Category: Music Recording

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.

Demos.

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.

Tempo

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.

Key

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.

Production

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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How to Spend Less Money Recording an Album

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

So you’ve decided it’s time to make an album. You’ve been playing these songs live, you’ve recorded the demos, and people keep asking, “When is your album coming out?”  You can’t wait to get these songs tracked and you’re ready to see all the music inside your head coming to life.

And then you figure out how much it’s going to cost.

Recording an album can get expensive. But it doesn’t have to break the bank. You don’t have have to drop $10,000 to get a great record, if you go into the process prepared. Knowing up front what  is important to you can help you decide what you want to spend money on, and what you can skip to make the process cheaper.

So lets look at some things that will drastically affect the cost of your record, and how to drive those costs down.

Length of the Project

The length of the project will drastically affect your cost. 12 songs are more expensive to record than 3 songs.

You have to be honest with yourself—and your other band members—about what songs are good enough to go on an album. Make sure that your investment of time and money is funding great songs. You want to make an album that you are going to be proud of for years to come.

Do People Actually Want a Full-Length Album?

As you make decisions about your upcoming project, you need to look at the music industry as a whole. For the past 15 years, we have seen album sales drop, and sales of singles rise. When you create an album of any size, you invest time, money, and a lot of emotions. You need to be able to get a return on your investment. Sometimes, recording a full length album is a great idea. Creatively, getting to spread your wings and work on 12 songs can be a wonderful thing that fulfills you as an artist. If you have the time and money to record a full album and that’s what you want to do, then go for it. But for many artists, recording a smaller body of work now can result in a better return on your investment later.

If you have four really great songs that people absolutely love, and seven songs that are just okay. Just record those four songs. You’ll cut your cost drastically, and you’ll be giving fans the music they truly love.

Producers

You also have to decide whether or not to work with a producer.  Producers have been a part of recorded music since its inception, and they are an important part of the recording process. If you have a particular sound in mind, finding a producer who specializes in your genre can be a great way to make sure your music is comparable to what is currently available. Working with a great producer can also bring a valuable outside opinion on the music you will be recording.

A producer can be one of the most expensive parts of your album. But a great producer who understands you and your music can take your album to new heights. Some artists love working with a producer, while other musicians prefer to do it all themselves. You have to decide what’s right for your music. If you have found a producer you trust, and can afford them, I recommend you hire one.

Often producers and sound engineers are the same person, especially for smaller projects. This can help you cut costs while still reaping the benefits of having a producer.

Studio or At Home

At home recordings and DIY studios have come leaps and bounds in the past few years. It’s now possible to make a great sounding record at home. However, there are still costs associated with this. The equipment needed to build a professional sounding at-home studio is still quite expensive. If you don’t already have the tools you need at home, you may find your initial budget gets eaten up quickly on equipment alone.

If you are a beginner in home recording, even though your initial investment in equipment may be higher, you could save money in the future if you already have all the tools needed to make great music in your living room.

There are lots of great resources to learn how to record well at home. You can check out these helpful articles if you are looking for a place to start:

Even though it can be cheaper in the long run to record at home, studios are still an important part of making great records. Studios have high quality equipment, rooms that are acoustically engineered for great sound, and either an in-house engineer, or a recommendation for an engineer they trust. If you don’t have the patience or time to invest learning how to make a great sounding recording at home, a studio may be the best place for you.

Many musicians  work out a hybrid of the two. You may find your living room isn’t the best place to record a full drum kit (and your neighbors might hate you!) but it is the great place for tracking acoustic guitar and aux percussion. Working out a deal to combine the best of both worlds may cut your cost significantly.

Many producers/engineers have a great home studio setup. They may charge you a reduced rate to record there, or just bundle it in with the fee they charge you initially. This can save you loads of money on studio hourly fees and per day rates.

Ultimately tracking at home is the cheapest option. But you have to decide if that’s the best option for your music and your career.

Remember:  Although it’s definitely possible to make great music at your house, there is still a standard of quality that you will have to meet. Even a casual music listener can tell when something doesn’t sound the way that they are used too. When you are deciding between recording at home or in a studio, think ahead to how you want the album released, and what kind of opportunities, like licensing and radio airplay, you will want to pursue with these songs. Then make sure the quality of your recording matches up with other songs that are being released on those platforms.

Studio Musicians

Another costly item is studio musicians. If you are in a band, this is less of an issue, although you still may want to hire session players for strings or other auxiliary instruments. If you are a solo artist who wants an album with a full band sound, this is a much bigger concern.

Every musician charges different rates, but there is probably a “normal” dollar amount that musicians are charging in your area. Remember, the quality of the musicians you choose will drastically affect the quality of the music you are recording. Shop around a little, and find the best musicians for your project.

To cut costs, ask a friend who is great at their instrument if they would be willing to help you out. If you are involved in your local music scene, collaborating with other artists can also be a cheaper alternative to hiring studio musicians.

Post Production

Remember that though the tracking may be finished, the project isn’t.  You will have to pay for mixing, mastering, and your disc packaging/digital distribution. All of these things are vital steps in the recording process that you shouldn’t skip.

Mixing might be the most important part of recording a song. No matter if you recorded at home, in a studio, or with a producer, mixing can make or break your record. Do some research, and find the best engineer you can afford.

Many digital distributors and disc manufacturers like Nationwide Disc offer mastering services at great rates. Again, this is a step that shouldn’t be skipped if you want your recording to be the same quality as the songs that major labels are releasing.

There are many factors that will affect the amount of money you spend on your new project. But with some research you can decide what you really need to make your project exactly what you want it to be. Once you know what you need, you can find ways to significantly cut your budget. This applies to a record you made by yourself at home, or a fully produced album made in the most expensive studio in town.

How have you cut costs on albums you’ve recorded? What part of an album do you think artists should invest the most money into? Let us know in the comments below!

One note: Just as you want to be compensated fairly for your work as an artist, your friends, other musicians, producers, and sound engineers do to. If people are willing to work with you for free or a reduced rate, that’s great. But don’t short change your fellow musicians who are working just as hard as you are to have a sustainable career in the music industry.




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What To Do AFTER You’ve Finished Writing a Song

What To Do AFTER You’ve Finished Writing a Song

By Cliff Goldmacher - Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Written by: Cliff Goldmacher

Whether you’ve spent ten minutes or five months working on a song, there’s a sense of satisfaction and relief that washes over you when you know, without a doubt, that it’s done.

But… now what? Time to kick back and relax? Or, maybe you’re headed out to celebrate with friends. Not so fast! If you think your work is over when you’ve finished writing the song, you’re sorely mistaken.

Finishing a song is a victory, but it’s not the final step in the process if you want your music to generate income for you. Here are six steps that you can take after finishing a song to help you transform your songwriting into a profitable business and position yourself for opportunities that may arise.

Finalize Your Lyric Sheet

Once your song is done, it’s a great idea to create an accurate, final lyric sheet.

You should write out every word of the song exactly in the order it’s sung. Yes, this means avoiding shortcuts; no writing “repeat chorus.” Writing everything out reduces the chance of error, omission, or confusion and makes it easier for demo vocalists to accurately read the lyrics as they sing the song.

How you format the lyric sheet can also make a difference for the vocalists. I’d recommend indenting your choruses to make them easily distinguishable from your verses and bridge. I’d also ensure that your lyric all fit on one page; you might have to single-space the lyric, combine shorter lines, or decrease the font size to do this (but not too small). If you still can’t fit your entire lyric on one page, you might seriously consider additional editing.

Lastly, you’ll want to include all the pertinent information about your new song:

  • The date of creation (D.O.C.)
  • The name of the writer (or writers, if you co-wrote the song)
  • The publishing information
  • The performing rights organization (PRO) you belong to

Including this information on a lyric sheet means the information is at hand when you submit it to a record label or music supervisor. If you need an example, my lyric sheets look like this:

©3.1.12 Cliff Goldmacher, Famous In France Music (BMI)

Create A Definitive Rough Recording

Now that your song is done, you’re going to need a recording that captures its melody, lyric, and chord changes. As I’ve mentioned before, there is no Grammy for best rough recording; a simple guitar or piano and vocal recorded directly into your smartphone or laptop is perfectly acceptable.

This recording is useful for a couple of reasons. First, it will prevent you from forgetting how your song goes. This may sound silly to those of you who’ve only written a few songs; but, as you begin to write more often and start to build your catalog, you’d be amazed at how quickly these little buggers can erase themselves from your memory. Second, if you choose to take your song to the next level, this recording will serve as reference for the demo vocalists and session musicians.

Schedule A Demo

Speaking of bringing your song to the next level: it’s time to decide if this song is currently worth a further investment of your time and financial resources. If we’re honest with ourselves as songwriters, we have to admit that not every song we write is worthy of a demo. However, if you believe that this particular song is genuinely ready, it’s time to record a demo.

Since you’ll be presenting this to the music industry at large, the quality of your recording will reflect your talent and your dedication to your craft. This is not the time to hope that music business professionals will be able to “hear through” your rough recording. So, unless you’re prepared to spend the necessary time and effort learning to sing, play, and record your own songs at the highest level, I’d recommend using a professional recording studio, a trained demo singer, and at least one session musician. Yes, that means investing more money in your song, but—in this case—it’s probably best to leave the recording to the pros. You can spend your time writing more music.

Whether you work with a studio or go the DIY route, I would be sure to obtain two high-resolution versions of your song: one with vocals, and one without. Instrumental versions of your songs are great to have, and this is the best time to get one!

Catalog Your Mixes

Ideally, the recording studio will have provided you with high-resolution files of your song. It’s important that you know how to embed necessary metadata (the song title, copyright details, contact info, and so on) and how to convert the high-resolution files (like .wav files) to lower-resolution files (like mp3s, which are easier to email). Both of these steps should be doable in iTunes or similar programs; instructions for your specific program can be found online. While these may seem like daunting tasks, they are important skills to learn. Think of them as preparing your product for shipment and including your return address.

You’ll also need to store the files where they’re both safe and easily accessible. This way, when an opportunity presents itself, you’ll know exactly where to find them. I can’t think of anything more depressing than an artist, label, or publisher asking for a copy of your song, and you not being able to find it.

Create A Backup

Now that you’ve got your songs and all the accompanying information properly labeled and stored, it’s time to set up a reliable backup system. Learn how to back up your computer to a separate drive or cloud storage system. Remember, it’s not “if” your hard drive—with all your rough recordings, lyric sheets, and finished demos—fails, but “when”. My motto is: if it doesn’t exist in two places, it doesn’t exist.

Under no circumstances should you go without some kind of backup. That’s simply a recipe for a catastrophic event.

DON’T brush this off as an unnecessary step or a waste of your time, and don’t put it off until you have x number of songs finished. Make it a part of the process for each and every song. You made a significant investment to write and record those demos, and your songs themselves are irreplaceable; why wouldn’t you want to protect them?

Pitch Your Song

I know this sounds obvious, but once you have a finished demo of your song, you can’t expect if to make money if it just sits on your computer. You have to get your music in front of people!

While I was a tiny bit guilty of this early in my career, it still amazes me how many songwriters make little to no effort to get their songs out there. They make a variety of excuses, too. “But I create music… I’m not a salesman!” To these musicians, selling music might as well be selling dirt. It lacks all the charm and creativity that they associate with being a musician. It might not be exciting, but it is essential if you want to make a career as a songwriter.

Other songwriters, who are willing to promote their music, tell me, “I don’t know where to start.” I’ll admit that it can be a bit daunting figuring out who is looking for what you’ve got, so I’ll give you a few places to look. Start with reputable pitch sheets, such as Song Quarters and Row Fax, which can provide you with the information you need… for a fee. You could also turn to organizations like Taxi that will do the pitching for you… again, for a fee. If neither of those options appeals to you, your best bet is to get out there and meet the decision-makers yourself. Travel to New York City, Nashville, or Los Angeles; attend music conferences and workshops. There are opportunities to network if you’re willing to look for them. (When networking, be sure to avoid these common mistakes!)

As I said at the beginning of the article, completing a song is a victory. It’s a remarkable accomplishment! Don’t ever forget that, and don’t think I’m saying otherwise. I’m simply saying that, if you want a career as a songwriter, it’s not the last step… but the above six steps will help you get there.




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Recording Your Gigs with Lively

Recording Your Gigs with Lively

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

As a band, you sometimes need to prove that you have a great live show for people to come to your shows, and a cell phone video recording or word of mouth won’t always cut it for potential ticket buyers. Other times, fans want to remember and relive your shows that they’ve seen. Why not let fans preview or relive your act with recordings of your shows?

There are many ways you could go about making a recording of your shows. However, one of the newer options is to use an app called Lively, which aims to make the A/V recording and distribution process easier.

What Does Lively Do?

Lively is usable by both fans (to find audio and video recordings of shows) and artists. As an artist, Lively lets you:

  • Record your show as audio or video on an iOS device
  • Master your tracks easily with Lively Audio Manager
  • Upload your show
  • Share or sell your recordings

How Do I Use Lively?

The way this application works is really simple.

  • Plug the Apogee interface into a stereo mix from the front of house console.
  • Plug an iPad into an Apogee Duet interface.
  • Open the Lively app.
  • During your soundcheck, hit record. Then, play back to ensure the mix and levels are where you want them; adjust in the app as needed before the show starts.
  • At the start of the show, begin recording.
  • Add song markers in (either during the show or after).
  • Upload songs for fans to find.

What Do I Need To Use Lively?

To use the app, you’ll need an iPad (which many people, especially musicians, have these days) and an Apogee Duet audio interface. It would also be good to carry with you a couple of short XLR cables and a couple of 1/4 inch XLR cables, for connecting the front of house console and your interface.

How Much Does Lively Cost?

A new iPad costs from $299 up to $929 (if you need the processing power of a high-end laptop and cellular service). An Apogee Duet iOS audio interface is $595. The Lively app itself is free, but the recording functions are not available without a fee (ranges from $4.99 to $11.99).

Why Should I Use It?

While you can record your shows with other devices, it will take more time and effort to transfer the material to your computer, edit, and upload. Lively makes it so simple that, with a few taps on the ol’ iPad, the process can be done before fans even leave the venue.

As a musician, it’s essential to get fans to your gigs, focus on your show and your fans at the gigs, and sell your music. Lively helps you do all three.

Have you sold live recordings of your gigs in the past? What equipment did you use? Have you used Lively yet? If not, would you consider it?

See also: Five Websites for Selling Your Music Online, Top Five Websites for Streaming Your Music, 4 Steps to Getting Better Gigs




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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 at a Studio?

5 Questions To Ask A Studio Before Recording Music

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

Recording your music is an exciting, important, and often expensive step in your music career. If you’re ready to take that step, here are some questions you should ask the studio before you start recording:

Does the recording studio specialize in genres?

There are potential benefits and disadvantages to finding a studio that specializes. A producer or audio engineer who pairs their skill with an understanding of and passion for your style can make the experience and the final product much more enjoyable. On the other hand, you want to be sure the final result still sounds like you, not the hundreds of other bands this studio has worked with. Finding the right balance is essential.

How does the studio charge?

Recording studios usually charge by the hour, but some studios might be flexible and charge for a block of time, such as a day, week, or month. Ask if there are any fees for running over, or if time costs less if you book more.

How long on average does it take to record one song?

There is no magic formula to calculate how long it will take to record your song. There are factors, though, that can help the studio give you a better idea of the time needed. A band that is prepared and well-rehearsed will likely need less takes to get a song than a band that is still deciding on an arrangement. Likewise, a complex song (say, with a gospel choir, lead singer, and ten instruments) will probably require more time and takes than a song with one singer and three instruments. Talk to the studio and see if they can give you some idea on time-frames.

What should you bring to the studio?

Bring your instruments and lyric sheets to the session. If you are not performing the instruments yourself, ask the studio if they have musicians and instruments available or if you should hire some ahead of time. If so, make sure the lyric sheets include chord progressions. The ideal producer is an all in one musical talent who can handle every phase of recording and understands various instruments. Ask if you need to bring any other equipment, especially if there is a certain item you want to use (if they don’t have it).

What happens after the recording is finished?

Usually, but not always, the session fee includes the cost of recording and then mixing and mastering the music. This is an intricate process which involves EQ adjusting and audio sweetening. Remixing is often necessary for refinement. A studio with a talented audio engineer is priceless.

If you have recorded with a studio before, what advice do you have for those heading into their first recording experience? If you are thinking about recording with a studio, what questions do you have?

See also: The Right Recording Studio For Your Music, Recording Music: Pros and Cons of Creating a Home Studio, Recording Studios: The Process.




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