Thursday, November 10, 2011

Alanis Morrissette "Ironic" Song Analysis

Reader Emiliano Caballero Fraccaroli requested a song analysis of an Alanis Morissette song called "Ironic," the 4th hit single from her huge Jagged Little Pill album in 1995. The album went on to sell 16 million in the US and 33 million world-wide. As with all song analysis, we'll look at the song form, the arrangement, the sound and the production.

The Song
"Ironic" is a pretty standard song form with a minor twist; a form of the bridge repeats as the outro. The form looks like this:

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

Take notice that none of the choruses ever repeat, as is the case in normal pop songs.

The Arrangement
What really makes "Ironic" special is its arrangement and its dynamics. The intensity of the song breathes from section to section and that's what helps to keep it interesting. The fact that much of it is acoustic in nature until you get to these huge choruses makes it a lot more powerful than if it were either entirely big or entirely small. That's called tension and release, and is the basis of the emotion in any kind of art.

The arrangement elements look like this:

  * The Foundation: Bass and drums

  * The Pad: Organ, Synth and electric piano

  * The Rhythm: Rhythm guitar, shaker, bongos


  * The Lead: Vocal

  * The Fills: Electric guitar, organ, acoustic guitar

The Sound
"Ironic" is almost like two different songs sonically. The acoustic sections are very open, with a room reverb that's with a rolled off high-end and almost no decay tail. The choruses sound completely different though, with so much going on that most of the instruments are relatively small so they can fit into the sonic picture (even the drums). It's also a lot more compressed sounding. Even the vocal sounds different. That difference is what makes up the tension and release between sections though and what really makes the song exciting.

The Production
Glen Ballard did a great production job on this record (obviously so since it sold so much world-wide), and even though the sonic differences between sections are cool, sometimes it's the little things that really make it (at least for me). Take for instance the intro with just vocal and acoustic guitar. They're panned a little left and right. This makes everything seem wider and more interesting.

Feel free to send me your requests for song analysis.



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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Radial Firefly Tube DI

I love tube direct boxes, especially on bass. From the old Simon System (very rare these days) to the Evil Twin (also rare), tube DIs can just make a bass roar like nothing else. Now Radial Engineering, who make what might be the industry standard passive DIs in the excellent sounding JDI, has introduced their Firefly tube DI, which offers a number of unique features (like variable pickup loading).

Here's a video that Sound on Sound magazine shot at AES that gives you a pretty good idea of what the Firefly is all about. I'm really anxious to try it out myself. Beware that you have to sit through 30 seconds of a Focusrite commercial before it gets down to business.



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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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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

3 Steps To Adding A Subwoofer

It's not unusual for musicians and engineers that are doing a lot of work in their home studio on bookshelf-sized speakers to crave more bottom end. As a result, the first thing they think about is adding a subwoofer to their monitor system. That's all well and good, but there are a few steps that you can follow that might help your venture into low frequency territory a lot easier.

1. Do you really need a subwoofer? Before you make that purchase, it's a good idea to be sure that a sub is actually necessary. Here are a couple of things to check out first:
  A) Are you monitoring at a loud enough level? This is a trap that people with home studios fall into; they don't listen loud enough, at least for a short period of time. I know from personal experience as I did that for years and found that everything changed for the better when I turned it up for a little while when working.

First of all, if you monitor too quietly, your ears begin to emphasize the mid-frequencies. This is great for balance but bad for judging the low end of things. Crank up your monitors to a moderately loud level, at least when you're working on the low frequency end of the spectrum. If you still don't have enough low end, go on to B.

  B) You have an acoustic problem in your room. Chances are that either your monitors are too close to the wall, or they're placed at a point of the room length where standing waves causes some of the low end to cancel out. This is more likely to be the cause of just one area of the low frequency spectrum rather than the entire low end though.

Just to be safe, move your speakers a foot or so backwards and forwards and see if you get some of the low end back. If not, move to #2.
2. Purchase a subwoofer from the same manufacturer as your main monitors. The easiest way to get a smooth sounding low end that doesn't cause you more grief that it's worth is to buy a sub from the same manufacturer as the monitors you use most of the time. That means, if you're using JBL's, choose a JBL sub that's made specifically for that system; if you're using Genelecs, do the same, KRK's, the same, etc. This will make a huge difference, especially at the crossover frequency point from the mains to the sub. It's usually impossible to get that area to sound natural if you mix brands.

3. Calibrate your sub correctly. Most musicians and engineers that choose to use a sub just randomly dial in the level. You might get lucky and get it right, but it's more than likely that your level will be off, causing a number of funny sounding mixes until you finally figure it out. Here's how to calibrate the sub to your system:
A) Without the sub connected, send pink noise to your main monitors. At the listening position and while listening to one monitor only, use an SPL meter (just about any will do to get you in the ballpark, even an iPhone app) and adjust the level of monitor until it reads 85dB. The SPL meter should be set on C Weight and Slow. Repeat on the other channel and set that so it also reads 85dB.

B) Turn the main monitors off. Send pink noise just to the subwoofer. Set the level of the SPL meter so it reads 79dB. 79 works because there are fewer bands of low frequencies than high (3 for the low and 8 for the high), so this number takes that into account. You might have to tweak the level up or down a dB, but this will get you into the ballpark.

C) If there's a polarity switch on the sub, try both positions and see which one has the most bass or sounds the smoothest in the crossover area. That's the one to select.
If you follow these steps, you'll find that integrating a subwoofer into your system (if you decide you need one) will be as painless as possible. And by the way, don't you just love the picture on the left?
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Monday, November 7, 2011

The Beatles On Record Part 1

As some of you know, I'm just about finished co-writing a book with Ken Scott that covers his career in the music business. Ken was one of the 5 engineers for The Beatles as well as producer of David Bowie, Supertramp, Devo, Kansas, Missing Persons and many others.

The book will be called "From Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust" and will be available in April, and will cover all of Ken's time with the Fab Four. In the meantime, enjoy this video where you hear about their early recording process from The Beatles and producer George Martin themselves. There's some great vintage video to look at as well.



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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, November 6, 2011

Tips From Dr. Luke

Dr. Luke is one of the hottest producers around today, with hits under his belt from such big-sellers as Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Ke$ha ("Tik Tok" was the longest running #1 by a female artist since 1977), Kelly Clarkson, Pink and Flo Rida. You may think that some of the music he makes is very pop and commercial, but he's great at what he does and his work is very well crafted.

Dr. Luke's is insight is definitely worth checking out. Here he shows how he layers sounds to come up with a kick sound right for the track, and how he places it on the grid of the song.



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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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