Thursday, September 22, 2011

Worst Gigs Ever

Every musician who has ever gigged has had terrible gigs, and usually there are a number that compete for "the worst gig ever." A while back, the Guardian posted an article of worst gigs ever featuring a number of celebrity musicians. I've posted a few of these before, but here are four more.

Andy Summers, The Police
Oxford, 1978

It was an earlyish Police gig, in a smallish theatre, maybe about a thousand people. We were playing our set when suddenly the doors burst open and about 30 skinheads walk in, fully clad, in leather and bovver boots. And we were like: "Fuck." They walked down to the front and started pogoing and moshing and screaming "Sieg Heil!" – it was really fucking intense. No one knew where it was going to go. And I have to hand it to Sting, because he invited them all to come up on stage. So they were pogoing all over the place, and it was just ridiculous, us trying to keep playing throughout. Sting got them all singing along. Then he told them to fuck off. And eventually they did. A week later, our very tough London promoter went down to Oxford with a bunch of guys, found them, and divine retribution was delivered.

Peter Murphy, Bauhaus
Hammersmith Palais, May 1983

It was the last show Bauhaus played. The performance was quite intense and overwrought. We were at the height of our career and just about to break, and there was a decision to split, so I wasn't expecting the gig to be triumphant. I felt like I was jumping off the edge of a cliff into the sea. There was an audible gasp when the audience saw us come out – we knew how fervent they were. But between the band there was a lot of juvenile but dark, repressed, negative energy – sort of: "We are the creme de la creme and we can do what we like, we can split up or we can record a fart as a track on an album." I personally had to get out of that. But it was the end of something I had worked very hard to achieve, so it was very bitter. It was never going to be violent – it was gentlemanly, all stiff upper lip and respectful. One of the band members, though, chose to close the show with the words "RIP", and that was not cool: it was as though we were some death-orientated, Munster-rock band, and it cemented the perception of us as this graveyard rock thing, later to be identified as goth. I always thought of Bauhaus as the Velvets gone holy, or the Sweet with better haircuts.

Carl Palmer, Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Chicago, 1974

We were in a town called Normal. The concert was sold out and all was going well, until the encore. We all walked to the front of the stage to take a bow when a grand piano appeared behind us through a hole in the stage. Just as it opened, I stepped back and fell in the hole. Luckily, one of the road crew caught me, but I ended up breaking a rib and had to finish the gig with a large red and purple patch on my right side. I spent the rest of the night in the local hospital being woken up every hour in case I had internal bleeding. There was nothing "normal" about it.

Roger Hodgson, Supertramp
Reading Festival, 1974

It was pelting down with rain and we were all drenched but soldiered on. My amplifier blew up and I was forced to play with a small practice amp - a Fender amp that was not grounded and every time I went up to sing and touched the microphone, I got an electric shock. The amp was so quiet I couldn't hear it so I was playing blind, soaked to the skin and getting electric shocks every other minute. Gratefully, I'm still alive and touring and lived to tell the tale.
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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Lenny Kravitz "It Ain't Over Till It's Over" Song Analysis

A Muse asked for a song analysis of Lenny Kravitz' "It Ain't Over Till It's Over" and I'm happy to oblige. Kravitz' most successful single, the song reached #2 on the Billboard charts in 1991. As with all song analysis, we'll look at the song form, the arrangement, the sound and the production.

The Song
"It Ain't Over Till It's Over" is a mid-tempo ballad that reminds you of the Philly Soul days. It's form is pretty simple and looks like this:

Intro, Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge/Solo, Chorus, Chorus, Chorus, Chorus

There's nothing tricky about the form, and it's definitely the melody hook of the chorus that gets you, as with most pop hits.

The Arrangement
The arrangement is also fairly simple with basically rhythm guitar, bass, drums, and electric piano carrying the song. Most of the sweetening is around the vocals and most of that occurs in the repeated chorus outro. Listen to how each one changes a bit from the previous one, either by changing the melody or the background vocals to keep things interesting.

  * The Foundation: The drums and bass, although the bass plays very freely, which gives the song that 60's/70's feel.

  * The Rhythm: They rhythm guitar.

  * The Pad: The electric piano

  * The Lead: The lead vocal.

  * The Fills: The background vocals and sitar at the outro choruses.

The Sound
The sound of "Over Till It's Over" is very unlike the 90s in that it's pretty dry. The strings in the intro are especially bare, but this actually works very well. Interestingly enough, it sounds like they have a bit of reverb on them later in the song.

The rhythm section of piano, bass, drums and rhythm guitar are also dry, but the guitar solo and sitar in the outro/chorus have a bit of a timed delay on them that put them in a different ambient space. The electric piano sounds like it's a Fender Rhodes with nice stereo tremolo that glues the track together.

The lead vocal has a very short reverb on it that gives it just a little bit of space, but it's really sibilant. It's surprising that it was left in. Take note of the second line of the second verse where it sounds completely different from the rest of the record. I don't know what happened there, but it's probably a vocal overdub fix that sounded different, so they just tried to emphasize the difference to keep it interesting.

Also note the drum sound, which is very dead and dampened, almost like sound Ringo got on later Beatles records.

The Production
I didn't care much for this song when it was out originally, but listening to it under a microscope changed my mind about it (which is the opposite of what usually happens). It's well thought-out, and well put together, and a great example of how you don't need to double things to make them sound bigger or better.

A quick note on the electric piano part, which goes up an octave for the intro and choruses. This makes it blend in with the strings and makes the choruses sound different from the verses.

What I really liked was something that could easily get by if you're not listening hard. At about 2:05 it sounds like the electric piano makes a mistake and briefly hits a wrong chord. It takes courage to leave that in, but it does nothing to diminish the value of the song. Good call!

Send me your requests for song analysis here.


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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Secret Of How To Listen To Each Other

Here's an excerpt from my band improvement book "How To Make Your Band Sound Great." It's surprising just how few musicians listen to the players that they're playing with, yet that's the secret to a tight sounding band. Usually as a musician gets older and wiser, he hips up to the following, but not always. Here's the secret of how to listen to each other.
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"One of the fundamental errors that band members frequently make is not listening closely to the rest of the band. It’s easy to just focus on yourself, but in order to play well together, it’s listening to everyone else that really counts.  This is the single most important action you can take when playing with other musicians.

So what do you listen for? You listen to how the other musicians are playing or singing a phrase or part. How loudly are they playing? What are their dynamics like?  How do they start and end each phrase (more on this later)? Where are they accenting?  How are they playing the accents?  Are they playing ahead or behind the beat?  Does their tempo speed up when they play louder or slow down as they get softer? All these items require your attention as much as possible. The more you listen to each other and how each of you play or sing, the tighter you become.  It’s that simple.

Things To Listen For When Playing With Others
  • How loudly are they playing?
  • What are their dynamics?
  • How do they start and end a phrase?
  • Where are they accenting?
  • How are they playing the accents?
  • Are they playing ahead or behind the beat?
  • Do they speed up when they play softer or louder?
That being said, it does require some work. During rehearsal, if you notice that you’re not playing a phrase or part the way everyone else is (or if just one of you doesn’t seem in sync with everyone else), stop immediately and ask, “How are you playing that?” Then determine which way sounds best and just rehearse that phrase or part until you’re all playing it together.

During a gig you sometimes get a different perspective on how things sound since the environment is different and you’re probably set up differently than during rehearsal. As a result, you’ll probably notice things that got by during rehearsal. Make a mental note of the parts that aren’t being played well together and address those items first at the next rehearsal."
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Monday, September 19, 2011

Musicians Maintain Their Hearing As They Get Older

I was somewhat amazed to find the following article on mediplacements regarding musicians maintaining their hearing as they get older. I think the reason is that musicians and engineers learn how to listen, and therefore are able to be more selective as they age.

The problem for all musicians (as was pointed out to me by Mead Killion of Etymotics on a panel of a recent ASCAP seminar) is that musicians tend to lose their hearing in particular frequency bands, but learn to compensate while it's happening. Anyway, here's the good news from the original article.
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"Lifelong musicians experience fewer hearing problems in old age than those who do not play an instrument, it has been revealed.

A study published in journal Psychology and Aging studied musicians who had began their training by the age of 16 and continued to practice until the day of testing.

It was found that when it came to detecting sounds which grew increasingly quieter, musicians did not have an advantage in old age.

Despite this, when it came to detecting a gap in sounds, identifying the relationship between different sound frequencies and the ability to hear speech among background noise, musicians fared better than their non-musical counterparts.

This suggests that being a lifelong musician could combat age-related changes in the brain due to the constant use of their auditory systems on a high basis.

Lead investigator Benjamin Rich Zendel said: "What we found was that being a musician may contribute to better hearing in old age by delaying some of the age-related changes in central auditory processing.

"This advantage widened considerably for musicians as they got older when compared to similar-aged non-musicians.""
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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Chris Lord Alge On Compression

Here's Part 2 of video that's more or less a commercial for the Chris Lord Alge-branded Waves compressor package (the "CLA" series), but it's a pretty good explanation of how he uses the basic LA-2A, LA-3A and 1176 compressors used by mixers from the beginning of studio time. In Part 2 he covers drums and guitars, while in Part 1 he covers vocals. If you don't already know, Chris has been one of the big-buck mixers since the 80's, and has worked on just about every kind of music that you can think of.


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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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