Mother Production:



As stated in my last two posts, (Link here) I have been researching different producers to analyse their production methods with the intention of recording the song “Mother” by John Lennon in one of these styles. This is the first stage on the way to making my own production of it, resulting in MIDI mix down to show my own arrangement. The first thing I did was imported the song’s Wav. File into a Pro Tools session in order to make a tempo map.

This song was recorded back when playing to a click track was a fairly new thing, and though the song stays relatively at the same tempo, it would ultimately go up and down throughout. A Tempo map allows us to follow this by automating the BPM of the track for each bar if necessary, allowing us to know what tempo a particular bar is of the song at any given time.

In previous recordings I’ve done, I’ve usually recorded to a click, so this was completely new to me, but I could instantly see the benefits: mainly if the producer wanted to add MIDI parts of other instruments to the mix and not having to change the timing for each bar because the session already has it automated.

(NOTE: In this article the screenshots will change back and forth between Window’s and Mac style computers, However I will be giving the Mac shortcuts if I mention them, due to when it comes to doing the actual recording, I will be using a Mac.)

Creating The Tempo Map:

Once the track has been imported into Pro Tools, The first thing to do was re-number the bars of the song, setting it to minus 1. This allowed me to cut the bells of the start of the recording and later on drag the song back to bar 1/1/000 without removing count in’s.

this can be done by going Event > Renumber Bars.

Renumber Bars







After this, I then turned off the conductor on the transport bar in order to work out roughly the overall tempo of the track. By playing the song with the conductor switched off, and by tapping the T key on the Keyboard for the first bar of the song, I came to the conclusion that the overall tempo of the song was about 66-67 BPM.





I then turned the conductor back on, and set the base tempo of the song down to match the BPM of the song. It is important that the conductor is turned on, as without it selected you will not be able to automate the song.





The next part involved me turning on a lot of different buttons which I’ve listed below how to select them, what they do, and how they would help me.

Tab to Transient:

This allows me to press the Tab key on the Keyboard to jump to the nearest transient on the waveform. In this application it would help me find the down beat at end of a bar, making the BPM more accurate. First button under the Smart Tool.







Setting the Main marker from Mins/Sec’s to Bar’s and Beats:

Allows me to see when the beats in a bar change over, rather than how far the track has progressed, acts a visual aid to help keep you in time. Click on the little arrow next to the Main Selector to make the change.







Set the Pre-Roll on the transport bar to 1:

Whenever the song is played, It will start exactly a bar behind from your selection point, allowing you to more accurately find the beat. Click in the Pre Roll selection on the transport bar, and type in 1.







Turn on Insertion follows Playback and Link Timeline and Edit Selection:

Insertion follows Playback allows you to add the Beat Marker (more on that later) after you’ve worked out where the beat ends, while Link Timeline and Edit Selection allows whatever audio you select in the edit window to be played because Pro Tools automatically creates a timeline selection to match any edit selection and vice versa. The Insertion follows playback button is just under the hand tool, and the Link Timeline and Edit Selection is directly under the pencil tool.

Chose the After Playback option for Edit Window Scrolling:

this sets it so that the edit window scrolls to the final playback location after playback has stopped. Turned on by going Options > Edit Window Scrolling > After Playback.










Once all the above options were selected, I dragged the song to the start of bar 1, and added a sync Point to tell Pro Tools that this is where to calculate all following beat markers from, which can be moved manually if it isn’t in the right place. I added the sync point by going Clip > Identify Sync Point.














After this I made sure grid was enabled, dragged the waveform onto beat 1, making sure the sync point was in the correct place, and the set the grid to slip, so If I had to move it I could. The Grid menu is in the top left hand corner of the Pro Tools session.

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It was then simply a case of going through the track, counting out the beats in each bar to make sure the track was in time, which would then give us something to work from when creating my version in the future. after counting out the 4 beats and making sure they were in time I would press CMD and I to add a beat marker in, inserting the corresponding number, 4/1/000 etc.











which eventually ends up looking something like this.



I then added in some markers to the song to show different parts, this would allow me to easily jump to a particular area at a glance rather than listening through. Since the song mainly consisted of 3 verse parts, a chorus and a fade out, I added a marker by pressing the + symbol next to markers just below the tempo meter, and named them “Mother Verse”, “Father Verse”, “Children Verse”, “Mother Dont Go Section” and “Fade Out” respectfully.

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Making my Arrangement:

Once the tempo map was made, I imported its Session Data into a new Pro-Tools Session. This can be done by File > Import > Session Data. At the next menu, it allows me to select which parts of my previous document I want to use, in this case the tempo map and the markers I put in. I also then imported MIDI data from another session, this time selecting the channels I needed and selected the new track option.

























Once the tempo map was complete and a template containing MIDI instruments playing parts from the original song, (drums, bass, and piano respectively) was imported into the session, I then began the task of addressing the roughly drawn in MIDI.


The first thing I noticed was that the song didn’t start and finish where the tempo map did. This was partly due to the MIDI not being complete, and also the song starting at a different place. This was easily corrected by selecting slide on the Grid menu and moving back all three MIDI channels (cmnd click the clips) to bar one.



The second thing I noticed was the more complicated parts of the song, (the faster tempo parts in the chorus for the bass and piano, and the fills for the drums) where absent, this meant that they would have to be drawn in to complete the song.


When addressing the MIDI instruments, I chose to recreate the bass first, as I had worked out it was just playing single notes, so when aligning them with the track, I didn’t have to worry about all the notes in my chords starting and finishing at the same time.


I also established from listening to the original song that it was mainly following the drums during the verse parts, and following the piano in the choruses, so using the MIDI track provided to me, as well as some sheet music tablature, I was able to understand the song and put in the appropriate notes.

I then duplicated the first chorus bar to make sure It played back ok, and to sort out any timing issues. Once this was complete I moved onto the drums.


The drums where fairly simple to sort out, The tempo of the song may change, but the overall beat being played doesn’t, with the exception of a couple of subtleties. These included some high-hat variations, some crash symbols added, and drum fills in the chorus, which I addressed first.


In order for me to get the snare hits on time, I had to change the grid in the MIDI editor to Triplets, so for every beat there would be six lines. This allowed me to line up the two snare hits, so they worked with the bass, and later on with the piano.




















Once this was complete, and duplicated the correct amount of times, I then went back through the song to address the crash symbols and high hat variations, such as the beginning of each verse, (bars 1, 17, and 33) with the crash and the different high hats through bars 33 to 49.











Now the rhythm section of the song was running smoothly, I then sorted out the piano, like before I listened to the original song and then compared it to my MIDI to make sure the chord changes happened smoothly and had the right duration so they didn’t overlap.


For the Chorus section of the song, I compared the sheet music of the guitar and piano to what was transcribed in the MIDI, and realized I had to create it from scratch. I copied the chords across from other parts of the song and adjusted the duration to make sure they linked up with the bass and drums. Once I had created a section that when duplicated played smoothly, I continued reproducing it until the end of the song.


I then changed the sound of the piano to that of a guitar, and added some distortion to it, since in my arrangement it is an instrument I would be using. Other elements included a big 80s drum sound, and an electric bass overlayed with a synth bass. After adding a master fader set at -3.0dB and an automated fade out, the finished composition can be heard below.


My Composition:

For my composition I will be producing in the style of Robert John Mutt Lange an up beat, pop-punk/pop-rock inspired rendition of Mother (Link to my producers article at the top of the page.) I created a sample below of what this new version will sound like composed of MIDI plus some audio of myself singing out a rough vocal melody.


My first point of call was the tempo, which I decided to increase from roughly 66-67BPM to a static 160BPM, this would mean the song would start and finish at the same tempo, while also giving It more energy over the original. Next up was the composition, written in 4/4 timing, I simplified the chords on the song to guitar power chords, and arranged them in a boppy, dancey, green day inspired strumming pattern, with the bass playing the root notes to the same rhythm. I will also add in a synth like bass sound, adding more texture to the song.In certain sections of the song I chose to alter the strumming, going for a 16 note rhythm in certain sections, to allow the song to increase in energy but then circle back round to the hook, being the strumming pattern first described. An example of this sort of strumming rhythm can be found in the clip below.

The drums where pretty simple as well, having the kick drum beats following the strumming pattern, allowing it all to mesh together. during fast strumming parts, I added crash cymbals to add intensity and give a sense of movement, allowing the song to sound like it’s progressing.

I’ve adjusted the structure of the song as well. Instead of following the 3 verse, chorus arrangement of the original, I have changed it to a more common verse.chorus.verse style layout, fitting a more conventional pop music aesthetic. I also have removed the “Children” verse, as my intention of the song was to make it sound more angsty and youthful.

Lyrically, the song hasn’t changed though the delivery of how the words are pronounced and spoken are very different, going from a song which originally by a grieving John Lennon to sounding like an angry teenager who is bitter that his parents don’t love him.

I also have decided to add backing vocals, chanting “MOTHER DON’T GO!” and “DADDY COME HOME!” segments, as this is something Lange uses in his recordings.


Recording Schedule:

My Aim is to record the drums in a drum booth in studio 1, as this will alow me then add a controlled amount of reverb/compression to get the sound of an 80s style kit, with a pair of overheads, clip on microphones on the toms, a double mic-ed snare and double mic-ed kick drum, plus a hi-hat mic. I would also remove any padding inside the kick drum to allow it to resonate fully without any of the sound being absorbed.

Both the Drums and The Bass I would record at the same time to a click track, DI-ing in a the vocal booth but hearing the feed from the drummer, this would give me the cleanest signal which I could then either keep dry or re-amp a bass amp. This would be mic-ed up on axis to the speaker cone for the full attack of the bass, but also from the back, so I blend the two together. I would also in post production add in a synth bass through either a sound module, plug-in, or a pre fader send from the DI-ed bass to an auxiliary bus with effects to make it sound more synth like. This could be accomplished in maybe 45 minutes of set-up time and an hour of recording. Pack up time would be an additional half an hour.

The Guitar would be recorded afterwards, preferably in a smaller room, mic-ing up the amp on axis to the speaker cone to give it the treble and clarity, as well as off axis to the amp, but on axis to the mic, for a more subtle variation of the first mic, as well as one from behind, so it would give an almost low pass filter effect when the other mics are blended in over it. In between takes I could tweak the amp settings so the tone isn’t the exact same on each take, maybe switch guitars, using a combination of single coil and humbucker variations I would also have a room mic in place to see how the reflections would sound. I would probably multi-track at least 5 takes and then have them all sent to an auxiliary bus for mixing, as well as hard panning two of them, having two set to 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock respectively, and have one remaining in the center. This could be done with about half an hour of set –up time and maybe an hour of recording, not necessarily on the same day. Pack up time could be about half an hour.

For the vocals, I would have the vocalist(s) in a vocal booth and singing on axis to the microphone, using a condenser or possibly a ribbon microphone for extra clarity. For baking vocals, I would use many different people, each record the parts separately, and then group them with a auxiliary bus so I could edit them down, plus create a stereo image by panning them. This could be achieved with 10 minutes of set up time and maybe an hour of recording time. Not necessarily on the same day, with a pack up of time of 10 minutes also.

When it all mixed down, I intend to bring everything in the mix to an overall level, using compression and EQ to balance everything in the mix. The guitars will sound quite bright, as the nature of the arrangement would call for this, which could be done by cutting some of the lower frequencies on the amp, or during mixing, examine it using a frequency spectrum, work out where the bass and guitar frequencies overlap, and separate them with a high past filter on the guitar.

Hopefully It will all go to plan, and be alright on the night.




Identifying elements within a piece that reveal the sonic fingerprint of a producer (continued)

As I stated with my last article (link here) certain producers can leave there own trademark production styles on records they produce. This results in that particular album or track, that you are essentially getting  the artist whose record it is, but through a filter that is at the producers discretion.

Today we got introduced to another 4 producers who have a distinct style, this plus the previous  4, gives me 8 different production styles to chose from. The purpose of this  will be to eventually choose one style to record a cover of John Lennon’s song “Mother” off the Plastic Ono Band album from 1970.

These new additions are as follows:

Phil Spector:

Phil Spector is a American music producer who first appeared in the 1960s pioneering the girl group sound of the time, achieving a total of 25 Top 40 hits over the space of 5 years, most of which were written or co-written by him. Some of his notable works include The Beatles final album Let it Be, The Ramones album End of a Century, as well as John Lennon’s self titled and Imagine solo albums.

One of Spector’s  production trademarks was the pioneering “Wall of sound” Technique, which he used extensively from the 1960’s on wards. The was achieved by having multiple musicians gathered in a studio, performing their parts in unison, with a microphone at one end of the room recording in mono, he then could play the mix in an echo chamber to enhance the natural reverb. Depending on how prominent Spector wanted something in the mix, he would get that part of the ensemble of musicians to stand further towards the microphone. this would record in addition to the dry signal, so both the wall of sound version and the dry version could be heard, so adjustments could be made accordingly.

If you where to walk in the room while recording, the musicians usually would be highly disciplined,but could either being out of time, or making mistakes, however this wouldn’t matter as much in the mix due to when it reverberated in the echo chamber it would blend all the different tones and sounds together. It’s also worth noting that this production technique influenced the later music genres, shoe gaze, art rock and noise rock due the nature of the wall of sound.

Below are two examples of Spectors work, the first being The Ronnette’s song “Be my Baby” and the second being “Da Do Ron Ron” by The Crystals:

Brian Eno:

Brian Eno is a musician and record producer most well known for his work with David Bowie, of which he produced the 3 albums that would form the “Berlin Trilogy”, his time in Roxy Music, as well as his work on U2’s landmark albums The Unforgettable Fire, and the Joshua Tree. He has also had some more recent success with Coldplay’s albums Viva la Vida, and Mylo Xyloto.

Eno has been a record producer every since the start of his solo career back in 1973, and that he referrers to himself as a “non musician” and that his production techniques are more referred to as “treatments”.

An Example of this would be in Roxy Music, where Eno would feed various instruments and even singer Brian Ferry’s voice through a VCS3 Synthesizer, which consisted of banks of oscillators with no keyboard input, resulting in dissonant distortions and wild tonal shifts. this can be heard on the song “Virgina Plane.”

Eno has collaborated with many artists, as a musician and producer, one of these is his work with guitarist Robert Fripp of King Crimson, of which they came up with a recording technique know as “Frippertronics.” this is an early form of looping as a single reel of tape is physically joined together at the ends and then run continuously between the outermost reels of two adjacent decks, the first of which records incoming sound and the second of which plays it back.

The two of them collaborated later with David Bowie on the album “Heroes” with the title track showing a lot of Eno influence. In the track there is a shuddering, Charing sounding synth, this was made using Eno’s EMS Synthi, much like the VCS3 Eno used in Roxy Music,  it didn’t have a keyboard input, so he would adjusted the oscillators producing a very low frequency and then play around with the noise filter.

The guitar on the track which Fripp plays is commonly mistaken for an E-Bow, but instead it was produced by Fripp’s guitar being fed into the EMS Synthi, where he would get the guitar to feedback, check to see what was the closest note frequency, and then mark it on the floor. He would then do the same moving back and forth, and making a mark where the other notes he needed to play where, and then tracked the song by changing the distance between him and the amp, using the lines for guidance.

Eno’s also has worked with U2, producing 2 of their albums, starting first with The Unforgettable fire, allowing the band to re-invent themselves musically, straying away from the Steve Lilywhite produced area-rock album that was ’84’s War. This Collaboration came about with The Edge expressing interest in Eno’s work with the Talking Heads, though Eno was hesitant to work with them because he thought their styles where really different and wouldn’t mesh together, though Bono managed to sway him to produce the record. (a link to the documentary of the making of the unforgettable fire can be found here.)

Eno’s production ethic was very different to Lilywhites’s, while lilywhite would have a particular view to how a song would go, while Eno would see how a song develops and then chase it. They chose to start recording in Slane Castle in Ireland, where Eno chose to use the large Gothic Ballroom as the main area, this was because of its 30 ft high ceiling, allowing him to capture the abundance of natural ambiance in the room, as well to allow The Edge’s already heavily delayed, reverbed guitar sound to flourish, with more focus on sounds-cape’s then conventional song structures. Eno also contributed to the album by coming up with the sonic textures on a Fairlight CMI, which then where elaborated on by adding orchestral and string segments, much like his work with Bowie. This can be found in the Making of the Unforgettable Fire documentary.

Finally Eno’s Production work encouraged lateral thinking, as in the studio, both his solo work or if he was collaborating with someone else, sometimes they would run into creative blocks, where they couldn’t work out how to move forward with the process. It was this that Eno and Peter Schmidt created a set of cards called the Oblique Strategies, which consisted of a number of suggestions, such as “Use an Old Idea” or “Honor thy Error as a Hidden Intention” in an attempt to try pursuing the idea from a different angle.

Below are two examples of Eno’s work, the first of which is David Bowie’s Heroes off the album of the same name, and also the song “Virgina Plane” By Roxy Music.


Dangermouse first appeared on the global music scene with his mash-up album “The Grey Album” in 2004. This consisted of the A cappella versions of rapper Jay-Z’s “The Black Album” and instrumental parts, looped and cut up from “The White Album” by The Beatles.

As a result Dangermouse found himself quickly in demand, producing albums for The Black Keys, The Gorrillaz, Beck, and most recently U2. He has also found success as half of the duo, Gnarls Barkley, with soul singer Cee-lo Green.

Dangermouse’s production style or “Atlanta Sound” comes from where he began as a humble assistant sound engineer for Puff Daddy’s Big Boy Records, where he mainly learned in a rap/hip-hop production style, keeping the vocals, the kick and the snare the most prominent things in the mix with heavy bass.. However during his work with Gnarls Barkley, in order to complement Cee-Lo’s vocals, the aim was to make something with a modern vocals, but more vintage backing, this involved EQing out the high and lower frequencies, due to older recording equipment not having the clarity more modern microphones have.

He also applies rap production sensibilities to other genres he produces, adding Roland 808 drum sounds to the kick and the snare to give it the more heavy bass low end that rap production usually exenterates. He claims the mid range area of a mix is “sacred” and tries to leave it pretty sparse so that the aforementioned elements are more prominent, by mixing them quieter into the mix.

When dealing with a rock band which are quiet guitar heavy, he asks them to try and see what a verse without guitar would sound like, as when it then comes in the chorus it will not only sound bigger, but will add more dynamics, free up the mid range for other instrumental elements in the verses, and keep the vocals more prominent in the mix. He also tries to get the musicians to try playing their guitar parts on different instruments to make the song more sonically diverse.

Some good examples of his work include, the song “Crazy” as part of Gnarls Barkley, “Strange Times” from the garage rock band The Black Keys, and “Feel Good Inc” by the Gorillaz.

Rick Rubin:

Rick Rubin first appeared in the earlier 80’s, initially working with Rap and Hip-Hop artists such as LL Cool J and Run D.M.C, he then moved on to do production for a  lot of heavier bands, including Slayer, Danzig, Metallica and many more.

Rubin was one of the first producers to start applying a rap production style to rock recordings, having them stripped back, focusing on the main elements of the song, with the vocals, kick and snare being most prominent. This production style used to almost exclude all forms of production added elements, such as strings segments, backing vocals etc, but some of his later work has included them, abide at a very minimal level. Dangermouse takes a fair bit of his production style from Rubin’s methods.

One of Rubin’s trademarks is that he encourages the groups he produces to foray into different genres, to add diversity to their music. This can be seen by how he re-ignited Aerosmith’s career by getting them to collaborate with Run D.M.C on the track “Walk this Way” laying the foundation for rap influenced rock bands, or by Johnny Cash covering Industrial rock band  Nine Inch Nails’ song “Hurt.”

However Rubin has also been also criticized for adding to the phenomenon that is the Loudness war. In a separate article I will speak about the Loudness War, but in a nutshell the Loudness War refers to how popular music starting from the early 00’s  has been getting more compressed due to producers wanting the overall volume level of their mix louder. As a result the compressed music lacks the clarity, as the higher frequencies have been brought down in the mix, resulting in a more “muddier” sounding track.

Some albums that Rubin has produced which have been effected by this include the Red Hot Chilli Peppers album “Californication”, “Death Magnetic” by Metallica, and most recently the album “13” by Black Sabbath, where “clipping” occurs distorting the signal.

Some of Rubin’s non clipped works include “Its Tricky” by Run D.M.C,  and Danzig’s “Mother” both of which show a minimalist production style.

So here is another 4 producers who I have spot lighted so that I could potential mimic for their production techniques. It was very interesting reading up on all of them.