Category Archives for "Video"

December 27, 2016

Is It Bach Or A Computer?

Bach or computerJohann Sebastian Bach is generally considered to be one of the great classical composers, with compositions that exhibit a technical mastery of harmony and counterpoint. One of the things he excelled at was writing short polyphonic hymns known as chorale cantatas (he wrote over 300), which are short 4 voice pieces rich in harmony. As it turns out, computer scientists find these pieces very attractive because of their algorithmic-like structure. The problem is that even though you can teach a computer to compose using a similar algorithm, it’s never been particularly convincing. Until now.

Thanks to the work of Gaetan Hadjeres and Francois Pachet at the Sony Computer Science Laboratories in Paris using the artificial intelligence of a machine they call DeepBach, they’re able to produce very convincing choral cantatas that even some pros think were composed by Bach himself.

Essentially, they trained DeepBach’s neural network by teaching it all 352 of Bach’s cantatas, then transposing them to other keys for a data set of over 2,500 chorales. The machines then does its thing and before you know it, it’s composed a cantata that’s contains so much of the Bach style that even many trained listeners believe it came from the great composer himself.

How much so? A study was launched with 1,600 people (400 were professional musicians or music students) who were asked to compare two different harmonies of the same melody, then determine which of the two harmonies sounded more like Bach. When given the music from DeepBach, about half thought it was the real thing. Keep in mind that when given an authentic Bach piece to listen to, only 75% thought it came from Bach.

This is actually a very interesting step forward not so much from a composition standpoint, but more about music analysis. Bach cantatas follow a very precise structure that most other music doesn’t adhere to, but as a producer, I look forward to the day when I can get a readout as to the inner workings of a hit so I can learn from it. Hopefully DeepBach is a step towards that.

Listen to what DeepBach came up with.

Adele “Skyfall” Isolated Vocal

Adele OscarsAdele 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 “Creep” Isolated Vocals

Radiohead CreepRadiohead 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?

Mixing Synth Bass And Real Bass Tracks

synth bassSometimes synth bass tracks are a real bear to get to fit into the mix, but add a real bass to that and many mixers will be pulling their hair out before they make it work. That’s because a synth can have way more low end than a bass and it’s not always easy to tame. At the same time, it can also have a very wide frequency range that gets in the way with other instruments in the mix. That makes mixing synth and real bass especially tricky.

Here’s a video by Ryan West that features some Softube plugins that can help keep both synth and real bass under control and really working in the mix.

December 9, 2016

A Listen To The Beatle’s Decca Audition Tape

The Beatles Decca demoThe Beatles, arguably the greatest music group of all time, were turned down by every record label they went to until a little arm twisting landed them on George Martin’s Parlophone label. One listen to this audition tape that the band did for Decca Records  leads you to understand why everyone passed however. The band played songs from their live show, and while certainly competent, didn’t provide even an inkling of what was to come later.

The audition took place in London at Decca Studios on New Year’s Day in 1962. The group (which included original drummer Pete Best) travelled down from Liverpool through a snowstorm with driver and roadie Neil Aspinall to arrive just in time for the 11am audition. Brian Epstein had travelled separately by train. The Beatles recorded 15 songs altogether with 5 of them,  “Three Cool Cats,” “The Sheik Of Araby,” “Like Dreamers Do and Hello Little Girl,” eventually appearing on the Anthology 1 collection in 1995.

Here’s the track listing.

01. Money (That’s What I Want) [0:00]

02. To Know Her Is To Love Her [2:26]

03. Memphis, Tennessee [5:01]

04. Till There Was You [7:22]

05. Sure To Fall (In Love With You) [10:23]

06. Besame Mucho [12:27]

07. Love Of The Loved [15:07]

08. September In The Rain [17:00]

09. Take Good Care Of My Baby [18:57]

10. Crying, Waiting, Hoping [21:26]

 The lesson here is to never judge a book by its cover, because you just never know if there’s greatness that lies within.

Simon Phillips Talks Drums

Simon PhillipsSimon Phillips is one of the best drummers in the world and has the resume to prove it. From Jeff Beck to The Who to Judas Priest to being a member of Toto and a prolific session drummer, Simon is well respected for not only his playing, but his drum and recording acumen as well.

Here’s a video from Simon’s studio in Los Angeles where he discusses his thoughts on drum miking and equalization. I especially liked the explanation of how he treated and miked his bass drums, and that comes at around 17 minutes into the video.

It should be noted that Simon has a fairly large kit with lots of toms and multiple snare drums, but the information he shares is pretty basic and works with a kit of any size.

[Photographer: Mark Regemann, Germany (german user Jorainbo2001)]

One Direction “You And I” Isolated Vocals

One Direction - You and II 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.

Stevie Ray Vaughan “Pride And Joy” Isolated Guitar Track

Stevie Ray VaughanThere’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 “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.