In 2007 I took an internship which made me hate the music industry. Not because the people running it are sleazy and view music as a business, but because of the underlying layer of failed bands that are trying to break into it. There were many, many, many bands and “artists” that would submit their demos to my boss, and I took a day to listen to almost all of them. Most of them were downright crap with terrible musicianship, production, etc. Others were better but they just didn’t have “it”. And ever since then I’ve been trying to figure out what “it” really is.
Now some of you reading this have never tried to write a song in your life, but I know the majority of you have a friend or friends that are in a band, and they are mediocre at best. Their music just kind of lays flat and doesn’t really grab the listeners attention. They belong in a coffee shop on Thursday nights playing their song about a past relationship, and that’s pretty much as far as they’re going to get. Now what sets them apart from the people that actually make music for a living?
Some people will say not much, but there really is a huge difference between doing everything in a mediocre fashion, and really excelling in one area of song writing. Over the past few weeks I have tried to develop a theory which will help amateur songwriters take their music to the next level and maybe their music can have “it”.
My theory is this: “The key to making your music more accessible is to excel in either groove, melody, mood, musicianship, or concept.”
The wording of this might change over time, but let me explain what I mean by this since it is kind of a broad statement. And although every song will factor in at least a little bit from each area, it is very important to do at least one of the areas very well.
First off we are going to look at groove. This is excelling in the ability to really make people want to dance. In my opinion, this is the area that is easiest to excel in. The majority of the time you just have to make sure it is in 4/4 time, with a snare hit on 2 and 4 with many “safe” zones in BPMs. I did some djing at a few parties, and I noticed that a lot of songs are around the same area in terms of BPMs. 60-72 BPMs although some what slow can work if you put a 16th note feel behind it (lots of Timbaland songs do this). 90-100 BPMs is probably the most common area that most people will be able to dance to. 105-115 BMPs also works for the more upbeat pop music (Gwen Stefani, Nelly Furtado). And 120-130 BMPs usually works for house and more electronic music (Deadmau5 and such). Drum and Bass is usually around 180 BPM, but this is just twice as fast as 90 BPM, so it still works.
In the club this is about the only requirement that needs to be met. After all, people go to clubs to just dance (*cough Lady Gaga *cough). A lot of the time you can have drums with just a few vocals, and completely ignore everything else. A good example of this is Samba Reggae. Many of you don’t know this genre, but once you hear it live your inner Brasilian wants to jump out and start dancing. Michael Jackson’s “They Don’t Care About Us” with Olodum is a prime example of this. The end of the song has a break with just the drummers, and man is it a beautiful groove. You could play it for hours and people will keep dancing. This is truly excelling in the groove category. If your goal is to make music that makes people want to dance, then this is the area you need to be focusing on. Below is the end drum break from “They Don’t Care About Us”.
Next we will look at melody. This is the ability to really make a great and often catchy melody. The majority of pop music has to meet this criteria so they can get the song stuck in the listeners head. The Beatles were of course very good at this, and other bands such as Jimmy Eat World really have it down to a t. This is a little harder to do, and generates a lot of one hit wonders since a band can come up with one song that has a really good melody, and then the rest of them aren’t nearly as good.
I can’t really explain why but D and E seem to be good keys to write catchy melodies in. And going from the tonic to the mediant also works well as a basis for the melody (although every one and their mother uses this).
There aren’t many tips I can give in order to excel in this area since great melodies often just sort of happen. But try to keep it in a major key and don’t make it too hard to sing since you want the listener to be able to sing a long on their first listen. ”Hey There Delilah” by Plain White T’s is a prime example of this. I don’t even really like this song but it can get stuck in my head for days and it will never leave. If you want to get rich off of one song, this is probably the area where you want to focus in.
Next we will be looking at mood. This is the ability to really affect how the listener feels when listening to your song. Mood is a little harder since it relies heavily on song dynamics and can really be an attack to the auditory senses. But this should be key in EVERY song. Mood will usually factor into every song since the majority of people will listen to music to get in a certain mood. So it is kind of inevitable that a listeners mood will change with any song, but you have to make sure they feel how you want them to feel.
For example, if you want to make people relax, you can’t make your music super loud. And if you’re trying to make your listener feel pumped up, you can’t play your music quietly. Dynamics are a HUGE area most amateur acts fail in. They play their music very lightly with no drive behind it and expect people to dance and get pumped up. As a general rule of thumb, you never want people to be able to talk casually when you’re up their with your band; SO PLAY IT LOUD! Unless of course you want them to feel relaxed and then you can play quietly. Just make sure you’re not in the awkward middle.
Brian Eno’s “By This River” is a good example of music that makes a listener feel calm and relaxed (just look at the top comment in the video). Rage Against the Machines “Renegades of Funk”, albeit very groove heavy, is a good example of music that makes a listener feel pumped up.
Next we will look at musicianship. This is one of the hardest areas you can excel in. This is the ability to have people listen to your music because you are an exceptional musician. This takes a lot of hard work and the bar only keeps getting set higher and higher in this area. Most metal acts have to meet this criteria since it is a genre that takes a lot of technical skill. In Jazz this is an absolute must which is a shame since it is a dying genre and you are lucky if you can get a few Jazz majors to come watch your show.
Pop music does not value this at all. So really you have to practice A LOT and try to do things that have never been done before on your instrument with little pay off. But this kind of music is mainly for other musicians to observe and learn how to play better. The only thing you can do is listen to other great musicians, learn what they do and try to improve on it. This takes years of practice for most. So if you want this to be the area you excel in, know that your audience is very limited and it takes A LOT of work.
“CAFO” by Animals as Leaders is a prime example of this. They don’t have to sing or anything. Just look at how fast they play!!!
And lastly we will look at concept. This is by far the hardest area to excel in, because you really have to be a pioneer. This is the ability to come up with a fresh and new musical idea that catches on. Many, many amateur acts think they do this. How many of you have heard an band describe themselves along the lines of “Oh we are kinda like rock, but we have some funk and electronic influences so we are CPU Funk Rock”? They think they’re being innovative, but they’re not. They’re just being gimmicky. There really is no way to give tips on how to achieve this. You really just have to do your own thing and hope it catches on. But most experimental music relies heavily on this. John Zorn, Mike Patton, and a lot of other musicians associated with them do this all the time. Miles Davis did it over and over again in his career. Sometimes it’s not even until years later that you might be recognized as a pioneer, so really this should never be your goal. If it happens, it happens. Just let it happen naturally.
Mr. Bungle is a prime example of this. Every song sounds very different from the last, and they all incorporate many different genres. The song “None of Then Knew They Were Robots” really is one of a kind. Just try and pick out how many genres are used in this song.
Lastly I just want to say that while you really can excel in just one of these areas and get a lot more listeners, you really want to do every area as well as you can. Just make sure you can really focus on one area, then try to expand to others later. And while excelling in one of these areas won’t guarantee that everyone starts to love your music, it can definitely be a lot more accessible to a wider audience. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more entries!
As many of you have already seen, Google has a playable doodle in honor of Les Paul’s birthday. Les Paul being a famous guitar player, the doodles timbre is that of a guitar. The format of it, not so much. I know many of you have messed around on this doodle without having a clue as to what this format is. And the worst part is, many of you probably think you sound great.
Here is a small break down of how you can play this doodle and kinda have an idea of what you are doing.
Some of you may have noticed that you can use the keyboard to play the notes, if you haven’t, just hit the small record button and you can do so. I believe after it stops recording you can still play it with your keyboard, so you don’t have to mindlessly drag your mouse pointer back and forth across the strings like a baby would.
The keys that make the most sense to use are the numerical keys. This doodle has the ability to play all the notes in an G major scale. So 1 is G, 2 is A, 3 is B, and so on.
If you want to sound better when playing two keys simultaneously, make sure you leave at least one number in between. For example, 1 and 2 together might sound bad, but 1 and 3 sound good. Try playing just the odd numbers together, or just the even numbers together. I think sometimes you can play 3 notes at a time, so just make sure they are all odd or even numbers and look at that, you have a chord! Now you can stop sounding bad and when you show your friends your new song they will be just a little bit more bearable.
This is sort of an impromptu blog. As many of you have noticed, or most of you haven’t noticed, I haven’t updated this blog in a while. Why? Eh, we could attribute it to a lot of things. Lack of time of course. Inspiration. But mainly, ideas. I didn’t really have any ideas about what to write. So if you have any ideas or want to hear me write about something, please let me know. Otherwise this might be a once a year entry type of blog. Hopefully not.
What is making me write this blog is an odd little discovery I made a few minutes prior to writing this entry. After searching the entire internet for a way to download the newest Foals album (sorry guys, I’ll go buy it in stores since it’s actually a really good album) I sat down with my guitar to play along with the album. Foals never play any chords, so it is pretty easy to figure out their songs. I started playing along with the first song and…my guitar is a little flat. Not too much of a surprise since the guitar doesn’t always stay that well in tune anyway. So I go to tune my guitar and…it’s actually not flat. It’s tuned just fine. Strange. This happened the last time I tried to figure out the first track on Foals first album, Antidotes.
I’ve been on sort of a Foals binge, and they’re becoming a great influence to me, so naturally I’ve been figuring out all their guitar parts. The first track on Antidotes is called “The French Open”. It starts with an ambient swelling of horns which crescendos into a loud drum fill followed by a simple groove with the guitars playing a simple sliding syncopated melody. The guitar part plays D to C, D to C, C to D, and then E to G, E to G, then G to E. Not a hard part to figure out, but when I played along with it my guitar sounded a little off.
At first I thought maybe since they are from Europe they tune to A 442 since the Foals were a little sharp. In the West A 440 is of course the standard to which we tune to. I moved on to the next song “Cassius” and what do you know? It’s sounds fine when I play along with it. I checked the rest of the songs and they all sounded fine. So why is it that only the first song sounded a little sharp? Maybe it was a mistake.
So back to the more present moment. The first song on Foals newest album, Total Life Forever is titled “Blue Blood”. It starts off simply by playing an A over and over again on the guitar. But again this note is a little sharp but in tune with the rest of the song. So I check the rest of the songs on the album and again, they all sound fine. So why is it that both the opening songs on both Foals album are a little sharp? Why is it only the opening songs and not any of the other ones?
Luckily in the deluxe edition of Antidotes comes a live version of “The French Open”. I had to check if that version sounded a little sharp too, and to my surprise, it wasn’t. So at least we know the song isn’t tuning specific. They don’t always tune a little sharp for this song.
So what is the reason that Foals made the opening song a little sharp on both albums? Maybe it was originally too slow and they decided to speed it up a few bpm? Maybe they do it to throw off the musicians that are trying to figure out their music? Maybe it’s a weird tradition they have within the band? Unfortunately I really don’t have the answer, but I thought it was a cool enough discovery to share with all of you.
Here is the album version of “The French Open”. Again the notes are D to C and then E to G. It’ll sound a little off if you’re in tune. It’s up to you to figure out the rhythm.
And here is the live version of “The French Open”. Notice that if you play along with it it sounds fine.
Here is the album version of “Blue Blood”. The opening note is an A. Play along with it and notice that they are again a little sharp.
I don’t know if anyone who reads this will ever know the answer to the mystery of the sharp opening Foals songs, but if you do, please let me know. I’ve tried searching for answers on the internet and I have found nothing. If I have any cool hipster friends out there that some day interview one of the members of this band, this might be a cool thing to ask them about. Thanks for reading and again, if you have anything you’d like to see me write about, or if there is anything you would like to write about and submit to this blog, please shoot me an email.
It seems that while video is constantly getting better in quality with advancements like HD and Blu-Ray, audio is stuck getting the shaft in the quality department. Most people are fine with buying their music off of iTunes or downloading them illegally, which are usually terrible in quality. Super Audio CDs never caught on because CDs are getting phased out all together, and people can’t really tell the difference in quality anyway. I am always surprised when people say, “I can’t tell the difference between MP3s and CDs” when the difference seems painfully obvious. In an even more horrendous situation, I sometimes see people making music by sampling MP3s! That just sounds terrible! Thats like making a movie with low quality clips from Youtube! People should only sample from sources where none of the quality is lost.
If you are one of these people who cannot tell the difference in quality between an MP3 and CD, you are in luck. This blog is dedicated to educating the general public about the difference between MP3s and CDs.
Just as a disclaimer some of you may not hear what I am talking about in this blog. Some of you may hear it right away. The only advice I can give you to make this blog a little more effective is to listen to the audio clips on good headphones or good speakers. Do not listen to them on tiny laptop speakers. The bigger the speakers the better. And try to listen to the higher frequencies of the audio clips.
I never buy music off of iTunes. Ever. The last time I did I was extremely disappointed with my purchase. I had bought a Phoebe Snow song and I could not stand how compressed it was. I couldn’t believe that Apple was selling such low quality music to everyone. Granted it was only a dollar, but I thought it was an injustice to the artist and the consumer to listen to the song in such low quality. The song was “Poetry Man” and it uses a lot of high pitched percussion that lost a lot of quality in the compression process.
Before I get too ahead of myself, let us talk about how compressing audio files actually works. The highest quality an audio file can have is WAV. CDs all use WAV files as the format as to not lose any quality in the music. AIFF is about the same quality as WAV and both are interchangeable, but we will focus mainly on WAV files. The problem with these files is that they are rather large and take up a lot of space. So to compress the file (make it smaller) the process of converting WAV to MP3 merely takes out what the listener “cannot hear”. The average range of human hearing is 20hz to 20,000hz. What this means is that humans can hear a tone vibrating as slowly as 20 times a second up to as fast as 20,000 times a second.
What ends up happening is that the music usually loses the really high frequencies and the really low frequencies. Since most natural instruments do not play very low, what ends up suffering the most are the higher pitched instruments. Cymbals, vocals, guitars, strings, flutes, etc. The songs are broken down and reconstructed with a lot less information which ends up being a less accurate version of the song. The songs go from playing at 1411 kbps to as little as 64 kbps.
Many of you may not know this, but a single note contains much more than just one note. This is called the overtone series. These notes depend on the instrument, and is usually why an instrument has the timbre (pronounced tam-bur which is the quality or texture of the instrument) that it does. Compression will usually take out a lot of these overtones. The only sound that does not have any overtones is a sine wave. The sine wave can only be generated with an electronic instrument.
Percussive instruments such as cymbals have complex overtones. They have a more static sound because many different notes are being played at once without a distinctive root note. Cymbals usually start to have a ringing quality when they are compressed and suffer the most since they usually have the highest frequencies out of all the instruments.
Most other instruments sound passable when they are compressed. They usually end up sounding a little flatter and not every nuance of the note is there. It takes a picky ear to be able to tell the difference.
For this blog we will be listening to Comadre’s, “Viva Hate pt. 2” off of their album A Wolf Ticket. There will be a WAV version of the song along with MP3 versions at 64 kbps, 128 kbps, and 320 kbps. You can check out some more of their music at http://www.siqdrugfront.com/comadre/
Our first example will be the WAV file example. This is going to be the largest file and will show no loss of quality. WAV files run at 1411 kbps which is much larger than any standard MP3 format. Take note of the crystal clear clarity of all the instruments and try to listen to the cymbals. Everything is accurate and sounds the way it should.
Our next version will be at 64 kbps. MP3s with this quality should never be listened to. Ever. If I ever download an album with this quality I usually discard it immediately because music should never be listened to when the quality is this low. It is an injustice to the artist to listen to their music when it sounds this bad.
First off in this 64 kbps version, what happened to the cymbals? They are almost completely absent when the quality is this low. That is because the compression has taken out almost all of the high end of the song. The guitar at the beginning also sounds very dry and the snare has almost lost all its quality as well. All around the song sounds quieter and unclear. A lot of the accuracy of the music is lost and the music ends up sounding a little more chaotic since all the nuances of the high frequencies are not there to distinguish the instruments. All the instruments seem to blend together now that a lot of the quality has been taken away. This is because a lot of the information has been taken away and the file is now much less accurate in reproducing the sounds of the instruments. Please go back and listen to the WAV file if you have trouble hearing what I am talking about.
Next we will listen to the 128 kbps version. This version will sound a lot better than the 64 kbps version, but still will not sound nearly as good as the WAV version.
Again in this 128 kbps version a lot of the quality is lost. THIS IS THE QUALITY THAT ITUNES SELLS MUSIC AT! I believe you can pay extra for a higher quality version, but 128 kbps should not even be an option. I feel ripped off paying a dollar for quality this low. I could get quality ten times as good at roughly the same price if I go out and buy the actual album.
This version is passable, and the gist of the song is there, but a lot of the frequencies are still lost in the high end. The cymbals still have that swishy ringing sound and the guitar at the beginning has that ringing as well. The accuracy of the cymbals are still kinda lost and everything sounds “dryer”. At this point it might be a little harder for some of you to hear the difference between 128 kbps and WAV, but the difference is there. Listen to the WAV version again if you have trouble hearing the difference. The song still lacks clarity the same way the 64 kbps version does.
The next version we will listen to is the 320 kbps version. This version will sound good and most people will not be able to tell the difference between this and the WAV version. Really the only instrument that suffers in this version are the cymbals, but barely. I think that this is the lowest quality music should ever be distributed at. If you have iTunes you can import CDs at this rate if you go under custom settings. Otherwise the highest you get is 190 kbps.
Again the only problem that we face is the fact that 320 kbps are much larger than 128 kbps. The 320 kbps version of this song is 1.5 mb while the 128 version is 576 kb. The WAV version is an astonishing 6.16 mb. This of course is the main reason why MP3s were created in the first place. Sure MP3s save a lot of space, but the amount of quality that is lost is drastic.
If you have any trouble hearing what I am talking about the only thing I can suggest is listening to these examples again and again. Now that you know how low the quality of songs iTunes sells are you will refrain from purchasing any music from the iTunes store. Buying directly from the artist helps them a lot more anyway since Apple will not get a cut of their profit. Or if they’re bigger artist you can download them illegally which will most likely be equal to if not better quality than you would get from Apple.
I recently bought Broken Social Scene’s newest album, Forgiveness Rock Record, and I think it is one of the best albums I have purchased in a long time. What I noticed about the album is that the production is very different from their previous albums which were all produced by David Newfeld, but Forgiveness Rock Record is produced by John McEntire. In this blog I would like to do some comparisons of the production of Broken Social Scene’s older albums, and the production of Forgiveness Rock Record.
First I would like to describe what I mean by production. You can skip down to the other bold text if you already know what production is.
When I talk about the production of these albums I will be talking about how the sounds are produced and mixed. This means how certain sounds are actually created and their level of volume in relation to each other. A simple song with an acoustic guitar and a singer can be recorded and have no effects added to it which would mean it has little to no production to it. But then there can be lots of reverb or different effects added to that acoustic guitar, some high pass filters and delay added to the vocals, and then the song would be more produced.
Sometimes albums can have a lot of production which will usually mean a sharper, cleaner, and overall more polished sound. This does not necessarily mean better, but it can help a great deal. In some cases an album can be overly produced to the point where everything sounds fake and almost too perfect. An album can also have little production which will usually result in a rawer and more natural sound. Production is all about aesthetic and what will fit the bands sound.
For example, Rage Against the Machine’s album, Evil Empire has very little production, but the songs on this album are still great and sound amazing. I do not think they did very much at all to the instruments on Evil Empire because they sound as natural as they would if they were played in a live setting. The song “Vietnow” is a good example of how natural everything on this record sounds.
Something with a lot of production would be an album like Pendulum’s album, Hold Your Colour. Most every instrument is produced so much that it does not even sound like a real instrument. The vocals often sound more like a keyboard than a normal human voice. The title track “Hold Your Colour” is a good example of a song that sounds very produced. There are many different filters, delays, reverbs, and chorus effects used on this song to achieve a very produced sound.
The type of music should always be considered when producing an album. You would not produce a Rage Against the Machine album the way you would a Pendulum album because then they might up sounding like a Nu-Metal band which is the opposite of what Rage wants to sound like. Rage obviously likes a more raw sound. And a Pendulum album would not be produced the way a Rage album would be because they obviously want a more polished sound. Electronic artist like Daft Punk or Basement Jaxx use less production to achieve a rawer sound. No way is better than the other it is all just preference.
My description of production has ended. Start reading again here.
Broken Social Scene has always had a very, very interesting production to all their records. Because of this I have always considered their music to be very extraordinary and inventive. I often said that they do not write songs, but instead create textures and soundscapes.
Let us look at it this way: If Britney Spear’s music was a painting it would be a picture like portrait of a very pretty looking girl. If Broken Social Scene’s music was a painting it would be an abstract painting that is bumpy in textures and is meant to be felt with the hands and not just seen. A lot of this has to do with the way the songs are produced.
Some of you may not know this, but Broken Social Scene used to be somewhat of an ambient band. On their first album, Feel Good Lost, there were only one or two songs with vocals on them. Most of them were very relaxing instrumentals. Most of the songs seemed to be made with guitars, keyboards, and drum machines. When they did have vocals they were very subtly blended in as to not take away from the ambient quality of the music. They were usually heavily processed with filters and reverb which gave it a more instrument like quality rather than a voice. “Passport Radio” is a good example of this type of sound.
This type of production carried over to the next album which is the classic, You Forgot it in People. This album was written with a full band with many different live instruments and vocals on nearly every song. Even though the music was different on this album it was still produced similarly.
You Forgot it in People was when the band started to involve more people and started to be considered more of a collective. There were many different singers and players on the album, but the founding members were involved in every song. What really stands out to me on this album is the way everything is mixed. The vocals are usually very low in comparison to the other instruments. Sometimes it is pretty hard to decipher exactly what they are saying because the vocals blend into the rest of the music. The song “Shampoo Suicide” has such quiet vocals that I was surprised they actually had lyrics to them. I thought they were just ooos and ahhs. This is that same production quality they had on Feel Good Lost, but now they were applying it to a rock record.
What I find interesting about mixing the vocals so low is that usually bands want the vocals to be heard above everything else, or at least that is what the singer usually wants. Everything should be heard very well, but the vocals are usually going to be a little more on top.
Also most every instrument is processed in some way. The drums for example often sound like they might have a bit of distortion to them which give the cymbals high end an interesting texture that cuts through well. The guitars often have a lot of reverb that sounds like it is generated from the board or program they used to record the album instead of coming directly from the guitar. Also most everything sounds like has some kind of high pass filter which gives it a more raw classic rock sound.
This type of production also carried over to the next album which is the self titled, Broken Social Scene. This album added a few more instruments and was now regularly using a horn section. The whole album had a more live band feel yet all instruments and vocals were produced the same was as You Forgot it in People.
I would say that the vocals are the most interesting on this album not only because they are mixed very low, but it often sounds like they are closer to whispering rather than singing. For example the vocals on “Fire Eye’d Boy” are almost whispered and then doubled in a very delicate falsetto.
Broken Social Scene has an interesting balance of songs that are very produced, and others that are a little more natural sounding. Some songs can easily be played the same way live, and other songs have so much production that it would be hard to play live and have it have the same effect it does on the album.
“7/4 (Shoreline)” for example has only a little bit of production. The acoustic guitars at the beginning have some reverb, but mostly everything else sounds the way it would in its natural state. “Hotel” is a song that has a lot of production. Some of the vocals are stretched and played backwards to create a melody not easily mimicked by a normal human voice. The drums sound like they have some kind of gated reverb to give it that old funk sound and there is usually a drum machine doubling the beat. The vocals have some kind of high pass filter to give it a more delicate sound and are layered many times. It is a song that would sound very different live. In fact almost every song they play off of their older albums sound very different live since their production techniques cannot be mimicked well in a live setting.
Forgiveness Rock Record is a lot more conventional when it comes to production. Every instrument is mixed to a good level and have almost crystal clear clarity. Most every effect on the instruments are coming straight from the amps or effects pedals that they are using. In fact the song “Meet Me in the Basement” almost sounds like a live recording. And what is even more surprising is that the vocals are now loud and clear. A band whose albums usually involved a lot of production on them had now written an album with much, much less production.
I saw Broken Social Scene at the Fillmore on May 1st, 2010, and they played a lot of songs off of Forgiveness Rock Record. The songs off that album when played live sounded exactly the same way as they do on the record. There were many keyboards on stage that were most likely the ones used on the album. All guitar effects were produced using effects pedals which is most likely the way they were recorded. Drummer Justin Peroff even has a drum pad which sounds exactly like the electronic drums on “All to All”.
Sure some of the instruments are missing such as violin and banjo, and some vocal layering was also missing, but everything else sounded exactly the same way. Kevin Drew even uses an effects pedal for his vocals so even songs with more heavily processed vocals like “Sweetest Kill” sound the same live as they do on the record. Also all the vocals on Forgiveness Rock Record are sung in a pretty straight forward manner which is how they were sung live. They are usually sung loud and match the energy of the song.
If the older Broken Social Scene albums were like a cake the vocals would be an ingredient that was mixed in and more concealed like nutmeg or cinnamon. But now they were the same way most every other band recorded their vocals, which was more like frosting on top of the cake. Not a bad thing just more of an observation.
Maybe Broken Social Scene wanted a more live sound on Forgiveness Rock Record because their older songs live sounded completely different from the albums? Maybe the songwriting process was different and involved more writing as a live band rather than in the studio? Maybe John McEntire made the decision to capture their live sound rather than produce it too much? Whatever the reason was there was a huge difference in the way Forgiveness Rock Record was produced.
So now I want to allow the music to speak for itself. I am going to post a few songs and I want you to pay attention to a few things. The first song will be “Passport Radio” off of their debut album, Feel Good Lost. Play close attention to how this song is produced. Everything has a very spacey and open feel and it is all very soothing like most ambient music. The vocals are heavily filtered and blend into the song very well. The whole song itself has a very interesting texture because of the production.
Now the next song is “Almost Crimes” which is off of their sophomore album, You Forgot it in People. This song has the same production style as “Passport Radio”, but the music is very different. Every instrument is playing rather quietly, except for the drums, and most instruments sound filtered to give it a warmer tape sound. All of the instruments blend together in way that individually they do not really stand out, but contribute well to the overall dirty sound of the song. The vocals are rather low as well and are filtered the same way that the instruments are. This song is a good representative of how the production style from Feel Good Lost transfered to You Forgot it in People.
The next song is “Fire Eye’d Boy” off of the self-titled, Broken Social Scene. This song is similar to “Almost Crimes” in its instrumentation and energy, but the song has more of a live band feel. What you should really listen for in this song are the vocals. They are sung very quietly and are layered a few times. They are very delicate compared to the overall upbeat energy of the song which makes it somewhat hard to hear them. The same style of production has carried over where most of the instruments are filtered and blend together to make one whole sound rather than being heard well individually.
I will also post a live version of “Fire Eye’d Boy” to compare with the album version. The live version is obviously played much louder, but the singing is also much louder because it is hard for whispering to be audible live. Notice the textures of the instruments when they aren’t produced at all in a live setting. Individually the instruments are more audible because they are not all produced to sound the same way. I would consider the live version to sound very different from the album version. But they do a good job of playing the song live and having it sound similar.
The next song is “Texico Bitches” off of their newest album, Forgiveness Rock Record. First off, take notice of the clarity of all of the instruments. The guitar at the beginning is very pronounced, and so are the rest of the instruments that come in. All the instruments are able to be heard well individually and the song sounds very clean overall. Both “Almost Crimes” and “Fire Eye’d Boy” have a dirtier sound to them that is not present in “Texico Bitches”. Also the vocals are sung loudly and are easily heard. The vocals in “Almost Crimes” are sung at about the same volume, but because of the way they are produced are not heard as easily as they are in “Texico Bitches”. Overall the production of this song is completely different from their previous songs. Every instrument sounds rather natural, and the mix is a lot more conventional.
I will now post a live version of “Texico Bitches” which pretty much sounds exactly the same as the album version. The only difference is that the mix of course is not as good so the instruments are not as clear. But the timbre of all the instruments sound the same because on the album they are not produced that much and just left in their natural state.
So I hope all of you who are listening to these songs can really hear what I am describing. Broken Social Scene obviously has a much cleaner and natural sounding production to their newest album, which is not better or worse but just different. My only complaint is that Forgiveness Rock Record could maybe be remastered to sound a little louder because it is surprisingly quiet, even compared to their older albums, but that is a whole different subject.
Believe it or not I actually cut out A LOT of this entry. I could go on and on about each individual song on every album and compare them all, but I figured that would be wayyyy too much reading. If you made it this far I really commend you. Hopefully this has opened your ears to production styles of different bands because I feel that production is something that often goes unnoticed even by musicians. And if you are songwriters hopefully this will give you some ideas of what you can do to your songs in the studio to better capture a sound that your song might need. Again, thanks for reading and please follow this blog!
We all remember “My Humps” right? It was a Black Eyed Peas song sung by Fergie that came out around 2005 on their album, Monkey Business. I am sure most of you reading this will have no problem remembering this song, but I thought I would state the obvious anyway.
Many of you probably do not want to remember this song, and are probably going to want to stop reading a blog that has to do with “My Humps”. I can assure you though that this song, excluding the lyrics, is a brilliantly written song. And I am ready to prove why.
I have to admit that the first time I ever heard “My Humps” I actually really liked it. Right off the bat I could not ignore just how GOOD the sound quality was. I had a 12 inch tube in the back of my truck so that phat 808 kick was really putting it to work. The recording of course sounds perfect because they probably spent a lot of money on the best recording engineers they could find. The drums in general were cool because instead of having hi-hats they replaced them with breathing sounds, and the snare was layered with a few claps. I am also a sucker for 808 toms so when they cut the regular beat out and make the toms play a melodic line I really enjoy it (this happens around 1:48). So far everything I like about the song seems like personal preference, but they do something really clever in this song.
If you notice, besides the intro and outro, there are only three notes played in this song. A,B, and C. The main line of course goes A,B,C,B,A. Simple. Extremely simple. Obviously in the key of A minor, which means no sharps and no flats. Following? Good.
The way variation is added to these three notes is each time this line is played it is played by a completely different keyboard sound. Sometimes it is played by a roaring synth bass. Sometimes it is played by a more delicate almost sine wave. The rhythm of these three notes also varies. Sometimes they are played over half a bar, and sometimes they are played over two bars.
Many of you that write music or play music might be thinking something like, “Three notes? Big deal! Even someone who does not play music could have written this song.”
This is why I would like to talk about discipline as a musician, and how important it is.
How many of you have ever taken a music theory class? And after learning all this theory, applied every chord and every trick you learned to your music whether or not it was relevant to your song? Probably lots of you, if not every single one. I personally have done the same. All of the sudden simple rock songs now contain a Neapolitan 6th chord along with tritone substitutions and a diatonic sequence. But what did any of this have to do the actual song? The answer is: nothing. It was merely flexing musical muscle, and many songs writers write like this.
Sure it might be impressive to other musicians that know theory, but it lacks discipline. I have many friends that are great musicians, but how many of them would be content with playing three notes in one song? Probably none of them. And I can guarantee none of them would ever write a song that was only three notes. Especially something as simple as 1,2,3,2,1 in A minor. In fact few musicians would probably be happy playing or writing such a simple song. Maybe Stevie Nicks guitarist on “Edge of Seventeen” could handle it. But it takes a lot, and I mean a lot, of discipline as a musician and songwriter to play such incredibly simple music. Because really it all comes down to how you play, not what you play. Miles Davis could play a solo with one note and it would say a lot more than a jazz major throwing every trick he knows into one solo. Music should be about expression, not numbers.
Some of you may think, “Well it is really simple, but maybe it is not about discipline. Maybe they just don’t really know what they are doing.”
Well, here is where the clever part comes in. As I stated before, the majority of this song is in A minor. No sharps, no flats, and only three notes that span across a maximum of 2 bars that are played on a keyboard. But this song suddenly changes gears towards the end of the song that is most likely never played on the radio or the club (it is obvious but the outro starts around 4:07).
The outro to this song is pretty much the musical opposite of the simple music that played before. Let us look at this outro a little more closely.
The outro to this song is played on a grand piano and only a grand piano. No variation in the timbre of the instrument and this progression is 16 bars long and is in the key of C# Major. Many of you music theorists and piano players know that C# Major is one of the more difficult keys to play because it is ALL sharps. And this progression is 16 bars long which is of course much longer than just half a bar or 2 bars. So there is some obvious musical muscle flexing to the outro of this song since it is such a drastic change.
It went from being a short three note melody played in a minor key with no sharps or flats on different keyboards, to a 16 bar chord progression in a major key with all sharps played on a grand piano. If that is not screaming, “We know what we are doing!” then I do not know what is. They could write more complex music if they wanted to, but most likely are not because they just want to make people dance and have fun. They know people in the club do not want to analyze music, they just care that there is a good beat to dance to. In fact the song “They Don’t Want Music” addresses this issue.
You can say whatever you want about the lyrics and vocals of this song. Some may see it as a womens empowerment song. Some may see it as just plain annoying. But I really cannot say much about the vocals and lyrics of this song because I know they are merely going for a catchy fun song. Obviously Black Eyed Peas can write about more serious issues, and Fergie has an incredible voice that she does not really put to use in this song. But “My Humps” was not meant to be more than a club and radio hit.
So I hope that I have provided enough evidence to prove that “My Humps” is in fact, a brilliantly written song. Some of you may think that writing a song with 3 notes takes no talent. So logically writing music that is the musical opposite of 3 notes would take a lot of talent. This is just logically. Is it true? Maybe. But this song contains both ends of the spectrum which I find very impressive.
Thanks again for reading and please follow this blog!
I remember the first time I heard about Justice I was in a car with my friends and they were talking about what electronic music they liked. Of course they mentioned Daft Punk because even people who do not like electronic music like Daft Punk, and they mentioned a group supposedly similar to them which was Justice. They then proceeded to put on Cross and I must say, I was not impressed.
This was mainly due to my pretentious mindset at the time because I felt that I listened to much better electronic music. I had been actively involved in the drum and bass scene in LA, and I had been listening to a lot of different electronic artists.
What I loved about electronic music is that it seemed limitless. With electronic music I could basically create anything my mind could conceive of. Any type of instrument could be used at any time and it felt great to let my brain run wild in that way. The best part was the fact I could do it all myself and not have to worry about relying on other people.
The hardest part was making it all sound good. Production is a huge part of electronic music which was an element of song writing I had never done before. I had been in awe of Pendulum and the flawless production of their Hold Your Colour record. I was clueless as to how they made their music sound so crisp and clear. They used many different instruments on the whole record and somehow they always fit perfectly. To me using lots of electric guitar in electronic music can be pretty cheesy but Pendulum had pulled it off over and over again on that album.
So here I was listening to a lot of great electronic music, and when Justice was played for me I did not hear anything impressive in their music. I heard it as that kind of white kid music that all the hipsters play at their house parties when The Chronic 2001 was over and they had no other rap albums to play and they did not want to play any of their guilty pleasure pop tracks and could not play whatever indie music they had because no one would dance to it.
The first song I heard was “Phantom” which starts off with some type of voice spoken through a keyboard that was cut and pasted in different ways to create some variation. Then this repeating phrase is followed by a simple drum beat. No hi-hats, just a kick on 1 and 3 and a snare on 2 and 4. Pretty standard stuff since a lot of dance music, especially mainstream rap and crunk, had now stopped using hi-hats all together and were focusing mostly on the loud bassy kick and small clap or snare.
After that the only song I remember hearing at the time was “D.A.N.C.E.”. I do not know why but I cannot stand the sound of little kids when they sing. This is the same reason I could never get into the Polyphonic Spree because I always thought their background girl singers sounded like little boys when they sang. So automatically “D.A.N.C.E.” which is sung by a group of kids nearly the entire time was not a song that I really wanted to listen to again. To this day I still do not like these songs.
After that I did not hear Justice for a while. I only annoyingly heard “D.A.N.C.E.” from some coworkers sometimes to which I combated by merely turning my music up to drown it out. I was almost anti-Justice because I was jealous of their success with seemingly mediocre music. Every chance I got I talked about how much I did not like them and I thought that I could easily make music just as good as theirs. I thought there were many, many other electronic artists that deserved the fame that they had and though of it as an injustice. No pun intended.
When I started working on Dj Hero (I used to work for Activision) I was forced to play it over and over again. Justice’s song “Genesis” was a song on there that I had never heard before, but I thought it was one of the best songs used in the game. But wait…what was happening here? Justice made a song that I like? I had been talking about how much I hate this duo for quite a while now. Well now I think it is time to re-asses the situation.
I gave the song a listen at home since in the game it was mashed up with some crappy Dizzee Rascal vocals that took away from the song. I was immediately jealous. Let me explain why.
When making electronic music (at least the way I make it) I am always looking for new samples. Whenever I hear any isolated instrument in a song I want to sample it. It doesn’t really matter what the instrument is since I can always make it sound different later. So right at the beginning of “Genesis” I heard what I consider one of the coolest samples I have ever heard. When I hear a good sample I get jealous because I did not find it first and use it for my music. This happens quite often.
The beginning of “Genesis” is what I would consider an almost perfect start to an album. The sample sounds like something out of a Godzilla movie, and a foreshadowing of the intense and driving music that will be played throughout the album. I am not entirely sure what the instrumentation is of this sample either. I can only tell that is some kind of brass instrument with a mute. I almost want to say it is a trombone but I cannot be sure. And also there is a timpani in the back that is doubling the main line that the horns are playing. Both combined together make for a very great opening to an album. I thought the sample was maybe slowed down at first, but the timpanis in the back do rolls that would be too fast for human hands to do if the sample was pitched up any higher. I got to admit that when the song picks up it does not come in with as much force as I would like it to, but it still sounds good.
The rest of the song features some pretty cool sounds. Some slap bass sounds and some really shimmery funk guitar cut up in small pieces which I envy. I have many slap bass samples and guitar samples that I would love to use in my music but it always ends up sounding too cheesy to me. Again I get jealous because they found a way to make these sounds work in their music. The beginning sample comes back in later towards the end of the song, but this time some piano chords are layered over it which is a very cool addition to an already fantastic sample.
So okay Justice had ONE good song. I was not completely sold…yet.
I’ll admit it. I think Uffie is hot. So I thought it would give “TTHHEE PPAARRTTYY” a listen. There is not much I can say about the vocals of this song. Uffie does exactly what the song calls for, but the real brilliance lies in the music. Right away when I heard the chords at the beginning of this song a little light went off in my head. The changes were very interesting to hear, and the melody that comes in later really compliments the progression. This song is in the key of E. The chord progression starts with an E and then very interestingly goes to a F#7.
I am sure there is some technical substitution term for playing the ii major but I am not sure what it is. But pretty much right from the get go the progression goes to a very interesting chord. Then after that it goes to an A, and then I am not entirely sure (I do not have a functioning keyboard so I figured this out on guitar) but it goes to either a B7 or B7b9. The melody that comes in later lands on a C right when it lands on that B7 so I can only assume it is meant to be a B7b9 (please contact me if you know what chord this is exactly). Then the last chord is an A again.
The melody that comes in later is not only phrased very well, but the synth sound they used is also another sound that is hard to pull off. That “moog” type of synth sound that is used in a lot of 70s and 80s films is very hard to pull off since so many cheesy sounds were made with it. I am not going to write out the melody entirely, but I do want to note that it hits a Bb and like I stated before, lands on a C when it goes to the B7 chord. If you have the ear for it, listen to the song and really listen to the phrasing of the synth melody that comes in later.
Another thing to note that is very great about this song is the fact that there are no drums for almost the first two minutes of the song. And this song is a little more than four minutes long! Not putting drums for the first half of a dance song is taking a HUGE artistic risk in my opinion. There are many times when I wanted to take this exact same risk in my music. I have a few songs where there are no drums for the first few minutes, but I consider them more experimental songs. And now Justice had made this song and made it sound completely natural.
The only percussive instrument at the beginning of this song is a hi-hat that is hitting on 2 and 4 and the occasional cymbal swell at the end of a vocal phrase. I often wonder why they chose to put this hi-hat at the beginning of the song. Usually when a solo hi-hat is hitting it is usually to help the rest of the band keep time. But of course this music is programmed so timing should not be an issue. Maybe they put it in because they are so used to hearing a hi-hat keep time so psychologically they wanted to hear it? Or maybe they put it in to spell out the beat of the song a little before it actually starts? For whatever reason it is there, and even something as small as a hi-hat clicking adds a lot to this song.
And then when the beat actually comes in it really delivers. It enters with a simple drum beat, but then the bass is really what adds some flavor. The bass line is great in this song for two reasons. They use a slap bass sound in this song again, but it switches between that and a synth bass sound. The slap bass sound will pluck on the and of 1, and the synth bass note will hit on the and of 2. It is very subtle but adds a very cool element to the song. Also the bass line goes, E, F#, A. But then instead of going to B it goes to C, and then goes to D. Amazing.
Part of the reason I started making electronic music was because I really wanted to get away from music theory, and every time I picked up a guitar I over thought the chord progression. It was either too simple, or too complex. But here and there I try to write a chord progression in my electronic songs, but do not have that much of a problem writing them because a G on a keyboard sounds fresh to my ears where a G on a guitar sounds stale. But I do not think I would ever but a 7th chord in there. Maybe a Major 7th but a dominant 7th I would never think of because I would consider it too “jazzy” for my electronic music.
So here is Justice accomplishing so much of what I wanted to do in ONE song. The whole beginning of the song having no drums is something I wanted to do and have done but in a more experimental manner. The chord progression is just the right amount of complex without being too music theory based which is something I constantly struggle with. The synth melody is not only brilliantly phrased but the sound they use for it is great too. It is a sound I have wanted to use in my music but have never been able to. Also the slap bass that comes in again as I stated before is hard to put in a song without it sounding too gimmicky.
So far I was sold on two songs. Obviously this duo knows what they are doing musically speaking.
A few days later a friend of mine had posted a song on their facebook. It was a Justice song called “Stress”. I clicked on it hopefully not liking what I hear so I could badmouth it, but when I first heard it I really did not know what to think.
“Stress” starts off with a cut up sample, or I at least assume it is a sample, of some strings creating a very, very dissonant sound. In fact if I had to sum up the entire song in one word it would be: dissonant. This dissonant string sound continues throughout almost the whole song. I could not believe what I was hearing. How are they getting away with making such a harsh sounding song? I mean I thought it was brilliant, but I knew if I made a song similar to it people would hate it! But Justice made this song and people really like it? WTF??? Now I was mad with jealousy.
When I am making electronic music I am messing around with my samples a lot. Eventually I get something sounding very chaotic and dissonant. It happens naturally when I am stretching and reversing a sample and playing it in different pitches. I usually discard it because it might be a little too harsh. But Justice had made an entire song out of sounds I would usually thrown away because I would think they would be too much for the listener.
I will not go too in depth analyzing this song because what I really enjoy about it are the textures and instrumentation of the song. There are a lot of elements to this song that I would consider “cool”, but that is about the extent of it. The drums they use are nice and tight sounding and when the drums switch from hitting a closed hi-hat to a hitting a crash it is a nice rock element that is not often used in electronic music. Also the strings eventually resolve from being very dissonant to swelling on a rather nice chord for two bars at a time.
What was really getting to me was the fact that this song had over a million hits on youtube, and everyone seemed to enjoy it a lot. I knew deep down in my heart that if I had made this song people would not have liked it. But Justice had made it and people loved it. I had to do some experimenting.
I showed the song to a few people, and most people agreed that it was rather intense sounding, but overall they liked it. Only a few people did not like it, but they did not like electronic music in general.
I felt like making a song structured exactly like “Stress” and then showing it to people, but I felt that would take too much work. Instead what I did was I sent the song to a friend of mine who did not listen to Justice and I told that person that I had made the song. And guess what? They did not like it! I knew if I told that person that it was a Justice song they would have been more accepting of it, but since I am an amateur songwriter, I did not have as much credit as Justice and therefore my songwriting would not be up to par with theirs. This is what I figure anyway. Because why else could Justice make a song like “Stress” and have millions of people love it?
I think Justice has established that they are good songwriters and therefor listeners “trust” them more when it comes to taking chances, because they of course know music better than the average listener. But the average listener probably thinks they know music just as well as I do, and would dismiss a song I made if it sounded like “Stress”. I say this because when I have had people listen to a song I have made, the song can easily get ruined for them if their is ONE part they do not like. And it is usually something very small. Like maybe a vocal line is too repetitive. Or one sound stands out too much. People are very critical when you ask them to be.
WATERS OF NAZARETH:
The final song I want to talk about is “Waters of Nazareth”. I will keep this very short only because what really blows my mind about this song is the very beginning. I guess I have more questions about it than I do statements.
Like I stated before, when I am playing with samples it can naturally lead to something that sounds very harsh and maybe too much for even the speakers too handle. Maybe it is too loud or there is too much high end or low end. For whatever reason I usually get rid of it or turn it down because it could be very bad for the listeners stereo. But the beginning of “Waters of Nazareth” has one of the harshest sounds I have ever heard in a song. But somehow they have filtered it and mixed it so it sounds very harsh, but does not do any damage to the listeners speakers. Again I am jealous because I wish I could make sounds that harsh, but I am pretty sure I would blow a listeners speakers if I tried.
I listened to all of Cross again, and the only songs I really like are all the ones I have mentioned. But I have gone from thinking that I could make music better than Justice, to really envying them musically speaking. They have done so much in their album that I had wish I had done first. And it all rangers from using really great samples, to making really great chord progressions, to having some very interesting production to their music.
In closing I wanted to post a song of mine that I feel relates to everything I just talked about. This is a song I made for a video game my friends and I were working on. The song starts off with what I would consider a somewhat dissonant sound. I do not really want to reveal what it is, but I felt it was a sound that would test the listener a little bit. Similarly to what “Stress” does to its listeners, but on a much less intense level.
There is a keyboard sound that comes in the song that I felt is similar to those Moog synth sounds that are very hard to get away with. Similar to the synth sound they use in “TTHHEE PPAARRTTY”. Although I think Justices keyboard sound is much more similar to that Moog sound than what I used.
Also the last minute of this song completely gets rid of the drums. This is again what I would consider the experimental aspect of the song. But Justice does it even better in “TTTHHEE PPAARRTTYY” because they do it at the beginning rather than the end of the song, and they do it for twice as long as I did.
So in conclusion I just want to say that I hope this last song is a good example of why I think anything I do Justice does better. I no longer think their popularity and success is undeserved, but in fact I think they deserve it more than a lot of other groups out there.
Thanks for reading and please check back in the future for more posts (hopefully much shorter ones) on many different styles of music and maybe some politics here and there.