Take Your Mixes To The Next Level

Friday, May 1, 2015

Led Zeppelin "Kashmir" Song Analysis

Led Zeppelin "Kashmir" song analysis image
I haven't done a song analysis for quite a while as I've been saving them up for some new editions of my Deconstructed Hits series. Here's a preview from Classic Rock Volume 2. It's "Kashmir," one of Led Zeppelin's most iconic songs.

"Of all the songs recorded by Led Zeppelin, “Kashmir” may be the most highly regarded. Considered to be the peak musical achievement by all four members of the band, the song was a radio staple from when it was released (even with 8:28 running time) until this day.

“Kashmir” was originally titled “Driving to Kashmir” and reflects a time when guitarist/producer Jimmy Page and vocalist Robert Plant were driving through the Saharan Desert on their way to play the National Festival of Morocco. The song carries Moroccan musical influences, despite Kashmir actually being a province of India, a country half a world away.

This was one of the few songs by the band that featured outside musicians, as uncredited string and horn players were brought in to provide the power that only an orchestra can provide. The song actually took three years to complete, as it started out on a home recorded work tape of Page. The song is only credited to three of the four band members as bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones was late getting to the studio when the song was being worked out.

The Song
Few Led Zeppelin songs follow the traditional rules of popular songwriting, and “Kashmir” is no exception. The verses are principally in 6/8 time but the drums play in a 4/4 rhythm against it, yet instrumental choruses and bridges come back to 4/4 so the song seems anchored and closer to what we’re used to hearing. Plus, there’s no traditional vocal chorus, as only the orchestral riff at the end of each verse acts like a chorus.

Even though the song might be considered a dirge by some, the lyrics are fairly positive and uplifting, being set around the idea of life as an adventure. The verses are written as poetry with few forced rhymes (save for the second verse, which feels unfinished), but the bridges are somewhat contrived and seem almost like they were improvised or tacked on at the last minute. The form looks like this:

intro | verse | chorus | intro (1X) | verse | chorus | intro (1x) | chorus | bridge 1 | chorus | bridge 2 | intro (2X) | verse | intro (1X) | verse | chorus | intro (1x) | chorus | bridge (fade)

The Arrangement
“Kashmir” has an arrangement as interesting as the song demands. The song is very long because the sections repeat multiple times (except for bridge 1 that only happens once in the song), but we don’t lose interest not only because of the power of the orchestra, but because of the subtle arrangement changes.

The intro and verse are the same instrumentally with the guitar on the left, strings on the right and drums up the middle, except for the vocal entering on the verse. The instrumental chorus has an additional guitar doubling the line on the right, and horns in the center.

The second verse is identical to the first except a string counter line enters, with the basses holding the lowest note on the right side. The second chorus is the same as the first except for the strings doubling the guitar on the left.

The first bridge is entirely different from the rest of the song in that it’s much more open and funky, especially the drums. The elements remain the same as the chorus, with the second string line on the left doubling the guitar original guitar line, and Page’s guitar now playing harmony to it. The next chorus is identical in arrangement to the previous one.

The second bridge sees the Mellotron strings playing a high line on the left and the lower strings from the orchestra playing a different, almost answering line on the right, with the horns punctuating the accents.

The third verse is identical to the second, except that low horns answer the end of the string counter phrase. The next chorus is the same as the previous, as is the last verse and chorus, except for the last time through the pattern when low strings fill out the sound.

The final bridge sees the Mellotron strings begin on the right, punctuated by horns at the end of each line. After 4 bars, a new ascending line enters with the orchestra strings on the left and Mellotron on the right, accompanied by much more active drumming, including fills at the end of each string line.

Arrangement Elements

  • The Foundation: bass and drums
  • The Rhythm: none
  • The Pad: strings and horns, Mellotron (bridge 2)
  • The Lead: lead vocal
  • The Fills: strings and horns
The Sound
The mix balance of “Kashmir” is very interesting as it centers around John Bonham’s drums with Jimmy Page’s guitar and John Paul Jones’ bass somewhat buried in the mix. Even the vocal is laid back into the mix, which is typical of many rock songs in order to help emphasis the power of the band.

Bonzo’s drum sound is typical of all Led Zeppelin albums in that it’s somewhat distant and roomy, mostly because the drummer insisted on recording with two or three mics (when recording in stereo) in order to adequately capture the sound of the drums as he heard them. That said, by this time most other producers were resorting to using more mics closer in on the drums in order to capture the full sound of each, which helped to make them sound more dramatic. You can hear the difference in Bonzo’s many drum fills on the last bridge of the song where you can hear a bit of a stereo effect, but not what we’re used to hearing on other records. The drums were also put through an Eventide phaser suppled by engineer Ron Nevison, which can be heard clearly on the cymbal crashes of the first bridge.

Probably the most interesting thing on the record is how much producer Page used the stereo field. Guitar is panned to the left and the strings are panned to the right during the bridge and the strings are in wide stereo during the chorus. As the song progresses, you hear two different strings lines on the left and right in the second bridge, and a low horn pans left to center, then right to center at the end of the string counter phrases during the third and fourth verses.

LISTEN UP

  • To the guitar on the left and the strings on the right playing the same line during the verses
  • To the wide stereo reverb on the vocal
  • To the stereo orchestra panned hard left and right during the choruses
  • To the two different string lines left and right on the second bridge
  • To the low horn that pans left to right at the end of the string line during the third and fourth verses
  • To the phasing effect on the drums during the first bridge
The Production
The production of “Kashmir” is truly a departure for both Led Zeppelin and rock music at the time. Being known as the most influential rock band of the era didn’t stop them from coming out of left field to employ an orchestra on a recording that was the centerpiece of the album, and some say even the band’s career.

The fact that the guitar is somewhat buried in the mix turns out to be a brilliant move. It’s there in the mix and an essential part, but it doesn’t need to be front and center like on other songs.

Another interesting production point is that’s it’s difficult to tell the difference between the simulated strings and the real ones, a tribute to arranger John Paul Jones skills. The Mellotron strings can be more clearly heard as a line on the bridge 2, but they interweave so well with the real strings that it takes a conscious effort to discern the difference.

Yet another interesting production trick is the panning of the instruments in the mix. There are elements constantly entering and exiting from all sides, as well as parts moving from one side to the other. The moves are subtle, and in no way make the recording seem as drastic as a stereo demonstration record, instead adding the interest that an 8+ minute song needs to keep the listener’s attention.

All this leads to one of the most important and influential track of the era, and one that seems destined to be played on radio and streaming to people’s headphones for decades to come.




Thursday, April 30, 2015

The REAL New York City Compression Trick

Many of you already use the New York City Compression Trick on your drum tracks, but it's possible that you're using just simple parallel compression. There's a lot more to the trick than that though if you want to do it right, and this video from my 101 Mixing Tricks program will show you the trick in all its glory.

Believe me, use this trick and your rhythm section will rock harder than ever before.

There's a lot more killer tricks where this came from covering punchy drums and percussion sounds, great lead and background vocals, killer instruments, and cool balance, panning, EQ, compression and automation tricks. Check it out at 101MixTricks.com.



Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The 5 Different Song Arrangement Elements Explained

Song Arrangement Elements image
If you're going to be a successful producer or a mixing engineer, it's absolutely vital that you understand the 5 kinds of arrangement elements that make up a song. You can have fewer than 5 (most songs do in several places) but having any more than 5 generally confuses the listener.

Here's an excerpt from my Music Producer's Handbook (there's also something similar in my Mixing Engineer's Handbook as well) that explains these elements.

"Some songwriters already have the arrangement worked out in their head as to how they want the rest of the band to play, but for most songwriters (even the most accomplished) that’s a skill that has to be developed or have the job passed on to a specialist. In order to understand how the arrangement influences the song, we have to understand the mechanics of a well-written arrangement first.  

Most well conceived arrangements are limited in the number of elements that occur at the same time. An element can be a single instrument like a lead guitar or a vocal, or it can be a group of instruments like the bass and drums, a doubled guitar line, a group of backing vocals, etc. Generally, a group of instruments playing exactly the same rhythm is considered an element. Examples: a doubled lead guitar or doubled vocal is a single element, as is a lead vocal with two additional harmonies. Two lead guitars playing two different parts are two elements, however. A lead and a rhythm guitar are two separate elements as well.  

Here are the typical arrangement elements that makes up most of modern music:
  • Foundation - The Rhythm Section. The foundation is usually the bass and drums, but can also include a rhythm guitar and/or keys if they’re playing the same rhythmic figure as the rhythm section. Occasionally, as in the case of power trios, the Foundation element will only consist of drums since the bass will usually have to play a different rhythm figure to fill out the sound, so it becomes it’s own element.  
  • Pad - A Pad is a long sustaining note or chord. In the days before synthesizers, a Hammond Organ provided the best pad and was joined later by the Fender Rhodes electric piano. Synthesizers now provide the majority of pads but a real string section or a guitar power chord can also suffice.  
  • Rhythm - Rhythm is any instrument that plays counter to the Foundation element. This can be a double time shaker or tambourine, a rhythm guitar strumming on the backbeat, or congas playing a Latin feel. The Rhythm element is used to add motion and excitement to the track.
  • Lead - A lead vocal, lead instrument or solo. 
  • Fills - Fills generally occur in the spaces between Lead lines, or can be a signature line.  You can think of a Fill element as an answer to the Lead.  
Remember that usually there should not be more than four elements playing at the same time. Sometimes three elements can work very well. Very rarely will five simultaneous elements work together."


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A Look At How A Speaker Is Reconed

Speaker recone image
You've blown a speaker and it's expensive to replace, or maybe even not available any more. What to do? An alternative is having the speaker reconed by a professional or even doing it yourself.

Most major speaker manufacturers supply recone kits for their speakers, but there's a technique on how to do it that you have to know before you begin.

Here's a great video that not only shows how a JBL 2226 woofer is reconed, but gives you a great inside look at the different speaker parts as well.

If you want to try recone a speaker yourself, you can get the replacement parts from simplyspeakers.com, who made the video below.




Monday, April 27, 2015

New Music Gear Monday: PSP L'otary Leslie Simulator Plugin

PSP L'otary Leslie simulator plugin image
I'm a B3 player from way back and I know the sound of a Leslie speaker intimately, so believe me when I say that the new PSP L'otary is the best Leslie simulator that I've come across. All PSP plugins are killer to begin with, but the company might have surpassed itself with this one.

L'otary is based on the sound and operation of the two most famous Leslies, the 122 and 147, and provides ultimate control over just about any parameter you can think of, making it extremely versatile. That said, the presets sound great and might be all that anyone ever needs.

What I especially liked is the handle that changes the sound from chorale (slow spin) to fast, which also allows the user to select any speed in between. That said, a push button underneath provides the traditional slow to fast switching.

There's also a visual look at both the horn and drum speed provided which helps to lock in the right speed for the song.

One of my favorite aspects of L'otary is the the different simulated mic positions, as well as the motor and wind noise when it's set to fast. Just like the real thing!

The PSP L'otary is a bargain at only $99 and is available in VST, AAX and RTAS formats for both Mac and Windows. Check it out for yourself with the video below.



Sunday, April 26, 2015

Drummer Extraordinaire Mark Schulman On My Latest Inner Circle Podcast

Drummer Mark Schulman image
Mark Schulman has some amazing credits as the drummer for Pink, Cher, Foreigner, Cheryl Crow, and Destiny's Child, among many others.

But that's not all. He's also a noted public speaker and author, focusing on leadership, team building and peak performance.

I'm really pleased to have Mark on my latest Inner Circle Podcast, where he'll discuss how he got started, his big break and big defeat, and what it's like to tour with some of the world's biggest stars.

On the intro I'll give you 7 tips for Facebook videos and discuss the new "stems" audio file format.

Remember that you can find the podcast at BobbyOInnerCircle.com, or either on iTunes or Stitcher.

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