I blog all things for the unsigned songwriters, and artists!
Question #1: Do I need validation in order to feel that my music is good?
What factors do I use to rate my musical output? Are these factors productive and healthy, or are they holding me back from taking risks? Who do I trust to give great feedback on my music and why? When writing do I think a lot about what different people are going to say or think? How do I think this affects my songs?
Question #2: By what terms do I measure success?
When thinking about success and my music career do I use a scale based on internal goals and surpassing them, or based on the market and my position in it? Do I have a balance between internal goals and external position? Which element is more important to me? Why does one element (internal or external) weigh more than the other to me?
Question #3: As an entrepreneur and business owner, what are some of my biggest weaknesses?
What are areas I realize I am struggling in or I fear that I will? Why do I feel this way and is it justified? How do I plan on improving my skills in this area and ensuring that this weakness does not get in the way of my career development? Are these weaknesses tied to particular insecurities I have due to past experiences? How do I ensure I don’t let these insecurities make bad business decisions for my career?
Question #4: What elements of my career bring me the most stress?
Can I handle those elements always being present? What tools do I have that can help me manage this stress? Why does this element cause so much stress?
Question #5: Do I trust and believe in my partners (band mates, team etc.)?
Do I have any doubts that they might not be on the same page? How will I address these feelings if I ever did? Do we all envision the same ideal situation for our career success? Do I trust them to represent and share the same morals and standards with me? Do I enjoy hearing their feedback and asking their help when it comes to my career? Do they challenge me in healthy ways on a regular basis? How do I communicate my needs as an artist and human being to my team? Is it a constructive work environment?
Question #6: Do I believe I can be the biggest artist/band in the world with unwavering confidence in myself and my team?
This question is hard to admit, but sometimes to achieve big scary goals you have to say things that may sound a bit crazy. I truly think that, to be the biggest band in the world, you don’t get there by believing that you’re not ever going to be there. You need to believe that you are going to get there and can.
So… Can I be the biggest band in the world? What raises doubt and gets me down? What or who can help me keep on track in these moments of doubt?
Sure one could argue that it’s healthy to have some doubts to help propel you forward but there is a difference between some small doubts and a big gloomy doom monster lurking in your gut. Ask yourself, Do I have a big gloomy doom monster lurking in my gut?
Question #7: Am I ready to really truly work and give everything to this dream?
Is there anything holding me back? Are there any side projects, other careers, or back up plans left open ended that I need to tie up? Do I care what my friends and family think of my career choice? Do I enjoy working all hours of the day and night? Am I ready to really develop a serious work ethic and push through the aspects of this career that are unenjoyable? What am I willing to sacrifice?
Question #8: Is there a point in my career where I see myself hanging my hat up?
What is that point and why? How did I arrive on this idea? If I do have a hat hanging moment, what will I do after the hat is hung?
Question #9: How do I want my writing and songs to affect people?
In detail, what do I want my listeners to think? What if they think or say the opposite? What would be the most flattering compliment someone could say about my writing?
And most importantly…
Question #10: What are the values I will consider when making hard career decisions?
What are the most important things for me when it comes to making a mark with my music? Will I always keep those at the forefront when decision making? What could potentially challenge those values down the road? In what order will I consider these values and why?
*I suggest writing this one down and reviewing it regularly!
The answers to these questions are to get you thinking, and there are certainly no right or wrong answers. Just the fact that you’re asking them and willing to try and answer them puts you ahead of the herd.
The words are perfect. The meter is perfect. The song is three minutes and twelve seconds of perfection. It just sounds a little weird in places and doesn’t blow you away in others. You thought it would work itself out if you just sang it for a week or two. That didn’t happen. It’s time to sit down and fix the problem.
Differentiating Parts of a Song
If the melody is good but it just doesn’t go “bang” when it hits the chorus, there are a number of ways to fix this problem. First, look at the overall melodic range of the song. Is it too narrow? If so, try moving the chorus melody up a third or the verse melody to a fifth harmony in the octave below the melody. You might have to make some adjustments, but it’s a starting point.
Now, let’s take a look at the tessitura — a factor describing where, within the melodic range of a song, a certain section spends most of its time. If you have a good melodic range in the song, but the parts still sound a lot alike, look at the tessitura to identify problems. It could be that the verse has a couple of low notes in the first line, then jumps up into chorus territory for the remaining three lines. To solve this, try reserving the top few notes of the melodic range for chorus use only. The opposite can be done as well, with a few notes on the bottom being used only in the verse. Overall, you generally want a lower tessitura for the verse and a higher one for the chorus. This doesn’t mean things can’t overlap, just that they should have significant differences.
Pay Attention to Continuity
What if the melodies of two adjoining sections are so different that they don’t seem to connect? Sometimes this can be a tessitura problem. Look at where the notes are in the end of the first section. Are they more than half an octave away from the notes that begin the next section? If so, you can try changing the melody of the last line of the first section to “walk up” into the next section. Alternately, you might try starting the first line of the second section lower and “walking up” from there. Sometimes a combination of these two approaches can work.
If that doesn’t do it, you might consider writing a two-line lift that provides a buffer zone. A lift usually has elements of the melody and meter of both sections. Sometimes, though, it will be totally different from one or both sections. The important thing is for the lift to create a workable musical connection to the sections on either side of it to help make the transition work. Of course, it’ll probably need lyrics and it might make your song too long, so make sure you have extra time and something to say.
So you’ve spent hours manipulating the volume and depth of your track, and yet, everything sounds bad. No matter what you do, it just seems sonically cluttered, so to speak. EQ is the answer, but in a different way than you might think. Before now, we have seen EQ as a way to shape the sound of individual tracks. When you mix, EQ takes a slightly different role.
Remember the idea that any single sound is made up of many frequencies? Think of sounds as analogous to building blocks; each sound is a differently shaped building block. Not all sounds will just “fit together” without some light sanding. For example, the bass guitar and the bass drum sit in the same frequency range — the low frequencies. Depending on how the instruments were recorded, when you play them back together, you’ll most likely hear a bit of sonic mud because of so much sound coming in from the lower frequencies. What’s happening is that both the bass drum’s and the bass guitar’s low frequencies are covering each other up, making your mix very bass heavy. You’ll notice that it’s also hard to hear both the instruments clearly. Welcome to EQ carving!
When you mix, sounds should not compete. If you load up a mix with a bunch of instruments in the same frequencies, you’ll get mud. Start to separate the sounds so that each sound can occupy its own layer. Try cutting the bottom of the bass guitar so the drum has some room. Or try the reverse and cut the bottom of the bass drum. By doing this, you open up a space for the other instrument to sit in. You make a mix much the same way you make a building — one layer on top of another. EQ helps the pieces fit together.
You probably consider a bass drum’s sound as fairly low in frequency. However, whether you realize it or not, the bass’s sound also consists of high frequencies, albeit very quiet ones. You can barely hear them, but they’re there! To start clarifying your mix, take out the frequencies that aren’t being used. If you have a lowest-frequency sound, cutting high frequencies won’t have much effect on the low-frequency sound. The same is true with high-frequency sounds — you won’t affect them if you cut the low frequencies. If you properly trim sound frequencies, the tracks have a better chance of sitting one on top of another without clashing too much.
Trimming with EQ is also called carving EQ. Just think about each sound and how it sits in relation to the other tracks. If you have sounds that compete, try cutting from one sound so that the other has room. Experiment, and tweak, tweak, tweak!
It doesn’t matter how timely your message is or how brilliant your metaphor is if nobody understands what the heck you’re talking about. If a publisher, or any listener, says they don’t get it, explaining and arguing won’t help. They have to get it by hearing the song, not by hearing you explain what they should have heard. Besides, you can’t go around and personally explain to forty million record buyers what your song means. If too many people don’t get it, it needs a rewrite.
Sometimes solving a clarity issue is as easy as watching your pronouns. Say you’ve got two guys in your story, we’ll call them Bob and Biff. Now, if Bob and Biff are having a legendary fight in the middle of the song and your lyric says, “Then he hit him and he hit him and he hit him again,” it’s not clear who is hitting whom. It makes more sense to say, “Then Bill hit Biff and Biff hit Bill and Bill hit Biff again.” The exception to this would be if you had already made it clear that one person was doing all the hitting, in which case the first version works fine.
To keep a song clear, try to limit pronoun usage to one “he” and one “she” character in a story. Alternately, use a name in the first part of a line that ties to the pronoun in the second half: “The sheriff grabbed the gun and he waved it in the air.”
“Stairway to Heaven” is a great song, but what the heck is it about? The trick here is that much of the record buying public at the time was into allegory, multiple or hidden meanings, and — let’s face it — drugs that made some lyrics appear to make more sense than they actually did.
The song is full of imagery that conjures up a “Lord of the Rings” kind of fantasy world. It’s musically beautiful, masterfully performed, passionately sung, and has a kickin’ guitar solo at the end. It also came along at the exact right time and was performed by a very popular group.
A song that’s too vague or leaves too much up to the imagination doesn’t meet the listener half way. If your song is about a girl, people want to know a little about the girl. Where is she from? Is she shy or brassy? What’s so special about her that you had to go and write a song about her? It’s great that you still remember your first date with her, but the listener wasn’t there, so you need to fill in a few details. Did you go to the drive-in or roller-skating? Did you show up in jeans to find her wearing formal attire? What did you eat?
You don’t have to overload the listener with details, but give enough of the picture to make someone want to fill the rest in. Ideally, you want an average person who’s just heard your song for the first time to be able to tell you what it’s about and remember a few details.
Let’s say your song begins with the following lines: “The alarm clock went off and she said, ‘honey, it’s time to wake up!’/I had to get goin’ or else I’d be late for the bus.”
You can see the scene in your head: It’s the first day of seventh grade, he got an alarm clock for his birthday, but his Mom still calls up the stairs like she always has. She’s called him “honey” since he was a little baby. As a young man, he’s starting to feel a little uncomfortable with the nickname, yet it’s hard to let go of the stability and comfort of childhood. You can see the house, smell the coffee and eggs, and hear the AM radio playing in the kitchen.
Unfortunately, a listener could hear the same two lines and picture this scene: It’s Monday morning. He always sleeps through the alarm because he’s always tired. His wife, knowing this, gently wakes him. They only have one car and he has to catch the city bus downtown to his job so she can pick up the kids after she’s done with hers.
Holy cow! How’d that happen? Well, you assumed a lot of information that you didn’t tell the listener, so the listener’s imagination filled in what you didn’t say. Let’s try a rewrite and see if it gets a little clearer: “The alarm clock went off, but she still yelled up the stairs ‘boy, wake up’/I had to get goin’ or I’d miss that big yellow bus.”
By adding the “but she still” in the first line, it becomes apparent that “she” has been yelling up those stairs for a while. So, it’s someone he knows. It also firmly establishes that she’s not in the bed with him. She calls him “boy,” so either he’s really a boy or it’s someone with whom he’s very familiar or both. A big yellow bus must be a school bus. So, he must really be a boy, which means she must be his mom. It all makes sense now.
The TMI Syndrome
Of course, there is such a thing as too much information. A few deft brushstrokes can sometimes paint a picture. A few details can make a scene seem more real. Too many, though, and the picture can become confusing and cluttered. How much is enough? You’ll have to decide for yourself. The nice thing is that you almost always have time to take out or put in a few things before you take a song to a publisher. Finding the right balance between too little information and too much is one of the things that can make a good song into a great song.
1. Finalize Your Lyric Sheet. An accurate lyric sheet is a great place to start once your song is done. Use this lyric sheet to capture all the pertinent information about your new song. At the bottom of the page, write out the D.O.C. (date of creation), the name of the writer (or writers in the case of a co-write) and all pertinent publishing information, including the PRO (performing rights organization). This way, when it comes time to provide the necessary information to the record label or music supervisor, it’s all in one place. For example, the bottom of my lyric sheets looks like this:
©3.1.12 Cliff Goldmacher, Famous In France Music (BMI)
Next, if/when you provide this lyric sheet to a demo vocalist, make sure that every word of the song is written out. Avoid shortcuts like writing “repeat chorus.” By writing out every word exactly in the order it’s sung, you’re making the job of the vocalist that much easier. And, to that end, I’d also recommend indenting your choruses so that they’re easily distinguishable from your verses and bridge. Finally, there’s no need to double space your lyric and it should all fit on one page. This makes it easier for the eventual demo vocalist to read it on the music stand among other reasons. If you’re over one page, you can fudge a little by combining lines or using a smaller font but if you really can’t fit your entire lyric on one page, you might seriously consider editing your lyric.
2. Create The Definitive Rough Recording. Now that your song is done, you’re going to need a quick and easy recording that captures its melody, lyric and chord changes. As I’ve mentioned in my workshops, there is no Grammy for best rough recording, so a simple guitar or piano and vocal recorded directly into your smartphone or laptop is perfectly acceptable. This recording is useful for a couple of reasons. First, quite simply, it will prevent you from forgetting how your song goes. This may sound far-fetched for those of you who’ve only written a few songs, but as you begin to write more often and start to build your catalog, you’d be amazed at how quickly these little buggers can erase themselves from your memory. Secondly, this recording will serve as the reference for the demo vocalist and session musicians should you choose to bring your song to the next level.
3. Schedule A Demo. Speaking of bringing your song to the next level, it’s time to decide if this song is worth a further investment of your time and financial resources. If we’re honest with ourselves as songwriters, we have to admit that not every song we write is demo-worthy. However, if you believe that this particular song is genuinely ready for prime time, then you have to create a professional demo of the song so that you can present it to the music industry at large and be taken seriously. This is not the time to hope that music business professionals will be able to “hear through” your rough recording. Instead, I’d recommend investing the money on a professional studio recording using a trained demo singer and at least one session musician. If you’re prepared to spend the necessary time and effort learning to sing, play and record your own songs at the highest level, then by all means do this yourself. But, given the number of hours in the day, if you have to choose, I’d consider spending your time working on your songwriting and pitching your songs and leaving the recording to the folks that do it all day, every day.
4. Catalog Your Mixes. Once you’re the proud owner of a great-sounding, professionally recorded demo of your song, you’ll need to make sure you’ve got easy access to it. This way, when an opportunity presents itself, you’ll know exactly where to go and what to look for. I can’t think of anything more depressing than an artist, label or publisher asking for a copy of your song and you not being able to find it. To that end, I’d ask the demo studio for high-resolution wave file mixes of your demo with and without vocals (instrumental versions of your songs are always great to have). Then, I’d learn how to use iTunes to not only convert your .wav files to mp3 for easier emailing but also to embed the necessary metadata (song title, contact info, etc.) directly into the mp3. This can be a bit daunting at first, but remember, if you’re hoping to make money from your songwriting, then you’re running a business and knowing how to prepare your product is all part of it.
5. Create A Backup. Now that you’ve got your songs and all the accompanying information properly labeled and stored, it’s time to set up a reliable backup system. It’s essential to remember that it’s not “if” but “when” your computer hard drive — with all your rough recordings, finished demos and lyric sheets — will fail. Not only do your demos represent a significant financial investment, but your songs themselves are priceless. My motto is that if it doesn’t exist in two places, it doesn’t exist. Learn how to back up your computer to a separate drive or, to coin the current phraseology, to the cloud. Under no circumstances should you go without some kind of backup. That’s simply a recipe for a catastrophic event.
6. Pitch Your Song. I know this sounds obvious but once you’ve got a finished demo of your song, you’ve got to show it to people. It’s amazing to me — and I was equally guilty of this early in my career — how few songwriters make the effort to get their songs out there. There are a variety of reasons for this. First and foremost, it’s work. At this point, you could be selling shoes as far as you’re concerned. There is nothing romantic about having a product and figuring out who’s interested in buying it. But, as I mentioned earlier, you’re running a business and so it needs to be done. Secondly, even if you are willing, it can be a bit daunting trying to figure out who’s looking for what you’ve got. There are reputable pitch sheets such as www.SongQuarters.com and www.RowFax.com that, for a fee, provide the necessary information and there are organizations like www.Taxi.com that will do the pitching for you for a fee. Finally, there’s no substitute for getting out there and meeting the decision-makers yourself by traveling to NYC, Nashville and Los Angeles, attending music conferences and going to workshops. The opportunities are out there if you’re willing to look for them.
1) Approach the companies that make a product that is useful to you. It seems that some musicians just want anything that’s free, no matter if they use it or like it or not. If you are successful at getting loads of stuff, you can clutter your house pretty quickly. Focus in on the companies that can actually help you do what you do better.
2) Talk to companies whose products you already like. I started talking to Audix USA, makers of my favorite microphones, because I had already used their mics and was really impressed. I was enthusiastic about talking about their products because I already believed in them and used them. The same is true of LR Baggs line of guitar pickups and related gear. The iBeam is simply the best mic pickup on the market. I was introduced to Lloyd Baggs by James Goodall, guitar builder, who installed one in a guitar I bought from him. Because I was already enthused about Lloyd’s products, I was happy to talk about them to other musicians.
3) Find the person who can make the decision to create an endorsing relationship with you and talk to them. It may take you some time to find that person- you may have to work up the ladder to them- but the tenacity will pay off if you really like their products.
4) Be practical and forthright in selling yourself to them. The company has to have a reason to give you gear. If you’re doing 150 concerts a year or are appearing in a new movie, tell them that. If you write a column for Christian Musician (and will mention their products when appropriate), tell them that. It is on your shoulders to give them a reason to partner with you to reach your audience with your endorsement of their product.
5) Be nice. Be patient. No one wants to work with jerks. We’re talking about a relationship, not just between a company and an artist but one maintained by people. If you’re easy and pleasant to work with, they’ll be more inclined to call you. And these relationships take time to create and maintain. Don’t be in a hurry and don’t get discouraged with the passing of time. Keep a good line of contact, be nice and remind them of the benefit you will be to their sales.
6) There’s no free lunch. These days it’s pretty rare to get any gear for free. It happens occasionally but not very often. Don’t be miffed if the company offers to give you their product at the dealer cost. This is normal. Tom Anderson told me that I was getting the same discount on my Crowdster that Keith Richards got on his guitar. The formula is that the more expensive the unit is to produce, the more likely you’ll pay for it. Smaller items that are cheaper to produce are more likely to be given for free.
7) Keep your end of the deal. If you endorse a product in name, you should also endorse it in fact and in public. So, you should talk about the products you endorse to the part of your audience likely to want to buy them. (You will notice that I did this earlier in the article.) This is why the company gave you the things in the first place. I remember hearing a musician say privately that he thought one of the products he endorsed was lousy. I am of the opinion that if he didn’t like the product he should have severed his relationship with that company and/or product. If you can’t truly endorse it, don’t endorse it. Simple.
8) Continue to create the value of your endorsement. Most musicians think that the manufacturer is endorsing them. The reverse is actually true; you are endorsing their products. The more positive exposure you can give to their company, the greater value you have to them. Remember that it’s always a financial relationship first. You should keep in contact with the folks at the company throughout the year, telling them about tours you’ve been on, conferences you’ve spoken at, interviews you’ve done when you mentioned their product. Let them know that their belief in you is well placed.
9) Don’t create a conflict of interest by amassing many and various endorsement deals. You can endorse many guitars, microphones and keyboards but can you really endorse two kinds of guitar picks or acoustic strings? Choose wisely so that the companies don’t feel betrayed. I’ve known musos that were dropped from endorsing relationships because they seemed in the eyes of the companies to be back stabbing.
As you help the company increase their positive public profile for their products, they are helping you by providing and maintaining the gear that you use to make your music. Symbiosis at work! It’s a reciprocal relationship when it’s working properly. So make it work properly!
To many people, the bass is the least important part of a recording project, which is a strange thing. In fact, when paired with the right drummer, a good bassist is capable of giving a demo a rock-solid foundation (and if you don’t have bottom, you don’t have anything, after all). Smart bass players intuitively know how to lock with the bass drum (or, conversely, play against the song’s main rhythm), provide inventive melodic ideas such as substituting thirds and fifths in place of the root note, while adding all necessary fills and walk-ups. It’s not a job to be taken lightly.
Over the years, players like Motown’s James Jamerson, the Beatles’ Paul McCartney, jazz-fusion ace Jaco Pastorious and many others helped give the bass a more prominent role in recorded music. Understanding the techniques that these artists helped make famous is a good place to start.
One of the oldest and most important tools in a bassist’s skill set is known as “locking-in.” To properly lock in, the bassist finds the “pocket,” which is typically the rhythm pattern established by the bass drum. For instance, in 4/4 time, the bass and bass drum would lock on the first and fourth beats, perhaps with the accent on the “1.” When locking in, very often less is more. In many Beatles songs, for instance, bassist McCartney typically alternates between the I (root note) and the V. This kind of playing nicely supports the rhythm without drawing undue attention to the bass guitar — the bass is actually “felt” more than it is heard. A more sophisticated approach to locking in can be found on the Red Hot Chile Peppers’ ’90s hit “Under the Bridge.” If you listen to the song’s third verse (“It’s hard to believe…”), you’ll notice the way bassist Flea’s notes fit perfectly in time with drummer Chad Smith’s syncopated bass-drum pattern — both players even omit a single note every other verse on purpose.
While bass lines tend to favor the root notes in any given chord progression, sometimes a little creativity can go a long way. On Pet Sounds, the Beach Boys’ legendary masterpiece, songwriter Brian Wilson practically reinvented rock bass technique with moving bass lines that employed thirds, fifths, even major-sevenths against the main chord progression, rather than using the standard root notes (for that matter, Wilson often used two basses simultaneously — one electric and one acoustic upright). Wilson’s work has impacted everyone from Paul McCartney (whose playing on the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album was directly influenced by Pet Sounds), to Primus bassist Les Claypool, who once called Pet Sounds “the incredible bass player’s record.” Melody also plays a key role in the development of a bass passage. A good example of a “musical” bass line can be heard on Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On,” a song that stands out mainly due to bassist John Paul Jones’ skillful playing.
It is also important to have the right kind of bass tone in order to match the type of music you’re making. Strings are a good place to start: For example, flat-wound strings, which produce a darker tone, are typically preferred by traditional jazz and classic-rock bassists, whereas bassists who record funk, metal or modern rock often favor round-wound strings for their brightness and flexibility (there are also half-wound strings, which combine the articulation of round-wounds with the feel of a flat-wound string). Altering the tone control on both the bass and the amp can help the bassist achieve the desired timbre. And while bassists generally prefer playing with their fingers, some may use their thumb in order to achieve a rounder sound, or even a very thick pick for greater articulation. Voicing is yet another key element: For instance, an open G (first string) will sound quite different from a fretted G played on the second string, fifth fret, or, for that matter, the third string, 10th fret. The farther up the neck you go, the rounder and louder the tones tend to become.
Of course, even the best-sounding bassist will be wasted if not recorded properly. Rather than record off an amp, many bass players (and engineers) prefer going “straight in” by means of direct-injection (DI), using a device that boosts the instrument’s signal (while often adding tone as well) on the way into the console or other recording apparatus. In addition to providing a “cleaner” bass sound, going direct can often help eliminate the problems commonly associated with live recording, such as excessive bleed from nearby instruments.
On the other hand, if the bassist has an exceptional-sounding rig (or if the bass is an upright), live miking is the way to go. Inexpensive dynamic mics such as the Shure SM58 are suitable; however, mics with lower-frequency characteristics (such as the large-diaphragm dynamic AKG D112 or EV ND/868) make an even better choice. Unlike guitar-amp recording (which typically involves placing a dynamic mic only a few inches from the grille cloth), it is usually best to leave some space between the mic and the bass amp — you could set up as much as two feet from the source, or try a few different positions and choose the one that works best for your particular amp and/or recording environment. Also, keeping the amp volume at a lower level will prevent bass over-leakage.
(Not that you necessarily have to choose between miked and direct bass, by the way — pro engineers frequently use a combination of the two, then blend the parts together later on.)
Once the bass is recorded, you’ll want to make sure that it “sits” properly in the mix. Start with a relatively low level and gradually move the bass into position; depending on the type of music, it’s not always necessary to have the bass be quite so prominent (sometimes all that is needed is for the kick drum to “push out” the bass notes). If more emphasis on the bass is required (i.e., when recording prog, r&b or metal, for example), or if the bass and bass drum are going in different directions, you may have to work a little harder. Adjusting the EQ settings (such as “scooping” some of the mids and/or low end) or perhaps even adding a bit of compression can often help you get the sound you’re after.
The basic element of mixing is the loudness of each track. This is the first place you should start as a budding engineer. No matter what system you own, from the 4-track to Pro Tools, volume manipulation is available to you. In visual artworks, such as paintings and photographs, there are background and foreground; the more important visual elements usually come to the front of the work. It’s the same with audio — the important parts need to be heard.
The volume control on a mixing board or your software recording device is called a “fader” because it allows you to fade the sound in or out at will. The first thing you should do is set your faders for each track to create a basic feeling of foreground and background. In most music that includes vocals, the vocal track is usually the point of interest and should be the loudest thing you hear. But how loud? How much louder than the accompanying guitar? You have to trust your ears on this. At a basic stage like this, do your best to get it to sound as balanced as possible. Volume of the tracks is only one very basic element of a mix. But it’s a great place to start!
So you’ve written a great song, made a fabulous demo and now you’ll live happily ever after, right? Well, kind of. There’s no doubt that being a great songwriter and having beautifully recorded versions of your songs is an admirable goal in and of itself. However, if you’re interested in having your songs see the light of day, your work is really just beginning. While organizations like Tunecore do a beautiful job of helping you get your music out in the world, it’s still entirely up to you to make sure your songs get in the right music industry hands. Until the people who can actually do something with your song (i.e., record labels, producers, managers and publishers) have heard it, it might as well not exist. I know this sounds obvious but I think you’d be amazed at the number of songwriters out there who have great song demos that very few, if any, music business people have ever heard. Creating the music is one thing but getting your music out in the world requires an entirely different set of skills. The skills I’m going to focus on are networking, professionalism, persistence, persistence (yes, I know I wrote it twice), courtesy and patience.
Like any business, it’s not only what you know but also who you know that gets you ahead. What this means in the music world is getting yourself out there to open mics, writer’s nights and any industry events you can find. For those of you in music cities like New York, Nashville and Los Angeles, there is an almost endless stream of opportunities. For everyone else, you might have to look a little harder or travel from time to time to one of the cities I just mentioned. I think it’s a universal truth that this kind of stuff isn’t always that much fun but, especially when you’re starting out, it’s essential. Let’s put it this way: All things being equal, if you’ve met someone from a record label or publishing company in a social setting and assuming you’ve had a nice exchange, there’s a much greater likelihood that they’ll not only remember you when you call but will make more of an effort to help you out if they can. The point is that the more you’re out there, the more people you’ll meet and the greater the chance it will pay dividends down the road. I’d also recommend remembering a few basic social skills while you’re at it, like not immediately launching into your 10-minute, spoken-word bio. It’s a much better idea to find out a little something about the person you’re talking to by remembering to ask a few questions as well.
Did I mention we’re talking about the music business? This means it’s in your best interest to be professional about how you approach people in the industry. When reaching out to someone in the music industry, call or email first. Make this first contact short and to the point. In other words, let them know why you’re calling/emailing (e.g., to schedule a meeting, to see if they’re accepting CDs, to ask whether you can submit an mp3, etc.). This is not the time to have a long discussion. If you’ve been referred by someone they know (see “networking” above), mention this as well. Also, while it’s great to be excited and even confident about your material, it rarely pays to tell someone that you’ve got a “great” song or you’re an “amazing” songwriter. Let your music speak for itself. Once you’ve gotten approval to do so, then submit your song or bring it to the meeting. It really doesn’t make sense to send out CDs or mp3s without first getting approval, as they usually end up at the bottom of a pile or, even worse, the person who hasn’t asked for it considers it an intrusion. Don’t kill the messenger here; I’m simply saying that the odds are that if someone isn’t expecting your material, there’s a good chance it won’t get heard.
By the way, if you’ve never seen the office of an a&r rep or music publisher, I’m here to tell you that it’s wall-to-wall CDs. We’re talking hundreds and hundreds if not thousands of them. Make sure that your CD is clearly labeled with a few simple elements: your name and contact information (phone and email), the name of the song or songs and possibly — if it’s a song for an artist — the name of the person you’re pitching it to. Also, make certain that every part of the package is labeled. This means putting your information on the CD and on the CD sleeve or jewel case. Make sure that if the CD itself gets separated from the case, the information is the CD, too. Also, if you’re using a jewel case, make sure there’s information on the spine. Remember the part where I said there are thousands of CDs in these folks’ offices? When your CD ends up on a shelf with all the others, the spine of the CD will be the only way for them to identify it.
Finally, I can think of no good reason why any submission should be more than three songs. If you’re pitching a song to an artist, they’re not hoping for a “bonus track.” If you’re pitching to a publisher, three songs is a good way to show them you’ve got more than one good song without overdoing it. If they want more, believe me, they’ll ask. It all comes down to putting yourself in the position of the industry person. If they’ve got a desk full of CDs to listen to and have to choose between a CD with two songs on it or one with 19 songs, which one do you think they’ll pick?
Let’s say you’re fortunate enough to reach someone by either phone or email and they’ve agreed to let you mail in a CD or email them an mp3. Here’s what you should expect: Nothing. In other words, it’s extremely rare that you’ll hear anything back quickly after you submit it. As a matter of fact, you should put in your calendar to follow up two or three weeks after you’ve submitted something. This follow-up should be even shorter than your initial contact. Email is probably best for this. A simple email saying you wanted to make sure they’d received your submission is enough. Also, don’t be surprised if the response you get back (if you’re lucky enough to get one) says they haven’t gotten it and would you mind resending it. Resending material is something that you should expect to do. Following up every two to three weeks (unless you’re asked not to) is perfectly acceptable if you’re polite and to the point. I’m not a cynic and I don’t believe that anyone has an agenda to ignore submitted material. I’m a realist and the sheer number of submissions makes it almost impossible for anyone to stay on top of things. Anything you can do to help remind someone is in your best interest and generally appreciated.
I think it’s important to realize that no one in the industry owes you anything. This may sound harsh but it’s an important point. You may very well have great songs and it would be in the best interest of the industry professional you’re pursuing to listen to them, but there are a lot of great songs out there and only a limited number of opportunities for them. If your song isn’t listened to right away or even if it’s lost or ignored, don’t take it personally. I’m a songwriter myself so I know exactly how important your songs are to you. It’s not easy to submit them for judgment and tougher still to wait around hoping someone will actually listen. However, you’ll only do yourself a disservice by being rude or impatient with someone and heaven help you if you get a reputation in the industry for being difficult or unpleasant.
Given that there are so many artists, songwriters and songs out there vying for a limited number of spots, it all comes down to patience — patience with yourself as you improve your musical skills and patience with the industry people you’re soliciting as they make their way through all of the material in line ahead of you. My recommendation is to have as many irons in the fire as you possibly can at all times so that you’re not waiting for any one thing to happen or not to happen, as is so often the case. The more people you get to know, the more opportunities you explore and the more submissions you make, the less likely you are to get discouraged and the more likely you are to start having success.
Original Article At: Songwriter101
There’s no better way to test your mettle as an audio engineer than to open up your studio to visiting musicians for fun or profit (preferably the latter). Setting microphone levels and sorting out other technical detail is one thing; however, home-studio producers must also be prepared to deal with frayed nerves and large egos, and, above all, know when it’s time to say “good enough, let’s move on.” Here are a few basic ideas for maintaining as productive an atmosphere as possible while running a recording session.
1. Insist on preparedness. To avoid needless delays, start by ensuring that all band members arrive on time for the session (several studio owners I know begin charging once the first car arrives in the driveway). While some re-tooling of material is to be expected on the job, try to discourage major structural revamps (such as writing an entirely new set of lyrics from scratch) during session time. Remind them, the clock’s ticking — get it done now and save the money for the warm beer at the lousy bar up the street.
2. Plan ahead. Since you expect your guests to be prepared, make sure you follow the same rules of readiness. The night before a session, wire up all microphones, headphones and other recording apparatus, using the configuration of the visiting group as a blueprint. Set preliminary levels on your recorder, which you can fine-tune once the group is warming up. Most of all, be sure that everything is in proper working order — check all cables, mics and instruments for buzzes and other extraneous noises that can create unwanted interruptions in the middle of a session.
3. State your terms. Whether you charge by the hour or by the session, clearly state your terms ahead of time so the artist is able to budget accordingly (and therefore knows when to call it quits). While it’s true that the longer they take the more you’ll make, your reputation will be enhanced if they can walk out of there with a decent product at a good price.
4. Make use of native equipment. Many studios keep an inventory of “in-house” gear such as drums, piano, guitars and instrument amplifiers, which serves two purposes: The engineer knows the equipment and can prepare everything in advance; and it allows the visiting act to spend less time unloading and more time recording. It can be exceedingly difficult to get a productive vibe going when the drummer is taking over an hour to set up (plus you’ll have to wait until everything is arranged and in tune before you can start hanging mics and getting levels). If you already have a kit on the premises, why not just use it? If the band insists on bringing along some of their own equipment out of preference, that’s fine, so long as you refer them to the “clock’s ticking” rule above.
5. Make it comfortable. To most people, a “professional” studio conjures images of big sterile rooms with players sequestered behind sound-isolating baffles. In fact, a studio room that looks more like a living room is often much more conducive to recording. To that end, try setting up the group as if they were rehearsing or performing on stage, even using live vocal mics when possible. Many engineers prefer to arrange the players in a tight semi-circle, which allows them to make eye contact while tracking (and also eliminates the need for headphones).
6. Don’t tell them when the red light’s on. As the best engineers know, recording is often more about psychology than technology. Musicians tend to tense up when they know they’re being recorded, so don’t tell them! For instance, when you’re just getting started, hit the record button while telling the band to “just try a few rehearsal takes.” Or, later on, go out into the room while they’re playing so they think you’re not actually in record mode (when in fact you are). A little sleight of hand can go a long way.
7. Record everything. Back in the days when you had 30 minutes of record time per roll of tape, hitting “pause” was understandable, but not any longer. Having virtually unlimited storage space and editing tools at your disposal means you should keep everything — false starts, partial takes, rhythm mistakes, portions of which could be used as part of the finished master. As veteran producer/engineer Niko Bolas once noted, “you never know when you might accidentally capture some vague sound of a genius idea that might turn out to be a hook for the future. If a trashcan falls over in the right key, it could be amazing.”
8. Take control. Perfectionism can easily derail an otherwise smooth and spontaneous recorded performance, so be prepared to deal with overly obsessive types who continually call out for “just one more try” a half-hour into a 30-second guitar fill. Using a combination of editing (see above) and cajoling (“you nailed it on Take Two, dude”), you can prevent these recording nuts from gumming up the works. Or as one veteran mixer put it, “It’s better to punch in a solo then punch out the artist.”
9. Mix emotions. If there’s a perfectionist in the room, there’s a good chance you’ll be subjected to even more nitpicking once it comes time to mix. To avoid potential control-room conflict, insist on performing the final mixes once everyone has left the building. Make several different mixes per song, using various shades of EQ and processing, altering the tone and attack of the guitar on some versions, boosting the lead vocal on others, etc. You could even cut a finished master using sections of the different mixes as a way of keeping all the customers satisfied.
10. Save, save, save. In the analog era, studios would typically run a “safety” machine in the event the main tape recorder ran amuck. While it is no longer necessary to keep an auxiliary recorder on the premises, you do need to ensure that everything is properly preserved and subsequently backed-up to a dedicated storage unit. Unlike tape machines that printed everything on the spot, with digital you’re just a lightning strike away from losing everything unless you’ve hit “save” beforehand. Or if your hard drive suddenly decides to crash in the middle of a project, having a back-up drive will at least allow you to return to the foundation tracks, rather than painstakingly re-record everything you cut the week before.
So, you played your new song for a few friends and they all got it, but strangers and publishers are getting the wrong idea — they just don’t get it. Unfortunately, this means that you just won’t get a cut. The problem may be that your song is interpretation dependent; it has to be sung and heard a certain way to make sense because the lyric alone doesn’t get the message across.
For those of you who were baffled by the Alanis Morissette song “Ironic,” irony is when the apparent meaning of something contradicts its real meaning. Irony is a subtle device; if you use it in a song without pointing it out, it’ll sail right over the heads of most people. Make sure that your intended audience will be able to identify the places in your song that make use of irony. If you have any doubts, it might be best to make the use of irony more clear by either rewriting the line or pointing it out in some other way. If this doesn’t work, try saying what you mean.
Sarcasm is the use of particular kinds of emphasis and delivery that make it clear that a statement is ironical in nature. Like when you go to a party and your ex-girlfriend shows up and says, “It’s sure great to see you here!” Sarcasm can be very funny if used well and interpreted correctly by the recording artist.
Unfortunately, the use of sarcasm requires some acting ability on the part of the singer. This may severely limit the number of artists who can effectively perform your song. If you hear a particular singer use sarcasm frequently and well, you might consider using it in material written specifically for that artist. For demo purposes, remember that the more exaggerated the delivery, the more apparent the intended interpretation will be.
1) You’re waiting in line.
It’s wonderful that there are so many services for artists to use to send their music to either industry professionals, festivals, blogs, magazines, and radio promoters such as Sonicbids and Music XRay. Mixed feelings abound about these sites, but to call them positive or negative would be a snap judgement. Does it suck that it costs $40 to simply apply for X music festival given that this is a digital submission we’re talking about, and chances are your music will not receive a fair listen? It sure does. Would it possibly be a life-changing experience if you were chosen? It certainly would. Musicians today are accustomed to waiting in line for just about everything. After all, it’s busy as hell out there. While it’s necessary to wait in some lines, and good results can come of that, if you merely play by the rules and wait in lines you’ll get stagnancy, and that isn’t a very fun gift to open up for Christmas.
Artists need to think as creatively in their promotions as in their songwriting. Outsource your duties. Get momentum by getting freelancers on your side. Promote outside of the music blog arena. Hire people to promote your music; preferably a lot of them. Get the forums buzzing. Get people requesting your music. Get people writing about your music. Donate to blogs you like. Use Fiverr and similar micro-job sites. Read Tim Ferriss. Read business books. Get out of the “band” mentality. Ignore the music authorities and start infiltrating.
2) You’re only promoting on social media.
Don’t get me wrong. Social media, when used correctly, can have a massive effect on your success. The only problem is, since most industry guru’s and music marketing publications tend to focus on social media exclusively, the current generation of artists are spending all of their time posting, pinning, tweeting, hashtagging, reblogging, liking, sharing, tagging, stumbling, digging, and cultivating the perfect “reddiquette”, but in the end, without the proper balance, the result is something close to a Warcraft or Angry Birds addiction. Time down the memory hole.
It’s easy to forget that not everyone hangs around on these networks, and even if they do, they’re often tuned into only what their personal perceptual filters will allow; not something new. It’s important to keep your communication skills in tip-top shape, to send actual, conversational emails, make phone calls, and speak with promoters in person. The worst faux pas is messaging companies or industry people through networks such as Facebook. These often go unanswered, as these networks are riddled with spam, and real messages get lost in the shuffle. Send a real, personalized email and notice the difference.
3) You’re on automation.
Thought it might be a good idea to outsource your music marketing to a robot? Some of the most heavily advertised automated services such as Beatwire and Musicsubmit look very attractive to most artists. They promise to send your music to X number of journalists, radio hosts, and industry professionals, and charge a flat rate for doing so. The rates are often less than what most publicists charge, making it even more enticing. But how are these emails received? For one, most journalists and bloggers receive dozens, if not hundreds, of real emails daily from promoters, labels and artists who either wrote the message personally or at least prepared a proper email and clicked the “send” button. How much respect do you think they have for the “easy way out”, an automated press release, or possibly a Reverbnation profile delivered to their inbox? If your music submissions say anything along the lines of “powered by…”, you can expect little to no results. I’ve been added to lists by companies like these without so much of a “Hello” or “Would you like to be added to our recipient list?” You know what that’s called? Spam.
4) You’re not “showing them the money”.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve submitted an artist to X Magazine or blog and received enthusiastic response back from their sales department, who conveniently request that I pay an exorbitant rate for an online or print advertisement. When I mention that I’m unable to advertise but would still appreciate editorial consideration, I’m told that the sales and editorial departments are separate. For one, this is the public statement of many publications, but it’s simply not true in many cases. If you don’t buy their advertising, which is often over-priced given that you’re at times the only income stream, your submission goes mysteriously missing. Now, most artists can’t afford to advertise on multiple major magazines, nor is it usually worth it if I’m being honest.
This can be the same with music blogs, and any kind of music service, which makes sense to a particular degree. If you think about it, no one really has all the time in the world to sit around listening to and reviewing albums. There needs to be an exchange, whether it’s properly priced advertising, blog donations, paid reviews, crowd funders or anything else. If a paid review scenario is fair, do it. If it’s outrageous, move on. Remember, you can always find freelance writers who may be interested in writing about your music by advertising on Craigslist.
5) You’re not already on their playlist.
The front door appears to be open, but it’s all for appearances. Many music blogs featured in the coveted directories/aggregators (Hype Machine, Elbo.ws) are closer to personal blogs than anything else. Hundreds of artists submit music to them every day, but chances are they’ll never post a single one. The blog owner simply posts their favorite artists periodically. So why all this misleading the public then? Well, blog traffic is always a good thing for the webmaster, leading to advertising and potentially other partnerships, so cultivating an audience of indie musicians to rack up the hits isn’t a bad thing from their perspective. It ends up being wasted time for the artists, though. Some blogs are good enough to post a simple statement such as “Don’t send me your music. I only post my own findings.”
6) You’re not famous or gossip-worthy.
Which brings me to my next point. Many supposed “indie darling” blogs and publications have, over the past 10 years or so, turned into gossip rags, and you’d be hard-pressed to find any content outside of Lana Del Rae and ASAP Rocky (and not their new albums). Take these off your media list and don’t give them your traffic if they’re of no use to you.
7) You have nothing to barter with.
Put yourself in the blogger/editor/etc’s position upon opening your email. Why should they take an hour of their time to promote you? At the very least, you should have built a large network, and offer cross-promotion for the post. This shows respect on your part. The reason good indie labels, radio promoters and PR companies typically get much better results when promoting artists than the artists themselves get is because of leverage. They’ve built up their networks and regularly cross-promote. They may have arranged other partnerships or deals with the publication as well. You scratch my back. I’ll scratch yours.
8) First-time introductions.
If you’re emailing someone for the first time, it’s a lot like making a cold call telemarketing. You can’t expect the results to be overly high. This is another reason why good labels, radio promoters and PR companies get better results. They’ve established those relationships and they’re not saying “hello” for the first time.
9) You didn’t appeal to their ego (in the right way).
There is no one rule. Some bloggers want personal messages while others would blacklist you for attempting chit chat. Some want you to tell them how much you just loved their recent piece on Daft Punk’s new album (the 633rd one you’ve read), while others would see that as a trite move. There’s no way to win here. What I do, myself, is provide absolutely everything the blogger may need in a concise way, so no Googling is required, as well as sending a personal note going over why I connect with the artist being submitted. If you’d like an idea of how to do this, check out my music blog promotion template.
10) There’s no time.
I was horrified when I first learned that many music blogs and publications often receive hundreds, sometimes thousands of submissions a day. Once again, we’re waiting in line in the review queue. You can’t expect time to magically appear for these people. If I were in their position, I’d shut down. I’d take more time offline and leave the disappointed in my wake.
11) You haven’t differentiated yourself.
This is a big one. You’re lost somewhere in the supermarket, and it’s tough for the store manager to find you because you look similar to every other child there. You’re certainly not “the blue child”. If anyone ever told you to “appeal to the industry” or write songs for the radio/etc, it’s time to throw away those silly notions because they’re destroying what your art could be. Often, the reason an artist goes unnoticed isn’t mysterious at all. You may have, in an attempt to be “heard by the masses”, crafted yourself into a generic package. You’re not really yourself. You’re playing to someone…a hypothetical creation. Be yourself, the weirder and more original, the better. If there are two people doing what you do, the odds are already against you. Be the only one.
If you’re producing your own or other’s music and you’re not using Soundcloud, you might check to make sure that you aren’t, in fact, living under a rock.
Soundcloud is the world’s leading social media site for music (YouTube is definitely bigger, but isn’t focused on music, and MySpace doesn’t offer the same degree of interaction). It allows you to share your own tunes, see what your favorite artists are doing, and discover new music from across the globe, among other things.
The sad truth about Soundcloud, like most social media, is that musicians don’t always comprehend the best way to use it. There’s really no excuse for this ignorance. Using Soundcloud to your benefit is quite easy.
Generating a following on Soundcloud is quite easy, though the audience is a little skewed. Most Soundcloud users are fellow musicians, who are just as interested in getting their music out to the world. They often follow a quid pro quo model of participation, which guarantees that if you follow them and comment on their work, they’ll do the same. In that sense, you’re preaching to the choir. But any exposure is good exposure.
There is a piece of advice in the STEFM guide that I’m not completely on board with. They advise you to never put works in progress on your Soundcloud page. I’ve seen plenty of artists with a substantial following posting unfinished tracks, and it doesn’t hurt them. Some people use demo tracks and fragments as a way to stimulate audience involvement, which might work for you, too.
The bottom line, though, is to get on Soundcloud and get involved, since it is an unparalleled medium for growing an audience, even for a home producer.
As a songwriter, the ending is the least of your worries. Odds are that the ending you choose for your song will be changed or replaced by the artist or producer if the song gets cut. That said, you still have to figure out how to end your song on a demo and during live performance. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck for all eternity playing a song that never ends.
There are countless ways to end a song. Ultimately, you have to decide which one works best for each of your songs. Try several endings and see if one fits the song better than the others. Here are some examples of the different kinds of endings used in contemporary songs. Feel free to experiment with these, change them, combine them, and come up with your own unique ways of wrapping things up.
Custom tag: Musical section or signature lick written to be an ending.
Intro tag: A reprise of the intro used for ending the song.
Riff tag: An ending that incorporates a signature lick or riff from the song.
Motive reprise: A final, instrumental repetition of the main musical theme.
Chorus/verse reprise: Like a motive reprise, but with verse or chorus melody.
Hook fade: Several repetitions of the hook over a fade out.
Double chorus fade: A double chorus that fades out in the second half.
Hook dead stop: A final repetition of the hook, ending in a sudden stop.
Any of the endings that draw from another part of the song may require a bit of tailoring. Tweak and adjust them as necessary. A few tricks to try include slowing down at the very end, modulating the key of a final chorus, or adding a brief rest or bit of silence before a final chord.