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Thursday, October 4, 2012

O'Jays "For The Love Of Money" Song Analysis

For The Love Of Money - O'Jays image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture blog
Reader Phil LoCascio requested a song analysis of a mid-70's r&b hit by The O'Jays called "For The Love Of Money" from their Ship Ahoy album. The song represented some great Philly Soul and is another iconic production by producers and writers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff for Philadelphia International Records, an r&b powerhouse in the 70's. The song peaked at #3 on the Billboard R&B chart and #9 on the Pop chart. It's title comes from the well-known bible verse "For the love of money is the root of all evil."

Like with all song analysis, we'll look at the song form, the arrangement, the sound and the production.

The Song
The album version of the "For The Love Of Money" is over 7 minutes long, but we'll look at the single edited version here, since that was one that garnered most airplay (although the full album version did get played a lot as well). The form looks like this:

Intro, verse, interlude, chorus, interlude, verse, bridge, chorus, outro

There's not really a lot of sections to the song, yet it seems a lot longer than it actually is. That doesn't mean that you loose interest though. The fact of the matter is that the song continues to evolve as it goes along.

The Arrangement
"For The Love Of Money" is really a mini-masterpiece when you really begin to analyze it. It's built around a simple yet powerful bass riff that continues through most of the song, yet there's always something going on around it that keeps your attention.

The song begins with the bass riff by itself, which is then joined by the drums and percussion after two passages of the riff. A trumpet line is added, which has a harmony added on the second time around.

During the verses, the horns, piano and organ play the chord pattern while a wah guitar pushes the rhythm along with the congas. The lead vocals are traded back and forth between the members of the band. The choruses follow the same chord pattern as the verse, but the background vocals restate the song title. It's only in the bridge that the bass and drums really play anything resembling a typical rhythm section pattern, while the organ plays a pad.

Finally, the outro is basically a chorus with the vocals turned around, with the backgrounds taking the melody and the lead vocals ad libing. The arrangement elements look like this:

  * The Foundation: bass and drums

  * The Rhythm: congas and wah guitar

  * The Pad: organ in the bridge

  *The Lead: lead and background vocals

  * The Fills: lead and background vocals, horns in the outro

The Sound
The sound of "For The Love Of Money," recorded at Philadelphia's legendary Sigma Sound by its owner Joe Tarsia, is classically 70's clean. A little known fact is that Sigma was the second studio in the US to offer 24 track recording, one of the first to use a DI to record bass, and the first to have console automation!

Perhaps the most compelling part of the song is bassist Anthony Jackson's signature bass line. Take notice that it crosses back and forth between being bathed in reverb and being dry, while also being slightly phased. This is one of the rare times in music where the bass actually benefits from reverb, since it's used as an effect to draw the listeners attention during a section where the bass is playing by itself.

The song also features phasing on the drums and backwards reverb vocals on the background vocal parts. Also take notice that the panning is very wide, with the horns only on the right side (and their echo on the left) along with the B-3 and wah guitar, and the congas only on the left side along with the occasional piano.

Just about everything in the mix has some sort of excellent sounding reverb on it, which really gives it a rich, yet not too distant sound.

The Production
Gamble and Huff were the heart of the Philly Soul era, and their productions have always been sophisticated way beyond what they've been given credit for. The fact that they could take a pretty simple riff and turn it into a top 10 single is a testament to their songwriting and production abilities.

From the backwards phasing on the vocals, the phasing on the drums in the intro, the reverb on the bass, the extreme panning of instruments - any one which might be dubious in most songs, yet all used here - the song is total ear candy. Yet those tricks aren't done just because they're cool, but because they all contribute to the song as they blend in seamlessly to the track.

But the real trick is how they weave instruments together. Listen to how the horns, organ and piano all meld together to become one instrument during the verses and chorus. Listen to the unusual drum beat that compliments the bass line perfectly.

The 3 minute singles version is embedded below, but if you really want a treat, check out the full 7 minute album version as well.

Send me your song requests.


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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Rare Video: "Let's Buy A Record"

Here's a gem that shows a piece of recording history. It's a 1951 promotional film by Capitol Records called "Want to Buy a Record?" It features the legendary Mel Blanc trying to sell a record to passer-by Billy May. Skip to 10:40 for a look at a session in the old Capitol Studios on Melrose Blvd a few years before the renowned Capitol Tower was built.

The film also shows lacquer cutting, a brief meeting with Les Paul and Mary Ford, and then a rare clip of Dean Martin recording. It finishes up with a tour of a record pressing plant. It's the whole Capitol family in a time gone by.


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6 Common Songwriting Problems

Songwriting image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture blog Whenever I listen to songs from a young songwriter there seems to be a number of common problems that pop up, so here's a checklist that you can use before you deem your song finished. Regardless of how long you've been writing songs, these items can be useful, especially if you intend for your songs to be as commercial as possible.

1. Are the sections too long? Sections of a song that are too long cause the listener to rapidly loose interest.

2. Is there a clear distinction between sections? For instance, can you tell the difference between the verse and the chorus? Once again, listener interest wanes if a song goes too long without something new happening.

3. Does the song have a bridge? A bridge adds tension and release, keeping the interest high and enabling the song to build to a peak.

4. Does the song have a hook or identifiable riff? A strong hook or riff develops listener interest.

5. Does the song have dynamics? Dynamics (places in the song that are more and less intense) develops listener interest.

6. Does the song have a tight arrangement? See my previous post on arrangements.

There's a lot more information in chapter 9 of my band improvement book How To Make Your Band Sound Great.


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, October 1, 2012

A Drum Recording Checklist

Kick Drum image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture music production blog Like the foundation of a house, the drums are the foundation of a recording. With a strong foundation, you can build almost anything on it that you or your clients can imagine. A little effort and time spent miking the drums and getting the sound just right can result in a recording that sounds great. Here’s a list of things to check if things just don’t sound right taken from my book The Drum Recording Handbook (written with engineer Dennis Moody).

Remember that each situation is different and ultimately the sound depends upon the drums, the drummer, the song, the arrangement, and even the other players. Sometimes things are just out of your control. Also, these are not hard and fast rules, just a starting place. If you try something that’s different from what you’ll read below and it sounds good, it is good!

1. Do the drums sound great acoustically? Make sure that you start with a great acoustic drum sound with the drums well tuned and minimum of sympathetic vibrations.

2. Are the mics acoustically in phase? Make sure that tom mics and room mics are parallel to each other. Make sure that any underneath mics are at a 45° angle to the top mics.

3. Are the mics electronically in phase? Make sure that any bottom mics have the phase reversed. Make sure that all the mic cables are wired the same by doing a phase check.

4. Are the mics at the correct distance from the drum? If they’re too far away they’ll pick up too much of the other drums. If they’re too close the sound will be unbalanced with too much attack or ring.

5. Are the drum mics pointing at the center of the head? Pointing at the center of the drum will give you the best balance of attack and fullness.

6. Are the cymbal mics pointed at the bell. If the mic is pointed at the edge of the cymbal, you might hear more air “swishing” than cymbal tone.

7. Is the high-hat mic pointed at the middle of the hat? Too much towards the bell will make the sound thicker and duller. Too much towards the edge will make the sound thinner and pick up more air noise.

8. Are the room mics parallel? If you’re using two room mics instead of a stereo mic to mic the room, make sure that the mics are on the same plane and are exactly parallel to each other. Also make sure that they’re on the very edge of the kit looking at the outside edge of the cymbals.

9. Does the balance of the mix sound the same as when you’re standing in front of the drums?This is your reference point and what you should be trying to match. You can embellish the sound after you’ve achieved this.

10. Are the drums placed in the best sounding part of the room? Even if you've followed everything else up to this point, if the drums are placed too close to a window or in a part of the room where the reflections "boing," chances are your drum sounds aren't going to sound as good as you want them to sound. Move them to the biggest part of the room that has the smoothest sounding reflections.

If you follow these simple tips, you'll be surprised how great your drum sound can be.

To read additional book excerpts, go to


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Sunday, September 30, 2012

New Music Gear Monday: Neil Young's Pono Music Service

The Pono Player image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
Many of you might not have heard that music icon Neil Young gave a sneak peak of something that might turn out to be really cool last week on David Letterman's show (see the video below). Neil has railed for years against the poor quality of MP3s, the iTunes Store and streaming music, and has now put his money where his mouth was with the new Pono music service.

We don't know all that much about Pono, but here's what we do know:
  • All the files in the service are at 192kHz/24 bit.
  • There's a new player that goes with it, similar to an iPod, but with much higher quality digital to audio convertors (see the graphic on the left).
  • The Pono player has two headphone jacks, presumably for sharing.
  • Dolby and Meridian are involved, presumably to license the Meridian Lossless Packing (MLP) codec to Pono to decrease those big 192k files to about half their size.
The major labels are already on board (with Warner Music licensing their 8,000 album catalog to Pono) and the release is scheduled for sometime in 2013.

It appears that this is a download service, but a major question is how consumers will deal with the long download times of such a huge hi-res audio file. Even if MLP encoding is used, we're still talking about a file much more than twice as large as a regular CD file at 44.1kHz/16bit. According to one account, when asked the question Young replied, "That's what overnight is for." That may be so, but in this new Music 3.0 world of instant gratification, I don't think that will cut it for most of the potential audience.

That said, you have to love that we may be getting a new hi-res audio format that may actually have a shot at catching on. For more on the industry implications of Pono, check out today's post on my Music 3.0 blog.


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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