AES Banner

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Getting The Best Out Of Musicians In The Studio

musicians in studio image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
It's time for another book excerpt, this time from The Music Producer's Handbook. These are some tips that have served me well in dealing with musicians in the studio over the years. Being a musician myself, I know what bugs me when playing on a session and I became determined not to do that to others when I was on the other side of the glass. This is from the chapter called "Working With Your Team."
------------------------------
"Even if a musician is completely comfortable about his environment and headphones, there are things you can do to help him take his performance to another level. Unless  you’re a studio pro, most musicians can be very self-conscious about what they’re playing, especially after hearing a playback that uncovers some flaws they were unaware of until that moment. It’s important that their confidence doesn’t flag and it’s directly up to you to keep that from happening. Here are a few tricks that will help.

Stay positive. Regardless of how badly things might be going, how off-key someone is singing, or how out-of-the-pocket someone is playing, never be negative in your body language or your comments. Remarks like, “You suck,” or “That really sounds bad,” don’t ever help the situation and can even completely undermine a performance. If something isn’t going as well as you think it should, give the player a reasonable chance, sit him down for a listen in the control room, then firmly but respectfully describe why the part isn’t working.

Explain what’s wrong. Players hate it when they’re just told to, “Do it again,” without any explanation as to why you think what they just played wasn’t good enough. If the take wasn’t a keeper for any reason, explain what was wrong in a kind and gentle way. Statements like "I think you have a better one in you," or “I’ve heard you play it with more excitement before,” might work if you can’t put your finger on the problem, but players appreciate it if you can be specific so they can concentrate on that part the next time they play it through. “You’re falling behind the beat every time we come out of the chorus,” is an example of a specific statement. If the player continues to get it wrong, make sure you play the part for him so he can hear it clearly and understand what you’re going for.

Keep the studio talkback mic on. Communication is one of the most important, yet sometimes overlooked parts of a successful session. Players hate it when they’re speaking to you from the studio and either you’re not aware that they’re trying to get your attention, or you simply can’t hear them. Make sure that the engineer puts up a dedicated talkback mic in the studio and that it’s turned on immediately after every take. It’s important that you don’t miss a single word.

Keep the control room talkback mic on. Players also hate when there’s long periods of silence from the control room after a take. They might see a conversation going on, but if they can’t hear it, many players get insecure and feel isolated. You may be having a conversation about what kind of take-out food to order, but as far as the player can tell, you’re talking about how bad his performance was and how you’d like to replace him. Get rid of the insecurity by latching the control room talkback so he can hear you all the time between takes. Once again, communication is the key to a successful session.

If a player asks to play it again, let him. You may think that the player just nailed the ultimate take, but if he feels he can play it better, he usually can. Players inherently know when they’ve messed something up, were late on a chord, mis-fingered or ghosted a note, or slowed down during a roll. Maybe you didn’t hear it, but the player knew it. Let him go again. This is a lot easer decision to make nowadays than it was back in the analog tape days, thanks to digital recording. Back then, you might only have space on tape for a single take and you might loose a take that was great if the next take didn’t work. That kind of pressure on the producer has now been lifted, thanks to your favorite DAW."


----------------------------------
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.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Bruce Springsteen "Born To Run" Song Analysis

Reader Carlos X asked for a song analysis of Bruce Springsteen's breakout hit "Born To Run," the title song from his third album of the same name. Born To Run was released in 1975 and so many of its songs have been classic rock radio staples ever since. This was the first album to feature pianist Roy Bittan and drummer Max Weinberg, who would become the backbone of the E Street Band, but interestingly enough, they didn't play on the song. Previous E Streeters David Sancious and Ernest "Boom" Carter played piano and drums respectively. As with all song analysis, we'll check out the song form, the arrangement, the sound and the production.

The Song
"Born To Run" is one of the most unusual song forms that you'll ever see from a top 40 hit as it fits none of the traditional formulas. The song looks something like this:

Intro, Verse, B section, Intro, Verse, B section, Intro, Solo, Bridge 1, Bridge 2, Verse, B Section, Intro, Intro

There really isn't a chorus; the hook "Born To Run" pops up at the end of the B sections. What's more, there are two parts to the bridge, and its really long.

Yet another thing different and interesting is the length of the sections. The B sections are 14 bars long, while the solo is 12. The first bridge is 14 bars, while the second is 17. Not that it matters, it's so interesting that you want to keep listening.

The Arrangement
Reportedly Bruce was going for a Phil Spector-like "Wall of Sound" and that's exactly what he got. The arrangement is very thick with a lot going on, but like most great songs, can be broken down into 5 or fewer elements. Let's take a look.

  * The Foundation: Bass and drums

  * The Pad: Sometimes it's the organ, sometimes it's the sax (like in the intro and B sections), sometimes its a guitar playing footballs.

  * The Rhythm: A strummed guitar low in the mix and the organ playing 8th notes on the intros and B sections.

  * The Lead: Bruce's vocals, the sax solo, the tremolo guitar doubled with a glock on the intros

  * The Fills: There are no fills, but lots of counter-lines played by the glock, piano and guitar

A couple of things to listen for; Bruce is very good about adding and subtracting instruments during the song to keep the interest high. Notice the entrance of the organ in the second half of the 2nd verse, the wah guitar and sax in the second half of the first bridge section, and the strings and horns on the end of the 2nd bridge and last verse (admittedly, they're mixed down pretty low).

Another small yet interesting twist is the way the line played by the glock and piano is turned backwards at the end of the song as the hook is restated before the outro.

The Sound
In 1975 it was the beginning of 24 track tape era, and you can bet that all those tracks were filled up. It sounds like a few instruments were bounced together and lost some definition as a result. The snare drum is pretty distinct but the rest of the drums, including the kick drum, are not, but that was about par for the day. The bass if very up front, also the norm for the time.

Bruce's voice has a long reverb that sounds like it was delayed by a 71/2 ips tape delay. In other words, it's really long (usually around 120ms or so), but interestingly, you hear it only on the right side of the stereo field. The other thing that only appears on the right side is the glock.

The Production
Aside from the great arrangement, the thing that marks this song is the energy. You can feel it reach out and touch you right from the very first drum roll. It's intense, and that intensity never lets up, only getting bigger and bigger as the song rolls on. To me, that's what makes the song the hit that it is.



----------------------------------
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.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Mixing "I Am The Walrus"

Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust book cover image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
It's time for the first excerpt from Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust, the upcoming autobiography by legendary producer/engineer Ken Scott, co-written by yours truly. This excerpt, which comes from the chapter Engineering The Beatles, is about Ken mixing "I Am The Walrus."

You can read more about the book as well as a chapter summary at AbbeytoZiggy.com.

By the way, if you're in Los Angeles next week, you can hear a lot more stories from Ken as he'll be giving one of his great presentations at Musicians Institute at 7Pm on Tuesday the 20th. It's free and all are welcome, but you must RSVP on the event website.

-------------------------------------
"Later when it was time to mix “I Am The Walrus,” John decided that something else was needed for the ending of the song, so Ringo was dispatched to a corner of the control room with a radio tuner to scan around the dial to different stations. What was tricky was that since we didn’t have any extra tracks to record it on, he had to perform the radio tuning live as the song was mixed. On one pass he hit on a performance of Shakespeare’s King Lear on the BBC’s Third Programme, which we all determined worked perfectly for the track. We kept the end of that take and decided to use another mix for the first part of the song. 

I was asked to do an edit between takes to marry the good ending with a better front half of the song. Now EMI engineers were not supposed to take a razor blade to the tape because, as explained previously, the studio employed a team of dedicated editors. But when you’re working with The Beatles and they want to hear the first half of one mix and the second half of another, you can’t wait until the next day for the editors to arrive. Even though I was used to banding, this was one of my first real actual edits, so once again I was gripped by fear. As I was rocking the tape backwards and forwards to try and find the edit point everyone seemed to be talking at once at the top of their voices, and I couldn’t hear a damned thing. At some point I lost it and screamed in a panic, “Please, shut up. I’m trying to do this!” Much to my surprise, everything immediately fell quiet, which might have been even worse because now the spotlight was directed squarely on me. “Can I cut this without spilling any of my own blood on a precious Beatles master?”, I wondered. Luckily when I played it, all sounded fine and everyone was pleased, especially me. Dodged yet another bullet.


The mix of “Walrus” that we did that night was mono, and it wasn’t until later that Geoff [Emerick] remixed it in stereo. If you listen to the end of the stereo mix where the radio comes in, it suddenly changes to fake stereo with the bass on one side and the treble on the other. This was because the part with the radio was done live as part of the mono mix and there was no other way to recreate it in stereo at the time. Later when it came time to do the Love soundtrack, it had been discovered exactly which broadcast it was that Ringo had tuned into, and the BBC made it available so it could finally be recreated in proper stereo and 5.1."


You can preorder the book at AbbeytoZiggy.com.

----------------------------------
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.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Aerosmith On 60 Minutes

If you watched the 60 Minutes television show on Sunday 3/11/12, you saw the segment with Aerosmith. One of the interesting things about the various interviews was how much animosity there still is between lead singer Steven Tyler and the rest of the band. You're used to seeing this with young bands or bands just making it, but not from a band that's been doing it for 40 years. Usually they've matured and put aside their difference by now.

That said, the show is a case study of band dynamics. It doesn't matter how big or unknown the act, the politics are the same. They probably could've used these tips to resolving a conflict from The Music Producer's Handbook, but that's another story.

It's a great segment, but you have to wade through an ad at the beginning.



----------------------------------
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, March 11, 2012

Autotune Accidentally Invented By Oil Scientist

Auto-Tune is the process we love to hate. To most older (or shall we say "classic") engineers and producers, it's avoided like the plague, preferring to work the singer until he gets it right. Of course, no one complains when it's used on that one note that just can't be comped. Then there's T-Pain, who took Auto-Tune to a new level, using it as a integral piece of his act by using it on literally every song. It was bad enough when Cher did it way back in 1998 on her hit "Believe," when we thought the fad was over. Not so, apparently.

But perhaps the real story is that Auto-Tune was that it was accidentally invented by an Exxon scientist while interpreting seismic data using sound waves. The researcher was Andy Hildebrand, who was using audio to map elements deep below the earth's surface, which means basically looking for oil.

To his credit, Hildebrand, who loves music, determined that his method could be used to help singers everywhere, and so he founded Antares Audio Technologies in 1990. The rest is history.

Great singers still don't need or want it, but mediocre singers, engineers and producers everywhere live by it. In fact, many big touring acts actually use it live on stage. If that's not cheating, I don't know what is. Perhaps Auto-Tune is another reason to hate the oil industry?

Here's an interesting and amusing video on the history of Auto-Tune.



----------------------------------
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.

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...