Thursday, October 18, 2012

U2 "Beautiful Day" Song Analysis

U2 "Beautiful Day" Cover image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture blog
U2 song analysis have always been popular here, and I've done them for both "One" and "Two Hearts Beat As One" in the past, so when reader The Big Matthias asked for an analysis of the band's 2000 hit "Beautiful Day" from their 12 times platinum All That You Can't Leave Behind album, I was glad to oblige. The song won a Grammy for Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, and hit #1 in many parts of the world despite only making it to #21 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. Like with all analysis, we'll look at the song form, the arrangement, the sound and the production.

The Song
“Beautiful Day is like many U2 songs in that they don’t follow what might be considered a standard song form. In this case, there are two bridges, and sometimes the chorus changes melody and arrangement-wise to almost seem like another section. The song form looks like this:

intro ➞ verse ➞ chorus ➞ verse ➞ chorus ➞ bridge 1 ➞
intro ➞ bridge 2 ➞ chorus ➞ bridge 1 ➞ chorus/solo ➞ intro

The Arrangement
This is one of the few songs that has all five arrangement elements (and sometimes even more) simultaneously playing. There are a lot of different sounds that sneak in and out of the verses, but the chorus and bridges are about as dense as can be.

The song starts with a keyboard pad, electric piano and bass outlining the chords, and what sounds like a drum machine kick drum. When the vocal enters after 4 bars, so does a snare drum doubled with a tambourine. After 4 more bars, a guitar enters on the right channel and a keyboard pedal note on the left. On the last 2 bars of the verse, a heavily reverbed background vocal enters on the right.

 For the chorus the band cranks up the vocal with the drums entering in full with a power chord guitar on the left and the same reverbed background vocal on right.

The second verse changes in the bass is now playing 8th notes, driving the beat, with different guitar fills on the right and keyboard fills on the left drifting in and out of the mix. During the second chorus, a new background vocal enters on the right, this time lower in pitch and drier, so it’s more up front.

The same primary instrumentation continues for bridge 1, only drummer Larry Mullen switches his snare pattern to toms. The song then drops in intensity to another 4 bar intro, this time with a modulated guitar on left, and then it’s into bridge 2. 

The first half of bridge 2 lowers in intensity with no drums, the bass playing whole notes, keyboard pads and the Edge playing a guitar arpeggio. The drums enter for the second half, building it up to a chorus, but it’s unusual in that it’s 4 bars of string and keyboard pads and background vocals.

Then we’re back to bridge 1 for a second time with exactly the same instrumentation as the first. It then goes back into a chorus, but only the first line is sung and a guitar solo enters on the right. The outro breaks down to only a tremolo guitar on the left and feedback that pans left to right.

The arrangement elements look like this:
  • The Foundation: bass, drums, drum machine kick, tambourine doubling the snare
  • The Rhythm: Edge’s signature arpeggiated guitar
  • The Pad: various synthesizers
  • The Lead: lead vocal
  • The Fills: back ground vocals, various keyboards and guitars
The Sound
“Beautiful Day” is a very dense mix with many different synth and guitar sounds appearing for short periods of time then disappearing, some never to be heard again. There’s a lot of sonic layering both with reverbs and delays. Edge has always been the master of delays on his guitars, but this song features deep dense reverbs on some of the synths and background vocals.

One of the cooler things is the panning during the song. The keyboards lean left and most of the guitars lean right except for the power chord guitar in the choruses, the arpeggiated guitar in the second bridge and the vibrato guitar at the very end, which is panned left. The background vocals are always on the right side (most unusually), and while Edge’s high vocal is bathed in reverb, Bono’s low vocal is drier and up front.

The drums are very small and tinny sounding (especially the snare), but this might be because that was the only way to fit everything together in such a dense mix with so many elements. The snare also has the tambourine doubling it on the verses, which makes it sound a little thinner than it really is.

Bono’s vocals are dry so he stays in front of the mix and the other song layers.

The Production
“Beautiful Day” has all the hallmarks of a song where overdub after overdub was tried in an effort to come up with something that works, then they decided to keep pieces of everything when it came to mixing. That’s the production trick here, where so many different tracks were able to blend together in the end and not fight one another. 

That said, one of the best things about this record is the dynamics. While most records use different elements entering and exiting to build momentum and dynamic tension and release, “Beautiful Day” uses the plentiful dynamic skills of the band to go from a whisper to a roar. U2 has never been afraid to play quietly, and when you hear the transition from the first verse to the first chorus here, you understand how valuable an asset that is. Since it’s release, “Beautiful Day” has been one of the band’s concert staples, and it’s easy to see why. 



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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Money Behind Fender

Fender logo image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture blog
It's funny how the music economy works. In the 50's through the 70's Wall Street could care less about the music business, but when the CD came out in 1981 and the labels began to resell their catalogs at a big profit, every major label but one (BMG) was gobbled up by a conglomerate. The recorded music business hasn't been the same since.

The same thing sort of happened in the musical instrument business. When every kid bought a guitar through the 60's thanks to the popularity of the British Invasion, suddenly there was a great deal of money in that end of the business. Fender, who was the revenue leader at the time, attracted a buy-out from CBS in 1965, which eventually ended in disaster. In trying to streamline the business, Fender's quality took a dive and it took a long time for guitar players to regain confidence in the company.

What's not known is that Fender was almost out of business by 1980 and had a $10 million loss on only $40 mil of revenue, but then-president Bill Schulz organized a plan for CBS to inject some cash for a new five year product development plan. Three years later, CBS lost interest, and Schulz was able to organize a leveraged buyout for only $12.5 million, but the company was seriously bootstrapped, since it didn't even own a factory at this point. It was still a great brand though, and within 3 years, Fender was in black again.

In 2001 a private investment company, Weston Presidio, bought 50% of Fender, with the idea of eventually taking it public, which is the goal of any venture investor. That almost happened earlier this year, but it was cancelled on the eve of the initial public offering. The company was trying to raise almost $400 million, but there was so little interest from the investment community that the IPO would've looked even worse than the Facebook offering. When investors looked at the MI market, they saw it shrinking, with no room for growth and Fender's market segment saturated.

Fender isn't the only major MI company with a big venture investor though. Did you know that Mitt Romney's Bain Capitol owned Guitar Center until earlier this year? The interesting thing is that this had been a very bad investment for Bain, as they'd been losing money like crazy with GC since the buy-out. You know who owns it now? Weston Presidio! That means the same company owns both Fender and GC.

Here's the thing - the record industry was ruined by Wall Street investors, and it could happen again in the MI part of the business. The one good thing about the fact that the business is shrinking and that means it's less attractive to the Wall Street bunch now. This is a business where love of music and art comes first. It's a place where big money interests doesn't mix.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Robot Piano Player: Funny or Horror Show?

I can't decide whether this is cool or not. It's a combination of a robot and a hologram that plays the piano. You've got to admire the technology involved, but there's something spooky about it (perfect for Halloween though). The interesting thing is that the inventor, Matteo Suzzi, gave his robot Teotronica 19 fingers because he claims that's the perfect number to be able to play any song ever composed. What a shame for humans that we only have 10. That means there are so may songs that can never be played unless you're a robot :).

Check out Teotronica and let me know your take. The website for the company is here, but the text is in Italian.



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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, October 15, 2012

How To Visualize Your Mix

Audio Mixing Bootcamp cover image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture blogAs many of you know, my new Audio Mixing Bootcamp book was recently released. The book is different from The Mixing Engineer's Handbook in that it's aimed at the novice who's just starting to mix, or someone who can't seem to get their arms around the process. It's also completely different from other mixing books in that it's full of concise exercises to get your ears up to speed on what sounds good and what doesn't.

Here's an excerpt from Chapter 4: Balance that gives you some tips on how to visualize your mix even before you've moved the first fader. By the way, there's also a video version of the course that can be found at Lynda.com.
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"Most mixers can hear some version of the final product in their heads before they get too far into the mix. This is because they’ve heard rough mixes of the song many times before during production, but even if a mixer is brought in just for the mix, they listen to all the elements several times before they really get down to mixing.

If you’re just starting out mixing, you might think, “How can I hear the final product before I’ve even begin?” That’s a fair enough question. Until you have a certain amount of experience, you need a few questions to help mold your vision a bit, and the way to do that is to go back to the six mix elements and ask yourself:

How do I hear the final balance?
How do I hear the instruments EQed”
How do I hear everything panned?
How do I hear everything compressed?
How do I hear the ambience in the track?
What do I hear as the most interesting thing in the track?

If you can answer these questions, you may still not have a full picture of your final mix, but you’ll have at least a general idea, which is the first step to a great mix.

Keep in mind that the producer and musicians have a say in the mix as well, and your version of the mix can suddenly take a wide left turn with their input. That’s okay, because after you’ve gotten everything to the point where you hear it in your head (or even beyond), a left turn should be easy.

Exercise Pod: Visualize Your Mix
E4.1: Either listen to a rough mix of the song you’re working on, or quickly just push up all the faders for a rough balance to the song you’re about to mix. Let’s think about the balance.
A) How loud do you hear the drums in the final mix? The bass?
B) Do you hear the vocals out in front, or back in the track?
C) How loud do you hear the primary musical elements that carry the song?
D) How loud do you hear the secondary elements like percussion and background vocals?

E4.2: Now let’s think about the frequency response of the various instruments.
A) Is there an instrument or two that sounds particularly dull?
B) Is there an instrument or two that sounds overly bright?
C) Is there an instrument that has too much bottom end?
D) Is there an instrument that has no bottom end at all?

E4.3: Now let’s think about the panning.
A) How do you hear the drums panned? Wide or narrow?
B) How do you hear the panning of any instruments that were recorded in stereo?
C) Do you hear any instruments panned extreme wide left and right?
D) What instruments do you hear panned up the middle?

E4.4: Now let’s go to compression.
A) Is there an instrument or vocal that has wild dynamic shifts that needs compression?
B) Is there an instrument or vocal that you’d like to change the sound by using compression?
C) Is there an instrument or vocal that needs to sound a little more punchy?

E4.5: Let’s think about the ambience.
A) What instruments were recorded with room ambience or reverb?
B) Do you hear ambience on the drums or snare?
C) What instruments do you hear rather dry and in your face?
D) What instruments do you hear further away from you?

E4.6: Lastly, it’s time to think about the interest.
A) What’s the most important element in the mix?
B) If there isn’t one yet, how can I create one?
C) What’s the next most important element in the mix?
D) What’s the next most important element in the mix?

These aren’t all the questions that you can ask yourself about a mix, but you get the idea. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers. It’s as you visualize it in your head."

To read additional excerpts from The Audio Mixing Bootcamp or my other books, go to the excerpt section at bobbyowsinski.com.

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Sunday, October 14, 2012

New Music Gear Monday: Brian Eno's "Scape"

Not only one of the coolest iPad apps, but one of the coolest sound generation tools that I've seen in a long time is Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers' Scape. What makes it unique is that not only how it allows a user to easily connect different software sound generators and modifiers, but how they interact with one another as well. This interaction means that each time a composition is played, it's unique, but has the same general personality as the original composition.

While Scape seems like the perfect compositional tool for atmospheric/ambient music like Eno's Music For Airports, Discreet Music or his new album Lux, I can see it being used as a pad element for other types of music as well. Regardless of the type of music you create, it's an exciting new way to compose, taking the visual element that table-top software synths have had for a while and elevating the idea to a new level.

Scape is available for $5.99 from the iTunes App Store. You can read more about Scape and other apps from Eno and Chilvers at generativemusic.com.

Here's a great introduction video to how Scape works.



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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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