Take Your Mixes To The Next Level

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

4 Random Predictions For 2011

This is the week for predictions for the future, so I'll give you mine for 2011. These are rather random in that they're not all directly about music or production, but they are related in some way. Here we go.

1) The end of the mechanical magnetic hard drive. I believe that 2011 will be the tipping point for the decline of the hard drive. In 2010 we saw most computer manufacturers offer solid state drives as options, but what's most telling is the fact that both internal and external hard drive prices are dropping like a rock (you can get a 2G drive for less than 80 bucks right now), which means that the drive manufacturers can see the writing on the wall. Just watch what happens in the new year as people discover the beauty of solid state memory.

2) The tablet really takes off and becomes the predominant computing device. And speaking of solid state memory, I think the time has come for the whole idea of a tablet as a computer. You know what convinced me? I was watching an episode of vintage Captain Picard Star Trek Next Generation the other night, and tablets played a big, yet subtle role. Everyone had one, they pass them back and forth to each other, and it's such a natural thing to have and use. So many of the most useful gadgets start out as elements of science fiction only to become reality when the technology catches up. Guess what, in the case of the tablet, it finally has. Watch as we leave our laptops behind.

3) The connected TV will gain traction. I know, it's not looking too good right now, with Samsung's Google television looking like a bust and Apple TV selling well but not setting any records. But hear me out on this. The state of the cable set-top box is still seated so far in the 1990's that I'm honestly surprised that cable subscribers aren't rioting with pitchforks and Molotov cocktails outside the company headquarters. I'm on my fourth piece-of-crap box from "Un-Scientific Atlanta" that works so badly that they should be ashamed to even have it on the market. And the cable companies still treat any kind of interactivity as if it was some sort of science fiction. Wait a minute - it was - in 1979!! Believe me, people want their TV's to be connected. Just don't wait on the cable companies to figure it out though (that's a sure recipe for disaster). In 2011, someone (probably Apple) finally will.

4) 3D will have a big impact on the music business. Wait, I can't believe I'm saying that. Up until yesterday I was firmly convinced that 3D was surround sound all over again; basically a parlor trick that would never make it, at least until you didn't need glasses to view it. Yesterday I had my mind opened up, blown, and to put it bluntly, totally changed (how often does that happen?). The whole trick with 3D is that it has to be done technically well (something that doesn't occur that often, it turns out), and the production and post-production methods have to have a totally different approach. Yes, I've seen the future and I'll report more in depth on it as the new year dawns next week.
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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Attributes Of A Touring Musician

I have a number of books that are being released at the upcoming Winter NAMM 2011 show in Anaheim in mid-January. One is called The Touring Musician's Handbook, which is a natural follow-up to The Studio Musician's Handbook that was released last year.

The Touring Musician's Handbook isn't so much about touring with your band as it is getting a gig as a sideman with a somewhat established artist. It covers things like preping your gear and personal items before a tour, proper tour etiquette, and finding the right tech, among many other things.

Here's a brief excerpt from Chapter 3 regarding the attributes of the typical touring musician.
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Every touring musician has mostly the same attributes. They’re demanded by the nature of the gig.
Your Chops
Despite what you may think, the typical touring sideman is not all about chops. Sure they’re important, but your ability to learn and retain the music is much more significant than your technical chops. Can you learn a body of work quickly, play it really well, and not forget anything from show to show? Can you play with confidence under unpredictable conditions? You can have the best chops in the world, but without those other traits, you’ll find yourself soon sitting in the audience instead of on stage.
Most of what we do has very little to do with playing, but has everything to do with entertainment. If most musicians could keep the entertainment and sales side of the business on their minds, they would work more and they would probably do a better job in most situations.
Sax player Ed Wynne
Of course you need a minimum amount of proficiency on your instrument, but that limit is dictated by the type of music and the role you’re asked to fill. The demands for a bass player playing with jazz fusion keyboardist George Duke are a lot different from what folk balladeer Leonard Cohen would require. Playing rhythm guitar behind country music star Reba McEntire requires a whole different skill set than playing guitar behind alt-rocker Billy Corgan. Some rolls require a precise technician with superior physical dexterity while others need you to be solid in the pocket pushing the rhythm and nothing more. But whatever the role, you have to do it to the satisfaction of the artist, and do it so well that your performance is never a concern. Part of the reason that you’re hired is for the security of knowing that your parts will always be played just as the artist needs and wants.
Your Personality
Your reputation among other musicians and people within the touring industry is what gets you hired and keeps you working, so if other artists, musicians, producers and engineers like you as a person, like how you play, and like the feeling you bring to a rehearsal and tour, then you’re more likely to get calls for work. If you were cooped up in a submarine for a while, you’d sure want to get along with the other people there with you. Obviously, touring conditions aren’t even close to that in most ways (although a bus is a little like a submarine in terms of how intimate the quarters are), but the fact that you are working very closely with other players, crew, production, artists, label and agency people and who knows who else, usually means that the easier you are to work with, the more likely you’ll get asked back the next time, or referred for another gig. 
Playing comes first and it always will, but if you make the people paying your check uncomfortable in even the slightest way, it will come back to haunt you. Smiles and a pleasant, accommodating attitude, as well as superb personal hygiene (that’s so important!) and an appropriate sense of style go really far in the touring business. There are a lot of great players available and unless you’re something unbelievably special, the people paying your check will always take the player easiest to work with, all things being equal. No back-talk, no sass, no snide remarks, nothing other than a wide smile and a “Tell me what you want,” and “No Problem!” attitude is what the people with the ability to hire you are looking for.
If you’re too much of a personality yourself, you might have difficulties. That’s just purely from a support musician’s standpoint. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have your own personality or opinions or wants and desires, but you have to be flexible and easy going enough to understand that it’s not about you. It’s just about creating a vibe and the individual doesn’t matter so much.
Violist Heather Lockie
How amicable are you? Can you get along with everyone else in the band? That’s important, but not essential. Are you able to detach from everybody and not worry whether you’re getting along or not? That position works too. If you’re a pro, you’re always all about the music, so there’s never an issue about getting along. You never have a bad word to say about anybody and you avoid drama at all costs. If there’s ever an argument, you know enough not to get involved or take sides. 
When you’re playing a gig at the bar on weekends, you’re might not get along with another player or crew but you know that you’ll be going home right afterwards so it’s easy to tolerate someone. When you’re on tour, you have to live with your co-workers in very close-quarters. You’re room mates because of the close nature of the tour bus, so you have to have the ability to get along with others comfortably with no problems.
Your Onstage Demeanor
Do you have the appropriate on-stage personality for the artist? A lot of players get gigs because their physicality on stage is the right fit. It’s not only how you look physically, but how you look when you’re playing the music. Are you active on stage? Are you a showman? That may not work for an artist who requires that you just stand there and play, but they still might want you to be passionate about the music if you can restrain yourself from not jumping around like Pete Townsend. Do you know your place on stage, and are you able to tailor your demeanor to the client? Well cover this more in Chapter 5.
Your Gear
We’ll go over this in detail in Chapter 7, but whatever gear you bring must be not only be in excellent working order, but will be dictated by the type of music and the type of tour that you’re doing. If storage space is limited (like when you’re flying), then you might only bring your main axe, (if you’re a guitar or bass player) and a backup and backline will be supplied by the promoter. Likewise, drums and keyboards will be provided by the promoter at the venue. If you’re on a bus tour and you have more room, you’ll bring your instrument plus whatever you need as a backup, but almost always, weight and space is an issue so the less you need to bring, the better (unless you’re with a superstar). Regardless of how much or how little gear you bring on the road, it all has to sound great and work flawlessly every time.
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Monday, December 27, 2010

"The Trooper" Iron Maiden Isolated Drums

My post regarding the isolated guitar tracks from Iron Maiden's "The Trooper" drew a great response yesterday, so here's the isolated drum track as well. Who knew there were so many Maiden fans out there? Here are some things to listen for.

1) I'm not sure how the drums were recorded, but the sound is very "old school" in that it almost sounds like a stereo pair of overheads and a kick drums mic, perhaps augmented with a snare mic. The toms sound a little distant compared to the kick and snare, which is usually a sign that most of the sound coming from overheads.

2) There's not a lot of snap on the snare, which indicates that a bottom mic probably wasn't used.

3) The performance is fairly consistent, but there are a few fills (like around 2;05) that seem rushed. That being said, this is a very complex beat that drives almost non-stop for 4 minutes. You've probably never heard anything seem rushed in the song when listening with the rest of the instruments, which is why it's so dangerous to listen to isolated tracks in the studio while you're recording. You can always find something not to like about an other otherwise great performance.

4) There's a lot of reverb on the drums, but it never gets in the way because both the high end and low end is filtered. This is a great trick that used to be a lot more commonly used than it is today.



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Sunday, December 26, 2010

"The Trooper" Iron Maiden Isolated Guitars

Here's a dose of metal for your Holiday Monday with the isolated guitar tracks from Iron Maiden's "The Trooper." The song is from Maiden's 1983 album Piece Of Mind and is featured in Guitar Hero II. Here are some things to listen for.

1) Each guitar part is doubled pretty closely, which thickens an already thick sound considerably.

2) To eliminate guitar amp noise, producer Marin Birch used a noise gate the the tracks, which you can hear working during the verses.

3) In an excellent bit of mixing technique, take notice that the solos are up the middle to stay out of the way of the rhythm guitars, and also have a slightly different tone to differentiate them more.



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Thursday, December 23, 2010

"Same Old Auld Lang Syne" - Dan Fogelberg

Here's my favorite song about Holidays - the late Dan Fogelberg's Same Old Auld Lang Syne. I posted this last year too, but I really love the song and the arrangement, so here it is again.

What I love best about this live version is how well Dan treats his backing musicians at the end. He shows love and respect, as all artists should.

Happy Holidays everyone, and thank you so much for reading!!



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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

5 Steps To Prep For Mixing

Here's an excerpt from my recently published book "Mixing And Mastering With T-RackS: The Official Guide." In it, I cover the 3 main facets of preparing for a mix, the technical prep, the setup prep, and the physical prep. We covered the physical prep in a previous post, so here's the part about the technical preparation before a mix.
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Technical preparation is the most mundane of all the tasks. So mundane, in fact, that many A-listers either hire someone or have their assistant do all of this work. That being said, the technical prep may be the most important time you spend on some projects, because it’s where you tighten up the individual performances and take them to new level. 
1) Make A Copy Of The Session
The first thing is to make a copy of your session and label it in such a fashion that you can tell what it’s for. Something like “songname edits 4-4-11” or “songname voc comp” tells you exactly what’s happening at a glance. I like to put the date in the name as well. If you have multiple versions of the session in one day, I’ll differentiate one from another  with letters of the alphabet at the end like “songname edits 4-4-11a”, “songname edits 4-4-11b” and so on.

While you’re at it, make a copy of the session file on another hard drive, flash drive, online backup, or any place that you can easily grab it if for some reason you find the file you’re working on is suddenly corrupted.
2) Tweak The Timing
No matter how great the players on the session are, there’s always some portion of a player’s recording that doesn’t feel quite right. The exception being that you have enough time to have the musician play their part until it’s perfect, or you punch in all the suspect parts as you go along.


[Some of the intricacies of tweaking the timing of a track were in this post - 6 Tips For Editing Your Timing - which was also in the book.]
Usually, the timing of the basic tracks will be tweaked right after your tracking session so you have a solid rhythm section to overdub against, but if you’ve not done that or you’re just now discovering some sections that don’t feel right (which happens a lot), prepare for the joys of slipping and sliding time.

Of course, if you’re using loops or MIDI instruments, you’ve probably quantized things to the track by now. If you haven’t, now’s the time.
3) Eliminate Any Noises
Now is the time to clean up each individual track. While the noises might not sound too bad with the rest of the track, after everything is mixed and mastered you’d be surprised how something that was buried can come to the forefront. Also, by eliminating any extraneous noises, all the tracks magically sound distinct and uncluttered.
Trim the heads and tails - Trim all the extra record time at the beginning and end of each track, regardless of whether it was recorded during basics or overdubs. Add a fade-in and fade-out to eliminate any edit noise.
Crossfade your edits - One of the biggest problems for A-list mixers is when they get a session in that’s full of edits to make the track sound tight, but the edits click and pop because they don’t contain any cross-fades. Even if you can’t hear a click or pop, it’s a good practice to have a short cross-fade on every edit to eliminate the possibility of an unwanted noise (see Figure 1.3). 

Delete extra notes from Midi tracks - Delete any extra “split” notes that were mistakenly played. You might not hear them when all the instruments are playing, but just like the noise at the beginning of tracks, they have a tendency to come to the forefront after things get compressed.
4) Do Any Necessary Comping
Comping shouldn’t be left for mixing as it’s something that’s normally taken care of directly after an overdub session for either the vocal, guitar or anything else that required multiple takes. That being said, if you still have some vocal or overdub comping to do, now’s the time.
5) Do Any Necessary Tuning
Inevitably there’s always a note that’s a bit sour and needs tuning. Whether you use Autotune, Elastic Audio, or any other pitch correction plug-in, make sure that the timing isn’t thrown off when the note is shortened or lengthened.
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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"Space Oddity" - David Bowie Isolated Vocal

Here's the isolated vocal track to one of my favorite songs, David Bowie's "Space Oddity." The song was recorded in 1969 for the album of the same name, but it didn't become a hit in the US until 1972 after Bowie had already achieved some acclaim here.

Although everyone connects this song with Bowie's famous backing band The Spiders From Mars, the players on this recording were different. They included Mick Wayne on lead guitar, Herbie Flowers on bass (who would go on to play the famous dueling bass part on Lou Reed's "Take A Walk On The Wild Side,") Terry Cox on drums, and pre-Yes Rick Wakeman on Mellotron and piano.

Tony Visconti produced the album but felt the single was a gimmick, so he handed it off to protege Gus Dudgeon (who went on to great fame as Elton John's producer for his big albums like "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road"). Here are some things to listen for.

1) Although the vocal doesn't start until about 40 seconds in, you can hear David make the sort of mouth noises that every vocalist does from time to time when bored.

2) There's a slight crack in his voice at the end of the first verse, which is probably the type of thing that wouldn't get by today without being replaced. That being said, the vocal is performed well and is remarkably in tune. Engineer/producer Ken Scott, who produced the next 4 Bowie albums after this one (including the exquisite "The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars"), recently told me that over the course of 4 albums, every vocal that David recorded was a first take except for one that he intentionally wanted to sing the chorus a little differently. Remarkable!

3) This isn't what you'd call a "pristine" vocal sound, as it has a lot of fur (distortion) around around it as he begins to get loud. You can hear the compressor working as well.

4) If you listen closely, there's a bit of what sounds like print-through on the 3rd verse. Print-through is a phenomena of magnetic tape where a layers imprint magnetic information to adjacent layers. As a result, you get an echo-like effect with the print-through vocal occurring sometimes even before the main recorded vocal. This effect can be heard most famously on the bridge of Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love."



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Monday, December 20, 2010

Captain Beefheart's 10 Commandments Of Guitar Playing

Don Van Vliet AKA Captain Beefheart left the building the other day. He'd actually left music a long while back, choosing to become one of the century's most influential painters instead.

That being said, Beefheart was the most influential musician many of you have never heard of, directly influencing punk, new wave, grunge and avant garde with a style so unique as to be indescribable. His music started as traditional blues, but Don quickly decided to go beyond the form, taking it just as far outside as John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman ever did in their most adventuresome periods.

Trout Mask Replica (the cover can be seen on the left) was perhaps his best known and loved album, and it sounded so wrong and off center on first listening that you just couldn't believe that there was anything musically redeeming in its grooves. But each listen opened up a new layer of brilliance until you couldn't get enough of it or the man who made it, if you gave the album half a chance in the first place.

With that in mind, here are Captain Beefheart's 10 Commandments Of Guitar Playing from beefheart.com, followed by the first part of a brilliant documentary on the man that says much more about the man better than I could ever write it.
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Budding guitarists take note.
"Though they bear numbers, they are not arranged heirarchically — each Commandment has equal import."

1. Listen to the birds
That's where all the music comes from. Birds know everything about how it should sound and where that sound should come from. And watch hummingbirds. They fly really fast, but a lot of times they aren't going anywhere.

2. Your guitar is not really a guitar 
Your guitar is a divining rod. Use it to find spirits in the other world and bring them over. A guitar is also a fishing rod. If you're good, you'll land a big one.

3. Practice in front of a bush
Wait until the moon is out, then go outside, eat a multi-grained bread and play your guitar to a bush. If the bush doesn't shake, eat another piece of bread.

4. Walk with the devil 
Old Delta blues players referred to guitar amplifiers as the "devil box." And they were right. You have to be an equal opportunity employer in terms of who you're brining over from the other side. Electricity attracts devils and demons. Other instruments attract other spirits. An acoustic guitar attracts Casper. A mandolin attracts Wendy. But an electric guitar attracts Beelzebub.

5. If you're guilty of thinking, you're out
If your brain is part of the process, you're missing it. You should play like a drowning man, struggling to reach shore. If you can trap that feeling, then you have something that is fur bearing.

6. Never point your guitar at anyone
Your instrument has more clout than lightning. Just hit a big chord then run outside to hear it. But make sure you are not standing in an open field.

7. Always carry a church key
That's your key-man clause. Like One String Sam. He's one. He was a Detroit street musician who played in the fifties on a homemade instrument. His song "I Need a Hundred Dollars" is warm pie. Another key to the church is Hubert Sumlin, Howlin' Wolf's guitar player. He just stands there like the Statue of Liberty — making you want to look up her dress the whole time to see how he's doing it.

8. Don't wipe the sweat off your instrument
You need that stink on there. Then you have to get that stink onto your music.

9. Keep your guitar in a dark placeWhen you're not playing your guitar, cover it and keep it in a dark place. If you don't play your guitar for more than a day, be sure you put a saucer of water in with it.

10. You gotta have a hood for your engine
Keep that hat on. A hat is a pressure cooker. If you have a roof on your house, the hot air can't escape. Even a lima bean has to have a piece of wet paper around it to make it grow.

This sound advice can be found in the book Rolling Stone's Alt-Rock-A-Rama (1996).



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You should follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating the music business.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Secret To A Tight Sounding Band

One of the things that I learned early in my musical life as a guitar player is the role that dynamics play in how tight a band sounds. A band that plays dynamically will never be told it's too loud. Even if the playing is sloppy, playing dynamically makes the band seem tighter than it really is, and bigger than life as well.

This applies to both recording and playing live, so I included sections on dynamics in two of my books - How To Make Your Band Sound Great and The Music Producer's Handbook. Here's an excerpt that explains how to play dynamically.
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If you learn only one thing from this book and DVD it’s that playing with dynamics is the greatest key to making your band sound great.  It’s an improvement that both you (the band) and your audience will notice immediately, and will automatically separate you from about 90% of other bands on the planet.
So what are dynamics?  Simply, it means playing quietly or with less intensity in certain places in a song, and  louder or with more intensity in other places.  Most bands are oblivious to dynamics and play at one volume throughout the entire song, song after song, set after set.  This gets boring and tedious for the audience very quickly.
Playing with dynamics means playing with less intensity in certain places in a song, and louder or with more intensity in other places. Most bands are oblivious to dynamics and play at one volume throughout the entire song (or all the songs, for that matter), which can get boring for the listener very quickly.

Generally speaking, here’s how you do it.  
When the song begins, the band plays fairly loudly, about 7 or 8 on a scale of 1 to 10.
When the vocal or lead instrument (if the group is instrumental) comes in at the verse, the band drops down to about 4 or 5.
When the chorus comes in, the volume level comes back up to a 7 or 8.

When the 2nd verse begins, the band drops down to a 5 or 6 level (notice it’s a little louder than the first verse, but not as loud as the chorus).
When the 2nd chorus begins, the band comes back up to a 7 or 8.
When the bridge, or whatever section is the peak of the song, the band comes all the way up to 9 or 10.
The band drops down to 7 or 8 for the outro of the song.
If the song has a breakdown, the level might come down as low as a 1 or 2.
While the level of intensity (and as a result, volume level) may change from the numbers indicated above for each song and depending on what finally feels the best, that’s basically how it’s done.  If the band plays the song dynamically, the song breathes volume-wise. Going from loud to quiet or quiet to loud is called “tension and release” and it’s a basic quality of all art forms (in painting it would be dark to light colors, photography it would be light to shadows, etc.). Tension and release keeps things interesting.  


The Secret To Dynamics
When you play loudly, play as loudly as you can.
When you play softly, play as softly as you can.

There are a few byproducts from playing dynamically too. The vocals can be heard easier because there’s more space and fewer loud instruments to fight against (easier on the singer’s throat as well). Songs become more fun to play because there’s true interaction with the other players to make it work, and as a result, the band automatically gets tighter. 
For a really great example of dynamics, listen to Smells Like Team Spirit by Nirvana where the verses are at about a 5, the pre-chorus at 7 and the chorus just roar at 10.

How to learn to play dynamically
Most bands learn to play dynamically naturally without thinking if just one player is dynamics-aware and the others follow (it helps if that one aware person is the drummer). Usually if a band is together for a long enough time and plays enough gigs, dynamics will magically seep into its playing after the band begins to get some self-awareness of just what it takes to get a crowd going. You can’t spend years of waiting for these things to happen by themselves though, you’re making a record. So just use the following method:
When the band is going over a song, treat the dynamics as an integral part of the song (because they are) and spend as much time learning them the same way that you would with the chord changes and groove. As shown above, map out each section of the song on a loudness scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the loudest.
Now the next step is the most important - make sure that each band member agrees on how loud or quiet each dynamic number is. In other words, be sure that the drummer’s 8 level is the same as the rhythm guitar player’s, and the 2 level of the bass player is the same as the lead guitarist. After that’s commonly agreed upon, rehearse the dynamics of a song until they’re second nature, then watch the audience take notice.
Don’t Confuse Volume Level With Intensity
A common complaint from a band that’s being taught dynamics is, “The song just doesn’t drive when we play the verse (or any other section) quietly.”  That’s because it’s easy to confuse volume level with intensity.

Most bands tend to get sloppier the softer or less intense they play. They begin to play the individual beats at slightly different levels and even have slight tempo variations between beats. As a result, playing softly sounds wimpy. Another thing that happens is that the band is so used to playing at one (usually loud) level, that anything compared to that level sounds so different that it’s perceived as less exciting. The same thing happens when you drive your car at 80 MPH for a long time. When you bring it back to 65, it feels like it’s going slow even though it’s still going pretty darn fast. And finally, the internal dynamics of each individual player usually go out the window. Instead of playing crisp yet quiet with the same attack and releases (covered later in the chapter) as at the higher volume level, the attack and releases get relaxed so the playing becomes less precise.
So the real trick is learning to actually play with the same intensity at lower levels. Make sure the tempo is even, the groove stays the same as at the higher volume, and the attacks and releases are crisp and you should sound powerful at any volume level.

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You should follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating the music business.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

6 Reasons Why The Album Format Died

I don't normally cross-post with my Music 3.0 blog, but I feel strongly about his topic and wanted to get it out to the widest audience.

I think it's safe to say that we're at the end of the "album age," and although the format will hold on for a while, it's clearly waning in popularity. I've given this a lot of thought and have come up with what I think are the reasons, but be aware, they're not all exactly what the popular wisdom assumes. So let's begin with the 6 reasons why the album format has, for all intents and purposes, died.

1) It was a visual experience. The album format in the vinyl record age had the advantage of that wonderful piece of cardboard known as the album jacket. The album jacket contained the cover art (still found on CDs), and most importantly, the liner notes on the back, which we'll get to in a second. But one thing that everyone either forgets or has never experienced is the fact that millions of albums were purchased completely on impulse because of the album artwork alone! 

It may be hard to believe, but it was quite common to come across an album cover that was so cool that you'd buy it without knowing a thing about the artist. Sometimes it would be a total loser, but you still had the liner notes to read, and occasionally that would still make it a worthwhile purchase.

2) It was an informational experience too. Those of you too young to have experienced this don't know how much the liner notes meant to nearly everyone who bought an album (the picture on the left gives you an idea how extensive they could be). You could spend hours reading a well-written gatefold jacket, checking out every credit, wondering just where these exotic studios were (Smoketree Ranch in Malibu was the one that always intrigued me the most as a kid), and generally just soaking up any info you could about the artist. Of course, this was way, way before the Internet, so the liner notes were sometimes the only place to find any of info on the artist at all.

To say the least, the visuals and information along with the music made buying an album a total experience that today's album doesn't some close to.

3) The demise of the record stores. Once again, this may seem hard to believe but nearly every community had someplace that sold records, even if it didn't have a record store. There was an entire network set up to supply records to department stores, supermarkets, even diners. You couldn't help but to run into someplace selling records during the course of a day.

But the record store was the place to not only buy music, but to spend hours browsing. Why? Because of the cover art and liner notes. You'd peel through a bin of records, stopping every so often to look at an intriguing cover, which made you want to read the liner notes, and maybe even buy the album as a result. 

But the record store was also the best place for word of mouth. The people that worked the record stores always knew what was hot, what was underground but about to pop, and what was overhyped. You could go into a store and ask a clerk, "What's really good?" and he'd give you 10 choices, most of which were pretty high quality. This is something that the music industry is still looking for today online. Now we call it "music discovery" and VC's still throw big money at anyone who claims to have an app.

4) The price. Albums used to be a bargain. A 45 RPM single used to cost anywhere from $.99 to $1.29 (ironically what a download costs today, except you got two songs then), but an album started at only $3.98, before prices gradually began to increase. Either way, in the beginning the album was a no brainer even for a kid on a tight allowance. For the longest time, the album was priced at $8.98, before it was discounted, which was still a bargain. 

The greed started in the early 80's as the major record labels were taken over by multi-national companies, the attorneys and accountants ruled, and the prices of the album began to rise - first with what they called "superstar pricing," which tacked on an extra dollar for a superstar act (Tom Petty sued his label keep the price at $8.98, a gesture that would be very unlikely today by a big music act).

5) The CD. Then came the CD, and the business went to hell in hand basket. The packaging was different, so the jacket was no longer needed, and as a result, the cover art became less important, and you couldn't really do extensive liner notes because the print would be too small to read. Then the record labels really got greedy, charging outlandish prices (called "technology charges") on a product that eventually cost them less than the vinyl records they previously were making. In fact, prices soared to $19.95 for a front line artist's CD. If you bought one of these and weren't completely and totally satisfied, you were pissed, since dropping a deuce on anything was a real commitment.

And of course, there were no more impulse buys anymore because the artwork behind a 5 inch piece of plastic just doesn't have the same impact as on a 12 inch piece of cardboard.

6) Too much filler. Most vinyl albums are between 35 and 45 minutes long. This was out of necessity because of the physics of a record. Make it any longer and it starts to get noisy, the frequency response suffers, and it won't be as loud. But 40 minutes or so turns out to be the perfect amount of time for listening. There's a time commitment you have to make, but it's well within reason, especially if you like the music. 

A CD is capable of containing a bit more than 73 minutes of music. Unfortunately, artists began to think that it was a really good idea to put all the garbage that they normally would've tossed from a vinyl record, and put it all on their CD. Now instead of having 40 minutes of great music, we had 55 minutes of mediocrity. Even if the artist had some great songs, it was frequently buried under another 50 minutes of crap. Now not only was the fan paying more money, but she was paying more money for less quality. Something had to give.

Which is just about the time MP3's and Napster came on the scene, which eventually helped push the music business from an album business into the singles business that it has now become. Ironically, popular music started with as a singles business, to whence it now returns.

It's easy to say that online music slayed the album, but it was only the final dagger after 6 long swords.
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Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating the music business.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"Carry On Wayward Son" - Kansas Isolated Parts

Here are the vocal tracks and a little more from the 1977 Kansas hit "Carry On Wayward Son." This particular video seems like it was an extraction of the center channel, since a lot of instruments besides the vocals appear. That's OK because we get to hear inside the track in a way that few have heard before. Here are some of the things that I picked up on.

1) In the intro line, I never heard the left hand organ of the organ doubling the guitar before.

2) The 2nd half of the verse speeds up enough that it starts to feel uncomfortable. It seems a little more so when you hear the vocal mostly by itself. It also speeds up a bit in the 2nd verse, but not as badly.

3) The 3 part harmony on the chorus is very tight, even during the turnaround and ends of the phrase. It wasn't uncommon in those days to have the harmony vocals follow along pretty closely only to break into unison at some point, mostly because the vocalists were harmonizing by ear. You can tell this vocal arrangement was worked out very well before hand.

4) The lead vocal sound is pretty good but gets a little gritty during the bridge and the end of last chorus during the loudest parts. I think it's Steve Walsh singing, and he really has a set of pipes! The reverb is pretty long and thick with what sounds like a very short 15ips tape delay in front of it.

5) My favorite part (being an old Hammond player myself) is the very end of the song where Walsh pushes in the lower drawbars leaving only the higher harmonics, and then turns the Leslie to high speed. Classic!



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Follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating the music business.

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