pad and synth strings in the verse

  * The Rhythm: Clean picked guitar and clave

  * The Lead: Michael's vocal

  * The Fills: In the chorus, the delayed vocal answers, in the interlude and intro/outro, the synth counter lines.

In numerous other analysis I've pointed out the "5 element rule," where you never wanted to have more than 5 elements playing at the same time because it gets confusing to the listener. Listen to the intro and interludes, which are very complex arrangement-wise, yet are perfect examples of having only  5 elements playing at once.

The Sound
Engineer Bruce Swedien is certainly the Godfather of audio engineering, but Thriller might've been his finest moment and "Human Nature" is a perfect example of that. There's a lot of effects layering going on (it sounds like every instrument has it's own effect), but nothing ever clashes and each instrument can be heard distinctly even with some of the big reverb washes used. I especially liked the ping pong delayed answer vocals in the chorus.

The Production
This was perhaps producer Quincy Jone's finest hour as well. You never expect anything but the best from one of his productions and this one doesn't disappoint. Q is the master is repeating a part yet making it different, like in the 2nd part of the verses where the strings come in. The first time it's a pedaled string sound, the second time the sound changes and the part is a bit more complex. The same with the choruses. Each time they're slightly different, with either a different vocal effect, another vocal part, or a slight change in the sound of an instrument. This song was state of the art in 1983, and it still is today.

Send me your song analysis suggestions.


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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.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Key Ingredients That Make A Great Guitar String

Most guitar players settle on a brand of strings without even realizing why, usually only changing when they can't get their favorite brand. In this excerpt from The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook, Jim D'Addario, the CEO and chairman of D’Addario & Company, Inc. (the world’s largest maker of musical instrument strings), describes what makes a great string as well as some of the differences between the way manufacturers make their strings to help you make a choice next time it's time to buy strings.
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"What do you think makes a great guitar string?
Certainly, that’s a matter of opinion. It comes down to what tone you are looking for, however there are some common denominators that are key ingredients for making a great string. The most important things are consistency in diameter, shape, and the mass of the string from one end of the vibrating length to the other. If there are fluctuations as you’re winding or making the string, and the mass of the string varies at any point along its length, the intonation is going to be horrible and the harmonics will not be true.

As we developed the expertise to design and build our own machinery in the 70’s, we developed ways of controlling the variables that are involved with the manufacturing process. One of the most important variables is the tension that you put on the wire as you wrap it around the core. I would say it’s one of the most critical variables in string making. Because we use soft temper wires you can actually elongate the wire significantly during the process and end up with a completely different diameter finished string. Tension is a critical aspect of making a string!

What are some of the innovations you came up with in string manufacturing?
Twenty years ago we developed a closed loop system where we actually measure the tension on the wire just before it goes on the string. Utilizing a load cell and a digital control that adjusts the tension, we always maintain perfect tension specifications. You can’t do that when you wind a string by hand, and you can’t do that with a mechanical tension device. It has to be closed loop and digital. It’s really very similar to an autopilot in a plane. Our machines are constantly making minute corrections to hit the tension target.

The other breakthrough innovation we developed was a way of tracking the angle that the wire was being fed onto the core, which is also extremely critical. Many competitors are still using machinery with mechanical drives that feed the wire, but back in 1979 we developed a system that tracks the wire feed angle and makes adjustments on the fly to ensure the windings are perfectly spaced. It is one of the reasons why our strings are so consistent. We designed this in 1979. You can imagine how expensive the electronics for that was back then. 

If you control the basics, core tension, wrap tension and feed angle, then it’s a question of designing the string properly. Here’s where we create your choices for string tone. A flat wound string is very mellow sounding, a half round string is a little brighter and a round wound string is even brighter. A nickel-plated steel round wound string is bright; a stainless steel string is a little brighter, etc., etc.
It’s like going to a restaurant and looking at the menu. What flavor would you like? You want the chef to do a great job at cooking all the things on the menu, but you want to be able to select the flavor that you’re looking for. Picking and designing the materials that should go into the strings is like picking what you like off the menu. Personally, I like very bright sounding strings. I like uncoated phosphor bronze strings on acoustic, but because I have so many guitars and can’t change strings often enough, I use coated EXP strings. I actually like our 80-20 coated strings better than coated phosphor bronze. I don’t know why, but I do. Over the last ten years we’ve gotten the coating process on our EXP’s down to be so thin that I can’t even hear the difference between a coated and a uncoated string anymore.

EXP is a micro coating on the wrap wire that’s only 2/10,000ths of an inch in thickness. What it does is seal it from the environment so it doesn’t corrode and doesn’t get affected by your body chemistry. Those are the key elements that break a string down and make it lose its tone prematurely."  

You can read additional excerpts from this and my other books at bobbyowsinski.com.
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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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