Monthly Archives: August 2016
Monthly Archives: August 2016
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.”
You can read more from The Deconstructed Hits series and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.
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.
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 Audio beats 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?
You can read more from The Recording Engineer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.
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.
Ordinary items in our everyday lives can be used as instruments, and perhaps the best example of that statement is this video from The Bottle Boys. The German group has turned playing songs on beer bottles into a career as they’ve traveled all over the world to give concerts over the last 10 years. Here they show their considerable skill by playing the full arrangement to Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean” completely on bottles.
And just so we stay on the tech side for a moment, the whole thing was captured by a pair of Neumann KM184s into an Apogee Duet using the natural reverb of the church that they’re in.
Check it out. Very cool.
Vocal tuning can be a touchy subject. Many think that it’s putting a big band-aid on a problem while others feel that it’s just a normal by-product of today’s music production. But tuning a vocal in the studio is something completely different from doing it live on stage, where many see that as cheating of the highest order. Putting the moralities aside for a second, when you have a tool available that really helps a vocalists stay in tune, you might as well use it, and that’s where the just released Waves Tune Real-Time pitch correction plugin comes in to play. It’s so fast that it can be used to tune vocals in real-time during a performance either live on stage or while recording in the studio.
Waves Tune Real-Time uses a brand new algorithm to automatically tune vocals with ultra-low latency. It has loads of features that make it easy to correct the pitch while keeping it sounding natural thanks to its advanced formant and vibrato correction, as well as it’s many manual features. It features intuitive controls and a simple layout, and can be easily programmed to the song’s key and customized to the singer’s articulation.
One of the cooler things is that it has a built-in software keyboard to help with the correction programming, or for just playing back guide tones to the singer, which any producer or engineer who spent time connecting a keyboard while the vocalists was waiting will appreciate.
Waves Tune Real-Time works on just about any available DAW and runs on any live mixing console via MultiRack SoundGrid. It’s also compatible with all SoundGrid applications like StudioRack, MultiRack, eMotion ST, and eMotion LV1.
The plugin is now on sale at an introductory price of just $99. Check out the video below that not only provides a demonstration of how it works, but a rundown of all its features as well.
While the Beach Boys were always a unique and ground-breaking band during their peak years, the group can be quite ragged live lately. I hate to say it, but sometimes you get the feeling that it’s mailing it in. That said, this video shows that from a performance angle, the band’s still got it. It’s a live recording of the band’s hit “Sloop John B” done a month or two ago at Capitol Studios. Even Brian Wilson is in relatively good voice, and the band’s signature soaring harmony vocals are very much in evidence.
Of course, any time you see pictures of Capitol, it’s always fun to check out the vintage gear. In this case, the U47 on Brian is very cool, and could well have been used to record Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin in the distant past.
Anyway, it’s a really good performance for a band that’s been doing to for 50 years (even if there’s only 2 original guys left here).
Here’s a study that every gigging musician should know about. It appears that music can profoundly influence how we taste things, but most significantly, it’s beer it holds the most influence over. A study published in Frontiers in Psychology by Dr. Felipe Reinoso Cavalho from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and KU Leuven, in collaboration with the Brussels Beer Project and the U.K. rock band the Editors, found that different sounds and sound levels can enhance or detract our sense of taste.
What’s most depressing is the fact that high decibel level music causes out taste perception to decrease, which isn’t exactly good for club and venue bar business.
The Brussels Beer Project produced “a porter-style ale with a medium body and an Earl Grey infusion that produced citrus notes, contrasting with the malty, chocolate flavors from the mix of grains used in production.” There were over 200 drinkers in the study, and they tasted the beer under three different conditions.
“The first group acted as a control and drank beer along with the bottle without a label, and did not listen to a specific song. The second group tasted the beer after seeing the bottle with the label, while the third group drank the beer presented with the label while listening to “Oceans of Light” off the band’s latest album. Prior to drinking, the group was asked to rate how tasty they believed the beer to be, and after, rate how much they enjoyed the drink.”
It turns out that the label on the bottle didn’t change the study group’s taste perception as much as the music did, as the third group indicated that they enjoyed the beer more than the other two groups.
A 2011 study also found that music could enhance the joy of drinking wine as well. The type of wine closely mirrored the type of wine that listened too at the time.
That proves it. Choose you music with your food wisely!
If you’re working with an artist or band, a critical time in the entire recording process is before you actually record, which is known as preproduction. Many producers think of preproduction as working out parts with the artist or band in a rehearsal room, but there’s actually another part of preproduction that can be even more crucial to the entire process, as outlined in this excerpt from the 2nd edition of my Music Producer’s Handbook.
“Getting to Know You
Almost always, the more time you spend in preproduction, the smoother the recording will go. In preproduction the songs are chosen, arrangements are worked out, and parts are learned so well that the only thing to concentrate on during recording is the execution of the performance.
Preproduction is often so much more than the process of working out songs. For a producer working with a new artist or band, it’s a time of getting to know each other. It’s important for the producer to learn the likes and dislikes of the artists he or she is working with—be it food, music, or politics—in addition to their working habits and idiosyncrasies.
Knowing these things can help the producer determine how far to push a singer, or discover what gets the best performance out of the guitar player, or the signs of when the drummer is getting tired, or the hot-button issues of the day to stay away from. If you’re going to be working closely with an artist, even for a short time, the more you know about him or her, the better you can serve the project.
One of the most important aspects of getting to know an artist is learning what music she loves, was influenced by, and is listening to now.
Back in the days of the vinyl record, one of the most effective ways of doing this was for the producer to go to the artist’s house and have them throw a bunch of albums from their collection on the floor and then describe what they liked and didn’t like about each one.
Today, it’s more about looking at a favorite Spotify playlist, but the same thing is accomplished. Among the questions to ask might be the following:
You can add any number of questions to those above, but can you see where this is heading? This is the information that you need to help attain the artist’s vision.
It gives you a common point of reference so that you can say, “Let’s go for a sound like the lead guitar on The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry,” and have the artist know exactly what you mean because you’ve found out in preproduction that’s one of his favorite songs.
Or if the artist says to you, “Can we get the sound like on The Weekend’s “Can’t Feel My Face,” you’ll know exactly what he’s talking about.”
You can read more from The Music Producer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.
Not many people know what a dialog editor on a major network television show does, but this weeks’ guest tells us all about it. Don Murrey has spent the last 20 years cutting dialog for a host of network shows and currently works on The Flash on the CW. On the podcast, he describe exactly what he does, the tools he uses, how he receives and delivers the show, and why dialog editing is one of the most important aspects of post that is so frequently overlooked.
In the intro I’ll discuss whether an artist really needs a label anymore and some alternatives that even some stars have used, as well as the 5 ways that music production has changed over the years.