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Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Who "Behind Blue Eyes" Isolated Band Tracks

Who's Next Alternate Album Cover
Here's another iconic song that can be heard daily on classic radio - The Who's "Behind Blue Eyes" from their album Who's Next. The first video lets you hear the band minus the vocals, except for some of the background vocal leakage.

There are a lot of individual things to listen to, but take note that the basic track of the song has very few production tricks. It's just guitar, bass and drums, with the only thing added is the electric guitar in the bridge.

I've also included the full album version of the song below as well, since that has a lot of things to listen for, especially after hearing the isolated tracks. Here's what to listen for in the isolated track video.
1. Listen for the intensity and dynamics of the acoustic guitar. Pete Townsend doesn't play all at one level; he's varying his playing intensity with the song.

2. On the isolated version, when the bridge kicks in with the drums, bass and electric guitar, the acoustic drops out, which doesn't happen in the final version.

3. The stereo drums that you hear on the bridge sound like just two kit mics, and the third kick or front mic is missing from the mix (engineer Glyn Johns used an interesting 3 mic setup to record the stereo drums). The drums also sound like they're out of phase in this mix.

4. Listen for the electric guitar parts on the outro that don't appear on the final version.



Now let's take a listen to the final version of the song.
1. Notice the panning. The acoustic guitar is on the right side, while the bass shades to the left with the harmony vocals. There are doubled harmony vocals on the right side on some sections, but the left side is favored to keep the mix balanced.

2. Listen to the long delayed reverb on the vocals and guitar, which also leans to the left. The verb has virtually no high end, which is also interesting.

3. The electric guitar enters on the bridge on the left side, while the acoustic stays on the right. The background vocals on the bridge switch to the right side. The drums lean just a bit to the left side, once again to keep the final mix in balance.

What a classic!


If you're interested in song analysis like this, check out my Deconstructed Hits books.
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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

2 Recording Myths Busted

Safe Digital Recording image
When digital recording first came on the scene, many engineers had a difficult time making the switch from analog because the philosophy on how to record the cleanest sound had changed. The meters were different, for one thing, so setting the correct recording level was sometimes a question. Later when digital recording became more sophisticated and refined, the philosophy on how to get the the best sound changed yet again. Here's an excerpt from my PreSonus StudioLive Mixer Handbook that busts a couple of myths about digital recording levels as well as give a short history of how they came to be.

"Over the years, some misconceptions about meter level readings have arisen which have left many confused on just what the correct level should be, so let’s bust a couple of myths.

Myth #1: You have to record at close to 0 dB FS for it to sound good. For the most part, you do not have to record with the level close to 0 dB (the highest it will go before the red overload indicator lights) on today’s digital gear. If your signal peaks are between -6 and -10 dB or even lower on the channel meter, it will sound fine (see the graphic on the left). In the early days of digital recording, a meter reading close to 0 dB actually was necessary in order to keep the noise to a minimum because of the 8 and 16 bit resolution that was being used, but modern 24 bit recording no longer has this limitation. 

Myth #2: If I record at a lower level, the signal will be noisy. Again, this is untrue. You can easily record digitally at a lower level without directly introducing any noise into the recorded signal by the recording process. This myth actually comes from the analog tape days, where the magnetic tape medium itself had a level of self-noise in it. If you recorded too low, you’d begin to hear the tape noise, but that doesn’t happen in the digital world.

Now what can happen is that if everything you record is at -30 dB, you’ll have to increase the gain somewhere later when you’re mixing, and that may introduce some noise and you won’t be taking advantage of the digital medium’s dynamic range. Because StudioLive is a digital mixer, you can actually almost get away with doing this, which isn’t possible in the analog world. Still, if you keep the levels in the -10 to -6 dB range, you’ll have the best of all worlds, with lots of level, dynamic range and headroom."

Don't forget that the above applies to recording levels only. It's most likely that these levels will need to be boosted in the mix or at mastering, although it's always a good idea to be conservative with your levels (let the mastering engineer do the boosting). Also, take a look at this post regarding the new loudness measurement standards.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Jay-Z Tape Extortion Opens A Digital Can Of Worms

Jay-Z image
Last week it was all over the news that some Jay-Z master tapes from the early 2000s were at the center of an alleged extortion plot where the holder of the tapes was asking for a significant amount of money to ensure their return. Because Jay-Z is such a major artist, this garnered a lot of national news, but the fact of the matter is that the circumstances surrounding the tapes is something fairly common, and it exposes a lack of musical inventory control that is only going to get worse now that we’re firmly in the age of digital music production.

To recap, engineer Chauncey Mahan, who worked for Jay-Z from 1998 to 2004, allegedly had in his possession the master tapes from some of the rapper’s biggest sellers, including Vol. 3: The Life And Times Of S. Carter, and The Dynasty: Roc La Familia. Engineer Mahan contacted Team Jay-Z and supposedly told them that he had the tapes in storage but couldn’t pay for it any longer and wanted $100,000 to cover his back expenses. Team Jay-Z took that to mean that he was holding the tapes for a $100k ransom. Both parties settled on a fee of $75,000 and when they met up at a storage unit in Northridge, CA, the police were also there to confiscate the tapes, but they made no arrests while doing so.

I have no idea if there are untruths being told or if one of the parties misunderstood the circumstances, but I do know why this might lead to rather murky situation. First of all, back in the days when everything was recorded on digital or analog tape, a project from a major artist could easily run into several hundred reels of 1 inch (digital) or 2 inch (analog) tape. Each tape would store three or four recorded song takes (depending upon the length of the song), and over the course of the six months to a year the project took to complete, every tape was kept and usually none were erased. The resulting number of tapes from several album projects could easily fill up a large storage area that could cost $500 per month or so, especially if it was climate controlled. Multiply that by the ten years that the tapes were stored and you have at least $60,000 in storage costs. While the extra money requested might be for time and labor involved, you can see why that figure might be in the ballpark.

But how does an engineer come into possession of master tapes said to be valued between $10 to 15 million (I doubt that’s the real value but that’s for another post)? The music industry has always been very laissez-faire when it comes to master tapes. Once a project is over, producers move on to the next project and the artist hits the road on tour. The last thing they want to think about is left-over master tapes, especially the ones that have all those takes that weren't used. Often times master tapes are just left in the studio collecting dust until the studio gets tired of them taking up space and begins to call everyone even loosely connected with the project to tell them that they’ll throw the masters in the trash if they’re not removed, and sometimes that’s what actually happens. Many of the master tapes to some of the worlds greatest hits have been relegated to the trash heap because no one cared enough to claim them. Read more on Forbes.
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Monday, April 28, 2014

This Guitarist Has 78 Fingers

The Japanese love robots more than maybe any other culture, and they love music too. Put them both together and you have guitar player with 78 fingers that leads a robot band. You have to admit that this is pretty amazing though. Watch Squarepusher x Z-MACHINES and, on some level, be amazed.


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Sunday, April 27, 2014

New Music Gear Monday: Trident Audio 88 Console

Those of us who have worked in studios during the big console era have a soft spot in our hearts for those massive hunks of iron, but with so much of the audio business now centered around the DAW, consoles have fallen out of favor as the centerpiece of the studio. That's why it's always interesting when a new console is introduced, which brings us to the new Trident Audio Developments 88.

The Trident 88 is a modular split inline console, meaning that it has a monitor section on each module as well as the subgroups (the traditional Trident format). It also looks a lot like the venerable Series 80, which gave many a rock record its sound, with many of the same features (like the EQ layout) of that desk.

Best of all, the 88 is available in 16, 24 or 32 input configurations, but the output busses are limited to 8 (you can use the channel direct outs, of course). A 24 input version goes for about $26,000, which is quite reasonable considering what you're getting.

One of the things that's not available is DAW control though, which might be a deal-breaker for some. That said, this could be a perfect fit for a tracking studio or school as the price is right and the features are rich. Go to Trident Audio to find out more about the 88.

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