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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Is A Strat Made From Cardboard Still A Strat?

Cardboard Strat imageThe Fender Stratocaster is probably the most popular guitar in the world thanks to its comfortable body contour, sound and versatility. Through the years, the Strat has been made from lots of different woods, but what happens if it's made of some other material? What if that material was cardboard?

Take a look and listen to happens when Fender master builder Paul Waller meets up with paper products supplier Ernest Packaging.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

16 Ways That Playing In The Studio Is Different From Live

Live vs. Studio playing imageI've talked to a number of musicians lately who are used to playing live, but have been having some trouble adapting to recording. I've posted it before, but I thought that this excerpt from The Studio Musician's Handbook might be appropriate. It's about the 16 ways that playing in the studio is different from playing live.

"You’ve probably had a lot of experience playing live, but playing in the studio is a distinctively different experience. The thought process is different, the mindset is different, the approach is different, and the chain of command is different.

In an effort to contrast these two different experiences, let’s move from the most simple differences to those that are, shall we say, a bit more subtle.

1. Repertoire - Most live gigs rarely change repertoire without rehearsal. A session musician has to be ready to change material on the fly. Not only are they are expected to learn it “on the fly,” but also come up with the appropriate parts that will help make the song not only as memorable as possible but as accessible and pleasing to not only the artist and producer but to listeners who may make the song part of their lifetime’s musical soundtrack. No pressure!!!

2. Scrutiny - On stage whatever you play is gone as soon as you play it. In the studio, what you play is under a microscope and will likely be analyzed, dissected and reorganized all in the name of making the performance stronger.

3. Equipment - The gear you use on a gig won’t always translate to the studio. You choose the gear for a gig based upon versatility, durability and general ruggedness. The only thing that counts in the studio is the sound. While one size might fit all on a gig, it usually makes for a boring recording, especially if you’re recording multiple tracks or more than one song. The studio requires a wide range of sonic possibilities, so you’ll need to bring different guitars, amps and pedals to get there.

4. Leadership - On a gig you have a bandleader that calls the songs, counts them off, possibly may direct the solos, and ends the songs. In the studio you’re answering to a hierarchy consisting of the producer, artist, and engineer (in cases of sonics). The producer is the ultimate decision maker, with ultimate authority over everything you play.

5. Nuance - The little things count in the studio. Everything you play can be critical so nuances are just as important as the body of what you’re playing. When you play live the nuances are usually gone in the wind, overcome by the the stage volume, acoustics and attention of the players and audience. In the studio, everything you play is scrutinized and that’s too much pressure for some players. In the studio, you’ve got to be great every time, every take.

6. The Live ‘Feel” versus the Studio ‘”Feel” - Players well versed in both idioms tend to exhibit more finesse and restraint in the studio and cut loose in a different way. The studio requires the musician to play to a whole different set of variables created by the signal chain after the instrument and the needs of the session.

7. Etiquette - You can get away with being a jerk on a live gig since the other players usually will put up with you (up to a point) as long as you perform well or the audience loves you. Not so in the studio. If you make someone feel even slightly uncomfortable for any reason, chances are you probably won’t be asked back. 

8. It’s hard work -  That’s not to say that playing or singing on a 4 or 5 hour gig isn’t difficult, but you play a lot of different songs every set and get the glory of audience feedback. In the studio, the only feedback you get is from the producer, artist and maybe the engineer, and 99% of the time they’re analyzing how you can play a part better rather than singing your praises. And the level of concentration is definitely up a few notches. On a gig you can breeze through the music, almost losing yourself in your playing. In the studio, every note counts and requires your utmost attention.

9. Preparation - Live gigs almost always require sufficient rehearsal. Most recording sessions happen with little or no preparation. As a result, a session musician has to be highly adaptable and be able to learn music on the fly.

10. Approach - Studio musicians can be asked to change their approach in the middle of a take! Not so in a live performance.

11. Pace - Early in a session, studio musicians often hear, “We really like what you’re doing but we don’t like the sound. We’re going to change a few things in here.” Rarely, if ever, do live performances stop to tweak sounds, but it’s very common in any recording context for those on the production/engineering side of the glass to stop mid-take and say “You’re doing great but we have to fix a few things.” A session player needs to always be ready to move at the pace determined by the environment. Things may change on the fly from breakneck speed to time-crawling meticulousness.

12. Creation versus Interpretation - Live musicians are usually expected to re-create a pre-existing repertoire, where the studio cats create the repertoire

13. The Required Skill Set - For rhythm section players, there’s a whole different level of musical literacy required. Not only should one be able to read music well, but the top session musicians can access a variety of styles and feels on a moment’s notice. It also takes a really good set of ears and musical taste buds to make it to the top of the session musician hierarchy. 

14. Artist vs. Entertainer - Live musicians entertain, studio musicians create entertainment. It’s like the difference between going to see actors in a play and actors on the silver screen. Both achieve the same end, but theater changes from performance to performance while film is a one-time document meant to stand the test of time and to weather repeated exposures.

15. Venue Variables and Studio Situations - Live performance almost always presents the same circumstances for the musician. His or her instrument(s), collaborators, and set list (see Repertoire above) will usually not change much or without fair warning. Not so in the studio. Except for the great studio bands of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, studio musicians are used to seeing new faces frequently, almost always play new material, and although the venues change, it’s not in the ways live venues do. The session musician learns to expect change at any moment since the tune can morph and he may be asked to play a different part or instrument.

16. The Live Wolf Pack and the Studio Lone Wolf - Most live performances require a group and a sizable supporting cast, unless you’re a DJ or a solo singer/songwriter. Recording musicians usually convene at a studio, arriving on their own, so a different camaraderie exists than the “We’re all together on this bus!”, mentality of live work. Recording musicians are independent and can work with different people every time they play music. Not usually so for the live players."

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Neuroscience Of Drumming

The neuroscience of drumming imageMost of us have heard this drummer joke - Q: "How do you tell if the stage is level?" A: "The drool comes out of both sides of the drummer's mouth."

Drummers have long been the brunt of many musician jokes and have been depicted as being only slightly smarter than the drums they're hitting, but a number of new studies show that quite the opposite may be true - the drummer may actually be the smartest musician on the stage.

A Swedish study at the Karolisnka Institutet in Stockholm shows "a link between intelligence, good timing, and the part of the brain used for problem-solving." As a result, drummers "might actually be natural intellectuals."

Another by Baylor neuroscientist David Eagleman in conjunction with producer Brian Eno discovered not only a huge difference in brain activity from the random test subjects, but the fact that drummers have different brains from everyone else. What's more, their ability to keep time helps them perceive the natural timing of the world around them that others, even other musicians, miss.

What many researchers have found is that drumming is actually therapeutic and can release endorphins that's become known as a "drummer's high." Oxford psychologists have also found that the positive emotions gained from drumming leads people to work together in a more cooperative fashion.

Here's a bit from an interview with The Clash drummer Topper Headon about therapeutic drumming.

The moral is to treat your drummer with respect. He or she just might be smarter than you.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Year-End Review And 2016 Trends On My Latest Inner Circle Podcast

2015 ReviewMy latest podcast features my annual year-end recap of what I thought were some major events in the music business and the pro audio world.

We'll take a look back at Apple Music, YouTube Red, the CRB ruling, Facebook video, Amazon Prime Music, Guitar Center and some upcoming new technologies.

I'll also provide some trends to follow in 2016, like the latest on streaming, internet  and Facebook marketing, Pandora rising in prominence, and the new-look websites, as well as the decreased importance of analog, new digital controllers, plugin overload and headphone surround.

There's a lot to look back on, and to forward to.

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

New Music Gear Monday: Sonnox Evolution Envelope Shaper

Sonnox Oxford Evolution plugin imageOne parameter than many engineers overlook is the envelope of the sound they're processing. Sure, you can change it with a compressor, but sometimes you need more control than a typical analog-style processor can give you, and that's where an envelope shaper comes in.

Sonnox has taken this concept to another level with its new Oxford Evolution frequency dependent envelope shaper plugin, which has separate transient and sustain sections that allow you to radically re-shape the envelope of the sounds you're working on.

Evolution is great for adding extra snap for drums or percussion, boosting sustain to keyboards and guitars, for smoothly controlling leakage in a track. It comes with a attack, release and hold controls for both the transients and sustain, as well as a master control for each, and the ability to alter the main frequency band that it's operating in. A DIFF button (similar to a Listen control on a gate) allows you to hear only the effect, and a Warmth control adds harmonic saturation.

The Sonnox Oxford Evolution plugin is available for AAX, Audio Units and VST formats and costs $270 USD. There's a 15 day free trial period available. Here's a video that lets you hear how it works on various program sources.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas With Bruce Springsteen "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town"

Let's celebrate the holiday with one of the best versions of a Christmas standard that you'll ever hear. It's "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" by my old neighbor Bruce Springsteen and his E-Street Band from the famous 1978 concert at the Capitol Theater in Passaic, NJ. This version really smokes!

Merry Christmas everyone, and thanks so much for reading!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The 40s Christmas Song That Has Outsold Everything Since

White Christmas cover image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture blogWhat's the best selling record of all time? No, it's not Thriller by Michael Jackson (reported numbers are said to be inflated so it's difficult to even tell how many copies it's sold).

It's actually "White Christmas," recorded by Bing Crosby and written by songwriting legend Irving Berlin.  The single is said to have sold over 50 million copies alone, with sales of the album putting the total over 100 million.

Recorded in 1942 just after the World War II started for the US and debuted in the movie "Holiday Inn" with Crosby and Fred Astaire, it's widely held that the war actually had a lot to do with the song gaining popularity. Since millions of troops were overseas and longing for family, the song brought a little bit of comfort and the feel of home. From that point onward, it's become ingrained in our consciousness as a standard that's played constantly throughout the holiday season.

There's a lot that's interesting about songwriter Irving Berlin, as well. He was self-taught and could only play using the black keys of F#. Probably because he was self-taught, he also frequently wrote with unusual cadences, and many times never bothered to write a bridge, which was contrary to the songwriting technique of the time.

Still, the song has outlived hundreds of competitors over time with more introduced every year. Despite all the famous songs that Berlin wrote that everyone somehow knows, ("Alexander's Ragtime Band,""Easter Parade," "There's No Business Like Show Business," "God Bless America."), "White Christmas" will be the one he's best remembered for.

So if you really want to make your mark as a songwriter, write a holiday song.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

6 Editing Tips For Solid Natural Tracks

Timing Releases image from The Mixing Engineer's Handbook
Mix engineers are called on to do so much more than ever before.

Tweaking the track timing used to be done way before the mixing stage, but mixers find themselves doing it more and more.

Here are some tips for tweaking track timing in you DAW from the new Advanced chapter in the 3rd edition of The Mixing Engineer's Handbook.
"No matter how great the players on the session are, there’s always some portion of a recording that doesn’t feel quite right. Usually, the timing of the basic tracks will be tweaked right after your tracking session so you have a solid rhythm section to overdub against, but if you’re just now discovering some sections of an overdub that don’t feel right (which happens more than you might think), prepare for the joys of slipping and sliding time.

Here’s a list of some of the do’s and don’ts for tweaking the track timing:
  • Don’t edit by eye. In most music (electronic music being the exception), you can’t successfully edit by just trying to line everything up to the kick and snare or the grid and still have it sound natural and human. Often times, tracks that look perfectly lined up don’t sound or feel right, which is why listening is more important than looking. Turn your head away from the monitor or close your eyes and just listen before and after you move anything.
  • Every beat doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, if it’s too perfect, you’ll suck the life out of the performance. Unless something really jumps out as being out of time, you might get away with leaving it as is. Another way is to just line up downbeats and any major accents, which gives you the best of both worlds; a loose feel that still sounds tight.
  • Copy and paste another section if you can. If you have to make too many edits to a particular section, chances are it won’t sound as good when you’re finished as just finding a similar section in another part of the song and pasting it in over the area that’s suspect. It’s a lot faster and easier to do, and will probably sound cleaner and groove better as well.
  • Everything doesn't have to line up exactly. Many times the bass will speak better if it’s a few milliseconds behind the kick drum rather than right with it. It still sounds tight, but both the kick and bass will be more distinct and the sound may even be fuller.
  • Listen against the drums. If you listen to the track that you’re editing all by itself, you can be fooled into thinking that the timing is correct when it’s not, especially if you’re editing to a grid. The real proof is when you listen against the drums. If the instrument sounds great by itself and great with the drums, you’re home free.
  • Trim the releases. This is one of the best things you can do to tighten up a track. Everyone is hip to tightening up the attacks, but it’s the releases that really make the difference. Regardless if it’s an accent played by the full band, the song ending, or a vocal or guitar phrase, make sure that the releases are pretty much the same length. If one is longer than the rest, trim it back and fade it so it sounds natural. If one is a lot shorter than the rest, use a time correction plug-in the lengthen it a bit (see the graphic on the left).
Of course, if you’re using loops or MIDI instruments, you’ve probably quantized things to the track by now. If you haven’t, remember that if it’s too perfect to the grid it may not sound natural."

To read additional excerpts from The Mixing Engineer's Handbook and other books, go to

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Music In The Brain

Music in the Brain image
Although there's been a number of studies on the auditory system of the brain over the years, all of them have failed to zero in on a specific region for where music is created or appreciated. Until now, that is.

For the first time, neuroscientists from MIT have identified the exact area in the brain that responds to music, but not to other sounds like speech or from the environment.

The hope is that scientists can further identify regions that deal specifically with rhythm and melody in an effort to help people learn to play more quickly or refine their skills.

Check out the video about what they discovered.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Producer Michael Beinhorn On My Latest Inner Circle Podcast

Producer Michael Beinhorn imageProducer Michael Beinhorn is one of the most interesting people in the music business, and I'm happy to have him on my podcast once again since his thoughts are so provocative.

This time we talk about his great new book (Unlocking Creativity: A Producer's Guide To Making Music And Art), as well as the techniques that he's used on projects with artists like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Soundgarden, Herbie Hancock, Korn, Ozzy Osbourne and more.

On the intro I'll talk about the extras that you can add to make a CD more attractive to buyers, and the first new record press manufactured in over 30 years.

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

New Music Gear Monday: Slate Raven MTi2 Multi-Touch Controller

Slate Raven MTi2When the original Slate Raven MTi hit the scene, the music production world was taken by storm by this new innovative approach to mixing. Just like mixing in-the-box, many engineers initially resisted touch screen mixing since it was so radically different than what they were used to. The initial price of a large touch screen interface was also a barrier.

That's not the case any more, as Slate introduced the Raven MTi2, a 27 inch multi-touch screen display that has a lot of things going for it that should make it much more attractive to mixers everywhere.

Probably the biggest thing about the new MTi2 is the price, which is only $999. If you've ever tried to price a good 27 inch monitor, you know that this is already in the ballpark for the monitor by itself, let along one with multi-touch control.

But the brains behind the MTi2 is the new Raven 3.0 software, which allows control over every major DAW, including Ableton Live, Cubase/Nuendo, Digital Performer, Logic Pro X, Protools 10-12, and Studio One V3 on Mac as well as PC compatibility for Protools 10-12 for the first time.

The Raven 3.0 software also features the new Batch Command System, which is a series of preset and customizable buttons that can execute up to 1,000 key commands and mouse clicks automatically. With just one button, BCS allows you to create instant headphone sends, name tracks, put entire drum tracks on the grid, export stems, and so much more! The BCS comes pre-programmed with 100 preset batch commands in every supported DAW, with layouts for music, mastering, post-production and more.

The Slate Raven MTi2 comes with 1 supported DAW, and requires USB2 and DVI ports on your computer.

Check out the Slate Raven MTi2 on its dedicated web page, and also in the more detail in the following video.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Allman Brothers "Ramblin' Man" Isolated Vocals

The Allman Brothers Band "Ramblin Man"The lead single from the album Brothers and Sisters, guitar player/singer Dickie Betts "Ramblin' Man" was to be the Allman Brothers Band's only top 10 single.

The song was also the first that featured keyboard Chuck Leavell (who eventually went on to become the Rolling Stones musical director) and the guitar playing of Les Dudek.

Here are the isolated vocals from the song. Listen for the following (the vocal begins at 0:07):

1. The Allmans were great with guitar harmonies but not so much with vocal harmonies. As you'll hear, their harmony vocal parts are very loose.

2. The vocals have a very nice sounding delayed reverb. It blends into the track very well and provides a nice "glue."

3. If you listen with headphones, you'll hear a variety of breath pops, mouth clicks, and general background noises that were very common in 1973, but we'd delete today.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Ultrasonic Mic Breakthrough Made From Graphene

Graphene Microphone DiaphragmJust like loudspeakers, basic microphone technology hasn't changed much in a hundred years or so. We have our dynamic, ribbon and condenser types, with the occasional exotic laser or flame modulation technology thrown in every so often.

Researchers at Serbia-based Dirigent Acoustics along with the University of Belgrade haven't changed the technology in the way a condenser microphone captures sound, but they have changed the diaphragm material to graphene, and with great results.

Not only has the team created the world's smallest condenser microphone, but one that's strong and flexible with a frequency response up to 1MHz.

The diaphragm used is just 25 nanometers thin (most condenser mics are around 2 microns, or 2000 nanometers) and was originally housed in a standard B&K capsule that replaced the standard capsule using a typical nickel-based diaphragm.

This could provide a quantum leap in a microphone's ability to capture sounds with more realistic results thanks to vastly increased transient response. Can a graphene based loudspeaker be far behind?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

11 Cool Christmas Gifts For Musicians And Engineers 2015

We could all use a little bit of shopping help when it comes to buying holiday gifts for the people around us in the music and recording business. If you're in a quandary about what to buy, you're in luck as I have a list of recommendations that covers a wide variety of items and price ranges. All of these following products (except for the last one) I use regularly.

1. Etymotic Reaserach ER 20 Hear Protection Ear Plugs
I personally never go into a loud audio situation without these little gems. They are soooo much better than foam or wax earplugs in that they cut the level down without affecting the frequency response. Since I found the Etymotic Ear Plugs I feel absolutely naked and scared when I don't have them on me. At less than $10, you just can't go wrong.

2. Radial JDI Direct Box
This is the best DI on the market, period. It's built like a tank and will last forever, and captures the low end that those cheap DI's could only dream about. You need at least one of these. At $199, it's still a bargain and you will hear the difference immediately.

3. Monoprice 8323 Headphones
It's shocking how good these phones are for $20. They're pretty comfortable, have a really tight fit, and provide a surprisingly balanced sound. In fact, I would trust the low end on the 8323's more than on a couple alternatives that I have that cost 4 or 5 times more. Don't let the "DJ-style" in the description scare you, these are terrific for the price.

4. Books by Bobby Owsinski
Okay, so I'm a little biased, but if you're looking for a book for someone in the music business, you'll hopefully find one of mine that will hit the sweet spot. There's something for everyone, including books on mixingrecordingrecording drumsmastering, being a studio musician or a touring musicianimproving your bandproducing, navigating the new music businesssocial media for musiciansstudio buildingguitar tone, and making videos. From about $16 to $30.

Blocklite LED flashlight image

5. The Blocklite 
This falls under the category of "Why didn't I think of that?" Blocklite is a simple LED add-on to any 9 volt battery that turns it into a flashligh. It's perfect for checking all those dark spaces during a session or a show. Just $22 for a 3 pack. Audio Mixing Bootcamp image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture blog
6. Courses
If you don't know about then you really should. They're the #1 portal on the Internet for video learning, with over 3800 high-quality courses on just about any kind of tech you can think of. While you're there, check out the courses I've done for Lynda. Lynda is just $24.99 for a full month, which allows you to access as many courses as you can watch. Here's a free 7 day trial.

7. Advanced Audio Microphones
If you're looking for some modern versions of the vintage mics that we all know and love but can't afford, then take a look at the Advanced Audio line of microphones. These mics are used in studios around the world every day and on some of the biggest movies made in Hollywood too. And you won't believe how low the prices are. I own and use some, and I'm going to get a few more.

8. Snark SN-1 Guitar Tuner 
We've all gotten used to using software guitar tuners, but when you want to tune as fast as possible, this is the best tuner I've found. It clips right onto the guitar so you don't even have to plug it in. At $8.99, it's unbeatable.

9. Golden Age Project Pre-73 Mic Preamp 
Everybody wants a Neve preamp but a lot of us can't spring for a couple of channels of 1073s. The Golden Age Project Pre-73 was built to sound a lot like the 1073 and it does a pretty good job of it. It's not the real thing, but for only $350 it's surprising how close it gets.

10. Warm Audio WA76 Compressor/Limiter
I happen to think that the 1176 was the best compressor/limiter ever invented, since it works on just about any source and even does
things that no other compressor on the market can do. A vintage 1176 (or even a new UA model) will set you back a bundle, but you can get so close you might not tell the difference with the Warm Audio's WA-76. I liked it so much I bought 3. An absolute steal at $599. Also check out their great API-style WA12 mic preamp as well (I own a couple of those too).

11. Audio Technica AT-LP60USB Turntable
If you want to get into the vinyl world but don't want to worry about a buying a special phono preamp, this turntable by Audio Technica takes care of all that for you. It has a built in preamp and its USB port means you can plug it directly into your computer if you want. It even comes with a phono to 1/8" adaptor cable and a copy of Audacity software.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Making A 21 Inch Woofer Pop

Making a woofer pop
Loudspeakers haven't really changed much in in their basic build in well over a hundred years now, but they have evolved to become much more robust than ever.

Here's an interesting video that shows just what's needed to pop a massive 21 inch Pyle woofer (it's not easy even with 2000 watts of power). There's also an interesting tear-down at the end where you the entire speaker taken apart, even the magnets.

Monday, December 14, 2015

SNL House Mixer Robert "Bubba" Selitto On My Latest Inner Circle Podcast

Robert "Bubba" SelittoSaturday Night Live has been a television institution for a long time now, and it's always featured some of the highest profile, most cutting edge music guests.

My good buddy and Emmy-winner Robert "Bubba" Selitto has been mixing the house sound at SNL for 27 years now, and he's going to give all the inside secrets to what happens running up to and during a show, as well as how the sound system for the studio audience has grown in sophistication over the years. A very rare and fun listen, I guarantee!

On the intro I'll take a look at a study that describes where most people are now buying their music (if they buy any), as well as how to evaluate and choose what may be the most important part of your studio - your monitor speakers.

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

New Music Gear Monday: Fretlocks Single String Capo

Fretlocks individual string caposOne of the great production tricks with guitars is the use of the capo. Instead of a straight double, playing in a different register with the help of a capo provides a magic sound that seems to work every time.

But the normal capo works on all strings, and there are those moments when it would be cool to capo just one or two, and that's where Fretlocks very cool single string capos come in.

The Fretlock adheres to your guitar's fretboard with adhesive tape, and two small blades grab the string to fret it. It's way easier to watch and listen than read about it to understand, so there's a video below that shows what fretlocks can do.

Fretlocks are available from the company website and cost $22.75 for a packet of 6, or $37.90 for a tin of 12 (they come from the UK, so this is the current conversion from pounds). There are three different sizes to accommodate different string sizes.

The downside is that they're only usable for a few times before the adhesive wears off, but the company says that they're working on a more robust version for future release.

In the meantime, it's a small price to pay for having an extra finger or two when you need it.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Lynyrd Skynyrd "Free Bird" Isolated Guitar Solos

Allan Collins
Here's something that I posted a few years ago that I got a request to post again. It's the isolated guitar solo tracks to Lynyrd Skynyrd's iconic "Free Bird."

There are a number of really interesting things that you hear when the tracks are isolated that you don't notice in the final mix.

1. The solo is doubled (and towards the end tripled), but each one begins to vary from around the 1:30 mark. Since the song was composed two years previously and played live over that time period, the solo was mostly composed before it was recorded, so there were several takes. When both sounded so good together, they were allowed to stay in the mix.

2. Until 3:48, the sound of the guitar is exactly the same (and even when it changes, it only sounds like a coil-tap of a pickup), as all the tracks were played by the late Alan Collins on a Gibson Explorer.

3. As is many times the case, the record label didn't want this song on the album, yet it went on to become the song that defined the band and has remained a rock anthem 40 years later.

4. Guitar World Magazine rates the solo as the 3rd greatest ever.

You can go here for a full analysis of the arrangement of the solo section.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Jimmy Page On How "Stairway To Heaven" Was Written

Jimmy Page on how "Stairway To Heaven" was written
"Stairway To Heaven" has been a staple of classic rock radio since the song was released in 1972 on Led Zeppelin 4 and for many, it's the song that epitomizes that era of music. Have a listen to Jimmy Page describe the creation of the song to BBC News.

One of the cool things Page describes is how the song intentionally accelerated as it went along, going against the sensibilities of the band's studio musician mindset.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

10 Steps To Troubleshooting An Arrangement

Band Rehearsal image
Anyone who's ever played in a band has run into the situation where the band begins to play and instead of sounding tight and exciting, it sounds like a train wreck. Sometimes it's easy to figure out what went wrong, and sometimes no one can quite put their finger on it.

Here's a checklist I made from some points from both How To Make Your Band Sound Great and The Music Producer's Handbook that will take you through the steps needed to troubleshoot an arrangement either live or in the studio.

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?

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Eminence Speaker Factory Tour

Eminence Speaker Factory Tour
Here's a great video that takes you through the different departments and steps in making a speaker in the Eminence Speaker factory in Eminence, Kentucky.

It's very cool to see how a speaker is designed and built to the customer's specifications.

It's especially cool to see how the compression drivers are made.

Find out more about Eminence Speakers here.

Monday, December 7, 2015

New Music Gear Monday: Acme Audio Motown DI

Acme Audio Motown WB-3 DI image
As we all know, direct boxes are not created equally. Buy a cheap one and you'll get a limited bandwidth with not enough bottom end, or a choked high-frequency response. That said, when you find a great DI, you know it right away.

That's why the new Acme Audio Motown WB-3 DI is so interesting. It was patterned as closely as possible on the original DI used by Motown back in the day that not only captured James Jamerson's bass, but many of the guitar sounds on those records as well.

As far as features, it's a pretty basic passive DI, with 2 parallel inputs, a Direct/Attenuator switch that puts the variable attenuator in the circuit, and an XLR output and ground lift on the side.

You're not buying this box for its features, but for it's sound, and the WB-3 has garnered a lot of praise from top hitmakers in a short period of time thanks to the extra low end that this box provides.

The Acme Audio Motown WB-3 DI isn't cheap at $449, but if there's a lot of people more than will to pay a little extra money for the sound it provides.

Friday, December 4, 2015

4 Isolated Paul McCartney Bass Lines

Paul McCartney 1976 image
We all know Paul McCartney as a fabulous songwriter and singer, but it's easy to overlook what an influential bass player he is as well. Paul, along with Motown's James Jamerson, changed bass playing from laying down a foundation of root notes to a melodic thing of beauty.

Although the following video may not be comprised of the best examples of Paul's genius, it does give you an idea of his style.

You'll hear individual snippets from the songs "With A Little Help From My Friends," "Come Together,""Golden Slumbers," and "Band On The Run" with the bass mostly isolated. 

Sometimes you'll hear other instruments also on the bass track (like the tambourine on "Help From My Friends"), which wasn't all that unusual, according to Beatle engineer Ken Scott's book Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust (which I was lucky enough to help him write). Have a listen.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Choosing The Right Snare For The Song

Worn snare drum image
If you read books on recording like my Drum Recording Handbook or Music Producer's Handbook, you'll find that most session drummers bring a variety of snare drums to a session. While the average number seems to be 6, there are some drummers that bring far more than that.

That's not to look cool or show off their collection, it's because the snare is the heartbeat of the song, and therefore has to fit just right with the rest of the instruments into the mix. Getting the right snare sound is essential to making the final recording and mix really pop.

Here's a great video from Pro Tools Expert that lets you hear exactly what different snares sound like on the same track. Which one is your favorite?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

How Effects Can Negatively Affect Your Guitar Tone

World's Largest Pedal Board
I was in the studio with a guitar player recently who was having a difficult time getting the tone he wanted. As I looked at his setup, the first thing that got my attention was the maze of stomp boxes he was using.

Although that wasn't the only problem with his rig, it was a good place to start, since everything was connected more or less haphazardly.

Here's some info taken from The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook (written with the great player/composer/writer Rich Tozzoli), that can help you get a handle on your effects.

"A couple of the common negative side effects that occur with some stomp boxes is how much they change the sound when you don’t want them to. Here’s are 4 things that can happen: 

1. Tone Suck
Tone suck is a term that means the tone of your guitar changes by simply inserting a pedal in between your guitar and amp, even if it isn’t turned on. The reason this happens is because your guitar signal still runs through some of the pedal’s circuitry even without the effect switched in. That circuitry degrades the signal either by changing the frequency response a bit, or by decreasing the volume a bit. Either way, this is not something we want if we’re to maintain that great tone that we hopefully started with. 

There are two answers for this:
  • True-Bypass means that when the effect is switch off, the signal totally bypasses all the circuitry so the pedal has zero influence on the sound as long as it’s not switched in. This is a rather recent development in the grand scheme of pedal building (since about the late 90’s) and just about all boutique pedal manufacturers use True Bypass as a sales feature these days.
One of the problems with true-bypass is that it gives the illusion that the volume and tone of the signal won’t ever change, but that’s not necessarily true. If you have a 15 foot cable from your guitar to your pedalboard, a one foot cable between each of your 15 stomp boxes, and another 15 foot cable to your amp, that’s 45 combined feet of cable, which will degrade your signal! There are ways around this with buffers (a unity gain amplifier) and loop-switching systems like the ones mentioned above, but many players never consider the consequences of just what could happen by the simple fact of connecting all those pedals together.

2. Noise Buildup
The next problem that happens with effects in the signal chain is the noise buildup that occurs when you switch them on (or even when they’re switched off if they don’t have true bypass). This can be anywhere from a slight escalation in the noise floor to the sound of a full-on hurricane, depending upon the gain of the device or devices. There are three reasons why this happens.
  • Each device adds a bit of it’s own inherent noise. Some devices are designed better than others (they’re usually more expensive as a result) and keeping the noise floor down is one of the byproducts of a better design.
  • The type of power being used. Although many effects can run on a 9 volt battery, they’re actually designed for 12 volt use. If you use an external AC supply, the noise level can drop considerably. Be aware that the noise floor can also rise in some pedals as the voltage drops from a weak battery.
  • The input stage of the amplifier. A typical amp input stage is looking for the relatively small signal coming directly from a guitar, which it will then boost up as much as 50 times. If the gain from a pedal is cranked up, it will still be boosted by that 50 times despite where the volume control is set at on some amps. This means that your noise floor just went down the drain.
3. The Wrong Effects Order
There are two things that will directly affect how your effects interface with your amp; the effects order and gain staging. Effects order means the order that each pedal appears in the the signal chain between the guitar and amplifier. There are several schools of thought on effects order, and they each have a different result.

School Of Thought #1
This effects chain is the order generally recommended by most of the pedal gurus. There are several rules that make up this order:
  • Any distortion pedal must come first right after the guitar. The exception is if you’re using a compressor pedal, which will be first in the chain. Do not put a volume pedal first, as this can alter the way a compressor or distortion pedal sounds.
  • Any modulation or tone devices like wahs should come next. This enables you to keep the sustain coming from your distortion or overdrive devices and alter an already harmonically rich signal.
  • Delays come almost last in the chain, since you want to be delaying your already effected signal.
  • A volume pedal comes either last in the chain, or directly in front of any delay.
  • In situations where a pedal is providing a lot of clean gain, that will come last in the chain so as not to overload any of the other pedals.
Effects Order #1 image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture blog
Effects Order #1
So a typical effects order might go something like:

 compressor --> distortion --> wah --> chorus --> delay --> volume pedal (see the graphic on the left)

While this might not be the quietest order, it does sound really good because any distortion, overdrive, or sustain is being affected by the effects that come behind it.

School Of Thought #2
If we’re talking about recording, we may want the least amount of noise going into the amp. With that in mind, there are two rules in this scenario:
  • The noisiest pedal goes last in the chain before the amp.
  • The one with the most gain goes last before the amp.
The reason for both of the above points is simple; if the noisiest pedal is first in the chain, that noise will be affected and amplified further by every other pedal in the chain that you switch on. Same with the pedal with the most gain; if it’s at the beginning of the chain, it could possibly overload any other effect that comes after it, since most pedals only want to see a typical guitar signal and nothing greater (see Figure 4). Also, any noise caused by increasing the gain on a pedal will be amplified downstream by any other pedal switched on.

Generally, you’ll try to keep the basic order as in School of Thought #1 in order to be sure that any distortion or sustain is affected by the effects placed later in the chain. That being said, this order won’t sound the same as Order #2, especially if a distortion pedal is placed last in the chain (which isn’t recommended) because of its gain, so it might not be for everyone.

4. Improper Gain Staging 
Proper gain staging means adjusting the gain of each effects device to keep the noise at it’s lowest and prevent overloading of any device after it. Since almost all pedals have output gain controls these days, the best way is to adjust all the output controls so the gain is exactly the same whether they’re switched on or off. If you’re running a distortion or overdrive pedal, put that last in the order, and increase the output level of that one pedal up to the sound that you like.

If you follow the above suggestions, you’ll find that your signal chain should clean up quite a bit and your recordings should benefit greatly as a result."


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