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Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Power Of The Pentatonic Scale

This is a fabulous video. It's vocalist Bobby McFerrin at the World Science Festival teaching the pentatonic scale to the audience in a unique way. Granted, there are probably a lot of musicians in the audience, but watch how the audience fills in the notes by themselves.

As McFerrin states at the end of the video, "No matter where I'm at, every audience seems to get it for some reason." I guess you don't have to be a musician or music student after all. It's something that's inherent in all of us.

Check it out. It's short, fun and borderline amazing.


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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"Gone Baby, Don't Be Long" - Erykah Badu Song Analysis

RJ asked for a song analysis of "Gone Baby, Don't Be Long" by the queen of Neo-Soul - Erykah Badu. This is a single from her fifth studio album entitled New Amerykah Part Two (Return Of The Ankh), which  rose to #4 on the Billboard 200 chart in 2010.

As always, we'll look at the song, the arrangement, the sound and the performance.

The Song
"Gone Baby, Don't Be Long" is a great example of a song that basically uses the same chord changes throughout the song, yet manages to create distinct sections based on the melody. The form looks like this:

Intro, Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus

As you can see, the bridge happens twice in the song, although it's more a case of the vocal melody changing than any real form change of the backing track.

The Arrangement
Again, the backing track is pretty much the same throughout song, but some added vocals and ad libs do develop the verses and choruses. The arrangement elements look like this:

   * The Foundation - A sample from Paul McCartney and Wing's "Arrow Through Me" and an unbelievably funky synth bass. Here's the link to the original Wing's song.

   * The Pad - A very nice lush synth.

   * The Rhythm - This is interesting because it's a combination of a what sounds like a reggae-style guitar way back in the mix, a shaker and an interesting muted cowbell sample.

   * The Lead - Erykah's voice

   * The Fills - Mostly a very nice crunchy guitar and vocal ad libs during the chorus.

The Sound
This song is nicely layered, with the foundation sample pretty bare and in your face, Erykah with a double and short room reverb, a long lush reverb on the synth pad, and a nice delayed verb on the guitar fills. The bass has an abundance of low end and is not that distinct sounding, which helps cover up the bass that's on the sample.

The Performance
To me, a number of things jump out on this song. First of all the bass is the epitome of funk. It definitely makes the song as cool as it is. I also love the guitar fills; nice sound and very tasty playing. The lead vocal also shines, especially the ad libs, although she seems a tiny bit out of the pocket on the chorus sometimes, but that probably only bothers me and no one else.

Send me your requests for song analysis, but try to include a link to the video.


You should 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.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

3 Tips For Choosing Studio Monitors

I'm always surprised when I hear that someone just bought a pair of studio monitors just on someone's recommendation or because they read that some engineer uses them. I'm even more surprised when I hear about how haphazardly the listening tests were when they do get a chance to audition them.

Here's an excerpt from The Studio Builder's Handbook that provides some useful tips for choosing some monitors that you'll love listening to for a long time. You can read more excerpts from the book on the Studio Builder's Handbook portion of my website.

So what do you look for when you’re choosing monitors? It’s surprising that so many monitors are chosen by a review or word of mouth, since they’re such a personal item. Here are some things to think about before you purchase a set of speakers.
1) Don’t choose a monitor because someone else is using them. Just because your favorite mixer uses a set of Tannoy Precision 8D’s, it doesn’t mean that they’ll be right for you too. Everyone hears differently and has a different hearing experience. Plus, the match with your room might not be ideal, they might not be a good match with the type of music you work on, and if they’re unpowered, you may not have the same amp to drive them with as the reviewer, so they’ll sound different from what someone else hears.
2) Make Sure You Listen to the monitors before you buy them. The pros take their time and listen to them under a wide range of conditions before they commit to a purchase, so why shouldn’t you? It’s true that you might not live near a big media center with lots of pro audio dealers, and even if you do, you may not have a relationship with one that gets you a personal demo in your own studio. That shouldn’t stop you from listening though. Take the trip to your local pro audio or music store and spend some time listening. Here’s what you should listen for when you evaluate a monitor:
  • Listen for An Even Frequency Balance - Check to see if any frequencies are exaggerated or attenuated while listening to a piece of music that you’re very familiar with. Listen especially to the mid-range cross-over area (usually about 1.5 to 2.5kHz), then to cymbals on the high end, vocals and guitars in the midrange, and bass and kick drum on the low end.
  • Listen to the Frequency Balance At Different Levels - The speakers should have the same frequency balance at any level, from quiet to loud.
  • Make Sure The Speakers Are Loud Enough Without Distortion - Be sure that there’s enough clean level for your needs. Many powered monitors have built-in limiters that stop the speaker or amplifier from distorting, but this also keeps the system from getting as loud as you need it to be. Be sure to listen to them at various volume levels to determine if they’ll be loud enough for your needs, if they will distort, or if their sound characteristics change dramatically at different volumes.
Above all, don’t buy a set of speakers without listening to them because it’s difficult for them to live up to your expectations if you haven’t heard them first. In fact, it’s not a good idea to buy any set of speakers unless you’re really in love with them. You’ll have to listen to these monitors for a lot of hours so you might as well like what you hear.
3) Listen with source material that you know very well. The only way to judge a monitor is to listen to material that you’re very familiar with and have heard in a lot of different environments. This will give you the necessary reference point that you need to adequately judge what you’re listening to. You can use something that you recorded yourself that you know inside and out, or a favorite CD that you feel is well-recorded. Just stay away any critical listening with MP3’s; the higher the quality of your playback source, the better. A high quality 24 bit source like from a personal digital recorder is great because it gives you a better idea of the frequency response of the system.

If the monitors that you’re auditioning aren’t powered, you might want to bring your own amplifier to the audition because the amp/speaker combination is a delicate one. A speaker has a much greater interdependence on the power source than most of us realize, and many engineers search for the perfect amplifier almost as long as for the perfect monitor. Thankfully, that’s not as much of a problem these days since most high quality monitors have built-in amplifiers perfectly matched to its speaker drivers by the manufacturer.
That being said, you can easily get used to just about any speaker if you use it enough and learn it’s strengths and weaknesses in your room. It also helps to have a reference point that you’re sure of to compare the sound with, like your car or a particular boombox, then adjust your mixes so they work when you play them there. 


You should 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.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Has SXSW Jumped The Shark?

It happens to every conference. Heck, it happens to almost everything that achieves mass popularity. Sooner or later whatever has become massively popular reaches the point where it's just not as cool, worthwhile watching or attending, or has outgrown the original idea. It has "jumped the shark," which refers to the 70's TV series Happy Days when the show basically ran out of ideas and had Fonzie waterskiing over sharks.

From what I've been hearing, the excellent music conference that is South By Southwest (or SXSW), might've just done just that. Although there's always the people that treat the conference like a giant vacation and have a good time no matter what, the people that are trying to do some real business there are becoming increasingly disgruntled.

Here's what I've heard:
  • It's too crowded and hurried to get any business accomplished.
  • It's too crowded to get anywhere easily and on time.
  • It's hard to arrange flights, lodging and transportation, because (you guessed it) it's too crowded.
  • There's a lot of the crowd that's only there for the free events, and therefore don't contribute much.
  • There are more fights and unsavory incidents occurring.
  • It's so crowded that my band has no chance of being seen (this might be the worst one of the bunch).
  • There's no chance of being signed because the industry has changed and there are no A&R people left.
I'm interested in hearing your thoughts. Has SXSW "jumped the shark." 

And by the way, you can read more interesting Jump The Shark television info on that site, although it's not as good now that TV Guide has taken it over.


You should 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.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

"The Cave" - Mumford & Sons Song Analysis

Today we'll take look at Mumford & Son's "The Cave," a song that's currently #1 on the iTunes Alternative Songs chart. "The Cave" is from their Sigh No More album which recently won a Brit Award for Best British Album of 2011, and is certainly one of the more interesting song analysis done here. As always, the song is broken down into four components - the song itself, the arrangement, the sound and the performance.

The Song - "The Cave" is typical of most folk songs in that it's just a verse and a chorus form. The form looks like this:

Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Chorus, Chorus, Chorus

The Arrangement - This song is the one of the best examples of dynamics that I've seen in a long time. Listen to how the song breathes in volume from the quiet intro to the roar of the chorus, then back again. Then in the outro choruses, the first one is quiet, and each one builds to a climax at the end. It's proof that even a fairly simple song form in any genre of music can be made interesting with only the addition of dynamics.

The song develops thanks to the introduction of electric banjo harmonics in the second half of the first verse, a piano on the second verse, the introduction of harmony vocals and what sounds like a violin in the second chorus, and what sounds like a recorder counter line in the last chorus.

Here are the arrangement elements:

   * The Foundation - The song uses the hard strumming of the guitar, the bass and simple foot stomps as the foundation. No drums here which is not only unusual, but almost amazing how they pull it off so well.

  * The Pad - The accordion and what sounds like a violin in the chorus acts as a pad.

  * The Rhythm - The rhythm element principally comes from the picking of the electric banjo in the chorus.

  * The Lead - The lead vocal.

  * The Fills - Banjo and piano in the verse, and something that sounds like a recorder in the last chorus playing a counter line.

The Sound - The mix is a bit muddy in that it's sometimes difficult to pick out some of the instruments in the chorus, but it could've been intentionally mixed that way as well. All the instruments sound natural without a trace of over-compression. There's also a very nice short reverb with a timed short pre-delay that just about disappears into the track.

The Performance - Any time you get this level of dynamics from a group of players you have a tremendous performance, since it takes a great deal of concentration to do it both smoothly and in sync with the all the players. Of course, it's just this characteristic that makes Mumford & Sons who they are.


You should 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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