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Friday, December 4, 2009

Gear Hits of the Noughties

Kevin Becka, the tech editor at Mix Magazine, recently wrote an interesting post entitled "Top 20 Gear Hits of the Noughties" that was pretty cool, so I thought I'd reprint some of them that I thought significant with some comments (in italics). If you following the links, you'll get more info from Kevin on the product.

Pro Tools HD – Digidesign’s 2002 hardware upgrade brought high resolution audio to the industry’s top DAW. Yes, this version truly made a difference in that there were a lot of questions regarding the sound quality of Pro Tools until HD came out. None now, it's the standard!

Apple Logic Pro – After the purchase of Steinberg, Apple puts its stamp on this popular music production tool making it a contender for top affordable native DAW. Don't know about Logic Pro as a game changer per se, but the fact that you can get great performance from a native (using only the host computer without the aid of additional processing cards) DAW certainly is.

Celemony Melodyne – The only competition for the ubiquitous Auto Tune app brought us a new way to correct pitch. The latest version of Melodyne is nothing short of amazing, providing some great forensic tools  not usually associated with pitch correction.

JBL LSR6328P monitors  – Once the studio monitoring champ, JBL made a solid bid for the title again with these great sounding speakers. Don't know how much of a game changer they are, but they're my choice and the ones I use every day.

Royer SF24 – Royer provided an easy way to record with ribbon mics in stereo without having the gain and impedance issues of a passive ribbon. Of all the new mics on the market today, one of the few that have become true recording standards have come from Royer.

Plugins – Many companies defined this category in the noughties including WavesSonnox, Focusrite, McDSP, Bomb Factory, TL Audio,SoundToysPSP, URS, IK Multimediabrainworx, Universal Audio,iZotope and more. Just as Pro Tools HD changed the way we thought about the sound of a DAW, the same can be said for the latest generation of plug-ins. No one even compares the sound to hardware anymore.

Digidesign VENUE and ICON – Digidesign went from 0 to 60 in record time with their live sound and studio consoles. Absolutely true. They became a real player in sound reinforcement seemingly overnight.

Now that the industry has made the conversion from hardware to software, more and more we see products that are evolutionary instead of revolutionary. I think a good case can be made for some of the above to be put in the revolutionary category. Wonder how many we'll see in the 10's?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

"Smells Like Teen Spirit" Backing Track

Here's the backing track to Nirvana's 90's hit "Smells Like Teen Spirit". This was the song that launched a whole new musical trend so it's significant from an historical perspective, but it's also a great example of dynamics and how a song is taken to another level by a great drummer. This video contains all the tracks except guitars so it's another perfect example of rhythm section production to study.

As famous jazz drummer Buddy Rich once said (most likely referring to himself), "You can't have a great band without a great drummer," and he was certainly right. EVERY great band has a great drummer and to be even more precise, the perfect drummer for the band. Dave Grohl was certainly the right guy to hold down the drum chair for Nirvana, and this track proves it. The drum track is punchy, in-time, dynamic and aggressive.

Speaking of dynamics, that was one of Nirvana's strong points and Teen Spirit is the perfect example. Listen to how the tension is built by going from the steady but less intense verse to the fury of the chorus. If you want to learn how to play dynamically, that's how it's done.

There's no picture on this video other than the album cover, but the audio's well worth a listen.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Live Band Karaoke

One of my oldest friends, studio bassist and co-writer of The Studio Musician's Handbook - Paul ILL, just returned from a trip to Atlanta where he saw what appears to be the latest rage on the East Coast - live band karaoke.

In case the term doesn't sink in, it means a real live band invites members of the audience up to sing a song of their choice. The band charges $5 for the privilege and if you tip, you move to the head of the line. It sure beats singing to a machine and it must be a real thrill for the vocal participants to feel the energy of a band.

Apparently this is the hot new thing for club bands, and karaoke bands are now popping up all over the country. Although my club gigging days are way behind me, I think it's a really clever idea. It's a new way for a band to draw an audience, a great way to keep that audience involved, and a new way for the band to make some needed money in these days of fewer and fewer gigs. If I were playing in clubs again (perish the thought), it's something I'd definitely consider. You could even expand beyond just singers to have audience members sub for all members of the band, so you sort of get a little bit of a live "Rock Band" game as well.

Just do a search for "live band karaoke" and watch what you get.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Analyzing The "Sweet Child Of Mine" Backing Track

In keeping with the theme of this week so far, here's the backing track for the hit "Sweet Child of Mine" from Guns n' Roses. I'm not sure that this is the real GnR track (you can never tell what the source is on Youtube), but it's still a pretty good analysis of how it was put together. You'll hear the drums, bass, 2 rhythm guitars left and right and the lead vocals.

A couple of interesting things here. First the whole drum kit has a load of reverb on it, a lot more than you hear on most rock songs. Second is the effected bass, which has a chorus on it - again unusual for a rock song (any song really). It's also worth noting when the rhythm guitar on the right comes in on the choruses and bridge to change things up a bit and give the song some additional power.

It's also interesting to hear a small bass rhythm flub about half-way through the first verse, and the punches on the vocals (if it's really GnR, it was done on tape - no unlimited tracks) during the choruses.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody - The Multitrack

I've always been a big fan of listening to multitracks of hit songs as a learning experience. It's so much fun to hear just how perfect or imperfect the tracks are. Until recently, these multitracks were pretty difficult to find unless you already knew the band or artist, or their producer or engineer, and they were kind enough to let you play with them.

But everything has changed now with YouTube, where you can find a wide variety of dissected material. It's been suggested that a lot of this comes from a guy who works for the vault company that houses many of these master multitrack tapes for the major labels, but who really knows (I'm sure the label's business affairs sure would like to know)? The fact of the matter is that so many songs are now available for our dissected listening pleasure, and any student of record production should take advantage of them.

Here's a great example of one of the most sophisticated hit songs ever made - Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. This video gives you a look at all 44 tracks to provide a great idea of how the song (especially the vocals) is layered.

Listen to how in-tune all the vocals are (a tribute to Freddie and the band) and how tight everything is in the days way before Beat Detective and digital editing. Sure there are a couple of things that a sharp ear will detect, but you'd probably leave those in today anyway because the feel is so good.

The only thing better than listening to this video is having the tracks to play with yourself, but you'll have to find that on your own.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Value Of Fewer Tracks - The Making Of The Beatles "Come Together"

I'm pleased to say that I started my recording career in the era of limited tracks. As a young working musician, I owned one of the first 4 track Dokoder tape recorders. My first professional productions (and where I really learned the craft) came on a 16 channel MCI console and a Scully 8 track recorder. It was a big deal when I finally graduated to 24 track recording on major label projects.

While having limited tracks to work with might seem primitive compared to today's unlimited digital tracks, it was really a blessing in disguise. Fewer tracks means that decisions have to be made during the recording process. If there's a sound or part that you think you like, you have to commit to it NOW, rather that leave it to be sorted out later during mixing. That sort of forced decision making leads to more efficient, quicker recording, and the ability to trust your first creative instincts (which we often overlook when we have too many choices).

Again, that approach seems to be creatively limited, but some of the greatest music of our time was made  that way. All of the timeless music by The Beatles and all their contemporaries were done with 8 tracks or less. Here's a great example of how "Come Together" came together, starting from a 4 track tape then finished on 8 track.


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