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A Little Bit about Studio Etiquette pt 2

Studio owners are very cautious about what happens around their equipment. To make sure that you respect the environment that you are borrowing, here are a few thoughts to make your recording experience better.

Be Supportive and Positive

There are many benefits to having a positive and supportive attitude. It can also have a huge impact on the result of the recording.

One of my favorite studio stories has to do with this topic.

I once had a student who was a singer. She was charismatic and a natural and a natural performer. She was also an identical twin. On one of her songs she had convinced her sister to sing back-up parts. Like many twins, her sister was not a singer even though she had almost the same voice and she was also not a natural performer. This was her first time in the studio which is nerve racking for most people. In this case it was worse because the control room was had her sister, myself and about 10 other students in there listening to her. Naturally she was very nervous and it was very easy to hear that she felt uncomfortable.

During one of the takes, I had my head down to where, form her perspective, it looked like I was just listening to the take. What I did was tell my students in the control that we needed to boost her confidence, so when I hit the talkback button everyone has to tell her that she is doing a great job, that her voice is beautiful and that she just needs to project a bit more and turn that voice loose. It took about two takes for her to fully let go of the nerves and she actually got to a point where she was projecting too much and we had to tell her to bring it down a notch. In the end, she found out that she had it in her to not only sing but to sing well. All she needed was a little positive support.

Focus on the Recording

Recording sessions can be very long and monotonous especially if you are doing take after take after take… It may seem like not much is happening but the producer and engineer are listening very intensely to the performance. Even when the song is being played back, they are listening to the performance. A rule that I learned early on in my days of hanging out in studios is that in the control room, the focus is always on the music and therefore;

 

No talking while recording.

 

Most studios have a lounge area so if you feel like you are getting bored and feel the need to talk about something other than what is being recorded, take a break and go to the lounge. The producer and engineer wouldn’t mind, in fact they will appreciate your consideration to maintaining their focus.

Substances

I don’t want to get into how drugs are bad, illegal and why you shouldn’t do them. We all know that.

I have had clients who insisted on bringing various substances to the studio in order to help their performance. It never does. All I will say is this, everything in moderation but if you need the help of drugs or alcohol in order to perform, you have a problem that needs to be fixed. Try to name a successful addicted artist who is living a happy and healthy lifestyle.

I’m sure that there are more things that can be thought of as proper studio etiquette but those are the main ones in my opinion. The bottom line is to give the support that you want to receive, the creation of the music is the main focus and have fun.

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The Realities of Audio Editing

What Editing Can’t Do

Over the years as technology has continued to improve, I have noticed an increase in the reliance of editing to compensate for, well… to put it bluntly, bad musicianship. If your singing is off in terms of pitch or timing, it can be fixed. If your bass or guitar playing is off timing or out of tune, it can be fixed. If your drummers timing is off or the drums don’t sound good, they can be fixed or replaced. Editing can do all of these things. It can make you sound better than you are but it cannot make you better than you are.

What Editing Can Do

When it comes to the possibilities of editing I have a simple description that I like to use.

There are four skill levels when it comes to a performance and the playing of an instrument. What editing can do is kick your skill level up a notch, but only one notch! If your performance is OK, editing can make it sound good but not great. No matter what anyone tells you, it is not possible to make the jump from OK to Amazing through editing. The only way to do that is through determination and practice.

To further cement the truth behind this statement, here is a 3 min. clip of Niel DeGrasse Tyson (Host of Nova Science Now) singing and then having it corrected using AutoTune. Make sure you note how he describes the skill level of his own singing and how long he says it took to correct it.

Did the corrected version sound amazing, great, good or just OK to you?

I rest my case.

sonictechworks.com offers online editing, click here to see our services.

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What is Mastering in Layman’s Terms?

Mastering is one of the most misunderstood things by the general public. People tend to think of mixing and mastering as being the same thing and to some extent they are but to audio professionals they are very different. To give you a clearer idea of what it is, here is how the explanation unfolded to my, not at all musically inclined, spouse.

One day while listening to her ipod she says to me “it’s really annoying how the volumes of the songs between artist are different, why is that?” I then tell her that that is partially what the mastering engineer is responsible for. He unifies the songs in terms of loudness, frequency balance and sonic quality so that one song does not sound louder or quieter, bass heavy or brighter, sonically better or worse than the other songs on the album. That is why you only notice this difference between artists but not between songs off of the same album.

The reason mixing and mastering get confused is because the general description of mixing is very similar. The difference between the two is what they are focusing on. As you know, the focus in mixing is on getting all of the instruments to sound well together through the manipulation of sound on an individual track level. In mastering, the focus is on getting all of the song in an album to sound well together through the manipulation of each song on a stem or stereo track level. Creating stems tracks of a song is where you split the instruments up into groups such as drums with bass, guitars, vocals, etc… I should also mention that mastering is the last step before printing a CD or releasing your music to the world. Many people seem to have the idea that they need to have a song mixed and then mastered, mix another song and then have that song mastered. This is not the best approach because the mastering process is one that unifies the qualities of  all of the songs. The mastering engineer needs to have all of the final mixes or stems of the songs in order to do that. This is another way in which mixing differs from mastering because you can finish the recording of one song and have it mixed while you record another. Whereas for mastering, all of the songs should be mixed before mastering can begin.

sonictechworks.com offers online mastering, click here to view our services.

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A Little Bit About Studio Etiquette pt 1

When people think of a studio and a recording session the first thing that comes to mind is the image portrayed on TV and in music videos. This image is usually far from the truth. A recording session is not finished after one or two takes and it is far from a party environment. Many studios have equipment worth thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. The most expensive microphone that I have ever used was a $12000 vintage Telefunken U47 and we were very careful around that microphone.

With that in mind, you can understand why studio owners are very cautious about what happens around their equipment so make sure that you respect the environment that you are borrowing. Here are a few thoughts to make your recording experience better.


Essential People

The only people who need to be at a recording session are the people that have a direct influence on the recording:

  •         The musicians
  •         The engineer
  •         The producer

People who probably shouldn’t not be there are:

  •         Talkative and opinionated friends
  •         Girlfriends and significant others

It is fine for them to visit because a recording studio is a cool thing to see but there is work that needs to be done and they can be the cause of unwanted distractions. Some friends even try to take over the producers job.

Talkative and opinionated friends can actually be very beneficial to a session if their opinions are in tune with those of the producer. If not, their presence becomes very detrimental to the process, especially if the friend has no recording experience. Their goal is always to help but they can have a tendency to have a short term, from take to take, perspective and not know or be aware of how one action now can effect a later process such as editing or mixing. I have seen a producer tell a band to get rid of a friend in the studio because the producer got tired of explaining to him that all of his suggestions would mean hours of unnecessary editing later. Imagine that your song is a house under construction where the producer and the engineer serve as the designer and the contractor. One day, a friend with no design or contracting experience wants to take control over the building of your house. Would you let him? 

Girlfriends and significant others can have an effect on a session because their presence can set a certain mood. This can work for or against the recording. Many people don’t want to admit it but they act differently around their partners. You can hear it when they answer the phone or when they are around. Girlfriends and significant others typically change the dynamic of the group simply by just being there which in some cases alters the performance.However, there is a time that I would say that friends and partners should absolutely be there. This is when the mixing is nearing the end and the final tweaks are being made. During this part of the process the guitar player wants to hear more guitar, the singer wants more vocals, the drummer… etc. In this situation it is good to have friends in because they can bring a less biased opinion to the group.

 

Use Constructive Criticism

I have a general rule when it comes to criticism.

 Don’t mention a problem if you don’t have a solution to it.

 Imagine that you are playing a new song and after you play it through, someone tells you that you played it wrong and you should fix it but offers no suggestions on what to do differently. How frustrating and de-motivating is that?

This leads into the next rule in part 2.

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Bands and Brands – What You Need To Know About Getting Your Music Licensing

It goes without saying that the dream of most bands is to make a living creating music. The boom of technology has made this goal possible at a price unheard of in the past. That being said, many bands who can self produce their own records aren’t always the most skilled marketers. In this article I’d like to give you a few ideas on how you can get you music placed in commercials, TV or film scores.

Why License Your Music?

I’ve heard it many times, “If you put your music in a commercial you’re a sell-out”. Yes, I get that, however, if you go bankrupt you’re also not going to be making much music either. Although, busking is fun, right? So, why should you try to get your music licensed?

  1. Exposure – Having your music played in a national TV spot or big budget film means lots of ears listening to your music.
  2. Financial – Typically this is how big bands make their bread. Royalty payments can be substantial for music placed in commercials or in a production.
Like any business you need to keep investing in improving the product. By having a revenue stream that is passive, meaning you don’t have to be there, you can work on your craft or purchase new equipment or bring in specialize talent. Roadie anyone?
Before moving on I want to address the corporate sell out stigma. I some capacity I agree with this and I do think that some bands should stay away from certain brands. This is part of the decision you as a band need to make. Will the connection between the brand and your band be a springboard to new and better gigs? Marketing circles might call this positioning or putting your band in a certain place in someone’s mind. It’s a powerful tool for any brand or band.

How To Get Your Music Placed

Now, the tricky part getting you music placed.

You first must know that your new best friend should be a music supervisor. A music supervisor is usually the person responsible for placing music in a commercial or film. They typically also help with license agreements. Getting to know these people can be tough but with persistence you can connect with them. Your best avenue is to attend industry events and introduce yourself. Once you’ve built a rapport ask to send your demo to them. Warning: Never send unsolicited music. It’ll end up in the circular file.

There are a number of online services now that can also help get your music placed. In return for your money the service provider will help promote your music and in some cases you will be competing for the same job. Have a look at TAXI or BroadJam.

With that your best option is to get out and meet people. Remember, “It’s not who you know but, who knows you”.

 

Almost born with a guitar in his hands Jordan Stevens has been instrumental in inspiring brands to stand out and be heard. His music has been performed internationally and on the silver screen including a premiere at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He is the owner of TreBrand and in his spare time he likes to swim with the fishes in the sea.

Get a free report “The psychology of sound…how it will impact your bottom line.” sign up for Sound Advice.

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Getting the Best Live Sound out of the Engineer

At some point in time, every band is going to want to share their musical skill and talent with the general public and do a live performance. Most bands actually do live performances two or more time per week in the form of rehearsals. The only difference between a rehearsal and a live performance is the addition of the audience and the addition of a new band member, the live sound engineer.

I have often seen it in studio session where the band comes to refer to the producer/engineer as another band member, for example Sir George Martin and the Beatles, but I see this reference less in the live environment even though the relationship is the same. In both situations, the engineer’ goal is to:

Create the best sounding performance possible.

Here are a few suggestion to help you to help your live sound engineer achieve that goal.

1. Be punctual

Something that a lot of bands don’t know is that the live sound engineer is usually the first person there and the last person to leave and if a band isn’t on stage he is usually just waiting and guarding his gear. With that said, it is much valued and important that the band be on time for the set up and sound check. This is the time where the live sound engineer has the freedom to concentrate on the individual instrument sounds, effects and the monitor mix without the distractions of an audience. You can go so far as to say that the sound check is the most important part of a show so don’t rush through it either. Also, drums take the longest to set up so it is even more important for the drummer to be on time or early.

2. Organization

This is more important for festival situations where there are multiple bands and potentially little or no time for sound check. In this situation it is important for the live sound engineer to know;

  1. what instruments are involved

  2. where should they be placed

  3. who is playing what instrument or instruments

In the best of situations I have seen bands show up with a stage plot describing these topics and there was ONE PERSON!! in the band who communicates this with the live sound engineer. I stress the “one person” because sometimes internal band egos get in the way and different opinions get expressed which only lead to confusion and frustration. When the organization is there, everything just flows and it becomes a very enjoyable experience.

 The next few step can vary all depending on the console’ configuration and whether or not there is a monitor mix that is separate from the house mix. This is where things can begin to get frustrating for both the live sound engineers and artists especially if there is a time limitation.

3. Stage Volume and Monitoring

For those who are not familiar with the term “stage volume” it is the the loudness of the instruments and the output from the stage monitors in a room with the main speakers off. 

If the stage volume is too loud, the system will be on the verge of feeding back all the time. Every live sound engineer wants to avoid this because he will be blamed for it. The bad thing about stage volume is that the live sound engineer has very little to no control over it. The sound produced from the stage is the result of the instrument and monitor sounds reflecting off of the walls close to the stage. This sound usually sounds very unclear, unbalanced and muddy to the audience. Solving this problem actually has more to do with the band than it does with the engineer.

First of all, having the right equipment for the situation helps a lot. A huge amp and cab for a small venue is rarely a good idea. It actually comes down to attitude. Instead of setting the volume according to what you want to hear or feel, try setting your volume according to how little you need to hear or feel. That was you are not competing with your fellow band members instead you are cooperating with them in order to achieve a harmonious balance between all of you. This can take some getting used to but in the end it will allow for lower stage volume, giving the live sound engineer more control over the overall sound in the house and ultimately a better experience for the audience or rather, future fans.

Setting the Monitor Levels

The greater the number of monitor feed outputs you have the better. It gives the live sound engineer flexibility in what to send to which monitor but in situations where there is only one monitor feed, setting the monitor levels can get a bit tricky. In such a situation the performers must have a more compromising attitude towards the monitoring needs of the other band members.

4. Getting the Sound

At this stage the live sound engineer’ focus is on processing and adding effects. Often this process will begin with the drums where the drummer will be asked to play each drum one at a time while the live sound engineer fine tunes the processing of that drum. During this process the engineer is wanting to get a steady and powerful hit of that drum.

 A little tip: If you hit the drum at a frequency of about one hard hit per second and refrain from hitting any other drum until the live sound engineer asks you to, he/she will absolutely love you! If the rest of the band can refrain from playing their instruments during this process, he/she will love all of you!

 After that, the live sound engineer may want to work on and add the remaining instruments individually or he may just ask you to jam, in which case you should take the opportunity to run through your set. Once he is nearing the end of the processing and equalizing process, he will most likely start to walk around the room to check the sound in various locations. This is a good time to revisit the monitor levels and notify the live sound engineer of any small adjustments. 

Once all of the previous steps are done, the only thing that the live sound engineer has to do concentrate on the finer things like balancing the instruments and boosting the guitar solos and all the band has left to do is rock the show.

 I would love to hear about your experiences with live performances and live sound. There are always some good horror and funny stories so please scroll down and leave a comment or share this with others.

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5 Questions every band should answer before recording

1. Will you record with or without a click/metronome?

The problem with this question is that some bands can be a little overconfident when it comes to playing to a metronome and end up having a rude awakening when listening back. The solution to this is the realization that if you want to record to a metronome, you need to rehears to one. Even if you are going to record live off the floor without a metronome, rehearsing with one will help to improve your internal timing.

2. Do you have everything that you need for the recording?
I once had a weekend session come to a grinding halt because a guitar string broke, there wasn’t a spare and no music stores were open. The same can be true for drum skins. Always bring replacement strings, skins, etc… to the session.

3. Do you have the proper instruments for the recording?
There is a huge difference between using an instrument for rehearsal vs. for recording. In the rehearsal space you may not notice that your drums have a rattling and ringing problem or that your electric guitar that you learned how to play “Stairway to Heaven” on records like fresh dung. In the end, all potential problems will have to either be fixed or lived with but it would be best if they could be avoided. Remember, these are your recordings that will be played hundreds of times over. Some studios have instruments that you can use but don’t be afraid to spend a little extra cash and rent some good instruments and gear if you have to.

4. Is the song structure finalized?
Discussing whether or not the bridge should be 4 bars or 6 bars, if there should be a modulation or how long the guitar solo should be are all topics that can be discussed before you step into a $30 – $150/hour studio environment. What will save you money is recording your rehearsals with a portable device like the Zoom H4, reviewing the songs and making changes until you are satisfied with the performance.

5. Is the performance the best it could be?
Have you ever head anyone make this statement about a song? “Wow, the engineer didn’t fix the band’s timing or pitch very well”. Not really, right. When a band is recorded the engineer is capturing their performance, vibe, interaction and musicianship. I used to tell my students that through technology we can make a mediocre performance sound good, a good performance sound great and a great performance sound amazing but the starting point is up to the musicians and the producer. In the end it all comes down to how well did you perform and the merit of the song. Also from a financial standpoint, it makes sense to iron out all the kinks and perfect the songs in a $400/month rehearsal space rather than in a $30 – $150/hour recording studio.

Keep practising but most importantly, have fun.

Kyhan