Category Archives for "Isolated Track"
There is probably no other group that has as a fanatical a following as Rush. It seems like there’s no in-between with the band – you either love them or hate them, intensely. There’s no denying that Rush has had some huge hits though, and “Tom Sawyer” is one of their biggest. Here’s the isolated guitar track from the song. Listen for the following:
1. The guitar uses the same sound throughout the song. It’s a big stereo chorus that takes up a lot of space. In a power trio there are fewer instruments and mix elements so you have to make each one bigger in the mix and that’s what happens here.
2. There’s also a room reverb with a short decay on the guitar. It may even be the original room ambience.
3. The guitar solo is clearly an overdub with a slightly different sound. It doubles with the original guitar at the end of the solo and again at the end of the song.
4. As you’d expect, Alex Lifeson plays with extreme precision, although there are a few notes here and there that are ever so slightly rushed (like in the outro). Boy, you have to be pretty picky to even hear or care about them, and certainly you never hear them in the context of the mix. That said, this was an amazingly precise performance given the time it was recorded in (1980) and the tape technology that was in use.
Adele is a phenomenon unlike any other in music business in at least the last 10 years. With sales of more than 100 million in a time when a million is a big deal, she’s definitely touched a lot of people with her music, and her approach to it. You can attribute at least some of this to the fact that she has some real chops, and this isolated vocal of “Skyfall” perfectly illustrates that. The track uses the “official acapella” from the studio recording, matched to her live performance on the Oscars. Here’s what to listen for.
1. First of all, Adele’s voice is bathed in a dark, slightly delayed reverb. The decay feels longer than it really is because of the amount of verb. Actually, it also has a bit of a midrange honk if you listen on headphones.
2. At the end of the chorus there’s a nice ping pong delay on the last word.
3. There’s actually several lead vocal tracks that overlap. That said, this vocal performance is pretty much perfect, which is somewhat different from other Adele hits that were more “organic” in that a few things were left in that might normally be fixed.
4. The background vocals are spread in slightly left and right to make room for the lead vocal.
5. Compression is used very nicely on the vocal track. You can occasionally hear it on the louder parts, but not so much that you’d ever hear it in the final mix.
Radiohead has engendered respect from artists and fans alike for following its own path and not being afraid to follow its muse. In fact, many consider the band to be the Pink Floyd of their time in many ways. “Creep” was the band’s first single and later appeared on its first album Pablo Honey. Not an initial success, it took a rerelease a couple of years later to actually catch on. The song was reported to have been recorded in a single take, and has been covered by everyone from Macy Gray to The Pretenders. Here’s what to listen for.
1. There’s a nice long delayed reverb on the vocal that’s fairly dark sounding. That’s the only effect used.
2. Thom Yorke gives a great vocal, but it sounds like it was done with one take (not that there’s anything wrong with that). It’s a bit pitchy in spots, especially at the end of phrases, something that probably no one has ever noticed in the context of the mix.
3. There are some lip smacks and breaths that are left in. They just add to the intimacy of the vocal.
4. There’s also some distortion during the bridge from an overload somewhere in the signal chain. It’s all about the performance though, so who cares?
I usually post isolated tracks on Fridays and for the most part, the majority of them are classic songs that are somewhat old. The reason for that is that those tracks are more available, but every now and then I find something that’s current, like today’s One Direction isolated vocal track of their hit “You And I,” which was co-written and produced by Julian Bunetta and John Ryan. Here’s what to listen for.
1. Unlike most songs today that are somewhat dry, the vocals on “You And I” are deeply effected. There’s a basic long, very lush, delayed reverb that’s augmented by a 1/2 note and sometimes 1/4 note delay that trails its repeats to the left.
2. There’s a lot of compression on these vocals and sometimes it really stands out. That said, you’d never hear it in the track, and that’s what counts in the end.
3. Listen to the beginning of the choruses at 1:07 and 1:54 on the left (especially at 1:54 and a little beyond). There’s some throat clearing that was left in. This was something you heard a lot back in the old tape days, but hardly much any more in the world of DAWs. There’s also a lot of lip noise during the second verse at 2:32 on beyond. I’m surprised this wasn’t cleaned up. Likewise, there are some glitches around 4:46 and again around 6:30. Can’t tell if these are just digital artifacts from the upload or if on the recording. There’s even a bit of noise from the studio talkback left in.
4. There are some very abrupt cut-offs on some of these vocal tracks, which makes me think that the editing wasn’t as good as it could have been. Usually you put a slight fade at the end of an edit to eliminate that.
5. At 6 minutes and 54 seconds, this is a really long song in a time where shortness prevails. However, like other big hitmakers of the past, One Direction can break the current rules and even establish some new trends thanks to its huge fan base.
There’s nothing like listening to a master and guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan certainly fits that description. I remember going to see him in a small club before he broke out big, but right in the middle of stream of big hype. The audience was filled with LA guitar players (including quite a few heavyweights), all with a “show me what you got” attitude. It took about a minute and half of the first song, “Pride And Joy,” to make a believer out of all of us. Yes, this guy was the real deal. Here’s the isolated guitar track from the studio recording of that song.
1. The first thing you’ll notice is how big the guitar sounds. It has much more bottom than most guitar tracks, but this is a function of the fact that he was playing in the trio version of Double Trouble at the time, so more sonic space needed to be filled.
2. While everyone looks at his incredible dexterity when soloing, Steve was actually a great rhythm player as well, as this track bears out. Listen especially to the turnarounds, which are incredibly precise.
3, There’s a long delayed reverb on the guitar that’s very bright, again to fill in the sonic space.
4. No overdubs here. This sounds like one take all the way through, rhythm and lead guitar!
There’s no doubt the man was really a master. He’s very much missed.
Coldplay 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.
I 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.
It’s always a treat to hear the isolated tracks from a hit, especially when they’re from the old days of extreme tape machine limitations. The Beatles “Day Tripper” is an excellent example of how great a recording could be with only 4 tracks as we listen to the isolated bass and drums from the song. Of course, the magic is all in the song and you can certainly hear that in the recording. Here are some things to listen for.
1. The sound of the bass. It’s pretty woofy and not too defined like it would be in later recordings, but actually works in the track pretty well in when mixed with everything else. The bass sounds pretty bad by itself, which proves the point that sometimes relying on the solo button isn’t exactly the best thing for a mix.
2. There’s a lot of leakage. That would make producers, engineers and players crazy today but it was just standard operating procedure back then. No big deal, you just make it work for you.
3. The B-section bass changes. Paul McCartney plays a different part on each of the three B-sections, but each one of them is brilliant and works as well as the previous one. I wonder if this was planned or just happened spontaneously?
4. The drum B-section snare. Ringo play’s a little pickup snare fill on the second half of the B-section that almost sounds like a mistake. it’s a tad slow, as are the fills and builds, but it actually works well against the other tracks.
5. The bass line on the outro. It’s also a little different from what you’re used to hearing. It actually sounds like this version of “Day Tripper” might either be an outtake or the song was edited to make it a bit longer on the final version.
6. There’s an ending. You don’t hear it on the record but there’s one there if you listen to the end.
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.
Here’s a real treat. It’s the isolated vocal track from the title track of David Bowie’s iconic Ziggy Stardust album and it features not only David’s excellent vocal skills, but producer/engineer’s Ken Scott’s impeccable production as well. For those of you who don’t know or don’t remember, I co-wrote Ken’s autobiography Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust and there were so many great Bowie stories that he related while doing it that it’s difficult to pick just one, so I’ll include a few.
Since this is all about the isolated vocal, a great story from the book is about David doing vocals. According to Ken:
“David was always exceptional with his vocals, since 99% of the time it was the first take, beginning to end, with no punches. I’d get the level and he’d sing the song down and that would be it. Sure made my job easy. You’d think there was a mistake when he was laying it down, but when we’d listen to the playback we’d find that what we thought sounded odd the first time through was intentional and worked perfectly.”
OK, how about the technical bits of recording Bowie. Again from the book:
“What I quite often did while recording David’s vocals was use an AKG C12a and a U67 and place them at a 90 degree angle to each other so he was singing in-between them. I came up with this method so I could instantly switch between the two to see which mic sounded better (and maybe even use both), instead of having him stand in front of one mic and sing a bit, then go in front of the other mic and sing a bit. It also had the added benefit of helping suppress any popping and sibilance as well. We didn’t have many tracks at that time, so even if both mics were used, they were mixed together to a single track. Unlike many other recordings of the time, we never recorded the effects because David only did one take, so there was never any time to set them up.”
How about mixing? Again, right from the source:
“The album, like the others that followed, was mixed on a 20 input Sound Techniques console, using moderate board EQ, a single EMT plate reverb, and just a little compression on the overall mix. Compression came from two UREI 1176’s and two Teletronix LA2A’s. The multitrack machines were an Ampex 8 track and later a 3M 16 track. Any delay came from a Studer C37 stereo tape machine with a varispeed.”
Just a little bit about Ziggy Stardust the album, which everyone mistakenly mistook for a concept album. According to Ken:
“There’s always been this whole thing about Ziggy being a concept album, but it really wasn’t. There are only two rock albums that I would 100% consider concept albums; Tommy and Quadrophenia by The Who, and that’s because they were written as a complete piece, whereas Ziggy was just a patchwork of songs. Yes, they fit together very well and one can weave a story from some of them, but when you consider that “Round and Round” was originally there in place of “Starman,” it doesn’t make much sense as a concept. How does “Round and Round” ever fit into the Ziggy story? It’s a classic Chuck Berry song. How does “It Ain’t Easy” fit in with the Ziggy concept? That was taken from the Hunky Dory sessions. All this about Ziggy being Starman is bullshit. It was a song that was just put in as a single at the last minute at the record label’s insistence. So while it’s true that there were a few songs that fitted the ”concept”, the rest were just songs that all worked well together as they would in any good album.”
With those things in mind, here are some things to listen for:
1. Listen to how much reverb is on the vocal during the verse, then how dry it is in the chorus.
2. Listen closely for when the vocal is doubled, and when it sits by itself.
It’s so cool to be able to go back and listen to this again with a bit more of an x-ray on the vocal. Bowie was a exceptional once-in-a-lifetime artist and this is just one of many, many examples of that.