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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Capturing Overdub Lightening In A Bottle

Here's an excerpt from my latest book, The Music Producer's Handbook, about what happens when the brilliantly unexpected happens during an overdub session. Depending upon how you handle the moment, it can be a huge time suck or an efficiently played overdub that makes the song.


It always happens at least once in the overdub phase. A player plays something by mistake or during warm-ups that lights up the whole studio and the producer says, “Can you play that again, but do something different on the end?” Or “Can you play it like that in this section instead?” And then the chase is on to capture that lightening in a bottle and pour it over a part or section that was lacking before.
But things are usually never as simple as they seem, as the once brilliant part is changed to fit the new section or tweaked to better serve the song. A quick pass turns into hours and before you know it, you’ve spent the entire day working up this single part. That’s usually the way these things go during overdubs. By the time everyone has worked out the perfect part, the player is too tired to perform it in a convincing manner.
During these times when an entirely new part is being worked out, I’ve found that it sometimes takes 2 sessions to really make it happen. The first day you take that brilliant  seed of an idea and work it out, and the second day is when the idea really flowers when you can properly execute it. Keeping this in mind can save you countless extra hours at the end of a long day. Leave it alone and come back tomorrow when everyone is fresh. It’ll probably be performed perfectly on the first take.
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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mixing Techniques For John Mayer

Here's a video where multi-platinum mixing engineer Manny Marroquin reveals a few of the mixing techniques he used for John Mayer's "I Don't Trust Myself". Manny is one of the most respected mixers around these days, and he's still one of the few that doesn't want for work despite tighter and fewer budgets (there's not many mixers that can say that).

In this video he talks about one of the main points that I stressed in the Mixing Engineer's Handbook, which is to "find the direction of the song, and build the song around it." One of the best pieces of advice he gives is "it's not how much you do, but when to leave it alone," which is usually something that only comes with experience.

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Wrecking Crew Movie

I've written about the Wrecking Crew movie before, but it really needs to be brought up again because it's such an important historical document as well as a totally fun watch. For those of you who don't know, the Wrecking Crew was a group of Los Angeles studio musicians during the 60's and 70's that played on so many of the hits of the time that's it's hard to believe they all came from just one group of people.

The group played on almost every style of recording, including television theme songs, film scores, advertising jingles and almost every genre of music, with artists that included The Monkees, Bing Crosby, Nancy Sinatra, Bobby Vee, The Partridge Family, The Mamas & the Papas, The Carpenters, John Denver, Simon & Garfunkel and many more.

They helped Phil Spector create his famous "Wall of Sound," and realized Brian Wilson's vision for Beach Boy hits like "Good Vibrations", "California Girls", the acclaimed album Pet Sounds, and the original recordings for Smile.

Unfortunately, despite widespread praise, the excellent film about the band can still only be seen in private showings and film festivals since producer Denny Tedesco (the son of the late Wrecking Crew guitar player Tommy Tedesco) can't find a distributor. Why? Because the Crew played on so many hits that the licensing fees to get them in the movie would be enormous, and that scares them away. Of course, the fees aren't that much for a major studio tentpole movie, but that's not what this documentary is.

The movie is exceptional whether you're in the music business or not. Hopefully you'll get a chance to see it on the big screen or a DVD soon. If not, be on the lookout at your local film festival. You won't be disappointed.

Below is the trailer for the film. You can find out more on the Wrecking Crew movie website, and you can check out some excellent outtakes from the movie as well.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

"Sunshine Of Your Love" Backing Track

Yesterday we listened to the isolated guitar track from Cream's seminal single "Sunshine Of Your Love." Today we'll listen to the other tracks, minus the guitar. Here's what to listen for.

1) Jack Bruce's bass is pretty distorted and the amp is obviously miked. There was no such thing as "going direct" back in those days. In fact, direct boxes didn't even come on the scene for another 10 years or so. I must admit, I think that miking the amp is a better way of doing things as it gives the bass player's tone some character. Direct bass tends to all sound the same.

2) Bruce's vocal is also distorted, especially when he really opens up on the B section. It has just a touch of reverb, and you can hear the compressor grabbing a bit, but it's not a bad sound in general. Also listen to all the breath noise in the vocal. If the song was recorded today, that would probably be eliminated, but it does give the vocal a sense of realism and character.

3) Bruce's and Eric Clapton's vocals are slightly split in the stereo field during the choruses

4) Ginger Backer's drums are interesting in that the pattern is built completely around the toms. You only hear a few crash cymbals in the choruses until the solo through the outro, where you also hear him play the snare with the crashes.

5) Make sure you listen through to the end, where you'll hear the songs real ending that never made the record.

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

"Sunshine Of Your Love" - Clapton's Isolated Guitar

Here's a real classic. It's Eric Clapton's isolated guitar track from "Sunshine Of Your Love," the song that broke Cream in America in 1967. The song was part of the Disraeli Gears album produced by Felix Papalardi and engineered by the esteemed Tom Dowd at Atlantic Record's own studio in New York City.

1) This is a guitar sound that you don't hear much anymore. It's the front pickup of a 1964 Gibson SG Standard with some of the tone control dialed back, played through a Marshall Plexi. The distortion of the song was a prototype for guitarists for years to come, as is still sought after.

2) The sound of the guitar solo is reported to be what Clapton called his "Women Tone," which was a very early Clyde McCoy model Vox Wah pedal placed in the bass position. I'm not so sure that it's not just the same sound as the rhythm guitar with more of the tone control dialed in. Notice how the rhythm and solo get panned in stereo during the solo section.

3) Clapton gets a bit ahead of the beat that you can hear in the leakage in the B-sections. He also hits a couple of "extra strings" during the final chorus. I never heard either of these before in the track (probably no one else has either), but if were done today you can be sure it would be perfect. Sometimes, all the character is produced right out of records today by going for that perfection, but as we've seen over and over in this blog, perfection simply doesn't matter in a hit. It has to be a solid performance, but not perfect.

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


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