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Thursday, February 7, 2013

The History Of The Drum Machine

LinnDrum image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture blog
DJZ has a great article on the history of the drum machine that I've posted below. It's not complete by any means, but still gives a good insight to a machine that really did change musical history.

"Save for using an actual human with sticks or sweaty palms, there is nothing more beneficial to modern electronic music than the invention of drum machine technology. Hip hop, new wave, disco; the sequencer with a rompler/rhythmic sample — the drum machine — made it all possible.

While we can all thank drum machine innovators from the 30s throughout the 60s — Leon Theremin’s Rhythmicon, Harry Chamberlain’s Rhythmate, Raymond Scott’s Rhythm Synthesizer — for their pre-computerized rhythmic prowess and dedication, it wasn’t until the pre-set 70s that drum machines came into their own. The Eko Corporation’s ComputeRhythm, Ace Tone’s Rhythm Producer FR-15, the PAiA Programmable Drum Set and the late great Roland CR-78 made early disco what it was. Yet it was the 80s of early house, electro-dance music and new wave that set the basic drum patterns for where we are today.

The Linn LM-1 Drum Computer of 1980 and its immediate follow-up, the cymbal-crashing LinnDrum, were the first true drum machines to use digital samples. From the Minneapolis sound of The Time and Prince in the United States to UK giants The Human League’s pop coming-out party, Dare, the LM-1 was the sound of a generation, a cheaply crisp and densely snapping set of pulses that got its drive from two chips that when triggered simultaneously gave the compu-rhythm a certain fleshly kick to it.

The Roland 808 only advanced that devil-in-the-flesh feeling, which was weird because it did not use clean, digitally sampled sounds, but rather analog-created bumps and grinds, continuous signals with noise as part of the transfer. The 808 had pre-loaded grooves such as open hi-hats, closed hi-hats, and cowbells along with a big, thick kick drum and dense snare beat. Afrika Bambaataa is probably the first most famous proponent of the 808 as is all early house music. 808 State isn’t just an English electronic act – it is a state of mind and a position of being.

The Roland 909, on the other hand, was a half-breed: semi-analog and semi-sample-based – not as open to noise and fuzz as the 808 – with a drum kit’s real arsenal of hits and kicks along with a sequencer. It was the first MIDI-equipped drum machine and, like the 808, had greater capacity for storing whole tunes rather than just percussive tics.

The Yamaha RX 5 had its built-in sounds, 24 to be exact. But through a series of envelopes and triggers, you could affect the attack and the decay of each sound, therefore giving each percussive sound its own character feels and flaws. It also had a kitsch factor that not every drum machine had in that it offered door slams, gunshots and ricochets.

The Oberheim DMX – this was the sound of the later 80s, hits by Eurythmics, the System and New Order, the kick drum on the Police’s “Every Breath You Take” and the chalky snap of Phil Collins’ “Sussuidio.” Easier to program than all previously made drum machines, the O-DMX was the realest sounding drum machine as it sampled the tone and crack of real drums, along with tuning functions for each percussive voice. Along with creating variations of time and pace prevalent among real drummers, the O-DMX did one thing no other drum machine did previously: it offered a swing function. That is the improvisational heft of all drummers – the rate and particulars of how a drumming man or woman swings. This was truly the start of the brave new world of the drum machine; a real duty now for the future move.

For all of history’s drum machines, now easily manipulated and inexpensive, the most popular is still the 808. Kayne West titled his most robotic and romantic album yet after it (808s & Hearbreak). Producer Timbaland hasn’t just used 808s, he’s got a song named after it. So does Bassnectar (“The 808 Track”) .

It’s the tinny thump that you watch David Byrne dance to in the Jonathan Demme Talking Heads documentary, Stop Making Sense. It’s the thin, sexy click of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” and by Japan’s Yellow Magic Orchestra on the clattering “Thousand Knives.”

It is the rough thump of Arthur Baker and the BeastiesLicensed to Ill. The Fresh Prince liked it back in the day, and Ke$ha likes it today. Kraftwerk used it in the “Computer World” 80s and during last year’s series of shows at the Museum of Modern Art. It was the sound of the Bronx and Berlin and beyond. It is the past and the future."

Here's the link to the original article. Below is a nice overview of the Roland TR-808, the machine that started it all. 


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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

6 Bands That Changed The Business Of Music

Grateful Dead image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture blog
Inc. recently ran an interesting article about the iconic bands that changed the business of music. Yes, they all influenced music to a great degree, but most overlook their moneymaking abilities and how their actions improved the lot for all that came afterwards. Let's look at them:

Led Zeppelin
Major change: Zeppelin shifted the balance of power from the concert promoter to the act. They were the first ones to negotiate a deal to take 90% of the gate.

The Rolling Stones
Major change: The Stones were the first major group to pay for their own recordings, then lease the master to the record label. This allowed them to retain ownership of their copyrights for future licensing deals.
Major change 2: Their lips and tongue logo became a classic brand identifier.

Major change: Kiss took merchandise and licensing to a new level, eventually licensing over 3,000 product categories. This is a common tactic for artists today, but it was KISS who saw the value in licensing before everyone else.

The Grateful Dead
Major change: While other bands from the '60s through the '90s were all wrapped up in record sales, The Grateful Dead realized the current Music 3.0 mantra way before anyone - "Your music is your marketing." They encouraged people to tape their performances and share them with their friends, thereby broadening their fan base. Sound familiar? That's what acts are doing today, only online.
Major change 2: The Dead were social way before social media, selling concert tickets directly, creating an engaged fan club, and promoting and selling special products and fan-generated materials through the fan club.

Major change: You don't think of Journey as being at the forefront of any business dealings, but they were the first major act to go for a tour sponsorship deal (with Budweiser).
Major change 2: Journey was also the first act to own their own touring infrastructure, owning their own sound system, staging, and transportation.
Major change 3: Although the Stones led the way by being the first to lease their masters to the record label, Journey took it a step further by providing the artwork and marketing material as well.

Major change: Moby was the first artist to realize the tremendous potential of media licensing. When his Play album first came out it did nothing on the charts and was ignored by radio. That was before he licensed every song on the album for commercials, television and movies, then the record blew up.

The next time you hear the music of any of these artists, give a little thought to the behind the scenes influence they've had on the new ways of revenue generation they helped create.


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, February 5, 2013

The Band PreProduction Checklist

Band in the studio image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture blog
Your band is playing either in rehearsal or in the studio and suddenly there's a train wreck where something sounds way off. Don't know what to do? Here are a number of questions to ask if the song just doesn’t sound as good as you think it should.

1. Do all the players in the band know their parts inside out? Is there a part that someone is unsure of?

2. Are all the players performing their parts the same way every time (assuming that you’re not recording some forms of jazz and blues where you want a different performance)? Any variation can lead to a section not gelling or not being tight.

3. Is the band playing dynamically? Does the music breath volume-wise? Does the verse have less intensity than a chorus or bridge?

4. Does the band lose its drive when playing with less intensity? Does it forget about attacks and releases when they play quieter?

5. Is everyone playing the song and section starts and stops the same? If not, ask every player, “How are you playing it?”

6. Does the band sound tight? Are the attacks and releases of phrases being played the same way by everyone? Are the builds, turnarounds and accents being played the same way by everyone? If not, ask every player, “How are you playing it?

7. Is the band in tune? If not, make sure everyone uses the same tuner and tunes the same way.

8. Does the song have a groove? Is the rhythm section playing in the pocket? Is the drummer or bass player slightly wavering in tempo?

9. Is the tempo right for the song? Try it a BPM or two faster or slower and see if it feels better.

10. Are all vocals in the best range for the singers? Does the singer have trouble hitting all the notes? Does the singer sound comfortable singing and is the vocal sound right for the song?

This checklist will take care of at least 90% of the problems that a band will run into, but if you find that you still can't get it right, there's one more thing that you can do that will probably clear things up. Either take a break, or come back another day and try it again. It's amazing what some time away will do to clear a band's collective thinking.


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, February 4, 2013

"Ramble On" Isolated Bass Track

Going back in time again, here's the isolated bass track from a Led Zeppelin song that I always loved - "Ramble On." On it you hear bassist extraordinaire John Paul Jones play a complex track very well, but listening to just his track alone isn't quite fair, as you'll see.

Here are some things to listen for:
1. Listen to how the bass sounds. Big, full and fat, with lots of lows yet plenty of definition. We sometimes have a hard time achieving that today.

2. Listen to how the level changes between the first verse and chorus from there on. It's much louder by the end, as is the rest of the band. It's a good example of dynamics.

3. Listen to how JPJ plays the verse line staccato (short and choppy) in the first verse, then legato (smooth) from there on.

4. There's a lot of missed notes that you probably didn't hear with the rest of the band playing (I know I didn't). Listen at 1:20, 1:30 and 2:31 just for starters. Then there's a mistake at 3:47.

That's not to rag on one of the best bass players ever. It's just to point out that back in those days, we had a different idea of what was acceptable than we do today, where we try to wring perfection out of each note.

5. JPJ plays some brilliant ad libs on the outro after about 4:00. Too bad we miss a lot of this thanks to the fade on the record.

This just goes to show that an isolated track does not make a song, it's how the entire band interacts. If you listen to the real thing, you'll hear how spot on JPJ is with both drummer John Bonham and guitarist Jimmy Page, which is why the band always sounded bigger than the sum of its parts.


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, February 3, 2013

New Music Gear Monday: Dave Smith Prophet 12

Although I neglected to mention it in my NAMM overview, the Dave Smith Instruments Prophet 12 was one of the most talked about instruments at the show. Dave was the designer of the original Prophet V synthesizer, which was the very first truly polyphonic synth. That doesn't seem like such a big deal today, but believe me, back in the 80's it was an earth shattering development.

Dave really put everything into the Prophet 12, from 5 oscillators per voice (4 plus a sub oscillator), arpeggiator, analog filters (which is why it sounds so analog), and a load more that you'll see in the video. If you're into keyboards, this is one well worth checking out. It doesn't sound to try like any other instrument; it has it's own voice.


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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