The producer is one of the most crucial yet anonymous figures in all of music. Every now and again we aim to illuminate these under-heralded artists with Beat Construction. This week, we spoke to Matt Martians, the Odd Future producer/keyboardist who co-founded The Internet, helmed Kilo Kish‘s debut, and inspired Kendrick Lamar with his free-form production experiment The Jet Age of Tomorrow. We talk about ’08 Myspace, ’14 Atlanta, and the perfect powder keg balance of sound and image he’s striving to reach. More
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I’m always kind of baffled when I hear a band live and there’s no separation between instruments, especially between guitar players. Then I think back to when I was a young player and remember, “They just don’t know how to set their tone controls yet.”
For too many players, setting those amp tone controls is such a random act with little thought behind it. Here’s an excerpt from my Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook (written with the excellent guitar player, composer and author Rich Tozzoli) that gives some context as to how to get those most out of these controls.
“So often players are confused by the tone controls on their amps. What’s the best way to set them? Is there a method for doing so? In order to get the most out of them, it’s best to understand the reasons why they’re there in the first place.
The biggest reason for having tone controls is so that all the frequencies of your instrument speak evenly so no particular range is louder or softer than any other. Shortly after the first amps were developed with only a single “Tone” control, manufacturer’s noticed that players might be using guitars with different types of pickups with their amps, so more sophisticated tonal adjustments were really necessary. A guitar with a humbucking pickup might sound too boomy through an amp, but if you roll off the low-end with the bass control, the frequencies even out. Likewise, a Strat might be too light on the low-end or have too much top-end, but a simple adjustment would make all frequencies come out at roughly the same level.
Another place where tone controls come in handy is if you have a frequency that really jumps out, as compared to all the rest, either because of the way the amp is overdriven or because of a pedal. Often a slight adjustment of the Treble, Middle or Presence control can alleviate the problem, although these controls will also adjust all the frequencies around the offending one as well.
Where tone controls are especially effective is how the guitar fits within the context of the mix of the song. You want to be sure that every instrument is distinctly heard and the only way to do that is to be sure that each one sits in it’s own particular frequency range, and the tone controls will help shape this. It’s especially important with two guitar parts that use similar instruments and amps (like two Strats through two Fender Super Reverbs). If this occurs, it’s important to be able to shape your sound so that each guitar occupies a different part of the frequency spectrum. To make our example work in the mix, one guitar would occupy more of a higher frequency register while the other would be in a lower register, which would mean that one guitar has more high end while the second guitar is fatter sounding, or both guitars might have different mid-range peaks.
Not only do guitars have to sonically stay out of the way of each other, but they have to sit in a different frequency space than the bass and drums (and vocals, keys, percussion, and horns if you have them) too. As a result, you either adjust the tone controls on your amp or try another guitar so it fits better in the sonic space with everything else. While the engineer can do this with equalization either during recording or mixing, it’s always better if you get as close to the sound as possible out in the studio first because it will save time and sound better too.
The best way to get an ear for how guitars are sonically layered is to listen carefully to a number of hit songs in almost any genre and really dissect how everything fits together. Of course, the producer, engineer or artist (if you’re playing on someone else’s recording) will also have specific ideas as to the sound they’re looking for in the track, and will guide you in that direction.”
If you haven’t noticed, the rap business has changed. You probably know this because you and all your friends likely haven’t paid for an artist’s music in a minute. Due to torrenting, streaming, and music sharing (basically the Internet), records just don’t sell like they used to. So, with record purchases more or less going the way of Blockbuster rentals, those who make their living through music have had to find another way to make money. The answer? Touring. More
If you’re unsure about the language and processes of music royalties in the United States, a new informational graphic should help, which you can see below (for higher-res, go here). The Music Business Association, also known as Music Biz and formerly known as NARM, has put together a cheat sheet with the help of ASCAP, Harry Fox, The Recording Academy, SESAC and SoundExchange.
Every recording artist, songwriter, record label and publisher needs to understand how money flows throughout the music business — especially in an era of access models where royalties aren’t derived just from music sales. (That goes for employees of music companies, too. It never hurts to understand the nuts and bolts of your chosen profession.) The graphic makes clear that creators need to register with various organizations to ensure their creative works are protected and the creator will receive the appropriate royalties.
The business side of music can be downright complicated. The government and courts determine some royalties. Other royalties are paid out according to an artist’s recording contract or, in the case of an independent artist, the distributor’s licensing deal with a digital service. And other royalties are established by negotiations between individual buyers and sellers. Some royalties go through a collection society. Other royalties are routed through a record label or distributor. An accurate map of royalty pathways would be a tangled mess.
And a note: When the graphic says there are “two basic rights for music,” it means there are two copyrights related to music. One copyright relates to songwriting and the other copyright relates to recording. In fact, music has six rights: performance (in public places, on radio and television), distribution (physical and digital distribution, synchronization), reproduction (of compositions for CDs, downloads, etc.), display (usually of song lyrics), derivative works (modifications of the original work) and digital transmission (via streaming service, satellite radio and cable radio).
A visit to a friend’s very capable commercial studio the other day got me thinking about some of the musical and audio items that have remained essentially intact since they were introduced. In some cases improvements have been attempted, but the original design is still the best. In other cases there has been continual improvements, but the original idea still hasn’t changed all that much. Here are 9 products in no particular order that the music and pro audio manufacturers got right from the start.
1. The Shure SM57/58 – Nearly 50 years down the road and the SM 58 is still the standard stage mic, and the SM 57 can be found in every recording studio big and small. What’s the difference between them? They both have the same capsule but the 58 has a filter to decrease the proximity effect a little.
2. The Ampeg SVT amplifier – Has there ever been a better bass amp been built? There’s still nothing like that 8×10″ cabinet for being able to dial in almost any bass sound you want, and the monster head will easily rock any venue.
3. The Marshall 1960 cabinet – There’s something about the original birch Marshall 4×12″ cabinet that’s never been beat. It makes any amp, big or small, sound bigger and larger than life.
4. The Fender Strat – Former Rolling Stone guitarist Mick Taylor once expressed to me that he felt the Strat was the world’s most perfectly designed guitar, and he couldn’t have been more right. The shape, the contour, the sound, the vibrato tailpiece – the only thing it isn’t is a Les Paul.
5. The Fender Precision Bass – You might see high-profile bass players play fancy boutique basses on stage, but when it comes to recording there’s always a trusty Precision around. If you want a can’t-miss big full sound, this is still the one for the job.
6. The K&M boom stand – Atlas made the original boom arm accessory in the early 60′s but the tripod Konig & Meyer boom has been the studio standard for more than 50 years. It hasn’t changed much in that time, but it hasn’t needed to.
7. Powered monitors – Once upon a time you struggled to find the right amp to match your speakers. It was a nerve-wracking search very much akin to a surfer finding the perfect wave. Monitors with built-in power amps that are ideally match to the speaker took away all that confusion, while making them cheaper, more compact, and sound better.
8. The Digital Audio Workstation – For a long time the only thing that engineer’s knew was tape, and as a result became quite used to its limitations, even during the transition from analog to digital. Having a remote sitting right next to the console was just part of the natural studio environment. Today most DAWs offer way more advantages to tape and we’re all much better off for it. The modern DAW is what’s made the home recording studio possible, and even the least expensive app has 100 times more power than what The Beatles had available to them (although talent is another story).
9. The Dean Jensen Direct Box Design – It’s hard to believe there was a time before direct boxes, but after some industrious techs began to custom-build them in the 70′s, transformer designer Dean Jensen provided a free design using one of his transformers that’s been copied over and over ever since. If it’s a passive direct box that you’re buying, Dean Jensen is its father.