Studio Spotlight: The Record Co. Focuses on Access Over Profit in Boston

Boston, Massachusetts is home to over 250,000 college students. With institutions like Harvard, M.I.T., Berklee College of Music, Emerson, Boston College and a slew of others, it’s a given that you’d see plenty of artists and bands finding their legs in a major U.S. city – whether they’re undergrads meeting at a local party or show, or a grad student furthering their music career by way of education. Growing up in the area, I recall being obsessed with bands in the ‘local scene’ – catching the T to see bands play in places from Elks Lodges to 18+ venues that I had to ‘borrow’ an ID to get into. But even then I noticed a turnover, as bands would migrate to other parts like New York and L.A., or venues with all-ages access would close unexpectedly.

While this isn’t uncommon, there’s still a lot to love about Boston’s music scene, but it can be a difficult place to live and survive as a musician or engineer. And what about the potential fans who don’t know what’s in their backyard?

Enter The Record Co. – a Boston-based non-profit facility that provides access to an affordable space to record quality projects and opportunities to freelance engineers and producers. The result is a much-praised collaborative atmosphere that is helping to change the landscape of Boston’s independent music scene. Not to mention, The Record Co. does a wonderful job of showing off all Boston has to offer with their Boston Sessions collaborative mixtape series, with Vol. 2 coming out soon!

In this month’s Studio Spotlight, I spoke to Jesse Vengrove, Program Director (and engineer/musician) at The Record Co. to discuss how the non-profit’s approach to offering this kind of access and how it’s been paying off:

First and foremost, what inspired you to start The Record Co. and do so as a non-profit?

Go up to any studio owner and ask them the following two questions and you’ll probably get similar responses:

1) “Are you making a large profit?” – “No”

2) “Why are you doing this then?” – “I love the work and I think it’s important/has cultural and/or artistic value.”

And there you have the most informal definition of a non-profit organization.

The Record Co. was founded in 2009 and, after a failed startup (first location flooded), we moved to our current facility in 2010.  The non-profit angle came out of a realization that that no one really needs to own a studio, people just need access to one.

We wanted to create a space that was accessible to everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status, race, gender, and we wanted to create a space that was a part of the community and give back to the city.  We charge our clients to use the facility like any other studio but the rates are subsidized by foundations/grants and individual donors who believe it’s important to cultivate a vibrant and creative scene in Boston.

We’ve found a way to allow artists to come in and use the facility at a price point that works for small/non-existent budgets while relying on other sources of funding to keep daily operations running. In 2017 we’re on track to host 1,100 sessions between the two rooms, so needless to say there’s a demand that we’re filling (while still seeing new studios pop up and legacy studios stay in business).

Give our readers a little bit of a breakdown of the facility overall. What sets your studios apart from others in the area?

We currently have about 5,000 sq/ft split up over 2 floors which gives us a fair amount of space. We have two studios, Studio A and Studio B (yeah, super creative!).  Studio A is 2,500 sq/ft and includes a full kitchen and a lounge (with an ever-growing homage to the amazing art collection at Goodwill). We wanted it to feel like you’re walking into your friend’s living room, warm and homey.  We kept a lot of the windows up there so there’s a lot of natural light, which really makes the room comfortable.  There are two iso booths in there and a large live room.  You can get giant drum sounds up there (and we once squeezed a 45-person orchestra in there) or you can control/segment the room with gobos.  It’s a large space but we did our best to keep sightlines open so no one feels disconnected.

Studio B is our smaller vocal/overdub room.  This room is a little more chic than Studio A; no windows to the outside, color-changing LED lights, leather couch.  It’s a small but spacious enough so it doesn’t ever feel crowded, and everyone always loves the homemade absorption panels covering the wall.  Studio B definitely has a more traditional feel to it compared to A but it’s by no means sterile; it’s still a comfortable room to work in.  There’s a lounge outside the studio so there’s lots of space to spread out.  Studio B has it’s own private bathroom which sounds most excellent for re-amping.

Obviously you provide a space for the many artists of Boston to record, but tell us a little more about how your setup has benefited freelance engineers over your seven-year history.

TRC is a 100% freelance studio, which means that we don’t have any staff engineers.  We think it’s really important for artists to work with technical professionals that they get along with (both personally and musically) and so we enforce that every client brings in their own engineer.  At this point we have 1,100 gigs for freelancers every year happening in our facility, and we’ve priced our studios in a way that leaves room for engineers to charge a reasonable rate for their services.

When clients need referrals we refer to our staff, who are all great engineers as well (but they still negotiate their own rates and get paid directly by the client as a freelancer).  We also see a lot of engineers coming in from other studios around town (Q Division, Mad Oak, Zippah, Futura…) which we love.

Has the way you operate fostered its own community within the greater music scene? Do you feel you’re providing a space for collaboration and networking?

We see thousands of musicians/artists/engineers through our doors every year so I’m happy to say that it feels like we have a large community surrounding the work that that we do.  We really value the face-to-face interaction that takes place in recording studio and are happy to see so many people coming out of their basements or bedrooms and collaborating.  The best music doesn’t get made in a vacuum, it usually takes a team.

How do you feel that The Record Co. has contributed to the ever-changing landscape of the arts in Boston?

We’ve contributed in two ways: through direct support to artists/musicians and through an effort to raise general awareness about the great music that is being made in our city.  There is an obvious need for the programming we do as there are thousands of people that have taken advantage of our studios.  We have had bands and engineers tell us that we are the reason they stayed in Boston instead of moving to NYC or LA which is extremely meaningful to us and shows that there is a need for the work that we are doing.

We have also made an effort to engage music fans in Boston and let them know that you don’t need to look to NYC/LA or Pitchfork/Rolling Stone to find good new music, there’s actually tons of being made all around you.  Raising the reputation and awareness of what’s happening here in Boston is a long process but it only serves to make the city feel more like home for all of the musicians/artists that struggle to live and work here in Boston.

For a city home to a quarter of a million college students and a mayoral administration hoping to retain this population after graduation, what else does Boston need to be a happier home to working musicians and engineers?

That’s a tough one and is something we talk about regularly.  All-ages music venues, more (well maintained) rehearsal spaces, better public transportation, affordable housing inside city-limits…. None of these things are easy problems to solve but all would go a long way towards making the city a more hospitable place for artist and engineers.

Speaking of those college students, how does the Recor Co. interact with student artists and engineers-in-training from local colleges and universities? 

We wanted to price our studio rates in such a way that artists could afford to rent an appropriate amount of time to actually accomplish what they set out to.  These days the only way for artists to develop themselves is to act as their own A&R and just keep recording and tweaking until they finally land on something good.

Because we also cater to a lot of engineers who are just getting their start or haven’t worked in a studio outside of a college setting we host orientations every other week which consists of a conversation about expectations and best practices while working in a professional setting, how to avoid pit-falls that have the potential to kill the vibe for the players, and then a full technical walkthrough of the facility.  We always have staff around to assist with any technical questions/issues and we do have a great crew of part-time assistants that are able to help out as well.

After six years in business you dropped Boston Sessions, Volume 1 – which resulted in a very cool development in the Rock Band video game franchise! – what led you to releasing this? What was the reaction from artists and labels involved?

We really wanted to tackle both raising the reputation of what’s happening in our music scene and also provide an economic opportunity for the artists involved.  ‘Vol.1 – Beast’ featured 13 brand new tracks by 13 Boston-based artists.  In total we paid 63 artists/engineers/producers to make the record, which we’re really proud of.

Artist and sponsors alike both loved the project.  It was unique as it was all brand new material (not pre-recorded content) and really provided a cool cross-section of the diverse scene in Boston.  We were really happy to work with Harmonix to get the album featured in Rock Band, which is by far one of the craziest things to come from the project.  We also just finished up a large donated outdoor ad campaign around the city and on the trains called “Boston Music Is” which features pictures of artists from the comp.  It’s great to see the city showing some love for the artists that make it a cool place to be.

The album is available for streaming on Bandcamp and Spotify and vinyl is in our web store.

What can we expect on the upcoming volume of Boston Sessions? Beyond promoting the Record Co. and the artists featured, what hopes do you have for the release?

Vol. 2 is going to be an awesome collection of new music from some great artists around the city.  We really hope this go around that we not only turn heads in Boston but in other cities as well.  Ultimately we want Boston to be seen as a music destination and the Boston Sessions program is just one step along that path to get there.

 

From the Stage to the Studio: How To Adapt Vocals For Recording

[Editors Note: This blog was written by Sabrina Bucknole. Sabrina has been singing in musical theater for over eight years, and wrote this as a deep dive into how live and theatrical singers can adapt their vocals for the studio and offers five practical tips for singers recording in the studio.]

 

Singers who have a lot of experience performing live can often find difficulty in bringing the same level of performance to the studio. Whether this is because of the space itself, the lack of an audience, the different approaches to singing techniques, or the range of equipment found in the studio, singers must learn to adapt their vocals for the studio if they want to create the “right” sound.

Introducing the Stage to the Studio

There are many elements about the studio that cannot be re-created on stage, but with technology advancing, this gap is closing, especially where vocals are concerned. For instance, loop pedals are becoming increasingly popular in live performances among the likes of famous artists including Ed Sheeran, Radiohead, and Imogen Heap. Loop pedals are used to create layers of sound and add texture to the performance, allowing a solo artist to become anything from a three-person band to an entire choir.

Vocals are recorded similarly to how they are recorded in a studio except they are recorded in the moment during live performance. It could be said that recording vocals in a studio is more intimate and requires more focus due to the enhanced sensitivity of the mics used in these spaces.

Both dynamic and condenser mics usually come with a specially designed acoustic foam windshield which absorbs the soundwaves coming from the voice. Duncan Geddes, MD of Technical Foam Services emphasises the importance of choosing the correct type of foam for the microphone windshield when recording in the studio. He explains that “having the right microphone windshield is essential to ensure an effective barrier against specific background noise while still allowing acoustic transparency. The critical aspect is the consistent pore size and density of the foam, to ensure complete sound transparency”.

To avoid picking up any unwanted sounds including plosives (“b” and “p” sounds created by a short blast of air from the mouth), acoustic windshields can be very effective. These air blasts strike the diaphragm of the mic and create a thump-like sound known as “popping”.

From Broadway to Booth: Vocal Differences

Singing in a recording studio can be daunting, especially for those who are used to singing live in a theatre. This could be because every tiny imperfection of the voice is picked up in the studio, including things that go unnoticed when performing live. Faced with these imperfections, some singers try to smooth out every little bump or crack in the voice in the pursuit of “perfection”.

Others embrace the “flaws” of the voice to create a sound unique to them. For instance, the well-known artist Sia embraces the natural cracks of her voice. This is apparent in most of her songs, especially in the song “Alive” on her 2016 album, This Is Acting. At 4 minutes 10 seconds you can hear her slide up to a higher note. To some, this might sound a little strained, but to others and Sia, this may simply be a natural and welcome part of her sound and performance.

Volume control can also be something to think about when entering the studio from the stage. Theatrical singers are taught to project their voices even in soft, quiet parts so they can still be heard. It could be argued that belting high and powerful notes becomes almost second nature to them, which is why they may find themselves having to reign it in slightly when adapting their voice for the studio.

For instance, according to multiplatinum songwriter and producer Xandy Barry, vocalists need to tone down their performance when recording in a studio. He reveals, “In certain quiet passages [singers] may need to bring it down, because in the studio a whisper can be clearly heard.”

It could also be argued that when performing live, the stage is a space where a certain type of energy is released, something that cannot be re-created in the studio. Playing to a crowd may bring something out of an artist. Some performers feel they can express themselves more on stage compared to in the studio. A live performance is ultimately, a performance after all.

This does not mean that the studio is restricting; instead it could be argued that other techniques are evoked when recording in this space. For instance, some singers display more finesse and subtlety in their work, something that cannot always be re-created on stage.

Five practical tips for singers recording in the studio:

1. Warm up

Studio time can be expensive which is why it’s best to warm up before entering the studio. As well as being prepared vocally, make sure you’re prepared with how you’re going to approach the piece. Some recommend knowing precisely how you’re going to sing every section, but this can come across as being over-rehearsed and may not sound natural. To avoid this, approach the piece differently each time and try experimenting with different sounds, textures, and volumes.

2. Record, record, record

Try and capture everything you can. If you vocalise something you like the sound of, but no one hit “record”, it can be frustrating for you as the singer, trying to re-create that same sound.

3. Keep cool and have fun

If you feel like you’re getting frustrated because a take isn’t going well or you’re not hitting the right notes, or you’re sounding rather flat, take a break. Take some time to clear your head and start afresh, so the next time you hit record, you’ll almost certainly get the results you were after!

4. Be emotional

Conjuring up emotions in the studio can be harder to do than on stage. This can be due to the lack of atmosphere, people, and the confined space. To avoid lyrics coming across bland or meaningless, try to focus on the lyrics themselves and decode them.

To stir the emotions you’re looking for, personalise the material by asking yourself “What is the meaning behind these words?”, “How are these lyrics making me feel?”, and “How can I relate these lyrics to my own life or the life of someone I care about?”. Like an actor and their script, discovering and analysing the intention of the words can have a great effect on the performance.

5. Manage the microphone

Singers with experience behind a mic know how to handle one. Skilled singers know where and how to move their head to create different volumes and sounds. For instance, by moving closer to the mic as they get softer, and further as they get louder they can manipulate the volume of their vocals, reducing the amount of compression required in editing later.

Singing into a mic when recording can be different from singing into a mic on stage. The positioning, mounting, angle of the mic, and distance from the singer, can all effect the captured vocal sound. Live singers usually hold the mic close to their mouth especially for softer parts, but in a studio, the mic is usually more sensitive to sound. This is why it’s best to keep more distance between yourself and the mic, especially for louder sections.

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.

Studio Spotlight: Lakehouse Recording Studios Contribute to the Lasting Legacy of Asbury Park’s Music Scene

Continuing our monthly look at awesome recording studios – from the scenes they serve and the atmosphere they cultivate for independent artists – we find ourselves in the seaside town of Asbury Park, New Jersey. Known for legends like the bandleader/trombonist Arthur Pryor and rock idol Bruce Springsteen, on top of some notable music venues, the Jersey Shore city has a proud history of celebrating its musical roots.

A few years back, musician and career engineer Jon Leidersdorff opened Lakehouse Recording Studios. Feeling the need to expand his offerings, Lakehouse was designed and built in a building that also features the reputable Russo Music store, as well as Lakehouse Music Academy, a music school for students of all ages and levels. It only makes sense that this complex features a state of the art, two-studio recording facility, right?

We talked to Jon about getting the studio up and running, what sets it apart from the rest, and what it means to be providing recording solutions to the musicians of his hometown:

Tell me about how you made the transition from home studio to opening up Lakehouse. What kind of projects had you been working on leading up to that point?

Jon Leidersdorff: I was recording and developing local artists that started to see some success and working with newer bands that I met through the industry. Some of my producer friends also were bringing artists in to work there. And from that, the studio and I got very busy. I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to be involved with more projects if I didn’t have a larger commercial space.

What makes the design and layout (of the studio, specifically), unique and what can artists look forward to getting out of it in a session?

For the new recording studios I wanted to have everything I was previously missing. I wanted space where every musician in the group could see each other and set up the rig of their dreams to record with simultaneously. I wanted everyone to have the sound that they wanted hear and to be able to play together and see each other. I wanted more of a live performance for tracking.

I really missed hearing the magic of when the entire group plays together. The whole group playing at the same time really pushes each musician individually and has a huge impact on the composition. I also wanted it to sound amazing in the space.

We hired WSDG. John Storyk has done this thousands of times before and I realized that there would be no substitute for that type of experience. His rooms sound great. One thing that I hear often from the producers and artists that come through our studios is that they love the feeling in the space. And how we have so much of the gear that they never get to play or that they just see as virtual instruments or plug-ins. We spend a lot of time and energy making sure that we have a lot of unique  and vintage instruments that the musicians can use to feel more creative.

Outside of just the studio, elaborate a bit on the overall complex that Lakehouse is situated in and its significance to the neighborhood.

We are located in the downtown of Asbury Park, New Jersey. The city has an amazing musical heritage. Early days with Arthur Pryor and the John Philip Sousa big bands, the west side jazz scene of the 1930’s and ’40’s, the Jersey Shore rock scene of the 1970’s and ’80’s and the amazing punk scene at the Lanes in recent years. People believe in music here. They trust it, they support it, they live it. You can see it everywhere. It’s a great place to be when you come to record. There are great art galleries, restaurants and atmosphere, live music venues and of course there’s the boardwalk and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a great backdrop to ignite the creative flow.  

In our building we have Russo Music, the largest and coolest independent music store in NJ. They have the best equipment and do repairs and set ups on site. It’s really helpful for the musicians that are recording here. There is an amazing music academy with very progressive programming. Most of the teachers have really cool gigs and credits.

Monmouth University has their music industry program and record label here as well. They bring really great guests here.

We also have our own small DIY venue. It’s the home for the Asbury Park Music Foundation. They have a killer PA in there and anyone coming through town can book their own show. I’ve seen a lot of great acts there. They are a nonprofit that do tremendous work for the community here.

There is a great photographer and videographer Andrew Holtz. Upstairs is Bands on a Budget who do merchandise for so many different artists. There’s CoWerks, a great shared office space.

There are also some great well-known producers will have their own mix rooms on the premises. It really creates a great community having so many different creative people in the same space.

What inspired you to start Lakehouse Music Academy? What was the reaction from residents?

The idea for the music Academy really came from need. So many of the artists that I was working with really needed support. They needed experts around them and educators who could help them to accomplish their goals. Having relevant mentors opens up so many possibilities. There are really great programs at the Academy that help the students directly and specifically with their aims.

We are fortunate to be in an area where so much of the music industry lives and plays. We have some of the biggest artists and music industry professionals teach at our Academy. The community has been the best supporters. We have a huge student body now in just a few years.

Have you been able to establish a sort of ‘path’ between the academy and the studio?  

We have set up programming that helps young musicians develop into songwriters and artists. There are programs that teach songwriting, audio engineering and connect the students to the music industry. They even have their own record label.

Between watching students come in the doors to the academy, bands through the studio, and everything in between, what makes you excited about Asbury Park’s music scene?

It’s a very exciting time to be in Asbury Park. The music scene is really turning into a ‘music community’. There is so much going on and there are many great collaborations happening everywhere.

It makes you feel good to see these artists helping each other and taking it to the next level.

What inside advice would you give to independent artists who are getting ready to step into a professional recording studio for the first time?

Ask yourself what you want to accomplish. What do you want to sound like? It’s important to find a studio and someone who understands what you’re trying to get done.

Studio Spotlight: Degraw Sound’s Ben Rice On the Brooklyn Recording Landscape & Degraw Fest

Creating, releasing, and promoting your music as an independent artist requires a lot of moving parts and team members. For artists who are at the stage in their career when they’ve moved out of the home studio and are ready to dedicate some of their budget to sessions with an engineer, there’s plenty to take into consideration.

That’s why we’re opening up the floor to highlight some recording studios in our backyard of New York City and beyond each month on the TuneCore Blog! Studio owners and engineers work with indie artists who use TuneCore for distribution and more every day, so it only makes sense for us to give them a platform to talk about the cool stuff happening in the control room.

To kick it off, we chatted with Ben Rice, owner of Degraw Sound located in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn. Ben’s been active in the music scene since he was in his teens, and the studio is in it’s fifth year of existence. Next weekend, on June 3rd, Ben and his cohorts are throwing the inaugural “Degraw Fest” – a mini full-day music festival taking place at Littlefield just down the road from the studio to be filled with bands, beer and food.

Learn more about what makes Degraw Sound special, and if you’re an NYC-based TuneCore Artist, make sure to check out Degraw Fest and say hello!

First, give us a little bit of your background as a musician/producer in New York City.

Ben Rice, Owner:I’m originally from Brooklyn — like I actually grew up here. My family lived in Park Slope in the late 80’s and early 90’s and then we moved out to Ditmas Park. Growing up I was obsessed with baseball and music and as luck would have it, music won out!

The first job I ever got when I was a teenager was working in a recording studio. It was this place called Clinton Recording Studios which was

Ben Rice

one of the last major facilities in New York. I did all the fun jobs like cleaning the bathroom and making coffee and that was my introduction to studio life. I loved the feeling of being in the studio, going in and turning on the lights in the morning and watching their huge live room light up. The old console and racks of gear fascinated me. I would work there during the days over the summer or after school and then go home and play with my Tasman 4 track and make demos of the songs I was writing.

I played in bands and toured and got to experience the early 2000’s music scene here in NYC, which was really incredible. During that time I started producing records for other bands on the scene, and at a certain point I decided that I wanted to focus solely on producing and went all in on building a studio.

If I may say, it’s a beautiful studio. What went into it’s design and how did you keep artists in mind during its construction?

Thanks Kevin, I appreciate that man. When I set out to build Degraw Sound I wanted to create a space that artists would feel inspired and comfortable in. I wanted it to feel warm and inviting —kind of like an extension of the whisky bars that me and my friends liked to hang out at, almost like there was a secret back door that would lead you into another room that somehow magically was full of sick gear.

I met with a few different studio designers and through a couple different friends I got connected with a guy named Dave Ellis who had built some beautiful spaces around Brooklyn. When I met Dave it was instantly clear to me that he understood my vision for the studio and he just seemed like a cool guy — he had a sick car and liked a lot of the same music that I did. I put a lot of trust in him to take my idea and turn it into a reality. In a lot of ways I think of him as the studio’s “producer”, meaning he had the experience, skills and tools to turn my idea into something tangible.

How do you feel that Degraw Sound contributes to the Brooklyn/NYC musical landscape? In what ways do you collaborate or connect with artists outside of production and engineering?

I think after five years of making music here we’re starting to feel that we’ve become part of the city’s musical landscape, which is a really cool feeling. Growing up in New York you learn about all the different studios in the city and to have Degraw get to the point it has where it’s become part of that conversation and musicians think of us as a place to come make records is pretty special.

The artists that we work with here have become like family. When you spend countless hours in-studio with someone collaborating on a creative project you wind up getting pretty close with them.

One of the things I appreciate most about producing records is you get to be a part of significant moments in other peoples’ lives. That often extends beyond the studio; for instance, I just got back from Austin, Texas from my buddy Will’s wedding. He’s in a band Elliot & the Ghost and we’ve made some awesome records together at Degraw Sound.

Tell us more about how you came to organize Degraw Fest, and what are you looking forward to most about it?

A couple months ago Harper and I were breaking down gear after a session and somehow we wound up riffing on the idea of putting together a show with a few of the artists that we were working with. When we’re brainstorming the ideas can grow pretty quickly and before we knew it the idea had evolved into a full day mini music festival!

The timing just felt right to do something like this. This month is our fifth anniversary so it seemed like a fun way to get everyone together that has been a part of building Degraw and putting it on the map. Now that all the heavy lifting and planning is done I’m just looking forward to hanging with everyone. When I think about the perfect early summer Saturday it involves good friends, music, beer and food – and I think we’ve got all those boxes checked! (Ed. note – buy tickets for that here!)

Given that as a business owner you’re always looking to foster a community with your neighbors, do you feel Degraw Fest will help enhance those efforts?

Oh yeah definitely. Julie and Scott over at Littlefield (where we’re hosting Degraw Fest) have always been great to us. They were super welcoming when we moved into the neighborhood and we’ve built a great relationship with them over the years. They’ve been here for a decade now and are such a big part of the scene and community that is growing here in Gowanus so we’re really pumped to be working with them on this!

Everyone that we’ve talked to about Degraw Fest has loved the idea. Marshall and Eric who own Braven Brewing in Bushwick jumped on board to help sponsor the festival. Cheech A Cini’s, a local Italian food truck and Yankees fans, are going to be joining us, too!

A lot of the artists already know each other from seeing each other around the studio or meeting at some of the other parties that we’ve thrown, so I think getting everyone together is going to feel like a really fun family reunion.

How do you recommend that your fellow studio owners/engineers take steps to connect with artists in a similar fashion as you have with Degraw Fest?

For me it’s really about having fun and doing things that you’re pumped about. I have a ton of respect for all the studio owners in this city. It’s a tough business and we all put in long hours, so anytime there’s an opportunity to do something like this that’s a little different and can help the artists that you make music with I think you have to jump on it.

What do you think makes Degraw Sound unique in terms of how studios in New York operate?

To me the thing that makes Degraw Sound unique is the people who work here. Gian, Harper and myself… we’re a bunch of weirdos who love making records and are obsessed with every aspect of it.

I think that we’re bridging the gap between commercial studios and independent producers. We can each function independently as producers and collectively as a team. We have a really beautiful and well-built professional recording studio here that is flexible and can accommodate whatever type of project people bring to us.

What we’ve found over the past few years is that the majority of the projects that we’re working on are those where the artist will hire one of us, or a couple of us, to produce their record and help them take the project from start to finish. This just seems to work out best because it allows us to really invest ourselves in the records that we’re making and help artists create music that’s authentic and realize their vision and potential.

If you HAD to choose, what’s your favorite piece of gear or recording equipment that Degraw Sound boasts?

Oh man, that’s a tough one… I mean I have my “desert island” list of toys… I love our Trident console, it’s a great British desk and it’s super fun to work on. I’d box that up and put it on a boat and take it with me. My rack of 1176 compressors and Pultecs has become a staple. I have a couple Jazzmasters that I’ll never get rid of, and we just got a Mellotron which is probably the coolest instrument ever!

What inside advice would you give to independent artists who are getting ready to step into a professional recording studio for the first time?

Find a producer that you dig and who loves your music and let them help you. No matter what stage of your career you’re at I think this is key.

Whether you grew up listening to The Beatles or Michael Jackson one of the key ingredients to those records is that there was someone who helped foster the artists’ creativity and develop those sounds.

The Business of Making a Record (Part III)

[Editors NoteThis is the final installment in a three-part series of guest articles from Coury Palermo. Read Part 1 and Part 2 if you need to catch up. In this final piece, he guides first-time music makers as they navigate the world of defining their promotion and release strategy, as well as defining what success means to them. Coury is a songwriter, producer and musician who is currently one-half of duo love+war.]

 

Ok. The champagne’s been popped. You’ve listened to your album on repeat since receiving the master, ordered your physical packages, and now you’re ready; ready to share your masterpiece with the world. Before we get to the grit of “Now what?”, let me start by talking about the last part of the previous sentence.

A large part of your success as an artist rests in the tenacity of your belief – the belief you are creating something of worth. When I say “masterpiece, I mean masterpiece. You have, in whatever large or small way, created something that is uniquely you.

Remember that at every turn.

When you’ve spent hours sending your record to hundreds of blogs for review, and one blogger bites – remember that. When the “likes” on the debut of your “sneak peek” for the first single don’t stack up to “industry standards” – remember that.

We don’t create for praise. We create because we know no other way. It is the life of an artist. In this self-assured approach, do not mistake arrogance for quiet confidence; this is never a good look and will only lead to complications. Now, let’s get to the meat.

There are as many ways to market an album as there are to record a song. Some grand and proven, others outside-of-the-box and risky. The only way you “fail” in this pursuit is by not truly planning out your approach. Throwing something in the air and praying a stranger knows to look up is foolish.

In the same respect, a scattered, unplanned marketing strategy will only lead to an annoyed audience and wasted opportunity.

What is within my reach?

Start here. Don’t compare your album rollout to anyone else’s. New duo Levv is probably not going to have the same access or promotional reach as say Macklemore or Sia. Creativity is key.

With so many avenues of approach at our fingertips, it can be daunting for a new artist to decide the path that best suites her or him. This process is extremely important to your success. A well-thought out plan of attack is almost as important as the product you have created. Here are a few ideas that may help jumpstart your upcoming album release.

Find the “comeback”.

When people suggest social media is the best way to begin promoting your release, don’t assume you already know this little gem of information because you’ve posted a Soundcloud link of a song to your Facebook wall. The world of social media is a much more complicated arena than the occasional “Get ready for our latest single!” status/tweet, or a picture post from the studio. You have to create the “comeback.”

What about your music brings people back to your page – pulls their finger to the “like” button – and what has them waiting for what’s next? People enjoy having something to look forward to. This can come in the form of revealing different pieces of your artwork, teasing songs from the album through video or audio posts, playing one song from the record live in the weeks leading up to the release, doing a pre-release on iTunes or Bandcamp, making a new song available each week as the release date approaches – the possibilities are limitless. It just takes some imagination and hard work.

Press: The ask.

For an independent artist this may be the most difficult part of the equation. If I’ve learned anything from my time in the industry, it’s this: the ask will get you further than the fear. If your goal is blog supremacy, then roll up your sleeves, and get to work. This is not for the easily winded.

Step 1: Compile a list of your favorite music blogs and publications. Begin following the sites and make a habit of regular visits. Be invested in the platforms you hope invest in you.

Step 2: Pick your most commercially viable or best song (TIP: send out an email to friends and family with a private playlist of the album, and have them vote on their favorites) and formulate a personal email to EACH of these outlets. Yes, personal – yes each. No blogger or music content editor with any clout is going to waste time reading, or listening for that matter, to a mass email talking about a song /record from an unproven, unknown artist when their inbox is full of known acts looking for the same spot (and usually sent from a reputable publicist).

This is work, my friends. You can’t decide one day that all you need to do is send out an email to 200 of your favorite online outlets and expect the rest to just fall in to place. Start this process early – long before your rollout is to begin.

The day after…

You’ve come to a crucial point that few talk about, but everyone experiences. I call it “the day after.” The album has been released, and you’ve spent an ungodly amount of time promoting and planning only to find yourself a month in and feeling as though all your hard work is already forgotten. Stop right there.

I am a firm believer in defining your OWN idea of success. Those in the arts, or most human beings for that matter, get caught up in numbers. Societal bars that dictate whether or not we are successes or failures. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

The easiest way to avoid following the lemmings to this destructive cliff is two-fold.

Redefine what success looks like within your reality, and never assume quality work doesn’t require hard work when it’s finally time to release it.

Imagine what you could accomplish if you refused to carry the weight of living up to expectations that were never yours to begin with. All you’re in control of is the quality of your work and how much time you’re willing to put into making it a success. Before one album or song is sold or streamed, decide what your goals for the record are according to where you are in the journey. Build your brand and career with the knowledge that it may take some time before the work reflects the prize.

This business is a killer. It’s sleepless nights and dive bars – working two jobs mixed with moments of creation.  Remain true to what you feel makes you great – different from the pack. When you discover your unique point of view, create with intent. Be the best at what you do, work hard, and people will take notice.

For all the advice and careful planning one can give or receive, there is no perfect guidebook to the world of creative arts. It is a place for the dreamer; a road of self-discovery that will lead to triumph and loss – failures and success. Resolve to create because you must, and the rest will fall into place.

Thank you for allowing me to talk a little about my thoughts on making a record through the lens of my personal experience. These are challenging times for artists, but remember, we are the pulse of each generation. Without art, music, or words, we are left to brave the world in silence. So play loud my friends, because whether or not they know it, they need us.