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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Sheryl Crow "Soak Up The Sun" Song Analysis

C'mon, C'mon Sheryl Crow album cover image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture blog
Here's a song analysis request from my buddy JW. “Soak Up The Sun” was the lead single from Sheryl Crow’s 2002 album C’mon, C’mon, an album that was nominated for a Best Rock Album Grammy in 2003 and went on to sell more than 2.5 million units. “The song was also nominated for Best Pop Female Vocal Performance, and also features singer Liz Phair on background vocals. Like with all song analysis, we'll look at the song form, the arrangement, the sound and the production.

The Song
“Soak Up The Sun” is one of those songs that appears to be simple on the surface, but there’s more going on than meets the ear. The song form looks like this:

intro A ➞ intro B ➞ verse ➞ verse ➞ chorus ➞ intro B ➞ verse ➞ 
B-section (4 bars) ➞ chorus ➞ intro B ➞ verse ➞ 
B-section (5 bars) ➞ chorus ➞ chorus ➞ chorus 

The form is unusual in that it has two intros, one that’s based on loops that only heard once in the song, and a second one with the songs main instruments that’s heard multiple times. Although it doesn’t have a bridge, “Soak Up The Sun” does have a B-section that unexpectedly enters at the end of the third and fourth verses instead of another verse, with the second B-section having an extra bar. That form change, along with the arrangement, keeps the interest high throughout the song.

The Arrangement
Just like the song form, “Soak Up The Sun” has a much more complex arrangement than you might think on first listen. There are many more arrangement layers that glue the song together than most pop songs.

The intro is made up of various loops over what sounds to be a old record playing that goes into the second intro made up of the drums, an electric guitar through a Leslie speaker in the center playing a riff answered by doubled acoustic guitars on each side. The glue that holds the mix arrangement and mix together is an organ pedaling a single note way in back of the mix. While it’s not heard clearly, it’s integral to the song as it would sound empty without it.

When the doubled vocal enters in the first verse, the Leslie guitar exits but the other instruments remain. The Leslie guitar then returns in between verses. For the chorus, the vocals are joined by the bass, doubled harmony vocals and multiple electric guitars panned left and right, and the doubled acoustics now strum to add motion. On the second half of the chorus, a slide guitar enters to add additional motion.

On the second chorus the instrumentation is the same as the first except that the slide guitar enters right away instead of waiting until the second half. Then on the next intro a different electric guitar line plays instead of the Leslie guitar. The fourth verse is different though, as the bass and electric guitars exit and the section is carried by the drums, acoustic guitars and organ pad behind the doubled vocals. The next B-section is the same instrumentation as previous, except for the addition of the extra bar at the end. 

The three outchoruses are interesting in that the instrumentation stays the same for the first two, except the melody vocals change slightly on chorus three and harmony background and answer vocals enter on chorus four. On the final chorus everything breaks down to acoustic and electric guitars, bass and organ pad and vocal.

Once again, like most hit songs the dynamics vary throughout, which keeps it interesting.

The arrangement elements look like this:
  • The Foundation:  bass and drums
  • The Rhythm: acoustic and electric strumming guitars
  • The Pad: organ and distorted electric guitar
  • The Lead: vocal
  • The Fills: slide guitar in chorus, harmony vocals on fifth chorus (second outro chorus)\
The Sound
Except for the vocals, “Soak Up The Sun” isn’t what you’d call a distinct mix. There are a lot of guitars, but they all pretty much blend into one another, and the organ pad is buried, but that’s actually a good thing as it helps glue everything together.

There doesn’t seem to be any effects in the song at all, with all the instruments and vocals being dry. As a result, any layering is done exclusively through level and tone. There is a fair amount of panning, with all of the guitars except for the Leslie guitar and slide panned to one side or another to stay out of the way of the vocals.

The Production
As with most hits, “Soak Up The Sun” breathes dynamically with instruments entering and exiting throughout the song, and new parts subtly being added in throughout to keep the interest high. There might not be much of a change from section to section, but it doesn’t have to be a lot to hold your attention. Listen to the slight melody change on the third chorus and then the new high background vocal part that enters on the fourth verse as good examples of that.


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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.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Here Comes HyperAudio

hyperaudio image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
There's something new on the horizon that anyone involved in audio should be interested in and it's called Hyperaudio. Hyperaudio is a way to take audio to another level by integrating some common sense things that haven't been possible until now, like search, subtitles, versions and translations, and all sorts of additional text info.

In other words, it's a way of adding into audio all the features that we've been using with hypertext for years. All this is now made possible in the new HTML5 platform that is thankfully replacing Flash as the media platform of choice on the Web.

This is a technology in its infancy, but it holds much promise. Those that think that hyperaudio will be the next big thing (maybe only A big thing), hope that it will:
  • make audio searchable
  • make audio linkable
  • make audio navigable
  • dynamically generate audio
  • convert speech to text
  • represent audio visually
Ok, some of these we can do already, but require a separate app to do so. The hope is that this will all be built into HTML5 at some point. Here's an early example of how it works from WNYC famous RadioLab program. Remember, you heard about it here first!


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, September 4, 2012

Old School Recording At Toe Rag Studios

I don't know about you but I just love having limitations put on me when it comes to creating. The fact that you have to work within certain parameters can sometimes bring out new and different directions that you never expected.

I was doing some research on The White Stripes for a book in my new Deconstructed Hits series, when I came across the fact that they recorded their big album hit Elephant at Toe Rag Studios outside of London. The studio is awesome in that it really is a throwback in that not a piece of equipment in the studio is from later than 1963. They started with an 8 track tape machine and eventually moved up to 16 (Elephant was done on 8), and the console is an old EMI REDD from Abbey Road.

Image that. Limiting yourself to only 8 or 16 tracks. I hate to date myself, but back in the day, we used to call that a luxury.  Check out the video.


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Monday, September 3, 2012

The Elegance Of Hal David's Lyrics

Hal David's Hollywood Star from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
Hal David's Hollywood Star
In almost any day's pop music, lyrics sometimes seem to be written almost as an afterthought. Create the beat, the hook and the music, then just try to fit some words in to fill up the space seems to be the way it works.  That's what makes Hal David's lyrics all the more elegant.

David, who died on recently at 91, co-wrote with Burt Bacharach some of the 60s and 70s most enduring pop hits for a variety of stars like Dionne Warwick ("Do You Know The Way To San Jose," "Walk On By," "I Say A Little Prayer," "Always Something There To Remind Me,"), BJ Thomas ("Raindrops Keep Fallin On My Head"), Jackie DeShannon ("What The World Needs Now Is Love, Sweet Love"), The Carpenters ("Close To You"), and Herb Alpert ("This Guy's In Love With You") among many others.

You may not like this type of music, but you have to admire the lyrics. They not only tell a story, but they almost never feel forced into a rhyme. They're concise and to the point, but feel like the best kind of poetry; the kind that anyone can grasp and relate to.

While David's hooks were outstanding, it's his bridges and B-sections that really make it for me. Here's the B-section to "San Jose":
LA is a great big freeway
Put a hundred down and buy a car
In a week, maybe two, they'll make you a star
Weeks turn into years. How quick they pass
And all the stars that never were
Are parking cars and pumping gas.
It tells a story that anyone who's ever lived in LA can relate to, yet is so skillfully crafted the the lyrics flow easily together, especially when they're sung.

Here's the bridge to "What The World Needs Now:"
Lord, we don't need another mountain
There are mountains and hillsides enough to climb
There are oceans and rivers enough to cross
Enough to last 'till the end of time. 
What the world needs now, is love sweet love
It's the only thing that there's just to little of
Once again, a picture is painted and it's followed by a concept that's universal, but it's so well put together that everything moves easily without ever feeling like it was thrown together.

And finally, the bridge from The Carpenters "Close To You:"
On the day that you were born the angels got together
and decided to create a dream come true
so they sprinkled moon dust in your hair
of golden startlight in your eyes of blue
When was the last time you heard a "true - blue" rhyme done so well?

I could go on all day with examples, but if you're a songwriter or lyricist that really wants to reach for the sky, study Hal David. He was one of the all time best.


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, September 2, 2012

New Musical Instrument Monday: The OtomaTone

Leave it to those wacky Japanese to come up with new monophonic performance instrument with a funny face. It's the OtomaTone. Although you can squeeze the face so it looks like it's singing, the secret is the ribbon controller on its upper half. The company describes it as a cross between a theremin, an actual musical instrument, and a Japanese toy.

If for nothing else, it's a good prop for a music video.

The OtomaTone doesn't begin until 25 seconds in.


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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