At coffee, I run into everyone. Our town only has one coffee shop, so it’s easy to find everyone there. I ran into a couple of musicians that I’ve jammed with, and I dig their tunes! Well, like me, they signed up for Distrokid – and like me, they have the eternal musician’s struggle: Record, listen, hear the mistakes, re-record, listen, hear something “lacking”, re-re-record, listen – and so on.
The thing that a lot of us (musicians, writers, artists, people) do is that we work hard on whatever our passion is, look at it, and then find everything wrong with it. Even when it’s someone like me who LOVES the little mistakes (read: “nuances”) that make things imperfect, I constantly hear things that need to be fixed. Even when a recording is produced and polished, I love having a little something that is off in it, but it has to be just the right kind of wrong.
So many of us keep shelving things because of those little mistakes. The wrong drum hit at that moment, a wrong note hit, a line of lyric misspoken – more and more things make us keep our music/art to ourselves.
Listen to some of the great recordings of the past. Listen to Zeppelin live at The BBC, listen to Tom Waits’ recordings in a barn (or his amazing VH1 Storytellers), listen to BB King live, or John Fogerty! They all have these moments that the rest of us struggle with! And, what do they do? They keep going! They released the music, they let the art out! Sure, a lot of artists rely on the beauty of our technology to help produce a “perfect” track…. No comment.
So, what do we do? Do we allow our mistakes to be a little part of our performances and recordings? Do we keep all of this wonderful music, writing, art to ourselves out of fear of our worste critic (it’s ourselves – The Storyteller), or maybe we just do something crazy like emphasize the mistake?! Whatever we decide to do, just get the art out there! Perfect or not, just bloody let it out!
Someone once asked the rhetorical, “what if Hendrix had left his music on a tape in the studio instead of releasing it or playing shows? What about Kurt Cobain or Joe Cocker? What about Janis Joplin? They all made mistakes, hit “wrong” notes, they were all perfectly human on their recordings – so why can’t you be?”
That was the thing that pushed me over the edge. Sure, I still want things mixed and sounding like they do in my mind – but if there’s this or that on there – a dog or car in the background, or a note that doesn’t quite go with the tune, or even a ragged vocal moment – I let it sit for a while before I say I need to try again. And, as I let it sit, they grow on me and I learn to love those little moments in the songs. Even the hiss of the amp can sometimes add another dimension to what I’ve been working on.
It gets worse (or “less perfect”) when playing live. When I was playing with a band, I would mess up a lot, I mean a lot. Now that I play solo shows… I mess up even more! It doesn’t matter to the audience how many things I have to think about; which pedal should be pressed, what distance I should stay from the mic, switching from a barred aug9 chord to an open min7th… Most audience members don’t ****ing care. They only care if it sounds good and they’re having fun. So, I’m learning (yes, still in the process) to roll with the punches of messing up on stage. In fact, a few of the screw-ups I’ve made on stage gave me ideas to change the songs for the better! How cool is that?!
So, let the mistakes be heard! Maybe do something crazy and accentuate them! Don’t do a million takes to try and make it perfect, you’ll never be satisfied – I know I’m rarely satisfied at the first dozen listens. I’ll always have the struggle of the musician who loves the sound of raw music and emotion mixed with a person who is, in many ways, a perfectionist about how I want things to sound or be presented. I’m letting the former win the fights more and more just so I can get the music out there. Even if only one person hears it and enjoys it on any level – that’s better than none.
So, I will continue to release music, wrong notes and all.
Now, while I appreciate all forms of music, I think that these classic jazz musicians nailed it with their quotes:
“There are no wrong notes; some are just more right than others.”
“It’s not the note you play that’s the wrong note – it’s the note you play afterwards that makes it right or wrong.”
“There’s no such thing as a wrong note.”
“Do not fear mistakes. There are none.”
“There are no wrong notes, only wrong resolutions”
“I played the wrong, wrong notes.”
Musicians can be the targets of a LOT of harsh words.
It sucks when coming from strangers. But it cuts EXTRA deep when they come from “supposed” friends.
Does any of this sound familiar to you?
“Are you enjoying your hobby?”
“Honestly, I think your band sucks and I’d rather be dead than caught on a stage with you.”
“You’ll never make money doing that. When are you going to get a REAL job?”
“You’re just a singer. Not a REAL musician. Besides, you’re only a woman so you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You can’t fill a phone both with people that want to hear YOUR music!”
“You’re a musician, right? Can I get some weed from you?”
“Where are you playing next? So I can NOT be there.”
“Your music sucks!”
“You look like Muhammed Ali’s retarded cousin when you rap!”
“Gosh you’re so talented! Why don’t you put on some makeup, you know, fix yourself up a little, lose some weight and do some songs people actually know?”
Or one of my personal favs:
“Dude! If I hear another self-promotion about your shytty band I’m gonna fyck you up! Yes, I watched your videos and you can’t sing worth shyt! You give Utah a bad name and image, the only reason you’re ranked on ReverbNation is because ALL YOU DO is sit home and are an internet slut, do you play anywhere besides Fats?? Mishell is too nice to say no. I am going to message every bluesman in town and let them know you’re a fraud and if it weren’t for the internet you’d be unheard of! Every time I log in I get raped by 10,000 of your posts! SHUT THE FUCJ UP BEFORE I POST PUBLIC HOW SHYTTY YOU REALLY ARE STICK TO ART YOU TONE DEF FRAUD!”
My standard, practical advice normally consists of “Haters are a sign of success” and, “That’s the beauty of the internet, you can block those people”.
But the other night, during office hours for the “Musicpreneur Apprentice Program” we dove a bit deeper and I shared some advice that I’m sure you could use as well.
It comes from a book I recommend called “The Four Agreements”(by Don Miguel Ruiz). It’s a practical guide to personal freedom and inner peace, based on Ancient Toltec Wisdom.
There are 4 agreements you can make that will give you immunity to such cutting remarks. Fortunately, you make these agreements with yourself, so there ARE within reach:
Be Impeccable With Your Word
Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using your words to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
Don’t Take Anything Personally
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and action of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
Don’t Make Assumptions
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama, With just this one agreement you can completely transform your life.
Always Do Your Best
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to when you are sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgement, self-abuse, and regret.
Of course I, myself, have not yet perfected these agreements. But anytime I feel down, I review them to see if I am breaking one of them. It always turns out that I am. I now have the tools to undo the damage that is done to my psyche by harsh words from others, AND from myself. And I want YOU to have these tools at your disposal as well 😉
Can YOU make these agreements with yourself? I believe that you can!
For more wisdom, advice and inspiration for independent musicians, subscribe to my email list using the link, wherever it may be.
If you know any musicians that have been on the receiving end of such harsh words, which by my calculation would be EVERY musician you know, please share this with them. That’s all for today 😉
Truer words have never been spoken. That is why I’m using this quote from an interview, I recently watched, as the title of this article. The quote is from my good friend Nate Compton, front man of ELISIUM, a national touring indie band. In the interview, which you can watch below, Nate talks about his experience traveling the country playing music and tries to answer a question he is asked a great deal. How do you know it’s the right time to quit your job and go on tour? This very question is one that I have wrestled with many times and am wrestling now as I write this post.
But, who am I?
My name is Greg Barrett. I play drums for a regional touring act on the verge of going national. For the past three years my band has been the proverbial weekend road warrior. I also do session work for a local recording studio from time to time. I’ve worked my entire life to get to the point where I’m currently at musically, and I honestly believe that I was put on this earth for the purpose of playing music. It was obvious from the time I was three that I would be following this path and chasing the dream.
And, just like my buddy Nate was a few short years ago, I’m standing on the edge of the cliff trying to decide whether or not to jump? Should I quit my job, to do what I love, or continue to work full time. Should you? Nate did, and believe me it’s a hard but fulfilling road. But don’t take my word for it, after reading this article, watch his interview.
First off, let’s cut to the chase and determine if you/your band is ready to take to the roads. Have you established yourself in your home market? Are you getting good enough guarantees and positive feedback in your home market to warrant branching out into new radius based test markets? Assuming you already have merchandise, are you moving it well at your live shows? Is everyone in your crew on the same page? Is your branding on point?
Branding? What’s that? We’re a band, not a business… WRONG!!!
The list could go on and on and on, but all of them are legitimate questions that need to be addressed. All good topics to revisit in later articles, especially branding. We’ll cover the first few for now.
Welcome my friends to indie touring!
Is everyone in your team on the same page? They had better be if you’re planning to spend days, weeks, or months at a time in a smelly, cramped, van. You will all be running on minimal sleep and a diet of who knows where the next meal is coming from. Hotel rooms will be a rarely afforded luxury, so you’ll be mostly sleeping in the van, and showering at truck stops and gyms. The gym option is a great choice! Let’s face it, who couldn’t use some exercise? Just make sure to join a national chain. Needless to say, the last thing you want is to be out midway through a tour, 900 miles from home and a member decide the road isn’t for him/her. Everyone in that van should have the same drive, determination, and work ethic. Everyone should have a designated job to do and be pulling their weight. You are about to leave the happy-go-lucky and comfortable world of music as a hobby and enter the realm of full time, always on call, real deal music is my JOB. Is everyone willing and able to completely uproot from normal life, sell off most everything not needed to be as debt free as possible and not get paid often? You had best be finding out! Unless of course you are loaded to the gills and able to just finance or bank roll a tour, a bus, or accommodate your crew every night with lodging, food, and pay. Or, you already have major label backing and enough leverage in your deal that they provide for all of it. Even most of the signed bands out there are lucky to be provided with a 15 passenger van and trailer.
Lets focus on your home and radius markets.
Your home market is your first anchor. Assuming that you’ve established a healthy following already in your hometown, you should be drawing sizable crowds, getting reasonably good venue guarantees, and be moving merch well. These two latter points will be key to survival in new markets where you will be working to replicate that hometown market all over again. This never stops. Each time you win a large following, that market becomes an anchor. You should be working to establish these anchors roughly 3 to 5 hours apart for weekend strings and as far out as 9 plus hours for tours. Guarantees in new test markets will, in all likelihood, be minimal at best if any at all. There will be a lot of times starting out when fuel and food between stops is a luxury only afforded by your merch sales. That’s where those anchors come into play. Routing more than a couple test market stops between your “meat and potato” anchor stops WILL break the budget. So will running out of merch… DON’T DO THAT!
Survival on tour is all about budgeting and being prepared for whatever gets thrown at you. You can never count 100% on getting paid your full guarantee or being paid at all for every date booked, even with signed contracts. This is especially true when you’re working new rooms and contacts. Any tour that ends up breaking even should be considered a success. If you do turn a profit after all the expenses, then that’s a huge success! The real objective is to get your name out there in new markets and build that following.
The whole landscape of the music business is shifting and constantly changing. A recent topic of debate among many of my peers has been, is touring profitable anymore? I have many friends on both sides of that fence. Some who got in the game when venue pay and general attendance were high, which allowed them to generate large enough national followings to still warrant hefty guarantees, are now in the catch 22 of “always on tour”. They simply can’t afford to not be on tour full time now. On the other side, with guarantees way lower, it may be more profitable to tap into other revenue streams, than to try to stay out on the road all the time. The bottom line is, touring is still the most effective means of developing a strong following. People still love to see a killer live show and actually meet the artists.
Don’t let me discourage you, but be aware of what you are about to do. Making the jump from hobby to career is no smooth path. It’s a lot of work. Touring can actually be fun, rewarding, and give you a whole new perspective on life. It will broaden your horizons, make you laugh, cry, and open your eyes to that big world outside of your box. Nothing beats the feeling of knowing you left every ounce of yourself that you had to give on that stage night after night.
Is there ever going to be a “right time”? Probably not…
But, as my friend Wade Sutton from Rocket to the Stars says, “Sometimes you jump. Sometimes you get pushed. Either way, you’re going to learn to fly.”
Alright, there’s my two cents, now watch Nate’s interview, and go start planning that maiden tour!
Greg Barrett is the drummer for the indie rock band Seasons of Me, session musician for The Sound Asylum Recording & Mastering Studio, and follower/student of trends and marketing strategies in the new music industry. You can read his bio on his artist page at the Saluda Cymbals web site and check out his band at their official site using the links below.
In the entertainment business, think of yourself as a spider. Your web is your life. It shelters you. If you have a poorly constructed web, when the rain comes, you will be washed out. It feeds you.
A spider with no web, catches no flies and thus, will starve to death. Spiders weave their webs with purpose to attain certain goals for themselves. They do not build webs for other spiders.
Think of your web as the network you build.
A strong web has strong anchor points. The professional contacts that you make, and relationships you forge with them, are your anchor points. Strong anchor points are developed by conducting yourself and your business as professionally as you can at all times.
The intersecting strands of your web represent your fan base. These strands are equally as important as the anchor points. With a larger fan base comes bigger and better opportunities with greater frequency, which allows you to continue to grow your network.
Spiders never stop maintaining and building their webs. Don’t make the mistake of trying to cheat or shortcut in this area though. By purchasing likes, follows, views, etc. for your social media pages you are only tarnishing your credibility. It’s not difficult for those anchor points, that you are working so hard to gain, to figure out. It only takes a few clicks of the mouse.
A good example is a Facebook page with 10,000 likes and a corresponding YouTube channel with minimal views, or a Twitter account with 25,000 followers and a Spotify profile with minimal plays.
Your REAL credibility lies in your ability to put REAL bodies in REAL venues on a consistent basis. In short, it’s better to have 1000 real fans than 10,000 fakes. After all, you can’t market your music or your merchandise to fake fans.
And, while it may look good to a few venues when you are starting out, word will quickly spread among talent buyers and other industry professionals (Yes they do talk to each other, they call that networking) that you are the artist with the bogus fan base, who can’t draw a stick figure.
Guess who is not getting invited back?
What you need is a fan base comprised of legitimate and highly targeted real people. Furthermore, you can’t just try to sell to these people constantly. You must interact with them and get to know them first. Be easily accessible, open a line of communication, and treat them like friends.
You’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
You should be using your social channels to attract and entertain people, and to direct them to your website. Why?…
Because your website should be geared at getting them to sign up for your email list, which you should also be pitching at your shows, on all of your social channels, and even on your videos. Yes, the age old email list is still one of the most effective marketing tools that you have at your disposal.
Think about it, your email list is your direct link, that only you control, to engage and market to your targeted audience on a personal level.
Also, consider this, if someone is interested enough in you (and or) your music to grant you access to their inbox, the potential for future sales to that person is considerably higher than say the average person scrolling through their news feed. They are essentially giving you permission to directly contact and market to them.
The key lies in building relationships and trust from your subscribers and your ability to consistently deliver the relative content they want to consume. Ask questions in your emails and when people respond, follow up. Make your correspondence as personal as possible. Make them feel like they are included in your journey and not just being sold to. It will go a long way in developing trust and interest in your BRAND, if the people on your list feel like they are a part of your life, your family; As opposed to cattle being funneled into the barn for milking.
All of the social media platforms are constantly changing the rules on who sees what you post, when, and how often. You spend countless hours, days, weeks, even years building an audience for your page. Then, in order to reach all of that audience, the platform wants you to pay to advertise to your own following. You may own the page or account, but THEY own the network and THEY make the rules.
This is why it is so important to build your own network. One where YOU make the rules. If you’re a spider, the people on your email list are your flies. Ultimately, the spiders who weave the tightest webs with the strongest anchors catch the most flies.
Nope, that’s not a typo… Branding is a topic I’ll cover in a later article.
Let’s talk about the “Music Industry” for a moment.
What IS that?
According to one un-subscriber who told to me: “You don’t know S@!T about the Music Industry”, I’m not qualified to answer that question.
And the truth is, I don’t.
I don’t care to. I don’t need to. And you don’t either.
What I DO KNOW are: Music and Business. I studied them separately and built a BRAND NEW bridge between them. And that bridge is a LOT easier to cross when you don’t have a herd of greedy trolls weighing you down.
I’ve never worked for a major label, or publisher, or any of the other corporate, conglomerate, or otherwise congealed entities that make up the “Music Industry”.
If I had, I might be just another cog in their machine. Perpetuating the GREAT LIE in music: That YOU need THEM!
They do everything they can to make you believe that in order to achieve success (which I’m sure they would define differently than us Musicpreneurs), you have to spend the the Gross Domestic Product of a small country on building your audience. Or that you need connections ONLY THEY can provide in order to receive opportunities.
Well I’m here today (everyday, in fact), to call B.S. on the music industry’s GREAT LIE.
This LIE causes countless musicians spend crazy amounts of money on all the wrong things, just because they are trying to emulate the antiquated “Label System”.
Well I’ve got news for ya… That system never really worked. DEFINITELY never in a FAIR way.
Musicians gradually lose support from their families and friends as they miss important events and flush unimaginable of sums down the toilet for the slightest chance at “getting discovered” only to find dissapoinment.
Can you blame them? They hate to see you suffer. And so do I.
Now that we have tools like email and social media that help us connect DIRECTLY with our fans and other music professionals, there’s no reason to follow such a treacherous path anymore.
The path to making money is: Growth > Engagement > Monetization.
You can’t skip any steps. And you MUST do them in THAT order.
Releases (like albums), are for Monetization. If you don’t have anyone to sell it to, it makes NO business sense to spend lot of money recording one REGARDLESS of what the elite, uber-expensive, studios tell you. Their interest is vested in convincing you to spend money.
Releases (like videos and other things that aren’t for sale), are content for Engagement. It makes NO Business sense to spend a lot of money on video production if no one is going to see it REGARDLESS of what the fancy videographer or “music industry insider” tells you. Their interest is vested in convincing you to spend money.
Releases are not very useful for growth.
EVERYDAY I watch in horror as as musicians pour ridiculous amounts of money into trying to force releases to stimulate growth, while COMPLETELY overlooking ACTUAL growth and engagement.
The BEST growth costs time. MUCH more than it costs money.
For example: The exception to the rule about videos that I mentioned above is “Cover Songs”. Since YouTube is a major search engine (2nd only to Google), if you post videos of songs that people are ALREADY LOOKING FOR you’ll get some growth. Well-targeted growth at that!
It doesn’t cost any money to do that. But it does cost more time than many musicians seem to be willing to invest. PROBABLY because the GREAT LIE has convinced them that they must, instead, spend money.
The path I’ve forged to “Success in Music” is simple and MUCH more cost effective than the GREAT LIE would want you to believe. Especially for those of us who have “real life” and “day jobs” to manage along with our musical ambitions.
In early 2017, through my upcoming “Musicpreneur Apprentice” program, I’ll be able to take you by the hand and lead you down the path to “Success in Music” at a cost to you that will make music industry insiders HATE me.
These days, from the indie artists to the major labels, recording budgets are shrinking. This does not mean that we no longer need professionally recorded material, we as musicians, have to find ways to get the best sounding recordings, while trimming down the investment. Here is my list of tips for you and your band to hit the studio ready to rock. When I booked my first ever studio session with my high school band, the local engineer told us to be well rehearsed, so we played through our songs every single day leading up to the session, but we were far from ready. These tips are what I wish I would have known going in my first time.
10. Make Your Arrangement Interesting.
Chances are, your song has an intro, a verse, a chorus, a second verse and chorus, a bridge or solo section with a final chorus and ending. Almost every song has some variation of this format and for good reason… it works. However, while there needs to be a common thread for each section, you need to have subtle changes to keep your listeners engaged. This might be dropping a few instruments out in the first verse, bringing the dynamic down, adding a new instrument to the second verse, add a new element to each chorus so they get progressively bigger throughout the song. You might try changing time signature for the bridge or having a completely different chord structure. The idea is that the vocal melody is going to be the same from verse to verse and chorus to chorus, so change the other elements for some variety and to keep things interesting.
9. Frequency and Rhythmic Separation Sounds Bigger.
Far to often, a standard rock combo hits the studio, two guitars, bass and drums. They’ve got a killer main riff for the song, but that riff gets played on both guitars and the bass. This is a perfect way for your big and powerful guitar melody to sound extra small. I’m not saying never double, but when you do, know why you’re doubling and certainly don’t have it be your go-to if you’re only planning to track two guitars. Rather, try one guitar on your riff, the bass doing some staccato stabs right where the kick drum is and have the second guitar do some chord stabs opposite the bass and see how huge that riff gets.
For some rhythmic variance, if one part is based off 8th notes or 16th notes, have the next instrument play something based off hole notes or half notes. This can give a really nice pushing and pulling feel and keep your song interesting.
For some frequency separation, maybe your song is in C. Try having one guitarist play the open chords down the neck and have the second guitarist either do some bar chords up the neck, or even put a capo on the fifth fret and play G shape chords. This provides a constant stream of ear candy that makes people want to listen all the way through and then listen again.
8. Highlight the Focus.
the listener should never have to guess what they’re supposed to be listening for. When the vocalist is singing, everything else needs to back off to make room for that vocal to shine. Sometimes this means playing quieter, or less or some instruments dropping out altogether. When the guitar solo comes up, the rest of the band needs to make room for the soloist. This can be very tricky because usually, the solo comes at one of the loudest and dense parts of the song. Work out what might need to be changed to accommodate. Everyone in the band should always be mindful of where the focus is at any given time and take the spotlight when it’s there’s and relinquish it the rest of the time. Think of it this way, if you have a four piece band, and everyone is playing equally, you each take up 25% of the mix. However, that means nothing is the focus. If three players back off to 20% of the mix, you give the focus musician an extra 15% to work with. The entire band playing at 100% 100% of the time never works.
7. Make Friends with the Click Track.
I can’t stress this one enough. Nobody can dance to your song if the tempo speeds up every time the drummer plays a fill and slows down every time the dynamic drops. Before hitting the studio, put headphones on your drummer so he or she can have a click during rehearsal. I normally encourage the rest of the band not to have the click, but just to follow the drummer. Once it’s time to count in the song, the drummer should be the leader. You’ll find the first time you put your drummer on a click in rehearsal how much the drummer plays to the band rather than the other way around.
Drummers, you really need to take control. Put your headphones on, play to your click and don’t try and conform to the band. Only play tight to the click and make the band conform to you. Do not give an inch. You’ve always wanted to ignore you band mates anyway, here’s your chance. I give you full permission.
6. Drummers, Balance Your Kit.
Playing balanced drums is what separates the good drummers from the big boys club. The best drummers know exactly how hard they want to hit each part of their kit every time. This comes from back when drums were recorded with just one or two microphones and there was no really way to have control of each individual drum during the mix. Since you couldn’t turn the symbols down and the kick and snare up, drummers learned to play their symbols quieter and their kick and snare louder. Hit your drums and tap your symbols. This way the overheads can be used as more than ridiculous symbol wash. You’ll cut down on the bleed in your other microphones. Another helpful tip, as you’re going down your toms, don’t lose steam. You can hear a lot of records where a tom fill starts nice and loud, but by the time they get down to the floor tom, you can barely hear it. Remember, a 16In floor tom head takes more energy to excite than a 10In rack tom. Hitting your floor with the same intensity as your smallest rack will not produce the same result.
5. Creating Musical Drum Fills.
It might seem like I’m picking on drummers, but the track starts with you guys. Without amazing drums, no matter what the rest of the song sounds like, the whole will never be as good as it could have been. Before you start tracking, take some time to think through your fills. Don’t fall back on the chug chug chug, chug, around the drums. This fill can be the perfect one for building intensity in certain spots, but isn’t always your best choice. Think about your fills as part of the music. Is there a strong melody line played on a keyboard or guitar that leads in to the chorus? You might want to try similar subdivisions for your transition fill. You might even want to choose the drums you hit in the transition based on the direction of the melody. If the guitar is going down, try going for your rack toms to your floor. If it’s going up, try floor to rack. Then try the opposite and see if contrary motion works better. There’s no, “This works every time,” here, but keep these ideas in mind when writing your drum part. This is where you can really influence the song musically rather than just rhythmically.
4. New Strings and Heads Required.
This should be a no-brainer, but I was never told to have new strings on my guitars the first time I went in to track. You might say you don’t want your guitar to have that new string sound, but that brightness is something that can be taken away in the mix if you still feel that way at that point in the process, but it can’t be put back in if you track with old strings and change your mind and want the bright sound at mix down. You can make new sound a little older, but you can’t make old sound new. This even goes for bass players. No, the strings that came on your bass from the music store when you bought it three years ago are not going to cut it on a professional recording. Same for drummers. There’s considerable debate on whether you need to change out all of your bottom heads each session, but get some new top heads on, especially the snare and just use judgement for the bottoms.
3. Intonation and Tuning.
It doesn’t take much effort or money to get your guitars in to the shop a couple of days before your big session and have the intonation checked. Nothing is more disappointing than having your perfectly tuned guitar and you go to hit that blazing solo up the neck and everything sounds out of tune. Just bring your guitars and basses in, have a tech do a once-over, you’ll probably get out for between $20 and $50. When you’re about to drop a couple grand on your record, it’s not very smart to have every solo are bar chord out of tune to save $20.
Drummers, since you’re putting on those new heads anyway, take the time to tune up. A well tuned kit can really stand out in a track. If you’re not the best at drum tuning, find someone in your local scene who always has a great sounding kit and offer them a few bones and a case of beer to tune yours up the night before you track. It’ll be worth it.
2. Take a Few Chances.
Here’s where I make the engineers really mad, but hey, I don’t only pick on drummers. Leave room for some creativity in the studio. The common wisdom is before tracking day, know every note, every beat, every solo and vocal line perfectly. I say don’t do that. Get your songs most of the way there, but leave yourself some room to be in the moment. If the Beatles would have written every note before they started rolling tape, we’d never have the backwards guitar solos. John would have never tried singing a lead vocal while holding his nose just to see what it sounded like. The Rolling Stones never would have put a mic on an unplayed piano in the live room just to pick up some of the resonance of the piano strings while the band played. These are little pieces of magic that are getting left out of the process in these days of throw-and-go low budget recording. If you really have the rest of your stuff together, you’ll have time to try a few different things and make your own form of magic.
1. Don’t Fix-In-The-Mix.
That’s not quite the guitar tone we wanted, but we can fix it in the mix right? Never utter that last sentence… just never. Have a vision for your songs and take the time to uncover the tones before you hit record. What takes you a few minutes to dial in on tracking day saves you hours of trying to create a sound that you didn’t track that you knew you wanted all along. Here’s another place where some engineers will disagree with me, but if you know you like a specific delay that you’re getting from your pedal track it with your delay pedal. If your engineer refuses and it’s too late in the process to find another studio, offer to do a dry pass or have him take a DI from your guitar along with the pass that has your pedals. Here’s the catch, make sure your pedals sound good. Some engineers don’t like you tracking with them because they are afraid to commit, but most might hear something that sounds less than great in your rig and they only want to make sure that you have a great sounding record. If you take care of things on your end and really have your stuff dialed in, it shouldn’t be a problem. If your engineer still hears something unpleasing, ask them to help you dial it in based off your idea, but take the time to find the sound you want and print it that way.
I know somebody who has a large collection of guitars. He’ll have them all out for a session while he’s tracking. Then at mix down he’ll come out with something like, “Can you make this track I recorded with my Les Paul sound like my 335?” That is an extreme example, but always have your final sound in mind and do whatever you need to do to track as close to it as you can. You’ll be surprised at how much faster and easier mixing time is.
I hope these tips help you have nothing but incredible recording sessions in the future. I spent a lot of time and money learning how to create amazing sounding records. Hopefully you can skip some of that. If you follow these simple tips, I can guarantee that your first professional recordings will sound much better than mine.
If you’re playing in bars and clubs, there will most likely come a day when you encounter a certain artifact. Some might call this artifact “The Scepter Of Plagues.” Others might name it “The Odiferous Transducer Of Doom.”
The rest of us just call it a mic that’s been beaten half-to death, and which has never been cleaned.
Such awfulness alone is a really decent reason to have your own vocal mic. There are other justifications, of course, like predictable performance (especially if you use your own vocal processor), and knowing that you’ll have a transducer handy which works nicely with your voice.
But there are so many mics out there! How do you figure out which one is the right choice?
1. Forget About What You Liked In The Studio
Some mics used in studio settings work well on stage, it’s true. Some people use “on stage” mics in the studio anyway.
At the same time, though, a LOT of mics that are great for recording are a giant ball of trouble for live audio. Sure, they sound perfect when you’re in a vocal booth with headphones on, but that’s at least one whole universe removed from the brutal world of concert sound. They’re too fragile, too finicky, too heavy, their pickup patterns are too wide, and you can’t get close enough to them to leverage your vocal power.
…and yes, I know that those studio microphones look cool. I also think they look cool. Looking cool is neat, but what’s awesome is actually getting the job done. I personally run into very few “studio” mics that can actually function usefully in the nightmare hellscape that is commonly referred to as “live vocal reproduction.”
2. Don’t Agonize About The Spec Sheet
There are people who spend months looking at all the numbers associated with every mic they might want to purchase. They worry about the sensitivity, and the self-noise, and how low the frequency response goes, and the impedance, and…
Folks, any halfway decent mic that’s actually designed to be on stage will be fine in all those areas.
If you want to spend time looking at something, look at the frequency response graph and polar patterns. Even then, recognize that those plots can be fudged and averaged to look better than they really are.
Mics with flatter response curves will tend to behave better across different systems. Some manufacturers “dial up” a lot of studio-mic-esque high-end into their offerings, which causes them to sound better on systems without a lot going on in the high-frequency area. However, that can also translate into feedback trouble and harshness when you perform on a rig with an extended response.
Mics with tighter polar patterns are generally better at rejecting feedback and picking up less of everything that isn’t you. Tighter patterns mean that you have to be more diligent about staying “on the mic,” though, and may cause you sudden problems if you have a tendency to cup your hands around your microphone.
3. Rent Your Shortlist, And Rehearse With Them
Once you’ve narrowed your possibilities down, try to find a pro-audio rental house that will let you pay to try them. If you can’t find a rental, reach out to your contacts and see if you can get a loaner.
Then, get in a real room, with your real band, and rehearse as hard as you can using a relatively unsophisticated audio setup. (Caveat: If you use your own vocal processor, definitely make sure to rehearse with that, and definitely make sure to use all the presets you call up during a real gig.)
The point of this is to figure out how the mic actually delivers in all the noise and chaos of a show. The microphone that’s the right choice for will “make it easy to sound like you.” The reason for the simple audio rig is to find out how the mic works WITHOUT a lot of toys and whizbangs attached. A good mic won’t need superhuman effort and a rack of processing to get the necessary gain to hear yourself. A good mic won’t need a ton of EQ fiddling to dial up an overall tone that fits in with the rest of the band.
Also, that “rest of the band” bit is very important. It’s nice if a purchase candidate sounds sweet through the wedges when nobody else is making noise…
…but the mic REALLY has to work for you when the drummer gets excited, and the guitarist turns up, and the keys player recalls a patch that occupies the entire audible spectrum, and the bassist is trying to move the stage through sheer force of sound pressure.
The right mic will satisfy the needs set out above, and will also be well constructed, feel decent in your hands, and mate with XLR cables without fuss or flimsiness.
Buying your own mic is an investment in your career. Take your time and find something that actually works for you.
At my beginning, there was music and desire. That was enough. All I thought about was guitars, bands, writing songs, and performing. Then, other factors crept in, corrupting me and my pure little world. The feelings of self doubt that plague most performers started and stayed with me. My biggest fear was not being good enough. Still is, really. Trying to cope with those feelings led to to the self-medicating euphoria of drugs and booze, which were fun for a while. Soon, however, they took over my life and got between me and my music. Not feeling anxiety and inadequacy became much more important than just about anything. That pursuit of not feeling became the trap I fell into as time went on.
I think this happens to a lot of performers. Our emotions, which give us so much creativity, can also be our downfall if we can’t control them. Those same feelings that often drive our best work can also knock us out cold if we let them get the upper hand. We need to balance maintaining the healthy ego we need to get on stage or record but without feeding the negative mindset that comes from believing our critics and doubting ourselves. Easier said than implemented, I know, but the dangers of becoming an ego-ed out monster or, worse, a quivering pile of doubt and fear, loom so large that getting our heads right is of crucial importance. In my life, the things that got me off center were low self-esteem in anything but music, a difficult home life, and trouble relating to my peers. Self-medicating allowed me to adopt a different personality, one that people seemed to like more than the sober, nervous me, which was ok until that personality took over.
What got taken over was my desire and drive. Rather than driving towards bettering my skills and my music, I drove directly at not feeling those old negative feelings, no matter the cost. When this really kicked in for me in the years following high school, there were periods where I didn’t play or practice for weeks at a time. I got lost in the haze. I got trapped in that new personality, content to have a social scene and the ability to keep my weakness on ice. I consider this to be the single worst thing I ever did in terms of my musical life. At a time when I should have been going hard, I was partying hard, too hard, in an effort to repress and forget my own life. I was still in bands and gigging, but was just drifting thought it all.
This was the trap, my trap, and some of yours, too, I bet. Rather than owning my shit and improving it, I hid from it, gradually drifting off course until my life became about getting high and oblivious and I almost became a drunk non-musician. I lost a decade to that negative personality, years I will never get back. My lesson from this experience was that what needs to happen is life and our minds must be dealt with and not repressed. That does not mean that we have to live sober, but it means that we have to accept and improve ourselves and our lives rather than hiding from them. This type of mental game mistake derails more musicians than anything. Most of us don’t fail because our talent runs out; playing music is the easy part. A weak mental game will kill your career before it starts. I address this type of thing in my guitar teaching practice, which is pretty non-traditional, and feel these issues are just as vital as learning theory, reading, and technique to a developing artist.
Of course, partying too much is just one of many things we can get trapped in. What are some you have encountered?
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