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Thursday, December 1, 2011

LMFAO "Sexy And I Know It" Song Analysis

This week I'll do a song analysis of song by LMFAO called "Sexy And I Know It" that's currently #1 on the Ultimate Chart. The song is a worldwide hit in more than 15 countries and is the third single from the group's Sorry For Party Rocking album.

While it may go unnoticed by many who don't like the dance or Top 40 genre, LMFAO is pretty groundbreaking. Why? They're a great example of the marriage of electronic music (their sub-genre is known as "hip house") to a catchy melody and lyrics, which has caused the group to break through in a big way.

As with all song analysis, we'll look at the song form, the arrangement, the sound and the production.

The Song
If we look at "Sexy And I Know It" from a pop perspective, the song seems simplistic both form and lyric-wise, but this is a completely different genre so we have to throw that thinking out. All dance and electronic music are built around 4 and 8 bar modules that sometimes work as the traditional verse, chorus, bridge, and then again, sometimes they don't. In this song they do, and that's why it's such a big pop hit. Here's what the form looks like:

Intro, Verse, B Section, Chorus, Verse, B Section, Chorus, Verse, B Section, Chorus

Pretty simple, right. Not exactly. The verse after the 2nd chorus is a hybrid; it's a little bit verse with the song hook ("Sexy and I know it") thrown in. In a way, you could almost call it a bridge, but only from a lyric standpoint since the underlying musical structure doesn't change.

The lyrics are never going to win any awards, but at least the song has some, something that most music from this genre lack.

The Arrangement
This song shows that you can have a hit with a minimum number of elements. As with all electronic music, the rhythm is the most important element, but seldom is it so stripped down through the entire song. The song consists of kick drum, the vocal, a repeating synth line, and a very few synth and drum fill elements so it's really down almost as far as it can be and still work.

  * The Foundation: Kick drum sample

  * The Rhythm: Kick drum, high-hat, and repeating synth line

  * The Pad: None

  * The Lead: The vocal

  * The Fills: Various synth sounds and noises

The Sound
With electronic music, sound quality is never an issue since noise and distortion can be welcome elements. The most important sound element is the beat, which is driven by the bass drum sound. Since there are so few musical elements, the kick has to be very large to fill the frequency space and this one certainly is. The vocals all have a distorted edge to them, which as said before, it's okay in this type of music and even desired. Everything is dry and in your face except for the repeating synth, which is delayed at the end of song along with the high-hat sound. And of course, it's all compressed to the edge.

The Production
Any song that can be interesting with so few elements has to have pretty good production. The song has a great beat for dancing and a hook that will stick in your mind, which is the reason why it's a hit. The two most consistent elements, the bass drum and repeating synth sounds, keep changing with every section and sometimes within the same section. The very subtle entrance of additional elements all keep your attention. That, my friends, is the essence of production.

Don't forget to send me your requests for song analysis.



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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mark Knopfler Band Backing Vocal Session

It's rare that you get to see great musicians work in the studio and even rarer to see singers do their studio thing. The reason is that the recording studio is a very private work area where even the best musician or singer lays his chops on the line, warts and all. It's where you really see how good or mediocre someone really is. Not only that, comfort matters a great deal in getting the best performance. A camera or someone not in the inner circle watching takes that security (or is in insecurity) blanket of away.

Then again, there are many musicians that are so completely at ease with their artistic ability that they're okay with having people watch them as they work. Here's a great example of that, as the singers in guitar great Mark Knopfler's band do a 4 part harmony background vocal. Now we don't see them working out the part, which can take time and be somewhat awkward, but we do get to see and hear a pretty polished and nearly finished product.

By the way, that's my buddy Chuck Ainlay engineering. Chuck was one of the engineers featured in The Recording Engineer's Handbook.


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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 29, 2011

Which Holiday Songs Are Public Domain?

So you want to do that Christmas album that everyone has been asking for? You probably waited a little too long to get it out this year with any effectiveness, but no problem, except that if you're releasing it yourself you should know that not all holiday songs are public domain (i.e. free to use without paying a publishing royalty). Now you have to ask yourself, "Which songs are public domain and which aren't?"

CD Baby's DIY Musician blog has a great post today about the songs that are in and out of the public domain. They also have a PDF guide to holiday music that you can download for free. Here's the list:

In The Public Domain
“Angels We Have Heard On High”
“Away In A Manger”
“Deck The Halls”
“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”
“Good King Wenceslas”
“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”
“It Came Upon The Midnight Clear”
“Jingle Bells”
“Joy To The World”
“O Come All Ye Faithful”
“O Come O Come Emmanuel”
“O Holy Night”
“O Little Town of Bethlehem”
“Silent Night”
“The First Noel”
“The Twelve Days of Christmas”
“We Wish You A Merry Christmas”
“What Child Is This”

Not In The Public Domain (including the songwriters - Johnny Marks gets extra props for having 3 songs on the list)
“All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” (Donald Yetter Gardner)
“Do You Hear What I Hear?” (Noel Regney, Gloria Shayne Baker)
“Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” (Fred Coots, Haven Gillespie)
“A Holly Jolly Christmas” (Johnny Marks)
“Carol Of The Bells” (Peter J. Wilhousky, Mykola Leontovich)
“Feliz Navidad” (Jose Feliciano)
“Frosty The Snowman” (Steve Nelson, Walter E. Rollins)
“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” (Ralph Blane, Hugh Martin)
“Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane)” (Gene Autry, Oakley Haldeman)
“I’ll Be Home For Christmas” (Walter Kent, Kim Gannon, Buck Ram)
“It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” (Edward Pola, George Wyle)
“Jingle Bell Rock” (Joseph Carleton Beal, James Ross Boothe)
“Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” (Sammy Cahn, Jule Styne)
“Little Drummer Boy” (Katherine K. Davis, Henry V. Onorati, Harry Simeone)
“Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” (Johnny Marks)
“Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” (Johnny Marks)
“Silver Bells” (Jay Livingston, Ray Evans)
“Sleigh Ride” (Leroy Anderson, Mitchell Parish)
“The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” (Mel Tormé, Robert Wells)
“White Christmas” (Irving Berlin)
“Winter Wonderland” (Felix Bernard, Richard B. Smith)

As you can see, there's a good mix of both, although the newer hipper songs must be cleared before using. If you want to cover a copyrighted song, check out Limelight, a service that specializes in clearing copywritten songs.
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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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Monday, November 28, 2011

Finding Acoustic Material

Recently I was contacted by a good friend who had a dilemma; where to find ridged fiberglass (like Owens Corning 703) so he could build his own acoustic panels. Most of the excellent acoustic materials won't be found at your local Home Depot, unfortunately. so you do have to search a little. Here's an excerpt from The Studio Builder's Handbook that covers what material is available and where to find it.

Owens Corning 703 compressed Fiberglass
"Acoustic panels can be made from a few different materials, some more effective than others. The difference in materials is not only the amount of absorption, but the absorption ability at different frequencies.

Owens Corning 703
As said in the previous chapters of the book, the standard for acoustic panels is Owens Corning 703, which you won’t normally find at Home Depot (see Figure 8.7). Instead, look for a local supplier of “Industrial Insulation,” or an HVAC supplier, who should normally carry it. When asking for it at a specialty supplier, sometimes it’s called “industrial furnace insulation board.” You can also find it online at a number of places including ataacoustics.com, readyacoustics.com, and gikacoustics.com among others. 703 costs approximately $12 a panel (sometimes more and sometimes less, depending on where you buy it) and comes in packs of six. Knauf ECOSE, Johns Manville, Roxul Safe and Sound, and Certainteed are the same kind of ridged fiberglass, and can be even cheaper than their Owens Corning equivalent. Just be sure that the thickness and density is the same. Try buyinsulationproducts.com.

Handling fiberglass can irritate your skin, eyes and respiratory tract, and the dust particles are so small that they can get trapped in the lungs and become carcinogenic in some people. That’s why it’s important to always wear gloves and a mask when handling it.

Mineral Wool
Mineral wool is another mineral fiber insulation product that works as a 703 or R 13 alternative. It’s a lot less expensive than 703, and even has better absorption characteristics, but it’s difficult to work with because it’s not as rigid. Try Rockwool RWA45, RW3 or the ridged Rockboard 60, which costs about $35 for a package of 6 panels (see Figure 8.8). You may find Rockwool or mineral fiber at your local lumber supplier, or try online at atsacoustics.com, among other places.

Mineral wool is easily handled and does not cause any irritation to the skin, eyes or respiratory system like fiberglass does.

Ultratouch Cotton
Yet another alternative is Ultratouch cotton, which you might be able to find at Lowes or Home Depot. It’s about the same cost as rockwool and works almost as well, yet has none of the irritant properties of fiberglass. You can also use it in place of R 13 or R 19 in your walls. It can also be found at sensiblesolutions.com online.

Frames
Frames for acoustic panels can be made using 2 inch by 2 inch wood and then covering them with cloth to give them a very pleasant appearance (see Figure 8.10). This doesn’t have to be an expensive wood (pine will work), as it can be stained, covered with a wood trim or just covered with fabric.

The wood trim can be standard wall molding that can be purchased quite easily at any hardware store or big-box discount hardware store. Typically hardwood molding can be very expensive and run from $8 to $40 and up per linear foot, but try high quality pine molding, which is both affordable and looks fantastic once it’s lacquered. 

You can rent a pneumatic air hammer at your local tool and building supply company for not much money on a daily rental. If you use this nail gun with very small one inch finish nails to attach the trim to the wall panels, you’ll have a very nice look on your finished work.

Fabric
Covering acoustic panels is pretty easy in that all you need is any material that easily passes audio. This can be almost anything from burlap (probably the cheapest) to even speaker grill cloth. The best way to test it is to blow into it, and if you feel your breath coming through the other side, it should work. Maybe the most expensive covering is by Guilford of Maine, but it has the advantages of being acoustically transparent and flame retardant as well as being available in a wide variety of colors. You can find it online at soundaway.com, acousticalsolutions.com, noisecontrolproducts.com, as well as many others.

All that being said, cloth is available in many thicknesses and densities and there should be lots of local outlets in your area where you can purchase it at a discount. Sometimes it works better if you have thinner cloth that’s wrapped several times for a few more layers.

Try doing a test panel first to see how the cloth will work for you. You may find it best to use the thinner more affordable cloth even though you probably will have to take the extra time to attach multiple layers. "

To read additional book excerpts, check out the excerpts section on my website.
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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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Sunday, November 27, 2011

6 Tips For Writing Jingles

As you might guess, I receive a lot of questions about how to get into different areas of the music business. One area that seems to be hot lately (in terms of questions) is the jingle business, a slice of the industry that I have little experience myself, but I do have friends that have done quite well in it. As you might have guessed, it's not easy to break into, but virtually no area of the music business is.

That said, Discmakers recently posted a great article about the jingle business on their blog. You can read the entire article here, but I thought I'd excerpt a few points that I thought were especially appropriate.

"1) Research Other Jingles
“Listen to everything,” says Richard Leiter, a California-based composer who has created jingles for Walmart, Tropicana, the American Red Cross, and Microsoft, among others. “When it comes to the quality of your work, you need to match what’s on TV.”
Lloyd Landesman, a New York-based musician and jingle writer who has worked with Budweiser, Capital One, Dr. Pepper, Ford, and many others, agrees. “Pay attention to commercials and watch channels that are more youth-oriented, like MTV and Fuse,” he says. “What kinds of music are being used in those commercials? Are they dance tracks and electronica, or more quirky, acoustic songs from artists like Ingrid Michaelson? Watching and listening to what’s out there can give you an idea of what the industry is looking for.”

2) Understand The Landscape
While Leiter does most of his jingle writing directly with advertising agencies, Landesman points out that specialized music production companies — a.k.a. jingle houses — employ or contract with composers. When such companies are approached by jingle-hungry ad agencies, the production houses often generate multiple musical options and the agencies choose which they like best.
Leiter points out that the jingle market has shrunk “tremendously” in the last five years, so whether you’re seeking to network with ad agencies or production houses, be sure to set your expectations accordingly. “People are using existing tracks like crazy,” he says. “Writing custom jingles used to be a much larger world, but now people are licensing tracks from bands, or having their kids whip something up in GarageBand.”
There are still opportunities out there, affirms Landesman. “Everybody’s interested in finding new talent,” he describes. “When I was a staff writer for a production company, the owner would keep bringing on new writers, both to bring new ideas to the company, and to keep the existing composers on their toes. You do need to maintain a sense of persistence as you’re going to get a high rate of rejection early on,” he continues. “But it’s just like starting a band and building a following, getting people out to shows. You’re going to do a lot of research and legwork before anything catches on.”

3) Understand Your Role
“Jingles are custom-written works for specific companies that have both words and music,” says Leiter. “Your goal as a jingle writer is to understand what a company’s message is and to translate that into a song. In other words, it’s their message, but your illumination of it.”
Landesman echoes the point, emphasizing that aspiring jingle writers need to be open to suggestions and compromise. “You’re providing a service,” he says. “You want the client to be happy with what you’ve done, so if within the 30 seconds of music you’re writing there are 10 seconds that the client isn’t thrilled with, it’s your job to find out what’s wrong and correct it. Don’t be married to anything you’ve done and be very careful about picking your creative battles. Will changing this guitar part to make your client happy ruin your spot? Probably not — and sometimes listening to your client’s ideas can actually make your work that much better.”

 4) Ask Questions
Once a client asks you to put something together for him or her, remember that creating a jingle is a collaborative process, says Leiter. “Get inside and figure out their needs,” he advises. “Do they have a particular song in mind that they want you to emulate? Is there a particular style or message they’re going for?”
If you’re lucky, says Landesman, sometimes your client already has a melody in mind, and will send you a rough MP3 for you to start with. “You’ll likely have to make slight changes to make up for a client’s probable lack of melodic skill,” he says, laughing. “But on the bright side, you’ll get exactly what the client is hearing.”

5) Recreate a Vibe, Not a Song
If a client does ask you to give him or her “something like [popular radio song ABC],” pay attention, but proceed with caution. “Go with something of a similar flavor, but do not copy the music,” says Landesman. “For years, musicologists have been employed to make sure that original music in ads doesn’t step into lawsuit territory, so if people even hear intent to sound like another artist, that can be a problem.”
Leiter goes a step further: “If a client plays something like the Beatles’ ‘In My Life’ as an example of what they want, I tell them, ‘I will not knock that off and I cannot give you something that sounds like that. What I can do is capture the emotion of it.’ Use your genius to translate the emotion, feel, and style into what they need, without coming near to the original example the client cited.”
When you’re trying to recreate the vibe or emotion of a given song, without stepping onto dangerous ground, Landesman recommends starting with obvious similarities to at least set a similar sonic stage. “If they say they want a track like ‘Artist X’, are most of that artist’s recordings acoustic? Okay, use an acoustic piano, acoustic guitar, and maybe a ukulele on your own track. Is the singer female? Okay, bring in your own female singer to record.”
When it comes to preparing the final mix, another tactic Landesman finds helpful in trying to emulate a specific sound is to import a track from the target artist into your session and A/B it with your own mix. “Listen back and forth to try to get some sort of sonic comparison, and try to tweak your mix so it sounds more like the track you’re trying to emulate,” he says. Even small adjustments to the amount of compression or reverb on a final mix can make a significant difference.

6) Play To Your Strengths – But Take Risks
“If you primarily focus on ambient or dance music, and that’s who you are as an artist, then stay focused on that in your jingle writing,” says Landesman. “If you get involved with a production company and an assignment comes in that’s a left turn for you, though, give it a shot. That’s the best way to prove that you’re diverse, and being diverse is never a bad thing when you’re working independently with ad agencies or freelancing. But that said, focusing and having a specialty isn’t bad either.”

There are 12 total jingle tips that you can find in the article at Discmakers.
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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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