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Thursday, June 3, 2010

"Enter Sandman" Isolated Vocal

To end our isolated vocal week we listen to Enter Sandman by Metallica. Here's what to listen for:

1) Finally a great sounding vocal. Excellent tone and ambience, which is difficult sometimes to achieve in a hard rock mix. The compression is just the right amount and you hardly ever notice it. All in all, a great engineering job by Randy Staub.

2) James Hetfield's vocal is perfect. I don't know how much time they took to record it, but I couldn't hear a single fault, even listening with microscopic ears.

3) Listen to how the vocal track was cleaned after a lot of phrases in the beginning of the song. It almost sounds like it was gated. This kind of thing used to be done a lot on tape in the "old days" with a function called "spot erase" where you'd erase any unwanted noises between stuff you wanted to keep. It was very tricky to do and you had to be oh so careful that you didn't erase anything because then it was lost forever. Then console automation came along and no one ever used it again.

4) Once again you hear some track sharing going on when the guitars pop up during the song. In the days of magnetic tape, you had a limited number of tracks and you had to find space where ever you could for if you had a lot of overdubs. It really made for a crazy mix.

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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

"Dr. Feelgood" Isolated Vocal

Today we listen to a vocal that's part of a more modern production. It's the isolated vocal for Motley Crue's 1989 hit, Dr. Feelgood. Here what to listen for:

1) Boy, is this vocal strident! It takes your head off at 1 to 2kHz. Obviously it works against the track but I wouldn't call this a model vocal sound by any stretch of the imagination.

2) Boy, is there a lot of reverb on this vocal. And it has a pretty long tail as well. Popular music has gone through cycles of lots of reverb during a mix to almost none at all. This was at the top of a "lots of reverb" cycle.

3) There are plenty of punches on this track. Some are pretty noticeable and some not so much. You don't hear any of them against the track, which is the way it's supposed to be.

4) There's a lot of guitars that pop up during the song. I assume that's because some of the empty space on the vocal tracks were used to share with the guitar when they needed another overdub. Don't forget, this was in the days of magnetic tape and limited tracks.

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

"Ticket To Ride" Isolated Vocals

The rest of the week we'll dedicate to analyzing vocal tracks and the first stop is The Beatles "Ticket To Ride." As with all Beatle's tracks, you just have to marvel at how well seasoned they are thanks to the many years of gigging before they began recording. Here are some things to listen for:

1) Notice how tight the vocals are with both Lennon and McCartney singing the vocal together at the same time. They have a few inconsistencies phrasing-wise, but you can tell that most of the tightness has come from long hours of singing with one another.

2) Listen to the distortion as the compressor begins to work. The more compressed, the more distorted it becomes. Given the state of studio monitoring at the time, chances are no one in the studio heard it, and if they did, they couldn't do much about it anyway if they wanted to use the compressor (which was probably a Fairchild or an Altec).

3) The vocals are dead dry, which is unusual for the time when a vocal swimming in verb was the norm.

4) Check out the George's lead guitar fill at the ends of the bridges. The second one at 2:10 has a mis-fingered note, not that it ever bothered anyone before.

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Monday, May 31, 2010

3 Reasons Why Radio Is Dying

Once again I thought I'd repost something from the days when I only had a few readers. This post about radio is just as pertinent today as it was then.

Radio used to be the lifeblood of music.  Airplay on any kind of station, from the smallest college station to the largest 50,ooo watter, meant recognition and an eventual audience for an act.  Not anymore.  Radio using music as it's main programming, like the traditional music industry, is dying a slow and painful death.

How did this happen?  Let's look at some of the causes.

1)  Local radio dies.  It used to be that each area of the country had its own sound by virtue of the fact that all radio was local.  As a result, the music played in Philly would be somewhat different than Miami which would be different from Memphis and so on.  When playlists became virtually the same everywhere, radio lost the edge that made it great - each city's unique playlist.

2)  Big Money buys in.  As radio became more successful during the 70's and the advertising dollars poured in, it became the beginning of the end since it attracted the Big Money station groups who bought up all the small indie stations.  Management became homogenized as did the playlist because of........

3)  The rise of the consultant.  In order to keep those ad dollars flowing, station groups hired consultants to program all their stations with a format that was proven to draw ratings.  Never mind that this destroyed what was unique about the station, or that the format that worked in LA might not work in Kansas.  Once you could hear the same songs in Wyoming that you'd hear in New York City, the element of music discovery was eliminated for the listener.  Radio became the same mediocre programming that we hear today with the same bunch of middle-of-the-road songs.

I've often thought that AM radio could be the saviour of radio because it's doing worse as a whole than FM, so it's able to take some chances as a result.  If a station would go back to the system that caused radio to rise to greatness (giving DJ's the authority to choose their own playlists), you'd see it take off again.  Especially today, people want to discover music but they want someone they trust to make suggestions (which was the basic premise of FM radio during its heyday of the 70's).  You can get that on the Internet, but you can't check the Web while driving in your car.

Recent Arbitron studies have found that 90% of adults listen to at least a short period of radio every day (only 50% of adults watch prime time television).  They're mostly unhappy with what's available to them, so let's give them something worth listening to.
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Sunday, May 30, 2010

5 Reasons To Lower The Drinking Age

Here's something I posted a couple years ago that I think applies today, especially during this holiday weekend.
Recently there's been a national discussion for lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18, and several states, including Florida, Wisconsin, Vermont and Missouri, are actively studying the prospect.  The chief argument is that if you can fight for your country and you can vote for president if you're 18, you should be able to drink a beer legally too.  But lowering the drinking age would be a boon to the music industry and, I dare-say, even provide the engine for turning it around.

A little history. We went through this same issue once before when the drinking age was a variety of ages from 18 to 21 across the states, but the war in Viet Nam brought about the "If I can fight for my country, I should be able to drink" argument that we're seeing again today. By 1972 most states agreed that voting = legal alcohol and lowered the drinking age to 18, which opened the floodgates to accommodate a whole new set of thirsty patrons, and the way to get them in the door was to provide live entertainment.

Clubs sprang up everywhere and live music thrived.  If you were a half-decent band, you could easily find somewhere to play almost every night of the week and get paid for it too (none of this "pay-to-play" crap existed).

This was great for the music business because it gave neophyte musicians a place to get it together both musically and performance-wise.  Just like The Beatles did in Hamburg in 1962, you could play 5 sets a night 5 nights a week to really get your chops together.  Do that for a year or two and you were ready to take the next step towards doing your own thing, if that's what you wanted to do.

Unfortunately, it was also easy to fall into the trap of just playing clubs forever because the money was so good, but those with ambition took their club days for what they were and moved on up.  They had learned what they needed to by constantly playing in front of crowds.

This musical support infrastructure is largely gone these days.  A band that is considered to be playing a lot today is lucky if they play once a week.  That means it will take a group a lot longer to not only get to the point where they're comfortable in front of crowds, but to get musically and vocally tight as well.  The longer it takes a band to make progress, the more likely they will break up or change their direction, which means that perhaps the next great trend in music has shriveled on the vine.

Since the drinking age was raised to 21 in 1982, the excitement and diversity in music has steadily decreased.  It's bland, it's homogenized, and we've really not seen a new trend that's caught on big since rRap (which hit the mainstream 25 years ago). I attribute this mostly to the large scale closing of the club scene due to the higher drinking age (the tougher DUI laws too). Higher drinking age and more arrests = fewer club patrons.  Fewer club patrons = goodbye clubs.

Let's face it - musicians need the constant feedback and attention that only an audience can bring.  The more you play live, the better you get at it, which leads to more experimenting, which means the more likely you are to find your own voice.

I hope the drinking age is lowered soon.  Music (and the music industry) desperately needs a shot in the arm.

1. If you can fight and die for your country at 18, you should be able to drink at 18.

2. If you are trusted to vote at 18, you should be able to have a drink at 18.

3. 18 year olds are already drinking anyway.  Just go to any college campus and see for yourself.

4. A lower drinking age means more clubs, which means more work for musicians.

5. More work for musicians means better entertainers, better musicians, more interesting music, and ultimately a stronger music industry.

Follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating the music business.


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