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”!

Get Out of the Garage with Converse, Guitar Center & TuneCore

Hey Indie Rockers!

Submit your music to Guitar Center and Converse’s “Get Out of the Garage” Contest for a chance to win a slew of awesome prizes (including free worldwide digital distribution from TuneCore)!

GOOTG Launch

Here’s how it works:

Submit a recorded live performance or music video here. Once you submit, get your fans to watch and share your channel through social media—views and shares help boost you up in the contest rank. Five finalists will be hand-picked to perform live at Converse Rubber Tracks in Brooklyn where one winner will be chosen.

Click here for more details about how judging works.

And now to the good stuff, the prize package…

The grand prize winner will get:

  • A 3 Song EP produced by Dev Hynes at Converse Rubber Tracks in Brooklyn, NY.
  • $25,000 Cash
  • Live performance at The FADER FORT Presented by Converse in Austin
  • New gear from top music instrument brands – Fender, Shure, Martin, Ernie Ball, Evans, Pro-Mark, Dunlop, Gretsch, Zildjian, Vox
  • Free worldwide digital distribution from TuneCore
  • Feature on an AT: GC Podcast with Nic Harcourt.

Ready to enter your music and start spreading the word? Start here.

Good luck!

4 Ways To Get A Better Recording

By George Howard
(Follow George on Twitter)

Paul Kolderie is one of the best and most successful producer/engineers in the business. He’s worked with everyone from The Pixies to Radiohead. He’s run and owned studios and labels.  Most importantly, even while achieving tremendous success, he’s never stopped working with young, developing artists.

In this video chat, I pick Paul’s brain to discover some key takeaways for artists who are attempting to make great recordings in the post-studio world.

1. Analog around a Digital Center

Remember, people are not digital, and voices are not digital. And so, what you do on the front-end makes all the difference. Everyone has the same basic digital set up and the same basic plug ins.  The key to distinguishing yourself is through analog elements that feed into the digital center.  This means spending as much as you can afford on a things like good quality microphones and good quality speakers.

2. Two Microphones

With the right two mics, you can accomplish just about anything.

Get one microphone that is the best you can possibly afford, and use it for a variety of things. If you want to set yourself apart, and be better than everybody else’s ProTools system, you must have ONE killer mic instead of five OK mics.

For your other mic, make sure you have a great workhorse. For Paul, this is the Shure 57.  It’s a mic that can accomplish virtually anything in terms of recording things like drums or electric guitars.

3. Make sure your instruments have great intonation.

It’s crucial that your instrument have good intonation. Almost any instrument can be set up in the best way possible in order to be in tune, and it’s imperative you do so.  This does not mean that the instrument has to be expensive, but rather that you must ensure that it’s set up right.  There’s no plug in to fix the intonation of a guitar or bass.  These instruments—the bass in particular—are the foundations of the tonal stack, and therefore must have solid intonation.

4. Be cognizant of your workflow.

Don’t change every variable of the recording process.  For instance, don’t change the guitar, the amp, the pre-amp, and the mic every time you need a guitar sound.  Instead, get a great guitar amp sound, and have that be your constant—don’t change it; instead, change the guitars that you input into that fixed sound.

Related to this, just because ProTools allows you to do hundreds of takes, be careful to listen, and not just create a pile of gratuitous takes.  Doing so results in people not thinking about the music itself.  Remember to take a listen and not look at the screen.

As we learn from Paul, like so much throughout the music business today, the key is to marry your digital and non-digital wolds. Just as I encourage you to Straddle your online (digital) and offline (non-digital) worlds with respect to things like promotion, as we see from this video, you must think that way in terms of recording as well.

[Editor’s note: Use these tips to make a great recording and sell your music online.]


George Howard is the Executive Vice President of Wolfgang’s Vault. Wolfgang’s Vault is the parent company of Concert Vault, Paste Magazine, and Daytrotter. Mr. Howard is an Associate Professor of Management at Berklee College of Music

Gadgets We Like: GoChords Makes Writing Songs Easy With Its Web-Based Tool & App

GoChords was founded on the belief that you shouldn’t need to be able to read music in order to write it. This free tool, available as both a web-program and an app (for the iPhone, iPad, and Android) makes it easy for musicians of any level to compose music for whatever instrument they choose. All you need to know how to do is “drag-and-drop” chord symbols on top of the lyrics you’ve typed in. GoChords is stocked with a huge library of chord shapes, but if you don’t find what you’re looking for, you have the option of creating custom chord shapes.

Once you’re happy with your creation, you’ll probably want to share it with your friends. GoChords lets you email your song sheet to friends, and also gives you the option of creating groups in which you can show off your chords.

Learn more about GoChords

Sign up for the web-based tool

Download the free iPad app from iTunes

Gadgets We Like: MadPad App Creates Music From A Coffee Shop

Smule, the creators of social music apps like Magic Piano and Glee Karaoke have developed an app that lets you create a whole song from your bicycle, a can of soda, a book, or any other object or sound. MadPad, compatible on the iPhone ($0.99), iPad ($2.99), and iPod can turn any sight or sound into an instrument.

Don’t believe it? Watch music being made from a coffee shop.  Or from a 1991 Honda.

When you record all of the sounds separately, you record them as video clips, which become an interactive video soundboard with which to create a song. You just tap your finger on the different clips, so that the result is your own beat.  After creating a song out of a car or coffee shop, you’re probably going to want to share that with your friends. With one click you can share your creation on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, or through email.

If you’d rather ease into the app, you can play around with the free interactive video sets that Madpad comes with, like some from YouTube’s Mystery Guitar Man.

So head to your garage, or grab a book from the bookshelf, and make some music!

Download MadPad for the iPhone

Download MadPad for the iPad

Visit the MadPad site