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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Aerosmith "Dream On" Song Analysis

Twitter follower Frick Franklin requested a song analysis via Twitter. This time it's Aerosmith's breakthrough hit "Dream On" from their first album appropriately entitled Aerosmith. As the story was told to me by the album's producer Adrian Barber, Aerosmith did almost nothing in sales the first year it was released except for a single station in Baltimore. Airplay on only one station wasn't enough to get their record label (Columbia Record) interested in spending any promotion dollars (they were pushing Bruce Springsteen at the time), until the song was named #1 Song of the Year by the station's fans. The rest, as they say, is history. As with all song analysis, we'll look at the song form, the arrangement, the sound, and the production.

The Song
Like so many hit records, "Dream On" is unique in its song form, which looks like this:

Intro (16 bars), Verse (12 Bars), B Section (4 Bars), Interlude (4 Bars), Verse (8 Bars), Chorus (6 Bars), Interlude 2 (7 Bars), Chorus (6 Bars), Bridge (14 Bars), Out Chorus (10 Bars)

Obviously this is not a song written by a formula, since the chorus takes so long before it's introduced (at about 2:05) and the bridge is the only section that actually contains the title of the song ("Dream On"). What's more, just about each section is a different length. The first verse has 12 bars while the 2nd verse has 8. The second interlude has the same motif as the intro, but is played in the major instead of a minor and is 7 bars long! Then we have the bridge (the high point in most songs) at 14 bars and the out chorus at 10. This is a highly unusual song form indeed.

The melody and lyrics of the song very strong, and these sell the song to the casual listener who doesn't take much notice to the music probably more than anything else.

The Arrangement
"Dream On" features a straight ahead 5 piece rock band, with almost no sweetening. About the only thing that changes during the song is the sound of the keyboard and the addition of the Mellotron in the intro and interludes.

The arrangement elements look like this:

  * The Foundation: Bass and drums

  * The Pad: The Mellotron in the intro, first verse and first interlude

  * The Rhythm: This is different from most songs in that it's provided by the picking guitars and keyboards in the intro, verse and interludes.

  * The Lead: Lead vocal

   * The Fills: Guitar fills

The Sound
"Dream On" was recorded on 16 track at Intermedia Sound in Boston, a studio that I worked at a lot during my days there. The song is recorded very basically, but that was the style of Adrian Barber, who cut his teeth on some big records by Cream, The Rascals and Velvet Underground during his time as a staff engineer at Atlantic Records.

All of the instruments are pretty dry and in your face except for the vocal, which has a very pronounced delayed plate reverb. This sounds like the approximately 120 millisecond predelay that comes when using a tape machine set to 7 1/2 ips in the send path to the reverb. There are also a couple of bad breath pops from the lead vocal during the verses at :54 and 1:44 that are left in.

One of the cooler aspects of this record is the wide stereo field, with the guitars panned pretty hard to both sides, the keyboard on the left and the Mellotron up the middle. Speaking of keyboards, I'm not sure what they used but it sounds like one of the very early all-purpose synths of the time, with the very cheap piano emulation that sounds like a harpsichord on the intro, the organ sound at the end, and the highly modulated synth sound on the right side during the fade out (you need headphones to hear it).

The Production
I studied under producer/engineer Adrian Barber for about 3 months in the late 70's and he was quite a character with very seat of the pants in his approach. To some degree you can hear that in "Dream On." None of the instrument entrances to the sections are clean, with certain instruments (mostly the guitars) jumping out ahead. The lead vocal falls out of the pocket for a second due to a late entrance at 1:58. All this was left in, yet it never hindered our enjoyment of the song, which goes to prove that production perfection doesn't exactly mean you'll have a hit.

There are a number of excellent production aspects though. The rhythm section of drummer Joey Kramer and bassist Tom Hamilton is particularly simple and strong. The drums are especially solid and disciplined, unusually so for a young player. The interplay between the guitars is also wonderful and well thought out. Joe Perry and Brad Whitford continue that exceptional interplay to this day. Make no mistake, that's not easy, and you'll find some great guitar players that can never get the hang of this.

As with most hits, "Dream On" is unique in so many ways and still holds up well today. It has a number of flaws, which makes you love it all the more.

Don't forget to send me you song requests for analysis.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Nile Rogers Funk Tips

I recently read Chic guitarist/producer extraordinaire Nile Rogers' book, Le Freak: An Upside Story Of Family, Disco, And Destiny,  and came away plenty impressed with what Nile overcame to rise to become one of the the top hitmaker's in the world. I think I liked Keith Richards' Life a little better as far as the amount of juicy stories, but Nile's book really looks into an era of music that isn't talked about much (meaning the "Disco" era). Regardless whether you like the music of Chic (I personally do), there's no denying that Rogers had a huge impact on the world of popular music as a producer.

One area that Nile really knows is funk, and in the following video, he gives probably the best lessons I've ever seen on what is funky and what isn't in terms of playing. This should be a must see for every guitar player, regardless of if you play in the genre or not.

Help support this blog. Any purchases made through our Amazon links help support this website with no cost to you.

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 social media and the new music business.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

10 Holiday Gifts For Musicians And Engineers

It's that time of year again when it's time to buy some gifts. It you're in a quandary about what to buy for that musician or recording engineer in your life, you're in luck. I have a list of recommendations that covers a variety of items and price ranges. Most of these products I use regularly.

1. Etymotic Reaserach ER 20 Hear Protection Ear Plugs
I personally never go into a loud audio situation without these little gems. They are soooo much better than foam or wax earplugs in that they cut the level down without affecting the frequency response. Since I found the Etymotic Ear Plugs I feel absolutely naked and scared when I don't have them on me. At less than $10, you just can't go wrong.

2. Musician's Roadmap to Facebook And Twitter by Ariel Hyatt
Ariel is the queen of Cyber PR and her roadmap book is essential reading if you're an artist and new to the ways of Facebook and Twitter. If you're going to learn, do it from the best. She's also offering a holiday special for $20!

3. Monoprice 8323 Headphones
It's shocking how good these phones are for about $22. They're pretty comfortable, have a really tight fit, and provide a surprisingly balanced sound. In fact, I would trust the low end on the 8323's more than on a couple alternatives that I have that cost 4 or 5 times more. Don't let the "DJ-style" in the description scare you, these are terrific for the price.

4. Books by Bobby Owsinski
Okay, so I'm a little biased, but if you're looking for a book for someone in the music business, you'll hopefully find one of mine that will hit the sweet spot. There's something for everyone, including books on mixing, recording, recording drums, mastering, being a studio musician or a touring musician, improving your band, producing, navigating the new music business (the newly released second edition of Music 3.0), studio building, guitar tone, and making videos. From about $16 to $30.

5. Etymotic Research MC5 Noise Isolating In-Ear Earphones
Etymotic makes a lot of really great earphone products, but I especially love these MC5's for listening to my iPad or computer on trips. They totally seal out everything around you, which is great for eliminating that plane noise on a long trip. Plus, they're a huge upgrade over the standard Apple earbuds (which aren't even in the same league). They're about 60 bucks, and well worth it.

6. NewerTech Voyager Q Hard Drive Dock
Granted, this is a little geeky, but a total boon to the hard working person on a DAW. Raw hard drives are so much cheaper than buying them already in the cases, but how to connect them? Use a drive dock, that's how. This version of the Voyager is the one I use every day. It allows you to hot-swap drives and connects to the computer via Firewire 400 and 800. eSATA, and USB 3, so you won't have any hiccups editing video or that project with 100 96k/24 bit tracks. It's about $75.

7. FMR Really Nice Compressor
Everybody wants big bang for the buck and you can't get a bigger bang than the products from FMR, especially their Really Nice Compressor. The RNC provides excellent high-quality compression complete with a special "Super Nice" mode that chains multiple compressors together internally for an especially smooth sound. At $175, it can't be beat. While you're at it, buy one of their Really Nice Preamps as well, a great sounding preamp for an amazing price.

8. T-RackS 3 Mastering Suite
Don't get me wrong, it's usually not a good idea to master your own stuff, but on those occasions where you must, T-RackS is the way to go. I especially like the fact that it can be used as a stand alone desktop app. It has a great metering package and a wide range of EQ and compressor options. A word of caution, it's best to stay away from the EQ if you're mastering yourself, but T-RackS is a great way to do one of the main jobs of a mastering engineer - setting all of your songs to the same relative level. You can purchase T-RackS 3 for $249. While you're at it, pick up a copy of the T-RackS official guide (written by yours truly) for some mastering tips and tricks.

9. Golden Age Project Pre-73
Everybody wants a Neve preamp but a lot of us can't spring for a couple of channels of 1073s. The Golden Age Project Pre-73 was built to sound a lot like the 1073 and it does a pretty good job of it. It's not the real thing, but for only $350 it's surprising how close it gets.

10. Royer R-101 Ribbon Microphone
There's now a number of cheap ribbon mics on the market, but let's face it, they sound like crap compared to the real deal like a Royer R-121 or a vintage RCA DX-44. Now you can own a great ribbon mic for a reasonable price thanks to Royer's new R-101. It's about 40% cheaper than it's big brother and just the thing for recording electric guitars and horns of all type. Plus, it's a real Royer.

That's it for this year. Hopefully there's a little something in the price range you're looking for. I probably could have written about 10 more gift ideas, but I think I'll save them for next year. In the meantime, don't you deserve a present too?
Help support this blog. Any purchases made through our Amazon links help support this website with no cost to you.

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 social media and the new music business.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The 10,000 Watt iPhone Dock

OK, this is not a joke. Apparently musical instrument and semi-pro audio manufacturer Behringer will be launching the world's loudest -- and largest -- iPhone dock. The iNuke Boom is a real product and is 4 feet tall, 8 feet wide, weighs 700 pounds, and retails for $29,999 (that means you should be able to get it for about a hundred bucks at Guitar Center ;). 

The iNuke will be at Behringer's booth at CES 2012 to promote its new Eurosound line of consumer products, which will be introduced at the show. I wonder if they'll all be as expensive as the iNuke?

Behringer's products are known more for their inexpensive nature than their sound quality, so there's not a lot of hope for a breakthrough product here, but you've got to admire their audacity. Let's see, low quality MP3's coupled with low quality Chinese audio gear. Sounds like they're made for each other.
Help support this blog. Any purchases made through our Amazon links help support this website with no cost to you.

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 social media and the new music business.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

When A Producer Hires A Union Player

I'd venture to say that most musicians in the United States aren't in the musician's union  The reason why is if you're still playing clubs, the union doesn't have much to offer for the dues you pay. That all changes when you're working on a union gig for record label or a symphony, where the union guarantees a reasonable wage rate and demands that your employer contributes to the union pension fund.

But what if you're a producer who wants to hire a union player? You can't simply say, "I'll give you $75 to play the session." Things don't work like that once you've crossed the realm into union territory. Here's an excerpt from The Music Producer's Handbook that explains how it all works.
"As you saw in figure 4.1, it costs a lot more money to hire musicians that work under the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) union rules than ones who don’t. Not only is the pay generally higher for working a shorter session than non-union players, but you also have additional costs that go beyond what the player gets directly, which we’ll cover in a bit. What’s more, union rates can be somewhat of a maze since different scales cover different situations, rates are renegotiated every few years, and pay scales vary from union local to union local (not that much, but they do vary).

Generally, the union pay scales for recording are based on 3 hour sessions and are broken down as follows:
Demo Scale - This means that whatever the musicians play on is only used to secure a master record deal and can’t be sold commercially. This is the least expensive (to the producer) of all the scales. Demo scale is a relic from a time when demos were a necessity to take your project to a higher level in the business, and even though it’s still on the books, this scale is outdated since any recording is so easy to release commercially.

Limited Pressing Scale - Another relic of the past thanks to digital music, the limited pressing scale allows the producer or label to make and sell up to 10,000 copies of anything the musicians play on. The limited pressing scale pays a bit more than the demo scale.

Low Budget Scale - The low budget scale was originally created to help small indie record labels who never had the large recording budgets that were typical of a major label product. The key here is that the budget needs to be submitted to the union for approval in advance before you can play on it, but the label can sell as many copies of the product as they can.

Master Recording Scale - This is the scale used to pay musicians to record a typical medium or big budget master recording for a major record label. It’s the highest paying scale with the most perks.

Jingle Scale - The jingle scale is a little different in that most jingle (commercial music) sessions are so short that everything is based upon a single hour pay with 20 minute increments. The number of jingles that can be recorded in that time period is limited to 3 (or 3 minutes of music), or else you must pay the musicians for another session. The musicians also get payed again for every 13 week run that the commercial stays on air (but it doesn’t come out of your budget). The musicians also get paid again if the producer takes the music bed that you played on and creates an additional commercial (called a dub fee) or a new commercial (called a conversion fee).

Motion Picture and Film Scales - This is a dizzying array of scales for orchestral recordings that vary depending upon the size of the orchestra and budget, and whether the performance is a “buy-out” (you only get paid once for the original performance) or if you’ll get paid for subsequent performances.
Additional Fees
There are other fees that must be paid under certain circumstances on a union date.
• The leader is always entitled to twice the scale rate regardless of what kind of session and which rate scale you’re using.

• If a musician doubles on a second instrument during the session, he will make an additional 20-30% (depending on the type of session and scale), and an extra 15-20% for each additional instrument played.

• And in some cases, he may even get an additional payment for cartage of large instruments like $12 for cello, baritone sax, bass sax, contra-bass clarinet, tuba, drums, marimba, chimes, accordion, Cordovox, and each amplifier, and $30 for harp, keyboard, tympani,  vibraphone, and bass.

• Besides the hourly scale amount, the producer will also contribute another 12% or so to the musician’s union pension fund, an additional 3% to his health and welfare fund, and in some cases, 4% more to a vacation fund.
As stated before, the scales and rates are subject to change every few years, so it’s best to check with your union local to find out exactly what those rates are today. This section is only just a thumbnail of the detail as well, so check for all the particulars that might apply to your specific session well in advance of the downbeat, and make sure that the session leader or contractor (who files the paperwork) is on the same page as you.

Here’s a list of the major media center’s union locals and websites:
New York City Local 802
Los Angles Local 47
Nashville Local 257
Chicago Local 10-208

Hiring Union Players
The best way to ensure that you get exactly the players you want, stay within the confines of the union, and have all the paperwork filed, is to hire a union contractor who will put the appropriate players together for you. If you need a horn or string section, a single call to a contractor will get you the players you need, instead of having to assemble the section yourself (which can be hit or miss as to the quality of players if you’re not familiar with them).

The contractor acts as a go-between for musicians and producers, and is required to be present at all times during the session when his contracted musicians are recording. Contractors come in two varieties: union and independent. Both are usually musicians themselves who supervise and provide additional services for a session. A Contractor can help musicians and singers prepare by supplying them with the necessary information for the session, and making sure that they and their specified instruments and equipment arrive at the event or session on time. He coordinates the event, coaches, conducts, computes session fees, and submits the proper union forms (if it’s a union date) to the employer and union office.

It is not uncommon for contractors to specialize in a specific area of the business like jingles, orchestral dates, or film/television sessions. For a contractor, it’s all about relationships. His or her reputation is founded on the experience level and quality of the musicians he or she makes available, so it really makes sense to cultivate relationships with the local contractors."

You can read more excerpts from my books here.
Help support this blog. Any purchases made through our Amazon links help support this website with no cost to you.

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 social media and the new music business.


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