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Friday, March 25, 2016

Michael Jackson "Billy Jean" Instrumental-Only Track

Michael Jackson "Billie Jean" imageIf you're going to analyze great production, there's no better place than Michael Jackson's hits. Between the impeccable engineering of Bruce Swedien, the legendary production skills of Quincy Jones, and Michael's groove sensibilities, the big hits set a standard that's hard to top.

Today we'll listen to the instrumental-only track of "Billy Jean" from the Thriller album. By the way, Bruce once told me that he did 99 mixes of the song, but they ended up using #2! Here's what to listen for:

1. Check out the reverb on the drums, especially the kick, in the intro. Listen to how it breathes with the track, just about dying out when the next beat hits.

2. Notice the shaker on the right side that adds motion, then is doubled on the left during the second verse and the effects that start on the left and end up on the right,.

3. The synths use Bruce's technique of remiking (sending the dry track out to the studio for some ambience - especially first reflection) to give them some separation from the rhythm section.

4. Speaking of synths, listen to how the patch changes from the verse to B-section to chorus.

5. Listen for the claps that reinforce the beat in the chorus.

6. Check all the background vocals, fills and effects that are panned off to one side or another, but balance each other out.

7. Listen to how long the outro is, which we never hear as part of the final mix.

There's so much going on in what might seem a very simple song, but that's part of what makes it a hit. There's something different always happening, but nothing that ever gets in the way of the vocal.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

A Look At The Drum Doctor

Ross Garfield - The Drum Doctor imageI've written about Ross Garfield (also known as "The Drum Doctor") many times both on this blog and in my books.

Ross has become one of the go-to guys for drums and drum tuning in Los Angeles, and you've heard his work on albums from The Stones to Metallica to Jay-Z and many more.

Here's a great overview of Ross and his view on drums and drum tuning.

The Drum Doctor from Media Bird on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

6 Auditioning Tips That Will Get You The Gig

6 Auditioning TipsIt's the dream of many musicians to get a gig with the touring band of a major artist. Here's an excerpt from my Touring Musician's Handbook that covers the 6 things to keep in mind if you want to get that gig.

"Depending on how you look at it, an audition can be really fun or so stressful that it makes you want to loose your lunch. The more prepared you are, the less likely you are to do the latter, so here are a number of things to help you through the process.

1. Know The Material
You can be a great player with chops that came from Mount Olympus, but the only thing that the artist or MD (musical director) cares about is if you can play the artist’s material well show after show. If you go into an audition thinking that you’re going to wing it, you’re wasting everyone's time, in which case you should be prepared for a very short audition.
First off, I want the person auditioning to play the music exactly like the record. I don’t want to hear them improvise, and I don’t want to hear their take on it. I want to hear them play it exactly with the right feel, just like they were playing Mozart or Beethoven. I want them to respect the music regardless of if it’s Pink’s music, or Cher’s or Janet Jackson’s, I want them to play it exactly as you hear it on the record. Then if I ask them to change it, they’re changing it from a place where I know that they know what it is so they can take their own spin on it after the fact.
Paul Mirkovich
Go-to guys like guitarist Peter Thorn (Melissa Etheridge, Chris Cornell, Jewel, Don Henley) will learn as much of the artist’s catalog possible before the audition, going as far as to dial in the tone of the parts as well. It’s a lot of work, but if you’re up against another guy that did that and you didn’t, who do you think will get the gig?
The other thing is that you have to be not only better than everyone else, but you have to be different. It’s basically a sales pitch. In five or ten minutes, you have to prove to them that if they hire you, they’ll get more for their money than hiring anybody else.
Ed Wynne
2. Don’t Be Late
This will just about eliminate you right from the start. Being late indicates that you have a reliability problem, which is the last thing anyone wants on the road. There are a lot of great players out there, and most of them are punctual and reliable. Who do you think they’re going to pick?

3. How You Look Counts
Not only does clothing and grooming make a good first impression, but it’s important to see how you visually fit on stage with the rest of the band. It’s possible to fit the bill perfectly as a player but still not get the gig because of the way you look.

As an example, an accomplished touring player that I know recently got a gig with a major artist that lasted one day. He went back to the hotel and received a call saying, “We’re good. Don’t come back to rehearsal tomorrow.” They just didn’t like the way he looked against the other players in the band.

You might get rejected because you have a shaved head and so does the artist or another player player in the band and they don’t want two people on stage with that look. Or you might have blond hair and so does the artist. Or you have facial hair and no one else in the band does. Nothing personal, sometimes you just don’t fit in.
I always felt that if someone is auditioning players that he’s not already aware of, it’s a clue that he’s looking for something else besides the way you play or the gear that you have. It’s a good tip that they may be looking more at how you look or at your age. I’ve seen that a lot.
Mike Holmes
4. Your On-stage Demeanor Also Counts
If possible, get a DVD or watch a video of the artist and her band playing live and take notice of the on-stage demeanor of the players. A lot of people get gigs because their physicality is right, which means how they look when they’re playing the music. Maybe the artist wants energy on stage and really likes it when a player is so into it that he’s moving all around. On the other hand, some artists just want you to stand there and play, leaving any showmanship up to them. You’ve got to know your place, so you have to tailor your demeanor to the artist.

5. Bring The Right Gear
You’ve got to tailor the gear to the gig. If you were auditioning for the job as the Strat player for Lynrd Skynrd, it wouldn’t be a great idea to bring a Les Paul or what some perceive as a metal guitar like a Jackson. If you were auditioning for the touring band of 50 Cent, you wouldn’t bring a drum kit with the snare tuned up high for reggae or ska. Can the artist or MD imagine how you’d play with the right gear? Sure they can. But once again, if everything were equal between two players, the one who will get the gig is the one that has the right sound at the audition. That way, no guessing, imagining or wondering come into play. Remember, what the artist wants most is security and one less thing to worry about. Whoever can provide that gets the gig.

6. Be Nice To Everyone
It’s important that you’re nice to everyone, including the crew, while you’re at the audition. If these people are going to spend months on a bus with you, they’d prefer that you didn’t have an attitude of superiority and were very easy to get along with. Remember, if it’s a toss-up between you and someone else, the one who will get the gig will be the one that everyone believes they can live with."

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

SSL Factory Tour

SSL Factory Tour imageI spent a few years in the 80s as a VP at AMEK, a British console maker (the desks are still highly regarded) and I spent a lot of time at the factory in Manchester, UK. I remember distinctly all that went into building a world-class recording console.

That's what makes the following SSL factory tour video from Pro Tools Expert so interesting, at least to me. The conditions and methods of building a console have come so very far from those old analog-only days.

Here SSL's Jim Motley takes us through production of Duality, AWS and Matrix consoles from beginning to end. It's not totally in-depth, but still a good overview of the process.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Former Taylor Swift Manager Rick Barker On My Latest Inner Circle Podcast

Rick Barker and Taylor SwiftThis week's guest on my Inner Circle Podcast is Rick Barker, who helped launch the career of Taylor Swift as her first manager. In the interview, Rick provides an overview of how Taylor became such a huge star, and gives us some insights into how the music business has changed since she hit the scene.

Rick is now is the social media mentor on American Idol, and offers a great Social Media For Music video full of tips and tricks on how to use Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to help you promote your music. Rick is cutting edge in this regard, and taught me a few things I didn't know myself.

In the intro I'll take a look at how the record labels are now changing their marketing strategy away from the short product release window to a "continuous loop," and how the fifth Beatle Sir George Martin changed the finances of the music business.

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

New Music Gear Monday: Electro Harmonix Mellotron Emulator Pedal

Electro Harmonix MEL9 imageIt's been a long time since I've been over-the-top excited by a product, but I have to say that's the case with the new Electro Harmonix MEL9 Tape Replay Machine. Why? It's a pedal that gives you spot-on Mellotron emulations yet doesn't use samples or require special pickups or MIDI mods to your guitar.

The MEL9 provides nine of the most famous Mellotron sounds: orchestra, cello, strings, flute, clarinet, sax, brass, low choir and high choir, and tracks guitar bends, slides and even whammy bar dive bombs. And not only does it work with the guitar, but you can use it with bass and keyboards a well.

The MEL9 provides independent Effect and Dry volume controls, as well as separate outputs so you can feed both to different amps. There's an Attack control that sets the volume swell speed, and a Sustain control that adjusts the release time after the sound has stopped, but you really don't have to mess with it much to get great sounds right out of the box.

The Electro Harmonix MEL9 Tape Replay Machine has a street price of around $220. You can find more info in the great video below as well as hear it first hand.


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