New Music Friday: August 18, 2017

TuneCore Artists are releasing tons of new music every day. Each week we check out the new TuneCore releases and choose a few at random to feature on the blog.

Is your hit next?

Follow The Billion Dollar Club – a Spotify playlist that’s updated every Friday with new releases from TuneCore Artists – stream it below!


Search Party

LEV
Pop, Electronic


Until My Voice Goes Out
Josh Abbott Band

Country


Work
Ron Pope

Rock, Alternative


Modern Day Cain
I DONT KNOW HOW BUT THEY FOUND ME

Alternative, Rock


August 21, 2017: Total Solar Eclipse
Sleeping At Last

Alternative, Instrumental


Portico II
Futurebirds

Rock


Back To My Roots
IamStylezMusic

Reggae, World


Black Ken
Lil B

Hip Hop/Rap, World


I Went To Town
Chillemi

Folk, Singer/Songwriter


2amCruise
Nanabcool

R&B/Soul, Hip Hop/Rap


Lover My Love
Tim Myers

Pop, Dance


Your Husband, The Ghost
Quiet Company

Rock, Alternative


Electric
Jessica Andrea

Pop


Ava Raiin
Ava Raiin

R&B/Soul, Alternative


Lost In Your Head
The Royal Foundry

Alternative, Pop


For You (feat. Micah)
Blest Jones

R&B/Soul


Borderlines
Iration

Alternative


Lullaby
Brie Angellina

Pop, R&B/Soul


F F S W
Junior Flexwell

Hip Hop/Rap


There You Go
Saba

Hip Hop/Rap


The Blue M&M 3
Peewee Longway

Hip Hop/Rap


We’re Coming In
The F E V E R

Rock, Alternative

14 of the Most Commonly Confused Terms in Music and Audio

[Editors Note: This article was written by Brad Allen Williams and it originally appeared on the Flypaper Blog. Brad is a NYC-based guitarist, writer/composer, producer, and mixer.]

Once upon a time, remixing a song meant actually redoing the mix. Many vintage consoles (some Neve 80-series, for example) have a button labeled “remix” that changes a few functions on the desk to optimize it for mixing rather than recording.

But sometime in the late 20th century, the word “remix” began to take on a new meaning: creating a new arrangement of an existing song using parts of the original recording. Into the 21st century, it’s evolved again and is now sometimes used as a synonym for “cover.” The latter two definitions remain in common use, while the first has largely disappeared.

Language is constantly evolving, and musical terms are obviously no exception. In fact, in music, language seems to evolve particularly fast, most likely owing to lots of interdisciplinary collaboration and the rapid growth of DIY.

Ambiguous or unorthodox use of language has the potential to seriously impede communication between collaborators. In order to avoid an unclear situation, let’s break down standard usage of some of the most commonly conflated, misused, or misunderstood music-related terms.

GAIN / DISTORTION

Gain, as it’s used in music electronics, is defined by Merriam-Webster as, “An increase in amount, magnitude, or degree — a gain in efficiency,” or, “The increase (of voltage or signal intensity) caused by an amplifier; especially: the ratio of output over input.”

To put it in less formal terms, gain is just an increase in strength. If an amplifier makes a signal stronger, then it causes that signal to gain intensity. Gain is usually expressed as a ratio. If an amplifier makes a signal 10 times as loud, then that amplifier has a “gain of 10.”

On the other hand, harmonic distortion is that crunchy or fuzzy sound that occurs when an amplifier clips (as a result of its inability to handle the amount of signal thrown at it).

In the 1970s, some guitar amp manufacturers began employing extra gain stages in their designs to generate harmonic distortion on purpose. In other words, they’d amplify the signal, then amplify it again, and that second gain stage — having been given more than it could handle — would distort. These became known as “high-gain amplifiers.” Because of this, many guitarists just assumed that gain was synonymous with distortion. This was cemented when later amps like the Marshall JCM900 had knobs labeled “gain” that, by design, increased the amount of harmonic distortion when turned up!

Outside the realm of electric guitar, though, gain is still most typically used in a conventional way. When a recording engineer talks about “structuring gain,” for example, he or she is usually specifically trying to avoid harmonic distortion. It’s easy to see how this might cause confusion!

TONALITY / TONE

Not to pick on guitarists, but this is another one that trips us up. Tone has many music-related definitions, but the one of interest at the moment is (again, per Merriam-Webster), “Vocal or musical sound of a specific quality…musical sound with respect to timbre and manner of expression.”

On the other hand, the dictionary definition of tonality is:

1. Tonal quality.

2a. Key.

2b. The organization of all the tones and harmonies of a piece of music in relation to a tonic.

It’s important to note that “tonal quality” here refers to “the quality of being tonal,” or the quality of being in a particular key (in other words, not atonal). This is a different matter from “tone quality,” which is commonly understood to mean “timbre.” Most musicians with formal training understand tonality either as a synonym for key or as the quality of being in a key.

If you’re trying to sound fancy, it can be tempting to reach for words with more syllables, but using tonality as a synonym for timbre can be confusing. Imagine you’re recording two piano pieces — one utilizing 20th-century serial composition techniques and the other utilizing functional harmony. If you express concerns about the piano’s “tonality” while recording the second piece, the composer would probably think you were criticizing his or her work!

OVERDUB / PUNCH-IN

Most musicians in the modern era understand the difference between these two concepts, but they still occasionally confuse folks relatively new to the process of recording.

Overdubbing is adding an additional layer to an existing recording.

“Punching in” is replacing a portion of an already-recorded track with a new performance.

To do a “punch-in” (in order to fix a mistake, for example), the performer plays along with the old performance until, at the appropriate moment, the recordist presses record, thus recording over the mistake. The recordist can then “punch out” to preserve the remainder of the original performance once the correction is made.

GLISSANDO / PORTAMENTO

A portamento is a continuous, steady glide between two pitches without stopping at any point along the way.

A glissando is a glide between two pitches that stair-steps at each intermediate note along the way. A glissando amounts, in essence, to a really fast chromatic scale.

To play a glissando on guitar, you’d simply pluck a string and slide one finger up the fretboard. The frets would make distinct intermediate pitches, creating the stair-stepped effect. If you wished to play a portamento on guitar, you could either bend the string or slip a metal or glass slide over one of the fingers of your fretting hand.

VIBRATO / TREMOLO

While often used interchangeably in modern practice, vibrato and tremolo are actually distinct kinds of wiggle. In most cases, tremolo is amplitude modulation (varying the loudness of the signal), whereas vibrato is frequency modulation (varying the pitch of the signal).

But over the past few hundred years, tremolo has commonly referred to many different performative actions. On string instruments, tremolo is used to refer to the rapid repetition of a single note, and in percussion, tremolo is often used to describe a roll. Singers use it for even crazier things, like a pulsing of the diaphragm while singing¹.

Leo Fender must’ve had his terms confused — he labeled the vibrato bridges on his guitars “synchronized tremolo,” and the tremolo circuits on his amps “vibrato.” Confusion has reigned ever since.

ANALOG / DIGITAL

Analog and digital are perhaps the most confused pair of words in the 21st-century musical lexicon. I once had a somewhat older musician tell me that my 1960s-era fuzz pedal and tape echo made my guitar sound “too digital” for his music. Likewise, countless younger musicians claim to prefer the “analog sound” of the original AKAI MPC (an early digital sampler) and the Yamaha DX-7 (an early digital FM synthesizer). But “analog” and “digital” are not simply stand-ins for “vintage” and “modern,” nor for “hardware” and “software.” They’re entirely different mechanisms for storing and generating sounds. Let’s learn a little more!

Merriam-Webster’s most relevant definition of analog is, “Of, relating to, or being a mechanism in which data is represented by continuously variable physical quantities.”

Also relevant is its first definition of analogue: “Something that is analogous or similar to something else.”

Now, how does this relate to music technology? It all goes back to humans’ longstanding search for a way to capture and store sound. Sound, on a basic scientific level, is nothing more than compression and rarefaction (decompression) of air that our ears can sense. Since air pressure fluctuations can’t really be stored, recording sound proved elusive for a long time.

20th-century scientists and engineers, however, brilliantly figured out that recording sound might be possible if they could accurately transfer that sound into something that could be preserved. They needed something storable that would represent the sound; an analogue to stand in for the sound that would allow it to be captured and kept.

First, they used mechanically generated squiggles on a wax cylinder as the analogue. Eventually, they figured out that they could use alternating-current electricity (which oscillates between positive and negative voltage), as an analogue of sound waves (which oscillate between positive and negative air pressure). From there, it was a relatively short leap to figuring out that they could, through electromagnetism, store that information as positively and negatively charged magnetic domains, which exist on magnetic tape.

This is analog recording!

Since electric voltage is continuously variable, any process — including synthesis — that represents air pressure fluctuations exclusively using alternating current electricity is analog, per Merriam-Webster’s first definition above.

Digital, on the other hand, is defined as, “Of, relating to, or using calculation by numerical methods or by discrete units,” and, “Of, relating to, or being data in the form of especially binary digits, digital images, a digital readout; especially : Of, relating to, or employing digital communications signals, a digital broadcast.”

That’s a little arcane, so let’s put it this way: Rather than relying directly on continuous analog voltages, a digital recorder or synthesizer computes numerical values that represent analog voltages at various slices of time, called samples. These will then be “decoded” into a smooth analog signal later in order to be accurately transferred back into actual air pressure variations at the speaker. If that’s a blur, don’t worry — you only need to understand that this is a fundamentally different process of storing or generating sound.

Absent a real acquaintance with the technology of an individual piece of equipment or process, it’s probably safer to avoid leaping to conclusions about whether it’s analog or digital. For example, there are reel-to-reel magnetic tape machines (like the Sony PCM 3348 DASH) that don’t record analog voltage-based signal at all, but rather use the tape to store digital information (as simple ones and zeroes).

Since you can’t judge whether a piece of gear is analog or digital with your eyes, it’s probably best to only use these terms when you need to refer to the specific technologies as outlined above. In other words, next time you’re recording in a studio with a cool-looking piece of old gear, it’s probably safer to use #vintage instead of#analog to caption your in-studio Instagram photo!

PHASE / POLARITY

Phase is defined by Merriam-Webster as… (deep breath):

“The point or stage in a period of uniform circular motion, harmonic motion, or the periodic changes of any magnitude varying according to a simple harmonic law to which the rotation, oscillation, or variation has advanced from its standard position or assumed instant of starting.”

That’s a mouthful! This is a concept that’s easier understood with an example, so let’s imagine that you have a swinging pendulum:

If you were to freeze that pendulum at two different times, the dot at the end would be in two different locations. The pendulum’s swing occurs over time, so the location of the pendulum depends on when you stop it. We’d refer to the phase of the pendulum in order to describe this phenomenon and where the pendulum is in its cycle relative to time. And since it’s always moving in a continuous, smooth arc, there are an infinite number of possibilities!

Phase becomes potentially relevant for anything that’s oscillating or undulating — like the pendulum above or a sound wave.

Polarity, on the other hand, is defined as, “The particular state, either positive or negative, with reference to the two poles or electrification.”

To put it in very simple terms, you’re dealing with polarity any time you install a battery. The battery has a positive terminal and a negative one. You have to make sure it’s installed the right way. While phase is infinitely variable, polarity has only two choices — it’s one or the other.

In our brief explanation of analog audio above, we mentioned that positive and negative swings of voltage are used to represent positive and negative changes in air pressure. If we switch polarity of a signal, we swap all the positive voltages for negative ones, and vice-versa. +1v becomes -1v, +0.5v becomes -0.5v, etc. This is usually accomplished with a button marked with the Greek letter theta or “Ø.”

Interestingly, if you have one signal alone, it’s usually the case that our ear can’t really tell the difference between positive or negative polarity. It’s when you combine two or more similar signals (like two microphones on one drum for instance) that a polarity flip of one or the other can have a dramatic influence on the sound.

Confusingly, this influence is a result of phase differences between the two sources, and switching polarity can often improve (or worsen!) the sound of two combined sources which are slightly out of phase. For this reason, the polarity switch is often called a “phase switch,” and depressing it is often colloquially referred to as “flipping phase.”

In the graphic below, you’ll see a brief, zoomed-in snapshot of two waveforms. A single bass performance was simultaneously recorded into both a direct box (blue) and through a mic on its amplifier (green).

In the first graphic, you can notice that the two are slightly out of phase. The blue direct-in wave swings negative ever so slightly before the green mic–on–amp one does. This is because the amp’s sound had to travel through the air briefly before being picked up by the microphone. Since sound in air travels much more slowly than electricity does, this creates a slight time delay or phase discrepancy.

In the second example below, I’ve flipped the polarity of the amp track. You can see that the time delay still exists, but now the amp track’s wave is inverted or “upside down.” As the DI track swings negative, the amp track swings positive.

In this case, the switch made the combined sound noticeably thinner, so I quickly flipped it back. Occasionally though, flipping polarity improves the combined sound of two sources which are slightly out of phase.

In practice, most recordists will understand what you mean if you say “flip the phase,” but should there happen to be a physicist in the room, you might get a raised eyebrow! Generally, though, this is a classic example of how unorthodox usage sometimes becomes accepted over time.

Which raises the point: any of the musical and audio terms above may eventually, like “remix” before them, evolve to incorporate new shades of meaning (or even have some earlier “correct” definitions fall into disuse). In the meantime, though, the more precise your grasp on the language of music, the less likely you are to misunderstand or be misunderstood.


¹ In performance, for both singers and many instrumentalists, pure tremolo is almost impossible to achieve without taking on some characteristics of vibrato — that is to say that a passage is played or sung with only variations of either pitch or volume.

Wednesday Video Diversion: August 16, 2017

Oh and just like that, another midweek snoozefest is among us. Feeling lethargic? Sleepy? Bored? We’ve got all the distraction you need to hang it up for a few and tune out. Maybe it’ll even help wake you up a bit. Enjoy this week’s round-up of awesome TuneCore Artist music videos!

 

Martin Joey Dine & Yael Watchman, “I Have Been Following In Love”

Still Eighteen, “Bullets & Dust”

Tanner Fox, “We Do It Best (feat. Dylan Matthew & Taylor Alesia)”

Yung Pinch, “When I Was Yung”

Pouya X Ghostemane, “1,000 Rounds”

Gera MXM, “Nunca Te Pude Alcanzar”

Tay-K X The Race, “#FreeTayK”

NanaBCool, “Love U”

IamStylezMusic, “Hey Mama Africa”

7 Great Ways to Accelerate Your Songwriting Skills

[Editors Note: This was written by Zac Green. Zac is a regular contributor to the Zing Instruments Blog.]

There’s nothing more intimidating than a blank piece of paper. Starting the process of writing a new song can take just as long as finishing it. So here’s seven tips to help you speed up your songwriting.

1. Work in a group, then alone

Having a few people to bounce ideas around with helps the creative process get started. After you’ve got your song started, the democratic process is more likely to slow you down. If you’re writing songs as part of a band, it can be better to go and complete your parts individually once you’ve gotten the overall idea in place.

2. Drink alcohol, then coffee

Research has shown that drinking alcohol boosts your creativity, but makes it hard to focus. Coffee, and other drinks containing caffeine, has the opposite effect. For your brainstorming session, loosen up with a few drinks. This works especially well if combined with the first tip, but be careful not to get carried away and turn it into a drinking session. Once you’ve sat down to start writing the ideas you have onto paper, fire up the kettle.

3. Give chance a chance

After a long music career, you might find that all of your songs are starting to sound the same. There’s nothing wrong with having a recognisable sound, but you don’t want to get stale. Shake things up by writing different elements of songs onto pieces of paper, such as keys, lyrical themes, and so on. Place them into a hat and draw five at random. Force yourself to use these, no matter how badly they seem to go together. The results can be surprisingly good – and more importantly they help you to think outside of your usual boundaries.

4. Write somewhere different

Creativity doesn’t exist in a void. If you want to be inspired, go for a long walk somewhere far away from your usual haunts. The change of scenery, fresh air and act of walking itself can be great for generating new ideas. If nothing else, it gives you a chance to let yourself relax. Stress is a major impediment to creativity.

5. Learn your music theory

I don’t care how unappealing this seems. You might think that learning theory chokes your freedom or that it’s boring. However, if you don’t know what the rules around music are, it’s impossible to break them in a way which is both purposeful and well-executed. This applies no matter what genre you’re in. For example, my own personal foray into EDM was vastly improved when I started learning about cadence, a concept from choral music.

6. Steal from other songs

Now let me just clarify something before we go any further. I am absolutely not telling you to copy somebody else’s song in it’s entirety and try to pass it off as your own. That’s not songwriting, and you’re unlikely to get away with it for very long.

What you can do, is jot down interesting chord progressions, licks and lyrics. Playing around with these later, such as using inverted versions of the chords, trying it in a different key or modulating can lead to something brand new as the changes you’ve made will lead to a naturally different conclusion.

7. Use good notation software

Writing music by hand can take quite a while, and you can’t always check to see if it sounds right straight away. By using notation software, such as Sibelius, or if you can’t read music, just programming the notes into a digital audio workstation (DAW) can transform your songwriting process completely, as it’s quite easy to quickly change sections of your music without having to rewrite every single note.

Armed with these tricks, your songwriting skills will change practically overnight. It doesn’t matter if you apply all of them at once (although that isn’t entirely practical) or try them out a few at a time. Your own process is going to be a factor in this, so perhaps some of them won’t be entirely applicable. Don’t fret about this, just do the ones that feel ‘right’ to you.

Creating a Content Pipeline: How To Be Prepared For Anything

[Editors Note: This blog was written by Kendra Gaines. Kendra is a digital music marketing fiend. ‘Like’ her Facebook page, Easy Music Promo for more.]

 

“Success occurs when opportunity meets preparation.” – Zig Ziglar

The above quote is cool and all, but I don’t think it means what we think it means. A lot of motivational speakers and Twitter gurus like to use this quote. To them, it’s a way to get you moving. They tend to believe that you must be prepared. You must train. You must get everything right first, and then, once the universe is satisfied with your amount of preparation, you’ll unlock a golden opportunity.

It’s a great thought, and while I believe it to be true, I like to think of it slightly differently. See, in the quote, the opportunity happens first, then that opportunity meets the preparation. In the quote, there are no indications about when and how the opportunity comes about. You can prepare, easily, but you can’t really fabricate an opportunity, especially in the music business.

The Internet is crazy and it never sleeps. While you’re awake reading this right now, someone from across the world is laying their head down to sleep right now, and the cycle turns continuously. As artists, we don’t get to pick and choose what listeners latch onto and how they share it; we just hope they will.

Let me give you an example. Long ago I worked with a friend who’s a singer. He worked long nights and spent a lot of money putting together a fantastic project that was received pretty well. He and I did what we thought was our due diligence and sent out press releases, contacted blogs and radio, and made sure the fan base had enough to keep them busy and entertained for a while. It did well for the moment, but eventually the buzz wore off.

Do you know what went viral weeks later?

An old-ass video of he and a group of friends singing in a Waffle House. Someone whipped out their video phone and got a snippet of them singing.

Thousands of dollars doing the right thing for a project and a potato-quality video is what catches on. Geez.

And to make matters worse, we had nothing else. An opportunity arose and we had no new content to keep newcomers engaged. We weren’t prepared.

So, how do we combat this?

The way a lot of independent artists work is they put music out and hope for the best. Sometimes they’ll plan a release, but they still generally put the music out, do a cool thing or two and then move on to the next project.

While not wrong, it’s just not enough. That’s why artists should be building pipelines.

No matter what industry you’re in right now, content is king. And if you don’t have enough content to get attention, then you’re falling behind.

Guess what? One album every nine months isn’t enough. You’ve got to do more.

Before I tell you how to create a pipeline, I’m going to give you two great reasons why pipelines work.

1. Motivation.​ I have no clue what it is with creative types, but we’ll have an idea and be really into it. But maybe two weeks later, we’ve moved on from that idea with nothing to show for. There’s a theory out there that we only have so much motivation and will power, and when we get the feeling to do something, we just need to do it. The problem happens when we do stuff and want to release it right away. The idea of creating a pipeline encourages you to wait for the right time, while taking advantage of your wave of creativity.

2. Time.​ If you’re an independent artist and you have a small team or no team at all, you’re probably doing a lot of the work yourself. That leaves very little time to do anything else. However, the pipeline theory works like a blitz — you take two or three weeks out of the month to make month’s worth of content. Then as your content is being released in phases, you can just chill, create more or have something in your back pocket for when an opportunity arises.

Creating a Pipeline for Success

It’s important to know beforehand, that you’re going to need to be committed to creating content for the allotted amount of time needed to create. When I mention content creation, I’m not just talking about making songs, though that is away at it. I also mean bite sized pieces of content for social media, whether that be photos, graphics, contests, etc.

To get yourself acclimated to the idea, I suggest taking one to two weeks to create four to six weeks worth of content. ​You want to create so you can release one to two things a week. So, a six-week pipeline, as six to 12 good pieces of content to be released. Make sense?

1. Get a calendar and abide by it. Before you start making the content, you need to essentially create a release schedule. What days and times and what kind of content do you want to release? Do you want to release a new song Tuesday at 6PM? Is it behind-the-scenes studio footage that you release Wednesday at noon? For contests and deals, you want to also consider how the particulars will work. Put it all on an ideal schedule of how things will be phased out (or dripped).

2. Start setting deadlines. This part is super hard, especially if you have a team or outsource some of your work. It’s tough to ask people to give you things by a certain time, but try to build extra time into your deadlines. Ideally, you’re telling your team what you want and when you want it by. If you’re working along, these are just rubrics for when you want to have final products ready to go.

3. Create! There are so many things you can create for content that range from entire new songs or cover songs to footage. Don’t think this all has to be expensive. Something I’ve learned is finished is better than perfect — it’s ok to shoot a couple videos on your iPhone. It’s ok to use a free beat you’ve found online every so often. Most of your pipeline work is just to keep you relevant. When you have specific, original content, you’ll start making campaigns for that. Create stuff that works in-between time.

4. The create some more. You don’t want to be on the wrong side of getting a fluctuation of interest and no way to engage or monetize off that. Even if it’s not on the schedule, get in the habit of recording more, taking more photos, recording more songs, etc.

5. Release your content. Easily. It’s hard to remember when to release stuff all the time. It slips your mind and that’s cool. Use a service like TuneCore Social to drip your content out amongst your social medial channels. This makes it easier for you, as you get to set it and forget it.

6. Reap the benefits. Now, you’ve got content for the next few weeks! That’s great. You can kick your feet up, or, as I’d recommend, get right back into creating. Perhaps your next piece of work is for a campaign around a single or project. You can use the same idea to put something together for it, just make sure it’s all related and has the same feeling behind it.

When it opportunity comes, you want to be prepared to handle it. Making sure you have something to keep people engaged is so important as an independent artist. Try out the pipeline theory and see how it works toward growing your fanbase.

New Music Friday: August 11, 2017

TuneCore Artists are releasing tons of new music every day. Each week we check out the new TuneCore releases and choose a few at random to feature on the blog.

Is your hit next?

Follow The Billion Dollar Club – a Spotify playlist that’s updated every Friday with new releases from TuneCore Artists – stream it below!


Fire
VHS

Alternative, Electronic


Believe
Eric Nally
Pop


Last Night (feat. Future & Tru Life)
DJ Clue

Hip Hop/Rap


Eyes On The Highway
Robbie Williams

Pop, Rock


One Long Dream
SonReal

Hip Hop/Rap, Pop


Cadillac
Gwen Sebastian
Singer/Songwriter, Country


The Silent Ones
Sleeping Wolf

Alternative, Pop


Love Me
Me Nd Adam

Alternative, Pop


All Of Nothing
Dustin Tavella

R&B/Soul, Pop


I Want To Break Your Heart
Early Winters

Pop, Alternative


Young Americans (feat. Charles & Josh Kelley)
Colt Ford

Country


Bedrooms
SWIMM

Alternative, Rock


B Side
QT Jazz

R&B/Soul, Pop


Cartier Frames (feat. Nipsey Hussle)
Bono Rideau & Mike & Keys

Hip Hop/Rap, R&B/Soul


Majesty
Traces

Alternative, Pop


Blue Face
Ishmael Raps

Hip Hop/Rap


Everybody Else
Emmitt Fenn

Electronic, Dance


Africa For the 
Summer
Bantu

Pop


Looking For Love

Birdtalker
Singer/Songwriter, Alternative