Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Recording with Counting Crows' Dan Vickrey

This article was originally published in RECORDING Magazine.
Interview by Jessica Klausing with Lorenz Rychner.

Photo by Andrea Henn
When Counting Crows emerged from the San Francisco Bay area in the early '90s, home studios were not nearly as common as they are now. Counting Crows is one of the most successful bands to have created music in a home studio. The band made reference to their albums as being recorded "in a big house on a hill", beginning with their first multi-platinum selling album, August and Everything After.

 Counting Crows continue making groundbreaking albums, such as their newest release Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings.

 I had the pleasure of speaking with Counting Crows' lead guitarist Dan Vickrey during a telephone interview, and learned about how the band turns ideas into albums at home, with an emphasis on getting signature guitar sounds thanks to Dan's role in the band.

Dan, talk to me about some of the guitar equipment you use in the recording studio?
Dan Vickrey: My Fender Esquire 1954 is amazing! It's very flexible and the pickups help give a more "twangy" rockin' sound to a song. Also, my Epiphone Casino is great for reducing microphone feedback.

My secret weapon involves using my White amps (Forrest White Fender models) from the '50s for picking parts. The White amps give a different personality to a guitar, they have a transformer that doesn't sound anything like the other Fender amps. My other amps include a 1966 Fender Vibrolux, 1982 Marshall JCM800 50-watt head, 1964 Vox AC10, 1964 Vox AC30 TB, Magnitone 280, and 1960 Fender Vibroverb.

What about effects?
Dan: I love my ZVex SHO pedal, it can sound like sparks are flying from it...I have other pedals, like the Tech 21 SansAmp, Hughes and Kettner Rotosphere, ElectroHarmonix Memory Man, DOD FX10, MXR Distortion+, the BOSS VB-2, DM-2, HR-2, PN-2, and PH-1, Way Huge Red Llama, and Danelectro DanEcho. All the pedals are powered from a Custom Audio Electronics [Bradshaw] rack, it controls up to 16 individual effects pedals on true bypass loops. That rack has a controller that allows you to program presets for each song or part of a song. There is also a 4-channel amp switcher included in the setup.

How about distortion and feedback?
Dan: Smaller amps with 8' speakers tend to give me a better frequency response with distortion. A small amp turned to eleven can have a greater effect than a distortion pedal. So that's what I use on songs like "Hanging Tree" from Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings .
 Feedback can be controlled, or it can sneak up on you as a happy accident, like on "Angels of the Silences" (from Recovering the Satellites) where we ended up liking the chaotic vibe it gave so we decided to keep it. We re-visited the idea again with "Cowboys" (from Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings) and used it on the guitar solo, with a Les Paul through a Marshall amp in the beginning. For a much louder sound they recorded me standing in front of that amp cranked to ten while playing [laughs].

Do you use loops?
Dan: We're not really a looping band, we all like to really play our instruments, but on "Sundays" Jim (Bogios, drummer) brought in a percussion loop that the engineer then put into Pro Tools. That was a neat exception.

Tell me about the writing process?
Dan: It could be that Adam (Duritz, lead vocalist) begins with playing the piano and the rest of us listening and focusing. Usually me or Immy (David Immergl├╝ck, guitarist) start to play, and Dave (Bryson, rhythm guitarist) joins in. Songs such as "Insignificant" and "Come Around" (from Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings) were created from everyone's improvisational input. We decide then if we want two electric guitars and one acoustic or vice versa. You just play what you want to play and then tape it. We experiment by trying different combinations of guitars.

It seems to me that your band has no fear in taking chances. Does the improvisation come as naturally in the studio as it does on stage?
Dan: There are a lot of guys in the band, so we mostly listen to each other and make the decision if someone wants to jump in or if too many people get involved. There are moments during a song where it will be left open if anyone wants to take it.
The key to success on stage as well as in the studio is simply listening. Anyone in a band has to listen carefully to how the other one plays to make the decision in which direction to go in the song. Sometimes you have to know when to back off or not overdo it, which can be very hard for a guitarist...

What's the order of tracking?
Dan: We usually start with a scratch track where most everybody plays, with vocals, too. Then we use that as a guide for individual overdubs--starting with the drums, bass, rhythm etc.

What about tracking guitars?
Dan: Generally all three guitarists are in the control room, with the amps out in the tracking room (s). We do very little reamping if any at all. We like close-miked guitar amps, typically with Shure SM57 mics up against the grille.

Has playing for Counting Crows matured you as a recording musician since your earlier years playing for The Naked Barbie Dolls as well as for Patrick Winningham?
Dan: It has for me on a personal level. I like to think I'm playing more passionately and just using my own style. In much earlier years, when I was just learning guitar, I would listen and try to match and emulate sounds of musicians such as Eric Clapton and George Harrison. In the end you should just be playing what you want to play and working to generate your own sounds. If you're not doing this and enjoying it then you should not be playing at all.

What advice would you give to a fellow recording musician?
Dan: Just make sure your main tactics for making music are love and passion. Don't be afraid of working to create and experiment with your own sounds. We are in an era of music where it is more convenient to record at home than in an actual studio, so basically just explore, to find what sounds right for you, and go for it!

Check out the Counting Crows website for any additional information on the band.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Social Networking's Impact On the Music Industry

Written by Jessica Klausing.

Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and YouTube are popular social networks that have revolutionized the music industry. Major recording labels have lost CD sales and marketing revenue because of the free downloads offered on the internet. In the past, artists and fans were at the mercy of the record labels. An artist’s success depended on getting signed to a major record label. Major record labels had the money and sole power to influence mainstream audiences. These record labels could sell music, create music videos, and distribute artist information to all media outlets. However, the recent emergence of social networks makes all this possible to everyone. Fans and artists alike can now share music, tour dates, videos, information, and pictures on the internet that reaches a diverse audience. According to Neilson SoundScan, CD sales have dropped 18% in 2007. The rapid evolution of the internet cannot be stopped but it can be controlled. Many record labels have teamed up with social networking websites to take advantage of this mass marketing.
  • In the early beginning, social networks were geared towards teenagers and young adults in their early twenties. However, in the last year, social networks have been able to attract the older generation, according suite 101.
  • Social networks allow fans to share music with their friends or find out what other people with similar interests are recommending according to Spinner.
  • According to Wired, on social media sites, users categorize themselves into useful demographics based on media consumption, so music-oriented sites can offer advertisers more value than the ones where all people do is talk.
  • The music industry realizes that social networks allow marketers to learn about specific interests. According to Catherine Halohan , social networks allow anybody to create an account for free to gain access to the same number of people as large corporate businesses.
  • Facebook’s iLike application gives marketers insights to specific fans’ interests.  iLike notifies fans when their favorite artist is in town, which sends them links to Ticketmaster or to iTunes to buy music.
  • 139 million users access MySpace, 175 million uses Facebook, and 344 million uses YouTube.


In 2006, Warner Music demanded all of its copyrighted videos be removed from YouTube. Warner Music hoped that users would seek out the Warner Music official website to access these videos. YouTube appeals to the most internet users regardless of age or gender. Users can obtain videos of their choice without payment. The official website required users to pay for these videos. The label hoped to regain some of its lost video revenue.  Despite the label’s efforts, audiences were still finding ways to beat system.
  • Warner Music copyrighted videos were still being shared across the internet to other networking websites such as MySpace. Fans refused to pay for something that they could easily obtain for free.
  • Once someone obtains a video through file sharing it becomes viral. There is no exact way to trace a source or to stop the video from re-appearing. Using these free services is a great way to cater to fans’ needs.
In 2008, MySpace created a specialized division for artists to sell and market their music. Top record labels
 such as Sony BMG, Warner Music, and Universal Music unveiled MySpace Music, which allows fans to listen to online music for free and buy songs for download, along with concert tickets and merchandise.
  • MySpace Music offers fans exclusive secret shows of their favorite artists. The secret shows are offered for MySpace users only. The record labels and the social network work together to generate the most users.
  • Black Eyed Peas, Bruce Springsteen, and Good Charlotte, and many other famous musicians have premiered music on MySpace, allowing fans to preview upcoming CDs.

Another popular aspect of social networks is they allow fans more personal time with the musicians.
  • Twitter has become a great way for artists to interact indirectly with their fans (Topping, 2010). Artists such as Kanye West have taken advantage of their “tweets” to promote a new album or make an instant personal statement, according to Guardian.co.uk.
  • Fans can obtain the “tweet” and then re-tweet it for others to see or pass on.
  • Fans can follow their favorite band to learn about upcoming concerts, watch videos, or read online interviews.

In the social media panel video, social network executives talk about their plans to continue to promote the music industry.
  •  Jason Kirk, executive of Ustream says 15% of its broadcast is dedicated to live music.  "Fans are interested in obtaining on demand web streams. "



    In conclusion, social media is constantly evolving. The music industry has also faced many phases of evolution.
    • Similar to vinyl and cassettes, CDs may fade out of style for a while. However, music has always remained a major impact on our society. I think that social networks will continue to work together to promote the music industry.
    • In the earlier years, we were used to reading about a band in a magazine or watching a music video on MTV. Now, we are in a high technological state where we can obtain all this and more with the click of a button.
    • We are increasing our demand for instant online notifications. Someone reading an artist’s “tweets” might also be watching their video on YouTube at the same time. We will continue to move forward with technological advancements and evolution.