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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Don't Forget To Celebrate Record Story Day!

Record Store Day logo graphic from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
Today is the fifth annual Record Store Day when music lover everywhere head for their local record store to buy some vinyl and help surport a dwindling, but absolutely necessary part of the industry.

A number of artists are celebrating the day by releasing special vinyl records, including Katy Perry (with 12" pink vinyl), David Bowie (with a picture disc of "Starman"), Arcade Fire, Flaming Lips, Paul McCartney, and even some never before heard songs by James Brown.

Most record stores are small independent "mom and pop" stores these days and they really do need our help to survive. Head out to a store today. Look through the albums and CDs, and maybe even buy something.

Support your local record store. You'll be glad you did.


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

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Ready For A MacBook Fragrance?

Guitar case air freshener from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
Everyone loves that new car smell, and we've all seen those air fresheners that clone the aroma. Now an art group out of Australia has created the scent of the the packaging of a brand new Apple MacBook Pro being opened for the first time.

Melbourne based Gavin Bell, Jarrah de Kuijer and Simon McGlinn approached the fragrance company Air Aroma to recreate the smell, which they were able to do by combining the scents of glue, plastic, rubber and paper (not exactly your most aromatic of smells). It turns out that Air Aroma can make you a custom scent, and they've done so for Langham and Hilton Hotels, Dunhill and Toyota so far.

The scent is intended to only be used during an art exhibition in Melbourne, but it does bring up a number of fascinating possibilities. How about that new guitar smell when you open up a case for the first time? The woody smell of that new drum kit? The smell of the box when you open up a new hard drive? The "new studio" smell after construction?

Would you pay to have that smell around all the time? Would it be good for selling used gear? Is this a new possible revenue stream for Fender, Gibson, et al?

Question, questions. What do you think?


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.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Gotye "Somebody That I Used To Know" Song Analysis

There aren't that many songs that can be classified as a true #1 hit around the world, but Gotye's "Somebody That I Used To Know" (featuring Kimbra) is one of them and it's the song analysis for this week. The song is the second single from his third studio album called Making Mirrorsand was a recent #1 on Billboard's Hot 100, a rarity for an Australian artist. Like with all song analysis, we'll look at the song form, the arrangement, the sound and the production.

The Song
"Somebody That I Used To Know" has an interesting song form in that it doesn't really have a bridge, yet contains another section that almost acts like one. The form looks like this:

Intro, Verse, Interlude, Verse, Chorus, Interlude, Verse, B Section, Chorus, Outro

What happens is that the first two verses are 16 bars each, but the third verse that Kimbra sings is 8 bars with another 8 bars that you can classify as either a B section or a bridge. Regardless of how you look at it, changing the 2nd half of the 3rd verse is very effective and definitely heightens the interest and raises the energy, which is what a bridge does.

The Arrangement
On the surface this seems like a simple arrangement but it's really quite deep and sophisticated. There's a lot going on, but without an instrument really playing a big wide chord.

  * The Foundation: bass and drum (mostly tom) loops

  * The Rhythm: acoustic guitar

  * The Pad: the background vocals during the chorus

  * The Lead: lead vocals, synth lines in the intro and chorus

  * The Fills: guitars in the verses, background vocals in the chorus and outro

As with almost all hit songs, listen to how the arrangement develops. It starts off sparse, gets a little bigger in the intro, then backs off again during the verse, then gets large during the chorus, then back down again into the interlude and so forth. That's the essence of a good arrangement in a pop song.

The Sound
The sound of "Somebody That I Used To Know" is fairly sophisticated, with lots of effects layers. First you have the acoustic guitar that's completely dry, while every other instrument has some degree of ambience. Most of the synth lead lines have a long verb that sounds really good as it blends into the track well.

During the second verse there's a guitar that enters playing fills on the left side that has a nice repeating delay. That also brings up the issue of panning, which is used pretty as you have fill and rhythm guitars and mono loops entering on both right and left, which keeps the mix interesting.

The vocals are also layered with the both Goyte and Kimbra's lead getting a long verb, but most of the back ground vocals being pretty dry. You can really hear the sound of the reverb itself at after the hard ending. Take notice that the chorus lead vocals are doubled, helping to give the song a thicker more dynamic sound at that point.

There's a spot in the song where the background vocals distort a little (at around 3:10), but otherwise it sounds pretty clean.

The Production
I love the production on "Somebody That I Used To Know." Gotye (Wally De Backer to his friends) has a distinctive way of putting the song together that's sparse in the fact that virtually nothing is playing big chords, yet it sounds big and dynamic. The loops really work without sticking out as "loops," and the background vocals on the outchorus are excellent as they weave back and forth; sometimes high, sometimes low, sometimes just Gotye, sometimes just Kimbra, sometimes both. Most excellent.


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, April 17, 2012

5 Tricks For Getting A Great Studio Guitar Sound

mass guitar pedals from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
Jacob D recently sent in the following question: "Bobby - I've been trying to get a good guitar sound recording but it always sounds so small. I've tried every pedal you can think of, but none of them get me the sound that I hear on big time recordings. What should I do?"

Okay, Jacob, here's something that I learned the hard way and I've outlined in several books like The Recording Engineer's Handbook and The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook. Put the pedals on the side and plug your guitar directly into your amp, then crank that sucker. To get a great guitar sound you have to not only move some air, but also turn your amp up enough so that both the input and output stages of the circuitry begin to distort a bit, if you're playing through a tube amp.

This even applies to the inexpensive small modeling amps that have flooded the market. Even though the sound of a solid state (a non-tube amp, without getting too technical) amp is pretty clean before you dial in the overdrive, the sound can benefit a lot from a little of the speaker being overdriven as well.

That said, there are a few things to keep in mind:

1) Smaller wattage amps work a lot better in the studio, which is why you see a lot of 5 to 20 watt amps now available. A 100 watt Marshall (or hundred watt anything, for that matter), for instance, is altogether too loud for 95% of the studio situations, and you'll get a sound that's just as big from one that 10 watts without everyone having to wear earplugs.

2) With either a tube or solid state amp, make it sound as good as you can with it relatively clean sound before you add any distortion, either from an amp model or a pedal. You'll find that you won't need nearly as much of the crunch and the sound will sit better in the track.

3) Always be judicious with distortion and effects when recording. Usually what sounds good to you in the room is too much for the song, causing the guitar sound to become more of a blur than a distinct element in the mix. It's okay if you record with too little, since you can always add it later, but you can't take it away once it's recorded that way.

4) Don't smash the mic up against the speaker grill. Move it back a foot or so (which is the old school way of doing it) and you'll find that you'll pick up more of the character of the speaker because it has a chance to develop, as well as a bit of the room.

5) Move the mic a bit. Move it across the best sounding speaker in your cabinet to find the best combination of fullness and definition. Closer to the voice coil and you'll get more high end, and more to the outside edge of the cone will give you more body. Usually about halfway provides the best combination, but don't be afraid to experiment. Try this first before you reach for the EQ. You'll be surprised how well it works!

So keep your sound big and muscular instead of tiny and small. Crank the amp up, move some air, and play a bit cleaner than you think you need to. You'll be surprised at how good it will sound.

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, April 16, 2012

The Kurzweil Music Story

Everyone knows Ray Kurzweil as one of the world's most respected futurists, but he also played a huge part in the music business as well. 30 years ago Ray (with the help of Stevie Wonder, Bob Moog and Alan R. Pearlman from ARP) came up with a then groundbreaking instrument in the K250, one of the very first electronic keyboards to have a weighted keyboard with action similar to a real piano, as well as a sound that was closer to one than ever before.

The K250 was indeed groundbreaking. Not only was it the first easily portable instrument that employed computer architecture to achieved its sounds, but it was also one of the first with a SCSI interface enabling the user to add external hard drives to store the sounds (a very big deal at the time). It also had one of the first samplers, available as an option, that had a sample rate that went up to 50kHz.

As we jump forward 30 years, Kurzweil Music Systems is still one of the leaders in high quality electronic keyboards while so many other computer based music systems (like Synclavier and Fairlight) have fallen by the wayside.

Here's a great video on how Ray went from creating systems for the blind to the MI business. Note some of the vintage segments of some really old audio gear.


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, April 15, 2012

The Pros And Cons Of Mixing On Headphones

pink headphones from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
Christine Lavin recently sent in the following question: "Where do headphones fit in the mix for you, or do you listen just to the speakers? I've been in studios where they have 3 sets of speakers -- small medium and large -- and the producer or mixer (if it's someone else) listen on all three.  But I'm a headphone person. Wonder what your opinion of that is?"

I'm a firm believer that you can get great mixes out of virtually any set of speakers in just about any room, and that includes headphones as well. The trick is that you have to have enough listening time to get a reference point as to what sounds good or bad when you play your mix back elsewhere. That's why mixers began to take their own speakers wherever they went (or asked for NS-10s) in the first place. It was something that they were familiar with, and since they were nearfields, the room didn't come too much into play during the mix so they could be surer of the result.

Mixing on headphones does have 4 significant downsides though:
1) You can't wear them for as long as you need to (8, 10, 12 hours) before your head and ears get tired from the extra weight. 
2) You have a tendency to turn them up, which can lead to some quick ear fatigue, again limiting your ability to mix for long periods. 
3) Because most of the more expensive professional headphones really sound great, you get a false sense of what the mix is like (especially on the low end), and it causes you not to work as hard getting the frequency balance of the mix right. 
4) The vast majority of the audience won't listen on phones after the mix is completed. Since a mixer is always aiming for a mix that sounds great on most speakers that the material is played on, you want to stay in that realm if possible, and even listen on some crappy speakers if possible as a check. Headphones just sound too good for that.
That said, headphones do have their place. They're great for editing in that you can hear clicks, pops and inconsistencies that you may otherwise miss while listening on speakers, and they're a great check for panning and checking reverb tails when mixing, but I wouldn't personally use them for an entire mix.

But if you're mixing in your bedroom and don't want to wake the the kids, significant other or neighbors, then by all means, go for it. Just make sure that you listen to some other material that sounds great on speakers first so you have a reference point of what sounds good and what doesn't.

Here's a bonus question also from Christine: "Do you think it's optimum to mix in a different studio from where you record, and/or bring in someone with fresh ears who hasn't been there for the recording of all the tracks?"

The only time I think that it's worth going to a different studio to mix is if you think that your mix is going to sound a whole lot better as a result, like in the case of mixing through a console rather than in the box. Otherwise, I'd stay in the same studio that you tracked, if for no other reason than not having to worry about software and plugin compatibilities that always seem to crop up when you go to a different system.

As for getting a different mixer, if you're stuck on the sound of the project for some reason, then it's great to have a fresh set of ears (as in someone else's) for the mix. Also, if you can hire someone who's a great mixer who you think can beat anything that you might come up with, then it may definitely worth it ("may" is the operative word here - you might not get what you expect). Otherwise, I think you're a lot better off using the same team that tracked the song(s) from the beginning for the sake of vision and continuity.

Any other questions? Feel free to send them along to


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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