MUSICIANSHIP - PLAY QUIETLY

If you want to get that clear, warm, low end sound (both in the studio and live) the perhaps we can learn a performance tip or two from legendary musician/writer/producer, T Bone Burnett. This excerpt is from an interview with performingsongwriter.com. You can read the entire interview here.

 Christopher Felver/Corbis

Christopher Felver/Corbis

"How do you go about creating complexity in the low end?


First of all, I think of everything as a drum. An acoustic bass fiddle is just a big drum with strings attached that you attack with your fingers or a bow, but it’s still just attack and resonance. A piano is just 88 little drums—in fact, by combining notes, you can make thousands of drums out of it. And for me, it all has to do with the tribal storytelling that happens with music, so I don’t really care what’s hitting the backbeat, whether it’s a snare drum or a mandolin … as long as it’s getting hit in the right place with the right meaning.

So the attack of the instrument is just triggering the tone, and we’ve (the recording industry) spent 10 years minimizing attack and maximizing tone. All of these other rhythms and beats get set up in the overtone structure, which creates a lot of mystery and a real sense of place. In contrast, the thing that a computer does best, which is to put all the notes on the right beats, becomes completely uninteresting.

Do you accomplish that by using compressors and limiters to hold down the attacks and emphasize the body of the sound? Your productions don’t sound especially compressed.

That’s because we actually accomplish it in another way: We play very, very quietly. The more quietly you play, the less attack and more tone there is. If you hit a guitar too hard, it chokes the note off; the volume of sound that’s attempting to escape from the box turns in on itself and cancels itself out, so the sound just collapses. The same with a drum: If you hit it too hard and leave the stick there, nothing happens. But if you tap it softly, you actually get a much fuller sound."