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Friday, July 31, 2009

Production Workshop At Serve The Song

Serve The Song has posted, 'What Makes A Song Sound Bad - Part 2' in my Production Workshop:

In part 2 of exploring what makes a badly written song, we’ll look a bit deeper into some of the most common faults of a novice songwriter. Forgive the references to mostly old songs but I wanted to be sure that everyone has heard them before.

No Bridge - Another common songwriting mistake is no bridge. In songwriting, a bridge is an interlude that connects two parts of that song, building a harmonic connection between those parts. Normally you should have heard the verse at least twice. The bridge may then replace the 3rd verse or precede it. In the latter case, it delays an expected chorus. The chorus after the bridge is usually the last one and is often repeated in order to stress that it is final. If and when you expect a verse or a chorus and you get something that is musically and lyrically different from both verse and chorus, it is most likely the bridge (Van Halen’s Panama comes to mind).

Read the rest at Serve The Song.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

I Hate The Film Look

I was interviewing a cameraman the other day and he made a big deal out of his ability to get "that film look" with a video camera. He looked at me with amazement when I told him that was the last thing I wanted.

I hate the film look. I want it real and in your face, not warm and fuzzy "like a movie." Why this nostalgia continues for the look of the 1920's astounds me. I'm pretty sure that had the film pioneers of those days had a choice between the realism of today's hi-def video and the otherworldly softness of film that they'd choose video in most cases.

I'm not talking about basic shooting fundamentals like framing and focusing, I'm referring to shooting at 24 frames per second instead of 30, shortening the shutter angle and limiting the dynamic range in an effort to make it look like the shoot was done with a film camera.

This goes especially for music video. The cinema look provides a kind of space between the viewer and the subject that seems so anti-Music 3.0. In these days of reaching out directly to the fan base, why try to keep them at a distance when they want to be as close to you as they can?

I'm about to begin writing a new book called "The Music Video Handbook" that will cover everything that a musician needs to know about making any kind of video that might be helpful to his career. I'll include a section on how to get "that film look" because I know that some readers might want that look, but I'll continue to stay away from it myself.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Demise Of The Music Magazine

In a post on, journalist Jonah Weiner of the now defunct Blender magazine postulates on the reasons why music magazines are quickly falling by the wayside. In the last 4 months Spin and Vibe both closed down along with Blender, and Rolling Stone cut their masthead, which leaves the world of music journalism pretty thin these days.

Here are Weiner's reasons for music magazine's demise with my comments afterwards:

1. There are fewer superstars, and the same musicians show up on every magazine cover. We used to have a new music trend every 11 years or so, which supplied us with a new round of musicians that at least some of us cared about. Grunge was about the last trend to take the music world by storm and that hit it's peak in the early 90's and was gone by the turn of the century. Here we are some 20 years down the road with nothing new to capture our musical imaginations. No wonder we're bored with music. The farm team has faded.

2. Music mags have less to offer music lovers, and music lovers need them less than ever anyway. Music magazines were the social networks of music lovers (sometimes called an "affinity group") before there were social networks. We waited for the mag to come out to read about the latest gossip about our favorite artist or a review on her latest release. No need to wait these days, you can immediately find any info from either a musical gossip site, a blog or even from the website of the artist herself. And no need to wait for reviews when you can find out everything you need to know about a new release from people you trust on any social network you choose.

3. Music magazines were an early version of social networking. But now there's this thing called "social networking." As I pointed out above, the Internet has killed any reason to pick up a magazine. You can get more info than you ever wanted with a Google or Wikipedia search for free.

I'll add a 4th.

4. The coolness factor. Once upon a time, if your friends saw you were reading a music magazine, they thought that you were cool. You were in-the-know and plugged-in. We're way past that now. Today you're looked upon as a dinosaur and as some out-of-touch relic who just doesn't get it. You talk about newspapers dying. At least they have news that's only a day or two old and even some exclusive info. With a mag, your news is at least a month old and maybe more. Who wants to be that irrelevant?

No matter what magazine you pick up these days, they're way thinner than they used to be. The advertisers have figured it out, but most publishers still cling to the past. It's hard to blame them. Who wants to change when they've had it so good for so long?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Checklist For Overdubs

I'm in the middle of writing a new book called "The Music Producer's Handbook." Chapter 14 is a series of checklists for various parts of production. Here's a checklist to use before you embark on the overdub portion of a project.

1) Do you have a list of overdub priorities? Do you know which overdubs absolutely must get done and which ones are less important? A list will keep you on track budget-wise and time-wise.

2) Can you record in the control room? Most players prefer to record in the control room because they like to hear what you’re hearing and they like the immediacy of the communication.

3) Are there too many people in the control room or studio? The fewer people, the fewer the distractions. It's best to keep all friends, associates, entourage and hangers-on out of the studio when you're working to keep the distractions to a minimum.

4) Did you move the vocal or instrument into the big part of the studio? All instruments sound best when there’s some space for the sound to develop, so move it to the big part of the studio for overdubs (after you've done any basic track fixes). You can cut down on any unwanted reflections from the room by place baffles around the mic and player.

5) When doubling, are you trying to do something a little different on each track? A different mic, mic preamp, room, singer, or distance from the mic will all help to make the sound bigger.

6) When doubling or adding more guitars, do you have a variety of instruments and amplifiers available? Two guitars (a Les Paul and a Strat, for instance) and two amplifiers (a Fender and a Marshall is the classic combination) combined with different pickup choices will allow a multitude of guitar tracks to more effectively live in the mix together.

7) Are you making it sound better, not just different? Changes aren't always for the better. Is there a big difference between what you just recorded and the original part? Does the new part make everyone in the studio go crazy in a good way?

8) Would it be better to try the part tomorrow? Is the player burned out? Does he show signs of failing concentration? You'd be surprised how much more you can accomplish when you're fresh.

9) Do you have the studio talkback mic on? Can you hear the musicians in the studio at all times between takes? If they're talking to you and you can't hear them, they'll feel isolated.

10) Do you have the control room talkback mic always on? Can the musicians hear you at all times in between takes? Periods of silence can be a mood killer.

11) Does the player want to play it again? If a player feels strongly about playing it over, he probably can do it better. Just be sure to keep the last recorded part before recording again.

If you follow this overdub checklist, I think you'll find that your sessions will run smoother and more efficiently, which should result in a better end product.

Monday, July 27, 2009

10 Pieces Of Technology I Hate

In no particular order, here are a 10 pieces of technology that make me want to scream:

Software by Microsoft - The buggiest, bloated piece of crap ever, and I'm a Mac user so I don't have to endure their operating system. How this company ever got to be the behemoth it's become is beyond me. Every time I'm forced to use Word you can bet that I will curse Bill Gates about every 5 minutes or so.

Bluetooth anything - Does any of it really work? I especially hate those cellphone bluetooth headpieces not because I use one, but because everyone that calls me that's using one sounds so crappy (there's that word again).

Clam shell/blister packaging - Thief-proof and consumer proof all rolled into one. This isn't really a piece of technology, only a by-product of it gone wrong.

The new pop-ups - I thought we all had pop-up blockers on our browsers? Yet these pop-ups and pop-unders still torment me and everyone else.

Stupid as shit cable TV boxes - How can such a technologically advanced society as ours still tolerate cable set-top boxes that still have only the intelligence of Apollo 11? Broadcast television could be so much better if only the powers that be (which I suspect are the cable companies) would load their boxes up with 1990's technology. If you want a reason why television is loosing viewers to the Internet, this is a good one.

Blu-Ray - I need this......why? The only time I enjoy HD is watching sports, it's superfluous on anything else. So why do I need to buy another player and another format? All those extras? I didn't watch 'em on DVD, what makes you think I'll watch them on BD (and I used to produce DVD extras)? Now as a bit-bucket for backup, it's a different story and I love it.

Phones that sound like crap (that word again) - Why in this day and age do wired and cordless phones sound worse than that ones that AT&T leased us for 50 years?

Monster cable - I actually don't use this because I know better, but I'm always amazed that they can charge 5 times more for a product and make people think their audio quality is going to improve as a result.

Automated phone services - I can handle a couple of "Press 5 for .......", but please, let me speak to a real person when I want.

Social networking - Does the world really need another social network and do I really have to be on it (or have the time to be on it)?

Technology is wonderful and has brought us more connectivity, convenience, and downright fun than we could ever have hoped for. It's understandable that some things start out as a good idea only to devolve into something that's exasperating. But then, some of the above look as though they're been designed to frustrate us from the start.

Digital Music Is About To Change

You can feel it in the air (or on the screen might be a better phrase). Digital Music is about to change, hopefully for the better. For years the major labels and every industry pundit has been predicting that music delivery by subscription will be the future instead of music downloading, and it looks like they might be right.

Why collect Gigs of downloads when you can listen to virtually any song you'd like to at any time, anywhere? That's the premise of subscription music, which until recently, didn't seem to have much steam behind it. Sure Rhapsody and Napster had a tad less than 2 million subscribers, but you really couldn't call that critical mass.

But in the last year, the free service Pandora has picked up steam and gave even the most casual listeners a taste of what subscription could be like. Now the buzz is that Europe's highly touted Spotify service is about to enter the States as they solve their licensing problems with the major labels, which the pundits see as a game changer.

But the 800 pound gorilla is lurking in the jungle. Rumor is that Apple will trot out a subscription service based around iTunes soon, which will open up the floodgates and change the industry forever. As industry consultant Ted Cohen said in an interview for my upcoming book, Music 3.0, "If iTunes announced subscription tomorrow, we’d be over the hump."

Yet questions remain. It seems like consumers now understand that they only get 10 songs per month for $10 from a download service as compared to 10 million songs on a subscription service. The bigger issues will become if and how the artists get paid fairly from that $10 and if publishers can build a mechanism to take advantage of the digital accounting so the songwriters can get paid as well (it's now done manually and costs too much to administrate).

The next 12 months should be very interesting indeed in the digital music world.


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