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Thursday, October 21, 2010

"Whatcha Gonna Do" - Pablo Cruise

I came across "Whatcha Gonna Do" by Pablo Cruise the other day and I just had to post it. The song is off their 1977 album entitled A Place In The Sun that was the breakout record for the band. I've included the live versions from Don Kirshner's Rock Concert television program of both "Watcha Gonna Do" and "Place In The Sun" because of the exceptional musicianship and energy of the band.

Now if you weren't around back then, you've probably never heard of the band or the songs and that's why I want you to watch the videos. It shows the difference between bands then and now. Pablo Cruise had only 3 or 4 minor hits and a couple of gold albums, but the band just smokes. The energy coming off the stage is undeniably addictive and just get's you grooving right away.

The reason is that back in the 70's, there were tons of places to play for any kind of band at almost any skill level. You could almost play every night somewhere if you wanted to (I remember playing 28 straight nights of club one-nighters once), so you really got to hone your craft. Plus, you got paid, believe it or not (unlike some places today where you have to pay to play).

Most bands today are lucky to play once a week, and more than likely, it's more like once or twice a month. Bands that play a lot eventually become good. Good bands that stay with it for a while eventually become great.

Pablo Cruise, who were together for 5 years before these videos, is a great example. Enjoy their infectious energy.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The HRP-4C Singing Robot

Look out all you teen idols, fabricated girl singers, and boy bands, there's something out there to take your place. Yes, it's true that Britney, Justin Beiber, and all the teen idol wanna be's may be in for some cheaper and better competition with the new singing and dancing robot made by the Japanese National Institute of Advance Industrial Science and Design.

This is no joke. The HRP-4C humanoid robot actually does a pretty good job of singing and dancing. In fact, the singing is not a recording, it's real, actual singing using a technique called "robotic shaped note singing," thanks to software developed by Yamaha called Vocaloid.

Watch the videos. They're amazing and appalling at the same time. At least it won't need Auto-Tune.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"Killer Queen" Queen Multitrack

"Killer Queen" by the band Queen was a 1974 hit off the band's Sheer Heart Attack album, and marks the best example of a record from that era using what we consider the modern technique of recording. What's the difference between the "classic" recording method of the 60's and 70's and the modern method? Take notice that the kick, snare and toms are on separate tracks, and the bass is recorded both direct and miked, to name just a couple of things. Here are some things to listen for.

1) Freddie Mercury plays two pianos on the song that give it a very full sound. The second piano was an upright that was credited as a "jangle piano."

2) Take notice to Roger Deacon's 2nd bass overdub at 1:17. The reason why it works and doesn't make the part muddy is the fact that it's is played high on the neck. Of course, it's short too.

3) Check out Brian May's guitar tones at 1:39. The tone of the 2nd answer guitar is so different from the first (actually all the guitar parts sound different) that they not only fit together well but stand out as unique too.

4) Queen's terrific harmony vocals are an excellent example of stacked vocals to make the sound fuller. Another technique that was quite forward thinking for the time.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

"Heard It Through The Grapevine" Marvin Gaye Multitrack

"Heard It Through The Grapevine" is one of the most covered songs ever but it all started with the Marvin Gaye version. A look at the multitrack from this song shows you exactly how the brilliance of Motown's arrangements worked.

1) This song was cut on an 8 track analog tape recorder, as were most of the Detroit Motown hits. The tracks were drums, congas and tambourine, bass, guitars, strings, electric piano, background vocals, and lead vocals.

2) Listen to the two drummers on track one. You can hear a little flaming but they're impressively precise for the most part.

3) Track two is dedicated to congas and tambourine. Jack Ashton's tambourine was actually one of the distinctive sounds of Motown records.

4) The three guitars that Motown usually used on most records was also unique. Usually each guitar was assigned a part and they didn't double much, but they do here on the verse.

5) The background vocals by The Andantes are sweet, but if you listen carefully, it sounds like the singers aren't exactly sure of their parts in the beginning of the song. It not the main parts of the the phrases, it's the intros that sometimes sound like they're searching.

6) Marvin's lead vocals are, as usual, spectacular. That said, producer and co-writer Norman Whitfield fought long and hard for Marvin to sing in the key that you hear, which was one of the reasons why the song came out about a year after it was recorded.

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Drummer Brian MacLeod's Best Sessions

My good friend Brian MacLeod is one of LA's best and most in-demand session drummers. Everything he plays not only sounds great, but feels even better. I can remember hearing Sheryl Crow's breakout single "All I Want To Do" and liking the song, but noticing even more how great the drum track was. It wasn't flashy, but it grooved hard. In my opinion, that's a great example of Brian at his best.

Brian recently wrote a brief piece for Modern Drummer magazine about the ten songs that he played on that stood out to him. There's so much great info that I thought it should be repeated here. If you're a drummer, producer, or engineer, you'll love this.
When Modern Drummer asked me to write about ten songs I've played on that were special to me, my initial thought was. Wow, it's going to be hard to come up with that many. Then I started reviewing music and realized it would be tough to narrow it down! So here you have it. I'll start with a happy accident.

Sheryl Crow, "Solidify," Tuesday Night Music Club (1993)
"Solidify" was a song I recorded for Sheryl Crow's first album. I've had drummers come up to me and say, "That's a crazy track. The fills are all in weird places. How did you come up with that?" Well, to let the cat out of the bag, that track started as a jam that we recorded, and it had no form. The song was written over that jam. That's why the fills come in haphazard places. From that experience, I learned it can be cool to play fills a bar after a change to a verse or a chorus. I still do that on occasion.

For "Solidify" I used [producer] Bill Bottrell's Gretsch kit and my 5 ½x14 Black Beauty snare. On other tracks I used a Valley Drum Shop wood snare, which has a darker 70s sound.

Ziggy Marley, "True To Myself," Dragonfly (2003)
This song was lots of fun to play, and the message is so great! I played a toy drumkit on the track. That same kit was used for a Marilyn Manson video shoot. It had a 16'' kick, a 12'' tom, and a 12'' snare, which I cranked way up. I used two 8'' splash cymbals for hi-hats. The producer, Ross Hogarth, made it sound great. I played the song using an anti-fills approach, which is a tip of the hat to Steve Jordan. Sometimes space is the place.

To get a consistently punchy kick drum sound, even on a toy drum, I try not to let the beater choke the sound. I let the beater slap the head, and I don't hit super-hard. If you hit at just the right velocity, you get a better tone out of the drum, and it will sound lower.

Steady grooves like this require solid time. To develop that, it's good to practice to drum loops or click tracks. When I first started recording myself, I freaked out because I was rushing my fills. So I practiced a lot to a click so I could play my grooves and fills with confidence and still sound natural, without feeling like I was pushing and pulling too much.

Toy Matinee, "Last Plane Out," Toy Matinee (1990)
It was hard to pick one song from this record. But "Last Plane Out" sums up the entire experience, and it was the first single. I had just moved to Los Angeles and was pretty green. When I got the call to audition for the band, I thought there was no way I would get the gig. The players in the lineup were at the top of their respective fields, and I didn't know much about recording at the time. I didn't even know what a compressor was. I learned a lot about recording techniques from this session.

I like "Last Plane Out" because I really connected with the bass player, Guy Pratt. The kick and bass guitar are pretty tight, and the middle-eight section has some cool pushes with the kick and bass.

I used [producer] Pat Leonard's DW kit, which John Good made personally for him. John even came down to the studio each day and tuned the drums for us. So I got spoiled on that session.

The Office TV show theme (2005)
My buddy Bob Thiele Jr. called me and said, "Hey, can you come down and help me record this song for a TV show?" Well, I got down there, we listened to the demo once, and then we went into the studio and tracked it. Greg Daniels, the show's producer, said, "That's perfect!" We all looked at each other in total confusion. We were still learning the song, but Greg loved what we did. It's so scrappy, but it fits the show. I hear that song at least once a day-I can't get away from it!

I used a 5 ½x14 Supra-Phonic from the '70s, tuned pretty tight. I like to use different sounds on different tracks. If the song is fast and energetic, I'll generally pull out a Supra-Phonic or a 5 ½x14 wood snare and crank it up to get an open, Stewart Copeland-type sound. If it's a ballad-style track, I'll whip out one of my old, deep mahogany drums, tune it way down, and muffle it with my wallet or some tape.

Dramarama, "Memo From Turner," Vinyl (1991)
I was brought in to do this record after they lost their drummer. We got together and played through the album once at the band's rehearsal studio and then went into the studio and started tracking. We didn't play "Memo From Turner" in rehearsal. The producer, the late Don Smith, played it for me once, we went into the studio and tracked it, and that was it. Don was a master at capturing first-take magic.

I love the ending of this track. I messed it up when we recorded it, so Don just slowed down the tape. When I was younger, I used to lose sleep over little mistakes, but now I find them endearing. This is my wife's favorite album I've ever worked on.

Christina Aguilera, "Nasty Naughty Boy," Back To Basics (2006)
I used my old Slingerland Radio King drumset on this track, to get an authentic '40s/'50s burlesque vibe. That style isn't my area of expertise, so I just trusted my instincts to try to make it sound sexy. Brushes always make me a little nervous. I had my sticks under my arms and had to drop the brushes and pick up the sticks to make the transition. We tracked this song live, so there was no punching in.

Christina Aguilera, "Beautiful," Stripped (2002)
The night I got the call to record this track, I had worked all day. I'd just come home and lit up a cigar, and I was relaxing in my hot tub. My wife came out with the phone. I shook my head and told her, "I'm not home." But when she said it was [famed producer/songwriter] Linda Perry, I took the call. Linda had just recorded a demo for Christina and wanted me to come down that night to play on it. So I got out of my very comfortable tub and made my way down to the studio.

After we got drum sounds, Linda played me the song. I was floored! The message, the melody...everything about it was stunning. All I had to do was give it a bit of time and not screw it up. The final track has Christina's demo vocal, because she couldn't beat it.

There was a drum machine on the original demo-which I loved-so I tried to keep that steady vibe throughout. If the song had gotten really big at the end, it could have sounded cheesy. I wanted to be invisible and just keep time. Sometimes that's all you need to do.

I used a '70s Gretsch kit with a custom Drum Doctor 4 ½x14 wood snare.

Pink, "Waiting For Love," Try This (2003)
This song was written on the spot while we were making Pink's second album. It was recorded in her living room with the drums set up in the entryway, which had marble floors. The guitarist played the riff, and I started playing a tom groove. I put tea towels on the drums to get a more distinct sound. Pink loved what we were doing, so she started singing along. This song only made the album because she loved the groove. I like the track because it was recorded live and has flaws. We didn't use a click track, so it speeds up a bit. But it's rock 'n' roll!

Sara Bareilles, "Vegas," Little Voice (2008)
This track is full-on Brian MacLeod. Hats off to the producer, Eric Rosse, for letting me be myself. I love this one because it's so organic. I used a 30'' marching bass drum. I bought that drum off eBay, and I've never messed with it-I've never changed the heads or even tuned it. It has a distinct sound. I hit it pretty lightly, because it resonates too much when I hit it harder.

The toms are custom-made wood-hoop drums by ddrum.The snare is a 6 ½x14 Supra-Phonic that was taped up, with the snares nice and loose. I've learned over the years as a studio musician that it's deceiving to tune a drumkit for recording. Most drummers want to tune their drums like they would for a live gig, but once you put mics on them, the sound isn't right. I've found that I generally tune pretty low in the studio. And I don't hit too hard. I let the compressors do their work to make the drums sound big. If you hit too hard, the drums can choke. You have to find a balance where you get a great sound without losing excitement. Charlie Watts is a good example of someone who doesn't hit hard but gets a cracking sound on record.

John Hiatt, "The Wreck Of The Barbie Ferrari," Perfectly Good Guitar (1993)
I had a lot of fun making this entire record. I picked "Barbie Ferrari" because of the groove. It has a straight feel against a swing feel, which is something you hear on early rock 'n' roll records. From what I've heard, a lot of those sessions had rock and jazz musicians playing together, and the jazz guys would be swinging while the rock guys would be playing straight.

For this track I created a percussion loop that's both swinging and straight. I played hand drum and finger cymbal parts with a straight feel and then added a swinging part on a paint bucket. Then I played the groove on the kit with a swing feel, but the fills are straight. It was a challenge switching gears like that. The loop helped me lock in with the different feels.
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