Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bernie Dresel On Drum Tuning

It's time for another book excerpt, this time from the interview section of The Studio Musician's Handbook. Here LA session drummer Bernie Dresel discusses a subject that still baffles many drummers -  drum tuning.

Widely recognized for his fifteen years with The Brian Setzer Orchestra, Bernie now does a variety of studio work that goes anywhere from the television shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy, to movies like Speed Racer, to the Blues-Rock of Carl Verheyen to the big band sound of Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band to R&B icons like Chaka Khan and Patti LaBelle, and to his own band Bern. You can check out his credits and more at myspace.com/berniedresel and berniedresel.com.
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How about tuning your drums?  Do you tune to intervals?  Do you have a particular method for tuning?
There’s a lot of different theories about how a drum should sound, but the one that works best for me is when the top head is not exactly the same pitch as the bottom.  The top head I tune about a minor third above the bottom head when you’re just barely tapping it right on the edge near the lug.  Now it doesn’t always stay right there because the head might loosen a bit when you’re bashing on it, or the lugs might slip a little bit, but even if it drops a little to a second or a minor second, it’s still tuned above the bottom head.

Are you tuning the bottom head to the resonant frequency of the drum?
You mean like when you have both heads off and you hit your fist on the inside of the shell to hear it ring?  DW actually writes that pitch in their shell to be sure that all the drums are timbre matched so that you get a different pitch on each shell and they’re not too close together.  I’m not really sure how helpful that is as I’ve found that I usually don’t tune to that pitch.

Really, the biggest thing is that you don’t over-tighten and choke the drum or make it too loose because then it’s a rather flat sound. So I just try to get it within the sweet spot of a major third or so where you have some play yet it sounds good. Now if you were going to tune it up high like for a BeBop session, then you’d want it a little choked. So what I try to do between my three toms, the 12”, 14” and 16”, is to have them maybe a fourth apart in pitch and that way you don’t get an octave between the highest tom and the lowest and they sound musical together. You could do fifths, but then you’d have a ninth off the top tom and it just seems too far away in pitch. Now if you have a lot of toms then maybe tuning them a major third apart could work, but with three toms I think a fourth is good because all three are tuned within the same octave and a fifth is too much because then they’re not.

Again, when you hit the drum it starts to change so you just try to keep it in check over the course of a song or a gig, realizing that it’s never going to be perfect. The old days where you’d spend two days getting drum sounds actually seems ridiculous now, since after the 3rd hour of getting sounds you’ll hear, “OK, let’s change the heads” (laughs). Today it might take 15 minutes or a half-hour or even three minutes to get a drum sound.  Before you know it you hear, “OK, we’re ready.  Go!”  There are some pretty good sounding drum kits now and the engineers are hired for their drum sounds and speed because everyone is so budget conscious. 

What drum do you start with when you’re tuning your kit?
I don’t think it matters. You can start at the top, you can start at the bottom, you can start in the middle. I tend to go top down, but just the other day I started with the low one. You just start to get a feeling for how many turns are needed when you’re tightening the head. You get a feel for the right tension.

I don’t think it’s good to tune the snare drum on the snare stand. It’s better on a table or floor so it’s laying flat. You make sure you get your head on flat if you have to change one, then tighten each lug so that it’s barely touching the rim, then just finger tighten the lugs (crisscrossing as you go) so you make sure that you don’t over-tighten one. Then you can start using the drum key. If you had eight arms so you could tighten all the lugs at the same time, that would be the best thing, but of course that’s not possible.

Do you ever adjust the tuning of your drums to the song?
No, not the toms. Maybe the snare. It’s not like you’re tuning it to the pitch of the song because once you starting hitting it, it’s going to change a little. So being exactly in tune isn’t going to happen anyway.  I feel that’s being pretty anal about things and the result is really not worth the effort because you’re not getting a pitch out of the drum per se. You just want the drum to sound good.

Now I’ve had engineers and producers say, “I think your snare dropped a little,”, or “I think your snare is tuned too low. Bring it up in pitch a bit,” or “The snare’s sitting too tight,” so you make those adjustments so it fits the songs.  Sometimes you have to change snares from tune to tune, but within an album you don’t change toms out. For as much as you’re hitting them, it’s not that drastic a thing because, after all, they sound like toms (laughs). The snare is a little more particular tune to tune, but then again, I’ve used one snare on every tune on an album and that works fine too, but it varies from project to project.

Now when I do Family Guy, I’ll put up a snare drum and and they’ll say, “OK, let’s go”.  They figure that I’m going to pick the right thing musically for it. I’ll usually use either a 5 inch or a four inch (depth). I figure that snare size is something like skirt length. At one point everyone was going for that deep dish snare sound and then it changed to piccolo snares. It seems that everyone wants whatever everyone else is using at the time. Musically, I think that a lot of things can work, it just depends upon what the producer is going for, or what you happen to pull out of the case that day."

You can go here to read more book excerpts.
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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Asteroids Galaxy Tour "Golden Age" Song Analysis

I'm sure that everyone who watches television lately has seen the Heineken commercial called "The Entrance." One of the most catchy tunes you'll ever want to hear is the underscore for the commercial, a song by Asteroids Galaxy Tour called "Golden Age," which gets our song analysis for today. Go here to get the full 3 minute version of the commercial, rather than the usual 30 seconds, which makes the premise of the commercial make a whole lot more sense.

The Asteroids Galaxy Tour is a Danish pop band consisting of vocalist Mette Lindberg and producer Lars Iversen, and "Golden Age" is from their first album called Fruit, released in 2009. As with all song analysis, we'll look at the song form, the arrangement, the sound and the production.

The Song
As we've seen over and over, great songs don't have to be complex. "Golden Age" has 3 sections like most songs and the form looks like this:

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

The chord changes are the same for the verse, chorus and interlude, with only the melody changing, while the bridge is completely different. What's interesting is that the song ends on a bridge rather than an interlude, which is quite unusual.

The Arrangement
"Golden Age" is actually a fairly sparse arrangement, with just piano, bass and drums carrying most of the song. A horn section playing fills that outline the chords in the chorus, then enter again in the bridge playing a unison melody.

  * The Foundation: Bass and drums

  * The Pad: None

  * The Rhythm: Quarter note piano chords, shaker

  * The Lead: Vocal, horns in the bridge

  * The Fills: Piano lines

Another interesting point in the arrangement is that the overdubbed piano lines change during each verse, which is the major difference between them.

The Sound
Depending upon the version of the song that you hear (the commercial is bit different from the album), you'll hear some differences. The drums are fairly trashy sounding, but work great here. The vocal in the chorus has a long timed delay that differentiates it from the verse.

The Production
What makes this production so cool is how the sections build. The verses are very sparse, then the choruses are larger. Finally the bridge is even bigger sounding with synth arpeggios underneath the horn section and the entrance of a guitar. Yet the song breaths dynamically, with the last verse even sparser for the first half until the bass enters. That's always the sign of a great production - the song dynamics.

Send me your suggestions for song analysis.


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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Another Take On Sinatra

The most viewed post ever on this blog is the Inside Look at a Frank Sinatra Session. I'm not sure why that clip has garnered so much interest. Was it because the the historical content of the session? Was it because the stature of Sinatra? Was it because a bunch of audio geeks wanted a watch how our audio forefathers recorded in the past?

Then came the following private email from Ed Fleishman, the director of piano studies at 5 Towns College, adjunct professor of education at Hofstra University and Queens College, and obviously someone who knows a little something about music. I've reprinted the contents of that email with his permission, and cleaned up the grammar a bit to make it easier to read. In it he provides his take on Sinatra. If you're a fan of the Chairman of the Board, you might be better off to stop reading now.
"I have been a professional musician for over 75 years in NYC. I have two advanced degrees in music history and education. I've worked the ships, the clubs, the toilets....the works.

I cannot believe the adulation accorded to Sinatra by people who should know better. "Scooby dooby do" is not phrasing. Adding notes and additional words other than those of the composer or lyricist does not make one an innovator. Clipping whole notes and shortening phrases for lack of breath does not make one a musical genius. Perverting artistic content in the name of a higher power [himself] does not augur well for a well-remembered future.

The young Sinatra was wonderful, but not the old one. Do his adorers need a hero so badly as to extol talent that no longer existed in the name of hipness? It's like the Metheny/Kenny G. thing.

A 90 year old Artie Shaw was being interviewed by Mark Simone on WINS. After a heated discussion on Sinatra's merits [much criciticised by Artie], Simone finally yelled..."Well, who do YOU think is a good musician?" Artie said "Beethoven's not bad." Simone became almost apoplectic. Great moment in radio. I was driving home from a gig and flipped out.

I will end this diatribe with the following: Playing piano in a Greenwich Village loft some years ago for a fund raiser. The teenage daughter of the hostess asked me to play something classical. "Who is your favorite classical composer?", I asked. "Frank Sinatra," came the reply.

Same gig about an hour later:  Beautiful blonde sits down next to me on the bench.  I don't remember what tune I was playing. She says "I was Paul Desmond's mistress."  I, the master of wit and repartee answered, "That's nice."
The above email  illustrates something that's been going on between musicians probably from the beginning of time. In every era there are artists who take their music extremely serious, and those that are very successful who appear not to. Today you'll find the same controversy surrounding the music of Justin Beiber, Lady Gaga, and Katy Perrry, to name a few. When The Beatles first broke, they were considered in the same light-weight category by the "serious" musicians of the day. I wonder who Beethoven considered a wanker?

The reason why I liked this email so much was because there's a sort of rarefied atmosphere around Frank Sinatra, and Ed Fleishman was willing to pierce that and give us another perspective. Thanks, Ed!
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Monday, August 22, 2011

It Really Does Go To 11

Way back when I was teaching recording I had a guy in my class who was really into after-market car audio who used to tell me about these contests where the SPL in the car would get as high as 140dB SPL plus. I doubted the guy, because that's louder than the Space Shuttle taking off, and that much level would blow out our ear drums in a flash.

Forward a few years I happened to be at a trade show where they actually had one of these contests, and sure enough, the SPL was loud enough to break the windshield of the car! What I didn't account for is that no one would be crazy to sit inside the car during the contest. Here's a cute little video that shows exactly what happens when the pedal goes to the metal with a souped-up car stereo.



Remember that this is absolutely nothing to do with audio quality; it's pure and simple audio level. One of the trademarks of clean SPL is that it doesn't sound loud, just bigger. Once you've heard a playback in that environment, it sticks with you forever.
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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, August 21, 2011

The Neil Young/Daniel Lanois Interview

Here's a great interview with Neil Young and producer Daniel Lanois, where Neil describes the making of his new album. There are plenty of words of wisdom, but maybe the best one is, "They get technically better, but spiritually further from source," when describing musicians who practice so much that they lose sight of why they're doing it in the first place.

The other cool thing is that Neil only did 2 takes for each song on the album. You gotta love someone who's so comfortable with himself as an artist to be able to do that.


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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.

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