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Monthly Archives: April 2016

Stevie Wonder “Superstition” Isolated Clavinets

Stevie Wonder SuperstitionHow many times have you heard a cover band play Stevie Wonder’s seminal “Superstition” and think, “That doesn’t sound like the record.” One of the reasons why is because there’s more than one clavinet on the track, a fact that’s usually overlooked by the band. In fact, according to Bob Margouleff (who recorded and co-produced the song – hear him talk about working with Stevie on my Inner Circle Podcast episode #78) there are actually 4 clavinets on the track, and in today’s video you can hear them clearly.

1. The clav track on the left during the verse is the signature line that everyone knows.

2. The clav track on the right plays counterpoint to the signature track, and is actually key to the sound of the record (and the part that no one ever plays).

3. During the B-section there are two new clav sounds that replace the verse clavinets, one on each side, that are much softer sounding.

4. Listen for the amplifier noise (no directs used here) on the intro of the track, and Stevie singing in the background during the breaks.

Glyn Johns On Recording Who’s Next

Glyn Johns InterviewI’ve always been a huge Who fan and just as big a fan of producer Glyn Johns work. This video is from an interview at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, November 19, 2012, and focuses on the recording of the seminal Who’s Next.

What’s especially interesting is how many of the main parts in several songs were actually lifted from Pete Townshend’s demos, and the band played to the parts when tracking. Also, some interesting tidbits about Keith Moon’s drum tuning.

Overcoming The Self-Production Blues

Self-Production Blues imageOne of the things about having your own studio is that you can do a project at your own pace. The problem there is that some artists never know when to declare a production finished and they end up with “the project that never ends,” literally spending years on it. Here’s an excerpt from the upcoming 2nd edition of my Music Producer’s Handbook that looks at self-production and addresses the issue.

“Self-Production is simultaneously one of the most difficult things to do in music and at the same time perhaps one of the easiest. Every artist hears what their music should sound like in their head (that’s the easy part), but it’s sometimes difficult to get it to actually sound that way when it comes to real-life recording.

For many singer songwriters, that can lead the artist to overwork a song until it’s limp like a dishrag, or overproduce it until it has so many layers that it sounds like there’s a 30 piece band backing you up. Indeed, it’s difficult to get it to sound somewhere in between where your project is both exciting and vital, and still meets your vision.

For many artists, working in a vacuum can sometimes lead to new discoveries since you’re not beholden to any previously learned “rules,” or it can lead to frustration from not being able to get the sound that you want and not having anyone to turn to for help.

Let’s look at some ways to stay out of the self-production rut.

Overcoming The Self-Production Blues

One of the biggest problems for an artist is creating in circles. This means that the artist has so many good ideas that the production is never finished. As soon as a version is complete, the artist thinks, “Maybe the middle 8 should have a ska feel.” Then after that’s recorded he thinks, “Maybe the entire song should have a ska feel.” Before you know it there are versions in 6/8, speed metal and reggae (and maybe more), with each one sounding different, but not necessarily better.

If this is what’s happening to you, there are two words to keep in mind to help you out of your rut.

Instinct – Usually, the very first inspiration is the right one, especially if you’ve gone through more than a couple of different versions. You’ve got to repress the urge to keep changing things and learn to follow your initial instinct. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tweak or perfect what you’re doing; it means that you shouldn’t make a completely opposite turn in a direction that goes against your initial inspiration.

The exception to this is if you think it might be cool to have multiple different versions of the song available so you can give the alternate versions to your core fans as an exclusive gift, use them as a promotional vehicle, or because it’s been specifically requested by a music supervisor for a television show or movie. In any of those cases, a wholesale change in direction can actually be particularly useful and even profitable.

Deadline – One of the biggest problems with producing yourself is the fact that your project is usually open-ended time-wise. As a result, you end up with the “project that wouldn’t end” that keeps going for years (no exaggeration here).

The surest way to keep that from happening and to actually accomplish something is to set a deadline for the project’s completion. Many people do their best work on deadlines because they don’t have a chance to second guess themselves.

The final product may not be 100% of what you want, but remember that it seldom ever is, even with all the time in the world available to finish the project. Save yourself some heartache and impose a deadline on yourself so you can finish that project and get it out the door where it can do you some good.”

April 26, 2016

The Abbey Road ADT Story

Abbey Road ADT imageThe Beatles, and John Lennon in particular, loved to double track vocals but hated the act of doing it. Not only that, back in the 4 and 8 track days, the doubled vocal would take up a track that could have been used for another element of the production.

That’s why Abbey Road chief engineer, technical director, and later studio manager Ken Townsend came up with an ingenious way of simulating a double by using a couple of tape machines that’s still tough to duplicate even today (although Waves now has a nice simulation). He called the effect ADT or Artificial Double Tracking.

Here’s Ken describing how the effect worked.

New Music Gear Monday: SSL System T Console

SSL System T consoleNAB was pretty cool this year but one of the products that jumped out was the new Solid State Logic System T console. While this isn’t of direct interest to most of you in terms of a purchase, it’s worth knowing about since it’s stunning in both its looks and capabilities.

The SSL System T was designed from the ground up specifically to handle large-scale productions in a fully networked broadcast environment. Up to 3 consoles or control surfaces can be placed on the network to access a fully redundant pair of processor engines so there’s never any downtime for the system. The routing and I/O is based on the new Dante HC connectivity, so any Dante-driven I/O stagebox with work with the console.

The Tempest processor engine is capable of real-time, 64-bit CPU-based, floating point mixing and processing. Each processor engine can handle up to 3072 inputs and outputs and provides 800 fully configurable processing paths, up to 192 mix buses, 800 EQs, 800 dynamics and 400 delays!

Paths, processing and routing can be dynamically allocated in real time without interrupting audio, which is a unique feature in a broadcast console.

System T’s also features a control surface that incorporates multi-gesture touch screen technology, which seems to take a page out of the Slate Raven playbook.

The SSL System T is so new that it hasn’t been priced yet, but you can be pretty sure that you won’t be seeing it in a recording studio near you anytime soon. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a more music-oriented spinoff of the System T in the near future. Click here to find out more.

The Who “Baba O’Riley” Isolated Track

The Who Baba O'Riley isolated trackThe Who’s “Baba O’Riley” is one of the most played tracks in the entire band’s catalog, to the point were just about every fan (and non-fan’s alike) know each note and part by heart. That’s why today’s isolated track is so cool. It strips away the arpeggiated synthesizer and, in some parts, the piano, to give you a clear listen as to what’s going on deep inside the mix. Here are some things to listen for:

1. The reverb on the vocal is pretty short, unlike many Who mixes. It’s also delayed so the vocal stands out a bit more.

2. The drums are in stereo, but have an unusual balance, with the snare and most of the kit leaning right and the ride and a crash leaning left. On the tom fill at 1:33 you can hear the rack tom on the left as well. Keith Moon also rarely plays the hat during the song, instead bashing the cymbals throughout, something that a producer would no doubt change today.

3. The big guitar power chords in the verse (0:51) are doubled and maybe even tripled, which you don’t notice in the full mix.

4. The outro starting at 3:11 sounds much different without the violin.  You definitely get to appreciate Moon’s prowess with his dynamics and machine gun snare roll.

As always, there’s always a lot of cool production techniques to be learned from an isolated track, and this one is no exception.

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Pressing A Vinyl Record In 60 Seconds

Pressing VinylVinyl is all the rage again, but most people don’t understand just how chemical and mechanical the process really is. In this very quick video, you’ll see the electroplating process that goes into making the various stages of master, mother and stampers. That’s the messy part of the business, and the one that everyone hopes will die soon thanks to the new laser master process that’s in development.

From there you see the record being pressed and packaged, all pretty much the way it was done way back in the 50s. The video was done at the Vinyl Factory in the UK and compresses the entire manufacturing process into just 60 seconds.

6 Trouble Frequencies To Be Aware Of When You Mix

Trouble FrequenciesWhenever an engineer has trouble dialing in the EQ on a track, chances are its because of one or more of the 6 often-overlooked trouble frequencies.

These are areas where too much or too little can cause your track to either stick out like a sore thumb, or disappear into the mix completely. Let’s take a look.

  • 200Hz (Mud) – Too much can cause the track or the mix to sound muddy or boomy, while not enough of it can make it sound thin. It’s a fine line, but many times mixers err on the side of too much and end up with a track that’s too thick that clutters up the mix.
  • 300 to 500Hz (Boxy) – Too much of this frequency area results in the dreaded “boxiness” sound, or if you’re listening to a floor tom or kick, the “beach ball” effect. It’s also a spot that some less expensive microphones (especially dynamics) tend to emphasize, which is why many mixers almost automatically cut a a few dB of this area out of the kick drum during the mix.
  • 800Hz (Walmart) – Too much in this area results in what’s sometimes known as the “Walmart” sound, meaning that it sounds like a cheap stereo purchased in a department store. Try it for yourself – get a cheap pair of computer speakers and you’ll find that 800Hz is what you’ll mostly hear. Obviously, too much of this frequency range is not a good thing.
  • 1k to 1.5kHz (Nasal) – This is the nasal range of the frequency spectrum and, as the name suggests, too much results in a vocalist that sounds like she’s singing through her nose. Once again this is primarily a microphone problem in that it’s poorly matched to the vocalist, but notching a bit out during the mix can fix it.
  • 4kHz to 6kHz (Presence) – This frequency range is frequently underutilized during the mix, resulting in a track that lacks definition. Without it, things tend to sound dull, but too much can make the track sound thin or, in the case of a vocal, sibilant.
  • 10kHz+ (Air) – Another widely overlooked frequency band, this provides clarity and adds a certain “realness” to the track. Many vintage mics have a lot of the air frequencies, which is why we prize them for their sound. The Maag Audio EQ4P has a special “Air Band” designed to provide those frequencies with a minimum of phase shift, but you can dial it in other equalizers as well.

Sometimes just tweaking a few of these 6 frequency ranges can take a mix from dull to exciting, or muddy to clear, so keep these “trouble frequencies” in mind during your next mix.

April 19, 2016

The Music Genre You Love May Reflect Your Personality

Your favorite music genre and your personalityDoes the type of music we listen to provide clues to our personality? Empirically you’d say yes, but there’s a study that confirms that the music genre that we prefer goes a long way in outlining what we’re like in our daily lives.

For better or worse, this is what the study found.

  • Blues fans have high self-esteem, are creative, outgoing, gentle and at ease
  • Jazz fans have high self-esteem, are creative, outgoing and at ease
  • Classical music fans have high self-esteem, are creative, introvert and at ease
  • Rap fans have high self-esteem and are outgoing
  • Opera fans have high self-esteem, are creative and gentle
  • Country and western fans are hardworking and outgoing
  • Reggae fans have high self-esteem, are creative, not hardworking, outgoing, gentle and at ease
  • Dance fans are creative and outgoing but not gentle
  • Indie fans have low self-esteem, are creative, not hard working, and not gentle
  • Bollywood fans are creative and outgoing
  • Rock/heavy metal fans have low self-esteem, are creative, not hard-working, not outgoing, gentle, and at ease
  • Chart pop fans have high self-esteem, are hardworking, outgoing and gentle, but are not creative and not at ease
  • Soul fans have high self-esteem, are creative, outgoing, gentle, and at ease

Agree or disagree? Does one of these categories define your personality, or is it way off?

April 18, 2016

Producer/Engineer John Kurzweg On My Latest Inner Circle Podcast

Producer John KurzwegIn an episode that you won’t want to miss, Producer/engineer/musician John Kurzweg is my guest on this week’s Inner Circle podcast.

If you’ve listened to rock radio, you’re certainly familiar with John’s work, as he’s produced 12 #1 singles and another 8 top 10’s for bands like Creed, Puddle of Mud, Godsmack and many others.

John’s led a really interesting musical life, from an early guitar teacher telling him to give up, to a career as a solo artist, to engineering hits in his living room, there’s a lot to learn from this great conversation.

In the intro I’ll take a look at the ramifications of YouTube’s major label licenses expiring, to the recent financial woes of Gibson Guitars.

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

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