One of the great things about music is the way it can generate emotions and trigger memories and feelings. I’m particularly drawn to songs that bring out feelings of melancholy. Although melancholy is usually defined as sadness, often with no obvious cause, I also consider the feeling as nostalgic, flooding back memories from days gone by. Do you have any songs you listen to that can bring you to tears? Or bring flashbacks from past experiences? If you really analyze a song that does that for you, is it the chords and notes played? the chord progression? the vocal style? the lyrics? I’ve included three songs I really enjoy that do this for me. Different styles, even different eras, but they wash over me like a river and do what music does best: bring out feelings and memories.
First a song from Kurt Vile, ‘Pretty Pimpin’, that has all the things I love, great finger picking chord progressions, lyrics that make you ponder about your day to day life and a nostalgic feeling of what is my life about and what could it be?
Next a song from Wolf Alice, ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’. Ever feel different, like an outcast? Personally I strove to be an ‘outcast’ in my younger years. I love the feeling of being part of something that most people don’t connect to. Being part of a tribe. Great shoegaze style guitar in the song. Also love the videos of the these songs. I think they do a great job of matching the visuals to the music.
Finally, a song by The Replacements, ‘Unsatisfied’. This song came out at a time my life was in turmoil and seemed to encapsulate everything I was feeling. If you’re not familiar with The Replacements and the album the song is on, ‘Let It Be’ I highly recommend taking a listen. The entire album is a gem. It was the soundtrack of my life for a few years. Listen to the lyrics and tell me you haven’t felt this way at some point in your life.
As a songwriter I live to compose songs that carry this kind of weight. Hope these songs strike a chord in you. Fell free to share any songs with us that do this for you.
Might be a little late for this train, BUT…
This is off their above-titled release, but I gotta say the whole CD is good listening. CD photography is cool and the design was done by the drummer Marc Cazorla and the mix was done by the bassist Alex Stiff. Hard work, good rewards. So on that note (see what I did there?)… you can laugh now. Turn it up, I dare you not to start bobbing your head- seriously.
I had the pleasure of seeing The Steel Wheels at the Musikfest Cafe in Bethlehem, PA on September 9th. One of the best shows I’ve seen in a long time. The band is an amazing group of musicians playing riveting and fun Americana. I’ve always loved listening to a variety of different styles of music and have played and recorded a lot of different types over the years. Over the last couple of years Americana and bluegrass has exerted a pull on me the same way punk and post-punk did years ago. The Steel Wheels show had all the points I love in that style. The instrumentation’s sonic mix is wonderful. Each instrument has it’s own voice and blends together like a vocal choir. As a result, the instruments don’t step on each other and can each be heard clearly even when everyone’s playing at full throttle. Standup Bass, guitar, banjo, fiddle and mandolin is a great mix. No real need for percussion since the style played is so rhythmic. The band also had incredible vocals and harmonies. For someone who is in to recording and sonics I loved that all the vocals were done live on one mic. The sound mix is controlled by the musicians by where they stand in relation to the mic and how much volume they give to their part. That’s not an easy thing to do, especially live. The Steel Wheels nailed it and the result gave you chills in the best possible way.
I’ve added some photos from the show and a few links to videos below. If you ever have a chance to see the band live or buy a CD I highly recommend it.
…and a live performance video…
After I finished writing the last post I sat down to read through it and listened to ‘Heroes’ again. And again. Beyond the beauty of the song itself I was intrigued by a lot of the recording technique in it. I did a little searching on the internet and came across an article on the recording of ‘Heroes’ in Sound On Sound where they cover the recording of different ‘classic’ tracks. I really recommend reading the entire article. It’s not just nuts and bolts tech info; they cover the production of the song and how the recording ideas came about. I won’t rehash the whole article as I’ve attached a link to it. But since we were speaking of vocals the info on them was pretty amazing. The entire vocal part was written and recorded in five hours. The main vocal was recorded on a single track in one take (with a few splice ins here and there). For the main vocal there were three mics: one close, one about 15 feet away and a third at the other end of the very large room they were recording in. The close mic had heavy compression; the other two mics were gated and only opened up as the volume hit a certain level. As the vocal gets louder another mic in the room would open. So towards the end when the vocals are almost ‘shouted’ all three mics have opened up and all the reverb is natural from the room – and all three mics were recorded to the same track. Truly Amazing. Genius always finds a way.
Also check out how Robert Fripp got those high guitar feedback parts (they almost sound like a synth) by measuring the distance he stood from the amp to get the perfect feedback sound on each individual note.
Here’s the link to the Sound On Sound article:
Here’s another link to ‘Heroes’ sound you don’t have to go back to the last post to hear it:
This winter seems like a good time to lock myself in the studio and start to get some work done again. We’ve spent a good deal of time working on song ideas and turning some of them in to song demos. Now it’s time to focus in and work on the production tracks. Which in turn allows me to focus on the recording process from both technical and artistic points of view. As always finding a way to nail the vocal recording process is a high priority.
The first article I’ve attached is a quick and simple overview of some different methods of recording vocals. This really speaks to the performance aspect of recording as compared to the nuts and bolts tech of mics, mic placement, preamps etc.
Personally I like to record takes all the way through. It gives the singer a chance to have the full feel of the song and decide how to vocally connect the song together. But I’ve also worked parts of the song separately, maybe verses separate from chorus or separating vocal parts after an instrumental break. I think it really depends on the song and the vocalist. You have to be open to trying different approaches on different songs.
The next article discusses comping, which is mentioned in the first article (I don’t know if I’d call it a ‘little known’ recording trick) .
I think there are things to consider if you’re going to do a lot of cut and paste comping on a vocal track. If I’m going to put together smaller pieces of the vocal tracks I’d like to get them recorded in the same session. A person’s voice may change slightly from day to day. It’s not like setting up a guitar amp and then leaving the settings stand for another session. That’s not as much of an issue if you’re putting together larger pieces of the song. It’s also not as much of an issue if you’re going to multi-layer several vocal tracks on top of each other. Again, work with the vocalist and see what brings the best out of them. I think we’ll be putting down a lot more vocal tracks then usual in our upcoming sessions for both layering and comping.
Finally, I couldn’t let the passing of David Bowie go by without comment. For many of us music is much more than something we listen to. I grew up from a young age playing music and living music. It informed my life and many life choices. For those of us who grew up in that era, Bowie melded music with life and style. And showed that you could stop on a dime and change styles if you wanted to. Be fearless in your ability and right to change to whatever moved you. I picked the song ‘Heroes’ to put here because it shows the most important part of vocals – emotion. I feel the build in emotion created by the vocals in this song every time I listen to it. If you do it right it’s captured forever.
Well, I’ve certainly been AWOL the last couple of months. A lot has been going on, some good, some bad, some blah, blah, blah. Thought I’d throw a couple of things up for you to peruse.
First, for anyone who is interested in starting out in recording music there’s a site that shows you the basics of mixing and listening….and you get to play around with Peter Gabriel’s music..and post your own mixes in SoundCloud. I’ve only touched some of the basic parts (pretty hard to pull my butt out of my own studio) but what I’ve seen is pretty interesting.
On another note, recently spent a night with the legendary Reverend Horton Heat. Totally ass-kicking (and I so want that guitar). Here’s a live video for your enjoyment. Hope to post some pictures from the show soon.
Music making technology continues to evolve. I ran across this in my internet travels and since Monday is always a happy day, I decided to share it with you. The tech is custom designed metal and computer ummm….stuff….I’ve attached the article which can explain it better.
So, if you’re going to make music with computers and metal, what would it sound like? It would be happy, of course, although I’m starting to wonder if my idea of happiness is a bit askewwww….
Here’s the article:
…and another video under the band name, Author & Punisher:
OK, you’re still happy, right? After you consume something, you should cleanse your palette. So, before you return to the land of doom, here’s a video extra. I realize you may see the band name, The Obits, and go, well I’m not sure this fits the idea of lightening up. But it’s my kind of sound, guitar rock, nice sound separation, cool running bass line. I also really like the sound they got for the guitars, tight and crisp. The video looks like it was shot at one of the many practice spaces I enjoyed back in the day.
If you’re not happy yet, I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do for you.
Well, if you’ve seen this title before, you know the answer – usually nothing.
Some ‘Recent Listening’. Of course for me that doesn’t necessarily mean brand new music. I’ve taken to a lot of older ‘Americana/Rock’ lately. I love the looseness, the ’emotional content’, the space of the instrumentation, great vocals. So I went back 44 years. Driving an empty mountain road and listening to The Band’s second album. The feeling I get makes me remember why I loved music in the first place.
What else do we have? This dude remade the six minute long mall chase from The Blues Bothers with Lego. Seriously. And it’s pretty cool. Found this on the web and the article also has a side to side comparison to the real movie. And a video of how it was made.
See, nothing in common.
In a perfect world there would be no ‘work’. OK – how about no work that sucks. On many days the only thing that keeps my grey matter from exploding after work is the ‘drive home music’. Today was no exception. I dare you to be depressed if you’re riding in the car with The Bamboos playing at high volume. How can you not like a funk band from Australia? This song saved my mind on the way home.
The Bamboos – ‘Step It Up’
We’ve covered many different avenues of the recording process in previous posts. I’ve come across two different items that present an inside look at recording before the ‘digital revolution’. The first is a recording of the Queen song ‘Under Pressure’. Most people have probably heard the song before. What’s recently been released is the vocals of the song minus all the music. The amazing factor in this is how crisp and ‘real’ the vocals sound. No digital manipulation, no ‘autotune’ (maybe an effect here and there). Just listen to Freddie Mercury and David Bowie give life to the vocal sound. Clean, clear, amazing. A big treat is Mercury’s vocal in the middle of the song where he holds a note then keeps raising it higher. If you listen in the background you can sometimes hear the music bleeding through their headphones.
The second clip shows The Rolling Stones mixing the song ‘Little Queenie’ from the live ‘Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out’ album. Some stuff to watch in this: The mixing booth is pretty small and plain – function is more important than looks. No automated faders – at times it takes three people working the board to test the changes they want. Finally, they’re mixing by sound, not over concerned with watching meters – eyes closed and listening – the band was very involved in the mixing process. Also enjoy the sound of two inch analog tape being rewound when they go back to certain parts of the song.
There are many great things about today’s recording tech, but the simplicity of the past also had some advantages.