I doubt I am the only person who grew with aspirations of becoming a major recording artist in the music industry. I first wanted to be Eazy-E. Man, did I think he was cool. The sunglasses he wore. The style. The jheri curl. Everything he did was the epitome of cool to me back then. Then I spent a short period of time admiring Kool Moe Dee’s hat (see pic). Shortly after I prayed day and night to wake up one day and be a “Smooth Operator” like Big Daddy Kane. Years later my tastes in music slightly changed. Once I turned 19, I began to dream about being in Motley Crue or Led Zeppelin. I still sometimes contemplate what my chances are of still becoming a rock star (Slash and the remaining members of Guns N Roses need another singer??). It is pretty common that many kids all over the world want to one day be either a rock star, rapper, movie star, or model. But little did any of us know how hard and competitive it is to make it in the entertainment business. Especially being a star in any of those fields. Thankfully with the advent of social media and especially home recording, you can still live out dreams of at least having a career in the music industry. Technology has made recording and building a fan base much easier, but also more competitive. In today’s music market, any recording artist worth their weight in salt will be putting together recordings of their own either in their personal home studios or at an affordable commercial recording studio to launch their career. Many continue to stay the independent route, forgoing the major label world for the control they can keep by being a DIY (Do It Yourself) artist and running their own music business. The problem is that technology now allows anyone who wants to make an album, the ability to actually do it. Many people forget that there is a major difference between recording music, and making a professional commercially viable album. I decided to put together a list of what I feel are the top 5 things that many novice or independent artists overlook while putting together their albums.
1 – Demoing and Rehearsals
When making an album, demoing and rehearsing is very often overlooked or not spent sufficient time on. These are factors that can greatly affect the outcome and success of your music. You shouldn’t work out the arrangements during the recording session. Do that during the many hours that should be spent in rehearsals. Come prepared and have as much ready to be laid down to record as possible. That’s where demoing your songs comes into play as well. Whether you are making music with live instruments or programming the music like in the urban or pop market, demoing a song is the first step in brainstorming the ideas with your producer, and/or band to work out essential aspects which will effect the final outcome of your music. What works, and what does not work? What can be fixed? What should you remove? What else is needed? I am a big believer in taking the song in its raw and original form and sitting with it to decide what works and what does not. Guitar and vocals, if it was originally written on the guitar. Piano and vocals, if it was originally written on the piano…etc. Take some time and step back and look at things like the tempo. Try it faster or way slower. This will do 2 things. One, you will figure out if the right tempo is being used. Second, it will take the artist out of the song for a moment. Many artists are so used to hearing a song the way they have been playing it, that they start to suffer form something called “demoitis.” That’s where you have heard a song a certain way so many times, that you cannot hear it any other way. You can’t even imagine it differently. That does the song a disservice. You can also analyze the structure. Challenge your chord progressions. Even write or re-write a bridge. Change rhythms. Sit with the demos for a few days, then revisit them and see if your new choices work. After you’ve done this, then hop into a rehearsal spot with your band or your musicians and play the hell out of everything. Re-work parts again. Experiment with new and alternative parts. Get your group tight, so that not only you can get into a studio and spend majority (if not all) of the time just laying down what you have. But also the more tight you sound as a band, the better your music will come across to your fans. That’s why artists always sound better after playing shows for an extended period of time. Either tours or just numerous local shows. The more you play, the better you get….this reminds me, I need to pick up my guitar tonight and practice that new song I am working on. Practice makes perfect!
Here are a couple of great rehearsal studios in and around Los Angeles. There are literally 1,000’s. I wanted to show you 2 that are relatively affordable, have recording equipment to demo/record, and have a constant flow of other musicians and industry peeps you can network with.
2 – Recording and processing a great drum sound
In today’s music market almost everyone has some type of recording equipment or has access to affordable studios. Technology has blessed us with economical recording equipment. If this equipment, or “gear” as commonly referred to, is used properly by an engineer with experience, you can get yourself music that sounds like it might have been recorded in a big budget studio. I always tell many newcomers, remember, just because you can record something doesn’t make you an engineer or producer. It’s like saying you are a director or the “next Stephen Spielberg” because you film stuff on your iphone. Ya, not quite! Many people in the independent market using home studios or smaller workshops have just the basic knowledge of how to use the equipment. They can get a recording done. Probably even get a great vocal down, even track some great guitars. But they lack skills in the art of recording. They lack the experience and skills to capture the essence of the song and the performances. Great songs and great performances can be lost if you have a bad recording or bad mix. One of the most common problems I hear in independently recorded and released albums is they suffer from not capturing a great drum sound. I am a big believer that independent albums live and die by the sound of the drums. That is hardest part to record. You actually need to know what you are doing and need to have more than the basic set-up. You also need to have experience recording drums. Mic choices and especially mic placement are essential. You can’t really get good drum recordings in your home or a garage. More so you need to have the right room with the proper soundproofing done. Most artists who record their music independently make music that will have great vocal recording, killer guitar and bass, but fail at capturing a great drum sound. The drums sound flat, not enough bottom end, hi-hats sound washy, or they are even not tuned well. It does not matter if you are going for the big, raw, live “Led Zeppelin” drum sound or if you are making a hip-hop album and just going to program your drums. Drum sound is essential. It sets the men apart from the boys. It sets the pros apart from the amateurs. It is the most obvious part of recording that will show either your talent or lack there of.
5 Tips to consider for drum sound:
- Drum tuning – Get a Drum tech!
- Mic Placement – make sure to use proper mic placement to capture all the essential parts of each drum.
- Don’t forget the importance of room mics – drums create a badass sound in other corners of the room you are recording in. Why not put a mic there and record the sound of the drums in that corner of the room? Then place it in the mix somewhere.
- Mixing – when you are mixing your songs make sure to use good EQ and mix choices for your drum recordings. Find an album or song where you to reference the drum sounds and bring it to your engineer so he can try to incorporate that sound in your mix.
- Tuning (I know this is the second time) – Ya…drums are an instrument. They go out of tune. Make sure to tune your drums before and during the recording session.
3 – Mixing
Mixing is an art form. It is not simply EQ’ing your sounds and moving faders up and down to decide what should be louder and what should not. It’s not just adding reverb to your vocals either. It is much, much more! Mixing is essentially molding the sonic landscape of your songs. You need to have a vision and concept of what you want the focal points in the song to be, and what you want highlighted, among many other factors. You also get to add cool efx and delays during a mix session. It is imperative to have an actual “mix engineer” mix your music. Here is an analogy that might put some stuff in perspective. Mixing your music is very much like designing the interior of your house. You buy a ton of really great furniture and decorations to put in it. Then just haphazardly place the couch in the kitchen, the fridge in the bathroom. The dinning room table in the master bedroom. That totally seems odd right? Well that is usually what music sounds like when someone with untrained ears or inexperienced in mixing ends up mixing your music. You need to really plan out the overall interior design of your house. What goes where, and how each choice affects other rooms and the overall feel of your home. You might think you know how to do it. But more often than not you don’t. YOU are NOT an interior decorator. Nor are you a mixing engineer. Yes, you can add some reverb and EQ to your tracks, and move a few faders around, but that is not mixing. Having someone with a fresh set of ears that understands that art of mixing and can bring your music alive with various sonic choices, can literally make or break your record. In today’s market, big name mixers sometimes charge 2 x than producers, or musicians. Why? Well, because it makes that much of a difference. I have tried to mix songs myself. They sounded OK, but they were not properly mixed or balanced. When I took them to a real mix engineer and had him take a crack at it, wow was it night a day.
4 – Mastering
Much like mixing, mastering is an art form. If done well it can help you stand out from all the other artists trying to make it in the music biz. If done wrong, it can prevent you from EVER getting on the radio. One problem with the advent and affordability of technology, people have access to programs that can assist you in mixing or mastering your music. But it does the bare minimum. With some of the home mastering programs, you will get a sonic sheen added to your music, but that does NOT mean it is mastered. Trying to get played on major radio, or shooting for TV/film placements are major factors when determining to master your music professionally or not. A seasoned mastering engineer will know how to master your record specifically for radio or TV/film, while someone who does not have that type of skill will not know what EQ to put where. They wont know how to compress it for radio, without taking off too much of the dynamics. No one likes to listen to a group of songs on the radio or their iPod and when your song comes on they have to turn the volume up. Then when the next song on their playlist comes up, the volume is too loud and they jump because it is killing their ears. When doing your music try to remember the goal is not to impress you, it’s to impress the listeners. Let go of your ego and turn skilled jobs that you don’t know who to do to someone who does.
Looking for top of line mastering at an affordable price, try the world-class sound of Capitol Recording Studios. They have a new affordable service for artists to use.
5 – Saving some money to promote the music you just worked so hard on
Great music does not make money. Good marketing and many fans do. Now, I am by no means saying that music does not matter. The music is the product you are essentially selling. But if you have a great song that no one has ever heard, it is worthless. If you have a terrible song that tons of people have heard (we can all name more than a handful out there), then you have something powerful. The goal is to make the best music you can, then get out there and monetize it. Get out and build a fan base and build a buzz. That takes money. Being able to do that is the “X-Factor” in today’s music business. It is what literally will set you apart from the millions upon millions of artists that are out there trying to make it. Everyone is online today. It is an extremely saturated and flooded marketplace. Everyone has a facebook. Heck, my mom even does! Everyone has a youtube, reverbnation, etc. So just being on those sites and using them to a minimum is not enough today. You have to know how to use those tools for the benefit of your music career. Remember that the many social media sites out there are merely tools to assist you in the growth of your music career. Be it, they are useful and important tools, but remember that millions of artists are also on those sites using them as tools. You have to know how to properly execute marketing and branding strategies that will help you standout on those platforms. That is not necessarily someone else’s job anymore. It is yours. It’s the artist’s job! Having a career in the music biz is essentially 2 parts. Making music, and knowing how to make money from it. If you just make music, you are a hobbyist. But, if you want to make it a career, and make money from it, you need to turn it into a business. The difference between a career and a hobby is a career you make income from. A hobby you don’t. Learn the music biz. Learn how to better utilize those social media tools. Learn about the mechanics of marketing and branding. Come up with a business strategy that when you connect with fans it presents you in a compelling enough manner that those fans will spend money on you or help promote you (i.e. repost your music, videos, links, tweet about you, etc.).
I do know of a pretty good place to help in building a business in the music industry and learning how to build a fan base…guess what it is?! Maybe I am a bit biased, but one of the reasons I work at Fame Wizard® is because it actually works. Check out the site. It is a great company where you can learn how to make your dreams and aspirations in the music industry a reality.