What goes into the making of a hit song? This is a curious question. If there was one true answer, everyone would be doing it, and nothing would actually end up being a hit. Right? Conspiracy theorists like to believe that the major labels have some sort of computer algorithm that can predict if a song is a hit or not. As the British say: Bullocks. They don’t know any better than any one else, the different is, they’re in a position of power to sell something.
While recording Till We Meet Again, George, Jesse, and I get into a quick discussion about things that can help make a song a hit song. In this case, we’re talking about a little trick that Jesse and I did with a particular transition of a song from one part to another. We changed something about the song structure in such a way that it makes people take notice. Watch the video about making a hit song and find out what we did.
Making A Hit Song
Did you catch what we were talking about? Think you can go write a hit song now?
Nothing is more annoying than a noisy mouse in the headphones. Recently in the studio while getting ready to start knocking out vocals for American Mayhem and we had an issue with a hum type of noise going on in the headphones. This makes for unpleasant recording. Not to mention that it also can be an issue if it’s being recorded on to the track in question. Adding noise from an unknown source isn’t always a great idea.
Find out what was causing the noise to occur. A kind of noise that flares up when the mouse is being moved. Nothing like a bad noisy mouse, however, that was a result of the issue, not a root for the cure. We did find it!
Noisy Mouse In The Headphones
What are we up for George? What are we looking at?
I just hear some weird hum.
Yeah, it came and then it kinda went.
I can kinda hear your mouse moving.
Mouse noise is what I’m saying. Not like the actual physical noise. I’m hearing in the system.
Somethings tweaked in the system.
That seems a bit quieter.
Yeah, well the transformer was on the audio cable.
Sittin right on the cable? Yeah, that’s bad. Studio badness. Do not put your audio cables right on a transformer.
Oh yeah. Much better.
Ok. We’ll be recording now. Shhhh.
Red light ‘s going on.
No squeaky chairs. No nothing.
Come with me as we give the Universal Audio Apollo a shootout at Utopia Parkway studio. My Avalon 737 was at the factory so we decided to give George’s Apollo a shot at being the mic pre of choice. We set up a couple of different channel strips to see which input path would give us the best signal for my Telefunken C-12 and my voice on my song “Thump Thump Thump”. It was down to a Neve with an LA2A and a 610 with an 1176.
[sarcasm]It’s riveting. So riveting. Especially if you’ve never been in a recording studio.[/sarcasm] Recording isn’t always the fun and games that people think it is. We do actually spend time figuring out exactly what the best course of recording a sound is. Time consuming comes to mind. Office managers determining a project’s work path is probably the best analogy. After that the real work begins. Laying down the musical parts.
Universal Audio Apollo Mic Pre
Thump Thump Thump recording
Testing mic pre’s.
Testing the Apollo mic pre. Okay Universal Audio.
I lie awake in the middle of the night.
Channel strip two. Well it’s actually one, but I flipped them around.
Well… we’re. It’s the second take on the channel strip on the Apollo.
There’s a push and a pull.
I lie awake in the middle of the night
There’s a push and a pull. As the gears begin to grind.
You know what? That, the 610 sounds more… rock-and-roll. If I was to put a… it has more “ah! to it” more ah.
There’s more meat to it.
That how, that’s how I would describe it.
It’s got more protein, more girth to it. Okay whereas the neve LA2A has a bit more of a refined thin thing.
Yes it’s interesting, I guess there’s a difference in the models. Cause it’s basically the same mic going through 2 different model emulations and they do sound different. Yeah. They are so hard core. I mean really truly. More hard core than most companies are. They want their stuff to be right. and they just really won’t stop until they are.
It’s the 610 76 that wins.
Okay, to give us the meat.
To get the song to ether.
It’s not often where you’re in a studio talking about a drum fill. At least not often where you’re proclaiming you love it. This is precisely what happened during a moment in the recording process of Till We Meet Again, a song written by myself and the awesome Jesse Stern. We’re in the studio doing vocals with George Leger III when George blurts out something entirely unusual for an engineer / co-producer.
Talk about getting caught off guard, especially when drumming is like ESL. I remember wanting to be a drummer when I first wanted to learn an instrument. However that got nixed by my mom due to saying it would be too noisy. Instead I got a guitar and an amp. How much noise did that make? A whole lot more.
Imagine my surprise when a drum fill part I created elicits a response like what I get in the video. Of course the most polite response is what I gave, but seriously, in my head I was like – hey! I did that. Maybe I should have been a drummer first. What a different world I’d be in if that had been the case. I might not be the songwriter I turned out to be. Who knows, I could have become an on call studio or touring drummer. Ah, who am I kidding – I love the musician I am, but there are times. Times when I do wish I were a better drummer.
Drum Fill Love
I said I love that drum fill!
Fuckin’ love it.
It’s a cool drum fill.
It’s totally cool.
I done did that.
Totally fuckin’ cool.
I have to make that a Phil Collins thing somehow.
Get it to sound like it’s in a fuckin’ glass room or something bizarre.
Aw, c’mon man.
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Come with me inside RA Audio studios as we set up a Taylor Guitar’s K4 EQ. Here’s an outtake from the recording of my upcoming single called “Till We Meet Again” as Robert Navarro and I go through the pre-production of my Taylor 615ce. The amazing thing is that it didn’t take a very long time to plug in the guitar, plug in the K4, wire it to the pre-amp. Of course Robert and I spent a bit of time listening to several settings then proceeded to make a few minor tweaks. Then it was off the race, or rather off to the recording track.
Watch the video and find out what setting we used on my K4 EQ to get one extremely awesome sound for the acoustic guitars on “Till We Meet Again”. Yes, in the final mix down of the song I did use a combination of the K4 direct sound mixed with the KM184 Sennheiser microphones. Definitely a very awesome addition to the sound of great acoustic guitar recording.
Till We Meet Again K4 Setup
The whole concept of, what did I use for this recording? For Taylor Guitars website.
Right now we’re about to set up the sound for the direct sound coming out of the 615 that I’m going to record for “Till We Meet Again” into the infamous Taylor Guitars K4 equalizer.
And Robert and I, who is currently the owner of RA Audio, are about to set all of this up. He’s waving at you. And, get the sound happening. And then we’re recording through a couple of nice Sennheiser KM184’s that… [you’re welcome]
That I got for Robert. Uhm. So yeah, we’re about to do some pre-production on getting the right sound. Then we’re gonna do a track.
So let’s get started.
One second he says.
Wish I had a remote. Tink. Tink.
Ok, should I bring some treble down and the bass up?
That’s sorta nice? Well, I don’t want sorta. I want bad ass nice.
Back off a little on the bass. Ok, this is half of what the bass was when I raised it. So that’s a nice direct tone? Wow! No mid or anything huh?
So for all those out there in Taylor land who want to know the K4 setting that I just used. We’re probably talking 12:30 on the bass, on the low end. We’re looking at about 11 o’clock on the high. And the mids? Nada. Zero. Center all the way. The volume is set at medium, like right at whatever 12 o’clock is.
So the K4 is set, for the 615ce.
One thing these days that lots of people have complained about is extremely loud mastering of music and how it tends to kill the song. I’m someone who has heard many a song released where the mastering and/or mix was so brick wall limited that it ends up sounding distorted, lacking dynamics, and it’s disappointing. It destroys the vibe of the recording, all in the name of attempting to stand out above all others when broadcast to the world. The end result of these loud mixes that are overly compressed and limited is one of making the song sound small and shitty. Small and shitty is not necessarily the result any self respecting musician would ever want for their releases. However, many record labels now force this concept of “make it LOUD” to the mixing engineers and the mastering guys.
Once in a while, a mistake can lead to a new discovery about how to approach doing something. Said mistake can end up starting a new way to look at a problem. Such is the case with an approach George Leger III stumbled upon while putting his mastering skills to the test for my song Touch. I have a version of Touch that has been mastered by the great John Rodd. But before I end up releasing the song, I’ll consider going with a second master based on George’s new technique. To put it simply, it’s mind shredding loud mastering, without sounding distorted or compressed.
Watch as I get George to discuss the process of super loud mastering he stumbled upon, to my buddy Jesse Stern, who is also the co-writer on “Till We Meet Again.”
So we can get the low down on all this trickery.
Well really all it is… is this is a 32 bit hard… uh, software mixer right.
But because it’s 32 bit, you can crank the crap out of the levels internally. So I can take this fader and ride it up to say +9. And it won’t clip.
It chops the top off, but it does it in a way that it doesn’t sound dynamically compressed.
Like a soft clipping type thing?
So you can push it up and it sounds loud without sounding [distorted] compressed. Or distorted. Jody was just like: I don’t know what you did man, but the file you gave me, the mastering… It’s the loudest I’ve ever heard and it’s like doesn’t sound bad at all. It sounds great.
Well, yeah. He did a master of Touch.
That he gave back to me and I was like it was just… what did I say? Mind shredding loud?
Yeah. It was super super loud. [it was so loud…] I didn’t even realize I had done this when I did it. Until I went back and looked and I went, oh wait a minute I didn’t go through this whole thing that I thought I was going through.
And I’m looking at the meters of my thing and my meters are still going up and down with all the dynamics. I’m like how the F^#$ is it so God damn loud!
Yeah. And not like: Phhhhfffftttt! Like crushed. Normally you do that and it gets crushed. What I discovered is that you can actually use this internal little mixer to jack the heck out of your levels, but it doesn’t distort.
And it doesn’t sound compressed.
It is really cool. Cause it’s like you can add 6 to 9 db of limiting without it sounding at all like that’s what you did. The nice thing that I like about the master that I did is… The attack of the kick and the snare are still there. Dynamically it’s like BAM BAM it just sounds so good. I couldn’t believe it. I was like, what the hell.
Okay, are we ready?
We’re ready. We’re ready. Anybody ready?
Have thoughts on loud mastering for your music – chime in in the comments below. I’m happy to discuss.
Ever wonder how we musicians figure out how to describe a song to others so that they’ll understand what the song is before they get to hear it? It’s important to know how to describe the sound of a song to others before they hear it. The better the description, the more enticing it becomes to the uninitiated to hear it. Catch a glimpse of us working through one of the steps of understanding the song so we can approach knowing how to describe it to you, the listener. Follow George Leger III, Jesse Stern and I as we pull apart some fine points in the studio.
The debate get a little heated, or does it? There’s definitely some laughter due to the responses we give each other. It’s an awesome what to arrive at the best method to figure out a song. BTW – who do I diss in this video? Find out!
Describe A Song
I’m just trying to think. I’ve been trying to describe this song to people I’m really not sure what to tell them. You know what I mean? Touch is very easy to describe. It’s this, this, this, and this. And I’m trying to think, what is… what is Till We Meet Again? It’s like.
Exactly! It’s that kind of a song. It’s about… wanting to be with somebody.
Now, the question I have for you is this person a friend, or is this a girl?
Well Jesse and I wrote it together. So maybe it was about us. I don’t know.
Is it about friendship? Or is it about romance?
Both. I think really. The passion with somebody you have, then split.
I didn’t know he felt this way about me.
Well. You know…
I feel this way about a lot of people, I just don’t tell them.
We have bromances going on left, right and center around here. You know how it is.
So anyway. I don’t know. I was just trying to figure out what we would actually call it when I go to describe it. Of course the song is not really done. But I was kinda thinking it’s like Train meets an 80’s power ballad without the soaring vocals. And a little bit bouncy.
No no no no no. I see the more like uh, like what’s his face. The guy you mention all the time.
John Maher what’s that Your Body Is A Wonderland.
Yeah, there ya go.
I don’t want it to be that dated though.
Dude! Dated? Fuck that. It’s not dated or not dated. It’s the attitude that I’m talking about.
It’s the vibe…
No, I’m just trying to figure out what I would
[who’s David, ha ha ha]
denote it as.
So yeah. What is it? Is it a romantic thing or is it ah, not a romantic thing.
I think it’s a longing thing.
But for what?
For someone, one person.
Well. Ok. Yeah. Ok.
That’s how I’ve always… thought of it.
That’s how I’m thinking of it.
[Yearning for love]
You know maybe it’s it’s kind of like keeping the flame alive. Maybe one day…
Enjoy, please pass it along to your friends. If you’re not on my email list – JOIN NOW!
Back in the studio. This time some video was captured that pulls back the mystery of vocals. Where George Leger III, Jesse Stern and I were discussing the fine points of doing multiple takes of the same line, using different emotions. All in the name of creating the best vocal to tell the story. What comes out is a frank discussion between the three of us. I make fun of a movie. Then George really runs into an electric speech about vocals. Jesse (the white hat at the bottom left of the video window) provides a little comic relief along with giving George something cool. Followed by myself relating a story from a recording session with a large songwriter’s organization. Watch what we said and did. Why? Because we’re having a good time talking about what goes into a great vocal recording.
Studio Vocal Mystery
Sometimes it reminds me the movie La Bomba. Dude that sounded great twenty takes ago.
That’s you know. No I’m not arguing that I know you gotta do and every little bit and piece, I’m, I’m fully there. I just think it’s funny that the brother was like he had no concept of like, it sounded the same man. It’s like, no it didn’t.
I sometimes joke when I’m comping vocals and like go in between a few different takes, how about this one, and this one. and I just look at ’em and they’ll say, they all sound exactly the same to me. I don’t know.
We all comp different, right? Like I could give you the same data, you would come up probably… well maybe we will come up with the same. Cause it seems like we’re thinking the same way I can… sense that. But some people I mean I’ll give them a track, you comp it and I’ll comp it. I’ll come back and their comp will be totally different. You know either I go for one that has a lotta little bitty edges and stuff. Little character bits and I’ll fix, I’ll tune it if I have to. But, try to get the character stuff that makes, to me makes a vocal personable; have personality, right? And I have people that just absolutely like want the note to be perfect. That’s what they’re after. That’s all they look for. Yeah. It’s like, there’s no… Cause you can fix… today we have the technology it makes it really easy to fix the note. You can fix the pitch. But you want to get that, you know you just started to do it. Your voice broke up a couple times in the first two lines. Which is exactly what I wanted to get.
Okay. So, anyways. I go for the feel like whatever makes me feel something. Yes!
Or what makes me kinda feel like I, I don’t have words anymore. Yes. And you get that little buzz too, I get a buzz when it happens it’s like I can feel it.
Well, you’re a really good producer. It’s fun to watch you work. Oh, thank you. That’s why I like doing vocal with the man. Yeah, I wanna do vocals with him.
I, I love working. I just love producing. It’s great fun. One of the things I was actually gonna say back to the vocals n something and stuff from movies and TV shows. In Canada, when they did We Are The World here. We had a song in Canada that was produced by David Foster. You know who David Foster is right Okay, do you know who Anne Murray is? yes she’s like… She’s a Canadian superstar, right? Exactly! She’s the Canadian Stevie Nicks. Yea. Sorta. She’s an… This woman has been singing her whole fucking life. She’s a perfectionist. And she can usually do it on the first take. She’s just that good. Well he goes and the same thing kinda happened with him. She got in the first two, first or second take, but he missed it. And they had this on the video that they did of the making of the thing, right? And, in the end it was like he he basically turned to her after he went 20 takes in. Listened to the first two takes and went: I’m so sorry. You did it already, I’m didn’t even hear it. And he was embarrassed.
And it was just like… Wow. It happens. Yeah. Even to the best of the best. I mean Foster is…
You’ve heard heard of Harold Payne right? Do you know who Harold Payne is? He’s a big time songwriter. And he helped write a song for Just Plain Folks. Which is a songwriters organization. Cause they did like a We Are The World. They brought in a bunch of different artists to sing different lines. And they had Alan O’Day producing, in the studio. Who’s no slouch of a writer. He’s had a couple of #1 hits. And Harold was sitting right, standing right next to me in this vocal booth. You know, to go over my line, do all this stuff. I go in. I do the first take. And I do it kinda bluesy. That’s how I thought it came across. And Allan is just going take after take and I hear Harold pull my thing back and he goes. Dude, you nailed it on the first take. I’m sorry.
Stay tuned for more peeks on the inside.
Ah yeah, when I’m in the studio and I’m cooped up for too long, I need to get outside. Such was the case while I was in the studio during the recording of Touch. I needed a break and what better break is there than to get outside and do some light grade mountain biking. Here in this video I’m out in the Pacific Palisades area taking a quick ride up the Westridge trail with my good friend Russell Bowman and his dog Tara.
Hey it’s Jody, I’m here with my good friend Russell Bowman.
Hey! Tara. Shhhhh…
You’re part of this too, but yeah, wait your turn. You need to stop barking right now so I can speak.
I’m here in the lovely area of (is this West Ridge?) (West Ridge)
We’re in Westridge this is Russell Bowman and he owns Thunderbolt Spiritual books. He has loaned me his mountain bike.
Normally I’d be on my own. But, mine is somewhere else in the world at the moment.
And we’re going mountain biking today. Join us!
A slow uphill climb up Westridge.
Need a little seat adjustment. We don’t have the tools.
So one of the last times I was riding here with Russell I came down into this ditch.
And face planted. When my bike stopped dead in the ditch.
Downhill here. Unfortunately, Russell’s seat clamp has broken so we can’t make it up to our goal which is that little silo looking thing up there on the top of the hill.
We’re going to turn around here in just a moment and go up the single track ‘n’ go back down.
We are, on our way up the Westridge single trail. Russell has got his helmet on I’m solo without helmet. Silly me for being unprepared. But. That’s what you get when you borrow. See ya on the flip side on the bottom.
Russell has to walk ’cause his seat don’t work.
Made it up that. I’m breathing a little bit heavier than I thought I would. But that was exciting.
Next set of downhill we go.
Came down that single track in the center.
Coming back up the hill. Over here Los Angeles covered by clouds. Looks like yesterday when golfing.
Now back down to the end.
Russell and Tara up ahead. As they say – never let ’em see ya sweat.