The Cars and Roy Thomas Baker (1978 – 1981)

Of all the music I was exposed to during my adolescent years, perhaps no other band influenced my decision to enter the music industry than The Cars had.  Surprisingly, it was not until 1984 that I had heard their self-titled debut album from 1978 for the first time.  I was immediately drawn into their moody, sometimes aloof, artistic world.  From Let the Good Times Roll to All Mixed Up, I was captivated by The Cars and their form of “New Wave” rock music.

Each member of the band was, and still is to this day, distinctive in his talents: the quirky lyrics and vocals of the front man and rhythm guitarist, Ric Ocasek; the late bassist Ben Orr’s smooth and crisp vocals; Greg Hawkes’s electronic keyboards and synthesizers; Elliot Easton’s melodically rock lead guitar; and David Robinson’s excellent drumming technique.  It was the first time I went from being an active listener to music to wanting to become a songwriter and musician myself.

But now as an aspiring music producer, my interests have shifted a bit from the artistry of The Cars to the producer of their first four albums, Roy Thomas Baker (Roy thomas baker, n.d.).  These albums are The Cars (1978), Candy-O (1979), Panorama (1980), and Shake It Up (1981) (Roy thomas baker, n.d.).  Although each album contained a distinctive “Cars sound,” each one had a different atmosphere and “aura.”

The Cars is truly a classic rock album.  Containing hits such as Just What I Needed and My Best Friend’s Girl, it has remained relevant thirty-four years later.

Candy-O is a bit more dated sounding due to the use of the synthesizer technology of its day.  Nonetheless, it is another strong album with such classics as Let’s Go and Dangerous Type.  In my opinion, it is a clear example of the best of “New Wave” of the late 1970s.

Panorama is a darker album and a bit more experimental in tone.  I highly recommend it, although it may not be as accessible as their first two albums.

Shake It Up, the last album produced by Roy Thomas Baker, is probably the most commercial album of their first four.  Even if someone never heard of The Cars, I am almost certain he/she has heard the title track Shake It Up.  As the 1980s began the music video revolution, The Cars also released a video for Since You’re Gone from the album.

Upon re-reading this post, I feel I have probably chosen too rich a topic to be covered so sparsely and in such a short manner.  Each of these albums could be a separate post, as well as the biographies of the band member and the producer himself.  But my goal was to briefly share my interests of The Cars and Roy Thomas Baker, and hopefully I have succeeded in doing so.

Please feel free to add to this in the comment section, or let me know if there is any particular part of this post you would like for me to expand upon.

Shannon McDowell


Roy thomas baker.  (n.d.).  In Wikipedia.  Retrieved October 9, 2012, from

Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs): My Experiences


In this post I will briefly discuss the digital audio workstations with which I have used in my productions. This is by no means the definitive article regarding digital audio workstation, but I thought my experiences could help others in deciding which package would work best for which projects.

Digital audio workstations (DAWs) are software packages that allow a user to compose and produce music of all genres. Most contain software synthesizers (soft synths), samplers, a rhythm or drum machine, and effects which then can be triggered with an internal sequencer.

In my opinion, some work better for electronic music while others seem better for non-synthesizer based applications. The four I have used are (in the order I have learned them):

Propellerheads Reason
Apple Logic Pro
DigiDesign Pro Tool
Ableton Live

My first work with a DAW comes with Propellerheads Reason. I worked with a demo copy prior to version 4, but after tinkering with it for a while I quickly decided to purchase it. I found it an easy transition from the analog work to the digital realm, for it uses virtual cables to attach the software synthesizers and effects. It was easy for me to follow the signal path by the virtual cabling.

However, before version 6.5 it was impossible to use third-party plugins. That meant I was forced to use only the internal instruments and effects that came with the package. Now with version 6.5, a new concept, Rack Extensions, has been added which allows third-party plugin developers to add to the existing rack of equipment.

While Reason can record audio, I find it best for producing electronic and hip-hop genres.

As I enrolled into the Full Sail University Online Music Production program, I was introduced to Apple’s Logic Pro 9 and DigiDesign’s Pro Tool 8 LE. Thanks to the wonderful instructors I have had, I was able to speed up the learning curve with these DAWs.

Apple’s Pro Logic 9 is definitely a professional piece of software. This is not to undermine Reason’s possibilities, but the features that Logic has do make it more versatile, in my opinion. It can use Audio Unit plugins to extend its features and has an array of tools to manipulate audio. I am able to successfully produce a wider range of genres with the help of Native Instruments’ Komplete 8 Audio Units. While all DAWs have a steep learning curve, I have to admit that Logic was significantly harder to use at first than I had experienced with Reason.

Next, I worked with DigiDesign’s Pro Tools 8 LE. Due to extensive hardware requirements, I do not use it as frequently as I probably should. It is very limited out-of-the-box in regards to its soft synths, although RTAS plugins can be used with it. But while I found it limited to produce electronic genres, it excels with recording external audio. If one is inclined to produce music with acoustic instruments, I would recommend Pro Tools for recording. (I still have not upgraded to the latest version, however.)

Finally, I decided to use Ableton’s Live 8 DAW. Perhaps it is from my experience with the other three DAWs, but I quickly found it to be easier and faster to use overall. While it can be used to produce other genres, it has become my main package when producing electronic dance music. It can use both Audio Units and VSTs as plugins, and its looping features are fluid and robust. It can also by used to play live music with the aid of MIDI controllers, as well as be used to DJ sets.

In summation, I would use Reason or Live for hip-hop and electronica genres, but especially Live for dance music. For a variety of genres, I feel Logic would be best. And if I am doing a lot of audio recording, Pro Tools would be my solution.

Please feel free to ask questions about these DAWs, or leave comments to add to what I have written here.

Hope this was helpful!

Shannon McDowell

Pixies’ “Doolittle (1989)”

The Pixies’ 1989 album Doolittle predates the “grunge” scene of the 1990s, but it was influential to many artists and acts of that era (Sisario, 2006).  With the exception of its production qualities (an emphasis on gated drums, for example) it did not sound like the music of the 1980s, in my opinion.  Dark and disturbing lyrics, dramatic dynamic changes between soft and loud musical motifs within the same song, and peculiar atmospheric guitar wails are all hallmarks of the Pixies’ Doolittle, hallmarks that later became the norm with bands such as Nirvana and Soundgarden (Sisario, 2006).  In 1994, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana fame told Rolling Stone that he “was basically trying to rip off the Pixies” when he wrote Smells Like Teen Spirit (Sisario, 2006).

Ironically, both Pixies and their work were not entirely successful upon release but continued sales and an expanding fan base have eventually brought then much deserved recognition (Sisario, 2006).  Doolittle became certified gold in 1995, and approximately 800,000 to a million copies of Doolittle were sold in America by 2005 (Sisario, 2006).  And although the band dispersed in 1993, after much in-fighting, their growing success brought them back together in 2004, and they have been performing off and on since then (Sisario, 2006).

As a side-note, Doolittle was polled by NME as the second-greatest influential album of all time in 2003 (“Doolittle (album),” n.d.).

I had heard of the Pixies for years but never knew much about them.  I knew they were an alternative rock back of the late 1980s and were popular on college radio, but other than their video for Here Comes Your Man from Doolittle, I did not listen to them.  It was only until I discovered that the forewoman of the band The Breeders, Kim Deal, was originally the bassist for the Pixies that I decided to explore their music.  I was immediately drawn into their dark and quirky world and was amazed that I had not been a listener earlier in their career.  As with their trend, I became a fan and admirer years after Doolittle’s release.

As a professional influence, my lyrics also tend to be dark and esoteric in nature as with Doolittle.  However, I am still in the process of learning Gil Norton’s (the producer of Doolittle) techniques of adding a clean sheen to a raw sound without stripping the rawness completely away.  And despite the age of the alternating dynamics of soft and loud found in 1990s music, I still enjoy adding a contrast of dynamics in my own work.

The question I have been asked in my Music History II course regarding my place in the industry in five years is a difficult one for me.  I suppose the best way to begin answering this question is to state what I have learned from the various artists throughout this course.  The commonality that comes to my mind is that all these artists were genuine and honest with their standards.  None of them were trying to recreate albums that came before them, neither by themselves nor by other artists.  Each artist had strengths and weaknesses and worked within the given boundaries.  Whether the limits were technological (Kraftwerk worked with synthesizers before MIDI was available) or personal (the trials that Marvin Gaye had to work through when creating What’s Going On), each artist managed to produce stellar material despite the circumstances.  This topic is important to me on a deeply personal level.  I know my road ahead will be a challenging and difficult one, but I am going to make the journey as rewarding to me as possible.

I do not project myself in the future at all, so I do not know where I will be in the industry in five years.  I do know that my passion for music and music production keeps me open to many opportunities.  I will be happy as a freelancer creating music for various libraries, as a soundtrack composer for film or television, or as studio producer helping talent to record his or her material.  In the process, I will strive to keep my originality and be honest with my talents (or lack thereof).

And my final bit of advice is to always keep learning and evolving.  If I ever feel as if I had reached my “destination” in the music industry, it will be time for me to find another line of work.

Shannon McDowell


Doolittle (album).  (n.d.).  In Wikipedia.  Retrieved September 21, 2012, from

Sisario, B. (2006).  33 1/3: Doolittle.  New York, NY: Continuum International Publishing Group.

Electronic Music Innovation: MIDI

MIDI is the acronym for Musical Instrument Device Interface.  Developed in 1982, it is a protocol that allows separate electronic music equipment to communicate amongst each other (History 2012).  In those early days of MIDI, the communication was rather simple: data relating to switching a note on and off and volume control (History 2012).  In time, the MIDI protocol became much more robust with added datasets.  These datasets can control a multitude of parameters and allows a single performer to play a rack of synthesizers and drum machine from a single MIDI controller.

The impact of such a common data language among different electronic instruments and computers has been dramatic.  MIDI incorporated in modern software, known as Digital Audio Workstations, or DAWs, allows complex sequences to be programmed and played back at variable settings.  And MIDI controller devices can be played as instruments to control a huge array of musical equipment.  As a result, a single performer can control a symphony of sounds.

MIDI is now used in virtually all contemporary genres of electronic music.  I am unable to think of an example of modern electronic music production that would not employ MIDI.

As a music producer, I thrive in a MIDI environment.  The DAWs that have developed over the years have allowed me to produce music on a relatively low budget, all things considered.  I am curious about the new MIDI controller called QuNeo and have done some preliminary research on it.  It can control several DAW parameters via MIDI to produce sophisticated electronic music.

As for DAWs, I primarily use three different packages.  These include Apple Logic Pro, Ableton Live, and Propellerheads’ Reason.  I am able to run two DAWs at a time using another protocol called Rewire.  Rewire is in essence a virtual MIDI connection between two DAWs, which then syncs them to playback simultaneously.

Since I have used MIDI for years, much of this blog entry is from experience and not documented sources.  So I decided to include a few links to discuss MIDI in greater detail:

Shannon McDowell



n.a. (2012). History of midi. Retrieved on September 16, 2012, from

Kraftwerk (1974 – 1981 Period)

Kraftwerk is a pioneering electronic music group from Germany founded by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider (Duarte et al., 2011).  Although they produced albums prior to 1974, it was with their 1974 release “Autobahn” that they first received significant attention (Duarte et al., 2011).  With this album, Kraftwerk demonstrated that electronic music had legitimacy in the musical arts.  Their presentation during the United States 1975 tour was similar to factory workers; the members dressed in business attire as they perform on stage (Johnstone, 2008).  But Kraftwerk’s image would continue to evolve towards an “artist as machine” motif (Duarte et al., 2011).

Starting in 1974, Kraftwerk’s albums were mainly concept in nature.  “Autobahn (1974)” concerned itself with transportation and traffic on the Autobahn.  “Radioactivity  (1975)” had as its main theme an interplay with radio technology and radiation.  “Trans Europe Express (1977)” expressed European connectivity with a train as its metaphor.  However, both “Radioactivity” and “Trans Europe Express” were not successfully commercially when they were released (Johnstone, 2008).  It was with their 1978 album “The Man Machine” that Kraftwerk once again found success on the radio and clubs (Duarte et al., 2011).  And in 1981, “Computer Love” was released as celebration of computer technology.

One of the more significant aspects of Kraftwerk’s place in popular music history is their use of cutting-edge technology.  By 1978, Kraftwerk was using sequencers for their drum patterns as well as other synthesizer instruments (Johnstone, 2008).  It kept the music and their image appeal sounding futuristic.  Also, Kraftwerk’s music grew from more experimental pieces on “Autobahn” to club-friendly singles on “The Man Machine.”  They brought electronic music out of the labs and into the charts.

On a personal note, I have always been enthusiastic with Kraftwerk’s music.  My first love of music involved synthesizers and drum computers, and their artistic sensibilities were always appreciated by me and became a significant influence to my style of productions.  And over the years, I have read that many of the electronic music acts I have enjoyed have stated Kraftwerk as an influence.  I am thankful that Kraftwerk was the focus of our studies this week.

Shannon McDowell


Duarte, M., de Conti, & D. Matten, D.  (2011, January 28).  History.  Retrieved September 16, 2012, from

Johnstone, R. (2008). Kraftwerk and the electronic revolution.  Viewed September 16, 2012, at

Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On (1971)”

Prior to What’s Going On in 1971, Marvin Gaye fit the “Motown niche” – Clean-shaven and “image-conscious fashion” (Edmond, 2001).  He already had a few hits, including “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”  (Marvin gaye, n.d.).  His songs were hardly controversial or involved social issues.

After his brother returned from the Vietnam War, and along with the social unrest throughout United States during the 1960s and into the 1970s, Gaye turned his attention to social matters (Edmonds, 2001).  There were riots on college campuses, reports of police brutality were all too common, and the war was clearly taking a toll on the country’s confidence.  These issues were the background under which What’s Going On was produced.

Obstacles were numerous regarding the production and pre-release of What’s Going On.  One of Gaye’s collaborators was attacked by the IRS, Gaye had difficulties within his marriage to Anna, and he suffered from depression as well (Edmonds, 2001).  And there were skeptics against the production, feeling that Gaye was becoming a protest artist (Edmonds, 2001).

One of the significant differences with What’s Going On and other Motown albums at that time was the lyrical content.  While far from a militaristic protest album, the subject matter did raise awareness on a lot of the issues that were at fault in America during the 1960s and 1970s.  Furthermore, the album was released without Berry Gordy’s blessings (Edmonds, 2001).

Sadly, I am not as familiar with the history of Motown as I would like to be.  I do know of many of the hits that were released during the 1960s and 1970s, but I never had the opportunity to listen to a full-length album until What’s Going On.  However, I must say I was thoroughly impressed with Gaye’s work.  I was especially impressed with the reverb and recording techniques employed throughout.  I can see why it is considered an influential album.

On a side-note, I was born the year What’s Going On was released.  I recall the use of brass and strings in contemporary music of my early childhood.  It is easy to assume that music had always sounded that way as a child.  It is only upon researching and listening to different eras of music that one can sense the shift in arrangements and recording arts that transpire over time.  I am thankful that Gaye’s work is one of the requirements for Music History II.  I feel as if I discovered a new artist in the process.

Shannon McDowell


Edmonds, B. (December 2001).  “What’s going on.” The guardian.  Retrieved on September 8, 2012, from

Edmonds, B. (December 2001).  “What’s going on part 2.” The guardian.  Retrieved on September 8, 2012, from

Marvin gaye. (n.d.). In Wikipedia.  Retrieved September 8, 2012, from