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…
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.
Yes, as the saying goes, time flies when you’re having fun. Well, time flies even when you’re not having fun. I’m not much of a winter person so it’s been a while between posts. So I think it’s time for another round of ‘what do these things have in common’. First let’s talk some music, old school style. When writing or recording you can get away with a lot if you concentrate first on the rhythm. I came across an article that deals with the pinnacle of old school rhythm. If you want to know how to construct a groove you can’t lose if you study James Brown. Here’s an interview article with Clyde Stubblefield the original ‘Funky Drummer’. It’s an interesting read (or listen):
How about a clip where Stubblefield gives a live demonstration of how the beat originates:
And now hearing the beat in a bigger context:
You could put a political speech on top of that and it would still be funky.
So what else is new? Velvet Wrinkle Wreckerds and ERP have new T-shirts!
What do these things have in common? Ummmmmm…..does it really matter? Not really!
– Happy Winter –
Mastering is a topic we’ve covered before. It’s the cherry on top of your overall recording, but it can also make or break everything you’ve completed before this step. I found this article to be interesting because it looks at mastering from an aesthetic view as well as a technical view. It’s really necessary not to get too hung up on the tech and miss out on listening to get the specific feel of the project you’re working on. I also like the advice to occasionally move your self out of the ‘sweet spot’ that exists in any studio setup. The sweet spot can be very specific, especially when using close field monitors. The problem is that most people don’t sit in the perfect spot for hearing the music – this is amplified when listening in an average car stereo setup. You need to expand your point of view. I also like Appelbaum’s small room setup and some sweet equipment.
Here’s a couple of short video pieces taken from a much longer video class. Again, check out the control room and some of the equipment.
I came across a few interesting 2013 videos in an article I was reading. I like the music, but it’s the videos that are hypnotic. Some pretty cool visual techniques.
Fell free to stare directly at this and end up with your mouth open drooling..
Or you can stare at this and turn 2D in to 3D….
OK – this is the creepiest rabbit I’ve ever seen……
And can’t forget a ‘what day is it’ shout out. No cake and candles but….
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.