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.

Slapback Delay – A Must Have On Vocals & Guitars

[Editors Note: This is blog was written by Scott Wiggins and it originally appeared on his site, The Recording Solution, which is dedicated to helping producers, engineers and artists make better music from their home studios.]

Slapback delay is a very common effect on tons of hit records. It’s really easy to set up!

When you think of delay, you probably think of yelling down a long canyon and hearing your voice repeat over and over. In my mind that’s an echo.

That’s what a slapback delay is, except it’s one single echo. One single repeat of the original signal.

It’s more like you clap while standing in a small alley between 2 buildings, and hearing a very quick repeat of your clap.

It’s a super fast repeat that adds a sense of space.

Guitar players love it when playing live, and I love using it on guitars and vocals in the context of a mix.

It just adds some energy and sense of depth without having to use a reverb and running the risk of washing out your dry signal.

I tend to use more effects after the slapback delay, but I more times than not start with it to set the foundation of the sound I’m trying to achieve.

A little Goes A Long Way

This effect is used more as a subtle effect on vocals or guitars.

It can be used on anything you like, but those tend to be the most popular in my opinion.

BUT… there are no rules, so if subtle bores you, then go crazy!

Also you can start with a preset on most delay plugins, and then tweak to taste.

If you are tweaking your own slap delays, just make sure your delay times are not in increments.

For Example: 32ms and then 64ms.

That would put the delay on the beat and that’s not technically a slap delay.

I learned that tip from the great mixer and teacher Dave Pensado,  so  I wanted to pass it on to you.

Watch the video above to see how I set all this up inside a real mix.

Comment below and let me know your thoughts.

How Streaming Will Change the Sound of Pop Music

[Editors Note: This is a guest blog written by Jason Moss. Jason is an LA-based mixer, producer and engineer. His clients include Sabrina Carpenter, Madilyn Bailey, GIVERS and Dylan Owen. Check out his mixing tips at Behind The Speakers.]

Last year, the U.S. music industry made more money from streaming than CDs or digital downloads.

The times, they are a-changin’.

In case you haven’t noticed, the way we consume music is shifting. You’ve likely read about how this is impacting artists. But no one’s talking about how it will impact the sound of pop music.

Streaming won’t just change the way pop music is consumed, but also the way it’s created. This shouldn’t be surprising. In fact, there’s always been a relationship between music, medium, and distribution. For proof, look to the past.

In the 60’s, Motown built records for radio. Short song lengths allowed for the regular interjection of ads, and long intros gave DJs the freedom to talk over tracks. In the 1980’s, the dawn of the CD gave way to longer-form content. The average album’s length increased from 40 minutes to well over an hour. And since it was no longer important to maintain the integrity of vinyl grooves , records started sporting wider low ends and louder levels. (Is it any surprise that hip hop emerged as a dominant genre during this time?) In the 2000’s, Apple’s decision to unbundle the album and offer single-track downloads on iTunes shifted the trajectory of the music industry once again. After an album-oriented trend that lasted decades, singles once again became the primary focus.

Throughout the history of the music business, the goal was always the same: get people to purchase records. Once that purchase was made, it didn’t matter whether the record was played or not.

The traditional pop music-making process evolved to serve these intentions. Infectious, hook-heavy records were crafted to drive listeners to the checkout aisle. The biggest hits seemed inescapable for a month or two, but often disappeared as quickly as they emerged. But as far as the music industry was concerned, this was irrelevant. As long as people bought the CD or downloaded the song, we were happy.

But streaming has completely changed the game. For the first time, financial success is no longer based on one-time sales, but on ongoing streams. The more a track is played, the bigger the payout. The implications of this shift are massive.

On streaming platforms, flash-in-the-pan tracks that burn bright and fade fast are less lucrative than ever. The most profitable pop songs instead burrow their way into the hearts of listeners, inspiring millions of streams for years to come. Success is no longer about the hit, but the replay.

This shift introduces a powerful new incentive to foster deeper, longer-lasting relationships with listeners. While tracks will still need to be hook-laden enough to inspire an immediate connection, they must also be worth listening to hundreds, if not thousands of times.

What will this mean for the pop hits of the future? We can only guess. As terrestrial radio continues to become less relevant, song structures and arrangements will likely become more fluid. New, innovative mediums may even emerge. Who says a recording has to present the same experience with every play? What if tracks evolved over time? What if, after one hundred plays, a bonus verse emerged? As play count becomes a dominant metric for measuring the success of tracks, ideas like these are fair game.

One thing’s for sure—as streaming continues to emerge as the dominant platform for music consumption, the sound of pop music will change. Will you change with it?

The Business of Making a Record (Part II)

[Editors Note: This is the second in a three-part series of guest articles from Coury Palermo. Over the next few months, he’ll break down what it means to grind it out and write, record, release and promote a DIY album early in your musical career. Coury is a songwriter, producer and musician who is currently one-half of duo love+war.]


Read “The Business of Making a Record (Part I)” here.

It’s time. The most exciting part of the process is here. You’re recording the material you’ve written or a collection of songs you feel best articulates where you are as a musician. You’ve spent countless hours arranging, tweaking, and rehearsing the material, and now you’re ready – or are you?

I will never forget my first real experience in the studio. I spent years working in the industry and trying to stumble upon another opportunity that would find me behind the glass – sketching out the ideas that would become my first “Masterpiece.” With each recording experience that followed, those delusions of grandeur never disappeared.

As artists, if we aren’t aiming for greatness, what’s the point? Many musicians think “completed material” equals good material – not necessarily. I’ve long believed that a good song is truly a good song if it stands on it’s own; if, when the bells and whistles are stripped away, the melody and lyric lose none of their magic.

Always go for great. If the songs are “there,” you’ve jumped the first hurdle as you begin the sometimes arduous, but always rewarding, journey of making a record.

Don’t forgo the magic to fit into the box.

There was once an industry standard for making a record – or more accurately “a folklore” attached to the process. As an independent, you would find a producer, pick a studio, and usually work with the engineer said studio provided. Though this practice still exists in some instances, the last ten or so years have brought about a very different school of thought.

We are no longer tethered to the “way it has to be done.” One of my favorite albums of the past decade, In The Early Morning, is a testament to the less conventional rulebook of recording.

Singer-Songwriter James Vincent McMorrow recorded his debut in a small house off the Irish coast – completely alone. No engineer – no producer – no carefully sound-proofed vocal booth – just a microphone and a hand full of instruments.

This “no-frills” approach to recording has been used to varying degrees of success on albums by artist such as Bon Iver, Eurythmics, Bruce Springsteen, and Peter Gabriel just to name a few. Some of the most successful indie acts in recent years created most, if not all, of their widely blogged about tracks in the comfort of their bedroom.

I’ve recorded everywhere from famed Nashville favorite Oceanway Studios to the top floor of an abandoned law office in Lincoln, Nebraska. Don’t limit your excitement or creativity to the space. Though recording in a “major studio” was an experience I will never forget, it is not one of the favorite projects I’ve been a part of. Not because of the space, Oceanway is a beautiful recording facility, but because of the environment the space created.

I remember being extremely stressed about budgets and time restraints while recording the album. This is never the recipe for success and can lead to a piece of work that is never fully realized.

Personally, I respond best to intimate spaces when recording. You don’t have to record on a SSL console to produce a great album. You DO, however, need to align yourself with capable collaborators that understand your vision and believe in you as an artist.

Is this a safe place?

The recording studio can be one of the most intimidating spaces in the world. Make sure it’s a safe space to create. From the equipment to the engineers and producers at the helm of your creation, this environment will determine how and what you create. Choosing your team is one of the most important steps in the record making process.

In the event an elaborate, fully produced record seems overwhelming or is not in the current cards – be creative. Compile your three best songs and strip them down. If the “bones” are great, you may find the extra layers unnecessary. Use this recording as product or a tool to fund your fully realized creation. There is no end to the ways in which you can achieve your project goals – it simply takes a step out of the box.

Who’s in charge?

Producers are a key element for any project. They help in wide array of areas. From honing each song to picking the right engineer, producers are involved in almost every aspect of making a record. I learned very early on that finding a collaborative “partner” is much more important than securing a producer with a long list of production credits. Don’t let the insecurities of “this is my first time” stop you from going after your dream collaborator – they are an essential part of the equation.

A few years back, the band I was in began throwing around ideas for our first full-length album. We had recorded an EP the year before, and our manager gave us the simple task of putting together a list of producers we would like to work with on the new project.

Being the dreamer that I am, I listed Pierre Marchand of Sarah Mclachlan fame as my number one pick. There was a part of me that wrote his name with a “you asked for it” smirk; never believing she would approach one of my heroes. The next thing I knew, I was on a plane to Montreal to meet Mr. Marchand and have what is still one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life.

Don’t short change yourself with limitations. The greatest adventures I’ve had in this business have come from believing in possibility. Never be afraid to go after what you believe will make your creation it’s best. The road is long, my friends, but the end result is priceless.


In my final piece of this series, I’ll talk about what you can do after the songs have been recorded, the mix is complete and your masters are “in the can”. This is where the real work begins. Until next time!


love+war is the brain-child of writer-producer-guitarist team Coury Palermo & Ron Robinson. The two began working together in the fall of 2014 with no other intention but writing material for possible pitches in TV/Film. Once the sessions began, the two realized the collaboration was destined for much more than their original hopes for commercial sync opportunities.

Grounded in the traditions of R&B, pop, and minimalistic electronica, love+war turns the ear with their infectious blend of singer-songwriter soul. Check out their recent video for their Eurythmics cover of “Missionary Man”!

The Business of Making a Record (Part I)

[Editors Note: This is the first in a series of guest articles from Coury Palermo. Over the next few months, he’ll break down what it means to grind it out and write, record, release and promote a DIY album early in your musical career. Coury is a songwriter, producer and musician who is currently one-half of duo love+war.]

I first walked into a recording studio at the age of fifteen. The girl I was interested in at the time and I had written a song together, and she asked me to sing the backing vocals for the track. Green and full of countless hours of liner-note consumption and naïve expectation, I took to this new adventure like a fish to water. After the experience, I remember thinking I would do whatever it took to repeat the “Christmas morning” feeling of pure joy I had experienced in those short forty-five minutes.

Fast-forward a hand full of years and thousands of hours working; pursuing the sometimes-illusive art of putting idea to paper and melody “to tape”. If I’ve learned anything in my relatively short career as a singer-songwriter, it’s that rules don’t exist when it comes to creation – especially when we’re talking about the recording process.

Sure, we can put weight to the notion that recording a vocal in a soundproof room lends to the quality of a final recording, or that the rhythm section should always be the first thing tracked when beginning a new song – but are these traditions set in stone? The unconventional route can sometimes be the most inspiring and freeing road any musician takes.

Recording an album is an endless checklist of pieces that make up the whole. There are producers to pick, songs to write, mixers to choose, and the list goes on. In the ever-changing landscape of the music business, fans and the way we build those fan bases have become an integral part of the record making process. If there is no one listening, why are we recording?

“Where to start…”

This simple statement can be the most overwhelming three words in the English language. When thinking about recording a project, especially your first, you should ask yourself a few basic questions before starting:

Have I laid the groundwork to help make this project a success?

I’m not talking about everyone else’s definition of success – I’m talking about your goals, YOUR process for building YOUR career. We, as musicians, become fixated on what we’re told success should look like – forgetting everyone started somewhere. Everyone’s experience in life is different and unique.

There is no master plan. In short: start small. Write three great songs, record them, build your fan base, play shows, and find unique ways to interact with that fan base. This is how you build, and building is everything.

Have I written some good material? What if I’ve never written a song?

Songwriting 101: Take the pressure off. Stop listening to what other people think your process should be when writing or what they think you should write about. Know your voice. Writing a great song that connects with a listener should always be the goal; not writing “a hit”. The most connective pieces of music are the ones that are honest; songs that reflect the space you’re in or your unique point of view. Your “great” is not everyone’s “great”…and that’s ok.

If they (the songs) aren’t flowing when your pen hits the paper, step back and live a bit. One well-written song is better than a thousand forgotten throwaways. Don’t get caught up in writer’s block. It happens to everyone.

Covers are the perfect way to get your melodic and lyrical feet wet and are a great icebreaker for a new audience. Spend some time with a few of your favorite songs – ones you have a personal connection to. Come up with an arrangement that allows you to showcase your unique style yet still tips it’s familiar hat to the original. It never hurts to have an automatic “friend” in the set people will recognize. Often times, this can be the bridge that keeps them in their seats for your original material.

Is anyone listening?

Once you have your “Empty” (one of the best written songs I’ve ever heard by Ray LaMontagne) or “Toxic” (yes, the one from Britney Spears – brilliantly written pop in my opinion), build that demand. Before a single note is recorded find your audience. Where, you ask? In the dive bar, small club, house-show, backyard-fire pit-summer sing-a-long; anywhere you can find a connection.

We’re told touring has to look grand – be nothing but struggle and a rented van. Yes, those are parts of the equation for some, but there are a hundred different ways to make a fan. Find yours, and everything else will find it’s place.

Over the next few months, I’ll be discussing the grind that is being an indie artist. We’ll talk about making a record from start to finish and how you can better navigate the current state of the industry to get your music to the buds of larger audience. Until next time…


love+war is the brain-child of writer-producer-guitarist team Coury Palermo & Ron Robinson. The two began working together in the fall of 2014 with no other intention but writing material for possible pitches in TV/Film. Once the sessions began, the two realized the collaboration was destined for much more than their original hopes for commercial sync opportunities.

Grounded in the traditions of R&B, pop, and minimalistic electronica, love+war turns the ear with their infectious blend of singer-songwriter soul. Check out their recent video for their Eurythmics cover of “Missionary Man”!

10 Kinds of YouTube Singles to Reach Fans

[Editor’s Note: This blog is written by Jesse Elmore and was originally featured on Hear The Music.]

A good number of successful musicians’ careers are built upon hitting it big with a great single song. In today’s world of Spotify, YouTube, and iTunes the single has never been more important.

The technology available to musicians today is incredible. Recording a single song used to cost thousands of dollars in studio time, equipment rental, and professional audio engineering mixing. Now you can setup a home recording studio for a fraction of the cost and record as many songs as you want in whatever time frame you need.

10 Different Kinds of SinglesAlso, with the great (and free) distribution channels available you no longer need to wait until you have a full album ready to go pitch it to a studio and hope you get that .01% chance that they promote you. You simply go on to YouTube, upload the video, and the whole world can immediately see it.

Now, I know it’s not quite that simple. You still need people to subscribe to your YouTube channel, follow you on Twitter, and connect with you on all the other social media platforms. But the fact is that it is easier today then any time before to connect and share your music with the world.

With all that available to you it only makes sense that you would want to get your latest songs in front of your fans eyes as soon as possible. Consistently recording and making music for your fans to enjoy, share, and buy is important, but what if you’re running out of good ideas about what you should be creating?

If you find yourself stuck on what type of single you should be working on, read below for my list of 10 different kinds of singles that are sure to please your fans.

1. Live song

Live ShowDon’t have any new songs to record or release? How about polishing up a live recording from your latest show and releasing that? It’s a great way to breath more life into one of your older songs. Look back through your list of YouTube videos that doesn’t get as many views as it once did and re-release it as a live version.

No one expects a perfect mix from a song created at a live show, so don’t let that stop you. Your fans will LOVE seeing you out in the “real world” and it will give you something to put on your resume the next time you’re meeting with buyers and promoters.

2. Cover song

Doing cover songs is a perfect way to pull in new people who haven’t heard you yet. When you’re looking for a song on YouTube or Google what do you search for? Probably name and artist just like me. Be sure to include the original name and artist in your song title and your version will show up in their search results.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing and covering older songs will bring in the kindred spirits who share your taste in music and are fans of the same musicians as you. From there it’s a short step to them checking out your whole catalog of music and becoming a fan of yours too.

3. Translation

Music Sheet GlassesCan you speak more than one language? Do you record songs in each of the languages? Why not? Record some of your songs in alternate languages and grow the potential size of your audience.

I have heard some beautiful cover songs where the vocalist switched between languages during different parts of the song.

4. Your newest song

This one is kind of obvious, but it’s also one of the most important. If you record a song you’re proud of, then release it. Even if it’s not your favorite or you are working on a new “super” song. More songs = more views. You never know which song will take you to the next level.

I don’t recommend sitting on finished songs unless you have a very good and specific reason to do so. If you never put the song out there, then no one will ever hear it. Pretty obvious right?

5. Rarity or unreleased track

Do you have any songs sitting in the back corner of your computer that you’ve never release? Do you normally perform pschodelic new-age throat singing songs and the one country western track you recorded didn’t fit anywhere on your last album? Release it!

Your fans will love hearing it, even if it isn’t what you normally do.

6. Holiday single

Christmas TreeYou see big names do this every year. You can either write a new holiday single or cover a classic. November and December are huge months for retail music and everyone is quick to snatch up a seasonal single.

If you’ve written some original songs I would also include some classic covers to pull people in. As I said before, nostalgia is very powerful.

7. Topical songs

Do you have a unique or interesting view on a topic that is currently trending in the news? Write a song about it and get it recorded ASAP. A song about the current blockbuster move will find a much bigger audience now then in 3 months.

You can find inspiration for topical songs from the news, movies, TV, other artists, or wherever. The important part is to release the song while the topic is still on everyone’s mind.

8. Acoustic/alternate version

Acoustic Piano SingleIn the same vein as a live version, record an acoustic or alternative version of some of your more popular songs. Switch up the instrumentals, arrangement, or production and release them. Dedicated fans love hearing their favorite songs “unplugged”.

If you saved any of the alternate mixes from when you made the original, look back over them and see if there is anything you can use.

9. Remix

This is a very specific type of alternative version of a song. Depending on the type of music you make remixes may or may not resonate with your fan base. If a remix is something you think they would enjoy, but you don’t know how to go about creating one, then start a conversation with an artist that knows how to make quality remixes. Ask them if they would like to work together, give them your recordings, and see what they come up with.

Working with another artist is mutually beneficial and can lead to the creation of some unique music that never would have been made otherwise.

10. Instrumental version

An instrumental version of a song can come in a few different flavors. You can simply take the vocals out and leave the music there, use a new instrumental part carrying the melody of the removed vocals, or fully reinterpret and re-record the whole song.

These can be surprisingly powerful and popular. Especially with established fans.

Conclusion

I hope these 10 different kinds of singles gave you some ideas about additional music you can be producing. Remember that you should strive to consistently release music and it’s a good idea to keep some variety to your songs. This increases your fan base and keeps them excited about what you’ll be releasing next!