Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Top 5 Tips For Recording Your Music On A Budget

Nowadays with the incredible technology we have available to us, many bands will decide to take on the recording duties themselves. This can be a good option (and sometimes the only option) for those who have a decent understanding of what they're doing, but it can also be detrimental if it's not approached carefully with a well thought out plan.

Time is a valuable commodity that, once spent, you can never get back, so it's important to do your best not to waste it as a result of poor planning. I've seen bands waste years trying to do it themselves only to wind up with recordings they're ashamed to release. For those who are considering going it alone, I want to offer some advice to help you produce a better product. One that you can be proud of and not feel that you have to apologize every time you hand it off to someone. "Here's a copy of our album, BUT it was done on an extremely low budget and we had to learn as we went and we didn't know what we were doing, and....", you get the idea.

So here we go, here's some very important points to consider before diving into the DIY recording approach:

1. Record drums with a professional engineer in a proper studio that has a good live room and good gear. Drums are the foundation of your recording and if the drum tracks aren't solid, then everything you build on top of it--no matter how amazing the guitar solo is--will be meaningless. It's just like building a physical structure in the real world. If the foundation is weak, the whole thing is weak, period. In my years of experience, not only is the above statement true, it also can wind up saving you time and frustration down the road. When you're working from a solid drum track, it makes tracking other instruments much easier and more enjoyable for everyone involved.

It also affects the final mixing process because when the individual tracks are solid, it glues together way better and it can shave hours off the time needed to complete a mix because you're not spending your precious time doing damage control.

2. You can record guitars, bass and overdubs on your own. This can save you a lot of money, but only if you're careful. Sometimes bands will record on their own and then if they feel like they're in over their head at a certain point, they'll bring the existing tracks to a professional to fix. More often than not, when this has happened to me, it's actually more work to 'fix' the existing tracks than it is to just start from scratch. And quite often, if I am able to correct some of the problems, it's still a mess and very difficult to work with.

So if you're going to go this route for guitars, bass and overdubs, please make sure you know what you're doing and take your time with the process so you're putting down great performances. Make sure that there's at least two band members present for these sessions so you're less likely to miss any little things while recording. If you're distracted with all the technical stuff then it's quite possible that you won't be paying proper attention to other critical elements. And don't forget to tune your guitars constantly. Tune after every take if need be.

3. Record guitars and bass direct. There are several advantages of direct recording and here are five I can think of right off the bat.

a) You don't need a large space to work in, so you can do it in any room in your home.

You don't have to worry about waking the neighbours.

Your guitar tones will be stored in your computer or the device itself and they can be recalled at any time during the recording process (unlike miking an amp, in which case, once you move the mike away from the speaker, that sound will be gone forever).

You can have, literally, hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of simulated amps, heads, speaker cabinets and pedals available to you for only a few hundred bucks.

If you run a DI line while you're recording, you have the option of re-amping after the fact if you wind up hating your sound when it's time to mix.

4. Hire a producer for recording lead vocals. Under the right circumstances, you can absolutely record great lead vocal tracks on your own, but because for most musical genres the vocals are the most important element, it can be wise to have a pro there to guide you and bring out the very best you've got.

5. Once everything is tracked and ready for mixing, it is an absolute MUST that you hire a professional mix engineer. If you're a novice, this is just too big a task to mess around with. Find someone whose work you like and let them do their job. A great mixer will be able to bring out the full potential of the tracks you've put so much time and energy into recording up to this point. When your songs are professionally mixed, your fans will appreciate it and want to crank it up to 11 and sit back and enjoy. :)

So there ya have it. Take from this what makes sense to you and discard the rest. I hope this helps some people in their DIY recording endevours. As always, if you've had success with certain methods or have anything at all to add to this, I'd love to hear it. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Few Things To Consider For Career-Minded Musicians

Here's a blog I wrote a few years ago. I first published it on MySpace (remember that site?) and it seemed to get a good response. I think all the basic points are still quite relevant, so I thought I'd repost it here. For those who are relative newcomers, I hope you enjoy it and get something out of it and for those who've already read this back when it was originally posted, perhaps a re-read wouldn't hurt. Who knows, it may inspire some new ideas or a new action to take.

I made a couple minor tweaks because some things in the playing field have changed a little in the past three years, but, by and large, it's been reposted verbatim. Feedback is always encouraged, as usual, so don't hesitate to add your thoughts and move things forward. Enjoy!

Is This Important??

You want to use your time as wisely as possible. Time is precious and you don’t want to waste it on unimportant things because there will come a day when the industry will decide that you’re too old to play the game. Make sure you’re always focusing your attention on what’s really important. When you find yourself spending a lot of time on something, stop and ask yourself if it’s really important. If you’re spending time writing songs, that’s obviously very important. In fact, it’s the most important thing you can do. If you’re racking your brain trying to put together a tour and you don’t have a CD or any merch to sell and generate revenue then you might want to put that on the back burner until your album and your swag is ready to go.

Imitate Success

Always look at what successful acts are doing when you’re digging for new ideas to try out with your band. You may as well model artists that are making a living in the music business because that will increase your chances of doing the same. When you go see bands you admire perform live, pay close attention to what they’re doing that makes them great. Do they possess incredible musicianship? Is it how they dress when they’re on stage? Is it that their set flows so smoothly from beginning to end holding your undivided attention for the duration of the concert? Maybe it’s a combination of all those things. Visit the websites of these pro bands and take note of what you like about them so you can gather new ideas for your site. Maybe there’s some marketing strategies they’ve implemented that you could also take advantage of.

Be Visible

People will love you or hate you. Just make sure that they know about you so they can make that decision. You have to put yourself out there and be in everyone’s face. It seems obvious enough yet so few bands actually take advantage of all the avenues available to them that will help them get the attention of the people in the industry that can further their careers.

To become more visible you have to have a strong web presence. Find out about all the websites that you can use to promote yourself to the greatest number of people possible. Sites like Facebook, Reverb Nation, Sonic Bids, Bandcamp, Bandmix, etc. are so important to indie artists who are looking to expand their fan base. Look for qualified fans by doing a little research to find out where your demographic is hanging out online so you can put yourself on their radar. To a great degree, it's a numbers game and the more people who know about you, the more likely you are to sell music downloads/CDs, T-shirts, hats, buttons, and condoms with your logo. Make sure you have an official website that kicks ass! Allow people to subscribe to a mailing list so you can build a loyal legion of fans that will come to your shows, buy your swag and tell all their friends about you.

Be Good To Your Fans

Many bands become discouraged when they book a show and find that very few people show up for it. But you need to ask yourself a couple questions. Why would anyone come to your show? What are they going to get out of it? Sure, they’ll be doing you a favour cause they’re your buddies but it’s going to be pretty hard to sustain a career when you’re constantly begging your friends to come out and support you. In fact, at a certain point you shouldn't have to ask them to come out. If you don't eventually fill a venue with complete strangers, you're not going to have much of a career anyway. The trick is to make people want to come and see you play. Put together a show that will knock everyone on their ass and leave them counting the days till your next gig. That’s what it’s all about. You have to entertain your crowd and nowadays it takes a lot more than just getting up on stage and pounding out a few songs. You have to hold their interest for the entire set and leave them begging for more. Again, take a good look at the bands you love and see what it is that makes them a world-class act.

And when you do attract some hardcore fans, make sure you nurture those relationships. These types of fans are precious and it's important to offer them some perks and incentives along the way to keep them on board. I'm not talking about being manipulative and carrot dangling, I'm talking about forging real relationships with real people who are moved by your music and your story. This is HUGE!

The Magic Man

I see a lot of bands who seem to be on a search for that magic guy who’s going to step in and unlock all the doors to the music industry for them. Don’t bother looking for him because he doesn’t exist. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of good people out there who will help you out and will be happy to do so, but no one is going to get out of bed in the morning and work harder for your band than YOU will. At the core of every band there is a group of highly intelligent and very capable individuals. You’ll find in many cases that there is someone who’s great at representing the band, doing interviews and dealing with industry people. Another person will be great at managing the finances and budgeting for touring, recording and manufacturing product to sell at the venues. And another person will be computer savvy and will be able to put together that killer website, and create graphics for your CD and promo flyers for upcoming gigs. The point is that every member is going to be best suited to a particular task and once you determine who’s going to do what then you can divide and conquer! Imagine how much ground you could cover with four or five people pushing forward together.

This is really the first step in building a team of professionals around your band. The more you do for yourselves, the more you'll attract help from others.

Don't Give Up!

Once you have all your ducks in a row and you’re out there doing it, don’t be discouraged if it seems as though you’re not getting anywhere despite all the hard work you’re putting in. You have to prepare for a long journey and there’s going to be ups and downs along the way and you can’t let anything ruin your focus and take your attention away from what’s important. You have to be committed to your goals so you can persist long enough to achieve them. Believe in yourself, believe in your band and be relentless when it comes to getting yourself out there and pushing forward! And most importantly be honest about what you’re doing musically. Don’t be seduced by trends or by what the band in the next rehearsal room is doing. Do what feels natural, but don't be afraid to experiment a little if it makes sense to do so and it feels right. If you're working with a producer you trust, listen to him/her because they can be integral in helping you bring out your strengths and bury your weaknesses.

Best of luck to you!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

It Doesn't Matter Which Road You Take On Your Journey To Success As Long As You're AWESOME!

Everyone is always looking for the answer to the question, how do I become successful in this crazy music business? It's a pretty big question and somewhat misleading as well because it sort of implies that an answer to this question will reveal a specific method one can adopt, apply and, without fail, it will work every time. There are thousands of articles and blogs written daily about how to become a success in the music industry by doing all the things that you should do. They touch on things such as social networking, building a mailing list, putting together a tour, putting on a showcase, creating an EPK, how to record an album, the proper way to approach managers, publishers and A&R and on and on.

Although they can absolutely be a great help and by no means am I saying they're not relevant, there is really no magic path to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. In fact, if you look at many of the successful musicians, singers and bands out there, you'll find that each of them has achieved success through very different means. I think it has very little to do with what you do and everything to do with how you do it and the attitude you adopt while you're on your journey. Don't let yourself get overwhelmed with all the advice that's floating around online. Really focus in on what resonates with you and just discard the rest. Take BIG actions in as many career-building areas as you can and don't spread yourself thin trying to do everything at once. You'll find that by doing the things that make the most sense to you, you'll be more productive and effective and you'll enjoy the process a whole lot more as well.

The absolute most important thing that you can and must do though, is be completely AWESOME!!! Make sure that you are 100% behind what you're doing and believe in it fully otherwise all of the above is irrelevant. Know that you're being the very best you can be with the creative side of your career; write the best songs you can and record them at the highest possible quality, put everyting you've got into your live show, create a strong image and brand, etc. You'll get attention from people who can offer opportunities that just may give you the push you need.

Here's a great article that I came across by Julien Smith, a New York Times best selling author of a book called Trust Agents. The Short and Sweet Guide to Being Fucking Awesome. Much of what he says in the article can be applied to so many different things, but try looking at it in the context of your music career and see if it stirs up any creative ideas or even just a burst of inspiration. Please let me know how it affects you if at all.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Ember Swift's "Musical Barn Raising" Update

So this is my follow up to the blog I posted on January 19, 2011 about Ember Swift's new album campaign. She has put together a number of different packages to choose from when you make a donation toward her newest album release which is underway as we speak with Montreal-based producer Tim Rideout of FibiiSonic Studio. Have a look at the goodies she's offering to those who participate here.

Thanks to the incredible technological advancements we've experienced in recent years, she's recording her 11th album with Tim from her home in Beijing, China. Amazing! Here's an excerpt from a recent newsletter from Ember where she describes the musical direction of the CD.

I currently have about 15 new songs that include my Grandmother's songwriting (2-3 of her songs will go on the record!) and a collection of material that has twin "English/Chinese" versions.

Styles range from gentle jazz trio to crunchy rock, from solo acoustic folk instrumentals to full-band, gypsy-swing party tunes. Like previous "Ember Swift" releases, this will be an eclectic album.

Here's a link to the entire news release.


She is currently about 2/3 of the way to her goal and is still seeking your help. Please look into this and consider supporting an incredibly talented and dedicated musician like Ember or spreading the word to those who you think would be interested. Let's show the major labels that we really don't need them anymore and further nuture this new trust economy.