Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Four Questions Songwriters Should Ask Themselves

questionIn any career, especially one involving the arts, it’s very easy to get so immersed in the day to day activity of creating your art and making a living that you lose sight of the big picture. While there is real value in simply putting your head down and getting to work, it can pay big dividends to stop from time to time and ask yourself a few – sometimes difficult – questions. Below are a few things that might be helpful to think about as you go through your days as a songwriter.
1. Am I happy?
This is, at once, a ridiculously simple and deeply complex question but here’s what I mean. We all have days when things don’t go well and we feel discontented or frustrated but if that describes your typical day, it might be worth examining how you’re spending your time. Very few of us are taking exactly the same approach to a career in songwriting now as we did when we started out. For example, I moved to Nashville in the early 90s assuming I’d write songs predominantly for myself as the artist and if someone else liked one, that would be fine too.
However, after single-mindedly pursuing an artist career for a number of years, I realized that the profession that had given me so much joy at the outset was making me profoundly unhappy and envious of the talent around me. That envy, in and of itself, is a recipe for disaster in a town like Nashville where there is an endless supply of talent to be envious of. All that to say, by asking myself that simple question and coming up with a “no,” I was able to begin reshaping my career as a songwriter and producer which almost overnight made me happy again.
All this to say, know that there are a variety of ways to pursue your songwriting and being happy on a day to day basis is a huge advantage in that you can get up and do the necessary work in service of a career you love.
2. Am I hearing the same thing over and over from listeners and song critiques?
I’m completely aware – and a big believer – that songwriting is an entirely subjective art. And, on top of that, placing too much weight on any one person’s opinion of your song is never a great idea. In fact, having a thick skin and a bit of a stubborn streak are great qualities to possess on the business side of songwriting. All that being said, if you are getting similar comments from most if not all of the people who hear your songs, it might be worth giving some serious consideration to what is being said.
I’m definitely not saying that you should mindlessly agree and follow these suggestions even if you are hearing the same thing time and time again. At the very least, knowing that your songs are striking people in a similar way is valuable information. In the end, whether songwriters choose to follow the suggestions or ignore them, it should be a conscious decision.
3. What have I done to get my songs out there? 
It’s too easy to say the game is rigged and that only people with connections get their songs cut or get film/TV placements. The reality is that writing great songs isn’t enough. It takes professionally demoing your songs, pitching them (many times, not just once) and following up systematically to even have a ghost of a chance of making money from your songs. There’s a tendency – and I was as guilty as the next guy – to get frustrated because you feel like you’re writing great material and nothing’s happening. I’m here to tell you that great material that hasn’t been properly demoed or pitched might as well not exist in the eyes – and ears – of the industry. I hope you get my point. No one is going to do this for you. Get your songs out there!
4. Am I acting like a professional songwriter?
There’s a dangerous thought process that goes something like “as soon as I get a publishing deal, I’ll write songs every day.” In other words, you’re waiting for someone else to decide when you’re a professional songwriter. I’d suggest that you look at it the other way around. If you want publishers, labels and other industry execs to treat you like a professional, you should already be acting like one. What’s to stop you from writing a little every day, networking, pitching your songs and generally pursuing the business of songwriting right now? I’m well aware that you may have a full-time job and other considerations but if you don’t make time for your music now and develop your songwriting skills, you may never get to the level where anyone in the industry will take notice in the first place. Don’t wait. Act like a professional now.
There are obvious benefits in simply putting your head down and moving forward step by step in your pursuit of your songwriting dreams. In fact, it takes that kind of single-minded, consistent effort in order to have a shot at a songwriting career. However, it never hurts to stop from time to time and take a look at the big picture just to make sure that you’re still on the right track and looking at things holistically. It’s the combination of the details and the big picture that makes for a prolonged and successful songwriting career.
Good luck!
Take a peek at Cliff’s brand new course “Write, Think & Act Like A Professional Songwriter” on Lynda.com.

Monday, August 3, 2015

How to Deliver Great Rock Vocals — And Stay Healthy Doing It

Warming up, knowing your instrument, and practicing relentlessly are among the singing tips from Saigon Kick’s Matt Kramer when it comes to delivering great rock vocals.
Singing tips for great rock vocalsEarlier this year, we published tips on delivering great R&B vocals with master singer and vocal coach Alvin Fields. While many of the principles that Fields discussed can well apply to any sort of healthy and expressive vocal performance, every genre has secrets and idiosyncrasies that make its singers sound unique.
Take, for example, the wide world of rock ’n’ roll. Whether you want to growl like James Hetfield, soar like Bono, rage like Imagine Dragons’ Dan Reynolds, cut like Paramore’s Hayley Williams, or simply be amazing like Freddie Mercury, a bit of thoughtfulness, practice, and study can help you deliver great rock vocals while keeping your vocal cords healthy and able to survive the long haul.
Matt Kramer made his name as the lead singer for the band Saigon Kick. The son of an opera singer, he’s an expert educator and vocal coach as well, and teaches at his Miami-area studio Kramer Voice Company. Here are some singing tips and strategies for producing great rock vocals from the master.
Warm up – always
Just like an Olympic athlete or Formula One racing car, a great rock singer needs to warm up before letting loose – and Kramer recommends starting slow. “See how you are on any given day and go from there,” he says. “Starting to sing isn’t like turning on an electric keyboard. You’re going to be different every day.”
Kramer recommends going through your entire range, finding if you’re having any trouble getting into the tougher spots, and make sure that you work through them before your set begins. “If you go into your set and you’re not ready, it’s like waking up, rolling out of bed, and going for a sprint. It’s better to do some stretching, windmills, jumping jacks, like they taught you in third grade.”
Part of warming up properly is knowing your musical terrain and preparing accordingly. “If you’re going mountain climbing and only brought hiking clothes, you’re going to have a hard time,” he says. “You should have known better and thought about what you were climbing.” That same idea is key for singers, he continues. “I’ve seen singers go straight into AC/DC from the bar and you can’t just open up that quickly.”
To get yourself into prime racing shape, Kramer recommends starting low and working your way up. “If you sing with some grit, get some of that grit in there at the end of your warm up, but definitely not the beginning,” he says. “It’s like having an old car and warming it up on a cold day. Let it get to the right temperature and hit the throttle towards the end. Then you’ll be ready for whatever you need to do.
Study your own voice
Since your vocal cords are inside your body, learning about your own voice can seem like a mysterious thing — but Kramer recommends putting in the time to get familiar with every aspect.
“Know your machine,” Kramer advises. “It’s like learning where the volume knob on your keyboard is or where the tremolo is on your guitar. You have to understand what the whole instrument is, and it’s your whole body. I like to call it a machine, even though it’s an instrument, and it’s one of those manual things like flying an airplane. There’s a lot going on and it’s best if you are able to learn to keep an eye on everything that’s happening, as opposed to just throwing your hands up in the air and seeing what happens.”
Learning your voice may seem like a broad mission, but it can be easily broken down. Does tensing or relaxing your shoulders affect your pitch, or your ability to get the breath you need? Take note of the answer for future rehearsals and performances. Does focusing on relaxing your jaw or throat help make singing painless, or do you get sore more quickly the more attention you pay to such things? Build your awareness of how your entire body works as part of your vocal performance.
Self-awareness as a singer applies both to the naturally gifted and hard-working students alike. “Even if you’re one of these lucky people who just opens up and great vocals just happen, great,” he says, “but you’re still going to have to learn about your voice. Even the strongest guys in the world can end up with broken bones sometimes and need to learn how to use their bodies differently.”
Protect your assets
The legend of rock may indicate that rock singers should stay up and party all night and then get on stage and rage, but Kramer argues that the opposite is true.
“If you’re performing, don’t sit in a club and talk all day beforehand,” he says. “Don’t stay up and scream either if you have to sing the next day. Watch the amount of time you spend talking and try to stay consistent.”
“Lots of singers suffer from losing their high-end or their vocal power or, worse, they get nodules, blood vessel ruptures,” he continues. “That’s all from singing and talking too much and keeping too busy a schedule. So take it easy and make sure that you’re not pushing yourself too hard before you get on stage.”
Go for consistency
While there’s an element of wildness that can give rock vocals that extra edge, Kramer warns that even the most explosive performance needs to be tempered with discipline and consistency.
“Think of it more like a race car and less like ‘Dukes of Hazard,’” he says. “On a real track, Dukes of Hazard would crash, but a race car driver knows how to stay consistent, even when he’s going 200 miles an hour. When singers do daredevil stuff, there isn’t as much going on as one might think,” he continues. “That’s where a lot of singers blow themselves out. They have the pedal to the metal with the breaks on at the same time. Do that and you’re going to break something.”
To become more consistent when it comes to something like pitch, Kramer recommends taking a couple of weeks to sit at a piano every day and play each and every note of each and every song, singing along and paying close attention to both your body and the sound that it’s producing. “Get a lyric sheet and write down the note that goes along with every word,” he says. “That will help give you the navigational awareness that you need to stay consistently on pitch.”
Another element of staying consistent with pitch, Kramer says, is paying attention to the energy with which you approach any given note. “Rock is power,” he says. “If you’re coming in without enough power, you’re going to be flat, most likely. If you have lots of attitude, you’ll probably end up sharp. Just do it a lot, pay attention, and listen.”
Focus on practicing, not clothing
This one is simple — if you want to be a great rock singer, put in the hours and practice like it’s nobody’s business, and don’t worry so much about which pair of sunglasses will make you look best under the spotlight.
“It’s a job,” states Kramer. “Lots of guys don’t take it seriously. A lot of singers aren’t like the guitar players who practice for hours every day to get their time, tone, and technique perfect.”
“Vibe and mojo are needed to pull off a great rock performance,” he continues, “but don’t be lazy and rely on those alone. The best rock singers have discipline.” Kramer cites Mick Hucknall of the band Simply Red as a prime example of substance over flash. “There are some pretty goofy singers out there, and this guy was one of them,” he says. “He’s this redhead, geeky guy, but he’s the next huge singer. He sure didn’t grow up being cool with the right clothes and the right look. He was busy singing. His voice is what gets him everything.”
Use caution with growl and grit
If gravel is part of your vocal sound, Kramer recommends learning, self-awareness, and practice to keep your vocals, and your body, strong.
“Drill sergeants and babies do it all the time, and your mom does it when she’s pissed off at you,” he says. “It’s all the same thing. You’re overdriving your vocal box. You’re hammering it and trying to keep it steady at the same time. It’s kind of like the motor of a Harley. When you start to overdrive it, it gets throttly, and the more you do it, the more you get into guttural scream territory.”
As Kramer points out, humans have been screaming for thousands of years, and if you’re able to scream, hold it together, and go on the road performing that way for a year, do it. “Some people just don’t have the machine to do that, and that’s fine,” Kramer says, “but I have to say that most people who scream great were not taught how to do it. All the cats that I know who do it didn’t learn it from a vocal coach. They may have gone to a vocal coach to learn how to do it better when they started losing their voices, but it was something that they came to naturally.”
Whether you’re a natural-born screamer or someone trying to add just a touch of grit to your performance, Kramer continues his car analogy. “Guys like Phil Anselmo from Pantera, Bruce Dickinson, and Chris Cornell, who has a range of over four octaves, are the finest of the breed, and if you’re going in that direction, think about it like a dune buggy,” he says. “You need suspension. If you’re jumping off of a sand dune and landing from twenty feet on another sand dune, you need something to catch yourself with. So again, it all comes back to knowing your machine, knowing the track, and knowing how far you can push yourself and how to recover. If you don’t know how to catch yourself, you’re going to have some hard landings.”
There’s more than one way to rock
Think that rock vocalists are all about screaming, or that you have to growl like a chain-smoking tiger to be taken seriously? Think again, says Kramer. Some of the best rock singers sing with clean, undistorted tones.
Just listen to Bono’s reedy tenor on U2 classics like “Mysterious Ways,” or Journey’s Steve Perry or Queen’s Freddy Mercury soaring on nearly anything they ever recorded — without any real growl to speak of.
The lesson? When it comes to delivering powerful rock vocals, let your preconceptions of how a rock singer “should” sound go, Kramer says, and come up with something powerful, expressive, engaging, and unique that works for you.
Play to your strengths, and work with what you have
To the above point, if you are trying desperately to sound like Axl Rose or Chris Cornell and just can’t pull it off — stop trying.
“If Steve Perry joined Pantera, it would last one rehearsal,” says Kramer. “That doesn’t make Steve Perry any less of a singer. He’s just not the singer for Pantera. And if you take Phil Anselmo and put him in Journey, you’ll get the same result, because someone’s gotta sing those crazy vocals clean. Both singers are great in their own right, but a Lexus is a Lexus and a monster truck is a monster truck. Trying to make a voice into something that it’s not is a really bad idea.”
The lesson is that you have to accept what you were born with vocally, Kramer says, and if you can’t growl, for example, it’s probably for a good reason. “A key part of Eddie Vedder’s technique is that he has incredible energy, like a soccer player,” he says. “Is that you? That’s not me. Singing like that is like doing power lifting or playing professional basketball. There may be a few guys under six feet who can do it, but what it comes down to is that if you’re not built for it, you’re not built for it. If your vocal machine is a Lexus, don’t trash it by drag racing it. That’s not meant to be beat up. It’s meant to cruise.”
In short, Kramer encourages you to work with what you have, and make that the best it can be, in a rock context or beyond. And if, at the end of the day, you just want to sing like Eddie Vedder but you sound more like Steve Perry? “Go to a Pearl Jam concert and have fun!” Kramer says with a laugh. “You can love something, but if it’s not you, why the hell would you do it? Just remember that what we love isn’t always good for us.”
Disc Makers’ regular contributor Michael Gallant’s debut trio album Completely received a four-star review from DownBeat magazine and a five-star review from Critical Jazzwhich stated: “This, my friends, is the future of jazz. Fresh, invigorating, progressive – there are simply not enough positive adjectives to list here.” Learn moredownload through iTunes, jam along with the new JamBandit app, or purchase through CD Baby. Follow Michael on Twitter at @Michael_Gallant or on Facebook.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Are Lyrics Getting Dumber or Is It the Audience?

The argument is always the same. As time passes by we’re getting lazier, slower, fatter and more stupid. Our attention spans are shortening and our ability to retain information is dwindling. Everyone wants to point the finger at the media, smart devices and the internet. Are these the demons that are turning our brains to mush? Or could it be something we never saw coming? Turns out the extinction of human kind may not be from an asteroid, Cybernet becoming self aware or a zombie apocalypse. Our end may in fact come from terrible lyrics.
Lyrics feature
Are lyrics getting dumber or is it the audience? The devolution of lyrics may mean an 8 year old child with a texta can pen the next number 1 hit.
Dumb lyrics are nothing new in musical history. Give The Beatles credit where credit is due for their prolific song writing ability, but you can’t look a keen music fan in the eye and tell them that Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da is a hallmark of godly lyricism. Sorry Sir Paul, but even John Lennon called that song “Granny shit”. The point being is that there have always been cases of lyrics being plain silly, incomprehensible, rude and straight out moronic. One best not look at a band like Steel Panther too hard (lest your eyes melt from being overwhelmed by witnessing so much botox housed within a grown man, so don’t watch the video), but they released a song called Fat Girl a few years ago, and you guessed it, is about having sex with an overweight woman. I dare not repeat the lyrics here, but needless to say there are some poorly hidden innuendos involving melons and mayonnaise.
Steel Panther is an obvious target when discussing horrible lyrics, but the science has revealed that lyrics these days are genuinely getting dumber. US researcher Andrew Powell-Morse recently conducted a study to analyse the reading level of 225 songs that held a position in the US Rock, Pop, Hip-Hop/ Rap and Country charts for three or more weeks. What he found can be considered a little startling.
Currently the average reading level for a popular song is that of a kid in year two or three. That’s roughly the age of eight or nine. Whereas ten years ago the average level was children in years three and four. Yikes. That means one of two things; songs are getting dumber or your pre-teen could easily pen Beyonce‘s next world dominating hit. Or worse, the three other people who co-write her songs have the collective intelligence of a person who is yet to sprout pimples.
Powell-Morse’s research finds that country music can be considered the smartest genre. Why? You can chalk it up to the use of longer words, which scores higher when judging a reading level. Good old country songs were found to feature longer words like “Hallelujah” and “Hydrostatic Transmission“, so it pays to have a wider vocabulary when it comes down to the average intellect level of your music. Which means if you want your song to be considered clever you’d best steer clear of words like “Oh”, “Yeah” and “Baby“, not necessarily in that order.
That’s not to say that having longer sentences and words makes your song better, or by any means more worthy of artistic praise. Looking at Powell-Morse’s stats of the top rock songs ranked by school grade level Nickelback‘s Something In Your Mouthranks in with a 4.2 average grade level. Considering the highest is Dani California at 5.5, it’s not that much of an achievement, yet still ranks higher above many other songs featured in the study. Again, we’re not going to repeat the lyrics here, but anyone who has a listen to that song knows it is absolute lazy garbage.
Sure, you can argue that because a song is popular it doesn’t need to have substance, but isn’t that low expectation we have only prove that we aren’t seeking more sophisticated tunes? We’re not here to hate on pop music. Pop music is a whole lot of fun. Throw on Run the World (Girls) and you can bet I’ll dance my ass off, complete with sassy wrist twisting and hip gyrating. But music is first and foremost a form of artistic expression, a way to expand the mind, to draw in conversation on what makes you passionate and seek out answers through intuition. A romanticised notion at best, yet that is the seed of all artistic expression.
The thing is, it’s hard to sell artistic expression to the masses and make a living from it. Trust someone who works in the business, not many people in the music industry are making much money. In a world where Married At First Sight actually exists as entertainment, the best way to make a sure profit is to paint your expression in as broad a stroke as possible. But who is truly to blame? The few select moguls who hold all the dollars? Or is it the audience themselves, the masses who unquestioningly accept every bread and butter song that floats across the airwaves before being replaced but its doppelganger a month later?
So where do we draw the line between art and fun? Chances are the only person at a Kanye West gig who is judging the artistic quality of the show is king Yeezy himself. Getting down to some sweet jams what being a fan is all about, but to truly engage with it requires more. Lyrics to popular songs are getting dumber. The proof that was in the pudding was served and eaten up a long time ago. Yet does that mean we can only sit idly by and bemoan the the deteriorating nature of music and quite possibly our society? Of course not.
The research for Powell-Morse’s study focused on 225 songs in recent US chart history. His data was just for fun, and while it does paint a very true picture, it neglects the millions of other songs that have been written over time. From our own Aussie classics to the bloke on a shabby stage with a dingy PA system, there are plenty of intelligent songs out there. Ones that maintain a sense of artistic pride and vision whilst remaining fun and accessible. The artistic apocalypse is always looming, what maters is the audience. We all have our embarrassing music crushes from back in the day, but as people we evolve and our tastes diversify. There is more out there than what is on the top of the charts, and as any fan of Happy knows, a lot of it is both intelligent and amazing!
Courtesy of The Happy Blog

Saturday, June 20, 2015

How to Give a Good Interview

interview-radioA music publicist breaks down seven basic tips to help you stay focused and confident and help you learn how to give a good interview to media or radio.
As a music publicist, I’ve worked with a lot of bands and musical acts, from many different levels of success. In more than a few cases, I’d say the artist’s interview skills could have used a tweak or two. Allow me to share some interview tips that will not only get you more comfortable, but will make you way better at giving interviews and help you better understand how to give a good interview.
1) Know your history
Make sure you have all the basics about your own career in the front of your mind before you start doing interviews. Go all the way back to refresh yourself on when and why you started doing what you do, how you met your band mates, the first songs you wrote, the first gigs you played, etc. If you have trouble recalling the essentials, you’ll be stumbling out of the gate, and you don’t want to end up sounding like a chucklehead.
When you become an established act, the ability to articulate your history will become even more important because music journalists will be able to Google reams of information about you before an interview and can catch you off-guard with obscure questions.
2) Be yourself
Lots of people already think being a performer is about the most ego-based decision someone can make, so be sure to keep the arrogance in check. Even if you think the questions are lightweight and tedious (which they often are), don’t give the interviewer that impression. Keep your enthusiasm up and be respectful, whether you’re big or small. The journalist often doesn’t need to be talking to you, so appreciate the opportunity even if you’re bored to death.
3) Don’t waste time
There was an acclaimed artist I once worked with who just couldn’t stop talking about comics and sci-fi. That made him awesome to hang out with, but he short-changed some interviews because of this. Several times I had writers ring me up to set up a second interview because they didn’t get all their questions answered the first time around.
You may feel like buddying-up and getting chatty with the journalist, but don’t distract from the agenda – they will end up with less to work with, which can result in a watered-down story. The clock is ticking, so limit the personal interest talk and tangents and stick to what you’re promoting.
4) Stay “on message”
Before you give an interview, decide in advance the point you want to make and drive it home. The best example of this is a politician running for office. They give up only what they have to regardless of the question. Your mindset should be that the journalist is there for YOU to use, not vice-versa.
5) Less is more
Anything you say to a journalist can be used. Be as succinct and direct in your answers as possible. The more you digress and wander in your responses, the more information you offer, and the more likely it is that your quotes will be taken out of context.
6) No dirty laundry
If you have issues with former band mates, other bands, your manager, your record company, or most anyone else – keep it to yourself. You may think you’re undermining the other guy, but it almost always backfires, often making YOU look like the jerk.
Want a worst case scenario? One time I had an artist who used an entire interview with a national magazine to bad mouth the label. The writer called me up to tell me what happened and that the interview was unusable. The feature was lost. I told the A&R guy, who then told the big boss. Later that day the artist was dropped.
Seek your justice behind the scenes or use your songs as the rage outlet. The media is for promoting your works, not your feuds.
7) Be confident
A journalist is not your friend, priest, or therapist. He or she is not there to validate you to other critics or the public at large. Don’t seek reassurance from them, don’t try to impress, and don’t apologize for anything. Stay in control, take charge of the conversation, and remember that the interview is a means to a promotional end for you.
Also consider that the impression you give is more than likely the impression the journalist will take away, which is especially important as the journalist always has the last word. Decide your message and implement it, and most of all, don’t sweat your interviews. If someone is interested enough to want to talk to you about your music, have some fun, and don’t ever take anything in the resulting coverage personally.
Courtesy of DiskMakers.com

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

EQ Tips From The Pros

by Michael Duncan
soundboard-thumbEqualizers are one of the most common tools we use. Although there are “no rules” when it comes to working with audio, some EQ tips have been reiterated so often that many of us take them as gospel. If you’re anything like me, you’re probably guilty of going on “autopilot” and high-passing everything from time to time. How about accidentally cutting an instrument’s tone to shreds, boosting frequencies like a drunk, or not really listening to how something fits in the overall mix? We’ve all done it. Don’t worry, I won’t tell.
With that in mind, I decided to ask a few of the best engineers and producers around today for some real-world insights on how they use EQ to transform and enhance the music they work on day after day.
Garbage In, Garbage Out
First of all, no amount of EQ will make a terrible singer incredible. EQ can enhance a sound, but it can’t do magic. (Even if you’re using the greatest gear on the planet.) So focus on the big picture: An instrument can sound awful soloed but still work wonderfully in the song. Try not to get too stressed about it, and trust your ears.
Cut / Boost
Rick Kwan at work.
It doesn’t matter what an “EQ chart” you found on the Internet says. Blindly tweaking frequencies will typically do more harm than good. If you’re making a cut or boost, have a reason for it. Will it help the mix?
“I try to cut rather than boost whenever possible,” says Rick Kwan [My Morning Jacket, Bruce Springsteen, Jimi Hendrix]. “One thing that I think [most] people don’t know is that in the Avid EQ III plugin, you can hold down ctrl+shift while you adjust the frequency and it works as a band pass filter for finding problem areas. I use that shortcut all the time!”
It’s also worth remembering that sometimes a static EQ setting won’t work throughout the entire song. Don’t be scared to make different adjustments for each section.
Be Bold
Joe Barresi says "be bold."
Making bold moves can be worthwhile. “There’s a reason EQs have a plus and minus 15dB or more setting,” notes Joe Barresi [Queens of the Stone Age, Bad Religion, Chevelle]. “Don’t be afraid to use it.”
Dan Korneff [Pierce the Veil, Crown the Empire, Motionless in White] adds, “When I was first starting out, I had always read that you should never do too much when EQing. Subtle changes at most. And you should always cut first. Get rid of the stuff that you don’t like. It wasn’t until I sat down at the console with one of the truly great mixing engineers (Andy Wallace) that I adopted the exact opposite practices. He was doing some really drastic moves. Up to +15dB boosts all over the place…and it sounded unreal.
“It opened my eyes to the fact that you should never limit yourself. Do whatever you have to do to get the sound you want. Don’t be afraid.
“With that being said, there is a time and place for everything. Don’t boost 20kHz on a bass guitar, and don’t boost 50Hz on a hi-hat track. Those instruments don’t live in that frequency range and you’ll be wasting sonic space with useless energy. I’m a big fan of using HPF and LPF to eliminate unneeded frequencies. You end up leaving so much more space for other tracks to play with.”
Preset Problems
Just because the plugin has a preset that says “guitar” doesn’t mean it’ll sound great on your guitar. Presets can be a decent starting point, but there’s almost always tweaking to be done. You need to trust your ears and not rely on any one company’s proposed EQ curve. And, sure, the UI might look awesome but it’s not about the fancy colors. Close your eyes, hit that bypass button often and make sure you’re actually improving the sound.
Play Nice Together
Abe Seiferth at Transmitter Park.
Some gear just seems to work better for getting certain sounds. Abe Seiferth [Yeasayer, Bear in Heaven, RAC, Susanne Sundfør] points out, “When EQing a track, you don’t have to do everything with one EQ. It can help you stay organized if you use certain EQs for specific tasks. For instance, on a vocal I’ll use Logic’s EQ to notch, a Neve 1083 to color and a Pultec to add clarity and air. The same can be said for kick drums. I like to have a dedicated EQ just for the low end as well as one for body and one for the attack.”
“Learn to match different pieces of gear to get the sound you want and learn what combos work for different musical parts,” suggests James Sáez [Social Distortion, Jerry Lee Lewis, Morgan James, Porno For Pyros, Marcus Miller]. “Save multi-chain setups in your DAW or on your console and refine them over time for a quick starting point.
“It used to be that whatever console you were working on was the EQ and gain structure that defined the sound of your project, but these days flavors in and out of the box abound I find myself combining effects a lot more often and utilizing dynamic, parallel and mid side EQ/compression daily. Technology now makes these elaborate setups much easier to recall so take advantage by building and storing the signal chains that make your ears smile.”
Time and Patience
It’s not about getting things done the fastest. EQing is a delicate process. “It’s always best to make EQ adjustments in rounds – a little bit at a time,” says Andrew Maury [RAC, Penguin Prison, High Highs, Panama Wedding, Ra Ra Riot].
“Let’s say you’re scanning the mix for things to improve. You notice a kick drum is feeling a bit dull…and you go to boost the top end. It’s very easy to become overzealous and fall victim to a snowball effect in the reward center of your brain. Go bold where your instinct says it’s improving the sound, then split the difference! Put your hands up and calmly step away. Circle back to it later and see how you feel.”
Fix It First
“EQ isn’t just that button on your console or plugin,” remarks Sáez. “It’s in every part of your signal chain from the microphone you use, the instrument you record and even the room you do it in — so don’t forget to think before you print.
“If the drums sound a bit dull and lifeless, try pulling up the carpet, putting on coated heads or moving the whole set to a different spot in the room. Do you find yourself really needing to push the high mids on that guitar track that’s getting lost? Maybe the part is more suited for a Telecaster than a Les Paul and you may want to try less distortion on a smaller combo amp. Is the vocal sounding muddy? Before you grab that EQ, try the roll off on the mic, some room treatment or maybe that multi $ huge diaphragm condenser just isn’t the right mic for your singer.
“The bottom line is that if you make a mess upfront it’s gonna roll down hill and no amount of EQ later is going to make it sound better than if you take the time to handle it now.”
Side to Side
Heba Kadry at Timeless Mastering.
“Don’t forget the sides of your mix,” says Heba Kadry [Chief Mastering Engineer at Timeless Mastering].
“EQing just the sides can completely transform a track and fix issues without resorting to drastic stereo EQing strokes. For example, taming harsh or overwhelming cymbals without messing with the snap of your snare, or creating a better and more concise image without using all those image widening plugins that can completely collapse your mix.
“You’ll be surprised to hear how much information you’re missing out on utilizing when you’re not focusing on what’s happening in the sides.”
Don’t Touch That Dial
You shouldn’t EQ just because you’ve heard that you “should”. Sometimes, the more you tweak, the worse things get. Occasionally, an instrument will sit perfectly in a mix without needing any real adjustments at all. When that’s the case, just go with it and don’t do any surgery.
Sáez adds, “I was really lucky to work with many amazingly talented engineers and mixers when I was coming up and one thing I noticed was that the guys who did the best work often spent a good amount of time working on levels, panning, and arrangement before they ever started grabbing for the EQ knife.
“Loudness is a perceived thing and it can really change as the structure of your mix comes together. Figure out what makes a song tick and try to bring that energy to the forefront before you attack each instrument. Just because you solo a track and it’s not the coolest thing you’ve ever heard doesn’t mean that it’s not the sonic key that’s holding things together. Think big first…carve and sand later.”
Michael Duncan is an up-and-coming producer/engineer based in NYC. He has assisted several notable producers, including Andrew Maury, Dan Romer, and John Siket.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

How to Keep Perspective During a Mixing Session

by Dan Gluszak
soundboard-thumbWe mixers know all too well that mixes can be like black holes. If you keep a safe distance, you can generally preserve a healthy perspective and escape unscathed. But many of us allow ourselves to get sucked way in without even realizing it’s happening.
Before we know it, we’re coming up on day 3, we’re no longer having fun and we can’t even tell what we’re listening for anymore. We’ve spent the majority of our time making minor changes that in no way significantly affect the emotional delivery of the song. So what went wrong?
As creative beings, we know that pure, genuine inspiration is a fleeting phenomenon that—despite our best efforts—cannot always be summoned at our convenience. But who’s to say we can’t cultivate an environment that’s conducive to harnessing and sustaining inspiration?
To that end, self-awareness is key. It is crucial to keep tabs on yourself at all times. If we make a conscious effort to check in and monitor our level of productivity throughout the day, we will be sure to get much more out of the time we invest into our mixes.
It may take you several days or even weeks of trying to mix at different times of the day in order to really get a grasp on when you function best.
You may find that starting a mix first thing in the morning before the emails, texts and phone calls start rolling in gives you just the peace and quiet you need to really move through the bulk of your tracks. Some mixers need a few hours to allow their ears to “warm up” to the world. Some of us find we work best when the day is split up into two or three smaller blocks.
On the other hand, some of us are marathon mixers that have no issues slugging through a 12 hour session. The key is to tune into your workflow, learn the peaks and valleys of your productivity and create your mixing schedule based on that. It may take some time to get it dialed in, but you’ll know when it’s right.
If you find that when approaching hour 6 of non-stop mixing it’s taking you 30 minutes to EQ the tambourine, the first step in mixing more efficiently is to become cognizant of the fact that it’s taking you 30 minutes to EQ the tambourine.
If you find this happening, it probably means it’s time for a break. Take the dog for a walk, hit the gym, run that errand you’ve been meaning to take care of. Ironically, taking a break can often save you a lot more time than it costs. Knowing when to give yourself some space can make it possible to do in 3 minutes what may have otherwise taken you 30 without that break.
Being able to identify the point at which you are reaching diminishing returns can save you some serious hours of spinning your wheels and keep you motivated. It’s paramount to never lose sight of what it’s all about in the first place: The song. And re-printing your mix 3 times because you can’t decide if the shaker track should live at -19dB or -19.5dB is never going to make the song any better.
…But not unrealistic ones. If you know that it normally takes you around 30 minutes to get your rhythm section poppin’, set a timer for 30 minutes. If it’s not quite there yet, set another timer for 5 minutes. You can spend that extra 5 minutes tweaking in broad strokes before moving on to getting that piano or guitar to sit just right. The rhythm section will still be there later, awaiting further micro-tweakage. It’s important to keep all things moving toward completion and to avoid going down the rabbit hole and losing sight of the big picture.
Some top-tier mix engineers are known to keep mundane reading material (such as instruction manuals and other arbitrary literature) at their disposal to intentionally stay only partially tuned into playback.
Our brains can play funny tricks on our ears, and sometimes our heads are buried far too deep into our speakers to know what’s really happening. Creating that one degree of removal can help expose things we otherwise may have never noticed, and help us discover whether we’re paying attention to the right things.
So, keep a window open if you’ve got one, or spin that “Planet Earth” DVD in the background. Perhaps while you’re pondering the enormity of the ocean’s abyssal plain you’ll realize that one harmony pops just a bit too much or that kick drum needs a little less 60Hz.
Proper nutrition can go a long, long way not only for the body, but the mind as well. Nobody functions at full capacity when they’re hangry. Having a healthy snack to avoid the inevitable late-afternoon crash can be the difference between getting your first pass printed, or going home and having no mix to check on your other systems. Small portions of protein and fiber rich snacks, along with lots of water (drink until your pee is clear!) can help you debunk the notion that America runs on Dunkin’. Sure, coffee can help, but it’s better as a kickstart to your morning than as a crutch to combat crashing later on.
If you know your vocals usually get a pretty nice boost at around 5k but for some reason it’s just not working this time around, don’t waste time trying to force the square peg into the round hole. Slash and burn, baby! If it’s not working after a few minutes, stay self-aware and start thinking outside the box. Maybe adding a nice tint of harmonic distortion will get it to cut the way your 5k boost usually does.
Having rules of thumb is helpful, but dogma isn’t. Visceral emotion should always override any approaches a textbook may have set forth. Let’s not forget that us mixers are in the business of conveying emotion. Chances are the reason you started mixing in the first place is because music moves you, so be sure to always favor emotion over reason, and remember to trust your gut.
Courtesy of indie-music.com

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Stop shredding your vocal cords!!


Veteran vocal coach Cari Cole talks about proper vocal care and five things you can do to avoid major vocal health issues

Vocal Care tips from Cari Cole
Ever wonder why stars have issues with their vocal health? Why do professionals lose their voices and need to have surgery? Does it happen to everyone eventually, or are there proper vocal care techniques that can help to avoid these situations?
It’s not inevitable, but it’s highly probable that you will have vocal problems if you don’t learn to use proper vocal care. Your voice is an instrument inside your body, and how you treat your body will reflect upon your voice.
First things first, your voice is not an instrument to screw with. Your vocal cords are not replaceable. You only have one set, and the way you care for them will determine whether you follow the road of deterioration that befalls so many singers or take the high road to vocal care, preservation, and health for your career.
It’s not easy to be out on the road singing for a living and keeping your voice in great shape. There are many things you can do to care for yourself and keep your vocal instrument in good shape that aren’t exclusively related to vocal technique and vocal performance (see my earlier post titled 8 Ways to Improve Your Vocal Health), but I want to talk about vocal technique and preserving your voice while you sing. I want to give you some vocal tips and teach you how to master your instrument, and address the key things you can do to ensure you never experience major vocal problems.
Of course there is MUCH more to explore regarding vocal care than what I can present in this article, but I picked out the biggest contenders that cause issues as they relate to the technical voice. Let’s take a quick peek at what some of these problems are and how they develop.

Common vocal problems

Vocal abuse or misuse, such as excessive use of the voice when singing and talking or smoking, coughing, yelling, allergies, reflux, or inhaling irritants can cause abnormalities of the vocal cords, such as nodules, granulomas, polyps, or cysts. The difference between these abnormalities is mostly a function of what kind of tissue is involved.
Symptoms of vocal problems include vocal fatigue, hoarseness that doesn’t clear, chronic throat clearing, throat pain, cough (sometimes with a little blood), and the feeling of having a lump in your throat. Surgery is a less optimal treatment for throat granuloma than vocal therapy, although “granulomas are often slow to regress,” according to NYU Voice Center’s website.
Most all vocal problems are caused by a combination of health, diet, and a lack of good technique – and are reversible with a little work. The best path is to first identify what created the voice disorder. In many cases, a brief period of voice therapy is the best approach to learn good vocal care and technique, including proper breath support and eliminating high pressure at the vocal mechanism.

How to avoid shredding your vocal cords: 

1. Avoid coughing.

Coughing shreds your cords. When you have an infection, the body will naturally cough to get rid of it. Fight your infection with organic garlic capsules (nature’s antibiotic) and quell that cough with Bronchial Soothe (available at Whole Foods or Amazon.com). It’s the only remedy I’ve ever found that actually stops a vicious cough. Coughing will prolong your recovery time by twice as long.

2. Don’t glottal.

Glottals occur when the edges of the vocal cords bang together in over-closure most always on a word that begins with a vowel. This results from poor vocal technique. The way to fix it is to add a soft “h” to the onset of words that begin with vowels, i.e.; “h-uh-oh”,“h-everyone”, “h-“I”; “h-always”. It can happen in the middle of a word too: “st-ay” – st-h-ay”. A really good vocal coach can teach you more about how not to glottal, however keep in mind that from my years of experience I have noticed that most inexpensive or mid-level coaches do not have this kind of expertise and can even cause vocal problems. It’s important to find someone that has a good vocal health philosophy as part of their practice. 

3. Get your voice out of your throat.

Speaking low in your throat, or in a monotone can cause vocal problems like hoarseness, vocal fatigue, nodules, cysts or granulomas. Associate your voice with less pressure and move it higher into your mouth or head cavity to avoid undue pressure. Speak higher in pitch and raise the soft palate to move out of the throat and let the voice “ring” in the head, mouth, and sinus cavities.

4. Stop talking so loud!

Don’t yell or talk excessively for long periods of time (or speak over loud music regularly – bartenders beware). Yelling and speaking for an extended time can cause immediate vocal fatigue and hoarseness and can damage your singing voice. Keep in mind to speak at a normal volume as whispering also strains your voice. If you know your speaking voice is a problem, find a speech therapist or vocal coach who understands speech therapy to help you get back on track.

5. Study vocal and breathing technique.

Find a great (not just a good) professional vocal coach who specializes in fixing vocal problems and knows a thing or two about how to speed you back to health. Having a great coach is your secret weapon to keeping your speaking and singing voice healthy for life. Until then, check out my Singers Gift Vocal Warmups that not only warm you up, but strengthen your vocal instrument the healthy way.
Image via ShutterStock.com.
Sign up for the latest and greatest vocal health tips with Cari Cole’s Vocal Road Warrior 3-part free series. Find out how to not shred your cords, discover the best holistic natural remedies, and keep your voice healthy on and off tour!

Cari Cole's vocal health tips

Cari Cole is one of the most respected and in-demand vocal coaches, technique teachers and clinicians, and artist development experts in the music industry. Cari’s client list includes Grammy winners, American Idol and The Voice finalists, legendary rock stars, major and indie label artists, and thousands of emerging and independent artists. With a passion for holistic health and 25+ years experience teaching technique and finding solutions for singing voices in New York City, Cari is currently writing a manual on vocal health for singers, actors, public speakers and entrepreneurs.

Read more: Vocal Care: Stop Shredding Your Vocal Cords – Disc Makers http://blog.discmakers.com/2013/10/stop-shredding-your-vocal-cords/#ixzz3ROMKZ17g