Sometimes we can grow up listening to a song but not really hear what’s going on inside. Granted, that’s what mixing is for, but it’s pretty cool to be able to get an x-ray focus inside a track to hear what was really going on when it was recorded. Today we listen to the isolated lead guitar tracks from Heart’s big hit “Barracuda” that will give you some new insight to how well arranged the track really is. Here are a few things to listen for.
1. The interplay between both guitar tracks is great in that they each have separate parts that never get in the other’s way. There are only a few times (like in the verses) where they double each other, but the rhythms, solos, and fills are all separate but equal.
2. The sound of both guitars is different, which makes the track sound larger. Likewise, the sound of the lead guitar solo is much more distorted than the rhythm tracks.
3. They’re each effected differently as well, with the track on the right being slightly flanged while the guitar on the left has a short room ambience.
4, The 2 tracks are far from perfect by today’s standards, but state-of-the-art for 1977. Although the timing is mostly pretty good, most of each take would either be played until it fit better with the drums or edited today. You can hear a lot of ghost notes and amp noise in the spaces that would be deleted today as well. We don’t hear those things in the mix though, and one might argue that those little things give it the energy that we love.
Heart has had many lineup changes in it’s history and they’re still a great band, but this classic lineup with guitar players Roger Fisher and Howard Leese had some magic that we’ve all loved over the years.
If you’re a guitar player then you certainly have a favorite guitar model, and chances are good that your personal favorite has even changed a few times over your career as well. While we can all agree on a few as all-time greats, when it comes to picking ten of them the choices can really be diverse. That’s what makes this video on the Top 10 guitars of all time from WatchMojo so cool. There’s a few choices in there that make you scratch your head, but on a list like this that’s all the better.
One of the things I really liked about this video is some of the performance excerpts that are included, which make it worth the time to watch.
Do you agree or disagree with this list? Are there any other guitars that you think should have been included?
When you’re recording basic tracks, especially in an expensive commercial studio, it’s easy to get off track in a way that not only causes you to waste time, but money as well. These 5 session tips from the latest edition of my Music Producer’s Handbook will ensure that not only the tracking session, but all the overdub sessions that occur afterwards, run efficiently.
“There are a number of things to remember when the session gets up and running that will keep every happy and motivated, with their full attention on playing and singing.
1. Start off with the easiest song. This is usually something that the band knows backwards and forwards. It will help everyone to get comfortable in a new environment, get into the groove of recording, and make it easier to move on to the more difficult tunes later.
2. Record a tuning note. This may seem a bit old fashioned, but it could be a lifesaver later. Before each session, be sure to record a 10 second tuning note before each song as something to reference to later, especially if there are no keyboards involved. This way, if for some reason you happened to use a tuning that was a couple of cents flat, you have the tuning note as your reference. Even with today’s tuners, sometimes the tuning note just makes things easier. This seems like such a small thing, but you wouldn’t believe how much time it can save you down the road if a situation arises where you just can’t figure out why everything sounds out of tune.
3. Don’t forget to record a count-off for every song. If someone gets a great idea for adding something to before the song begins, you’ll have a tempo reference point to work with. Even if you’re playing to a click that’s being generated by the DAW itself, recording the click at least four bars ahead of the downbeat is a foolproof way to make sure that any pickup or opening part is easily executed.
4. Take frequent breaks. One of the best abilities a producer can develop is knowing when it’s time to take a break. It’s hard to keep anyone’s attention for more than three hours, so be sure to take frequent short breaks. Sometimes just bringing the band in to the control room to listen to a playback can break it up just enough so their minds don’t begin to wander. A ten-minute break can pump new energy into a flagging session, so the producer always has to keep his finger on the pulse of the players to gauge their concentration.
5. Keep the food light and have it delivered. When it’s finally time for lunch or dinner, going out to eat will waste a lot of time, and sometimes it’s impossible to get back in the flow of things afterwards. If the break is too long, it may take an equally long time for the players to get their focus back. One of the biggest problems to avoid is having a large meal, since normal digestion naturally slows down a player’s ability to concentrate. Keep the mealtime short, the portions small, and allow absolutely no alcohol so that everyone stays fresh and the session is kept on track.
These 5 session tips will keep you session running smoothly and keep all involved happy and motivated.”
Colin Leonard is one of the hottest mastering engineers going, and he’s so busy that he can’t get to all the work he’s offered. So he’s created a new online automated mastering process called Aria that uses his analog signal path to the do the job. That’s right, it’s online automated analog mastering!
On podcast Episode #123 Colin discusses how he came up with the process and the differences between other online mastering sites.
In the intro we’ll take a look at the music business in Japan and how it’s really still like the US was about 15 years ago in terms of CD sales (and even rentals), and I’ll look at a study that shows how only the right kind of music can help us concentrate. You won’t believe the genre that’s the best.
As usual, rumors abound about Apple’s upcoming iPhone 7 release, but what seems to be getting the most attention is a piece of ancient tech history that the company appears to be leaving behind – the standard 3.5 millimeter headphone jack. While there’s a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth in the media over this issue, I say, good riddance to this vile piece of primitive technology, and thank you Apple, for being rid of it.
Apple, of course, has a history for leaving pieces of tech behind before the competition, and we’re all better because of it. Remember the Sony floppy disc? How about the CD/DVD drive? How about VGA ports (among many other communication ports that no longer appear on Apple gear)? Everyone complained about these being left off the then latest unit, only to forget they even existed about a half-second after they got used to whatever new alternative was introduced. So it will be with headphone jack on the iPhone as well.
Yet I can hear your screams already. “What will I do with my expensive headphones/earbuds that have the standard connector?” Just like in all connector transitions before, there will be 3.5mm to Lightning port adapters that will nicely take care of that. You think Apple didn’t consider this, especially when it owns a headphone company?
The truth of the matter is that the headphone jack has long been the weak link of the chain in what was otherwise a beautifully designed piece of technology. It doesn’t take much to break it, and even if it’s not broken, a little dirt can make it unusable as well. It’s a wonder such a fragile piece of mechanics works as well as it does in the first place anyway. Time for something new.
There’s actually a lot to like about Apple’s headphone transition to the digital Lightning connector. First is the fact that it promises to be more robust since there are fewer moving mechanical parts involved. Second is that it will now allow an almost end to end digital signal to be available, moving the digital to analog convertor into the headphones, which has the benefits of a potentially better convertor, and eliminating any cable loss or interference in the analog domain. Seems like a win to me.
Sure, this means that soon we’ll be buying new headphones with either Bluetooth or built-in digital to analog convertors to accommodate our new phones, but is that such a bad thing if the quality is better? Basic headphone design hasn’t changed all that much over the years (although that’s changing), and this might give it the kick in the pants to do so in a bigger way. [Read more on Forbes…]
More and more engineers and musicians are doing their thing on headphones these days, and while once upon a time that might have seemed like mixing sacrilege, we’ll see more of it in the future thanks to sound for virtual reality. So if you’re going to spend time listening on phones, why not make them sound as good as possible. That’s what Rupert Neve Design’s RNHP headphone amp aims to do.
The RNHP reference-quality headphone amplifier is based on the headphone output circuit in the company’s 5060 Centerpiece Desktop Mixer, and features 24 volt rails for lots of power and headroom so it can drive even the most inefficient set of phones. It’s a simple device with only a 1/4″ stereo headphone jack on the front panel along with a volume control and three source selector switches, but don’t let that simplicity fool you. Quality doesn’t have to be complicated or feature-ridden.
The switches allow you to pick between a +4dBu balanced line feed from a combo XLR/1/4″ jack, unbalanced stereo RCA inputs, and a 3.5mm (1/8”) mini-jack input. All inputs are specially calibrated to the optimum impedance levels for their typical sources, and everything is housed in a rugged VESA-mountable steel chassis.
The fact of the matter is that most headphone amps on just about any piece of gear are almost an afterthought and not much care or thought goes into the design. It’s pretty much a feature that’s added that was way down the list of sonic priority rather than something at the forefront of the design. That’s why a dedicated headphone amp can really make your phones come alive, especially during those times when you’re not able to listen on standard monitors.
At $499, the RNHP is somewhat expensive, but considering how important and overlooked headphone audio is, it’s an investment that could pay off big down the road. And not only that, it’s designed by Rupert Neve!
I heard the Katy Perry hit “Firework” sitting in a chiropractors waiting room the other day and marveled at how well the song is constructed and produced. Then it hit me that I had done a production analysis on the song in one of my Deconstructed Hits books, so I thought it might be a good time for an excerpt. The song was released in October of 2010, but as with most hits, I think it stands the test of time.
“Firework” epitomizes the best of current production (done by the production team Stargate and Sandy Vee, who are also cowriters of the song). The song was the third single from her second album Teenage Dream, and went to #1 on the Billboard charts and Top 5 in 20 countries around the world. It was also the fifth most played song in the United States in 2011, according to Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems.
“Firework” is a more or less traditional pop song in that it has a common structure found in most hits that looks like this:
short intro ➞ verse ➞ B section ➞ chorus ➞ chorus ➞ verse ➞ B section ➞ chorus ➞ chorus ➞ bridge ➞ chorus ➞ chorus ➞ outro
That doesn’t mean it’s boring, though. The song builds nicely and takes us through a couple of peaks (one at the bridge and one at the outro), thanks to its built-in dynamics. It even has an ending, which is becoming more the norm for a pop song, instead of the slow fade that most pop songs once had.
While it’s easy to concentrate on the music of “Firework,” the lyrics may be much more important to the song, at least in the view of many listeners. Katy sings of personal empowerment, a theme that resonates with young and old alike, in an elegant manner that doesn’t seem at all forced. All the rhymes work where they need to, and where they don’t, they still feel natural.
The arrangement is state-of-the-art. The intro and first verse are very sparse, with the strings entering at the first B section and continuing to build to a crescendo through the first chorus. The chorus repeats with additional movement thanks to the entrance of the bass.
The first half of the second verse drops down to just eighth notes on the keyboards plus the drum pattern, but changes with the entrance of the bass on the second half—a very nice arrangement touch that keeps the interest high by changing the dynamics of the song.
Dynamics is a huge key to excitement, both live and on a record, and this song is an excellent example of how it’s done.
The Foundation: Bass and drums
The Rhythm: Keyboard playing eighth notes, strings
The Pad: Synth in the bridge
The Lead: Lead vocal
The Fills: Strings in the chorus
Once again, here is an example of how the sound of pop records has returned to the 1980s and ’90s in that everything except the drums has some ambience to it, which provides depth as a result. Katy Perry has what sounds like a timed triplet delay on her voice which triggers the reverb, so there’s depth and spaciousness without washing out. The same is true on the rest of the track in that there’s some space around each instrument except for the bass and drums, which are dry and in your face.
While “Firework” isn’t what we’d call “hypercompressed” where all of the excitement is squeezed out of it, it’s still heavily compressed. This is something that seems unavoidable in pop music these days, as every producer and/or label tries to make their record sound louder than the competition.
To the entrance of the line in-between the repeat of the second chorus.
To the harmony vocals on the repeats of the chorus.
To the background vocal answers in the outro.
To how the vocal melody subtly changes on the second and third choruses.
As mentioned, “Firework” features state-of-the-art production in all aspects. It’s a well-written song, it’s recorded and mixed very well, and the arrangement is top notch in that the song has a lot of dynamics that keep the song interesting and moving. Check out how the intensity drops and peaks throughout the song.
It’s easy to think of Katy Perry as a lightweight because of her celebrity and exposure, but the girl has some pipes and this song proves it. She really sells the song and pulls you in. Plus, she sings harmony vocals with herself very well, which many singers can’t do. Check out how the first verse and chorus are a single vocal, then doubled in the second chorus as the harmonies join in.
Great production is not only about getting great performances but making sure that the song is exciting. Mission accomplished.”
In the “Why didn’t anyone think of that sooner?” category comes the news that 10 famous Nashville Music Row studios are teaming up to offer tours. After years of getting requests from tourists to see behind the scenes of what goes on in the studios on Music Row, it seems that the idea has finally taken hold.
One of the factors that made this decision easier is the fact that all studios need as many revenue sources as they can get these days, but Music Row is also under siege from developers and the Metro to reclaim what’s become very valuable real estate. More tourists to the area could stop those plans, at least for the time being.
Music Row has been endangered for some time, with much new development, as well as Vanderbilt University taking over more and more as the college expands. There’s now a new movement to preserve it as an historic district, but at this point that’s no sure thing.
The 10 studio group is important because in the past, no one wanted to interrupt a session in progress. Having a number of studios in the group means that at least some of the them would always be available. That said, studios will try to schedule tours on their traditional down time, which is mornings and Sunday afternoons.
It should be noted that the famous RCA Studio B has been set up as a museum and has been operating tours since way back in 1977, but that shows the recording process as it once was, and not how it operates today. It’s now owned by the Country Music Hall of Fame and co-operated by Belmont University, which owns many of the great studios in the area.
Music Row Studios participating in the program include Ocean Way Studios, Omnisound Studios, House of David, Spirit Music, Black River Sound Stage and Ronnie’s Place, Catch This Music Studio, Jay’s Place Recording Studio, Columbia Studio and the Quonset Hut, The Tracking Room, and Sound Emporium Studios.
I’d love to see the same thing available in Hollywood. A tour of United, Cello, Capitol, Record Plant and Henson (to name just a few) would be an awesome attraction to the many tourists that come to town every day.
There are a number of recording accessories that prove to come in handy almost every day you’re in the studio. In fact, a session can absolutely ground to a halt without a few of them. Here are some suggestions for some accessories that you’ll be so happy you have when the need arises.
Console tape – for marking everything from mic position to making notes. Get the real deal – Shurtape P724.
Sharpies – the best ones are the ultra-fine-point type that let you squeeze lots of info onto a small strip of console tape without blurring.
Flashlight – for looking into the many unlit spaces in the studio and around gear. I like the Outlight A100 or the very cool 9V Blocklite.
Gobos – for increasing the isolation between instruments. If you don’t want to build them yourself, the ATS Studio Stacker is a good place to start.
Throat Coat – a nice herbal tea to sooth abused vocal chords. Tastes good too, even if your throat feels fine.
Etymotic ER20 ETY Earplugs – for finding the sweet spot when loud drummers or guitar players are playing. The best $13 you’ll ever spend.
Monoprice 108323 headphones – excellent sounding yet inexpensive headphones. If you’re constantly replacing your expensive phones, try these. You’ll be shocked how good they sound for 20 bucks.
Hue lighting – digital mood lighting from your smartphone. The starter pack is expensive, but you’ll be surprised at the effect they have on just about any session when you dial in the prefect color scheme.
Cable adapters – a variety of cable adapters for every occasion. The adapters from Seismic Audio or Monoprice are fairly inexpensive.
– 10 dB inline pad
– XLR Phase reverser
– XLR male to male
– XLR female to female
– 1/4” male to XLR female
– 1/4” male to XLR male
– 1/8” male to 1/4” female
– 1/4” female to female
Headphone extender cables – extend the life of your headphones cables with cable extenders. Once again, the cables from Seismic Audio are pretty good quality yet inexpensive.
8 to 16 channel drum snake – cut down on the clutter of mic cables around the drums. Once again, Seismic Audiobeats everyone’s price.
Personal mixes for musicians (at least 4 stations for rhythm section). Hear Technologies is my favorite, but there are lots of alternatives these days.
Every studio, regardless of how large or small, can benefit from having these recording accessories readily available. Anyone else have an accessory that I missed or you find you can’t live without?
Video games have huge budgets these days and much of that is dedicated to audio. This week on Episode #122 of my Inner Circle Podcast we’ll talk to Alex Benyon, who’s worked in a variety of audio jobs on huge game titles like Guitar Hero Live, DJ Hero and Call of Duty.
In the intro I’ll discuss a new study that looks at vinyl buyers in the UK, who seem to be a lot different from the U.S., and what I like to call “Fix it before you mix it,” which is all the things that should be fixed before mixing begins.