Archive for September, 2012

A Few Thoughts On The Passing Of Andy Williams

Andy Williams shuffled off the mortal coil yesterday at the age of 84. To many he was a dusty specimen, a relic from an ancient era. Others, of an earlier generation themselves perhaps, saw Williams as a second tier crooner, a pale imitation of the true luminaries- Frank, Nat, Tony- who laid the smack down and defined the times in which they lived.

But this native of tiny Wall Lake, Iowa was his own man, and the imprint he made on the entertainment industry was singular. The handsome possessor of a winning, ever at the ready smile, Andy Williams is best known for performances that expose the poignant side of the human experience; “Moon River” and the theme to “Days of Wine and Roses” come to mind (both from the pen of Hank Mancini) but others, including Johnny Mandel’s “Emily” (lyrics by the great Johnny Mercer) tickled the same spot.

Things could have gone differently. Williams only reached the top of the Billboard charts once: the utterly lame Elvis impression he committed to wax on a tune called “Butterfly,” somehow captured the public’s heart in 1957. From then on Andy Williams steered away from copping other singers and developed his own style, which he took for a long ride. There was a string of popular 45′s, including “Can’t Get Used To Losing You,” a #2 hit in 1962, and the many television variety programs and multiple Grammy Award shows he hosted throughout the 1970’s. At least 18 of his albums went Gold.

Sure, Andy Williams copped out late in life and opened the Moon River Theater in Branson, Missouri, but what the hell-he’d already had a great career.

Take it easy, Andy.

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Our Day Will Come

In late 1962 “Our Day Will Come,” a song written by Bob Hilliard and Mort Garson was released on Kapp Records. Its authors preferred an established lounge singer but agreed to let the unknown Ruby & The Romantics, a group based out of Akron, Ohio, take a shot on the condition that if the track failed to gain traction Kapp would recut it with the great… Jack Jones! The original version of “Our Day Will Come” reached #1 on Billboard Hot 100 chart in March 1963 and never made its way into Jack’s throat.

Bob Hilliard enjoyed success writing lyrics with a number of prominent pop composers, including Burt Bacharach and Jule Styne. His body of work includes “In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” immortalized by Frank Sinatra on his classic album of the same name, and “Any Day Now,” a song recorded by several artists. The most popular version of this Burt Bacharach melody was released by Ronnie Milsop, the country singer, in 1982.

Composer Mort Garson received early training at Juilliard. After serving in the Army in World War Two Garson quickly established himself as a go to composer, arranger, pianist and conductor for a bevy of mainstream singers, including Doris Day and Mel Tormé.

The early 60’s were a transition period in the history of popular music. The eruption that would come when The Beatles emerged from The Cavern Club was around the corner, but even before their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 writers and arrangers had looked to build on the formula that Elvis and others used so effectively. George Gershwin may have been the first American composer of popular music to imbed rhythms from outside the European culture into his work, but the trend had escalated by the late 1950’s and early 60’s. The forceful grooves of Rhythm and Blues- still known to many as “race music”- were placed on a symmetrical grid and served up to middle America by Elvis, Buddy Holly, Rick Nelson and a host of other entertainers.

This same formula would be used to great effect in the 60’s, when the many and varied clave rhythms found in Afro-Cuban music began showing up in simplified form on pop recordings, including “Our Day Will Come.” The spare and effective arrangement also features vibraphone, an acoustic guitar, and the Romantics themselves (George Lee and Ed Roberts, tenors, Ronald Mosley, baritone, Leroy Fann, bass) who gird Ruby Nash’s lead alto but wisely avoid climbing into its range.

But, ah that Hammond part! Has the sound of any instrument ever more effectively outlined and embellished a recording than the swirling cascade created by Roy Glover? Perhaps Donald Fagen was thinking of it when he laid down his own magnificent organ performance on “Walk Between The Raindrops,” the track that concludes “The Nightfly,” a masterpiece that in 1982 was Fagen’s fond look back at an earlier, simple time.

Over the years a number of artists have covered “Our Day Will Come,” including Amy Winehouse, who recorded it shorty before her death.

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Tracks That Go Boom!

When mixing certain kinds of percussion, kick drum or low tom, you can use this old trick to add some extra bottom end. I’m triggering my BOOM channel from dedicated LFE channels but you can do this from any audio source, mono, stereo or whatever.

1. For each channel you wish to add BOOM, make a mono aux channel, mute it and instantiate a signal generator on the first insert, and a gate on the second insert (I use a Waves C1 gate)

2. Set the Hz value of the generator to 40Hz (you can fine tune this later)

3. Set the gate open value to about -20 (see pic of Waves C1 gate below for reference)

4. On the audio track you’re triggering the BOOM from, create an aux send to any bus, raise the send fader to unity gain and make it pre-fader. This way, later on when you change your mix, the BOOM channel will still trigger consistently.

5. Set the key input of the gate on the BOOM channel to the same bus sent from the trigger channel

Now you’re ready to go! Play your audio track and fine tune the gate open value until the BOOM is happening just on the accents. If the gate causes clicking you can play with the attack and release to make it more musical.

I’m triggering from an LFE track which is all low end, but you can make any channel work by duplicating it, sending the trigger from the duplicate, and putting an extreme Low Pass filter on the track. This way you’re only getting the bottom end going out of the trigger channel. Ping me on Facebook and let me know if it’s working for you. Overusing this trick can muddy the bottom end of your mix but if you pick your tracks carefully, it can be a great way to bring out the bottom octave of a mix.

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This Month’s Term Paper, er, uhm, Column

I am cramming to get my Education-related column done in time for the October issue.

Teaching has been a remarkably rewarding experience, certainly it has given back more than I would ever have expected. After eight years, I’ve got a few scars but have mostly succeeded – not only in my mission to share what I know, but surprisingly, I have gained a deeper understanding of the science behind the art.

As professionals, we take for granted the skills we have learned over the years. From start of project to completion, we may not all take the same path or have the same technical skills, but the end result creates a sonic diversity that keeps things interesting.

That said, how to break years worth of information into digestible nuggets is no small task. After much planning followed by the classroom experience, it is then time to lick one’s wounds before going back to the drawing board, a rewrite and then into the Colosseum all over again!!!

Feeding The Lions

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A Shout Out To Leroy Anderson

Generations are born predisposed to dismiss their predecessors. Maybe that’s why organized religions emphasize the importance of respect for one’s elders-they don’t want to be forgotten! “The Miseducation Of Lauren Hill” caused quite a stir once upon a day, but ah, kids… do they listen to her today?

Back in the 1950’s and 60’s, when the pop universe was splitting up and being reassembled as a vehicle for the counter culture movement, a guy named Leroy Anderson was still very much in vogue.

Born in 1908, Anderson was a New Englander through and through. He studied at the New England Conservatory of Music and Harvard and began writing the light orchestral pieces that would define his style early in his career. Anderson’s work came to the attention of Arthur Fiedler, the conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra, who became a champion of the composer’s music.

Anderson’s first hit, “Blue Tango,” recorded in 1951, was the first instrumental to sell a million copies, but his most popular pieces are “The Syncopated Clock,” and “Sleigh Ride.” Listen to them! So witty… and happy! Echoes of Johanne Strauss II, the Waltz King, dot Anderson’s musical landscape, but his was American music to the core, with shards of jazz and the influence of the great song writers of his time, particularly Gershwin, on display. Could light music like this capture the public imagination today?

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Rust 3 Review

Rust 3
available as a download or on DVD; approximate weight: 3.5 GB
$89
www.soundiron.com

Let’s make this simple. Are you looking for interesting “found” samples that can be used in place of traditional drums to help you create unusual percussion tracks? Do you have $89? If you answered yes to both of these questions, stop reading, head over to soundiron.com, and purchase that company’s newest release, Rust 3.

The first two installments of Rust centered on drum like sounds as well; with 3 the goal was to present a series of big, bass-centric samples resplendent with overtones (which can be filtered out). The results are stunning. But be careful- it’s easy to fall into a trap and rely on the sonic depth of these samples, add just a pad or two, and kid yourself into thinking you’re creating music of your own. The trick is to integrate these sounds into a language that’s uniquely yours.

Soundiron has developed a user interface that they offer on many of their products; if you own other libraries they’ve created you’ll be up and running in no time. The manual is also straightforward and easy to follow. But these instruments are not traditional, and trying to understand how they can be manipulated takes a bit of time. A better idea is to simply dive in and start making music; if you have even a rudimentary understanding of the classic synth ADSR envelope, feel comfortable working with eq controls, and like to have experiment with convolution reverbs you’ll be tweaking presets in no time.

Rust 3 instruments are divided into four folders: Effects, Ensemble, Master and Sustains. Did you ever make a trip to Waco, Texas, home of the Branch Davidians, who went down in flames, courtesy of the US government in 1993? I did, and the sound of the “Lonesome Corral Windsong” preset took me right back to the fields outside the entrance of the compound.

The concept of the Ensembles eluded me, since they seem to offer individual instruments. I queried the guys at Soundiron about this and got back a reasonable explanation. Multiple sounds are used to create these ensembles, but Soundiron used its own artistic sensibility when they built “instruments” that don’t exist in the real world. They created a sonic pallet that spreads across the keyboard, but it’s not as if clarinets line up for a few octaves and flutes take over. Play around for a while and you’ll get the picture. The Sustains have lots of powerfully held sounds, and the Masters, particularly the Mega Mixers, present the user with presets that combine multiple sounds in ways that the boys at Soundiron feel represents the best of the best.

The Uberpeggiator is just what you’d expect: an arpeggiator on steroids. Soundiron has incorporated this feature into earlier releases, and it works extremely well inside this product.

Times change. Thirty years ago I was introduced to songwriter Tom Bahler, the author of numerous songs, including “She’s Out Of My Life,” which was a huge hit for Michael Jackson. I went to his house in LA and he pointed out that the Synclavier sitting in the corner had provided the opening gong sound effect for MJ’s hit “Beat It.” That piece of hardware cost about 100k. Rust 3 has about a dozen closely related sounds that are vastly superior.

Like I said, you might want to consider dropping $89 on this product.

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