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Thursday, November 15, 2012

10 Tips For Better Lyric Writing

Lyrics image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
One thing that really bugs me about many hit songs that have made it to the Top 40 over the years is what seems to be the lack of time spent on the lyrics. So many seem forced or incomplete, almost as if they were written only as an afterthought or because they were a dreaded requirement. Many times they sing okay but are downright painful to read, which is not the case with great lyrics.

This lack of craft doesn't have to be so, and anyone who puts a little time and thought into it can probably beat out the typical Black Eyed Peas lyrics (who are very good at lyrical hooks, but less so with the rest). Robin Yokiko recently wrote a great article regarding the 10 Tips For Better Lyric Writing on the Music Clout blog. Here they are:

"1. Have a theme. Themes don’t make your lyrics boring, they make them cohesive. Think of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and its whimsical sky references (clouds, birds, stars, chimney tops). It’s about world-building that sweeps the listener away.

2. Try to stay away from perfect rhymes. Day and way. Run, fun, sun. They sometimes ring as childish, especially if the context is not interesting enough. Be more adventurous and less strict (fade and wait, mine and kind, crazy and maybe, etc.).

3. Make the context interesting. If you are singing the same old love song, say it in a different way. Build from real memories, real conversation, or unusual metaphors.

4. Put the rhymes in unusual places (internal rhymes, in the middle of phrases). It adds meat to the bones of your song.

5. Change up the rhyme scheme. An example from Pat Pattison, “Mary had a little lamb, fleece was white as snow. And everywhere that Mary went, she sold the fleece to pay the rent.”

6. Put the emphasis on the right syllable. As much as I love Alanis Morissette, she has an annoying habit of misplacing accents, making it incredibly awkward and difficult to understand (“an un-for-TU-nate slight,” instead of “un-FOR-tu-nate” in "Uninvited"). If you are dead-set on a lyric that stresses the wrong syllable, don’t be afraid to change the rhythm to set it right. You can also add or take away unimportant words like “that” or separating contractions. Personally, I know a lyric is right when it sounds as if I could speak it naturally.

7. Make your choruses more general than your verses. This is not a hard rule, but it helps to “change scenes” after your verse.

8. Be ruthless about clich├ęs. Speak your lyrics aloud to spot them. When you find them (and you probably will), try changing only one word to something unexpected.

9. Keep writing different versions of the same section. You can always go back to the original, but you never know what you’ll come up with on try #5.

10. Don’t be afraid of the tools in your arsenal. Get a thesaurus. And a rhyming dictionary.  Even if you don’t use the words you find, they can sometimes inspire other ideas. So can novels, newspapers, facebook updates, and people-watching."

Lyric writing is as an art and true masters are poets. Not everyone can attain such lofty levels, but with a little time and the use of the above tips, it's possible to rise above the mediocre.

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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, November 14, 2012

Rare Michael Jackson Studio Footage

Here's an interesting video compilation of numerous clips of Michael Jackson in the studio. It begins with an Access Hollywood segment, but at around 3:20 it switches to Michael doing overdubs for "We Are The World" which is about as candid as you'll ever get. Take notice how when it's time for MJ to do his overdubs he takes a step back from the mic, an excellent Bruce Swedien technique used to add more depth to the vocal double.

The next part at 5:10 shows MJ doing an amazing human beat box. Bruce once told me that Michael's groove was so strong that you could build a track just around his vocal, and you can see that in play here.

There are a few more clips after that of MJ behind the scenes in the studio which haven't been seen much. No big revelations, but a fun watch nonetheless.



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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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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Basic Guitar Amp Miking Techniques

Audio Recording Basic Training book image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture blog
As you might know, I have a couple of new books and video courses that have just been released. The Audio Mixing Bootcamp and Audio Recording Basic Training books published by Alfred Music Publishing are now available in book stores, music stores and online, and the video version of both books is also available from lynda.com (go here for a free 7 day trial).

The books are designed primarily for the musician who owns some recording gear and just can't seem to get the results they're hoping for. They consist of a series of exercises that shows you why a particular technique works or doesn't. Here's an example from Audio Recording Basic Training regarding the most fundamental technique used to record a guitar amplifier.
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"Electric guitar recording has evolved through the years, from miking the amplifier from a distance, to close miking, to using multiple mics, to recording direct and finally using an amplifier emulator. No one technique is better than another. In fact, multiple techniques are frequently used on the same recording.

Electric guitars don’t have need anything fancy to capture them. The frequency response doesn’t go that high or that low, and the more distorted it is, the fewer transients the signal has, making somewhat easier to capture than other instruments. Has a result, dynamic mics are frequently used with good results. That said, sometimes it’s surprising just how good an amp can sound when a large diaphragm condenser or ribbon mic is used, so don’t be afraid to experiment.

Miking The Amplifier
While many engineers like to use our friend the Shure SM57 in this role, just about any mic can work if you know the sound that you’re looking for and the best way to approach it.

Exercise Pod: Recording The Electric Guitar
E7.1: Miking The Amplifier
A) If there are more than one speaker in the cabinet, listen to them all to find the one that sounds the best. Is one scratchy sounded or distorted? Is one muffled with no high end? Does one have no low end? Find the one with the best balance of frequencies that’s not intentionally distorted.

B) Place the mic about one inch away from the best sounding speaker in the cabinet and about three quarters of the way between the edge of the speaker and the voice coil (away from the voice coil). Have the guitar player play the song you’re about to record and listen on the monitors. Does it sound like what you heard in the room? Is the sound full enough? Is it too edgy? Is it too bassy? 

C) Move the mic towards the voice coil (the center of the speaker - see Figure 7.1)). Is the sound still full? Did it brighter? Did it get bassy?

D) Move the mic towards the outside edge of the speaker. Is the sound still full? Did it brighter? Did it get bassy?

SM57 On Cabinet image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture blog
Figure 7.1: The Classic Setup - An SM57 On The Cabinet
E) Move the mic about at least a foot away from the the speaker or speakers to capture some of the room sound. The ideal distance on a cabinet with two speakers is where the output of both speakers combine (see Figure 7.2). Does it sound bigger? Can you hear the sound of the room in the recording? Can you hear some frequencies cancel out between the two speakers?

F) Move the mic to the side to capture more of the sound of one of the speaker’s voice coils if more high end is required.
Distance Miking image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture blog
Figure 7.2: Distance Miking Where The Speakers Converge
G) Move the mic back to the best sounding position close to the speaker and add an additional mic at the spot where the sound of the speakers converge 18 to 24 inches away (see Figure 7.3). Is the sound still full? Did it get brighter? Did it get bassy? Did it get bigger sounding? Is it closer to what you heard in the room? Is there more of the room sound?

H) Increase the distance to 6 feet if possible. Is the sound still full? Did it brighter? Did it get bassy? Is there more of the room sound?

I) Place both mics at the point where they give the sound closest to what you heard in the room, or what best fits the track when the other instruments are playing."
Close and Distance Miking image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture blog
Figure 7.3: Close and Distance Miking
Go to bobbyowsinski.com to read more excerpts from this and other books.
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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, November 12, 2012

I Hate Concert Sing-Alongs

Singing along image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
I hate concert sing-alongs. I hate participating in them. I hate watching them. I especially hate listening to them. They're a waste of time, but have somehow become an important section of too many shows by even artists with minor hits (or even worse, none at all); the thought being, your show really isn't all that successful if you don't have some audience participation.

Well, let me ask you; Where is it written in the book of band rules that the audience has to sing along with you? Let me help you - it's not there.

Don't get me wrong, there's nothing better than audience participation........when it's voluntary. But when an artist extorts the crowd to sing along, sorry, that's just wrong.

First of all, as an audience member (either live or watching on television or a video), I'm watching and listening to the artist. When an artist asks the audience to sing along we suddenly go from exciting to boring. It's a real showstopper, especially if you're just listening. I want to hear the artist at his or her best, not listen to a bunch of tone-deaf audience members while the artist just stands there feigning interest.

Even though I love the HD concert channel Palladia, I can guarantee that I'll turn the channel the next time there's a sing-along when every camera in the house is on the audience. I could care less that they're singing along. I didn't tune in to watch them. When I'm at the concert, I didn't pay good money to listen to them. I don't much care if they're into a song so much that they'll sing along (which can be really cool, and powerful), I just don't want the artist to stop singing or playing while they do.

And please, don't ask me to sing along if I don't want to. I'll happily join in if I'm into, but don't make me feel like I'm back in grade school, required to follow the teacher. I'm here to enjoy what you do, so do it and don't ask me or anyone else to help.

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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.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

New Music Gear Monday: Ableton Push

Here's a cool "instrument" by Ableton designed primarily for programming a song from scratch called Push. It's a series of pressure, touch and velocity sensitive pads that allow you to quickly program beats, step between sequences, and play notes and chords (although that does seem to take some getting used to if you've been used to a keyboard). Every Push comes with Ableton Live 9 and includes 3 instruments and more than 700 sounds. It should be available at a street price of around $600. Check out the video below or the Push page for more information.



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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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