songwriting

Before The Music Dies

Not sure how long this will last, but Google Video is now playing the entire 2006 documentary Before The Music Dies. This film takes a look at today’s music business and provides some answers to the following burning questions:

  • Why radio sucks.
  • Why there’s more teen acts than before.
  • What artist should do to have a solid career.

Probably the most chilling moment comes when the film’s producers take a 18-year-old female model who can’t sing and give her a trashy teen song written in 5 minutes. They then proceed to correct her vocals to give the impression that she has talent and film a polished music video that shows her…hum…assets. The results are painfully similar to what Ashley Simpson, Britney Spears or Miley Cirrus have been producing in the past five years. Scary stuff.

The film does end on a positive note and artists are encouraged to do it on their own or band together to form artist-friendly record companies such as ATO Records and Tunecore.

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songwriting

Butch Vig’s Recording Secrets

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Super-producer Butch Vig is currently fielding technical and artistic questions over at Gearslutz. Vig is the acclaimed songwriter, drummer and producer behind seminal albums such as Nirvana’s “Nevermind”, Smashing Pumpkins’ “Siamese Dream” and all the Garbage studio albums.

Vig is was one of the first producers to use the ProTools “sound” to his advantage. One characteristic of his sound is the inventive use of rhythm based mixing . This is where several types of drums (live drums, programmed beats & mastered rhythm sections) are playing back in parallel, all occupying their own pocket in the frequency range.

Vig on recording Garbage:

A lot of the Garbage songs had multiple drum sounds…live drums (usually looped and mixed down to stereo, sometimes mono), programmed beats (usually run through an amp or stomp box) and sometimes we would make our own “record”…which means taking a beat, maybe with a bass line, guitar line, or some sound effect, and running all of them through the same stereo effect to give it a “mastered” feel…almost like we were sampling off an old album.

Also, he gave some information on recording the first Garbage album:

In fact, the 1st Garbage album was done in a sort of lofi chain:
We recorded into a 24 track Otari MX80 (I think!) and almost all the tracks except for vocals were run through either an Akai S1000 sampler or Kurzweil K2500…then we mixed the whole thing through the Harrison w Flying Faders.
It wasn’t until Garbage’s V 2.0 that we jumped into Pro Tools!

This explains the constant pulsating rhythm in the first album. These days, the same sound could be achieved by running all my guitar tracks trough a sampling synthesizer like the Korg M3. The M3 has rocking compressor that makes everything sound “pre-mastered” and of course an incredibly rich palette of BPM-synched filters and modulators.

Try it, this may inspire a brand new batch of songs.

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songwriting

Write By Humming

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In this interview with GuitarJamDaily, guitar wiz Paul Gilbert discusses a method of songwriting he calls “Write By Humming”:

I would make a backing track and put the guitar down and then get a vocal mike and just sing. I wouldn’t use any lyrics, but just sort of hum melodies that I may want to use. The reason I put the guitar down is because I didn’t want be influenced by my guitar vocabulary. I didn’t want to play the licks that I normally know or gravitate toward because I know them. So write by humming, to me is a very natural way of writing. And after I have something I like, I record it, get the guitar back up and copy what I just sang.

Actually, I’ve been using this method for years and this is in fact the main technique advocated by Jason Blume in “6 Steps to songwriting success”. According to Blumes the vocal melody is the most important part of the song as it is the one people will remember, even when they don’t recognize the words or the chords. So humming a hook is one way to make it more memorable. Plus, it doesn’t require any knowledge of an instrument.

What’s most fascinating is that Gilbert does this to keep his guitar wizardry from influencing the quality of his songwriting. That’s something only a great songwriter can recognize.

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songwriting

Berklee’s Pat Pattison Teaching Lyrics Optimization

A master at work. In this set of four videos, Berklee’s Pat Pattison gives a lesson on how to follow the natural shape of language when writing lyrics. Allison Rapetti, a talented singer-songwriter, sings and plays the guitar to illustrate his points.

The basic idea is to try to use phrasing that one would use in conversation instead of choosing words that happened to fit a particular beat. This makes sense, but I would add that some genres (such as hip-hop and dance) are more rhythmic in nature and do require frequent transgression to that rule.

Still, it’s amazing to see how little changes here and there can really improve the delivery of a song. Inspiring.

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