Tag Archives for " production "

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.

5 Great Session Tips That Will Save You Time And Money

5 Session TipsWhen you’re recording basic tracks, especially in an expensive commercial studio, it’s easy to get off track in a way that not only causes you to waste time, but money as well. These 5 session tips from the latest edition of my Music Producer’s Handbook will ensure that not only the tracking session, but all the overdub sessions that occur afterwards, run efficiently.

“There are a number of things to remember when the session gets up and running that will keep every happy and motivated, with their full attention on playing and singing.

1. Start off with the easiest song. This is usually something that the band knows backwards and forwards. It will help everyone to get comfortable in a new environment, get into the groove of recording, and make it easier to move on to the more difficult tunes later.

2. Record a tuning note. This may seem a bit old fashioned, but it could be a lifesaver later. Before each session, be sure to record a 10 second tuning note before each song as something to reference to later, especially if there are no keyboards involved. This way, if for some reason you happened to use a tuning that was a couple of cents flat, you have the tuning note as your reference. Even with today’s tuners, sometimes the tuning note just makes things easier.  This seems like such a small thing, but you wouldn’t believe how much time it can save you down the road if a situation arises where you just can’t figure out why everything sounds out of tune.

3. Don’t forget to record a count-off for every song. If someone gets a great idea for adding something to before the song begins, you’ll have a tempo reference point to work with. Even if you’re playing to a click that’s being generated by the DAW itself, recording the click at least four bars ahead of the downbeat is a foolproof way to make sure that any pickup or opening part is easily executed.

4. Take frequent breaks. One of the best abilities a producer can develop is knowing when it’s time to take a break. It’s hard to keep anyone’s attention for more than three hours, so be sure to take frequent short breaks. Sometimes just bringing the band in to the control room to listen to a playback can break it up just enough so their minds don’t begin to wander. A ten-minute break can pump new energy into a flagging session, so the producer always has to keep his finger on the pulse of the players to gauge their concentration.

5. Keep the food light and have it delivered. When it’s finally time for lunch or dinner, going out to eat will waste a lot of time, and sometimes it’s impossible to get back in the flow of things afterwards. If the break is too long, it may take an equally long time for the players to get their focus back. One of the biggest problems to avoid is having a large meal, since normal digestion naturally slows down a player’s ability to concentrate. Keep the mealtime short, the portions small, and allow absolutely no alcohol so that everyone stays fresh and the session is kept on track.

These 5 session tips will keep you session running smoothly and keep all involved happy and motivated.”

You can read more from The Music Producer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.

4 Ways Music Production Has Changed

4 Ways Music Production ChangeAlthough it may not be entirely obvious if you’re not listening carefully, music production has changed immensely from the early days of 16 and 24 track recording until now (hits made before multitrack recording were even more different by virtue of the limited tracks available). Here are some observations on how the production of today differs from what was done in the 60s and 70s.

1. Hits today are “less organic.” With so many songs built around beats, loops, sequenced tracks and virtual instruments, the intensity from section to section in a hit is changed by adding or subtracting an instrument or vocal, instead of a live player just playing more dynamically. This has changed the feel of the current hits, for better or worse.

2. Hits today are quantized or “put on the grid” in a digital audio workstation app. Back in the days of tape, performances generally weren’t perfect (Steely Dan aside). The track space was limited, and if a player played the part nearly perfect except for one flub, many times you couldn’t take the chance that the next performance would be played as well, and you might record over a better take. That meant that you lived with the mistakes, but that also helped the songs sound more human or organic. In other words, in those days there was no such thing as “undo.”

3. Effects layering is more sophisticated today. Back in the early days of hit making, the only effects that most studios had were reverb and delay, and usually only one of each. Today we have a huge array of effects available, and even the most basic native plugin is far more variable than any of the original effects used way back when. Plus, effects today can be easily automated so they can appear or morph for only a single word or beat, which make the hits of today sound more “slick.”

4. Most songs have an ending. Before the turn of the century, most hits ended with a fade. Not so today. According to one study, hard endings play better in the digital world, where a fade is more likely to make the listener skip on to the next song.

While there’s still a lot of music production that remains the same as it ever was, there’s a lot that’s different too. The next time you listen to a song, keep these observations in mind. It will make you think differently about what you’re hearing.

For a detailed look at the production of hit songs, check out my Deconstructed Hits series of books.

4 Ways Classic Songs Are Different From Today


song differencesUsually you’ll find an isolated post or song analysis here on a Friday, but after a number of years of doing that and really taking a close look at many of the classic songs that we all grew up hearing, I thought that an overall analysis would be worthwhile. The 60s and 70s were a period of great experimentation in music, where in many cases the rules that are being used today were just beginning to be constructed. As a result, there are many telling differences between the songs of that period from what we commonly hear today. Let’s take a look at 4 ways classic songs are different from the popular songs of today.

1. The classic rock songs had no formula. The common formula for a hit song today revolves around the triad of verse, chorus and bridge, with a hooky instrumental riff for an intro and interlude. That’s also be the case with some classic rock songs too (“China Grove,” “Feels Like The First Time”), but more often than not songs of the era didn’t contain a bridge that provides a peak in the song. In fact, in many songs the peak (and what could be considered a bridge) happened as a result of the introduction of a completely new section that’s somewhat out of context with the previous part – almost like a different song melded into the original. Examples of this are “LA Women,” “Behind Blue Eyes,” “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” “Layla,” “Don’t Fear The Reaper,” “Magic Man,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “Free Bird.”

2. Tempo was never an issue for the classics. A look at the Top 40 of the last ten years shows that the tempo revolves around the 120 to 130 beats per minute area. The classic hits that we love have no such restrictions, as the tempo from song to song varies wildly, sometimes even within the song too.

3. The lyrical content was much more diverse. Hit songs have always been about love, either gaining it or losing it, and many have presented it in a lowest common denominator form with forced “moon – June” style rhymes. The classic rock songs certainly had some of that (“Feel Like Making Love”), but for the most part came from a different, more thoughtful place (“Layla,” “Magic Man,” “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” “Dreams”). That said, many of the hits of the past tell stories about everyday life (“LA Women,” “China Grove,” “Radar Love,” “25 or 6 to 4”) or interesting thoughts and experiences (“Don’t Fear The Reaper,” “Rocket Man,” “Kashmir,” “Smoke On The Water”).

4. Melody played a larger part in the song. Many of the songs on the charts in the last 20 years have revolved more around the beat than the melody. There’s always some sort of singable lyric involved or it wouldn’t be a hit, but melody played a much larger role in the classic rock hits. Sometimes the melody was closer to that of the standards of the 40s, like “Rocket Man,” or just had a wide range between verse and chorus (“Magic Man,” Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Feels Like The First Time,” “25 or 6 to 4”). Then again, there was also a fair number of songs where the melody of the verse was basically the same for the chorus (“Dreams,” “Layla,” “China Grove”) too.

So the next time you listen to a song, see if you can work out the song formula that it’s using. If you can’t, chances are it’s from an era long gone by.

5 Steps To Prepare For Your Tracking Session

Tracking SessionBefore the first session begins, a host of decisions have to be made that range from the mundane to the important. Here’s an overview of the many production considerations a producer is confronted with in a typical project before a tracking session begins. This is an excerpt from the latest edition of my Music Producer’s Handbook.

1. Who is the engineer (or engineers)? Your choice of who engineers the project is critical, and, like many other aspects of production, this is not an element to cheap out on. A great engineer is your safety blanket. He’ll make things sound great even with gear that’s not up to snuff and provide useful technical advice, audio expertise, and even production suggestions when you need another opinion.

Many producers will use a top engineer for basics and mixing, then use a less expensive one, or engineer the overdubs themselves for overdubs in order to save some money. While this can work, the continuity of having the same engineer all the way through a project will keep the quality uniformly high and actually save time and money, since there’s the possibility for confusion when projects are handed off between engineers.

2. Is any rental gear required? Even the most well-equipped studio in the world probably still won’t have something that you’ll want or need for the session, be it an esoteric piece of audio or musical gear, or just something that’s essential for you to get your desired sound. Make sure you plan ahead for when you’ll need the rental, and then schedule around that. An example of this could be the rental of a grand piano or a Hammond organ. You’ll want to use it as soon as it arrives, instead of paying rental time for it to just sit around.

3. What’s the best time of day to record? This question can actually be a loaded one. While most bands would rather start early in the day to stay fresh, many singers don’t feel as though their throats open up until later in the day. While you might need only a guide vocal from the singer when the basics are being recorded, you certainly don’t want the singer to be harmed or feel abused, and herein lies the dilemma. You don’t want to start recording too late in the day, since you’ll end up having everyone burn out early and you might lose the advantage of a few hours of the studio’s daily rate that you’ve paid for. While starting the session at 10 a.m. might not work, try to start no later than noon if possible. Many musicians want or need to get home at a reasonable hour to be with their families, and working too far into the night can upset your body clock if you’re not used to it.

4. Are there any additional musicians required? Once again, it’s best to plan as far in advance as you can so you can schedule the other players as needed. The more players you need to have together at one time (like a string or horn section), the more time in advance you’ll need in order to schedule them.

5. What format and sampling rate will you use? While it’s possible that you might still want to break out an analog tape machine to record your basics, chances are that at some point in the project you’ll return to the comfort and flexibility of a DAW (most likely Pro Tools). Your choice of bit depth and sampling rate can be critical to the amount of hassle that you’ll encounter down the road. Here’s a chart that can help you make your choice.

Once again, the name of the game is efficiency and trying not to overlook anything before you start your tracking session and begin paying for a studio and/or musicians.

You can read more from The Music Producer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.

The Producer’s Basic Tracks Checklist

Music Producer's Handbook 2nd edition coverThere’s always so much going on during a tracking session (especially one with a lot of players involved) that it’s pretty easy to get overwhelmed with the details and demands and overlook some of the things that can really help the session along. Here’s a Basic Tracks Checklist from my latest  Music Producer’s Handbook 2nd edition book that will help things go a little smoother.

“Before the basic tracks even begin, ask yourself the following questions to make sure your players will be happy and the sounds will be great.

 Do the drums sound great acoustically in the room? If they don’t, change the heads, rent a new kit or hire a drum tuner.

 Are the drums tuned properly? Before recording begins, the drums should have new heads put on and have all buzzes and sympathetic vibrations removed.

☐ Do you have a variety of instruments available? The greater variety of instruments you have, the better the parts will fit together and the more interesting the recording will sound.

☐ Are all the instruments in tip-top condition? Is the intonation set correctly? Is the instrument clean of any buzzes, hums, and intermittents?

☐ Are all the players happy with their headphone mix? Can you give each musician his or her own mix? Is a personal headphone mixer available for each player?

☐ Does the click have the right sound? Does it cut through the mix? Is it musical enough that the drummer can play along? Is it so “musical” that the drummer can’t groove to it?

☐ Does the click groove? Does it work better as quarter notes or as eighth notes? Is there a different sound for the downbeat?

Is the click bleeding into the microphones? Can the drummer use isolating headphones? Can you roll the high end off so that it doesn’t leak as much?

☐ Do you have the studio talkback mic on? Can you hear the musicians in the studio at all times between takes?

☐ Is the control room talkback mic always on? Can the musicians hear you at all times in between takes?”

There are other issues when cutting basics as well, but following this Basic Tracks Checklist will go a long way to keeping everyone happy and providing a very efficient session.

You can read more from The Music Producer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.