Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Way To Tell Your Road And Studio Stories

Any musician who's gigged for a while has plenty of road stories. Of course that applies to the studio as well. Just about everyone has some that are pretty outrageous as well, as the eccentricities of the business and musicians come to the surface during usually the inopportune time.

As all us old road dogs know, the problem is that the story details fade with age. Time has a way of smoothing over the details and merging stories, people and circumstances together. Once again, the Internet comes to the rescue with two ways to preserve those stories before they're lost to the ether of time. The first is a service called Intersect, that's sort of like a more focused YouTube with a more robust social back-end. Storify is another service that leans a bit more on the social side and less on the video aspect.

Personally, I wish I would have had Intersect available during my touring years. As we all know, some stories aren't suitable for widespread publication as funny as they might be, but some are just so outrageous that no one except another musician would believe them, and those are the ones we want to preserve.

Check out the video on Intersect, and feel free to post some of your gig stories for us to enjoy. In fact, I'll award a book of your choice for the best one (one of my books, of course).



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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Rarely Seen Beatles Film

As you may or not know, I'm co-writing the memoirs of Ken Scott (one of the five Beatles engineers, and producer for David Bowie, Supertramp, Missing Persons, Jeff Beck, Devo, The Tubes, and lots more). One of the stories he tells is shortly after he started at EMI (it wasn't called Abbey Road yet) in the tape library, he was able to watch an early Beatles session, which was attended by the filmmakers from the Hard Days Night movie. An 8 mm film was shot during the session that has been rarely seen since, but as with everything these days, sooner or later it winds up on YouTube.

By the way, Ken hasn't retired and is still producing and engineering better than ever. I'm amazed at how accessible he is despite his long list of impressive credits. Check out his Facebook page.

The story is a good one, but you'll have to wait for the book, which will be out next year. In the meantime, enjoy this seldom seen video.



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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

James Morrison "You Give Me Something" Song Analysis

Reader Chris Toliver requested a song analysis of James Morrison's "You Give Me Something," a song that did very well worldwide but never did much in the the US. The song was from Morrison's first album called Undiscovered. Like all song analysis, we'll look at the form of the song, the arrangement, the sound and the production.

The Song
"You Give Me Something" is a pretty straight-ahead song form found on hundreds of hits. It looks like this:

Intro, Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus, Intro/Outro

You can't discount this form because it's so common though, it works and works well, which is why it's repeated so often and has become a standard in modern music.

The Arrangement
The arrangement to the song sounds pretty simple at first listen, but there's a lot more going on if you listen hard. Each section has slight changes in terms of instrumentation, sometimes kept low in the mix, but they add motion and interest.

  * The Foundation: The bass and drums.

  * The Pad: Electric piano and strings

  * The Rhythm: An electric guitar strumming on the left side of the mix.

  * The Lead: The vocal, the strings in the intro/outro and the synth brass in the bridge.

  * The Fills: Dueling clean electric guitars in the second verse and chorus, and counterpoint string parts in the chorus.

The Sound
The sound of the song is deceiving in that it sounds very dry and in your face, but there's actually more going on than meets the ear on first listen. The drums have what sounds like natural ambiance as does the strings. The vocals have just a touch of a very short room reverb to put a space around it, as does the piano. Sometimes what seems dry is anything but.

The mix is interesting in that it's very typical for a pop song. The vocal is very much in the front of the mix, especially in the beginning of the song. This is common for a song where there's a strong melody and vocalist where the power of the music isn't as important as the selling of the song via the performance. As the song goes along, the vocal is pulled back in the mix as more instruments are introduced. This has to happen so we can hear all of the instrument elements.

The Production
On first listen it's easy to think that there's not much going on production-wise on "You Give Me Something," but like other aspects of the song, there's much more than meets the ear. The song develops nicely and holds the listeners interest by introducing something different in every section. I especially like the dual guitar lines and fills in the second verse and the acoustic guitar at the very end of the song. The strings are great as well going from a nice lush sound in the first verse to a huge orchestra with some great orchestration in the chorus. The synth brass in the bridge might've sounded better with real horns, but it's a pretty good line that really works in the context of the arrangement. This is a really well-made record.

You can request a song analysis by emailing me.


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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, July 4, 2011

The Cost Of Making Of A Hit

The Cost of Rihanna's Man DownNPR had a news item the other day about the cost of making a hit today, using Rhianna's recent single "Man Down" and her album Loud as an example. As you can see from the chart on the left, the major cost wasn't so much actually creating the music as marketing it. While this hasn't changed all that much from any period in music history, what really jumped out was the outright manufacturing of the song.

Writing the song is the result of a "writer's camp"strictly intended to crank out a hit. According to the article,
"At a writing camp, a record label hires the best music writers in the country and drops them into the nicest recording studios in town for about two weeks. It's a temporary version of the old music-industry hit factories, where writers and producers cranked out pop songs.

"It's like an all-star game," says Ray Daniels, who was at the writing camp for Rihanna.
Daniels manages a songwriting team of two brothers, Timothy and Theron Thomas, who work under the name Rock City. "You got all the best people, you're gonna make the best records," he says."

"Here's who shows up at a writing camp: songwriters with no music, and producers toting music tracks with no words. The Thomas brothers knew producer Shama "Sham" Joseph, but they had never heard his Caribbean-flavored track that became "Man Down."

According to Daniels, the brothers listened to the track and said, "Let's give Rihanna a one-drop! Like, a response to 'I shot the sheriff!" They wrote the lyrics to "Man Down" in about 12 minutes, Daniels says.

To get that twelve minutes of inspiration from a top songwriting team is expensive — even before you take into account the fee for the songwriters. At a typical writing camp, the label might rent out 10 studios, at a total cost of about $25,000 a day, Daniels says. The writing camp for Rihanna's album "had to cost at least 200 grand," Daniels says. "It was at least forty guys out there. I was shocked at how much money they were spending! But, guess what? They got the whole album out of that one camp."
"Man Down" didn't do that well, reaching only #58 on the Billboard Hot 100, proving that you still can't craft a hit no matter how much talent and money you throw at it.  Loud did a lot better as it ended up selling about 3 million worldwide, but it's not what you'd call a critical success. But how could it be? Rhianna isn't an artist; she's a singer-celebrity. She'll be a concert draw as long as she has a song on the charts and be immediately forgotten thereafter, which isn't how you build a long and sustaining career.

As I always say, "Art is something you do for yourself. A craft is what you do for everyone else." That certainly applies here. Read the entire article, including the enlightening section on "marketing" the record, here.
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Sunday, July 3, 2011

"Crazy Train" Ozzy Osbourne Backing Track

Here's an interesting backing track of "Crazy Train," the song that broke Ozzy Osbourne as a solo artist. This clip has all of the instruments and vocals except for Randy Rhoads' awesome guitars, and that's what makes this a good listen since you're able to hear through the mix and arrangement better as a result. Here are a few things to listen for.

1. Although this isn't the final mix, the drums aren't as punchy as you'd expect, especially the toms, which are very thin. The drum sound is pretty organic as a whole. That's OK, it works for the song.

2. Ozzy's doubled vocal has a very long reverb on the vocal that works perfectly here.

3. I wonder if the harmony vocal on the chorus is Ozzy or someone else? It sounds a little too in tune to be him.

4. A layer of doubled guitars enters during the solo to back up the lead, as well as a couple of guitar effects on the outro.


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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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