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Friday, August 7, 2015

The Eagles: "Hotel California" Isolated Vocals

Hotel California image
The Eagles had already risen to star status when the album Hotel California was released, but thanks to the title track as well as 2 other hits from the album, they were rocketed ever higher to become one of the biggest bands in the world. "Hotel California" still holds up well today as a terrifically crafted song in all aspects, and that's what we'll listen to in our weekly Isolated Tracks/Song Analysis post.

The Eagles have always been known for their meticulous tracks, and "Hotel California" is no exception as we listen to the isolated vocals. Here's what to listen for (the vocal doesn't begin until 0:55).

1. Check out how long the reverb tail is on the vocals. The verb consists of mostly lower mids that blends in with the track so much that you hardly hear it in the final mix.

2. You can hear all of singer Don Henley's breaths in between phrases. This is something that we might get rid of today in many cases.

3. The background vocals are all doubled but are in the center of the mix.

4. The lead vocal is heavily compressed, but there's only a few times when you can hear it really work, like on the harmony section at 2:55.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Wonders Of The Largest Pipe Organ In The World

The Wanamaker Grand Court Organ image
Who would have thought that the largest pipe organ in the world is in a department store!

That's right, this wonder of human engineering actually lives in Macy's department store in Philadelphia (formerly Wanamakers).

The Wanamaker Grand Court Organ has now been totally refurbished and works better than when it was new in 1909. It's 7 stories high, weighs 287 tons(!) and has 26,677 pipes.

This video shows behind the scenes of how it works. Truly amazing.

Thanks, Jesse Jaye for the heads up.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

2 Big Tips For Recording Yourself

2 Big Tips For Recording Yourself image
The people that read this blog run about 50/50 seasoned pros to beginners in the business, and this post is aimed directly at those that don't have a lot of recording experience. It's an excerpt from How To Make Your Band Sound Great that covers the mindset of recording, not the technical part.

There are so many great artists, bands, musicians, engineers, and producers out there, and so much written about how they work that's pretty accessible to anyone who wants to find it. The problem is that it's easy to get the impression that recording some great music is an easy process from reading some of these. There are certainly times when the planets align and you can catch lightning in a bottle, but just like anything else done well, it usually takes a lot of work. This excerpt aims to make someone who doesn't have that much recording experience feel a little better about themselves and their journey.

"Whether you're recording yourselves with your own gear or are using a studio, the goal is the same - make the songs and the recordings sound as big, as polished, and as accessible to your audience (however large or small) as you can. With that being said, here are some things to be aware of:

1. You Hardly Ever Sound Great The First Time
Contrary to what you might have heard about hit records done on the first take, most recordings of any type require a lot of work to be any good. It takes time to get both the right sounds and performances, and unfortunately, these things usually can’t be rushed.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to learn when recording is not to expect gold-record-quality playing right off the bat. One of the worst ideas that you can get is that you have to be perfect every time you play. It just doesn’t happen that way so don’t get discouraged. Even the best studio players make some flubs or have slightly erratic time when they’re playing. They just go back and fix the problems afterwards and you can too. Yes, it does happen occasionally when someone gets extremely lucky and plays something terrific on the first take, but it’s a rare exception even for studio savvy and expert musicians.

Recording is hard work. It’s not uncommon for people to slave over a part for days or even weeks until it feels right in the track. So if pros won’t settle for something that’s not the best it can be, why should you?

I know you’re probably thinking about all those hit records in the 50’s that were done in just a few takes, how the first Beatles record was done in one twelve hour session, and how in the glory days of Motown in Detroit they used to crank out three number one hits in three hours. All true. But don’t forget that all those famous 50’s artists honed their act from months and years of playing on the road - the Beatles played six sets a night for a year in Hamburg before they hit the studio, and the Motown studio musicians were the best of the best jazz musicians in Detroit with some hall-of-fame songwriters and arrangers.  But besides all that, the bar is set so much higher for recording these days. Sad but true that many of those incredible tracks just wouldn’t make it through the recording process if they were done today because of defects in the playing.

The fact of the matter is that recording today on any level is a demanding process, so don’t expect great results right away.  Just like a band learning a new song together, everything takes some time before it actually gels, so just be prepared to work until you get it.

As an example, I really believe that a typical overdub takes at least two days to record. The first day you work the part out until it’s a perfect fit for the song. The second day you actually perform it well, since now you know how to play it and can just concentrate on performance. The whole trick to to follow your gut. If you think deep down inside that you can do it better, then you probably can.

2. It’s A Lot Of Work
In the majority of cases, making a record is hard work. It takes a lot of time to work parts out, make them sound great, and play and/or sing them well. Sure there’s been a handful of records that have been done on the first take or in a couple of hours (mostly in the 50’s and early 60’s), but that’s a rare occurrence that involves as much luck as winning the lottery.

During the recording of one of my early band’s demo tapes, we became increasingly frustrated because it seemed to take forever (a whole 4 hours!) to record  six songs from our set. “We must really suck,” is what we told ourselves from that point until the band broke up, but only later when I began to regularly work in studios did I learn the real truth.  Recording is hard work and takes a lot of time to make something that will sound good.

Now these were songs that we’d been playing at gigs every weekend for about a year so we knew them backwards and forwards. Or so we thought! First of all, you never really know exactly what you’re playing and exactly what you sound like until you record yourself. Almost always you’ll find that something that you thought was gangbusters is in fact just a buster. You might be playing a line differently from the other guitar player. Maybe your rhythm pattern is different from what the drummer is playing. Maybe you just can’t hit that high like you thought you could.

The secret here is to be brutally honest with yourself about your playing and singing, just like in the previous chapters.  If it doesn’t sound great, either rehearse it until it does or don’t play it at all!"

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

6 Things I To Bring To Every Session

Flannel shirts image
Flannel - My favorite studio shirt
I received an email last week from Anthony F. asking me about what I bring to a session, and I remembered that I posted that very thing about three years ago. So here it is again.

Over the years I've learned that there are a number of very simple items that I must bring to every recording session I go to just to be sure that my time in the studio is productive and comfortable. These items aren't expensive, and while they may not be quite as important as your favorite mics and preamps, they sure make a long day go faster.

Here are the 6 things that I always bring to a session:

1. Shirt or hoodie - Most of us go to the studio wearing a t-shirt, but most studios with air conditioning are generally on the cold side, especially when the air is cycling. Having a nice warm shirt or even a light hoodie is just what you need to take the chill off. I prefer a a nice flannel shirt myself.

2. Comfy shoes - The studio is no time to break in a new pair of shoes or sneakers. Wear the most comfortable shoes you can because chances are you'll be on your feet for much of the session.

3. Beverages - If you're working in an A list studio, this is something that you don't have to worry about, but now even the B list places are cutting back on free food and beverages thanks to lower recording budgets. Make sure you bring plenty of your favorite drinkable. It's surprising how much you can go through during a long tracking day. I usually bring my own teabags, since that's something that many studios don't regularly have (or what they have will be generic or old).

4. Earplugs - You never know when you might have to go into a room with a heavy hitting drummer or a Marshall cranked to 10. Recording and mixing is all about hearing, and the best way to make sure yours isn't temporarily damaged is by have a pair of earplugs handy. I love the Etymotic Research ER20's, but even a pair of the cheap foam jobbies helps.

5. Smartphone/Camera - Under all circumstances, pictures are important these days, not only for social media and promotional purposes, but also for sheer documentation of the event. The number of times I thought about a session from 10 or 20 years ago and wished that there were some pictures somewhere I can't even count. Don't let that happen to you.

6. Laptop/tablet- Recording is very much like making a movie. There's a lot of waiting around until the action starts. Depending upon your situation, some people in the session have more time to kill than others (the producer and engineer usually have the least). That's why it's important to bring a laptop, iPad or smartphone; anything that will connect you to the online world. It's the best time killer ever invented.

These are the things that I always bring. Anyone bring something else?

Monday, August 3, 2015

Film And Television Composer Rich Walters On My Latest Inner Circle Podcast

Television and film composer Rich Walters image
On this episode of my Inner Circle podcast, I'm pleased to have television and film composer Rich Walters as my guest.

Rich has been nominated for 2 Emmys and and 2 Canadian Screen awards, and his most recent credits include the Sci-Fi Network show Olympus, and the feature film Chappie (with Hans Zimmer).

He'll tell us what it's like to be a composer on major projects yet live outside of Los Angeles, as well as what a music editor does, a job that many not in the post business find completely mysterious.

In the intro I'll take a look at how music sales are up all over the world, the new Soundcloud subscription service, Rode's purchase of Aphex and Guitar Center being sued by the National Labor Relations Board.

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

New York City's Music Row About To Close For Good

Rudy's Music Stop image
There was a time when the mecca of music stores was 48th street in New York City. A single city block just off Broadway was ground zero for the best music stores, and the best deals, on the planet.

The legendary Manny's Music, the first Sam Ash store, Rudy's Music Stop, Alex Music, Greco's Custom Guitars, Terminal Music, Silver and Horland, New York Woodwind and Brass Shop, and a few others I can't remember made it as vibrant a place as you'd see in the music business. It's where you'd just as likely see a superstar playing the Garden that night as a kid in a local band buying the same gear.

Sadly, Music Row will be soon be no more.

Unfortunately the last two tenants of Music Row will soon be gone, as Rudy's Music closed last week and Alex Music will close at the end of the year. Sam Ash (which purchased most of the other stores over time) moved to 34th street in 2012.

Inside Manny's Music
Anyone who visited Music Row during it's heyday understands how cool it was. There was competition between the stores that you don't have today. Get a price from Manny's and go across the street to Ash to see if they could beat it, and vice versa.

There was the latest in gear, which was a big deal before the Internet made manufacturer communication about new product instantaneous. You'd see it available on Music Row before it even hit the magazines. Talk about exciting.

You had great service. I remember Henry Goldrich, owner of Manny's, treating me like I was Pete Townshend when I had a problem with a Conn Strobotuner.

It's where the home studio craze got it start, selling everything from Tascam 4 tracks to Fostex 8 tracks and ADATS. Both Manny's and Ash were the first to recognize the trend and have recording departments before anyone else.

Like everything else, the music retail business has evolved and moved on, for better or worse. Music Row, we're sorry to see you go!

I'd love to hear your 48th Street stories and experiences.


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