Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Most Popular Keys And Chords

Most Popular Song Keys image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog

I just read a most fascinating study of 1300 popular songs on the Hooktheory site that attempts to determine the most popular song keys and chords. This is what they found:
  • The most popular keys in order are C, G, Eb (that's a surprise), F, D, A, E, Db, Bb, Ab, B, F# and their relative minors.
  • Next came the most popular chords. First, all the songs were transposed to the key of C for a common reference point. They then found that the most popular chords were G, F, C, Am, Dm, Em, E, D, Bb, A. If you look at that in Nashville style numbers, it's 5, 4, 1, 6m, 2m, 3m, 3, 2, b7, 6.
  • Finally, they looked to see what chord should come next after an Em (or the 3m in the key of C). Surprisingly, the most popular chord was F (the 4 chord), followed by Am (the 6m), and Dm (the 2m).
One of the things that most songwriters inherently or experientially know is what chords work with others, so I'm not sure if the survey brought much new information. I guess I might've been more surprised if C wan't the most used key, although I bet in the days of the guitar bands it was probably E or A.

That said, you can't beat a surprise in a song to keep your interest. Let's hope that these results change soon.
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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Making Of Sgt. Pepper - Part 2

Here's part 2 of The Making of The Beatles Sgt. Pepper album, but this one has a lot more about the making of "Strawberry Fields," including some rarely heard demos. Listen to how fast it started out, as well as hidden rhythm section tracks, as well as the reason why the song didn't appear on the album.



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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Making Of Sgt. Pepper's - Part 1

Here's a great excerpt from the British South Bank Show on the making of The Beatles seminal Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band album. I don't know if there's anything new here but there's a lot of vintage 60s footage that's pretty cool. The best part for me is their description of touring and why they stopped.



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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, June 18, 2012

Top 10 Reasons Why Music Is Compressed

audio compression image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
Here's a list I love from Steve Guttenberg, the audio reporter over on the CNET blog. It's the top 10 reasons why music is compressed today. As you'll see, there are a lot of things in the list that makes sense.

With all the talk about hypercompression (over-compression), we tend to forget that people really do like the sound of compression. It's just when it's used to excess that engineers and listeners alike take offense. That said, take a look at the top 10 list.

No. 10: Compression is part of the sound of contemporary music. Completely uncompressed music would sound lifeless and boring to most listeners. They crave more energy than unprocessed sound offers.
No. 9: Louder music, even if it's just slightly louder, almost always sounds better than quieter music.
No. 8: Most music is listened to in the background to accompany some other activity like working, reading exercising, driving, or cooking. When you're doing something else, uncompressed music's constantly shifting volume level would be an annoyance.
No. 7: When listening in shuffle mode, there's a good chance you'll skip over the quieter songs to get to the next tune. Record producers live in fear of a mix that's too quiet.
No. 6: In the days before CD mastering, engineers needed to boost the quietest sounds to keep them above the LP's noise floor, and reduce the loudest sounds volume level to keep the "needle" in the groove. Digital didn't have those problems, but we still wound up with CDs that have less soft-to-loud dynamic range than LPs.
No. 5: Engineers like using different types of compression to create new sounds to catch the ear. There's nothing wrong with that.
No. 4: People so rarely listen to music in quiet surroundings, they need compression to keep music loud enough to be heard over the noise.
No. 3: If people really didn't like compression, they would stop buying/listening to compressed music (see No. 1).
No. 2: People mistake compression for dynamics; when all the sounds are loud and "punchy," it's called "dynamic." Naturally dynamic music lacks the kick of a compressed mix.
No. 1: Audiophiles like to complain about compressed music, but they actually prefer it.

What do you think? Did he miss any? Is he off the mark?

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Sunday, June 17, 2012

How To EQ Effects

One of the things that many young mixers struggle with is getting reverb and delay effects to blend well in the mix. This happens more with reverbs than delays, especially during those times when the reverb just never seems quite right. Usually the way the problem is addressed is to audition presets until you find something that seems to fit better, but that can take a lot of time and you can end up chasing you're tail very easily where you're never sure which one is the best. What many engineers seem to forget is that most of those presets are the same basic reverb with different EQ settings, which you can add yourself to get there faster.

One of the things that would happen regularly back in the early days of artificial reverb (especially when plates came along but way before digital reverbs) is that one of the ways to tune a reverb was to add an EQ on the send before the actual reverb itself. Usually the EQ was set more to cut than to boost (although you'd boost it if you wanted a bright sounding plate), but if done well, the reverb would suddenly fit a lot better in the track. In fact, back in the classic days of the big studios, this was done in the back room and not left up to the engineer at the console, and it became one of the reasons for clients wanting to work there. They loved the sound of their reverbs.

We can use those same techniques today using reverb plugins on our DAW. Just remember that it usually sounds best if the EQ is placed before the reverb, not after it. Here are 3 EQ curves that I use all the time.

Vocal Reverb EQ image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
Vocal Reverb
One of the things about reverb is any low end just muddies up the track, and high end may stick out too much, that's why we want to roll each end of the frequency spectrum off a bit, in this case at 200Hz and 10kHz. When we're using reverb on vocals, sometimes it fits a lot better if there's also a bit of an EQ scoop in the mid-range around 2kHz where the consonants of the vocal live. It looks like the curve on the left.


Instrument Reverb EQ image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
Instrument Reverb
For instruments, I like the Abbey Road curve, which is what they've used on their reverbs since the 60's. This means that the low end is rolled off at 600Hz and the high end at 10kHz. This curve makes any reverb sound a lot smoother and fit better with the track. You'll find that by adding more reverb, you just increase the depth without it sounding washed out. Off course, too much of a good thing is no good either, so be judicious with the amount you add.


Drum Reverb EQ image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
Drum Reverb
Sometimes reverb on the drums is the toughest of all in that you want depth without calling attention to the ambience. A good way to do that is a variation of the Abbey Road curve where the high end is severely rolled off to 6k, 4k, or ever 2kHz! You'll find that you'll have some depth without the ambience ever calling attention to itself.

While these EQ curves work great with reverbs, don't be afraid to try them with delays as the results are very similar. You'll get depth without hearing much of the delay itself. Of course, if you want to really hear the reverb or delay, go the opposite way and increase the high end and the effect will jump right out of the track.

There are a lot more tips and tricks like this in The Mixing Engineer's Handbook, and you can read some excerpts on my website.

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You should follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

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