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Friday, January 29, 2016

The Temptations "Papa Was A Rolling Stone" Instrumental Track

Papa Was A Rolling Stone cover imageIt's always fun to listen to what's inside a hit record, especially when some of the polish is wiped off. Here's a great example of a great arrangement and playing on The Temptations big hit "Papa Was A Rolling Stone." It's the instrumental-only version, except for the background harmony vocals in the chorus. Here's what to listen for.

1. The stereo panning is very distinct with most of the instruments either hard left, hard right or center. One of the cooler things is how the guitars are split hard left and right, with the fills in the center or just off to one side.

2. This is an excellent example of a song written around a single riff that never changes. All of the dynamics, and the differentiation between the sections, are created strictly by the arrangement. Not an easy feat.

3. The only drums are kick and high hat. The backbeat in the second half of the chorus comes from some highly compressed handclaps.

4. There are a lot of guitars playing. Usually there's a minimum of 2 but at times as many as 6. You never think of a Motown song being that guitar intense, but it's actually easier to do with clean guitars than distorted.

5. There's a touch of one beautiful sounding reverb on most of the instruments, with the exception of a tape delay on the solo trumpet.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

An Interview With Engineer Steve Albini

Steve Albini imageSteve Albini has been making records with bands for a long time, and has developed some opinions as a result that have sometimes flown in the face of the mainstream music business. While his most famous credit remains Nirvana’s In Utero, Steve has worked with a diverse lineup of artists such as PJ Harvey, The Pixies, The Stooges, Cheap Trick, Silkworm, Jesus Lizard, Bush, and even the mainstream Page/Plant Walking to Clarksdale.

Always interesting, here's an interview with Steve from a few years ago where he covers choosing an engineer, where vocals should sit in the mix, workflow, and the future of the music business.


You should follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating social media and the new music business.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

3 Reasons To Use Your Amplifier Tone Controls

Amplifier controlsAs a general rule, most musicians (especially guitar players) have no idea how to use anything that adjusts the frequency bands of their instrument, meaning the amplifier tone controls.

The reason is that they're never taught what tone controls are there for, and there's not a lot of information in the manuals that comes with amplifiers either (if anyone actually reads them).

This excerpt from the Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook shows the 3 general reasons to use the amplifier EQ.

1) Many stringed instruments (like bass and guitar) have dead spots on the neck where a few notes can drop in level. A bit of EQing can help smooth things out if you can zero in on the frequency band of the notes that are dropping out.

2) You need to compensate for a frequency range deficiency. This could mean a situation where a Strat might not have enough bottom when played through a Marshall Jubilee so you’d add some low end with the tone controls to compensate. On the other hand, a Les Paul through the same amp might be too bottom heavy so you’d subtract some bottom. And then that same Strat might just have a mid-range that’s like an ice pick through the eardrums on certain notes, so you’d back off on the mid-range a bit and pull the pick out of the ears.

3) And finally, to keep the instruments from clashing in a scenario where 2 players use the same model instruments and amplifiers (like two Les Paul into two Marshalls). In order to fit well together frequency-wise, one player would adjust his tone to have a bit more bottom and maybe scoop out the lower midrange while the other player would go for more top end with a midrange peak just where the other guy scooped it out. There you have it - instant blend.

Of course things are never quite that easy in real life. Most guitar players never get to audio nirvana with their sound in the first place (it's like finding the perfect wave - it's out there but rarely experienced), and once found, it's difficult to get them to deviate from anything they’re comfortable with, even if it makes the band sound better. But if a player hears how successful the above techniques work in a controlled environment like the studio, they’re usually a bit more open to experimentation afterwards. Of course you can always tell them that xxx (fill in their favorite artist) does it that way to get his or her attention, because he probably does.

Whatever the method used, a judicious use of the amplifier tone controls can make a huge difference in how a band blends together both on-stage and in the studio.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Winter NAMM 2016 Overview - Part 2 "Oddities"

Part 2 of my Winter NAMM overview looks at some of the odder offerings at NAMM. Some may be useful to certain customers, but the rest of us may be left scratching our heads. Here we go.

The 24 string guitar - because you can't have too many strings, right? This was actually a trend at NAMM, with quite a few companies showing guitars with extra strings.

The accordion controller - because accordions are just so cool.

The lightshow PA speaker - Most Chinese companies showed products like this. I guess it keeps you from getting bored at the show.

The lightshow PA speaker with crystal ball - Let's tell some fortunes during Karaoke this evening.

The Shure Electrostatic Ear Buds - I listened, but they just weren't $2,500 better than what came with my iPhone. Oh, and you need the special $1,000 amp to drive them.

The Stomplight - because floor lighting makes you look so amazing.

The traffic cop controller - You can go direct traffic after the gig.

The wearable metronome - It's so large that you may not be able to hold your arm up to see it.

The multi-switch guitar - For those guitar players who have an extra $6k and are truly bored on stage, here are many more controls to play with.

The plastic mixer cover - Protect your mixer when those bar fights break out and the suds are flowing everywhere.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Winter NAMM Wrap-Up On My Latest Inner Circle Podcast

Winter NAMMThis week I've got a very special podcast for you. It's my annual Winter NAMM wrap-up that will showcase both the latest trends spotted at the show and some cool new products.

It's a bit different and more in-depth than what's been posted here, as it covers a few interesting new products as well as a number of re-releases of old favorites, so be sure to tune in to find out what might be the next piece of gear in your life.

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

Winter NAMM 2016 Overview - Part 1

Winter NAMM has come and gone once again, and left us with a lot to talk about. Once again there was nothing so new and revolutionary that everyone at the show was talking about (as expected), but there were some cool new things that were shown, as well as some disappointments, and some that were downright absurd.

Here are a few things that jumped out at me during my walk around NAMM. I covered it from a slightly different angle and more in depth on my Inner Circle podcast.

Shure KSM8 Dualdyne - This is a dual diaphragm condenser mic that reportedly gets rid of the 3.5kHz bump and the proximity response. The problem is that after 50 years of SM58s, I think we all like that sound. It's expensive at $499.

Manley Nu Mu - Here's a less expensive alternative to Manley's famous VariMu compressor with a new HIP control that allows lots of compression without losing any detail. Around $2,300 on the street.

Mackie AXIS - This is a remote controllable mixer with remote preamps that's intended for installed sound systems. It can use up to 3 iPads as displays. Available in 16 and 32 input versions. No word on prices yet.

Dave Smith OB6 - One of the sounds of the 80s is the Oberheim OB6 synthesizer and now Dave Smith Instruments has brought the unit back in collaboration with Tom Oberheim. Complete with effects and a sequencer, it sells for around $3k

Slate Raven MTi2 - I think I'm softening on my position to touchscreen controllers after playing with the new Raven MTi2. All of the most used parameters are at the bottom of the screen so you don't have to lift your arm that much. Plus, there are a ton of useful add-ons that will work with any DAW. A bargain for a 27" touchscreen monitor/controller at $1k

Solomon LoFreQ -  Many engineers won't record a drum kit without using a subkick mic, but up until now the commercial ones have used 8 inch drivers instead of the 6 1/2" NS10 driver that we all grew to love. The LowFreQ uses that same diameter driver, and compensates for the level differences between subkick and regular kick mic as well. Priced very reasonably at $199.

Subwoofer Pros - There hasn't been a company since M&K that specialized in subwoofers, but that's exactly what Brad Lunde's new Subwoofer Pros does. The cabinets are not ported so there's a smoother frequency response, they have a lot of power, and a built-in crossover and bass management. Two models available, either a 12" or 18" starting at around $2k

GTC Revpad - This is one of the coolest things I saw at the show. It's a wireless touchpad that velcros to a guitar's pickguard. From there you can wirelessly control and crossfade between a variety of onboard or external effects with the greatest of ease. Around $1200.

Fostex Headphones - I love Fostex headphones and have used T20s in various versions for more than 20 years. Now the T models are back in circulation. From about $120.

Part 2 tomorrow.


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