Thursday, August 16, 2012

The History Of Headphones

There are a few basic and critical audio devices that haven't changed much almost from their original conception despite huge advances in general technology. I'm talking about microphones and speakers. Sure, they've evolved and become more linear and efficient, but the basic concept is still the same as it ever was.

Since headphones are basically near field speakers placed over the ears, they fall into the same category, but there certainly has been a lot of evolution through the years. Cool Material recently ran a great article on the history of headphones. Here's an excerpt, but be sure to catch the full article on their site.





1881 – Way before MP3s, dubstep and premium Spotify accounts, headphones had little to do with music at all. Back in the 1880’s, the first headphones (or at least their early ancestors) were used by telephone operators. It was a single earpiece that rested on the user’s shoulder and weighed over 10 pounds (kinda like placing a boombox on your shoulder).Source 










1910 – Nathaniel Baldwin began manufacturing the first modern headphones. He crafted them in his kitchen and sold them all to the U.S. Navy. This was the first time a pair of cans resembled something you’d see today. Baldwin never patented them, however, because he was an idiot. Source








1958 – John C. Koss changed the headphone game in a way that would make Dr. Dre jealous. In 1958, Koss created the first stereo headphones (Koss SP-3) and launched an all out assault on awaiting ear canals. Over the next few decades, Koss would come to dominate the headphone industry, and he would do it all without the need for a pesky college education. Source










1980’s – For the man who was prone to headphone hair, the 80’s offered the first solutions. Both the earbud and the in-ear headphone made their way onto the scene in the 80’s even though they wouldn’t reach their peak in popularity until one Steven Paul Jobs changed the music game years later. Source









2001 – The iPod changed up the whole music universe. It became common to see people with a white cord running from their pocket to their ears multiple times a day. From their inception in 2001 to today, over 300 million iPods have been sold all with the accompanying pair of earbuds. Source












2012 – Headphones have become as much about style as they are sound quality. This may never have been more relevant than when Lil Wayne wore these $1 million dollar pair of Beats. Source


There are more than just these examples so be sure to check out the entire article here.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What Is A Producer?

Music Producer's Handbook cover image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
The term "producer" sometimes confuses people. What exactly does that mean? What does a producer do? Here's a short excerpt from The Music Producer's Handbook that explains the many responsibilities that a typical music producer has.

"Everyone on the production team usually has a pretty clear-cut job description except for the producer. Everybody knows what a drummer or guitar player or singer does because it’s pretty obvious. An engineer selects and places the microphones, gets sounds, records and balances them, and is in charge of the technical aspects of recording. Songwriters create the rhythm, melody and lyrics to the song (although occasionally that can get a little nebulous as well). But if you were asked the question, “What does a producer do?”, you might be hard pressed to come up with a specific answer.

It’s easy to see why many musicians can’t answer that question because producers in music, television and film take on so many roles. Some are honorary and some are extremely hands-on creatively, yet a producer does his job mostly out of the public eye so those duties aren’t in our every day consciousness.

But a music producer in the most basic description is different from his similarly named film and television counterparts (where a “line” producer and “coordinating” producer are specific jobs), because the producer on a musical project is many job descriptions rolled into one.

He’s the creative director. Just like the director on a movie has the overall vision for that movie and is the boss on the set, so is the producer in the studio. The producer sees the big picture in terms of how all the songs of the album fit together into a cohesive package, but can also control the day to day minutiae of how a part is played or even what the notes are in that part and how they’re played.

He’s a diplomat. A big part of the producer’s job is to bring harmony to the creative process so that everyone can create at their very highest level. Although some producers have used terror as a method to get what they want (the legendary Phil Spector for one), most successful producers make everyone feel safe about contributing and make the environment comfortable for creativity.

He’s a decision maker. A good producer will be the final decision maker in any creative argument (especially between band members). Even if the producer defers to the artist’s creative vision (which most producer’s will do), it’s still his decision to defer.

He’s a go-between. The producer keeps the pressure from a record label or the outside world away from the artist or band while making the record. In some cases, he may speak for the artist during a session with studio musicians, and generally shield the artist from anything she might deem uncomfortable.

He’s a financier. The producer is responsible for the budget. He makes the deals with the studio, engineer, mixer, mastering studio, rentals, studio musicians, arrangers, songwriters, food delivery and anything else that might need to be negotiated or paid. In some cases, he’ll also administer union contracts and submit cue sheets as well.

He’s a casting director. A good producer will choose the right group of musicians to get the feel that the artist is looking for, which might change from song to song. He might even help choose material for the artist that best showcases her musical attributes.

He’s a project manager. A good producer knows just what needs to be accomplished in a given amount of time and for a given budget. His job is to turn in the project on-time and on or under budget and he must manage each project accordingly.

He’s the “bus driver.” No matter how or on what level a producer is involved, he’s the one that sets the direction for the project. He determines the artist’s artistic vision and helps her achieve it, or may even help her find it with a vision of his own. Either way, he’s the leader that everyone will follow. He “drives the bus.”

He’s the one responsible. In the eyes of the record label and artist, the success of the project is the direct responsibility of the producer. Although the public will judge the artist on the project, ultimately how it turns out falls squarely on the producer’s shoulders."


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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.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Making An Emergency Flash Drive

flash drive image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture music production blog
I recently read an article on Gizmodo about creating an emergency flash drive and it dawned on my how valuable that could be for touring musicians. This is not so much an emergency drive for any programs you use (although that's a great idea), it's for your personal information in case you're incapacitated, so it should be marked as such. That way, police, doctors, EMTs or anyone else in the position to help you have a quick and easy way of doing so.

What you're going to do is get a small 1 Gig or so flash drive and split it into two halves; open and encrypted. On the open side, create the following:
  • A plaintext .txt doc titled 'EMERGENCY' with your name, address and nationality, complete with  contact info in English, Spanish, and any local language of countries you might be visiting, as well as phone numbers of family, spouse or partner, band leader, tour manager, management, and anyone else appropriate.
  • A credit card file with contact info of all of your credit cards. Don't include the actual card numbers, expiration dates or CVV numbers though.
  • A "MEDICAL" file listing your medications, drug or food allergies, and your physician's contact info. Also clearly mark "I HAVE HEALTH INSURANCE" on it with all the numbers and contact info (assuming you have it, of course).
  • A scan of your insurance card, front and back.
On the encrypted section (the article suggests TrueCrypt), include:
  • A scanned copy of each of your credit and debit cards.
  • The contact info, routing number and account number of your bank accounts.
  • Scanned copies or digital photos of your passport and driver's license.
  • If you're travelling with a laptop, smartphone or tablet (who doesn't these days), include the serial numbers and passwords for each.
  • And finally, the contact info and passwords for any critical apps or plugins that you use.
You want to keep your emergency drive safe, so it has to be small enough to either hang around your neck or easily fit in your pocket. After all, it doesn't do you much good if it was in your backpack and that's what was stolen in the first place.

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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, August 13, 2012

The Beatles "Something" Isolated Bass And Drums

Here's a wonderful insight into the backbone of The Beatle's ever enduring success, a listen to the isolated rhythm section of Ringo Starr on drums and Paul McCartney on bass. This is as solid and as creative a combination as modern music has ever seen. As you listen to just the bass and drums of "Something," be aware of the following:

1) Listen to how far behind the beat Ringo's snare is. He plays the song every bit the way a blues drummer would. Actually, "Something" uses somewhat of a blues song form, with 10 bars instead of the the normal 12.

2) Ringo doesn't play a high hat during the verse. It's just kick and snare. You hear the ride cymbal during the guitar solo section, and the hat only during the very last B-section of the song.

3) Listen to the constant tom fills during the bridge. It's easy to overlook this when all the instruments are in the mix.

4) Listen to how improvised the bass part is. The only part that seems written is the B-section ("I don't want to leave her now").

5) The sounds of both the bass and drums are great; big and round sounding with plenty of definition. This was done on the solid state TG console at Abbey Road Studios that no one particularly liked the sound of, but it holds up very well as compared to what came after.

If you'd like to read more about recording The Beatles and Abbey Road Studios, check out Ken Scott's book Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust.




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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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Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Secret To A Great Arrangement


How To Make Your Band Sound Great cover image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know that I try to do an in depth analysis of a hit song every week or so. One of the things that I emphasize in the analysis is how important the arrangement is to a hit, and I always break those arrangement elements down to show just they work within the song. Here's a detailed explanation of the arrangement elements and how their interaction is the key to really making an arrangement work. 

This excerpt comes from my How To Make Your Band Sound Great book, but I've also written similar sections in The Mixing Engineer's Handbook and The Music Producer's Handbook as well because it's one of the most important musical concepts that a musician, songwriter, engineer or producer can learn.

"Ever have a song that really works when it’s a piano or guitar and vocal, but just doesn’t seem to cut it when the whole band gets hold of it? That’s because one of the biggest problems with songs that don’t end up sounding as good as they do in your head is because of some common arranging mistakes. Arranging is an art form just like everything else in the music business so it does take some talent and experience to get a song to really click, but you can easily avoid some of the common pitfalls by observing the pointers below.

Most well conceived arrangements are limited in the number of elements that occur at the same time. An element can be a single instrument like a lead guitar or a vocal, or it can be a group of instruments like the bass and drums, a doubled guitar line, a group of backing vocals, etc. Generally, a group of instruments playing exactly the same rhythm is considered an element. Examples: a doubled lead guitar or doubled vocal is a single element, as is a lead vocal with two additional harmonies singing the same melody. If the bass plays very tightly with the kick and snare, that can be a single element too. Two lead guitars playing different parts are two elements, however. A lead and a rhythm guitar are two separate elements as well. So what’s an element then?

Arrangement Elements
There are 5 elements in every arrangement.
Foundation: The Rhythm Section. The foundation is usually the bass and drums, but can also include a rhythm guitar and/or keys if they’re playing the same rhythmic figure as the rhythm section. Occasionally, as in the case of power trios, the Foundation element will only consist of drums since the bass will usually have to play a different rhythm figure to fill out the sound, so it becomes it’s own element.

Pad: A Pad is a long sustaining note or chord. In the days before synthesizers, a Hammond organ provided the most often used pad and was later joined by the Fender Rhodes electric piano. Synthesizers now provide the majority of pads but real strings or a guitar power chord can also suffice.

Rhythm: Rhythm is any instrument that plays counter to the Foundation element. This can be a double time shaker or tambourine, a rhythm guitar strumming on the backbeat, or congas playing a Latin feel. The Rhythm element is used to add motion and excitement to the track.

Lead: A lead vocal, lead instrument, or solo.

Fills: Fills generally occur in the spaces between Lead lines, or can be a signature line like the intro to Coldplay’sClocks” or The StonesSatisfaction”. You can think of a Fill element as an answer to the Lead.

Where Things Go Wrong
The biggest problem with most arrangements that don’t work is that they have too many elements happening at the same time. You can’t have 4 percussion elements, 5 guitar elements, 3 keyboard elements, a rhythm section and lead and background vocals and not get physically tired from listening because there’s just too much going on!

The mind unconsciously longs for simplicity and rewards a simple arrangement with attention, which is what we want to have happen, of course. But what does simplicity mean?

You should never have more than 4 elements occurring at the same time. You can get away with 5 every once in a while, but 4 is usually the max. “But there’s usually more than 4 instruments playing in most things I listen to these days,” you say? Yes, but they’re usually playing the same parts. For instance, if you have a doubled guitar part with a 3rd track playing the same part an octave above, that’s 3 instruments playing only 1 part, so that counts as only 1 element. If a guitar is doubling a bass line, that’s only 1 element. If you have a lead vocal that’s doubled with another vocal an octave above, that’s still only 1 element. A symphony orchestra may have 120 instruments, but when you break it down they’re all just playing a limited number of elements. Eventually, everything comes down to 4 of the 5 elements mentioned above."

Keep these tricks in mind and your songs will sound better and so will your recordings too! More on arrangement in an upcoming post. To read more excerpts from How To Make Your Band Sound Great and other books, go to my website at bobbyowsinski.com.

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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.

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