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Friday, July 24, 2015

Deep Purple "Smoke On The Water" Song Analysis

Deep Purple "Smoke On The Water" cover image
It's time for another song analysis and this time it's a real classic that's one of the first songs that most guitar players learn to play - Deep Purple's iconic "Smoke On The Water."

A song about a true event, “Smoke On The Water” went on to become not only the breakout song for Deep Purple’s career, but their best seller as well. The song illustrates the story of the recording of the Machine Head album, and the many twists and turns involved along the way.

The band recorded the album in Montreux’s Grand Hotel, which was vacant for the off-tourist season, after an aborted attempt at recording in a local theater when they was forced to find a different recording venue after the neighbors complained about the noise. The basic tracks of “Smoke” there first were recorded there first, but the vocals, as well as the rest of Machine Head, were later finished in the makeshift recording environment of the Grand Hotel.

The Song
“Smoke On The Water” is a fairly simple song consisting of the basic guitar riff that acts as an intro and interlude, along with verse and chorus sections. There is no bridge, but a twist at the end of the guitar solo acts as a bridge in that it adds tension and release to the song. The guitar solo, and later the outro organ solo, is over a verse with an altered arrangement. The song ends in a fade, although a later live version released as a single several years later has a hard ending.

As stated previously, the lyrics outline an event during the making of the recording. The lyrics seem a little forced in places, but generally sing well, while the melody is very memorable, especially the hook during the chorus. The song’s form looks like this:

intro | verse | chorus | interlude | verse | chorus | interlude | solo | tag | interlude | outro

The Arrangement
The song begins with a fairly long intro that starts with the guitar playing the main riff by itself twice. On the third time through, a double time high hat enters, followed by the snare drum on the next. On the next two times through, both the bass and organ enter.

The verse keeps all instruments in the mix, although the parts change; first with a fairly discipled part for the guitar, and fairly free-form parts for the bass and organ. During the chorus, the drums change the part slightly, while a second harmony vocal enters. The next verse and chorus are virtually the same, except for an organ fill towards the end of the second verse.

The guitar solo is interesting in that it’s basically a verse except that the drums switch to a galloping snare drum pattern and the bass switches to a much more active pattern. The end of the section also has an 4 bar tag that acts like a bridge where the guitar solo plays across the next intro/riff section. The last verse and chorus are again identical to the previous.

During the outro, the organ takes the lead as the song fades out, as the drums change their pattern once again.

Arrangement Elements
The Foundation: bass and drums
The Rhythm: high hat in the intro, bass during the verses
The Pad: organ during the chorus
The Lead: vocal, guitar and organ solo
The Fills: organ

The Sound
Even though “Smoke On The Water” wasn’t recorded in a “proper” recording studio, the sound is generally excellent, especially the drums. In fact, the drum sound is closer to something that you might hear today than the norm of the day.

The record was recorded using The Rolling Stones mobile recording studio which was packaged in a large truck and responsible for quite a number of big selling albums from the 1970s, include several Led Zeppelin albums as well as albums for Fleetwood Mac, Bad Company, Bob Marley and many others. The truck was equipped with a 16 track tape recorder, which was more than enough for Deep Purple to record on, since the band wasn’t noted for highly embellished tracks at this time.

While you’ll hear only a single short plate reverb on the recording, the echo on the guitar solo was supplied by a Revox tape recorder that was a permanent part of Ritchie Blackmore’s stage setup. As well as adding echo when needed, it also added an additional level of overdrive that the guitarist liked.

The guitar is panned to the left, but you can hear the reverb on the right side during the intro when it plays by itself. The organ, which is run through a Marshall amplifier stack to sound more like a guitar, is panned to the right.

  • To the excellent sounding drums, especially the snare
  • To the tape echo on the guitar solo
  • To the organ sound that emulates a guitar
  • To the precision of the drum fills going from section to section
The Production
“Smoke On The Water” is a very simple song played exceedingly well but a group of superb musicians. Listen to any garage band play the song and you’ll understand that the nuances make the recording, and that’s usually what’s missing in just about any cover of the song that you’ll hear.

While the spotlight is on guitarist Blackmore and vocalist Ian Gillan in this song, it’s the drumming of Ian Paice that pushes it along. The precision of his drumming frequently goes unacknowledged, but a serious listen shows what he master he really is. Listen to any drum fill that bridges the various sections of the song and you’ll find massive technique along with unassailable taste. The fact that he makes it sound and look so easy is exactly what makes the parts work.

The other part of the song’s production that’s interesting is the disciplined guitar part that Blackmore plays during the verse of the song. While organist Jon Lord is left to improvise, Blackmore’s part stays rock-solid throughout, something that’s usually missed by your local cover band."

You can find more song deconstructions from all eras and all genres in my Deconstructed Hits series of books. You can read additional excerpts from this and my other books on the book excerpts section of my web site.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

10 EDM Production Tips

eEDM image
If you're into electronic music, then you know that the rules that we use when recording and mixing live musicians are sometimes bent to fit the genre. had a great post providing 50 production tips from EDM's hottest producers, and here are 10 of them from the article. Be sure to check out the original post for the rest.

1. “I mix my snares quite oddly in anticipation of my mastering. I’ll always test my drums with a mastering chain on to make sure they still feel punchy and snappy.” – Madeon

5. “It’s all about the three pieces that make a really nice drum sound. You need a nice transient in the beginning, and then the note around the 200-hertz frequency that gives it that boof, and then a tail, which can be anything.” – Skrillex

13. “getting the relative volume levels of each instrument correct is a more important task than EQing. new producers often prefer a sound after it’s been EQed and in many cases it’s only because the levels have changed” – Porter Robinson

17. “Here’s something I like to think about concerning loudness… You have a very discrete amount of digital headroom with which to fill before you begin to clip/distort right? So as you begin to layer layer layer layer sounds, essentially you are necessarily bringing the volume of each individual noise DOWN to make room. This has a significant effect on “perceived loudness.” The easiest example to see this in action is to listen to an artist like Arojack — dude often writes tracks that are simply drums and a lead synth. As a result his music is often Noticeably “louder” then someone like ours (for example) even tho we are both filling up the same amount of digital space. The rule of thumb then… simpler is often louder.” – The M Machine

27. “Parallel compression allows you to draw out different characteristics of a sound an combine them together. For instance say you want a snare to have a very snappy attack, but you also want it to have some body to it. If you parallel compress it with one of the paths set to a 10ms attack and the other set to around 150 that enables you to blend body with attack.” – Nick Thayer

28. “Most lead sounds will have a saw or square wave as a basic as these tend to cut through in a mix as that appear to take up more space. The other oscillators are what you can use to add the colour to the sound to make it unique.” – Nick Thayer

34. “We find to get like a really, cool sort of groove, and swaying kind of effect – you pull back like the seconds here [mouses over Ableton track delay] so it makes the hats or claps or the percussion a bit lazy, rather than having everything so regimented and right on the beat” – What So Not

43. “Stop listening to the music and begin feeling it. Don’t move to it, let it move you. Fully surrender yourself to the sound and break free of the ideas you attach to genre and production” – Au5

46. “1. The lower the frequency the more power it requires in your master bus so cut out any bass not needed. 2. Try to bring out the thing that the track is saying. It might take a while to figure out what this is exactly, but once you do you can focus your whole mixing process around that as opposed to following standard rules.” – Noisia

50. “Usually 1 top main clicky sounding kick with no low end, a separate low end kick that’s relatively short (and usually pitches down sort of, so I don't worry about it being in key) so I can mix my sub bass around it. Then I sometimes have a tonal kick, like something acoustic so it doesn’t sound so digital; that can sometimes be 1 or 2 layers.” –Pierce Fulton

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The 3 Building Blocks Of Acoustic Treatment

While soundproofing the space where you have your recording gear set up can be an expensive and time consuming proposition, treating the acoustics of your room luckily can be quite the opposite. Believe it or not, it’s not that expensive and can be done in only a matter of hours if you have all the building blocks on hand.

So what are these building blocks? Here's an excerpt from my Studio Builder's Handbook (written with Dennis Moody) that explains just what they are.

"Acoustic treatment for your room is built around three main components: acoustic panels, bass traps, and diffusers. Let’s take a brief look at each.

Acoustic Panels
Acoustic panels are the major way that reflections are kept from bouncing around the room. If your walls are hard (meaning there’s no absorption), these reflections are going to cause certain frequencies to cancel themselves out as they bounce around, causing those unwelcome dips and peaks in the room response as well as an uneven reverb decay time.

You can think of an acoustic panel as a very large picture frame that has sound absorbing material inside instead of a picture. Although you could permanently attach the sound absorbing material to the wall (like most commercial studios do), using a sound panel allows you to move it as needed and even take it with you if you move.

Acoustic panels are easy and inexpensive to make (check out this video on my YouTube channel for information how), but they’re also available pre-made from a variety of companies like Ready AcousticsGIK Acoustics, RealTraps.comATS AcousticsMSR, AV Room Service and many more.

Bass Traps
Most control rooms use what’s known as a “bass trap” to control at least some of the low frequency energy in the room. In most rooms, the main problem at low frequencies is due to one or more deep nulls or peaks in the range anywhere from 40 to 200Hz. Bass traps reduce the depth of the nulls and attenuate the boomy sounding peaks, and the overall response of the room is flatter as a result. Even though your brain intuitively thinks that you lose low end by attenuating it, the room will actually sound tighter and more predictable, with less change in the response when you move away from the sweet spot.

Bass traps work best in corners because bass tends to collect there, but they can also work well spaced off the front and rear walls. Since bass is omnidirectional, the traps don’t have to be paired or symmetrically placed, although believe it or not, the smaller the room the more you will need. The most effective ones extend from floor to ceiling. If that can’t happen, the next most effective method is to just treat the 8 individual corners of the room.

As with acoustic panels, pre-made bass traps are made by a number of manufacturers like the ones mentioned above.

A diffusor scatters sound to reduce the direct reflections from the speakers back to the listener. There are two types of diffusers; 2D and 3D. A 2D diffuser (as seen on the left) scatters the reflections in the same single plane that they were received, while a 3D diffusor scatters it in random directions at random times. If made well, the 3D diffuser is better at scattering the reflections, but more difficult to build so it’s more expensive.

While diffusers can be used anywhere in the room that doesn’t already have an acoustic panel, a common strategy that’s used by many large commercial studios is to use a diffusor on the rear wall. Doing this is controversial, as there are as many designers who believe that the rear wall should be non-reflective as there are that believe it should be diffuse.

In small rooms where the rear wall is closer than six feet from the listening position, you're likely to have more success trying to absorb the sound with deep traps than you are diffusing it. A bookshelf filled with books is a great natural diffusor (and adds some absorption as well), but shelves randomly filled with objects, or small angle wood blocks can work too. Companies like RPG, Real Traps and MSR also make both off-the-shelf and custom diffusors as well.

With any of these acoustic components, you don't need to spend a fortune to achieve tangible results. That said, it isn't easy to predict in advance just how much of an improvement there will be for any given approach (even for the pros studio designers), so some experimentation is required."

You can find out a lot more about how to build a home studio effectively and inexpensively by consulting The Studio Builder’s HandbookYou can also read some excerpts from this and my other books on excerpt part of my website.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Producer/Engineer/Artist Carmen Rizzo On My Latest Inner Circle Podcast

This week I'm pleased to have producer/engineer and recording artist Carmen Rizzo on my latest Inner Circle Podcast.

Carmen has a rich history as an engineer (especially working for uber-producer Trevor Horn), before graduating to producer, then making the jump to being an artist himself.

In the interview, Carmen describes the current state of electronic music and where he thinks it's going, as well as some of the pitfalls of being a producer today.

In the intro I'll describe how a local tax on digital cloud-based entertainment in Chicago can lead the way to more taxes on our Internet use, as well as an unwelcome new development - a Peavey mixer with Autotune built in.

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

The Difference An Acoustic Environment Can Make

Different Acoustic Environments image
We're very used to creating artificial acoustic environments in mixing all the time, many times without actually thinking about how this new environment might actually interact with the voice or instrument in nature.

Here's a great video where you hear Joachim Mullner (also known as The Wikisinger) cleverly sing in a variety of different environments.

Thanks to Mike Verzi for the heads up on this.

Monday, July 20, 2015

New Music Gear Monday: AKG M90Q Quincy Jones Headphones

Quincy Jones AKG N90Q Headphones image
There are a number of speaker systems, monitor controllers and stand-alone apps that will analyze the listening environment and tune your monitors to it accordingly. This used to be something akin to voodoo but it's so widely and inexpensively available now that we hardly blink an eye.

What is different is the new AKG N90Q by Quincy Jones headphones that feature something called TruNote, that uses the same analysis technology to customize the headphone's to the shape of the wearer's ear. Of course, Q himself was heavily involved with designing these phones, hence the name.

The N90Q is truly a work of engineering. Besides tuning themselves to your ear via a pair of tiny mics in each earcup, they also provide a built-in 96k DAC and a USB port so you can plug in directly to your computer's digital stream and bypass the limited internal DACs for a better sound.

Then there's the fact that they're noise canceling, have bass and treble controls on the left earphone and volume, On-Off, and DSP settings (Normal, Studio, Surround Sound) on the right cup.

The phones carry about an 8 hour charge, and can be rejuiced via the USB connection or via a supplied backup battery called a Powerbank that connects via USB as well, for much more control of the audio than the normal headphone.

The AKG N90Q by Quincy Jones headphones comes with a travel case, travel pouch, Powerbank battery, and various cables and adaptors so that the phones will work in just about any setting. These aren't for everybody however, thanks to the $1,500 price tag, which puts them out of the range of most studios. That said, if you're looking for the best and money is no object, they'll be worth checking out when available in early September.


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