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Friday, December 5, 2014

Nashville Engineer Bob Bullock On My Inner Circle Podcast

Bobby Owsinski's Inner Circle Podcast image
Nashville engineer Bob Bullock is the guest on my Inner Circle Podcast this week. Bob has worked with some top-shelf Grammy winners, including Steely Dan and Shania Twain, as well as Kenny Chesney, Jimmy Buffet, Reba McEntire and many, many more. Bob is also one of the few engineers that can talk about recording the fast Nashville way versus the precise Steely Dan/Mutt Lange technique, and we'll touch on the subject in the podcast.

On the show intro I'll discuss YouTube's new streaming music service called Music Key as well as Gibson moving into the famed Tower Records building on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood.

Remember that you can find the podcast either on iTunes or at, and now also on Stitcher.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Doors "Light My Fire" Isolated Vocals

Here's an inside look at the song that broke The Doors from a local LA bar band into the national consciousness. It's the isolated vocals from "Light My Fire," from the The Doors first self-titled album. Here's what to listen for, beginning at 0:13. The vocal picks up again after the solos at 5:34.

1. Jim Morrison's vocal is positivity drenched in a long reverb that's slightly delayed. This may seem excessive, but it helps fill in the holes between the fairly sparse doors instrumental tracks of just keyboards/bass, drums and guitar.

2. Listen for the vocal double on the chorus ("Come on, baby, light my fire") and again on the last verse and outro.

3. The vocal is compressed a lot and you can hear every breath. This is the type of thing that might be taken out if recorded today, but it helps to give the vocal passion and urgency.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Most Popular Song Keys

Most Popular Song Keys image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog

I was rereading some of my old posts from a few years ago when I came across this one. It's from a most fascinating study of 1300 popular songs on the Hooktheory site, and it attempts to determine the most popular song keys and chords. This is what they found:
  • The most popular keys, in order, are C, G, Eb (that's a surprise), F, D, A, E, Db, Bb, Ab, B, F# and their relative minors.
  • Next came the most popular chords. First, all the songs were transposed to the key of C for a common reference point. They then found that the most popular chords were G, F, C, Am, Dm, Em, E, D, Bb, and A.
  • Finally, they looked to see what chord should come next after an Em. Surprisingly, the most popular chord was F , followed by Am, and Dm.
One of the things that most songwriters inherently or experientially know is what chords work with others, so I'm not sure if the survey brought much new information. I guess I might've been more surprised if C wan't the most used key, although I bet in the days of the guitar bands it was probably E or A.

That said, you can't beat a surprise in a song to keep your interest. Let's hope that these results change soon.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

An Interview With The Great Eddie Kramer

Unquestionably, one of the most renowned and well-respected producer/engineers in all of rock history, Eddie Kramer’s credits list is indeed staggering. From rock icons such as Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Kiss, Traffic and The Kinks, to pop stars Sammy Davis Jr. and Petula Clark, as well as the seminal rock movie Woodstock, Eddie is clearly responsible for recording some of the most enjoyable and influential music ever made. Here's an excerpt from the interview section of the The Recording Engineer's Handbook where he talks about his setups, technique and even a little Jimi Hendrix.

"When you started you were pretty limited by the number of tracks and channels available.
Definitely. You have to use your imagination and think really hard about how to plan it out. For instance, on Hendrix’s stuff, which is the classic example, it was done on four track. On Are You Experienced we used mono drums and mono guitars and so forth. We would fill a four track up then dump it down to another four track, leaving two tracks open, then you may have to do that again. On Axis: Bold As Love, I was recording stereo drums which made a big difference.  

Was your approach different when you went to stereo?
Yes. When it was mono I just used a single overhead, a snare mic and bass drum mic. There might be one or two tom mics but that would be it. When I went to stereo I probably used a pair of 251’s or 67’s, I can’t remember which. I was just trying to get that left to right image when the toms would go left to right. I always record from the drummers perspective and not from the listeners perspective.  

Has your approach to tracking changed when you do it today?
Yes, it has been modified in the sense that you don’t have to use an enormous room to record the drums anymore. In fact, bands today don’t want that huge reverberant drum sound that we used to love, so you can record drums in a smaller deader space and still get a big fat sound. Obviously I’m using more mics, multiple mics on the bass drum, multiple mics (top and bottom) on the snare, which I didn’t do before. I use a lot of mics on the guitar and then pick the ones that I like.

Is your setup the same all the time?
Pretty much. I will experiment with different microphones as they come in. The [Shure] KSM-27 is a great guitar amp mic. I love the new KSM141, which is a cross between a 451 and a KM84, on hat, percussion, acoustic guitar and underneath the snare. The SM91 and SM 52 are my bass drum mics of choice, and I use KSM44 on overheads, but I still use vintage mics like 47’s, and the new Neumann TLM 103’s, 147’s and 149’s. To me a microphone is like a color that a painter selects from his palette. You pick the colors that you want to use, so the mics are my palette. In the end it doesn’t matter to me too much. Whatever is available, I’ll just look at it and think, “I wonder what this will sound like on the guitar, or bass or whatever instrument.” I know what my standard stuff is and if I need to do something really fast I’ll always go back it, but I’ll often experiment with whatever happens to be in the studio.  

Do you tailor the mic preamp to the microphone? Do you have certain combinations that you like?
No, just blanket it with vintage Neve modules, either 1033’s or 1081’s. I like the 1081’s because of the four band EQ so I can carve things out particularly when I’m recording bass drum. Lately I’ve been using the new Vintech X81, which is a copy of the 1081.

So you’re EQing during recording?
I always do. I have done so my whole life. If I hear a sound that I like then it immediately goes to tape. If it’s a guitar, then I’ll print the reverb as well on a separate track so the sound is there and locked in. I usually have an idea of what it’s going to sound like in the final analysis so the EQ and compression is done right then and there. I think if you bugger around with it afterwards you have too many choices. This isn’t rocket science, it’s music. Just record the thing the way you hear it! After all, it is the song that we’re trying to get and the guy’s emotion. We’re becoming so anal and self-analytical and protracted with our views on recording, I think it’s destructive and anti-creative. It’s bad enough that we have to be locked into a bloody room with sweaty musician (laughs).  

Recording music should be a fun filled day. To me, making a record should be about having a ball because it makes the day go quickly and yet you’re still getting what you want on tape. There’s a friend of mine that has a bar in his studio and after the session is finished everybody has a beer and relaxes. What a wonderful thing! I think artists today have a tendency not to do this. You cut to a bloody click track, go to Beat Detective, do a lot of overdubs in Pro Tools, and then spend a lot of time searching for the right plugins to make it sound cool. 

But the track has to move and breathe. Listen to all the great songs and albums that have been recorded the last 30 years. The ones that really stand out are the ones that breathe and move. With human beings, their tempo varies. I do admire what can be done in Pro Tools, but if there’s something that wrong, you should have done another take and maybe chop things together.

What’s the hardest thing for you to record?
The toughest thing to record is a full orchestra. Getting the right room and properly placing the microphones is really tough, but it’s also so rewarding. The other thing that’s tough is the artist that can’t get the right feel so you have to go through a lot, changing microphones and instruments and placement, to make it work. That can be boring.

I like to think that going into the studio is a challenge. What usually happens is that the artist, unbeknownst to himself, has done a brilliant job on the first take and it all goes down-hill very rapidly after that. The reverse can also be true in that the first take is weak because the person is just getting used to it and they build up gradually to point where it “is” great.

Didn’t you tell me once that “All Along The Watchtower” was take #27?
That’s a great example of an artist of Jimi’s stature starting from square one with a very difficult arrangement. He’s yelling at Mitch [Mitchell, drummer for the Experience], “C’mon. Here’s how you do the rhythm part,” then Mitch eventually gets it. Then he yells at Dave Mason because he can’t get the secondary rhythm guitar part. Eventually he gets it and Jimi keeps going at it and going at it. At one point Brian Jones walks into the studio drunk out of his mind and starts to play piano. Jimi politely lets him play, I think on take 20 or 21, and then excuses him by saying “No, I don’t think so, Brian.” Then by take 25 it’s a 4 star, take 26 is good but take 27 is the master, you can just tell. Everything is perfectly placed and has the intensity that Jimi wanted, so the song evolved because it had to. There was no time for rehearsal, this was something that had to be learned in the studio. It’s not the way you want to do it, but because he’s a musician of that stature, you don’t mind if it takes 30 takes."


Monday, December 1, 2014

4 Steps To Dealing With Nightmare Clients

Nightmare Client image
It's a truth of life that we all serve somebody. Even if you're a superstar artist, you still find yourself working for "the man" in some capacity when working with labels, promoters, and the IRS. Being a label head is a glorious position, but you still work for the board of directors. That's why it's good to get into the headspace of always having to serve somebody, and when necessary, dealing with those that are particularly hard to service.

Since most musicians, artists, bands, songwriters and people in the music business in general are independent contractors, we all get the occasional nightmare client. Here are some tips for dealing with them and mitigating the aggravation.

1. Set the ground rules at the outset of the project.
The best way to stop a nightmare before it starts is to establish what the client's expectations are before you even begin. If you're mixing, state up front that there's only 1 free revision (or whatever number you choose) and that you get paid for each additional. If you're getting hired to play a gig, state up front the number of free rehearsals that you're willing to do. If you're getting paid by the song, define exactly when the time spent begins and ends so you don't end up doing a dozen different versions. Most problems can be avoided by just establishing these kinds of ground rules first.

2. Really listen to the concerns and complaints.
Sometimes the problem comes from being defensive about your work rather than listening to the actual complaint that the client has. Many times a client just wants to vent, or is really asking for help, but we overlook the real source of the complaint by focusing in on the wrong thing. Listen before you speak and then really dig to find out what the major concern is. It may not be about you at all.

3. Help find a solution.
Once you get any tempers that have flared to cool down, look for a solution together. This might require some flexibility on your part, but a pro is more than willing to do that. After all, when it comes to music, the client (the one hiring you) and his/her project comes first. You're just there to facilitate their vision.

4. Be prepared to fire the client.
We've all run into people who become totally unreasonable about their expectations for you or their project. Once it goes beyond the point where you're comfortable working with the person, you have only two choices - grin and bear it until it's over, or fire the client. You can quit in a huff and burn a bridge, but the better way is to just say, "I'm not able to deliver what you want or need right now, so I'm very sorry, but I'm not the person for the job." The cooler you stay under an uncomfortable circumstance, the better you'll end up looking to everyone else in the project, which might eventually get you another gig down the line.

We all work for someone in this business, and you want to be ab;e to work for that person again in the future. Keeping any problems to a minimum is essential for that to happen.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Bobby O Cyber Monday Specials

It's time for some Cyber Monday Specials that can help the career of any musician, songwriter, artist or band.

Have you ever wondered why your band doesn't sound as good as you think it should? Every wonder why your band isn't as good or work as much as the best band in the town, city or region? How To Make Your Band Sound Great is the only book on the market that will answer those questions and get you on the path to sounding better than you thought possible. Yeah, it really works.
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Special 30% Off The Retail Price (you must register on the Createspace ebook store). Use code 4T9VLP26

The latest edition of Music 4.0 Internet Music Guidebook takes us into the world of streaming, as it lays out just how artists and songwriters get paid in this new evolution of the music business, as well as covering the new movers and shakers in the business, as well as the latest in the battle between DIY and traditional record labels.
Amazon Special Deal - Print Edition Deal or Kindle Edition Deal

Bobby Owsinski Courses on The Black Friday deal continues with a free 10 days of unlimited access to check out all the video courses (there's over 3,000 of them) on the platform.


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