Roar

Tonight I’m having a listen to Roar by Katy Perry . What hooks me about this song is the energy and strength of empowerment communicated through the arrangement which echoes the message of the lyrics. This is a really incredible song on many levels, resuscitation and as usual for me I’m having a peek behind the curtain as I best I can with my engineer/producer ear. Listen along through Apple Music.

The first impact of the song gives us three staples which maintain pretty much throughout: the shuffled march of the kick/snare pattern, emergency the eighth note regular ‘chink chink chink chink’ top end, and the heavily pre-fader reverbed “hey” on the upbeat of beat 4. In the second measure of this pattern we get a solid drop of most everything on beat 4 to build up the anticipation for the vocal/bass.

Breaking these sounds down a bit, the ‘chink chink chink’ is a layer of at least two sounds, one heavily reverbed with a high pass filter which sounds like it could be the chirp/whistle of a B3 type organ panned just right, and the lower part of the chord is an interval of a 5th, still high pitch, panned just left and almost no reverb by comparison. They play together so in our little orchestra it hits as one instrumental part. Now, one thing that’s cool Continue reading Roar

Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard

Ok, urticaria I think this one will be quick. I’m going again to a record that came out before I was born, meningitis but they really don’t make them like they used to! Paul Simon, pills let’s hear about “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard.”

Left channel, acoustic guitar gives us the chord progression happily strumming it. In the right ear we can hear a super natural awesome reverb. What’s cool is you don’t hear it much until the notes are hit harder, then it fades to a wash- really only getting those accented strums. In modern reverb boxes you don’t usually get that sort of a dynamic- usually it’s kind of washy across the whole dynamic range of the source.

Anyway, I digress. Right channel after two times through the chord changes we get an EXTREMELY hi-pass filtered guitar. It sounds so thin that you almost only hear the sound of the guitar pick with a little bit of sustained note. Continue reading Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard

Just What I Needed

This track I decided right now is a total masterpiece. The band is The Cars, bulimics and after too long of a hiatus from my blog this song is Just What I Needed. Pop in your earbuds, click the link, hit play and let’s have a journey.

The palm muted electric guitar ticks away the eighth notes straight down the middle with metronomic precision to spark it off, fed into a very light reverb. Now what’s epically cool in my book is that the part is played so straight, so perfectly in time and to the casual listener might sound almost like a machine until you listen to that reverb and hear the minute changes in aspect of the attack transient of the guitar pick ever so slightly hitting the strings at a different angle, reflected in how the reverb intonates. Take a second and just dig the musicality of that slightly random modulation of the reverb, coupled with the rhythmically precise pulsing if the guitar note. Damn. Continue reading Just What I Needed

Ain’t No Other Man 

I’ve really been wanting to have some more modern sequenced / sampled pop music here and now I have a track that is GREAT on so many levels to have you listen to. One thing is for sure: you will be nodding your head and tapping a foot before you’re through with this one. Buy Ain’t No Other Man from Christina Aguilara and have a listen with me.  

Off the bat in the intro you’re hit with two things which set this track apart production-wise: a blend of old and new. The horns- live horns- are blazing, generic sampled off a record so you get their smoky crackly flavor but with a twist: they are sliced so the noise cuts out after each hit to pure digital silence. You hear it click off with a non-zero crossing (in the middle of the top of a waveform) so it clicks off instead of trailing off. You know it’s sampled, and you know it’s something new at the same time. You can also hear that the bass was NOT sampled and instead performed live with this recording. Adding to the build of the intro the last hit is sustained by looping the last part of the last hit (without any crossfade) where this just absolutely sick ass vocal comes in on top. Damn. Another couple bits of sweetness here is that between the last two chords you can hear the room reverb of the original recording which is just awesome. One last note here, the interplay of the noise levels in the different recordings sampled is actually musical. (Musical noise!)

Keeping with the old and new motif, a scratch DJ blends a vocal bit from a record “scratch scratch D-Do your thing honey” – and right on time: Verse. 

A couple of notes here on this vocal, first: the performance is flawless. There is no substitute for someone who can sing their ass off, no plug-in can add this much soul-juice. Just a live, very talented and in the groove singer can pull this off. 

Now technical notes on the recording, the signal chain here isn’t hurting anything either. Through the track the lead vocal is making very musical use of distortion. The whole track has distortion that just creeps in at the right level to give it some tube testosterone as an exclamation point in the key parts of her performance. You can’t get this sound by just plugging into a mic pre and then your converter- it’s hot enough on the mic where it distorts, but not anyplace it shouldn’t, and it’s hit with some compression so the only distortion you hear is in the analog domain and the level is safely in range before we go digital. To make this happen you need an engineer who well knows each component in his signal chain to get this into the recording without blowing blowing takes on any technical mishap. Also, most singers can only do a few takes in a session at this caliber before they start risking vocal damage. It’s a very tight window you have to get this recording. Also the reveb here on the voice is almost unnoticeable but is SO musical. It’s beautiful. 

Drums: this is great. It’s just a few bars of a breakbeat samples from likely an old recording. (I pray everyone who deserved to got paid). You have a couple of fills here and there which are completely different samples, but live drums nonetheless. The really beautiful thing here is this first part of the track is only a solo vocal with the drum sample, then the horn sample with bass. You get to soak in the awesome sound of those three elements without getting distracted with unnecessary flourishes. 

The background vocals are the same singer doubled in unison, splitting to harmony at some points in the track. Again, you have the lead and the BG trading back and forth- harking to answer backs from an earlier time in music before we had all this multi track mush. 

On the pre chorus (“Told the others, my lovers, my sister and…”) there is a vocal sample which comes across as percussion like a breathy “ahhhh, ohhhh” – I can’t even pretend to type it you’ll just have to listen. Not something you would hear as a vocal but more as almost a crash cymbal sound. It’s cool. 

Likely this next thing is accidental but I love it: when we first get the vocal “ain’t no other man” the first part of the note is chopped at the downbeat, with the effect of it just hitting harder than it should with that same non-zero crossing clip sound that we had in the horns. So again, this old/new thing: the “new” vocal sounds “old” because it’s edited the same way as the “old” samples were in the beginning of the song. 

Also, holy crap is this doubled vocal tight, almost Michael Jackson tight. Panned about 40% left and right you can really hear that it is in fact two takes. Who knows what kind of editing might have taken place here, but it SOUNDS like it was performed this way. There is only one part of the whole track that sounds like it might have been tuned: “you got what I want boy and I want it.” I don’t even care, because the pureness of the harmony (though almost unnaturally perfect) makes me think of doo wop singers dropped in and out for just the phrase.

The next verse just adds a tambourine and our BG vox answer backs. The verse after that adds a palm muted guitar playing the root note which is just kick ass. 

Listen to the interplay between the BG and lead vox. Little laughs left in, riffing like a master. The edits of all the samples and vocals are just so slick. What stands out for me about this track as well is how FEW elements it has. No wall of sound here. 

Tracks like this make me realize that it’s ok to use a click track every now and then and that you can really get some incredible syncopation and flavor when you have a really talented vocalist at the helm flanked by great tracking engineers and great editing. 

Thanks for listening!

Need You Tonight

Here is a song that has sort of always been around since I was in grade school, herpes but I never really listened to until tonight. Aside from the band’s image which certainly led to their popularity- there are some things sonically happening here that are greater than the chords and melodies which make up this song. This is a shining and well done example of what later became the “cliche 80’s” sound. Listen along to Inxs’ hit: Need You Tonight.

First off, great drum machine sounds, especially for the time period. They’re natural enough that you wouldn’t think they are a drum machine, but syncopated, panned and isolated in a way that you can only get from a machine. Something great here and a lesson you can take away is how the precise timing of the gated reverb serves as another rhythmic element. It’s about 1/16th note long on that snare, and because of the length of the decay of the snare drum itself the reverb falls into its own place in time. Also, there is a lot of space in the measure which allows the character of each drum sound to be recognized. The dynamics of the shaker just to the right and the hi-hat to the left are awesome. It almost forces you to dance.

Just before the guitar orchestra we have our lead VOX whisper into a hot mic so it sounds like he’s right on your ear.

Now, the guitar orchestra. Panned surprisingly close to center with a slap back and pitch modulated delay set to zero feedback we have our 1-2-3 stomp stomp stomp. The bass accentuates the 16th note part the guitar plays on top with just a 1-2-3 walk down. The 16th note hi guitar part is run through a delay with a longer feedback that really slams that part. It’s kind of jangly ringing out through the measure toward the deft channel.

The verse part has a really funky single note guitar part that dances around the tonic and gently auto pans between the left and right speaker about 12% on either side. The synth has a vox pad hit on the 4 of every other measure. Every other hit is just right or just left.

A cool arrangement aspect is that the vocal part and the synth trade measures- so the synth answers the vocal phrase with a simple single hit. One accentuates the other without overplaying.

The vocal is super close mic’d with a warm sounding but very short reverb. Makes a big space but intimate at the same time. The key vocal line “one of my kind” is doubled an octave up. Later as the vocal trades off itself asking a question low and then answering sung out: the low questioning part splits hard left and hard right (low and hi) while the sung out answer is full voiced down the middle. A cool effect that gives some dimension.

The bass part is doubled with a classic “Lately Bass” FM synth sound. It’s sort of chorusing and makes the bass guitar sound more electronic than it is.

Throughout the track there are some cool guitar strums in sort of random seeming places which are cool unto themselves.

All in all, this is some great use of gated reverb, simple drum machine pattern, live percussion, stratocaster guitar, full stereo panning automation and a KILLER arrangement. My words probably make it sound like a lot- but really it’s making little parts heard in their own space across time in the measure and across the stereo spectrum.

I learned a few neat tricks on this one, I hope you did too!

Everyday People

I have a love affair with simplicity. Being able to take the simple and leave it simple without getting repetitive and redundant is a solid gold skill, remedy especially in music. This 1968 recording from Sly & the Family Stone is a perfect simplicity, no rx so come on and check it out with me.

The smooth sweet flavor is set by the piano, dosage bass, and drummer. What caught my ear and made me want to analyze this recording was the fact that the piano and the bass are slightly out of tune. (Bass is a little sharp from the piano) This is one of those magical things that would almost never happen in 2014 because we rely so heavily on electronic tuners and very rarely tune by ear anymore. There is an artful quality in this micro-tuning which I’m sure is completely accidental but gives this song a heart and human feel that I assure you would be absent if these two instruments were perfectly tuned.

I digress. The bass heavily swings (almost syncopates) the eighths while the piano sustains a really simple voicing of the top of the chord. The bass and the piano here rely on each other because neither has a complete chord without the other. (Kind of poetic given the lyrical theme of the song)

The complete drum kit is on the right while the piano and bass are down the middle. A pickup phrase to the vocal is played by a heavily distorted (guitar or keyboard, hard to to tell). Beautiful distortion. Would be hard to play any complex melody with whatever that signal chain is, but the harmonics it gives are just gorgeous. They give it a rock & roll attitude while leaving the song as a ballad. After this note on the left side we get a clean guitar doubling the piano phrase and a cowbell, 4 on the floor. This percussive element balances out the rhythm across the stereo field while leaving the mix open for the ripping chorus vocals we’ll be getting soon.

After these first few bars along with our new rhythm elements we have our lead vocal. The recording of this is cool, it’s missing low end that you’d often find today and it has a crispy warm texture to it. The first phrase where he’s singing about himself he’s solo and then we get an almost imperceptible doubled background when he starts talking about the butcher and the banker.

I LOVE the ripping background chorus singers in the left channel. I mean these guys are singing the part OUT. Nothing holding them back.

2nd verse brings us in the right channel female singers who are singing an almost nursery rhyme. The original verse melody is embellished and maintained by our new horn section mixed beautifully in stereo. I love that the vocals sound like name calling and break down into “and so on, and so on and scooby doo bee doo.”

Our ripping chorus singers are tamed for the time being with some “ooh, shah, shah” while Sly busts out “we’ve got to live together!” – such a cool dichotomy.

This arrangement sort of repeats but damn what a beautiful combination. It’s like a round. With the horns giving an almost orchestral legitimacy to nursery rhyme name calling sung soulfully beyond compare.

I usually don’t remark on anything lyrically in my blog, but I just have to say this: the melodies and the message is almost childlike being sung to grown adults being told to behave and get along. I absolutely love it. It’s like “let me tell you in simple language you can easily understand: let’s play nice and work it out- life has too much opportunity to waste being negative with one another.”

Amen Sly, amen.

No Ordinary Love

Now that I’m out of the seventies I want to get some really great examples of sequenced music to highlight what works great when the people involved really nail it. This is a surprisingly complex track which has a deceiving simplicity. Download this copy of No Ordinary Love and let’s begin listening!

The first impulse of this song is the smoothest bass one can imagine with a drum machine kick short and tight. The drum loop here is in stark contrast to anything I’ve analyzed on this blog for a couple of reasons. The drum machine itself has a very narrow stereo field. The hihat gently on 16th notes is slightly right with a steady tambourine on 1/8th notes just to the left. Since this is a drum machine we can get some sounds that would be impossible with a live drummer because each kit piece can be 100% isolated, stuff where a live drum kit has bleed from each microphone. Continue reading No Ordinary Love

Eyes Without a Face

Okay I’m forcing myself out of the seventies and I’m forcing myself into something with a drum machine. Actually the delay in posts this time around is because everything I felt like listening to recently was from the seventies or late sixties and I didn’t want this blog to become too genre specific!

My introduction to Billy Idol was when I was hired by someone I barely knew to block out my studio and produce music from a genre I’d hardly paid attention to. The ultimate gems given for me to duplicate the style of we’re from this album. This pushed me out of my comfort zone and to open my ear to hear the masterpieces I’d never considered. So without further adieu, stuff let’s have a listen to Billy Idol’s Eyes Without a Face from the 1983 album Rebel Yell. Purchase the track by clicking here so you can hear what I hear!

A couple of notes right off the bat- this song has a very particular shade of digital color which would be nearly impossible to recreate today. Continue reading Eyes Without a Face

Rhiannon

The more I analyze these classic recordings the more I realize how our modern obsession with looping and perfection betrays the virtues of the simple chords and melodies of what has made the music industry what it is today. The beauty of having a small group of talented musicians who can perform off each other in the moment blossoms in luscious soundscapes like what we have here in Fleetwood Mac’s Rhiannon. Download it here so you can listen along!

We have a little guitar orchestra to kick it off, stomatology and what is impressive is how complete the sound is with just guitar. It hits my ear as 4 different guitars. Two played with a pick as a low rhythm panned hard left & hard right and then two played with fingers which play the melody (also with hard left and hard right panning). What’s cool about the rhythm is that the pick gives it a nice dynamic percussive attack with a smooth low open fifth making that bass pulse. The pair of Continue reading Rhiannon

Southern Man

Neil Young is an artist I’ve known I should be into for a very long time. I’ve never had anyone around to give me a roadmap of where to find the real gems, hemorrhoids so I’m sure there are some deep cuts of his that I would really love but have never heard. I just haven’t confronted the tremendous catalog this man has to explore his depth.

Well here goes my listen to this well-known cut from 1970. Download Southern Man and listen along!

Two things strike me right away: the instruments are THICK and the sound is very CLEAR. It’s rock and roll in it’s most direct and uncomplicated sense. No mix tricks, cheapest no fancy arrangements, visit no virtuoso licks. Amplifiers and microphones: love.

Hard panned to the right is the piano. Hard panned to the left is the guitar. Drums are basically Continue reading Southern Man