Maybe I've been hiding under a rock for too long, or maybe it's because I'm a keyboard player who's never had a strong desire to play Beatles covers. Either way, I had never heard of what I now realise is often described as the most mysterious chord in music - the opening chord in the Beatles' "Hard Days Night".
The first chord of this song is renowned for its difficulty to be replicated. Earlier this week though it has been claimed that a British mathematician has solved the mystery
and figured out the notes actually being played at the start of the track.
Though a little further digging on YouTube indicates that he may not have been the first... check out the video below. What do you think?
I recently posted the article "Auto-Tune: So Right, It's Wrong
", a summary of points I found especially quotable from this article on the topic of Auto-Tune
. As is often the case, some of the most interesting and valuable feedback I received to the article was posted in LinkedIn groups, not readily accessible or directly attributable to the article. As an addition to my original post, following are some of the comments received on other sites - hope you take interest as much as I did, and thanks to all contributors. -
- -I had a phone call from the late Terry Howard just after he sent me a copy of Genius Loves Company. I was blown away by the Gladys Knight Vocals !!!I also felt on THAT Particular Track that Ray's Vocal sounded anemic and distant. Turns out they were the same Exact Mic (Name withheld to prevent spam issues).What's going on? I asked. They'd Pitch Corrected Ray's Vocal!!My takeaway - if the TUNE is Perfect and the TONE Sucks, what use is it? (So people can vote for the best dancer on American Idol without distraction?)I'm for Tools if Properly Used. If the end result is sonically better, great. If the end result has more artifacts and sonic-density issues, not so great... - Lawrence Villella-
- -Yes, but try turning an untuned vocal to the Disney Channel for one of their pop songs and see how far you get. As much as it hurts to say it, it's part of the style. Also, there could be other factors at play. Maybe Ray just wasn't in good voice that day. Tuning him wouldn't be my first choice, but sometimes there isn't another. Wasn't that record released after his passing? - Steve Shepherd -
- -In the old daze they just substituted a session singer for the Disney "star." It was and still is all about extra income for TV stars. This shouldn't be confused with actual musical artists.Way too many musician-producers get carried away with tuning and completely screw up the timing and believability of vocals. The test is to sing along with the vocal and feel what it does to your breath.As an Ex-Motown engineer, I can't believe how many songs today choke you up instead of liberating your soul while you sing along with them. This is simple physiology and not fashion. It's just another reason people aren't interested in buying records. The idea of a record is to play it over and over singing and moving to it. Why would you buy a recording you only wanted to listen to passively a few times or use as a "hip" background ambiance? - Bob Olhsson-
- -I agree that Auto-Tune and Melodyne suck the life out of a performance most of the time it is used. However, there are engineers that understand how music "breathes" and don't put Auto-Tune on the whole track - they only correct individual words or syllables that can't be replaced by editing from another take. Used this way, Auto-Tune is no worse or lifeless than EQ or compression, and you may only end up using it for two or three words per song.I agree that a "professional" singer should be able to sing every single lyric to a song correctly, but sometimes time runs out in a session, and you can't do those last punch-ins you need. Isn't it more pleasant to just fix the few offensive words?If used very sparingly, Auto-Tune style plug-ins can be an irreplaceable tool that can improve a comped vocal take's listenability without compromising a natural tone. I know there other engineers using it in this minimalistic way, but I admit they are probably a small minority.Now could someone explain to me the correlation between Auto-Tune and seismic data analysis software? It is fascinating that Auto-Tune was born from something so different. - Tony Porter-
- -You are 100% correct in your assessment. However, until the majority of engineer/producers realize that, they are just going to insert the plugin and continue on their merry way. The other problem is the one Steve Shepherd mentioned; try submitting a pop song that hasn't been autotuned to Disney or any label for that matter and see how far that gets you. Unfortunately these "musical geniuses" expect to hear that effect in todays music. - Philip Chiore
The Music Machine
Around a month ago I wrote an article titled "The Unknowns of the Top 40 Charts - Producers and Front-Liners
The post contained a summary of some less-commonly-known realities of pop music composition.
After some discussion, I ended the article with the comment "When the power to the machines is switched off, all the samples and pre-programmed loops are lost and all you have is your talent, what do you bring to the table?".
The response to this question was fast-received and overwhelming, including the rather comical to-and-fro which appears in the comments directly beneath my blog.
However some of the most interesting feedback I received was through other forums, namely various LinkedIn groups which are not publicly accessible. I wanted to share these as a follow-on to my original article. I hope you enjoy as I did...
- "Here in Nashville, it's all about the words almost to the point of negating the musical content." - Randy Gabbard
- "I'd rather see more musicians who are taking the risk of NOT using the template get in front of the same demographics of those who do. One of my fondest memories, in response to your last comment, Paul, was a time when the power went out at a Chicago venue I was playing. I stepped off the stage, walked into the middle of the crowd, and performed there instead. When the power came back on, the stage manager turned the lights back off. The machine, literally or figuratively, can bring out the best and the worst...and sometimes make you write too much." - Kevin Mileski
- "Had a great night once at a rock club in central Illinois. The power went out so the lead singer and I (on acoustic guitar) sat on the front edge of the stage and played to the crowd that gathered and sat down on the dance floor. Our soundman used a flashlight to "spotlight" us." - Bud Summers
- "In spite of all that is going on in Top 40 today, I believe that this phase shall pass and we will enter a period in the music business where talent and the ability to connect with an audience will be the defining characteristics of popular and successful artists. Adele certainly demonstrated this." - Tom Netzel
- "I think the pop charts have always been this way - a light sprinkling of genuinely creative artists with their own material interspersed amongst the plethora of manufactured pop stars. The latter often have their music carefully crafted for them by a relatively small group of talented composers and songwriters. Thee factory-line approach can produce music that is a little too similar at times, but that is sort of the point - creating or maybe sometimes just following current trends and cashing in. It can still create some seriously classic, memorable pop songs though and shouldn't necessarily be dismissed as less worthy than the more independent acts...
- Motown and Atlantic in the 1960s produced some great stuff with a seriously conveyor belt approach at times. Stock Aitken and Waterman had a few classics amongst their instant throwaway pop as well...
- Speaking from personal experience - working to guidelines / a tight structure / a formula can often be quite motivating and an actual aid to creativity - gives the mind a specific focus. " - Mark Taylor
The Music Machine
I recently read this fantastic post from The New Yorker - "The Song Machine: The Hitmakers Behind Rihanna
It was an excellent read, albeit lengthy, so I want to share some of the main points I took away from it:
- Perhaps showing some ignorance for the hit machine approach to pop music, I had never heard of Tor Hermansen and Mikkel Eriksen, the team of Norwegian writer-producers known as Stargate. These guys have written the music behind some of the biggest tracks in recent pop / RnB including "Rude Boy" ("Come on, rude boy, boy, can you get it up / Come on, rude boy, boy, is you big enough?") and “S&M” (“Na-na-na-na-na come on”) from Rihanna, "Irreplaceable" from Beyoncé, and Katy Perry’s "Firework".
- Stargate are one of a relatively small number of highly successful hit maker producers, who write the backing tracks to many of today's Top 40 songs. However the vocal lines are generally composed by an almost exclusively female group of "top-liners".
- The top-liners listen to the music created by the producer and within a short amount of time come up with the main melody, lyrics and the general "catchiness" of the songs we end up hearing. The outcome of this is a demo track which is then shopped out to keen stars such as Beyoncé, Rihanna, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga.
- Importantly this helps explain why so much Top 40 and commercial radio music is so same-y, familiar, and to many (including me) - mundane. The music is not drawn from a planet full of inspiration but from a very small pool of highly efficient producers and top liners, a small pool of professionals who survive by churning hits out quickly.
- Because of this, sometimes the musical output on the charts can be too similar. In 2009, both Beyoncé and Kelly Clarkson had hits (Beyoncé’s "Halo" and Clarkson’s "Already Gone"). Both were created from the same track from producer Ryan Tedder. Clarkson wrote her own top line, and Beyoncé co-created hers with Evan Bogart. Tedder didn't mention to either artist that the other was working with his track, so both went to market and both were hits. Crazy.
- Successful top-liners include Makeba Riddick, Bonnie McKee, and Skylar Grey - none of whom are household names like the performers who make their work famous. However it is pointed out that creating the hit melody does not mean the top-liner wants (or deserves) the fame of the stars we know - after all, the Rihannas of the world are the ones everyone looks at when they walk into the room, dealing with manic publicity and touring, and needing to produce live what people come to expect from a highly polished studio album.
I enjoyed reading at the end of the article the reality check felt by these hit-making producers, especially in the wake of the monstrous success of Adele and her huge single "Someone Like You". The emotional lyrics and raw acoustic accompaniment in this track are nothing like the digital, arpeggiator-created, effect-laden music typical of the charts and these producers.
With an arsenal of studio equipment and production hours, it is still not possible to formulate a timeless "classic" that will really connect with people.
When the power to the machines is switched off, all the samples and pre-programmed loops are lost and all you have is your talent, what do you bring to the table?
15 year old Korean girl, Park Ji Min
, singing a cover of Adele's "Rolling In The Deep"
on the Korean talent show KPop Star.
This is a talented young singer who did a great cover of the track. However I have a simple question: Would we be as impressed by this performance if she was singing an original song?
Here in Australia I've seen this footage countless times this week and there are blogs all over the web mentioning the video. The media are certainly captivated by what she has done. But let's just be reminded that this is a very loyal performance of a song we have all heard before. Are we impressed by how like-sounding she is to Adele's original? Impressed by the young age? A combination of both?
I have written before of the way people listen to commercial radio and popular music
- as it is generally easy, non-challenging and most of all familiar.
A greater level of talent would be required to not just nail a vocal performance, but to have actually composed the song. Again, I'm not discrediting this girl's performance. I am simply lamenting my belief that if she did compose an original song and perform it to the same level of expertise, we would probably never hear of it.
The sad, beautiful truth is that so much of the world's great original music will never find its audience
This past week has seen countless mentions of the
In the past 24 hours I've stumbled across two sites in particular which have lead to this post. While I may lose several readers with this sentence, my intention is not to prescribe rules with which to make a hit song, but to question some music industry trends.
Yesterday I read the blog post "The Ten Second Rule: What is it and Why It’s Important!"
. In summary this article explains why a track needs to grab the listener in the first 10 seconds in order to be successful (generally). My first reaction was to disagree, but then I realised my disagreement was not with the rule itself but with the outcome of an adherence to it
. Anyone who has listened to my music would appreciate that the old adage of "don't bore us, get to the chorus" doesn't generally enter into my composition process! I don't approach music from a perspective of needing to grab attention and impact from the get-go.
However, I also appreciate that I am not composing with the express purpose of achieving commercial success - something The Ten Second Rule is clearly a catalyst for.
I agree with the suggestion that there must be near-instant appeal for music which is aiming to be played on commercial radio. The reality is that deviating too far from familiar territory will lead to the listener changing the station quickly. But I question the value of this rule in creating fresh, interesting and truly original music – rather than more of what’s been heard before.
The second site I've come across today is SoundOut
. As the website explains, SoundOut offers an online service to provide objective, reliable and rapid music insight. Artists are encouraged to upload a track via the site which is then reviewed by music fans (registered "scouts"). As detailed on the site:"Every track submitted to SoundOut is fed randomly and in real-time to 80 independent reviewers on our sister site, Slicethepie (or 200 reviewers for SoundOut Pro reports). They are asked to respond objectively with their rating and honest feedback. These reviews and ratings are then automatically analysed by semantic technologies and compared against over 50,000 other tracks that have already been processed through SoundOut to produce a detailed SoundOut report."
Among other things, one outcome an artist is said to be able to gain from the SoundOut report is "How good a track is overall, with guaranteed 95% accuracy".This service may be the absolute delight of artists looking for a way to receive constructive (?) feedback on their tracks. It's certainly an innovative tool. I must say though that I am wary of the outcomes of a largely automatic reporting tool determining "how good a track is overall".
For an artist with the sole objective of achieving commercial success with their music, this would seem like a god-send. Once you have the big success tick against one of your tracks you just need to figure out exactly what commercial success is - how to monetise the popularity of your track in a world gone crazy for free downloads and music piracy!
As a composer putting heart and feeling into creating music, this tool leaves me cold. But again, I acknowledge I am not SoundOut's target market. Why formulate and automate the art of creating music?"I am the entertainer, I come to do my show.You've heard my latest record, it's been on the radio.Ah, it took me years to write it, they were the best years of my life.It was a beautiful song. But it ran too long.If you're gonna have a hit, you gotta make it fitSo they cut it down to 3:05".- Billy Joel, "The Entertainer"