Thursday, December 6, 2012

AC/DC "Back In Black" Song Analysis

"Back In Black" is by many accounts one of the greatest hard rock songs of all time, and it’s the title track from AC/DC's seminal Back In Black album, an album that’s one of the best sellers of all time (thanks David Gee for the request). This was actually the 6th album by the band, but the first without singer Bon Scott, who had died suddenly, causing the band to briefly consider disbanding. With the newly hired Brian Johnson as their new lead singer and lyricist, and Mutt Lange (who had previously on their Highway to Hell album) set to produce, the band was soon to reach heights that no one could have anticipated. What most people don't know is that Back In Black is the 2nd biggest selling album of all time, with 49 million copies sold world-wide (22 million in the US alone).

THE SONG
"Back In Black" is a very typical rock song form-wise. It uses mostly arrangement techniques to develop the song rather than varying too much from the normal rock song form. It looks like this:

intro ➞ verse ➞ chorus ➞ verse ➞ chorus ➞ verse (solo) ➞ 
chorus ➞ bridge ➞ chorus ➞ verse (solo)

As you can see, there’s basically only two sections - a verse and chorus. The solo happens over a verse, and a different guitar line with a variation on the chord changes of a verse is used to change it into a bridge.

THE ARRANGEMENT
In their typical style, AC/DC keeps this song as pure as possible with almost no overdubs except the lead guitar. First of all, listen to the turn around between 8 bar phrases during the solos. It's still a verse, but it sounds different thanks to this slight change of bass and rhythm guitar. There's nothing added to the 2nd verse to develop it, which is unusual, but it still works great, as do the background answer vocals added to the last chorus.

Arrangement Elements
  • The Foundation: bass, drums and rhythm guitars
  • The Pad: none 
  • The Rhythm: unusual for a rock song, the vocal is in double time to the pulse of the song in the verse so it adds motion 
  • The Lead: lead vocal and solo guitar
  • The Fills: lead guitar between the vocal lines in the verse, background vocal answers in the last chorus
The other thing that's interesting is the dual count off, first with muted guitar strings and then the high-hat. Countoffs are almost always cut off from a song (they're the sure sign of a demo), but here it just adds to the live feel.
THE SOUND
The sound of this record is great - big, pristine, very real and in your face, but there's a lot more going on beneath the surface than it seems. Although the record seems bone dry, the rhythm guitar has a long reverb tail that only appears on the same side (the right channel) and the lead guitar has a short double that's panned to about 1 o'clock of the rhythm guitar side. 

Brian Johnson's vocal is doubled, but the second voice is not at the same level and instead just there for a bit of support. The snare has a nice room ambiance, but also has an ever so slight bit of delayed reverb added to it as well. Angus Young's solo guitar is overdubbed and placed up the middle.

Finally, check out how the guitars are actually more clean than they are distorted, a point that's lost on many a guitar player.

THE PRODUCTION
"Back In Black" is such a band oriented song that except for a few extra parts for support, what you hear on the record is exactly what you hear live. In order to pull this off, the band has to be exceptionally tight during the recording, which AC/DC certainly is.

The thing to listen for is how disciplined the band is. They play only what's necessary, with no extra ghost notes, slides or other things that you'll hear most copy bands play when doing this song. Also note the way the attacks and releases are played by the bass and two guitars. They're perfectly in sync. 

Finally, listen how far behind the beat drummer Phil Rudd is, giving it that tension that the song needs to really work well at that tempo.



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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Music Career Killers

Playing a gig image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
The ever entertaining DIY Musician blog has a post called "Music Career Killers! Sure Ways To Ruin Your Chances For Success" that's worth a read, but I thought I'd zero in one particular item.
"Music Career Killer #13: Playing every crap gig you get offered.
When you first start out you might as well play every show that comes along because this is valuable experience, and can even save you some money on the practice room. This becomes a career killer, though, when you continue to play every bad show that comes along in the hopes that it might just convert one new fan. 
Playing to empty rooms with no pay not only sucks, but it’s also like a cancer to your career because it will destroy your enthusiasm. Next time you get offered a bad show, turn it down and spend the evening connecting working toward getting a killer show. One really good gig is worth a hundred empty venues."
Anyone that's ever gigged a lot knows that there's nothing more disheartening than playing to empty rooms gig after gig. It might not be your fault at first, since maybe the only slot you can get is midnight on a Tuesday, but sooner or later this turns into a downward spiral that's tough to break out of.

The problem is that playing to empty houses allows you to slip into to bad habits both as a band and as a player that can be hard to snap out of later. You can easily start to run through the motions and slip out of a professional show just to keep things interesting, and then it's usually down-hill from there.

What's true is that even if there's only one person in the audience, you should play it as if there are 10,000, but that gets harder and harder the more empty gigs you play.

A story that I like to tell is about going to a club to listen to a band and there were only 7 people in the audience. Unbeknownst to the band, one was a major manager, another was a big agent, and the third was a major PR person; the other 3 people were friends of the band. The band sleepwalked through the set, leaving absolutely no impression on some people that might have been able to change their career had they played up to their capabilities.

So take Music Career Killer #13 to heart and resist playing any crappy gig just to play (unless your starting out). One gig truly can be worth a hundred empty venues.
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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, December 4, 2012

Dave Grohl's "Sound City" Documentary

For those of you who've never been around the LA recording scene, you probably don't know about Sound City Studios. This was a sort of dumpy studio in an industrial part of town about as far away from the glamour of Hollywood that you can get, yet some of the best records of all time were made there. Artists like Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails, Cheap Trick, Elton John, Metallica, Foo Fighters, and so many more legendary artists made some of the greatest rock recordings of all time at the studio.

Unfortunately the studio closed about a year ago, but its memory lives on thanks to a new documentary by Foo Fighter's frontman and Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl called appropriately enough "Sound City." The film will debut at the Sundance Film Festival, but a trailer for it was just released, which you can see below. I can't wait!



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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, December 3, 2012

How To Play Funk

Here's a great clip from Herbie Hancock's Rock School series about how to play funk. It features some greats like Larry Graham, Bootsy Collins and Nile Rogers as they show in slow motion how to bring the funk. Rock School ran on PGS from 1985 through 1988.



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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.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

New Music Gear Monday: The Yamaha/Steinberg Nuage

People that work on Nuendo absolutely love it, as well they should. It has a slick user interface and it sounds great. One of the things that the platform has sorely needed was a worksurface as good as the software, something that Steinberg, then Yamaha has struggled with. That now may be over with the introduction of Nuage (which is French for cloud).

Nuage is an integrated system comprised of worksurfaces, a Master Control unit, analog and digital IO, and a PCI network card. It's designed to work at up to 128 channels of 192k/24 bit source audio, which while impressive, is overkill since Yamaha says the unit is directed at post, which is a 48k/24 bit world.

Take a look at the video. Nuage is slick and you get the feeling that you can just jump right in and work. The price is said to be $18,000 to $30,000, depending upon the configuration, which might be a little too pricey for the American market. I'm sure we'll learn more at NAMM in January. Visit the Nuage page for more info.




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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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