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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Music Troubleshooting Checklist

Every musician, band member, producer and engineer has run into this situation many times -the song you're working on just does not sound right, but you can't figure out why. That's why I created a Music Troubleshooting Checklist, which will be part of a series of laminated cards in the near future. You can find out more at my website.

Here are the questions to ask if that song you're working on just doesn’t sound as good as you think it should.
  • Do all the players in the band know their parts inside out? Is there a part that someone is unsure of?
  • Are all the players performing their parts the same way every time (assuming that you’re not recording some forms of jazz and blues where you want a different performance)? Any variation can lead to a section not gelling or not being tight.
  • Is the band playing dynamically? Does the music breath volume-wise? Does the verse have less intensity than a chorus or bridge?
  • Does the band lose its drive when playing with less intensity? Does it forget about attacks and releases when they play quieter?
  • Is everyone playing both the song and section starts and stops the same? If not, ask every player, “How are you playing it?”
  • Does the band sound tight? Are the attacks and releases of phrases being played the same way by everyone? Are the builds, turnarounds and accents being played the same way by everyone? If not, ask every player, “How are you playing it?”
  • Is the band in tune? If not, make sure everyone uses the same tuner and tunes the same way.
  • Does the song have a groove? Is the rhythm section playing in the pocket? Is the drummer or bass player slightly wavering in tempo?
  • Is the tempo right for the song? Try it a BPM or two faster or slower and see if it feels better.
  • Are all vocals in the best range for the singers? Does the singer have trouble hitting all the notes? Does the singer sound comfortable singing and is the vocal sound right for the song?
These questions will help you fix most problems that you're come up against in any genre of music.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Roxanne Shante's Real Life Revenge To Warner Music Group

In the ultimate case of life following art, recent Cornell graduate Dr. Roxanne Shanté (best known for the hip hop "answer" classic, Roxanne’s Revenge) got her own personal revenge on Warner Music after she forced them to honor a clause in her contract which required them to pay for her education for life.

"They kept stumbling over their words, and they didn't have an exact reason why they were telling me no," Shante told the Daily News. WMG, who was on the hook for the full amount of $217,000, only started writing checks after she threatened to go public with her story. She signed the contract with the giant label when she was 14 years old, sold 250,000 copies of a single that spawned the "answer" rap craze, but never received a penny in royalties (where have you heard that one before?). Shante is known for her ability to improvise entire songs, and Roxanne's Revenge was reportedly written while it was being recorded.

Shante' believes that Warner considered the clause a throwaway, never believing a teen mother in public housing would ever attend college. This is sort of like Fox Pictures giving George Lucas the merchandising rights to Star Wars, never believing that it would amount to anything (although on a completely different scale).

The lesson here is to never be afraid to ask for anything when negotiating an agreement, no matter how outrageous it may seem at the time. You never know when the outrageous item just might turn in your favor.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The End Of iTunes?

Apple has recently approved the new Spotify app for the iPhone, which may have implications that go way beyond that of a normal phone app.

For those of you who don't know about Spotify, it's a Swedish streaming music service that has taken Europe by storm. In fact, England alone now has over 1 million subscribers, which is pretty incredible considering that there's only 60 million people in the country!

What people like about Spotify is it's iTunes-like simplicity and the fact that you have access to over 6 million songs (almost as many as iTunes). But unlike iTunes, Spotify is a subscription service, costing about £10 a month (about $16 US).

Industry pundits have been saying for some time that the future of the music business is in subscription, and of course, the record labels love it since they'd be getting a set amount of money every month (just like your cable company). In fact, they like it so much that all the majors have invested in Spotify, which puts them even more at odds with their artists, who are all pretty sure that they won't be seeing too much of the income given the "interesting" accounting the labels use.

To give you an example of the money we're talking here - if you have 10 million subscribers at just $10 a month, that's $100 million dollars! And that's projected from the US alone. It's great for the labels because it's a consistent income stream. It's great for the subscriber because he can access 6 million songs for $10 or so a month rather than getting only 10 songs from iTunes. But no one knows how that income will be shared with the artist, and that's what they're scared about.

But there's more. Why would Apple approve an iPhone app that would make the iTunes store potentially obsolete? Would it rather sell iPhones and iPods than downloads? Probably.

But don't be too shocked if Apple has a surprise up their sleeves, like a subscription service of their own. Could we be seeing such a September surprise at their "Let's Rock" announcement next Tuesday?

Monday, August 31, 2009

Interview With Studio Musicians

Here's an excerpt from the DVD that comes with my new book, "The Studio Musician's Handbook."

The video features my co-writer, LA session bassist Paul ILL, and LA session guitarist Randy Mitchell as they discuss the gear they bring to a session and the common traits of studio musicians.

The book also features interviews with studio musicians Leland Sklar, Ricky Lawson, Brian MacLeod, Rami Jaffee and many more.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sony Music Breaks Into The Web's Top 10

Major label Sony Music recently became one of the Web’s top 10 entertainment music destinations, according to the independent comScore Media Metrix. This latest ranking now puts it alongside perennial music stalwarts like AOL, Yahoo!, MySpace Music, MTV Networks, and imeem.

Sony Music’s network of artist websites attracted more than 33 million visits and almost 20 million unique visitors during June, an impressive amount for any website. So why the increased traffic?

Sony now employs a few new capabilities that have had a positive impact on the site's visitors and artist's fans. Their site now offers:
  • a globalization ability so that fans can automatically view their favorite artist's site in their local language, interact with nearby fans, and receive regional music news.
  • a rewards system for fans who visit frequently.
  • a recommendations engine in the form of an on-demand audio player that suggests new tracks based on songs the user has already selected, as well as an integrated lyrics function.
While you wouldn't expect a major label to be so forward thinking in digital matters, Sony Music has shown that not only can it think for itself, but be successful at it too. Many other labels have good ideas as well but their implementation usually leaves something to be desired. This time, Sony has pulled it off.


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