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Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Craziest Cutting Edge Instruments

This comes from Gizmodo and it's worthy of noting. It's the craziest new cutting edge musical tech instruments that just came out at Musikmesse, which is Europe's version of the NAMM show, only much, much larger. Each of these are an interesting new twist on an existing product.

AlphaSphere graphic from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog

The AlphaSphere has a number of pads that each act like a drum controller, but you can assign any sound you want either via dedicated software or your favorite. Sure does look cool.






Steez Audio Type S graphic from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog

The next time  you've been served and someone tells you "It's On!", show up with your crew with one of these babies. The Steez Audio Type S (terrible name) picks a playlist, then automatically edits the tracks and tempo between songs in "Auto Battle Mode."





Endeavour Evo graphic from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog



The Endeavour Evo claims to be a keyboard with an entirely new way of generating and controlling sound thanks to its "Magic Key" technology. The sounds aren't that great to my ears, but it does have a unique way of controlling them by having touch sensitive keys where by just moving your finger up a key you can change a parameter. Check out the video on the site for a better idea of the concept.




The Alesis iO Mix is basically a mixer/dock that wraps around your iPad. I'm sure it's only the tip of the iceberg of future iPad accessory products, but it's the only one of its type at the moment. Check it out.



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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

David Bowie "Suffragette City" Song Analysis

Here's a song analysis of a classic. It's "Suffragette City" from David Bowie's seminal Rise And Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars album. I happen to know a bit about this record since I'm the co-author of the memoirs of Ken Scott, the co-producer and engineer of the record, called Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust.

It's interesting to note that although Ziggy Stardust was a huge influence on American musicians at the time, it didn't actually sell that much in the US when it was first released. In fact, it was considered somewhat of a flop in the States, although a hit in the rest of world. It's also interesting that to this day, Ken can't fathom the impact that the record has had on us. He thinks the record is pretty good, but nothing special.

Ziggy Stardust was recorded at Trident Recording in London in 1972 before Bowie even had a record deal (he was being shopped at the time on the basis of an album he just finished - Hunky Dory). Although many consider this to be a concept record, it was like most albums are; just a group  of songs, that in this case, seemed to have a common thread almost by accident (you'll have to read the book for the rest of the story).

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

The Song
"Suffragette City" has a pretty simple song form that looks like this:

Intro, Verse, Chorus, Intro, Verse, Chorus, Solo, Chorus, Intro, Outro (C Section), Outro

The outros are a different song section which you can think of a section C, with the second outro being a reprise of the first. All in all, it's a simple song, but both interesting and energetic.

The Arrangement
Like most great song arrangements, "Suffragette City" builds and breathes. The intro is big, with doubled guitars left and right, then gets smaller in the verse, then big again during the chorus, back down for the verse, etc. The song culminates with the loudest most energetic part in the dual outros.

The outros are interesting in that they take up a third of the song and are perfect examples of how to keep listener attention during a repeating part (in this case going back and forth between a 2 chord pattern). The lead and background vocals change every time the pattern is repeated (every 8 bars), and the synthesizer enters halfway through the outro section as an answer to the lead vocal.

The arrangement elements look like this:

  * The Foundation: Bass and drums

  * The Rhythm: Acoustic guitar strumming, 8th note piano

  * The Pad: Synth and power chord guitars in the B section

  * The Lead: Lead vocal, guitar solo, synthesizer line in intros

  * The Fills: Background vocals, synthesizer

Although the popular conception is that Bowie played baritone sax on the intros, outros and choruses, the sound is actually an ARP 2600 synthesizer, programmed by Ken Scott and played by Mick Ronson. Bowie has taken credit for the "saxes" in a number of interviews, but it's unknown if he just didn't remember or was being coy about the part on purpose.

The Sound
There are a lot of interesting sonic elements that make up "Suffragette City." First is Mick Ronson's guitar sound, which came as a result of a Les Paul into a wah wah pedal set at about half-way, into a Marshall Major. That's the classic Ronson sound.

The drums are interesting in the song as the snare is panned half-right and the kick half-left. This is because the song was recorded on 16 track, and the drum kit was frequently recorded either in stereo on two tracks, or with the kick or snare on one track and the rest of the drums on another, or some other combination. Regardless, the drums were recorded far differently from the way we do it today with each drum on it's own track, hence the odd panning.

The other interesting thing is how prominent the acoustic guitar is on the track, pushing the song along rhythmically, and almost serving in place of the cymbals. According to Ken, "I wasn't too into cymbals back then so I mixed them low."

Bowie's lead vocals are doubled throughout the song, going to a single vocal on the hook of the chorus ("I'm going to Suffragette City").

There's only a single EMT plate reverb on the entire mix, as that's all that Trident had at the time. You can hear it hang over a bit at the very tail end after the last chord of the song.

Also take note the legendary Trident piano pushing the song along in the chorus and panned to the right side. It was famous for its brightness, which was fantastic for rock or pop, but didn't work very well for classical music.

The Production
Like all records that Ken Scott has produced or co-produced (he produced Ziggy Stardust with Bowie), the production is typically excellent even though it was only his second stab at it (Hunky Dory being the first). The best thing about the song for me is the energy, which can be attributed to the number of takes by the band. David made it a point to never let the band go beyond 3 takes, and sometimes even two, so the players were always on the edge (this is with no rehearsal beforehand as well). Another interesting production fact is that according to Ken, almost all of the Bowie's vocals were done on the first take over the course of the 4 albums he did with him!

The background vocals (done by Bowie and Ronson) are interesting in that they move in the stereo spectrum, first starting on the left in the first verse, then changing to the right on the second and doing the same during the outro. All these little things add up to make the song both exciting and interesting, and as a result, a classic.

You can read more about Bowie and the Ziggy Stardust sessions in the upcoming Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust book.



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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Mystery Of Vinyl

vinyl record image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
Reader Jesse Roff recently sent an email asking about why he enjoyed listening to vinyl so more than a CD. Since vinyl is enjoying a nice comeback in sales, and record store day is coming up on April 21st, this is indeed a topic worth exploring. Here are a number of points to consider.

1) It's an analog format. Because vinyl is an analog medium, a record has a theoretical frequency response that goes to the moon. Seriously though, it goes way beyond our  what we consider our "text book" hearing limits. It's easy to get into a debate as to if that really matters or not. Some audio scientists will tell you that we can feel the harmonic detail beyond 20kHz and that adds to the realism, while others will point to a mountain of data that shows that theory is rubbish.

That said, it sure does sound better than a CD, doesn't it? A CD's upper frequency response is theoretically around limited to around 22kHz, thanks to the 44.1kHz CD sample rate and something called the Nyquist Frequency, which states that you can't have a frequency response that goes beyond 1/2 of the sample rate (otherwise, you get some nasty sonic digital artifacts). What actually happens in real life is that a filter is used to keep the frequency response below the Nyquist Frequency, and that filter introduces it's own set of artifacts. That's one of the reasons why some CD/DVD players are so expensive; they've got better filters.

What this all adds up to is there's something going on in the upper frequencies on vinyl that our ears seem to like. What that is can be debatable, but we do like it.

2) Was the master analog? Vinyl really helps the sound and feel of a digital master, especially one made at a higher sampling rate like 96 or 192kHz, but it really sounds great if the source was originally an analog magnetic tape master. It still sounds pretty good if the source is from a 44.1kHz CD master source, but not as good as a hi-res digital or analog master. Yes, it's better than a CD, but doesn't have nearly the depth and "air" that an analog master has. This is why we tend to like the vinyl reissues of classic albums so much.

3) Vinyl is subject to sonic degradation. The big downside to vinyl is that from the first play onward, a vinyl record sonically degrades. Think about it. You have this diamond stylus (you know, the hardest natural substance known to man) that's constantly grinding up against the soft plastic grooves and wearing them down. After the first 10 plays or so, you're never going to hear it that good again. After about 20, you'll be hearing a lot of more of the noise floor, clicks and pops, although it will happen so gradually that you'll get used to them by then. Still, like magnetic tape losing oxide from the friction across the tape head. Your first pass is always the best.

Those are just a few things to think about when it comes to vinyl. Now get out to your record store and buy some!

If you want to know more about the vinyl record and how it's made, there are some great microscope shots of different record grooves in The Mastering Engineer's Handbook.

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Monday, March 26, 2012

DJ Shadow's 13 Secrets For Music Biz Survival

DJ Shadow image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
Here's a post that originally came from the great Hypebot blog regarding DJ Shadow's (also known as Josh Davis) 13 secrets for music business survival. If you don't know who he is, Shadow's considered a prominent figure in the world of hip hop, and credited with the first album (Endtroducing) that was recorded using only sampled sounds. You don't have to be a DJ for these secrets to apply; they work for anyone in the music business.

1.    Listen to the advice of those who've gone before you
2.    Realize when you've made a mistake - like turning down Apple
3.    Expect to hear your music in strange places
4.    Enjoy the minutiae
5.    Keep yourself mysterious to fans
6.    Touring doesn't make as much as you think
7.    Defy Spinal Tap with your stage show
8.    Embrace the oddity of streetwear
9.    Go to where the work is
10.  Respect the craft
11.  Reissues take a lot of work
12.  Keep up with technology
13.  Always have another project

The ones I like the best are 1, 4, 9 and 10, but the others are valuable too. Take them to heart.

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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, March 25, 2012

KISS "Detriot Rock City" Isolated Vocals

Here's another fun isolated vocal track, this time from KISS. It's called "Detroit Rock City" and it's from their Destroyer album from 1976. The song was the A side of the 3rd single from the album, but the B side, "Beth," unexpectedly became the big hit, which shot them to world-wide fame.

Here are some things to listen for:

1) Paul Stanley has a pretty dynamic voice, and you can sometimes hear the compressor flattening it out as a result. Doesn't sound too bad in the track though.

2) The lead vocal is doubled, but Paul does a great job because the double is so close to the lead vocal that it almost doesn't sound like a double at all. The double becomes very apparent when you hear the answer vocals in the chorus, which are not doubled.

3) The lead vocal has a very bright long reverb on it, but it also has a separate short delay 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.

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