Take Your Mixes To The Next Level

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Jimi Hendrix "Bold As Love" Behind The Scenes

Here's another outtake from the great Jimi Hendrix American Masters documentary shown on PBS last year. This one shows my buddy engineer Eddie Kramer, Jimi's manager and producer Chas Chandler, drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding describing the making the "Bold As Love," the title song for the band's Axis: Bold As Love album.

You'll hear some great isolated tracks as well as very cool recoding story about the song from Eddie. Sorry, but you have to sit through a commercial before the clip begins.



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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Let's Stamp Out Bad Lyrics

Writing Lyrics image
For songwriters, many times lyrics get a pass. If you have a great hook, catchy melody, and solid arrangement and production, listeners and fans can take even the most banal lyrics with a grain of salt. It may be too much to expect great poetry from today's writers, but we can expect they at least spend some time trying to come up with more than "moon - June" and "down - frown."

A wonderful post on NPR blogs by James Toth put a spotlight on some lyrics by current artists that will make you cringe when read without the music.

"Afterparty in a hotel room
Pretty soon there will be no moon

—The Black Keys, "The Go Getter"
"You know I'm bad at communication 
It's the hardest thing for me to do
And it's said it's the most important part 
That relationships go through
And I gave it all away just so I could say that
Well I know, I know, I know, I know
That you're gonna be OK anyway."

—Haim, "The Wire"
"Turn around and no one's there
Don't know why I even care
Moods, they swing, the seasons change
Is it you or am I to blame?
I always complain ...
Before I can stay inside
Oh, how fast the time goes by
Take a pill, spend the bills,
Seems to be the way I get my thrill
A never-ending hill."

—Best Coast, "Why I Cry"
"It started storming, storming
So early in the morning
It started storming, storming
So early in the morning
I received no warning
Now that's heartwarming
Alright, the weather's boring

—Sleigh Bells, "You Don't Get Me Twice"
And I don't know why 
The sun's in the sky
The rain, it falls down
Down on to the ground.

- Bethany Cosentino, "I Don't Know How"

The irony is that the albums that these songs are from are all well-regarded and received high marks in a variety of music publications. I'm sure that dozens of other examples can be cited, especially from the top 40 on any given week.

The point is, songwriting consists of two parts - music and lyrics. Is it too much to ask that a writer put more effort into a song so it actually says something and even slightly rises above the 3rd grade poetry level? Not everyone can be a Lennon and McCartney, or a Bob Dylan or a Paul Simon or a Hal David (or any of the other great lyricists of our time), but it's not too much to ask to try a bit harder, please. Read the original post here.
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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

3 Arrangement Tips To Prevent Guitar Clashes

2 Electric Guitars image
We love our electric guitars. Most musicians can play at least a little bit of one, and when it comes to recording or live, it's pretty normal to find a least a couple of guitar parts in an arrangement and on stage. The problem is that it's pretty easy for guitars to clash with one another because they can easily live in the same frequency range. While we can and should make sure that the sound of each guitar is different first off (here's a post on how to do that), there are a few basic arrangement tips that can keep the guitars out of each other's way while providing a bigger sound. Here's an excerpt from my How To Make Your Band Sound Great book that outlines the process.

"Most bands have more than one guitar player, so it’s important to learn how to refine your sound so your band sounds big and fat instead of loud and thin. As I said above, your tone controls on your amp are the first place to start to carve your sound so that it’s not covered up by the other guitar (or other band instruments for that matter), or that you don’t cover anyone up either.

But with two guitar players in the band you have to take things to the next level. You have to make sure that the songs are arranged so the guitars stay out of each other’s way. If you listen closely to just about any recording by a popular artist you’ll see that this is just what’s happened in the studio already. If you can hear within the song (which isn’t always easy with certain types of music or MP3’s), this is what you’ll hear.

1. Each guitar plays something completely different. One guitar might be playing be playing full chords while the other is playing a line like The Eagles’ Already Gone.

2. Each guitar plays in different registers or voicings. If one guitar is playing an A chord on the 2nd fret, the 2nd guitar is playing it on the 5th fret. If one guitar is playing a line on the 5th and 6th strings, the 2nd guitar is playing the same thing only up an octave on the 1st and 2nd strings. Once again, Lenny Kravitz Are You Goin’ My Way is a prefect example.

3. Each guitar plays a different rhythm. If one guitar is playing long sustained chords (called “power chords” or in the studio, “footballs” because they’re whole notes that look like footballs when transcribed), the second one is playing a faster rhythm like quarter or eighth notes, again like the intro to Already Gone.

If you playing in a cover band, you’ve got to start listening extra closely into the arrangement to hear these different lines, rhythms and voicings. This is where a high quality playback system and a CD really comes in handy because sometimes you just can’t hear the detail on an MP3.


If your band is writing your own songs you’ll find that if you employ these techniques, the guitars will lay in better with the track and better support the vocals and rhythm section and make the song a lot more interesting to boot."

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Monday, February 3, 2014

A Visit With Nashville's "A Team"

The A Team image
Those in the know about the studio business of the past frequently talk about studio bands like LA's Wrecking Crew and Detroit's Funk Brothers with great reverence, as well they should. These were some great musicians who were responsible for the soundtracks of our lives, even today to some degree. A studio band frequently overlooked in the conversation is Nashville's "A Team," a group of musicians who made the sound of country music what it was in the 50s through the 70s.

Here's a great video of the 5 remaining members (guitarist Harold Bradley, guitarist Ray Edenton, multi-instrumentalist Charlie McCoy, bassist Bob Moore, and keyboardist Hargus "Pig" Robbins) during a photo shoot at the end of 2013. The shoot was at the famous RCA Studio B and the band discusses recording with Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, and Bob Dylan, among other things.



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You should follow me on Twitter and Facebook 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, February 2, 2014

My Top 10 Equalizers

Much to my surprise, it seems that people actually care about my favorite gear, since the response to both my favorite compressors and mic pres was so great. As a result, I thought it was time for another "My Favorite" post, this time about my top 10 equalizers. These are hardware or plugin EQs that I find myself reaching for during the course of most mixes.

Remember, gear choices are very personal, so what I like might not work for you, or in web gear parlance, YMMV (your mileage may vary). Even though the following are numbered, the order will change for me all the time. Here we go:

API 560 EQ image
API 560
1. API 560: This is the most musical graphic equalizer ever built, in my opinion. If you can't make something sound good with another choice, this one always seems to work for me. It just has a sound. I love it on bass especially, but it works great on snare as well.

2. Maag EQ4: It you need sparkle and/or girth on a track or even the entire mix, the Maag is the way to go. Even in the midrange, it can help define a mix element in a way that you might not expect. This is the one I go to if the bottom end needs some help.

3. Manley Massive Passive: This is my go-to plugin for vocals. It can add sparkle and heft to a vocal done even on an SM58 in a way that few others can. It's perfect for carving out space in the mix for a track.

Pro Tools Digirack EQ 3 image
Digirack EQ 3
4. Pro Tools Digirack EQ 3: If I can't get the sound with any other EQ, I know that I can always come back to the Digirack and make it work. Plus, if your computer starts to run out of horsepower and you can't add any other plugins, there's always room for a few more EQ 3's. I find that I use this one on guitars and things that live in the mid-range because it's perfect for carving out space where multiple tracks have to live together. I also use this all the time on effects to make them sit in the track better, and for the filters, which I use on almost every track.

5. Harrison 32C: I was never a big fan of the console, but I sure do like the plugin. Once again, I find that I use this on instruments with a lot of mid-range or top end information. The only drawback is that it works a little too much like the real thing in that the control increments aren't detented.

PSP McQ Channel Strip image
PSP McQ Channel Strip
6. PSP McQ: I love PSP plugins in general, but this one really works for me when juggling frequencies in the mix. If two instruments are clashing, chances are that the McQ can keep them out of each other's way. You don't need to add or subtract much for it to work.

7. Pro Tools Digirack EQ 3 single band: I use filters a lot, and I mean on almost every track. If a track is working in the mix without any EQ, the first thing I'll reach for is this handy filter to get rid of any unneeded low or high frequencies that just clog up the mix.

8. API 550A: A number of companies make this plugin and they all have basically the same flavor. I grew up with API consoles so I'm partial after using it for so long, but this equalizer is definitely unique and can be surprisingly precise. I love it on the drums, especially toms.

Trident A Range Equalizer image
Trident A Range
9. Trident A Range: I worked on an A Range on a number of projects so I know what it's supposed to sound like, and while the feel of the UA model is a little different, I do like the sound of it. Once again, this is something that has a definite sound that won't work on all types of music (at least for me), but there's an aggression that I love, especially on drums again, and bass.

10. Little Labs VOG: The VOG is meant to either add girth or help define the bottom end of instruments that live in that frequency area like kick and bass. It's not something I use all the time, but it's really helpful when you need it.

There's a number of others worthy of the list, but I'll stop here for now. Let me say that I haven't tried everything out there, as I don't collect plugins nor try new ones as long as I have ones that work well for me, so I probably have overlooked many fine units/plugins. But if you want to know what I use, this is the list. Tell me what you use!
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You should follow me on Twitter and Facebook 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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