Some might think that I know all the stuff I write about off the top of my head, and they would be a wee bit off. Every topic needs a bit of research for me because, while I might know it, I struggle to explain it. I’ve been playing the piano since I was still thinking about being an astronaut or fireman, and still pretty much in the dark about girls. (Well TBH, that’s still a thing.) When I sit down to play, I know how to pick out a tune, build the harmony and get it timed right, so I can figure out how to play a song I like. Explaining it so that it makes sense to you, dear reader, is a monumental task. I have once again realized that I have bitten off a HUGE hunk of a topic.
Every time I look for something to help me illustrate what I want to teach you, I fall into a deep, dark rabbit hole and don’t see the light of day again for a couple of hours. This particular column has taken me four or five times longer to write than any other, even last month’s episode where we discovered that music is math.
Well, take heart my numerophobic friends. The good news is, MATH means that music and its design is much more accessible to everyone. Understand the numbers and you will absolutely conquer rhythm and flow. You will ride a wave of promotional and commercial success. You’ll be in demand from coast to coast for your amazing production skills. Your paycheck will balloon to gi-normous levels you never thought possible.
For years I’ve been advising prod wannabes to take piano lessons so they can understand how music works. Last month’s column, continuing with this one will short-circuit that need, mostly. There are nuances of music theory that escape many accomplished musicians until very late in their careers. The really good ones will freely admit that they are still learning just about every time they play. That sounds an awful lot like the prod biz. I’m still learning. That’s one of the reasons I’m still writing.
Last month I pointed you to a couple of videos that would teach you how to parse the rhythm. To make it even easier, I’ve prepared a short video, using some classic pop music to help you understand it better. Hopefully, what you watched last time will make this a breeze. (Video #1)
I have a couple more I’m going to have you watch that will expand a bit on how you can figure out what’s under the hood of the latest hit track. The last video should actually open your eyes to something that might surprise you. Many hit songs use the same 4 chords. They’re in various keys, but they all use the same intervals.
I would normally explain intervals at this point, but for the purposes of this column, it’s not really germane. If you really want to understand how music works, it is something you’ll need to learn, but I’m not trying to teach music composition. I don’t want to get too deep in the weeds just yet.
When you speak, you speak in sentences. Each sentence is made up of a series of words with some type of punctuation at the end. If it’s a well-constructed statement it will end with a period and convey a complete idea to the listener. An emphatic statement will end with an exclamation point and convey a stronger message or warning.
In music, a phrase does pretty much the same thing, only instead of an idea, it will convey a feeling to the listener. Any emphasis comes in the music itself, so there is no punctuation, per se. Usually, a musical phrase will be repeated, and that is what you need to recognize. It’s like a signpost that says, “HERE! Edit the music here!” If you’re careful to align the rhythm AND the phrase, every music edit will seem so natural to the listener’s brain, they will never know that you made a change to the music.
My ultimate production proud moments happened at Z100 whenever we’d have an artist come in and we’d play an edited version of something they worked on. My PEAK pride happened with Steven Tyler.
Early in my tenure at Z, Aerosmith was scheduled to come in to do a spot with the morning show. I managed to get a track of their song Dude Looks Like A Lady with the vocals completely dropped out. I edited it down to a 20 second track and Mike Opelka, the morning show producer, rewrote the lyric to say Zoo Gets Kinda Crazy. Mike very politely asked if Steven would be willing to record a vocal track with the new words. Steven looked at him a little sideways and asked to hear the track he would sing to for the parody. They trooped into my studio, Mike introduced everybody to me, I played it and Steven broke into a HUGE smile. He said something like, “THAT is AWESOME!” He put on the headphones, stepped up to the mic and nailed it the first time (at 7:30 in the morning!) On his way out of the studio, he glanced over his shoulder at me and said, “KILLER Dave!” The morning show used that parody for years.
Several years later, I was announcing a concert in Las Vegas where Steven Tyler (minus Aerosmith) was performing with a group of other music stars. I was sitting backstage with the Technical Director and production crew, watching what was going on during the show and a big voice shouted out from across the loading docks. “KILLER Dave Foxx!” It was Steven, all dressed up to go on stage, walking toward us. I was shocked! I’d only met him the one time, several years before, but he remembered my name. I’m still a little stunned.
I like to think it was because I was true to his music for Dude Looks Like A Lady. Being true to the intent of the music is key to making a great edit.
Take a couple of minutes now and watch a short video in which I show you some musical phrases from a few songs you’ll probably know. I’m pretty sure you’ll sense how phrasing works pretty quickly. (Video #2)
Matches? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Matches!
When you’re working with more than one piece of music in one spot or promo, the transition from one piece of music to another is critical to maintaining the rhythm and flow of your finished piece. Thus, you need to think about Beat Matching. Since you have (hopefully) mastered the art of navigating through a bar of music and know the first from the third beat, it becomes blindingly easy to make sure your transition falls exactly ON the correct beat.
To take it to the next level, you want to make sure the phrasing matches up as well, with the beginning of a phrase in the second cut corresponding to the end of the phrase in the previous cut. This is a lot trickier, but I have a lot of faith that if you follow the numbers, it’ll snap together like two LEGO blocks. It will take practice, but I think not too much.
If you want to blend the two tracks together, which would be called Beat Mixing, they must be precisely the same tempo and the keys have to be in tune with each other. If they’re not the same key, they need to be a Major third or a Perfect fourth or fifth. If you’re scratching your head right now, wondering what I’m talking about, that pertains to the intervals I mentioned earlier. Something we’ll have to save for a Master Class sometime. You could look for a teaching video online…there’s a bunch, but make sure you’ve got all this stuff down first.
The Ultimate Edit Cheat
I LOVE building concert promos. After the last year, I MISS building concert promos. Virtual concerts don’t give the same vibe as the big, LIVE arena concerts, but this little cheat will help with any kind of concert promo.
Most songs have music videos these days. Did you know that a great many of them ALSO have Instrumental videos? Usually the video portion is just a picture of the artist or album artwork, but the soundtrack is the music from the song without any vocals. BINGO! You doing a concert promo for Taylor Swift? Open a browser, type in “Taylor Swift Willow instrumental” and lookie there! The first two links are “Official Instrumental” versions. Suck the sound outta that video and import it into your DAW. Match them up. Find the lyrical phrase you want to use in your promo and cut both tracks at the beginning and end of that lyric. Swap out the lyrical piece with the corresponding instrumental piece and you have the perfect insert for your promo. Do the same with any other titles you want to use, then Beat Match them together with appropriate holes for the VO to build your music track! Talk about easy! AND perfect!
If you can’t find the “Official Instrumental,” look for a decent Karaoke version that at least uses the same instrumentation and you can pretty much fake it. I’ve done that a lot over the years, but have discovered the need for using Karaoke has faded quite a bit recently.
If you’d never thought to do that before, you’re welcome. It’s pretty fast and easy. If you HAVE thought of that and have been doing it all along, bravo! It’s still pretty fast and easy.
Finally, the last video I promised. It’s a comedy group called Axis Of Awesome with an updated video of their “4 Chords” routine from a show in Montreal. This one is much better video quality than the first one you might’ve seen a few years ago.
The 4 chords are unison, fourth, fifth and fifth diminished. Uh, that’s the interval thing I talked about. Enjoy! (Video #3)