Get This Free Cheat Sheet Guaranteed To Help Your Next Mix

Friday, September 5, 2014

Electronic Music Superstar Stonebridge On The Latest Inner Circle Podcast

Stonebridge is one of the most musical and cutting edge electronic music producers on the scene today and I'm really pleased to have him on the latest edition of my Inner Circle Podcast.

Stone has been producing international hits since 1993 but most recently he's had some big ones with Ne-You, Britney Spears and Jason Derulo.

In this show he talks all about his technique, how he got into DJing and producing, and gives some advice that's useful to anyone in the business.

I'll also talk about the the new Yahoo music video service as well as provide some tips for managing your studio time.

You can listen by going to bobbyoinnercircle.comiTunes or Stitcher.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Rush "Tom Sawyer" Song Analysis

Rush in concert image
We haven't done a song analysis for a while, so here's an excerpt from my Deconstructed Hits: Classic Rock Vol 1 book. It's Rush's "Tom Sawyer," a perennial FM radio favorite and the first single from their breakout Moving Pictures album from 1981. The song is a part of the defining moment in the band’s history when they finally broke out to world-wide superstardom.

The song was written on a band summer rehearsal holiday spent on a farm outside of Toronto. Poet Pye Dubois presented the band with a poem entitled “Louis The Lawyer,” which drummer Neil Peart then modified, and bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson set to music.

As with everything Rush, "Tom Sawyer" is complex and doesn't follow a standard form, but that's why they're so well liked, right? The form looks something like this:

intro/chorus ➞ verse ➞ B-section ➞ C-section ➞ chorus ➞ interlude ➞ solo ➞ 
intro ➞ verse ➞ B-section ➞ C-section ➞ chorus ➞ outro

You can dispute exactly where the chorus is, but the popular thinking is it's where the "Tom Sawyer" lyric is mentioned. None the less, the song is as unconventional as it is interesting.

While most of the song is in 4/4 time, the solo begins in 7/8, then switches to 13/16. It then returns to 4/4 until the outro, where it again changes to 7/8. 

The lyrics are poetry set to music, instead of the other way around. There’s no overt need to rhyme if it doesn’t fit the thought, which is a whole lot better than forcing it and having an awkward lyric or cadence.

Rush's songs are fairly bare-bones in that they're meant to be played live, so there's not a lot of obvious layering. The guitars are doubled and heavily effected to make them bigger, but you can hear how they effectively use only a single less effected guitar in the first turnaround of the solo, then the second has the full guitar sound to change the dynamics.

Arrangement Elements
  • The Foundation: drums
  • The Pad: synthesizer on the intro and outro, high register synth in solo beginning and outro
  • The Rhythm: high hat
  • The Lead: lead vocal, guitar solo, 
  • The Fills: none
Rush uses synthesizers very creatively, from the Oberheim OB-X swell in the intro and outro, to the Moogish sound in the interlude and outro. Also, the lead vocal is doubled in the C-section, which differentiates it from the other sections.

The mix of “Tom Sawyer” is as interesting as is the song form. Neil Peart's drums are way up in front and the snare has a nice pre-delayed medium room on it that you can only hear in the beginning when the drums are played by themselves. All of the other drums are dry. The snare is fairly bright, as is the high hat, which is featured in the mix since it keeps the motion of the song moving forward. The kick and snare are compressed well to make them punchy and in your face without seeming squashed. The cymbals are nice and bright but pulled back in the mix.

Geddy Lee's vocal has a timed delay with a medium reverb wash that blends seamlessly into the track, which also has a bit of modulation that you can hear as it dies out. Once again, you can only hear it during the intro when the song is fairly sparse. His bass has that Rickenbacker treble sound yet still has a lot of bottom, despite the distortion.

Alex Lifeson's guitar is doubled using a short delay, and slightly chorused with a medium reverb wash for the huge sound that glues everything together. In the case of the solo guitar, the reverb is effected and then spread hard left and right. It also uses the same guitar sound as the rhythm guitar, which is unusual, since solos usually have a different sound on most records. 

Listen Up:
  • To the modulation at the end of the reverb on Geddy Lee’s vocal.
  • To how large the stereo synthesizers on the intro of the song are.
  • To the stereo effect on the Moog synth at the beginning of the solo and the outro.

Any power trio has to have great musicians to have everything sound big and cohesive, and Rush does just that. Peart's drumming is absolutely rock solid, without a beat ever feeling like it drifted even a microsecond out of time, yet still feels organic. The way he’s placed in the mix totally holds it together, yet it never feels as if he’s the one featured. As with most other hits, it’s the energy of the track that pulls you in, which goes to show you that without a near perfect basic track, it’s difficult to keep the track interesting.

You can read additional excerpts from the various Deconstructed Hits volumes, as well as my other books on the excerpt section of


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Amish Town That's The Center Of The Touring Universe

Clair Bros logo image
Many of you know that I grew in a small town in Eastern Pennsylvania called Minersville, but what you don't know that it's about 40 minutes down the road from what has become the center of the concert touring universe. That town of only 9,400 is called Lititz and it's become a total company town in the same way that Hollywood is built around movies.

Lititz is the home of Clair Brothers, the largest sound company in the world, and Tait Towers, a leading company in the staging and lighting part of the business.

Clair Brothers was started very modestly by Gene and Roy Clair in 1968 with a pair of Altec A-7s behind the Four Seasons (for $90 a gig). They quickly realized that they needed a better way to move the gear around after touring with the likes of the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, and began to manufacturer their own speaker systems, with Rod Stewart getting the first system custom painted in white. This gear has become the centerpiece of the company as time has gone on and as the company grew into permanent installation work as well.

Tait Towers was started by Michael Tait, who handled the lighting for Yes at the time, and moved to the Amish country town in 1978 because of the relatively low costs and fairly close proximity to Philadelphia and New York. Both companies now employ over 750 people in the Lititz area alone.

What's even more interesting is that fact that Clair and Tait are now coming together to build a new state-of-the-art rehearsal/pre-production center known as Rock Lititz Studios that's designed for major concert acts to get their show together before going out on tour. As it is know, most acts have to privately rent out a large venue or aircraft hanger, where the costs, location or accommodations aren't the most convenient or cost-effective. The Rock Lititz "entertainment campus" is truly a first in the industry.

The first client booked for the Rock Lititz was to be U2, but they have since cancelled since the band is still working on their album and have postponed their tour, but there seems to be no problem filling the time slot as acts are lining up to use it as it nears completion.

There's a great article about Clair Bros, Tait Towers and Lititz over on the Wall Street Journal that goes into much more detail.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Mastering Your Songs In 6 Steps

Audio Mastering image
When I began writing the latest 3rd edition of The Mastering Engineer's Handbook, one of the things that I wanted to find out from some of the mastering greats was how they approached a project. In other words, what were the steps they took to make sure that a project was mastered properly. Interestingly, the majority of them follow 6 primary steps, some consciously followed and some unconsciously. Here's an excerpt from The Mastering Engineer's Handbook that outlines the technique.

"If you were to ask a number of the best mastering engineer’s what their general approach to mastering was, you’d get mostly the same answer.

1. Listen to all the tracks. If you’re listening to a collection of tracks such as an album, the first thing to do is listen to brief durations of each song (10 to 20 seconds should be enough) to find out which sounds are louder than the others, which ones are mixed better, and which ones have better frequency balances. By doing this you can tell which songs sound similar and which ones stick out. Inevitably, you’ll find that unless you’re working on a compilation album where all the songs were done by different production teams, the majority of the songs will have a similar feel to them, and these are the ones to begin with. After you feel pretty good about how these feel, you’ll find it will be easier to get the outliers to sound like the majority than the other way around.

2. Listen to the mix as a whole, instead of hearing the individual parts. Don’t listen like a mixer, don’t listen like an arrangement and don’t listen like a songwriter. Good mastering engineers have the ability to divorce themselves from the inner workings of the song and hear it as a whole, just like the listening public does. 

3. Find the most important element. On most modern radio-oriented songs, the vocal is the most important element, unless the song is an instrumental. That means that one of your jobs is trying to make sure that the vocal can be distinguished clearly.

4. Have an idea of where you want to go. Before you go twisting parameter controls, try to have an idea of what you’d like the track to sound like when your finished. Ask yourself the following questions:
  • Is there a frequency that seems to be sticking out?
  • Are there frequencies that seem to be missing?
  • Is the track punchy enough?
  • Is the track loud enough?
  • Can you hear the lead element distinctly?
5. Raise the level first. Unless you’re extremely confident that you can hear a wide frequency spectrum on your monitors (especially the low end), concentrate on raising the volume instead EQing. You’ll keep yourself out of trouble that way. If you feel that you must EQ, refer to the section of the EQing later in the chapter.

6. Adjust the song levels so they match. One of the most important jobs in mastering is to take a collection of songs like an album, and make sure they each have the same relative level. Remember that you want to be sure that all the songs sound about the same level at their loudest. Do this by listening back and forth to all the songs and making small adjustments in level as necessary."

Following these steps just like the mastering greats do will ensure that not only will your project sound better, but you'll avoid some of the pitfalls of mastering your own material as well.


Monday, September 1, 2014

Hi-Res Pono Music Delayed And Raising More Money

Pono music player image
Neil Young's Pono Music service and hi-res player was supposed to be launched around now, but recent announcements have indicated that it's now being delayed to the beginning of 2015.

That news is ominous enough, but even after a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $6 million (way beyond the goal of $800,000), Pono went back to the well with another campaign on Crowdfunder that exceed its goal of $4million by 179%, and it now stands at more than $7 million. The company still continues to raise money as the campaign will continue until the end of September.

All this raises a number of questions, such as:
  • Can the company actually raise enough money to put together both a music delivery service infrastructure and hardware manufacturing? 
  • Will there be any money left over for the ever-so-important marketing? 
  • Are there enough masters actually available at 192kHz/24 bit to make the service viable?
  • Who's the target market, and will they spend $400 on a player?
  • Will anyone abandon their phones to return to a dedicated player?
  • Do enough people actually care about high-quality audio to make a market?
  • Can Pono go up against the big guns of the industry (Apple, Google, Amazon, Spotify, Pandora, Sony) who have much deeper pockets?
  • Will people want to go back to downloading files again?
  • Will people actually want to pay for music again, especially at $15 to $25 a pop?
While it's admirable to try to bring high-quality audio to the masses, this has proved to be a losing business model in the past. The average person wants convenience, not quality, and that has always won throughout the history of the business.

Plus I believe that unless the player is supplied with an excellent set of headphones, perhaps the average user won't hear enough of a difference to make a purchase seem worthwhile.

If Pono's expectations are limited to just the audiophile market and a little beyond, the company may have a chance. But if it intends to go after the mass market, that's a recipe for disaster.

This all goes to show that it's never easy to launch a startup, even for someone like Neil Young.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

New Music Gear Monday: Blue Mo-Fi Headphones

Headphone technology, just like loudspeakers, hasn't changed much in about a hundred years, but Blue Microphones is trying to take things to another level with the introduction of its Mo-Fi headphones. The company teased the product as far back as Winter NAMM without actually showing it, but now the Mo-Fi's appear to be finally ready.

So what's different? First of all, the phones have extremely large 50mm drivers, which is the biggest you've ever seen on a pair of headphones. Secondly, they have built-in 240mw amplifiers so you're no longer at the mercy of the headphone amp (which is usually underpowered) that you're plugging in to.

The Mo-Fi's also have 3 settings, which you can toggle between on the right earcup - Off, On, and On+. Off provides a passive mode where they act just like any other headphone, while On+ provides more of a bass-heavy experience for those that find that sort of thing desirable. The amp is powered via an internal battery that is recharged via a mini-USB port, and a charge is good for up to 14 hours.

The phones also have a unique multi-hinged headband design that bends at 6 joints and is unlike any other headphone on the market, and has a removable/replaceable cable.

The Blue Mo-Fi headphones are somewhat expensive at around $350, but if you're going to be spending any amount of time with phones on your ears, why not try something new and different? Check out the Mo-Fi site here, and the video below.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...