Recording and Mastering

Making Money With Music

By NationWide Source Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

The Business of Music

If you are booking paying gigs at all, you at least have a toe in the business side of music. That is, you are performing music in exchange for money. Now, depending on your goals, you may not be making as much money as you hoped. To move forward, there are a few things you need do to get where you want to go.

1. Make a realistic, big-picture goal

Do you know where you want to end up? If the answer is in a penthouse, rolling in piles of money, while your agent turns down gigs because your worldwide tour is sold out, you may need to take a hard look at what you’re doing to achieve that dream. Most of the successful bands and artists you’ve heard of today had a long, hard road to success. They worked grueling hours. They played every thankless gig they could get their hands on. They subjected themselves to rejection in an effort to get their name out to agents, labels, and fans. Most success stories are less a random discovery of untapped musical talent and are more stories of struggle, frustration, and just plain stubborn determination. However, each successful artist would probably tell you that the thing that kept him or her going was an unceasing desire to reach a particular milestone. So, determine where you want to go. This will help you create a roadmap to reach your desired destination.

2. Take an honest inventory of your strengths and weaknesses

With a road map in mind, you now need to look at places where you naturally shine, and the areas in which you could use some improvement. Maybe you kill at rhythm guitar, but could use some practice in lead parts. You might be an amazing songwriter, but need to look into some voice lessons or, at least, voice care. Maybe you need to leave the singing up to another member of the band or put in time on learning how to add loops to your sound. Now is the time to figure out the strengths on which you can capitalize and the weaknesses holding you back. Musicianship is not the only item to take into account. Is there someone on your team who is a natural spokesperson? Use that. Do you have someone with a penchant for entrepreneurship? There’s your business manager. Maybe there’s not a business bone in any of the members of your team. That’s ok, but recognize that as a deficit and work to figure out a way to find the help you need. Which brings me to our next step…

3. It’s okay to admit you need help (and you do)

Whether you are a solo artist or a band, chances are you don’t have your music career all figured out, or you wouldn’t be reading this article. Just a guess. No problem. There’s help out there for you, once you identify the areas where you need it. In step two, did you find that your songwriting needs help? Perfect! There are entire communities of songwriters just waiting for someone to use their songs. These people are often times willing to collaborate with others (you) to create something more tailored to your sound. Can’t find anybody in your town? Through the wonder of the Internet proximity is no longer an issue. If you feel you have untapped potential in the area that is currently (i.e. your songwriting is not quite where you want it) keep honing your skill. The really good songwriters got good by failing a lot first.

Are there bands in your area whose sound you like? Or maybe you appreciate their approach to stage presence. Or maybe you just wonder how to get gigs like the one they’re playing. It might not be a bad idea to find a mentor in the accessible local bands you like. Email them and invite them to have coffee or a drink. Find out if you can pick their brain. If you hit it off plan a jam session. Write together. Maybe you’ll develop a networking relationship with them and who knows where that could lead. More connections? At the end of the day you need people who have gone before you – people with more experience. Seek them out. One day you may be the one giving highly coveted advice to a newbie band.

4. Define your sound

You’re versatile. You’re a mystery. You can’t be pinned down, because you’re universal. Genre-less. Great. Here’s the potential issue. People like categories. Sorry. So, it’s ok if you’re creating a newish sound like Soul/Pop. But, if you’re so ethereal or all-over-the-map that only major hallucinogens enable to connect with your music, you may want to reconsider your approach. Establish the strength of your style’s sound and stick to it. When you have established a solid fan base and have met some of your milestones of success, you can experiment a little. When you’re nationally recognized, multimillionaire you can redefine yourself and take a completely new direction, if you dare.

5. Work hard (Sorry.)

You may have already guessed or even experienced that this is a necessary step. This is the step that can waylay or even remove many talented people from the pursuit of their musical goals. It’s hard out there for a band. The problem is there’s this idea out there that if you want it enough you’ll achieve success. The problem countless people want to achieve their musical dreams and, unfortunately, it won’t happen for everyone. It also takes a measure of humility, especially if you are a legend in your own mind, to play kids birthday or smoky bars or tour (and live) in a cramped van. You have to account for small beginnings – even if you’ve won some battle of the bands or had a cancelled record deal. Whether it’s practicing or networking or gigging (and it’s all of those things) there will be many hours of work. The bottom line is this: do you want it enough to work for it?

6. Create a workable business plan

Having said all that I’ve said about step five, keep this in mind… hard work can be coupled with efficiency. Here’s what I mean. You, the band or artist, have a responsibility to yourself and anyone who wants to keep hearing your music to define what success looks like for you. If music is your main source of income then eating, paying rent, and affording your lifestyle is the very basic measure of success. If you’re a grown person mooching off the people you know because music isn’t paying the bills, you need a new strategy. Are you spending more on gear then your gigs are paying? Did you order a thousand t-shirts when your fan mailing list consists of 87 people? Hoping for success and working toward success are two different things.

If music isn’t paying the bills you need to sit down and figure out why. If you have inroads in the local music scene, you probably have a good idea how much money each venue will pay. Instead of working on your band’s awesome logo, you need to play as much as possible. At those gigs, get people to sign-up for your newsletter. This will allow you to track who has an interest in your music. Communicate with these folks. Tell them when and where you’re playing and give them a reason to bring their friends (free bumper stickers or EPs or make a deal with the venue that your fans get ½ off their first drinks). Have your mailing list sign up at every gig and connect with the people in the audience, both on and off stage. To fund an album, do a PledgeMusic campaign and raise most of your capital before heading into the studio. If you do have an album, be aware that iTunes takes a good percentage of the song sale without allowing you a way to track who bought it. Consider instead having your own online storefront and selling your albums there. Or sell through Amazon. Sure, be on iTunes, but don’t allow that to be your only outlet. And, do everything you can to drive traffic to your storefront. It’s ok to be smart about your approach and think these things out before charging headlong into the musical abyss. Have a plan. You are a musician, but until you hire these people out you are also your own marketer, agent, salesperson, etc. If you don’t know how to fulfill those roles, see step three.

Now get out there and make some music!

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How To Spend Less Money Recording An Album – Part 2

By NationWide Source Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

This is the second article in the “Spend Less Money” series. To read part one, click here.

If you asked a professional sound engineer or studio manager what the number one way to save money in the studio is, they will probably tell you to come prepared. When time is wasted, the dollars begin to add up quickly. So how do you prepare well? We will be addressing this issue in our next few blogs, and today we start out with something you might have overlooked as you began studio prep.


I know you’ve heard it before. Demos—from a simple recording on your smartphone, to a fully produced track—are an important step in the songwriting process. If you are hoping to pitch your song to another artist, a professional demo could help you get those placements.

But the demos we are talking about function a little differently. These are your pre-production demos. They are for you (and your band) to get to know your music better before you hit the studio. They are for tweaking the songs until you get them just right, and they give studio musicians or your band something to rehearse to. If done well, they can even function as a scratch track in the studio, saving you time and money as you begin the tracking process.

Creating Your Demo

In many situations, a simple recording on a smartphone will suffice for a demo. But to use pre-production demos to their full potential, you are going to have to go one step further.

Your demos don’t have to be so fantastic that you don’t actually need to go into the studio after they’re finished. But there are a few key elements that you will need to be able to control as you create your pre-production demos.

You will need a Digital Audio Workstation that will allow you to have control over tempo, and allow you to use a MIDI keyboard or controller. There are many different kinds of DAWs at all different price points. You just need to find one that you are comfortable using. If you already have a more advanced DAW like Protools, use that. Audacity is a free DAW, and Garageband comes pre-loaded on most Macs.

If you are able, I also recommend purchasing a simple USB interface, like this one. This will allow you to hook up a MIDI Keyboard, as well as plug in your guitar and favorite microphone. However, you don’t have to. Most Macs and PCs have built in audio recording devices, and Garageband will allow you to input MIDI using your computer’s keyboard. Although it may be easier in the long run to purchase a USB interface, you can still create a useful pre-production demo for free.


The exact tempo of the music can drastically alter the feel of a song. Even just a few beats per minute (BPM) up or down can have a huge impact. Before you record your demo, rehearse the songs with a click track. If you’ve never used a click track before, this can be a big adjustment. However, playing to a click track is vital for studio work. The better you are at staying locked into the click, the smoother your recording process will be.

As you are rehearsing, try changing the BPM of the click, and playing the song at new tempos. You may find your song works really well as a ballad instead of the mid-tempo rock song you thought it was.

When you find a tempo you think works, create a click track in your DAW and record a simple track, guitar or keyboard and probably vocals. Have other people listen to the song. Have your guitar player or drummer play along with it. If they think it’s too fast or too slow, play around with it. If you record MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) keys as your basic track, it will be easy to adjust them to a new tempo without re-recording. If you recorded acoustic guitar, you may need to re-record. That’s okay. Better to spend a little time up front on these demos than to discover halfway through tracking in an expensive studio that the song is too slow.


As you are playing through a song, you may discover that the key you wrote the song in is not the best key to record the song in. The ability and range of the primary vocalist is the biggest determining factor when choosing a key. You need to make sure your vocalist is comfortable, and can achieve the sound you want in the key the song is written in.

It’s also important to remember that different instruments work best in certain keys. If you know you want to feature brass heavily on a song, it’s best not to record that song in a key with 7 sharps. Brass players usually feel more comfortable in flatted keys, string players feel better in sharped keys. Keeping your instrumentation in mind while you’re choosing a key can help you get a great finished song.


Pre-production demos are also a great place to work out auxiliary parts for your songs. Once you determine the tempo and key, you can use your MIDI keyboard to do some experimentation. If you think that a song needs strings, try adding a string part with a virtual instrument. Doing some of your production this way will allow you to communicate better with session players, a producer, or a sound engineer.

This is also a good time to get your lead guitarist to nail down his solo. While you should allow for creativity to happen when you’re actually tracking, having a plan and knowing exactly what parts you want for each song will make your life easier when it comes time to actually record.

Save Time, Save Money

The biggest reason that pre-production demos are important is their role in saving you time and money as you prepare to lay down tracks. This is true whether you use a home studio, or a professional studio. Pre-production demos allow you to tweak your songs easily, let you play around with sounds, tempos, and meters, and let you know exactly how the songs is going to be structured. That way when it’s time to record, you have a clear picture of what you want. This can be especially helpful if you are in a band and want multiple band members to have input on the overall direction of a song, but don’t want to spend time discussing it in the studio. Regardless of where you are recording, saving time means saving money and pre-production demos allow you to be prepared.

Listen, Listen, and Listen Some More

In addition to allowing you to experiment with your songs, pre-production demos can help with the song selection process, and deciding the order of songs in your project. Although you might already have a good idea of what you want, these demos can help you iron out the rough patches. Listening to the pre-production demos—and allowing other people to hear them—can give you a good idea of what songs are actually good enough to make it on the album. After you have a good idea of what your best songs are, you can begin to listen to them in the order you think they belong in. This allows you to listen for any odd transitions between songs. Pay special attention to what keys your songs are in at this phase. Transitions between keys can greatly affect the mood of your album.

You should also listen to how tempos are grouped. If too many slow songs are together, the album may drag. If too many high energy songs are paired with each other, the audience may get bored. A good way to combat this problem is to have a non-musical friend give you their opinion. Though they might not know exactly what is going on musically, they will be able to listen objectively and point out some issues you may have missed. Listening through your pre-production demos can help you solve these potential problems before you ever get into the studio.

The great thing about pre-production demos is that they are unfinished. Their point is to be a continual work in progress. Let yourself have the freedom to experiment and tweak them. If you use your demos well, you can have better communication between band members, producers, engineers, and session players. They can also help you to achieve a better finished product for less money.

Have any questions or tips on creating demos? Any advice on saving money when you record an album? Let us know in the comments below!

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Recording Acoustic Guitar & Vocals

By Damon Mapp Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Hello again, fellow musicians!

In today’s article, I wanted to tackle recording acoustic guitar with vocals and choosing the right microphones.

Recording Guitar with Vocals—How Many Mics?

A lot of you are probably wondering, “How many mics should I use when recording my guitar with vocals?” Well… it all depends on what type of sound you want.

It’s not uncommon for a modern recording session to have a mic (or several) or direct input for each instrument or vocalist, with each mic/input feeding into a unique audio track in the recording software. This allows the audio engineer to isolate sounds and control them individually.

But, just because it’s common practice doesn’t mean it’s the only way (or even the best way). Before multitracking, using a single mic to record a guitar and vocals was very common. As unusual as it might be today, some of your favorite bands of the past used only 1 or 2 mics to record the whole band, from drums to vocalists. Mics were selected, all the instruments and vocalists were positioned strategically, the engineer pressed record on their 4 track tape machine, and a record was made.

As I said above, the right number of mics for your project depends on the sound you want. To get the right results, though, it’s important to use the right mic and to position it correctly. Keep reading for more details.

Choosing the Right Type of Microphone

Dynamic Mics

Dynamic mics are considered your typical stage mic. Most concert venues, churches, and so on use dynamic mics because they can handle high pressure sound levels, and they are used when the sound source is close and loud. The most popular dynamic mics are Shure SM58, SM57, and SM7B.


PROs: These mics are fairly inexpensive, rugged, and road-worthy. The sound is pure and focused. They do not require phantom power (48v).

CONs: These mics can produce a nasal sound. They lack some high end (in comparison to condenser mics). They also have a pronounced proximity effect (the closer your source is to the mic, the more enhanced the bass sounds), so some EQ tweaking may be needed depending on the sound you are after.

Condenser Mics

Condenser microphones are the most common types of microphones you’ll find in recording studios. They have a much greater frequency response and transient response (which is the ability to reproduce the “speed” of an instrument or voice). They also generally have a louder output but are much more sensitive to loud sounds.

PROs: Much greater frequency and transient response. A louder output.

CONs: Often more expensive than dynamic mics. They can be very brittle with little low end. They require phantom power (48v). They are very sensitive to loud sounds and may require a pop filter for plosives ‘p’ sounds.

Different Types of Condenser Mics:

Large Diaphragm Microphones – Large diaphragm microphones (LDMs) are generally the choice for studio vocals and any instrument recording where a “deep” sound is desired. A large diaphragm microphone generally warms up the sound of what it’s recording. If using a condenser microphone for vocals, you’ll likely want to use a pop screen; these mics are so sensitive to transient noises that the “P” and “SH” sounds you make will cause distortion.

Small Diaphragm Microphones – Small diaphragm microphones (SDMs) are generally the best choice where you want a solid, wide frequency response and the best transient response, which, as we mentioned before, is the ability for your microphone to reproduce fast sounds (such as stringed instruments).

Good condenser microphones include the Audio Technica 2035, Oktava MC012 ($99), RODE NT1 ($199), and AKG C414B ($700) • • •

Once you have decided on the type of mic you are going to use, let’s go over mic positioning.

Mic Positioning

Recording Guitar and Vocals With One Microphone

Try to position the mic far enough away to capture the voice and guitar, but not so far that you capture the room sound. This is going to take some testing of various mic positions for the sound you want. Again, use your ears for best judgment.

As important as proper placement is, it’s even more important to use a mic with the right pattern. A cardiod mic in this scenario may work well because they reject sound from the rear. On the other hand, omni mics have a figure 8 pattern, which means they pick up sound from the front and rear of the capsule.

Recording Guitar and Vocals With Two Mics

If you’re using a large‑diaphragm condenser, you can achieve a useful improvement in the amount of separation by switching from cardioid pattern (where the null is behind the mic) to figure‑8 (where the null is perpendicular to the plane of the mic, and much deeper than in cardioid). How does this help? Using a figure 8 pattern or omni mic means that the null point will cancel the other mic out of its pickup. You may still have some spill, but you won’t have as much of a phasing nightmare.

Microphone Applications

Acoustic Guitar

A small diaphragm cardioid condenser is preferable here. As a starting point, aim it down so it’s looking at the 12th fret, and set it about 6-8 inches away.

Large diaphragm condensers can also work nicely on acoustic guitars, as well as ribbon mics. Have fun experimenting with different mics and placements to find what works best for you.


When it comes time to overdub vocals, you’ll want a large diaphragm condenser mic. For a lead vocal, you should match the mic to the vocalist, who may have a personal mic preference.

As you can see, there are different techniques for different mics for different applications. There really is no standard setup. As I always tell musicians and engineers, use your ears to find out which mic and setup produces the sound you want.

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Different Types of Mastering

By Damon Mapp Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

written by Damon Mapp

You’ve been gearing up for this new release for months. On top of the time it took to write and refine the songs, you and your band have spent countless hours rehearsing, testing the songs at shows, and playing every chance you’ve had to save up for the production of this project. Now that you’ve wrapped up at the recording studio, you can finally relax. It’s done… right?

Well, not quite. It’s time to dive into the last phase of finishing your album: mastering! This phase includes a final polish (adjusting volume, EQ, leveling, compression, spacing), adding the CD Text, submitting the content to Gracenote, and more.

If you read my last article, you should know that there are differences between recording, mixing, and mastering. But, did you know there are different types of mastering? Maybe you did. If not, though, don’t worry. Today, I’m going to explain two different types of mastering: stereo mastering and stem mastering.

Stereo Mastering

Stereo mastering is the more common of these two types of mastering. It’s the final polish before mass production and distribution.

For stereo mastering, you take your final mixdown (or stereo track) that the mix engineer has produced, apply balance, EQ, and compression (if necessary), and tweak any other tonal enhancements or deficiencies that the track may have before it reaches its final place: on store shelves, on your merch table, or online for digital distribution. This mastered track is normally louder, punchier, and more articulate than the mixdown.

Stem Mastering

Compared to stereo mastering, stem mastering takes things a little further and offers more options to a mastering engineer. That’s because a stereo master starts with just two tracks (the left and right of the mixdown), but a stem master consists of the separated elements of a track.

I know, I know; some of you are saying, “Now I’m really confused. What do you mean separated? I thought we took care of all that in the mix process!”

Well, I’m glad you asked! For this type of mastering, things happen a little differently, starting in the mixing stage. Each stereo element—drums, bass, synths, lead vocals, background vocals, and sometimes other instruments—is recorded or bounced out as a group. For example, you can bus all of your drums—you know, the kick, snare hats, etc—to one group or bus during the mixdown process. After the drum bus gets EQ’d and compressed, it is re-recoded to a final mixdown track, which is known as a stem. Repeat this process for all of the other elements in the mix, and you’ll have stems for vocals, synths, bass, and so on. These stems are processed and recorded by the mix engineer and then given to the mastering engineer.

When working with stems, the mastering engineer has access to levels on the stems the mix engineer has created. This means that instead of trying to balance levels within one stereo track, the mastering engineer now has access to the separate stems, which can be processed independently of each other. In stereo mastering, if you made an EQ change in the bass region, it would affect the entire mixdown. But if you make that same change on just the drums stem, it would only affect the drum stem, leave the bass on the rest of the song as-is.

As you can imagine, this gives the mastering engineer incredible flexibility in maximizing the sonic potential of each separate stem.

So which one is better?

That is a decision for you, your band, and/or your mix engineer to make. My suggestion is to try both and see which one sounds better to you. They both have their technical advantages and disadvantages, but I will tell you what I always tell artists and musicians: use your ears!

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Recording, Mixing, and Mastering—What’s Really Going On?

Recording, Mixing, and Mastering—What’s Really Going On?

By Damon Mapp Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

written by Damon Mapp

As an audio engineer, I constantly meet people, including clients, who have no idea what the differences are between recording, mixing, and mastering. They might have heard the terms before, but they usually can’t correctly describe what each term means. For those not in the music industry, that’s both understandable and acceptable. However, for those of you in the music business, whether you’re an artist or a manager or an engineer, you need to know what those terms mean.

So, let’s get started.

Recording and Tracking

First, here are some basic definitions for you: recording is the process of capturing sounds, and a recording session is one instance where this happens (as opposed to a live performance).

A standard recording session involves multiple musicians, instruments, and vocalists. So, for the sake of this illustration, we’ll say your band has a drummer, guitarist, bass player, keyboard player, and two vocalists. Now, you could record everything on one microphone… but the drums might overpower the vocals, and the keys might blend into the bass line in certain sections. Recording everything together is like playing entirely unplugged; it can work, but most bands perform miked and plugged into sound systems to provide their audience with a good and balanced audio experience. That same option exists with recording. Instead of recording everything through one microphone, you can record each element separately to its own track in the workstation or mixer. This approach, which is called tracking, lets you (or, more likely, your audio engineer) go in later to perfect the balance of sounds.

Note that I said each element, not each instrument or vocal. That’s because some instruments consist of multiple elements, each of which will need its own mic. For example, a standard drum kit might have a mic for the kick, snare, floor toms, rack toms, cymbals, and high hats. This allows you to create a much more precise sound in the next phase: mixing.


Mixing is taking the individual elements that were recorded as separate tracks in the workstation or on tape and adjusting their levels and tones to create the right balance. Remember when I mentioned that, without separate mics (and their resulting tracks), the drums might overpower the vocals? That’s a balance issue, and mixing allows you to prevent or correct that.

With mixing, you can ensure that certain tracks aren’t overbearing or piercing or, at the other end of the spectrum, too soft and buried by the other elements. You also apply EQ, compression, editing, and effects if they are needed or desired.

Once the mixing is complete for a track, the engineer saves a “mixdown” of the song, which is turned into an album in the next stage: mastering.


Like the mixing process, the mastering process involves finding balance. However, instead of balancing elements within a song, you’re balancing the different songs into a cohesive album. This involves:

  • Balancing the level and tonal settings (EQ) of the songs
  • Controlling the dynamic range (how loud and quiet each section is) for the right musical blend of variety and power
  • Editing the “tops and tails”—the beginning and ending of each song—and the gaps to create a compelling sequence
  • Fixing any outstanding problems from the mix, if possible
  • Protecting your content by including PQ information, UPC/EAN codes, ISRCs, and CD Text
  • Creating finished files that are ready for manufacturing and/or distribution

Mastering is an important part of the process that many artists overlook or undervalue. It’s more than just cranking up the volume, which is what many artists request. It requires a big picture approach and an eye for detail. Without both efforts, the finished album isn’t… well, it isn’t finished.

With today’s technology, it is becoming increasingly easy to record and mix in your bedroom or home studio. While this can be a viable option (which I will elaborate on in a future article), I honestly recommend hiring a professional audio engineer for your recording project. In addition to having the gear and software, a good engineer and studio will have proper room acoustics, training, experience, and an ear for what they do. Those valuable tools aren’t acquired easily, nor are they sold on store shelves.

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Understanding Music Copyright Downloadable Guide

Understanding Music Copyright—FREE Downloadable Guide

By David Frazee Estimated reading time: 1 minute

written by: David Frazee

Over the past couple weeks, Source has shared three of my articles on music copyright. I know the articles were long, and I know there was a lot of detail in there. I also know how important it is to make sure your rights—and the rights of your fellow songwriters—are protected.

So, to help, I put together this downloadable cheat sheet for copyright and cover songs:

CLICK the above image to open, download, or print!
CLICK the above image to open, download, or print!

Note that, should copyright laws change, this chart may no longer be correct. Additionally, if you have questions regarding the legal intricacies of your specific situation, you should contact an entertainment attorney near you.

I hope that this chart and the previous articles give you a good starting point to know your rights and the rights of your fellow songwriters!

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What Makes a Hip Hop Album Great?

What Makes A Hip Hop Album Great?

By Julian Keaton Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Written by: Julian Keaton

This week marks the 20th anniversary of Nas’ Illmatic album, and there are several reasons why this particular album is still relevant today. Illmatic has a unique and collaborative production sound, superb storytelling, cultural transcendence, and originality. It’s no coincidence that other timeless hip hop albums—like OutKast’s ATLiens, Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP, and Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city—also have these characteristics. If you want your hip hop record to withstand the test of time, these are important factors to consider.

It’s important to have talented producers working on your album, but they have to be able to work together. When working as a unit, studio sessions go smoother, the songwriting is better, and you can bounce ideas off everyone to get the best out of the song. Illmatic had five producers who worked together to make a well-knit, well-produced album. The Marshall Mathers LP had three main producers. ATLiens was mainly produced by Organized Noise. Because these groups of producers were tight-knit and able to collaborate, they created unique sounds that cannot be replicated.

In today’s music world, it’s no secret that labels arrange writing camps, where they pull together a team of the best songwriters in the country with the sole purpose of writing songs that will be commercially successful and, hopefully, lead to hit records. This approach, which utilizes the complimentary strengths of each writer, can result in songs with superb storylines, catchy melodies, and solid beats. It’s less common in hip-hop than in other genres—like R&B, pop, and country music—but it does still happen. In fact, some of the most impactful hip-hop songs come from collaboration, including Run-D.M.C.’s “My Adidas” and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message”. While you don’t have to collaborate to come up with quality music, doing so can open you to the ideas and methods of other artists.

Superb storytelling in these songs is what allowed them to transcend and impact culture. For example, many of the songs on Kendrick Lamar’s major label debut dealt with economic disenfranchisement, gang violence, and peer pressure—all of which are core to the culture of hip-hop. These same themes, though, connected Lamar’s songs with the millennial generation, made the album so influential, and caused a paradigm shift in the culture.

Lastly, and just as importantly as the other factors, each of the above albums stands out and stays relevant because the artists focused on maintaining their originality. A perfect example of a group focused on originality is Odd Future. Odd Future made a huge splash in the national music scene in 2010 because of its originality and unpredictability. Being able to stand on your own beliefs and ideas keeps your music fresh and original, while being different and intentionally not following trends makes you stand out. Fans definitely notice and often appreciate this focus on originality.

These factors can help your hip hop album stand out, be impactful, and withstand the test of time.

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Music Producers: Does Your Band Need One

Does Your Band Need A Producer?

By NationWide Source Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

When your band is looking at recording its music, there will be many factors to consider. One of the most important decisions for independent musicians to make is who participates in the process with them. Do you find a manager? What about a producer? Do you even need a producer? If you truly are an “indie band” and are self-made, the idea of getting a producer can seem a little hypocritical. On the other hand, once you’ve recorded with a producer, it can be difficult to imagine recording without one.

It is important to deliberate these issues before you begin the music recording process. As a band, you will need to make a collective decision about whether or not you’ll have a producer. If your band has been working with a manager (of any form), this person or group should probably also have a vote in the decision.

Pros and Cons of Music Producers

Many of the potential pros of working with a music producer are also potential cons.

A producer should guide your band through the recording process, maybe asking you to step outside your band’s comfort zone and try new things. This could be helpful, especially for bands unfamiliar with the recording process or uncertain of the direction they want to go. For other bands, this potential micromanagement might be frustrating, and the suggestions might push your band in a direction you don’t want to go. Be open to new ideas, but know yourself; if the results don’t fit with your band’s sound or goals, say something.

Producers can also pull strings to get you a good deal on recording time; this might mean working on their schedule or at their studio, though.

Some producers may dip their toe outside the music recording process, handling record labels, venues, contracts, and marketing. Again, this might be helpful, or it might push your band in a direction you don’t want to go. Be open, but speak up if needed.

Making The Choice

Working with a producer can open up your sound in ways you’ve never known before. This is why producers are such a vital component to the music recording process for virtually all professional bands. That said, if you decide to use a producer, make sure everyone is clear about every step of the process up front. If your band doesn’t agree with what’s happening, speak up before you sign anything… and never sign your rights away.

Has your band recorded music? Did you use a producer or go it alone? What factors led you to that decision?

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Recording Studios: The Process

Recording Studios: The Process

By NationWide Source Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

If you’re heading into your first recording session, you might not know what to expect. To help, we’ve assembled a basic outline of the recording process below.

Please note: each recording session is unique, and preferences will vary from one band or recording studio to the next. Some artists do as many takes as necessary to obtain the elusive perfect version, then carefully blend the tracks together. Other artists use software as their recording studios and do only one sitting, adjusting it digitally as needed. Other artists prefer to record live performances, including variations, flaws, and audience interaction. For the sake of simplicity, we’ve looked at the basic process using organic instruments.

The Backing Track

This is the skeletal framework of the song. Start with the drums, then the bass, then record the rest of the instruments. Remember: not everyone nails it their first time out of the gate. In fact, the unpredictability of artists is one of the things that makes recording so exciting. Tip: you may want to use a metronomic click track to help your rhythm section keep time.

The “Scratch” Vocal Track

Once the backing tracks are set, you will likely record a reference or “scratch” lead vocal to serve as a guide for backup singers. This also provides a preview of the finished product—which is often encouraging and inspiring.

Backup Vocals

How do you want the background vocals to sound? Like the Beach Boys? Like ELO? Or do you want something a bit simpler? While your music should be ready before you enter the studio, this is when you officially decide what path the song will take.

Solos and Overdubs

Consider this the “season to taste” portion of the recipe. Does the song need a little guitar solo here or some extra oomph there? Listen to what you have so far. What is it calling out for?

The Lead Vocal

Time to give the performance of your life. You might get it in one take, or you may nail it on the thirtieth. Give it your all, and be patient.

The Mixing Session

If you thought you were done when the recording wrapped, think again. Mixing is the art of squeezing a studio full of music into a space the size of a human ear. Scrutinizing every square inch of the track and making sure every level and sound is perfect takes time. Put the coffee on and get cracking.

It’s that simple. Now, all you have to do is repeat the above ten or twelve times, and you’ve got yourself an album.

Have you been through the recording process? Did it flow like we described, or was it different for you? Do you have any advice for first-time recorders?

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Music Recording Equipment: Finding the Right Headphones

Music Recording Equipment: Finding the Right Headphones

By NationWide Source Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

Headphones may be overlooked when people think about what equipment is needed to make music recordings happen, but they are an important part of the recording studio. In a recording session, artists may want to use headphones to hear their voice or other parts of the arrangement. The headphone mix may affect their performance, so it’s important that you have good headphones to help the artist hear clearly and perform their best.

DT 770 PRO by beyerdynamic

These crazy-comfortable closed-back headphones may be the very best on the market in their price range (or perhaps in general). They fit around the ears tightly but comfortably. Their clarity is amazing – if you solo a vocal, it’s like you are standing right in front of them. There is also a semi-open back model called the DT 880 PRO, and a fully-open back for critical listening and mastering called the DT 990 PRO. Price: $299

K240 Studio by AKG

The K240s are semi-open studio headphones that also have very comfortable pads. These headphones are very light while wearing (240g). The cable that comes included is a mini-XLR to 1/8th inch adapter, allowing for very easy cable replacement. Price: $149

HD 280 PRO by Sennheiser

Sennheiser makes a great set of headphones that isolate very well. This is important for recording. If you are trying to record a quiet, intimate vocal, you don’t need the music leaking out of their headphones and being recorded into the vocal track. The solid construction doesn’t hinder comfort and helps durability. This pair of headphones are built with closed construction. Price: $99

SRH240A by Shure

The SRH240A headphones are a rugged set of closed headphones. This more affordable pair is comfortable and isolating; again, perfect for recording with minimal bleed, and also great for music listening. Price: $75

Other Tips for Choosing Headphones

When choosing a pair of headphones for music recording, keep in mind your needs. Will you be mixing with them? Make sure they are comfortable and honest sounding. Will you be using them for artists to be monitoring while recording? Choose a pair that are closed and isolating. Before listening and trying them out, make a mix of music you are very familiar with. Listen to what the high end, low end, and mids sound like. Make sure the headphones replicate each well.

Have you established a recording studio? What type of headphones do you prefer to use, and why?

See also: Recording Music: Pros and Cons of Creating a Home Studio, Recording Music: Essential Equipment for a Home Studio, Music Recording Equipment: The Best Microphones, Music Recording Equipment: Digital Audio Workstations.

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