Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Hey, Hey We’re the Studio Cats

I recently watched an interesting and entertaining video called "The Wrecking Crew". It's the story -- with lots of interviews -- about the coven of ace studio musicians who created almost all of the pop and rock music that came out of California in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

One item that piqued my interest was the Crew's involvement with The Monkees. So I got hold of a “Monkees Greatest Hits” album and listened. The Monkees themselves sang all the songs -- with some success -- but the arrangements and bed tracks were all by the Crew. With only one or two exceptions, the tracks are fabulous and well worth a listen.

These tunes were recorded in a different time in musical history. For the most part, bands back then had no control over song writing (and often song selection), arranging, recording or producing. That was all left to 'professionals'. True, many of the early rock musicians didn't have the training and experience to do the necessary job under the circumstances. Studio time was very expensive, and record executives didn't want to pay for that new band to learn the ropes. Better to go with what you know will work.

So a writing team wrote the tunes, often specifically for the artists. The musical director and producer called in their 'go to' arrangers and players -- the people they knew could create a sellable track in a couple of hours. It wasn't unusual for such a crew to churn out as many as three finished songs before lunch.

The result of this intensive work was a golden age of pop music, when top studio crews created hit after hit. While the industry has changed dramatically in the intervening 50+ years, the practice is still preferred for a lot of studio work.

In the late 1960s, bands with clout, bands  like The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones and others, were able to take ownership of the recording process. While the Wrecking Crew turned out hits ranging from You've Lost That Loving Feeling to Daydream Believer to Good Vibrations, the other method gave us A Day In The Life, Sympathy For The Devil, and Tommy. 

Obviously there is room, and a need, for both approaches.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

In Praise of Big Drum Companies

I’m a big fan of custom and artisanal drum makers, but that does not diminish my enthusiasm and admiration for the big companies. Where would the small drum makers be if the big guys hadn't done so much of the groundwork over the years. Reliable bass drum pedal? It started with Ludwig. What about double bass pedals? Well, the 1927 Sonor catalogue shows one. In fact, most of what you see on modern drums was invented, refined, promoted, and/or championed by a large company.

Big companies bring a lot to the table, not the least of which is machinery. They have all the tools needed to create stuff: tube cutters, metal benders, lathes, and the like. Plus they have a lot of research and expertise derived from years and perhaps generations of drum building. They also have a pretty good idea of what won't work. Oh ... and they have some talented bodies and significant R&D budgets to play with.

Team Work
Pretty much since day one, companies have leapt at the chance to work with drummers, and perhaps the greatest contribution the big companies made was to listen to the players. Particularly during the first half of the 20th century, drummers asked for changes, and the companies made those changes. Gene Krupa wanted dual tension toms. Leedy made them for him. Big band drummers asked for larger, more powerful cymbals. Zildjian enthusiastically obliged.

Field Testing
An important part of the process is making sure it works. A big company is in a good position to hand out prototypes to see how they function and how they're received. This is a process that all the big companies follow. The artist would make a request. They would make the item and then the artist would field test it. Not quite right? Here are a few more to try. This field-testing and tweaking process was responsible for the broad range and high quality of instruments and hardware that we have today. 

A good idea is just an idea if nobody hears about it. A marketing budget can easily include that hot new product, and then get the message out to drummers who have been looking for a solution.

Quality, Price Points & Guarantees
The big guys have experience with quality control and pricing. They can create products that perform to a predetermined level, and can cater to just about any budget. And their items invariably come with a guarantee.

So I guess the final word would be Thanks!