Category: Recording Your Music

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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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

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.

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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The Struggle Against Obsession

The Struggle Against Obsession

By NationWide Source - Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

The cursor sits there, flashing impatiently, daring me to fill the page with words that mean something. I have a vague concept in my head, but it shifts when I try to see it more clearly.

I start writing and get a few lines down, then backspace to delete them. They weren’t quite right. I repeat this process a few more times. Nine, to be exact.

I drum my fingers against the desk again, frustrated. I’m tempted to move on to another topic, or to stop trying for the day. This is what I do. I write. So why is it such a struggle today?

Because I’m obsessing over it. I’m so focused on finding the best way to start the article and the most logical way to lay it out and the ideal story to include that I’m not making any progress. I’m getting in my way and preventing myself from accomplishing the task at hand. It’s frustrating. Moreover, it’s difficult to overcome.

But it’s not impossible to overcome. I just have to stop obsessing on getting it right the first time and let the thoughts flow. I can go back and rewrite it later, as long as I have something to work with. If I keep obsessing, I won’t have anything to rewrite.

The cursor still flashes.

I sigh and slowly start typing the thoughts floating in my head, praying something coherent forms.

I don’t delete this time.

The Creative’s Struggle

I can confidently state that I’m not the only person who has experienced writer’s block. I think that, at some point in their life, every person has struggled to find the right words.

Nor is this struggle—this obsession with perfection that prevents progress—unique to writing.

I’ve seen it in musicians.

Yes, in the more obvious instances, with songwriting. The songwriter languishes, much as I do, over how to best express the thoughts in his head, and he struggles with fitting the words into a melody. He has notebooks full of nearly complete songs, each abandoned in a moment of frustration and shelved for a later date. Over the years, he has completed a few songs, but most wait, unfinished.

I’ve seen it in other ways, too.

I hear musicians talk about their recording process. They work hard for years, saving up money from gigs to pay for THE BEST studio, producer, and audio engineer. They spend a small fortune—enough to buy a house, in some places—on the recording process, and then they sell their music for $10 a CD, or $.99 per song. If their recording costs were $50,000, they’ll need to sell 5000 CDs to break even on recording alone. It’s not an impossible number of sales, but it is a big goal.

Now, their music sounds wonderful… but I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if they hadn’t obsessed so much over the quality of the recording and had released music over those years, instead of waiting. Would more-frequent releases have kept their fans interested? Would creating a recording budget based on the size of their fan base and anticipated sales have turned out better for them than setting the budget according to their dreams? Would investing less in the process up front result in bigger returns on each investment, allowing them to work their way up the quality chain over time? I’m not suggesting that they record it on their phone in the garage to save a few bucks. But… surely there is a better way.

Another artist recently told me that his next album has been years in the making. He’s not so obsessed with which studio does the recording as he is with how the songs sound. He’s been performing these songs for a few years, and he’s been in the recording process for over a year… but he’s can’t quite get the songs to sound the way he wants them to. So, every few weeks, he heads back to the studio to tweak one song or another. Most people—non-musicians, at least—probably won’t be able to tell the difference between the versions, but he refuses to release it until it’s perfect.

I can’t fault him for wanting to put out a quality product. It’s his right, after all. The music is his, and the music reflects his talent, commitment, and professionalism. But… at some point, it doesn’t make sense to keep going back… does it? At some point, you have to accept the recordings as exceptional instead of truly perfect. Right?

It’s not just recording that musicians obsess about.

I’ve seen artists hold up projects for months by focusing on minor graphic design details that are, when it comes down to it, entirely preferential and won’t be noticed by the majority of the population.

I’ve seen artists who are so focused on not letting an opportunity pass them by that they become overzealous. They flood inboxes with every song they’ve ever written, instead of submitting just their best material, or they reach out to their contacts too frequently to follow up on submissions or openings. Their “just checking in” messages start driving away managers, publishers, and booking agents before the artist even gets a fair shot. Doors lock shut before they were even opened.

I’ve seen artists so tuned in to their web stats that they can accurately spout off their follower counts off the top of their head. They know their ideal posting time per platform, and they make sure that they have content ready to release at those times. Google Analytics is always running in an open window on their laptop, ready to be refreshed; it’s like a stock ticker. They spend days fine-tuning their keywords, trying to bump their website ranking up a notch. All this effort means they’re pretty connected to their fans (as much as you can be, through social media), but that’s hours a day that they aren’t spending writing, recording, or performing. In other words, that’s hours a day that they aren’t spending as a musician.

On The Plus Side…

If I can say one thing about these talented, driven musicians, it’s this: they care about their career, about their craft, about their music. Caring is a good thing; I’d much rather have a musician who cares immensely than one who couldn’t care less (and those do exist, but that’s a separate article).

And what they care about—releasing complete songs and quality recordings, creating products that visually represents their quality music, pursuing opportunities to advance their career, optimizing their web presence, and connecting with fans—is inherently good.

The problem lies, then, with how much these artists care. It’s to the point of obsession. They are so focused on perfection, in one form or another, that it grinds everything down to a standstill. If left unaddressed, the obsession starts to hurt them, to choke the life out of their career.

And that’s the last thing they want.

Getting Past Obsession

If you’re in this camp, this group of obsessive musicians, you might be wondering how you can break free from that struggle.

First, it helps to remember that you’re human, which means perfection isn’t attainable. (That might take some of the pressure off your shoulders.) Stop trying to live up to some unattainable inhuman standard, and simply focus on being the best you possible—flaws and all. Your flaws are just as much a part of who you are as your strengths.

You know that catch in your voice when you sing the last verse of the sad song on your album? Stop trying to get a flawless take without it. Keep it in there. Your voice catches because you get emotional, and that emotion is something fans can connect with. (Side note: If I have to choose between a technically flawless but emotionless performance and a heartfelt rendition with a few catches in the singer’s voice or minor errors, heartfelt wins. Hands down. Every time.)

Second, remember that art—including music—is subjective. Not everyone will love what you do, and you’ll always be able to find someone, somewhere who has an opinion on how you could have done something differently to improve. Know that this isn’t true for just you. It’s true for all artists.

Third, keep the big picture in mind. If you find yourself obsessing over the pantone color and opacity of the drop shadow on your album liner, or whether or not you need a skosh more reverb on that one track, or why your cousin’s neighbor’s ex-boyfriend stopped following you on Twitstabook, take a step back. Ask how this piece that you’re struggling with fits into the grand scheme of things. What is the long-term effect that this has on your career? Are there better uses of your time? Does it really need attention, or is it actually good enough to let go of?

I don’t want you to stop caring about your career, about your craft, about your music. I love that about you.

But, I don’t want your career to suffer. At all. Especially not because you spent so much time, resources, and energy caring too much about things that, in the end, didn’t make as big a difference as you thought they would.

I want you to find balance. Keep caring, but don’t let it hurt you. Keep striving to improve, but know that perfection is unattainable. Set those crazy high goals, but throw in realistic, attainable steps to help you get there. Pay attention to the details, but don’t forget the big picture.

So, I wrote this article.

And if I can stop obsessing enough to finish this article—flaws and all—you can stop obsessing, too.




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Time To Make A Demo? Six Ways to Know If Your Song Is Ready

Time to Make a Demo? Six Ways to Know If Your Song Is Ready

By Cliff Goldmacher - Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

written by: Cliff Goldmacher

While our instinct as songwriters may be to love all of our songs equally, the reality is that some of our songs are simply better, or more commercially viable, than others. The problem is knowing which songs those are.

This knowledge becomes incredibly important when you, the songwriter, are considering making a professional demo. How do you know which songs are good enough to invest your time and money in making a high-quality recording, and which need a little, or a lot, more work?

The below steps should help you make that decision.

Make A Rough Recording

One of the first tests I’d suggest is to make a rough recording of your song. Given that you’re not trying to win a Grammy award with this recording, it can be as simple as a bare-bones guitar and vocal recorded on your smartphone.

Rough recordings are useful because they let you hear your song as a listener would. This is entirely different from listening to your song as you’re playing it. I’m always surprised at how tweaks and adjustments present themselves when I sit back and listen to a rough recording—problems I never noticed while I was playing and singing the song.

Put It Away For A Week

After creating a song, there’s often a rush of enthusiasm. This is a good thing. I certainly hope you’re pleased with what you’ve written.

However, it’s still a good idea to have a short “cooling off” period of, say, a week or so, in order to make sure what you’re feeling is true love, not infatuation. After a week, go back to the song. If that same excitement is there, you’re on to something.

Have a Professional Critique Your Song

Getting an experienced songwriter or music publisher to give you their professional opinion can bring valuable insight into the way the industry listens to songs. After all, if your goal is to have a song that is commercially successful, then a professional opinion can be very useful.

That being said, songwriting is still an art, and you should never blindly agree with something just because a professional said it. The music business is filled with stories about publishers and A&R reps passing on songs that went on to become huge hits. In other words, a professional critique should be taken with a large grain of salt and appreciated for what it is (industry insight) and what it isn’t (the final word on whether or not your song is good).

Play It For Your Songwriting Peers

It’s especially easy to find a group of songwriting peers to bounce ideas off of when you’re living in a music city like New York, Los Angeles, or Nashville. However, organizations like the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) have chapters in many cities, which means you can find songwriting peers even if you don’t live in an industry town. A songwriting group can be a good place to play your song and get outside perspective from people who understand what songwriting is about.

Again, it’s important to remember that you won’t—nor do you have to—agree with everything that’s said, but there might be a helpful gem or two that can make all the difference. The risk with any feedback in the early life of a song is that the wrong word or a mean-spirited comment can be devastating. To that end, protect yourself by making sure your group’s members are constructive in their criticism. Also, it’s a good policy to develop a thicker skin for these situations. The more songs you write, the easier this gets.

Play It For An Objective, Non-Musician Friend

It’s been my experience that fellow musicians and songwriters tend to listen to songs in a certain way, often paying attention to details that only other musicians and songwriters would appreciate. This can be useful (thus the above tip), but as a rule, songwriters aren’t really music buyers.

Playing your song for a trusted, non-musician friend—someone who can tell you exactly whether they like the song or not (i.e., “the song feels long” or “I don’t understand the story” or “it makes me want to get up and dance”)—can be a helpful way of seeing whether or not a song is working.

Play It Live

If you’re a live performer as well as a songwriter, you’ve got a valuable tool at your disposal. There’s nothing quite like gauging the response—or non-response—of a live audience to see whether a song is working or not.

Often, the things that you thought would work while you were writing the song don’t pan out, while other things you barely paid attention to go over beautifully.

A word of warning, though: don’t assume that, just because a song is working live, you’re all set. It’s still well worth your while to use some of the earlier suggestions (especially the rough recording) to make sure that when you listen to your song objectively, it’s doing what you want it to.

One Last Note

As a producer, it’s clear to me when a writer knows their song is ready. I can tell that they’ve done the necessary work, including some or all of the above suggestions. This makes my job easier, as my focus goes from doing damage control or overhauls to simply polishing an already-beautiful gem.

In the end, no one else can tell you whether your song is finished and ready to be professionally recorded. In most cases, you’re the one spending the money for the demo and the one who has to be excited about pitching it, so you should be as convinced as possible that your song is ready for prime time. At the end of the day, the decision is—and should be—yours.




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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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