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Monthly Archives: November 2016

Coldplay “Viva La Vida” Isolated Vocals

Coldplay Viva La VidaColdplay is a somewhat polarizing group in that you either love them or hate them, but they sure are popular. Today we look at the isolated vocal from their big hit “Viva La Vida” from the band’s 4th album of the same title. The song sold over 7 million copies worldwide and won the Grammy for Song of the Year in 2009, but it has been plagued by controversy. The song also has found much use  by sporting teams all over the world.

There has been several plagiarism lawsuits by Joe Satriani and Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) and others, but ultimately a professor of musicology showed that all the songs were similar to the composition “Se tu m’ami” by the Italian composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, who died in 1736. That said, here’s what to listen for.

1. Unlike many lead vocal performances in modern music, Chris Martin’s vocal isn’t doubled. It ends up sounding much more intimate as a result.

2. There’s both a delayed medium reverb that’s a tad on the dark side, as well as a separate timed delay to give the vocal some space.

3. The vocal is heavily compressed, more towards the end than the beginning of the song. There is a bit of sibilance that sounds like it’s being controlled by a de-esser, but that’s normal for a compressed vocal.

4. There’s a vocal glitch at 0:43 going from the verse to the B section the last verse phrase goes a little long against the obvious overdub of the B section.

5. During the chorus, a new stereo delay enters that’s panned hard left and right. The right side is longer and a little brighter than the left.

November 17, 2016

Yes, There’s A Film About The 808 Drum Machine

TR-808 drum machineI’m old enough to remember when drum machines first came out. The LinnDrum (see my Roger Linn interview for some great insight on how it was developed) was a wonder that allowed producers to finally get perfect time while scaring the pants off drummers everywhere now fearful for their jobs. Most of the LinnDrum imitators that followed tried to improve upon the sound and feel, but not all. One drum machine that seemed like a joke to many back then was the Roland TR-808, mostly because the sounds seemed so lame when compared to the machines based around real drum samples. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder though, as the hip-hop community embraced the machine as it became an essential part of the sound of the genre.

A new upcoming film called 808 celebrates the machine and it’s influence on a generation of music makers, and it will debut on December 9th exclusively on Apple Music. The documentary is narrated by Beats 1 DJ Zane Low, and features a diverse number of contributors including Rick Rubin, Pharrell Williams, David Guetta, Phil Collins, Questlove, Afrika Bambata, among many more.

Here’s the trailer. Looks like it should be pretty good, and hopefully will finally answer the question why this iconic unit was discontinued at the peak of its use.

November 16, 2016

The Common Characteristics Of A Hit Song

Hit SongAs we’re all too aware, crafting a hit song isn’t easy. Most people in the music business struggle their whole careers to be a part of just one, while others do the same to get a taste of that magic once again. While there isn’t an exact formula for a hit, there are a number of common elements between them that you’ll find that may help you in creating one. Here’s an excerpt from my Deconstructed Hits series that will hopefully shed some light on the subject.

“After looking at hundreds of hit songs, there is definitely a list of similar characteristics that you’ll find in a hit song on the charts today:

  • Most hits are short. Songs today average 3:47 in length, which is a lot longer than it used to be, but still an easily digestible bite.
  • Most hits have a short intro. The average intro of today’s hit is about 7 1/2 seconds, but it’s always been about getting to the point and that never seems to change.
  • Most hits limit the number of arrangement elements that occur at the same time. Most have only three or four, and rarely even five arrangement elements that play simultaneously, but no more.
  • The arrangement of most hits develops over the course of the song. Usually it reaches a peak at either the bridge or the last chorus.
  • Most hits use the arrangement to keep your interest. There’s always a new element entering or exiting to hold your attention.
  • Most hits have either a bridge or arrange a repeating song section to act like a bridge. The latter is an arrangement trick to keep the interest high and the song flowing.
  • Virtually all hits are dynamic, with a lot of tension and release, which means a hit changes in intensity. This is usually accomplished through the addition or subtraction of instrument or vocal tracks, but can also occur because of good old-fashioned dynamic playing if real musicians are used.
  • There are exceptions to all of these rules. It is rare to find a song that follows these traits exactly. Often what makes a song a hit in the first place is the ability to twist one of these traits into something new.

As you listen to songs in the future, begin to listen to the similarities in song form, arrangement and production, which can be a great help if you’re a songwriter, arranger or producer. The more you know about how a hit song is made, the more likely you’ll actually create one.

Keep in mind that even though you may not like a song or an artist, it is still worth a listen. Hits are hits for a reason, and they are definitely hard to come by. Each has some sort of magic––as well as some common elements––so something can be learned from every single one.”

You can read excerpts from the Deconstructed Hits books on the excerpts section of bobbyowsinski.com. You also might want to check out my new Music Producer Formula course as well.

November 15, 2016

Engineer Mark Linett On Episode #135 Of My Inner Circle Podcast

Mark LinettGrammy-winning engineer Mark Linett certainly has an interesting background. From stints at the famed Sunset Sound and Warner Bros Amigo Studios, to work with Brian Wilson, Rikki Lee Jones, Los Lobos, Michael McDonald and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, he’s seen it all.

But that’s only the start. Mark owns one of the coolest studios in Los Angeles completely decked out with vintage gear (including 2 original Universal Audio consoles), as well as a mobile recording truck filled with the latest in high-tech.

He’s also been The Beach Boys archivist for over 20 years, and he’ll discuss some of the more interesting aspects of those tracks (especially “Good Vibrations”) in our talk.

On the intro I’ll look at what $1 million in a buy-on gets you on a Motley Crue tour, and the big news of Samsung buying Harmon, and Avid in potential trouble with the SEC again.

You can listen to it at bobbyoinnercircle.com, or via iTunesStitcher, Mixcloud or Google Play.

What Will Happen To JBL Now That Samsung Is Buying Harmon?

Harmon logoIf you’ve not heard, Samsung is buying Harmon International for around $8 billion, which should send shivers down the spines of JBL Pro users. The South Korean giant reportedly sees Harmon as a bridge to the connected car business and isn’t all that interested in the audio side of the business, although its saying all the right things about returning those operations to their previous strength. What’s worse is that most Harmon employees discovered the news through social media rather than communication with the company, which isn’t exactly a great way to make a first impression.

The silver lining here is that Samsung may determine that the Harmon Pro companies (which include Crown, dbx, Lexicon, AKG, Digitech, AMX, BSS, JBL Professional, Soundcraft, Studer and Martin Audio, not to mention hi-fi companies like B&W, Harmon Kardon, Mark Levinson, and Infinity) are in a small enough niche revenue-wise that it’s not interested, and spin either the entire division off, or the separate companies. On the other hand, it’s also possible that all will be folded into Samsung and these wonderful brands and products will cease to exist after a while.

Although we live in a corporate world where growth is mantra that all execs live by, the Samsung/Harmon deal doesn’t seem to be about that. Samsung has been reeling from a series of disasters product-wise that were attributed to corporate culture. Apparently in the case of both the Galaxy 7 and their washing machine, both fixes were rushed out the door rather than a thorough investigation to the cause of the problems. This acquisition puts a positive spin on the company when it so sorely needs it, but it also looks to the future as the car gets more and more sophisticated. Harmon makes most of its money from its OEM auto audio systems and has been heavily moving the connected car direction.

JBL Pro has already been fairly corporate for some time, but having new Asian overlords is another level of bureaucracy entirely. Next year’s AES should be very interesting to see if there are any changes by then.

New Music Gear Monday: Slate Control Monitor Controller

Slate ControlOne of the most important components of a home or desktop studio is the monitor controller, and while there are more and more such devices on the market these days, not all are a good fit for many studios. For instance, the needs of someone working with a laptop mixing on headphones are completely different from someone who’s actually recording people in the room or needs the highest quality monitor signal path possible. The new Slate Control fits into the latter category, with features usually found on a full-blown recording console but that are often needed in today’s in-the-box world.

First of all, the Slate Control head can be used as either an independent table top module, integrated directly into the RAVEN MTX Mk2 or RAVEN Z3 armrest, or even integrated into an older analog console, since it’s only 7 inches deep. If a retrofit is in your stars, Slate Control adds 7 stereo monitor path inputs but also connects to the solo buss signal and logic inputs of your existing console for seamless control.

Regardless of the environment it’s being used, the controller has a wide array of pro features, including 3 speaker selections, each with an LFE Enable switch, and speaker B and C have trim controls for matching levels with speaker A. Speaking of LFE, the LFE Output has multiple modes with a 12dB per octave low pass filter that can be set at 80 or 120Hz, or a Direct Output Mode, along with Polarity and Level Trim. A CAL Mode also allows you to preset a reference level for the speakers, disabling the main control room volume control. The speaker section of the controller also features cut, mono compatibility and left speaker polarity functions as well.

Slate Control also has multiple cue outputs and headphone outputs with some very useful talkback functions. The Talkback System has both a built-in mic and external mic input, which allows both reverse talkback for instant communication with the artist, and a feature called Selectable Auto Talkback that engages the talkback automatically when the music stops.

All inputs and outputs are balanced and diode protected against accidental phantom power (48V) connections, with DB25 connections for inputs and outputs, and DB9 connections for Aux and Talkback Aux remote functions. There’s also an on-board USB Hub for iLok and phone charging, as well as an 1/8th inch input for playback from an mobile phone. Best of all, the audio signal path was designed by famed audio developer Paul Wolf so the audio quality if top-notch.

The Slate Control isn’t inexpensive at $2,499, but neither are the other high-end controllers on the market that offer similar features and quality. Check out the dedicated page here for more information.

Aerosmith “Walk This Way” Isolated Drum Track

Joey Kramer AerosmithI love to listen to great drummers, especially their isolated tracks. Joey Kramer from Aerosmith is always overlooked when it comes to skill, but just a quick listen to this isolated track from the band’s “Walk This Way” really proves why he’s one of the best. Here’s what to listen for.

1. Listen to how solid the drum track is. Kramer doesn’t drift from in tempo the entire song. He sets the groove and it feels great.

2. The drums play behind the beat. The track feels relaxed yet not lazy, which just goes to show that you don’t need to play frantically or up-tempo to create excitement.

3. The sound of the drums is great. There’s a nice long delayed plate on the snare, but listen to how clean the cymbals are. The balance between the drums and cymbals is also excellent, but I suspect that’s mostly because of the player and not the miking or mix balance. The snare is pretty bright, and the kick a little boxy compared to what we like today, but they work well in context with the mix.

4. The part is a little backwards, but that’s what makes it interesting. The open hi-hat is on beat one and the whole feel is fairly open and laid back during the guitar riff, and he plays hard 8ths on the open hat during the first verse and the ride cymbal on the second and third. He then goes to the bell and crashes during the choruses, which is a little more standard.

5. You can hear leakage from the rhythm guitar and occasionally something loud leaking through the reverb (a vocal scream?), but that’s what recording was like back in 1975.

This is only one of many hits by Aerosmith through the years, but don’t forget that it was also a hit by Run-DMC and it helped revive the band’s career. There’s a good story about how the song was written here.

Can A New Process Improve Record Pressing?

Injection moulding pressingMaking a vinyl record is a messy, time consuming business. It involves toxic chemical baths, huge mechanical presses, stampers that wear out easily, and maybe worst of all, the final product is made from a petroleum product. Record pressing has shown small improvements over the years, but for the most part, it’s still done the way it was 40+ years ago.

But that could change soon. A new injection moulding process invented by the Dutch company Symcon, promises not only to cut production costs, but to improve sound quality, and reduce the environment impact of conventional record pressing as well.

In a conventional record press, a PVC puck is heated with steam until it’s soft, then placed between the two stampers that press the puck for about 8 seconds. Another 16 seconds is then required for the record to cool off before the process can begin again.

In the new process, the plastic mixture is heated in advance, injected between the two stampers, then pressed for a few seconds and cooled for another 20 seconds to make sure the mixture reaches the outer edges of the stampers.

There are several big advantages with injection moulding. First of all, the amount of energy used is cut by up to 65%. There’s no excess vinyl around the record that needs to be cut off, and the stampers last much longer before they degrade. Currently, a stamper only lasts for around 2,000 records before it must be replaced. Yet another happy byproduct is that the noise is reduced by up to 10dB over conventionally pressed records.

This seems like a slam dunk, but there are still a few challenges to overcome though. So far, injection moulded records are less durable, as they show signs of wear after 35 plays compared to 50 times for a vinyl record. The price is also about 25% higher, although that should come down over time. It also takes more time to actually press the record, which is a serious disadvantage.

So this new system holds a lot of promise, but it’s too early to tell whether it’s revolutionary or not. Here’s a video that explains more, as well as a bit of an interview with one of the engineers.

Getting The Best From Your Singer

getting-the-best-from-singerThe vocals are the focal point of most songs, and a great performance is necessary to sell the song. A mediocre performance can sink the song no matter how great the tracks are. One of the hardest things about making a record is trying to record a singer who is uncomfortable. Even a seasoned pro sometimes can’t do her best unless the conditions are just right. If you’re a producer, you frequently run into one of the following scenarios though.

The vocalist keeps singing sharp or flat.

The vocalist keeps belting it out when the song calls for a softer sound.

The singer isn’t hitting the high notes like you know he can do.

Here’s a video from my new Music Producer Formula course that shows the techniques to overcome these problems and more.

November 8, 2016

ProMusicDB Founder Christy Crowl On Episode #134 Of My Inner Circle Podcast

Christy CrowlIf you’re lucky enough to have worked on a variety of music projects, you’re no doubt aware that many times you don’t receive the necessary credit. Even worse, sometimes everything from IMDB to Wikipedia gets your credits wrong. Something has to be done to make sure that the information is correct and thorough.

That’s why ProMusicDB is such a revelation. Finally there’s one place to make sure that the info so important to a musician, engineer or producer is recorded and available for everyone to see, and founder Christy Crowl is on the podcast this week to give us the details.

Christy has suffered through this herself, having a career as a conductor, musical director, singer, songwriter, and keyboard player for Mannheim Steamroller, and many times not receiving credit for some of the many projects she’s worked on. ProMusicDB.com can be the answer though, and Christy will tell us why.

On the intro we’ll look at the fact that download sales are at their lowest in 10 years and dropping fast, and how new acoustic materials are coming to market to help our world become just a little more quiet.

You can listen to it at bobbyoinnercircle.com, or via iTunesStitcher, Mixcloud or Google Play.