Thursday, December 31, 2015

So... What's The Big Deal About Mixing?

So… what’s the big deal about mixing?
A mix can take a song in several directions; it’s all about the approach.  A rock song can be mixed with a Hip-hop approach that may give the song more of a pop feel. What would a hip-hop approach be? The drums will be louder and more present, the bass will be heavier, the vocals may sit back in the mix a bit and they will be processed heavier that on a “Normal” rock song. That’s just one example. There are times where the mix on a song is very straight forward – no tricks, with little effects. Listen to Adele’s new song “Hello” for example. 

Her vocal is the most prominently featured element in the song and rightfully so. The drums and other instruments are just providing support for the vocal, with the only other featured element being the piano. Just imagine if Hello had a different mix approach, say a hip-hop approach, would the song still work? Maybe, maybe not.
Let’s use another example; The Weeknd’s hit “The Hills.” 

Here, we have a totally different mixing approach than “Hello.” The vocals are heavily processed - somewhat distorted and degraded with heavy reverb. The drums are bass heavy and in front. Imagine “The Hills” with the same mix approach as “Hello.” Would it work? What if “Hello” had the same vocal processing as “The Hills?” These questions and subsequent decisions make the mix approach very important. A mix can sometimes make or break a song. Most times, the best decision is to serve the song and the artist. Too many tricks and effects can easily get in the way.
Here’s one last example, Kanye West’s big hit “Gold Digger.” 

Does this song even have a mix? There are virtually no effects in the entire song. Yes, every element in the song sounds clear. The vocals are very present, the drums are prominent but do not seem heavily processed. There are no tricks, at least none that we can identify. Yet, the song was a monster hit. “Gold Digger” is a great example of restraint. The mix serves the song. Kanye and his engineers could have decided to add effects and fancy mixing tricks but they knew better. Sometimes the song, not the mix, is all the listener needs to hear.
What approach does your song need?  

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Song Analysis of "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk

The global hit record “Get Lucky” is the lead single from Daft Punk’s album that was 4 years in the making. Hailed as the best sounding album in many years, Random Access Memories is a triumphant return for Daft Punk. In many ways, the album sounds like a late 70’s early 80’s recording. That sound was certainly the intention, as ‘RAM’ is an exercise in “old school” analogue recording. Actually, the success of ‘Get Lucky’ is a great example of the benefits of analogue recording and sensibilities, combined with ProTool’s digital editing capabilities. It’s essentially the best of both worlds. According to interviews on Daft’s recording process, they recorded to both ProTools and 2 inch tape running at 15ips. In post production, the Daft Punk team compared and chose the best sounding recordings between the two. Making the recordings on the album a mix of both digital and analogue. This process was costly, as the album budget reaches well into 7 figures! After many listens, I must say it does sound exquisite. Very smooth, round and detailed. It's not at all harsh or edgy. I’d say the money was well spent, especially since Random Access Memories has garnered massive album sales.


When I first heard “Get Lucky” my mind immediately went back to those old Chic albums from the 80's. Nile Roger’s rhythm guitar definitely brings that 80’s Chic vibe. He has that sound patented for sure, only he can make it happen. I love that Daft Punk recruited Niles, essentially going to the source, instead of trying to replicate his sound using other methods.

Pharrell's vocals, sans auto-tune, feel loose and silky. Pharrell is a testament to the fact that just about everybody can sing - and I mean that in a good way. He doesn't have a “singers” voice or a big range but he has style and he’s honest. Honesty and conviction can override a great tone and advanced vocal techniques any day. We all need to believe what the singer is vocalizing, plain and simple. Pharrell's pitchy-ness adds to the vocal texture and gives the song a very human element. It sounds like he has one or two in tune tracks and one or two tracks that are a little off. No matter, they all meld together and its lovely affair. I can just hear the likes of Randy Jackson saying “That's a little pitchy dawg” and he’d be right and wrong at the same time!

The instrumentation is made up of mostly bread and butter elements - bass, drums, guitar and piano. With the exception of the vocoders, there are no “fancy” synths or unique tones. Being that Daft Punk is an electronica band, I sort of expected to hear some new synth tones, and there are plenty on the album. Get Lucky, however, is on the simpler side of life. Simple in instrumentation, but advanced in performance. These bread and butter instruments are played by some of the best musicians in the industry.    

Overall, Get Lucky is a interesting mix of mostly old and very little new. With Pharrell being the only “new” element. Most of the appeal comes from the 80’s flavor. It’s not some synth heavy song with heavy programming, but actually a record that could have been made during the Chic/disco era. There’s really nothing modern about it. Maybe that’s why it works so well..


Structure wise, Get Lucky is pretty straight forward. After a somewhat lengthy sixteen bar intro that thoroughly establishes the Chic/disco vibe, Pharrell eases into his verse. Eight bars later we find ourselves in the pre-hook or b-section where Pharrell sings “We've come too far to give up to who we are.” His harmonies are buttery smooth and its one of the many highlights of the song. Next up is the hook for eight bars and another four bars of post hook where Get Lucky repeats. We then get four bars of music that sets up the next verse.

The second verse and hook are a similar affair, but after the hook there’s quite a few ‘Get Lucky’ repeats, bordering on overkill. Fortunately, before it steps into dangerous overly repetitious territory, the Robots start to do their thing with the vocoder.

We are then treated to a full twenty four bars of Daft Punk’s vocoder goodness. Its a welcome addition, firmly taking ownership of the song from Pharrell. Next, the hook returns and ‘We’re up all night to Get Lucky’ repeats once again, but this time for a whopping sixteen bars! Just in case you were a little unsure of what the title of the song was - now you know. Its been drilled into all of our heads. Luckily, after the first eight bars, we get treated to a breakdown which adds a little variation - thanks guys! Needed that.

So, after the ‘Get Lucky’ beatdown, the song vamps out. I’m into song endings and I like when some attention is given to the final seconds - instead of a song just fading out, and giving up. The synth line in the ending bars are a nice touch and takes us out on a good vibe.


Sometimes, when a song is really good, and recorded/produced very well - you don’t need an elaborate mix. This is the case with Get Lucky. The trick here was to not muck it up and over do it. Its all about restraint, just let it be. I read in the excellent Sound on Sound interview that the mixes were simplistic. According to the interview, there were no plugins used - outboard gear only. Minimal compression, and only eq when necessary. Easy breezy. I hear a slight delay and verb on Pharrell and that might just be all of the effects used in the mix. Things did get complicated when it was time to print as they mixed down into Pro Tools and to three (yes, three) half-inch Ampex tape machines. One running at 15ips and the other two at 30ips. The team chose the best sounding recordings of the four for mastering.


The best of analogue, the best of digital, and some of the best musicians/producers/engineers in the world come together to create a worldwide hit record. No surprises there. If they didn’t make great records that would be a problem. They even got away with a couple of no-no’s like repeating ‘Get Lucky’ for like an hour! Ok, sixteen bars, but still - let me try that. The record label gatekeepers would chime in immediately with hey bruh, you can’t do that! And hey, they know everything about music right? Umm wait...


Get Lucky vitals:
5+ Million worldwide single sales
#1 on Billboard Hot 100
Key of F# minor

Four chords used throughout the entire song - Bm7-D-F#m7-E. Easy right?

Friday, June 7, 2013

I Have a Theory...

When I first started making music, it was with a group of friends from my neighborhood in Los Angeles. We all grew up together and decided to make music in my friend Irv's garage. His garage became sort of our neighborhood "hub" where everyone would stop by and hang out. The "hub" was also our makeshift studio and we would make music with various artists we came across in our travels. It was a fun environment, we basically hung out and made music at the same time.

Fast forward about 5 years later and I was working as an engineer in a well known studio in Los Angeles. The environment was pretty much the same (except we were in a million dollar studio) we hang out, and make some music. The sessions there would be twelve hour blocks with most sessions stretching into the morning hours. It was fun, but after the fun of it all wore off, those long hang out and make music sessions turned into work - long hours of work.

As I would sit there, sometimes in the middle of a small amped-up studio party, I started thinking about how much work was actually getting done vs. how much hanging out we did. I noticed a pattern too: If the session starts at 12, clients arrive at 2 or 3, or later; then everybody wants to eat, so the food must be sorted out; then drink or weed must be sorted out for the drinkers and smokers - then its time to work. Oh and those damn girls. I've seen hours of session time wasted on getting girls to the studio, hanging out with the girls while they're in the studio, arguing and having issues with girls in or out of the studio and everything in-between. In defense of the ladies, I've also witnessed plenty of creativity and inspiration generated from their presence in the studio. So, hey, more power to the ladies!

After years of observing different artist's work habits, learning my own work habits, and sitting in an empty studio waiting for clients to show up, I put together my "Theory of Studio Productivity" or TSP. Yeah, I had a lot of time on my hands! The TSP is my very, very scientific observation of how much actual work will be done within the designated session time. I figured that for a 12 hour session there would be approximately 6-7 hours of actual work. I also figured that most people had about 3-4 hours of true creativity in them before it fades. I specified true creativity, as opposed to forced creativity. I've seen many artists work for hours past their creative peak only to end up scraping what they did the next day. Very rarely do I see singers that can sing well for more than about 3-4 hours. Producers and writers have a similar fate with about 4-5 hours of inspiration. So, to break the TSP down even further, in a 12 hour session there is 6-7 hours or actual work, then hopefully 3-4 hours of true creativity.

The TSP taught me something. I discovered that having 5 hour sessions are a great way to achieve more productive studio time. With a 5 hour session, people are rarely late as there is little time to waste. Artists plan to eat before or after the session (preferably after) and they are generally more focused simply because there is little room for error. The 5 hour time frame works well with the 3-4 hours of creativity theory, and there is still a some time to goof off. If there is a lot of work to do, having two sessions in the same day and a break in-between works well and keeps everybody fresh.

Essentially, its all part of the process. Creativity and inspiration is a fickle thing. Inspiration is like a sunset, its beautiful for a while but its always moving and will be gone before you know it - then everything's dark. Those hot melodies, beats and lyrics have a small window of time before they ain't hot anymore. They eventually move from hot to warm, then to cold. Working when the inspiration is at its peak is the best way to go. Since discovering the TSP I have shorter, more concentrated sessions that bring fruitful results. And after the work is done, I can hang out till I pass out.  


Monday, May 13, 2013

Song Analysis of "Thrift Shop" by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis feat. Wanz

Thrift Shop has to be the most unlikely hit of the year. Who would have thought that a song about buying hand-me-downs would make it to number one on the Hot 100. I could see it as an indie favorite, sort of an underground hipster hit, but number one in the country? Didn't see that coming. Apparently, neither did Seattle based rapper Macklemore. It's been said that they picked that song as the first single because they "didn't really have a single." Thrift Shop is sort of an anomaly in a genre filled with materialistic boasts and rappers that create entire songs and albums based on how much money they spend. Here is a song where the rapper boast about how much money he saved! And it goes to the number one spot in the country, not to mention number one in the UK, Canada, France, Denmark and other countries around the world. One interesting fact is that Thrift Shop is the first song to top the charts from a Seattle rapper since Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Baby Got Back."


At first listen, I figured "Thrift Shop" to be a simple track centered around a catchy sax sample. After more detailed listens, in the studio and in headphones, my initial assumption is only partly true. It is centered around a sax sample, but simple it is not. The sax riff is super catchy no doubt, but the devil is in the details. Ryan Lewis's energetic production never stands still or gets complacent. As infectious as that sax loop is, after a minute or so it could easily get boring. To keep things interesting, Lewis changes the drum pattern constantly - every 4 bars or so. This causes the song to stay fresh after multiple listens and it never gets boring. The hook also breaks up any chance of tedium. Synths enter the song and gives the listener some melody to savor, while Waze sings about "Poppin tags with only twenty dollars." The synths are a welcome addition, giving the track a definite and fresh "today" sound. Sound efx are skillfully used, but not overdone. There are plenty of sweeps, scratches and whooshes, all in the right places; they don't stand out and they're not supposed to. The sound efx are functional as they bring in the hooks and verses while keeping the track colorful and eventful. Fans of HBO's "The Wire" (best show ever!) will recognize "shiiiieeet" when it is sampled on the second verse. Ryan earned his money with Thrift Shop's production, you can hear the time he spent getting it right.


For the most part, "Thrift Shop" does not have a normal radio pop record structure. It begins with a kid asking Macklemore to go thrift shopping, followed by 8 bars of a simple beat and someone saying "wha wha wha what." I've never actually heard this intro on the radio and when I first played it I thought I downloaded the wrong song! After the song starts proper with the sax loop and drums, we hear Wanz singing a teaser of the hook, then we enter the first verse. One thing that's interesting to me about the beginning of the first verse is that Macklemore's vocals are pretty laid back. He doesn't get fully into it till after he says "it was only 99 cents." After that, he's full throttle, showing off his skills with a rapid fire cadence. I can't help but think how some other rapper would have started the verse with that rapid fire style, and burned out by the end. The first verse is a long 24 bars, something we don't hear on pop radio very often. It even has a 2 bar break in the middle when he talks about his Mink smelling like "R. Kelly sheets." You gotta love indie artists. They don't care about traditional structure, and while it is harder to make a hit record that doesn't follow pop radio rules, when it happens it's great to hear.

In the hook we get 8 bars of Wanz's old soul baritone which contrasts the contemporary production he's singing on. It's like Ryan called his older, blues singer uncle that was sleeping on his couch to sing the hook for them! It's funny when you think about it, and totally left of what were used to hearing on a hip hop record. Of course, it works famously, and we'll probably hear Wanz on more hooks in the coming years.

The second verse is also a little unorthodox coming in at 22 bars, not counting the 4 bar post verse or pre hook section when he says "you hella won't." We also hear the kid again on this section, adding to the songs playful vibe. Macklemore's flow on the second verse is ever changing, keeping in step with Ryan's varied drum programming. He stays on topic and keeps things bouncy and fun till the hook comes back in.

After the hook, we are treated to an 8 bar bridge with Wanz telling us how he looks incredible "in yo granddads clothes." Great stuff. Structure wise, this is the most normal section of the song. It's 8 bars with familiar synth chords and Wanz's memorable, stay-in-your-brain melody. The song ends a few seconds later with the kid asking Macklemore if that's "his grandmas coat." Cha-ching! Money in the bank.

Thrift Shop is a what they call a smash and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis did it their way - the indie way. They followed their own rules while giving the listener plenty of infectious and commercial elements to keep the song engaging.


The mix on "Thrift Shop" is a fairly straight forward affair. Highlighting one of the most important rules of mixing: Don't muck it up. "Thrift Shop" is one of those songs that would be a hit even with a basic mix. There are no tricks here, no fancy delays, and no intricate effects to divert your attention. The production and vocals do it all the work. All the elements in the song are presented well with clarity and definition. The vocals are dry (no reverb) and sit in the mix nicely. The 808s come through loud and clear. Don't get me wrong, the don't muck it up rule isn't easy to pull off. Over time, we mix engineers amass an extensive bag of tricks that we are always itching to use. When a song comes across our desk where we don't need to use them, it's hard to restrain and just make it sound clean and good. Usually, we want to flex our skills, but sometimes leaving the tricks in the bag is what's necessary. The Thrift Shop mix is a good lesson in what not to do.


I think because Macklemore had been a successful indie artist for so long, he, in part, didn't care so much about radio. Well, not as much as the average artist on some major label. Thrift Shop is a risky bet that worked. Macklemore being an indie artist makes the success of Thrift Shop that much more significant. Think about it: a relatively unknown indie rap artist self releases a single with no major label assistance, no well known guest feature, no major artist affiliation, and makes it to number one in the country. Not. Normal. Many, many have tried, and more will continue to try, but Macklemore pulled it off. I would love to talk to the people behind the scenes to find out how they made it happen. Surely, that amazing video had a lot to do with it. So all you indie artists out there - go make an amazing, crazy, eye-catching, funny, weird, well produced video for your next hit. Do it! That's the magic trick, other than of course, making a great record - that's magic trick number one.


Thrift Shop vitals: 
Released on August 28, 2012
Tempo: 95bpm
Key: A flat minor
Number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 6 consecutive weeks.
6 million copies sold
Over 300 million views on YouTube

Thursday, February 7, 2013

My 2013 Grammys Predictions

Its that time of year again. The Grammys! We all know that winning a Grammy is the top honor. An American Music Award or Billboard award is cool, but every artist wants to get their hands on a Grammy. Although I've mixed plenty of country and rock records through, I won't profess to know enough about the artists in those genres to make a sound decision on who should win a Grammy. I'll stick to the categories and genres I'm most familiar with. I will discuss the three main Grammy awards and a select few of the Pop, R&B and HipHop categories. Here are my picks on who should win, and hopefully my "should wins" will match the "will wins". We'll find out on February 10th!

Album Of The Year - "El Camino," The Black Keys; "Some Nights," fun.; "Babel," Mumford & Sons; "channel ORANGE," Frank Ocean; "Blunderbuss," Jack White.

Okay, this seems like an obvious choice. Frank Ocean's Channel Orange was an amazing accomplishment. Not only was it a great album with high minded music production, songwriting, and immaculate vocals by Ocean. It was an achievement because it is technically an R&B album and R&B is a genre that has been pretty stagnant for a while now. Chris Brown, Trey Songs, and every male artist that does R&B are seemingly confined to variations on the single topic of sex, with very few exceptions. How many songs do we have to hear about sexual prowess? How many ways can you sing "I'm gonna f**k you real good?" Apparently, this sentiment can be expressed a myriad of ways. Recently, we heard Trey Songs express it in "Dive In" (no, not into a pool) and Chris Brown with "Wet The Bed" (yeah, he said it). Female R&B artists have a better range of song topics but musically the ladies haven't made any Grammy worthy albums lately. Enter Frank Ocean. He made an R&B album that breaks all of the contemporary R&B rules. No sexual prowess records here. Channel Orange contains songs about everything from rich kids running a muck, to love, drugs, sexuality, and everything in between. The other nominees in this category had a easier path to making a great album. There is more artistic freedom in just about every other genre except R&B. To get an Album Of The Year nomination as an R&B artist, you have to make an album that transcends R&B. The album has to be a seriously amazing body of work, far beyond just a great R&B album. Ocean definitely did that. The proof is that Channel Orange isn't even up for the Best R&B album award - it's bigger than R&B. He should win and he will win, fingers crossed.

My pick - Frank Ocean, Channel Orange

Record Of The Year - "Lonely Boy," The Black Keys; "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)," Kelly Clarkson; "We Are Young," fun. featuring Janelle Monae; "Somebody That I Used to Know," Gotye featuring Kimbra; "Thinkin' Bout You," Frank Ocean; "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," Taylor Swift.

People often get confused between this award and the Song Of The Year award. Record Of The Year is for the performer and production team involved in the record - the artist, producer, and engineers but not the songwriter. Song Of The Year is the song writers award that goes to the writers and composers of the song.

This one's a little trickier than Album Of The Year. While I think that Channel Orange is the front runner for the Album award, I don't think that "Thinkin Bout You" is the Record Of The Year. Like Ocean himself said on "Sweet Life" - The best song wasn't the single. Of all the nominees, I'm leaning more towards "We Are Young" and "Somebody That I used To Know". Both of those are great records that are certainly not the norm and took some musical chances. What chances you say? Well..We Are Young has that piano and percussion intro that's at a totally different tempo and vibe than the rest of the song, then it switches up to that big, sing-along anthem of a hook. You don't hear tempo and vibe changes in pop music often, if ever. Pop is all about repetition - you can't change the groove! That hook is so catchy that even if you don't like the song you're gonna give in to it eventually. I actually think that makes it a better candidate for the Song Of the Year award.

Somebody That I Used To Know is also an unlikely pop hit. It's interesting to note that the pop/radio version of this song is quite different than the original album version. The radio version is a remix by some dude named DJ Mike D. He contributed some radio friendly drum programming and production elements to the song, making it less alternative and more pop oriented. The original version is low key, organic and quirky affair. Mike D's remix transformed it from a great but indie alternative record to a great pop radio record. Either way, it was a freakin' smash.

My pick - Somebody That I Used To Know by Gotye

Song Of The Year (songwriters): "The A Team," Ed Sheeran; "Adorn," Miguel Pimentel; "Call Me Maybe," Carly Rae Jepsen, Tavish Crowe and Josh Ramsay; "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)," Jorgen Elofsson, David Gamson, Greg Kurstin and Ali Tamposi; "We Are Young," Jack Antonoff, Jeff Bhasker, Andrew Dost and Nate Ruess.

Although Call Me Maybe WAS everywhere, I don't think that the Grammy folks care about that kinda stuff. I don't think.. Call Me Maybe was an extremely successful and well put together song in its own right, even if it was a little too poppy for my taste. It could win, it might win. To me, the other songs in this category are good but We Are Young and Call Me Maybe are the front runners here. From a songwriting point of view, Call Me Maybe is great because anybody could have sang it, anybody and everybody did sing it on YouTube. This is one of those cases where the song is bigger than the artist.

I'd love to see Miguel win for "Adorn" but I don't think it will happen. Unfortunately, Call Me Maybe and We Are Young were just bigger records. Ed Sheeran's "The A Team" is a classic acoustic guitar, singer songwriter record. It's fine, but Song Of The Year? I dunno. Kelly Clarkson's Stronger is a generic pop record to me. Her vocals are great on it and I think she has a better chance at winning the Pop Solo Performance award with this song.

This is a tough one. As infectious as Call Me Maybe is, I think that We Are Young was a more difficult record to pull off and Fun deserves some recognition for taking those musical chances.

My Pick - We Are Young by Fun.

Best New Artist - Alabama Shakes; fun.; Hunter Hayes; The Lumineers; Frank Ocean.

This is a fairly obvious choice - Frank Ocean. However, Fun is a close second and could win. The others... Good luck.

Best Pop Solo Performance - "Set Fire to the Rain (Live)," Adele; "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)," Kelly Clarkson; "Call Me Maybe," Carly Rae Jepsen; "Wide Awake," Katy Perry; "Where Have You Been," Rihanna.

This category is a tough race. Just about all of the artists here gave excellent vocal performances on their respective songs. Carly Rae Jepsen had the benefit of singing on a supremely catchy song so I can't say that her vocal performance is on par with Adele or Kelly Clarkson's. Her vocal didn't carry the song, the song carried her vocal. Rihanna's performance on Where Have You Been is really good, maybe her best so far. She's come a long way, remember S.O.S? Katy Perry also turned in a good vocal but I think Adele is probably the safe choice here.

My Pick - Set Fire to the Rain by Adele

Best R&B Performance - "Thank You," Estelle; "Gonna Be Alright (F.T.B.)," Robert Glasper feat. Ledisi; "I Want You," Luke James; "Adorn," Miguel; "Climax," Usher.

Man.. That Ledisi can sing her ass off, no question about that. She put it down on Robert Glasper's "Gonna Be Alright". I do like Estelle, but I don't think Thank You should win. I Want You by Luke James has some good vocals on it too - but, nah... That leaves us with Adorn by Miguel and Climax by Usher. I'm a big fan of "Climax" and being that it isn't up for any other awards, Usher's song with the sexy title that's actually not about sex should win.

My Pick - Climax by Usher

Best R&B Song - "Adorn," Miguel; "Beautiful Surprise," Tamia; "Heart Attack," Trey Songz; "Pray for Me," Anthony Hamilton; "Refill," Elle Varner.

This one is easy and needs no explanation. Adorn is by far the best R&B song this year.

My Pick - Adorn by Miguel

Best R&B Album - "Black Radio," Robert Glasper Experiment; "Back to Love," Anthony Hamilton; "Write Me Back," R. Kelly; "Beautiful Surprise," Tamia; "Open Invitation," Tyrese.

My Pick - Black Radio by Robert Glasper

Best Rap Song - "Daughters," Nas; "Lotus Flower Bomb," Wale featuring Miguel; "Mercy," Kanye West's G.o.o.d. Music Compilation; "The Motto," Drake featuring Lil Wayne; "Ni**as in Paris," Jay-Z & Kanye West; "Young, Wild & Free," Wiz Khalifa & Snoop Dogg featuring Bruno Mars.

First of all, I can not believe "Young Wild & Free" is up for a Grammy. That song is nowhere near Grammy worthy in my opinion. I like Snoop and Wiz but this song? Nah man, just.. no. Okay, now that we got the wackness out of the way, lets get down to it. I'll so some deductive reasoning here. I think "Lotus Flower Bomb" is dope but it should be in the Best Rap/Sung category. I was a fan of the Nas's "Daughters" but I think the record is out gunned in this category. While "The Motto" got plenty of airplay, its just not that dope of a record to me. Drake and Wayne are cool but the production value is just not up to par - not for the Grammys. We're now left with "Ni**as In Paris" and "Mercy". FYI, these same two records are also up for Best Rap Performance. I'm definitely a fan of Mercy, but "Ni**as" will take this one. It's gonna be interesting to see how they announce it... and the Grammy goes to... Brothas in Paris? Fellas in Paris? N-Word in Paris?? We'll see.

My Pick - Niggas in Paris by Jay-Z and Kanye

Best Rap Performance - "Daughters," Nas; "Ni**as in Paris," Jay-Z & Kanye West; "HYFR (Hell Ya F***ing Right)" Drake featuring Lil Wayne; "Mercy," Kanye West's G.o.o.d. Music Compilation; "I Do," Young Jeezy featuring Andre 3000.

This is an easy one, we'll get to hear them fumble over the "N" word one more time.

My Pick - Niggas in Paris by Jay-Z and Kanye

Best Rap Album - "Take Care," Drake; "Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album, Pt. 1," Lupe Fiasco; "Life Is Good," Nas; "Undun," The Roots; "God Forgives, I Don't," Rick Ross; "Based on a T.R.U. Story," 2 Chainz.

We all know that Kendrick Lamar's Good Kid, Mad City is the best rap album. I looks like it was released after the Grammy cut off time so it's not included this year. Next year he'll win it all I'm sure. We do have some good hiphop nominated this year though. However, the 2 Chainz nomination was... curious. Because of that, I made sure to give his album a thorough and objective listen as I wanted to be pleasantly surprised. I wanted to listen to it and think, "damn this 2 Chainz album is not at all what I thought it would be". Well.. That didn't happen. My takeaway from "Based On A T.R.U. Story" is that 2 Chainz is obsessed with strippers. Seriously, homeboy makes some sort of reference to a stripper on damn near every song. Also, the production on the album is largely the same drum sounds and programming. When will we move on from them damn 808 snare fills? I'm burnt out on that tat-tat-tat, tat-tat-tat. Come on y'all.

The Root's "Undun" album is pretty good and probably the most technically sound record in this category. Questlove and company pay close attention to their sound and engineering; they're mixes are always on point. Drake's "Take Care" is good, but I liked the "Thank Me Later" album a little better than this one, same with the Rick Ross album. His previous release "Teflon Don" was better to me. Lupe Fiasco's "Food & Liquor II" is a good album from the always militant, complex lyricist. I think Nas's "Life is Good" is gonna take the Grammy on this one. Nas put together a near perfect album with diverse production, emotional weight, and his lyrical ability was in top form.

My Pick - Nas - Life is Good

There's more categories and more nominations but I don't want this post to be long and boring like the Grammys can be!

Congrats to all the nominees.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

My Top Ten Songs of 2012

18 Dec 2012

Ok folks. Here are my top 10 Songs of 2012, in no particular order. These songs caught my ear and moved me in some way this year, either by having my head noddin’, appreciating a well-crafted song, or inspiring me to go to the lab and make something crazy. So.. Here we go.

1. Climax - Usher. Diplo’s high production value meets Usher’s immaculate vocals. This song is full of contradictions. It’s called “Climax” but it’s not about sex, and it has a song structure that is reversed with the verses building up to a hook that is small, intimate, and anti-climactic. I'm a big fan of this song; it’s given me a lot of ideas and inspiration this year. It even inspired me to write a song analysis about it on my blog.

2. Sweet Life - Frank Ocean. I played this song so many times this year; I had to make myself stop playing it so I wouldn’t burn it out. I was always amazed that Ocean was able to make a record that is free from the music industry pressure to be commercial. His entire album is what creative freedom sounds like, in a genre that is musically boxed in. You can tell that he was not thinking about making a “radio” record and getting 2 Chains or somebody on a song. Sweet Life is simply good vibes, just press play and enjoy the freedom.

3. Loco-Motive - Nas. Good ol’ Nassir doing what he does best - spittin’ intricate, well put together rhymes over a gritty beat. Love it. This record makes me feel like I’m on the subway in New York wearing a bomber jacket, a beanie, baggy jeans, Timbs, while smoking a Black & Mild and calling everybody “son”.

4. Clique - Big Sean, Jay-Z, Kanye. The beat is ridiculous, just ridiculous. Everybody’s verses are on point, and Big Sean’s is my favorite. That beat though... sheesh. It starts out kind of unassuming but quickly gets real. Besides, any song that says “blame it on the pigment we living no limits” is gonna work for me on general principal.

5. Super Rich Kids - Frank Ocean. Maybe it’s because the piano in this song reminds me of Benny and The Jets, maybe it’s because the featured rapper’s name is Earl Sweatshirt (wha?), or maybe it’s that amazing melody Ocean did on the verses, whatever it is, this song works for me in a big way. It slowly and deliberately marches its way through 5 minutes and 5 seconds while Ocean gives us a slice of life from a super-rich kid’s perspective.

6. Disparate Youth - Santigold. I’ll admit I’m a little late to the Santigold party. I just really got hip to her this year. For all I know, this song may have been out last year or even the year before. No matter. I love that insistent repetitive guitar part in this song; it really makes you listen to it, almost upstaging her vocals. Disparate Youth a fairly simple and straightforward record but damn I wish I made it.

7. Cherish The Day - Robert Glasper feat. Lalah Hathaway. Lalah’s vocals have always been otherworldly, and Sade’s Cherish the Day has always been a favorite of mine. I knew I would like this record even before I heard it. Robert Glasper keeps the vibe jazzy and the space in the melodies on ‘Cherish’ gives Lalah room to breathe. Give somebody like her room to breathe and interesting things happen. She goes to unexpected places melodically, which to me is what makes this a great remake.

8. Work Hard, Play Hard - Wiz Khalifa. Just the other day I was playing this song in my car, noddin’ my head to that beat like a madman. While at the light, I glanced to my right to find a guy looking at me in horror. I gave him the peace sign and kept it moving. I couldn’t help myself. This song has to be played as loud as possible and don’t worry about how many times Wiz says nigga on the verse – it’s necessary. What else could he say over that ill azz beat? Those verses are brilliantly evil, and then it gets nice and melodic on the hook. Well done, Wiz.

9. Titanium - David Guetta feat. Sia. Yep, Titanium. It’s a super pop dance record. David Guetta is one of the best at this genre and his skills are evident here as this is a very well-crafted pop record. Truth be told, I don’t know who the singer is and don’t care. This song is dope to me. I love how it builds. It starts out low key with intimate vocals and muted guitars but by the time the hook comes in, it sounds like she is shouting “I Am Titanium” from the top of a mountain. Just go with it.

10. Trending - The Time. Nostalgia is a powerful feeling. I can understand someone that did not grow up in the 80’s seeing this song on the list and thinking, The Time? Who are these dudes?! When I heard they were doing a new album I prepared my ears to hear some dated wackness, and there is some of that on the album, haha. Trending however, works. It captures the essence of The Time and has some elements that work for today. These guys made a song that is simultaneously new and old sounding. It’s hard to combine those two elements, which is probably why this is the only song on the album that successfully does it. This song is cool to listen to, and the bridge with that Monte Moir solo is classic Time.

Honorable Mention - Miguel - Kaleidoscope Dream. I really like this album. Some songs have a bit of an early Prince feel to them. The single Adorn is doing well and up for a Grammy, which is great. It didn’t have one song that made me want to include it on this list as I usually played this album as a whole and vibed to all of the songs. If I were doing a best album list, Kaleidoscope Dream would definitely be included.

Honorable Mention - Gangnam Style - Psy. Do I own this song? No. Is it starred on my Spotify? Naw. But every time it comes on the radio, I don’t turn the station. This is one of those records you like but you tell people you don’t, because you don’t want to look corny. Well, at risk of looking corny, I like this record. Here’s why - It’s a Korean pop dance record made by a 34 year old Korean dude that produced it himself, has only three words in English “hey sexy lady”, has a corny dance that is entertaining to watch, and a video you have to see to believe. Yeah, it’s on the edge of wackness, but it works - that’s probably why it works. This song is like the dude that comes to the party in a bright purple suit and although he looks like a damn fool, he is the life of the party. The odds of a song like this being a hit are like 247,000,000 to 1 or something like that. I gotta give Psy props for pulling that off. He put together a major hit record and nobody (except Koreans) knows what the hell he’s saying or what the song is about. You can love it or hate it, but you gotta respect it.

Sunday, December 16, 2012


Ahh its so nice to be a producer or engineer these days. Just buy a computer, a DAW like ProTools or Logic Pro and a keyboard and you’re good to go. You don’t even need to buy monitors really, headphones will do. At risk of dating myself, this blog is about how today's producer/engineers have it easy. No judgment on talent, skill and all that, just a quick reminder on how things used to be. A walk through the past, or better yet, a peek into a parallel universe where computers have not taken over. Making music was fun back then, just as it is now.. But you had to really, really, really have a burning desire to be a producer or engineer because it was expensive and frustrating. Anybody that has been in this business for 15 years or so will know exactly what I’m talking about here. For those of you that are new to the game, read on to see all the fun (not) you missed.

Here are five things that today's producers and engineers had the good fortune of missing.

Expensive Equipment

So.. you wanna be a producer huh.. How much money you got?

My first keyboard was $1200. It had maybe 128 sounds, and a 8 track sequencer. It didn’t really have any drum sounds so I had to buy a drum machine that was an additional five or six hundred dollars. So thats about $1800 so far and I still could not record any vocals, or any live instruments. I also did not have any effects, compression, eq, a mixer, or even something to record everything to like a DAT machine. All of those things had to be purchased separately, and none of those items were cheap. Back then, you really had to pay to play.

No Undu

Yes, there was a time when there was no safety net. If you made a mistake you paid for it. - with time. Lots of time. Miss a punch in? Gotta re-sing it. Record over that special take? Gotta re-record it and hope its still special. There was no other way around it. Oh and by the way there wasn’t any autopunch, you just had to get it right. Period. If not, well.. Good luck.


Yes, ADATs are those machines that used a fancy VHS tape and could record 8 tracks. Need more tracks? Buy another machine for $1000 or so. Three ADAT machines got you 24 tracks.. Nice! So that means you had to buy three of those fancy VHS tapes to record those 24 tracks. Okay.. But wait, how did it work? Those three machines had to sync up together using a BRC - Big Remote Control (I didn’t make that up). If you couldn’t afford the $1000 BRC because you were broke from spending about $3000 on those three ADAT machines, you could use the included LRC (yep, little remote control). Told you it was more expensive back in the day. I didn't even talk about the 24 channel mixer you had to buy to plug all those tracks into. Or the monitors, or the amps, and then the outboard gear - remember there were no plug-ins. At that time you really had to plug-in to that reverb or compressor, with cables that you had to buy. Wait, back to the ADATs.. I should mention that they were a piece of shit! They would break down regularly, didn’t sound very good, and took a lifetime to sync up. Don't even try to sync up 6 machines to get 48 tracks! Just rewinding (yes rewinding) to the beginning of the song was a chore. All those machines had to “return to zero”, be ready to play and hopefully sync up by the time the song started. Better add 30 seconds of pre-roll to be sure. (Ever heard of pre-roll? Google it.) Pre-roll was your friend. Yeah, ADATs were the worst!! The worst!! Just ask anybody that worked with them back in the day and they will have a story to tell. We all used them because they were the cheapest way to get that coveted 24 tracks. A 2-inch 24 track machine at that time was like $80,000 or more. Okay maybe you could get a deal at like $40-$50 thousand. For a little perspective, you could buy house in Los Angeles for $80,000 back then. Those ADATs sound better now right?

Limited Track Counts

When I first started out making music, I was using a 4-track recorder. Later, I graduated to a 8-Track! Nice right? When I had the blessed opportunity to produce a song a real studio, I had the benefit of using the 24 track recorder. It was luxurious, but I soon discovered that conserving tracks was a full time job. Those days, you might have three different things on one track - a string part on the bridge, a vocal on the verse and maybe a guitar part. That makes mixing fun huh? Yeah... Sure, we could sync two of those Studer tape machines together and get 48 tracks but that costed more. A lot more. That meant I had to buy two 2 inch tapes at around $175 each! And these tapes were only 16 minutes long so I could record three to four songs. 48 tracks was a luxury. Only rich people and record labels would record on 48 eight tracks. Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones had 48 tracks.


I remember when I got my first DAW and was able to use automation in my studio, it was a glorious moment. Up to then, I was mixing everything on the fly. Riding vocals and adjusting effects as I was recording to a CD. So if I missed an important vocal ride at the end of the song I had to re-record the entire mix. Not fun. Especially when I was recording to CDR’s that were $5 a piece. Every mistake would literally cost me 5 dollars. Automation was an upgrade, like rims on your car. Even if you went to a professional recording studio not everyone had automation, and most of them didn’t have moving faders automation. SSL mixers like the G series and E series didn’t have it. They had automation but the faders didn’t move, you had to look on a screen that showed the faders as a green bar that would move up and down to illustrate the automation. The Neve boards had what they called “flying faders” automation and it was state of the art back then, and super expensive - like millions of dollars expensive.

We got it good!

I remember when Pro Tools and computer recording was first taking over. People would either take the analog purist side or the computer recording side. Honestly, I was one of those analog purist dudes. I was not a big computer recording fan, especially for creating music. I held onto my MPC2000 for as long as I could. Needless to say, it’s somewhere in the corner now looking lonely. I wonder if it still works?.. Probably does. When I first discovered that you could buy a hard drive and record hundreds of songs on it or buy a 2 inch reel for $175 and record 3 or 4 songs on it, I knew analog was dead. You can’t argue with cost effectiveness. When I saw that you could easily edit songs and have perfect recall of a mix, I gave in.

I can go on and on, there are so many things that we had to endure back in the day. Its great to be a producer/engineer now. Especially if you know the way things were. Yeah.. We got it good!