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”!

5 Tips For Quality Home Recordings

[Editors Note: This is a guest blog written by Joey StrugisProducer, mixer, recording engineer, programmer, writer, performer – Sturgis is multi-talented, and for a full decade he has brought these powers to bear on nouveau strains of metalcore, post-hardcore, electronicore, and more, shaping a revolutionary new wave of hard music.]

1. Fix your listening space

Recording, mixing, and producing all comes down to one centralized focus, a great listening environment. If you don’t know what you’re hearing, you don’t know what you’re mixing or creating. I can’t stress this enough, make sure your room doesn’t have bad reflections, weird resonating frequencies, or distracting acoustical properties. If you encounter any of these problems, use the internet to help you solve them. A great resource for something like this is TapeOp’s Acoustics category.

2. Reference everything

Want to sound like the pros? Listen to the pros, and compare your work to theirs. Don’t be biased and be honest with yourself. Does your mix cut like theirs? If not, be willing to go back to the drawing board time and time again. Just be careful not to pigeon hole yourself into being a copycat. Use this tip as a technique for improvement rather than a guide for ripping off success.

3. Great sound isn’t by magic

You don’t need quirky plugins, cool trendy techniques, or even magic tricks sold by thousands on the web to get a great sound. Mixing is fundamentally just dynamics and tone, and you can accomplish all of that with just Volume, Pan, EQ, and compression. Master those four things, and you’ll be on your way to unlocking great sounding work in no time. Add on the extra layers of sauce later!

4. Don’t focus on the small stuff

Don’t forget that 99% of a great song is actually just the song itself. All that time you wasted on getting your snare to sound like x could have been spent worrying about better vocal melodies or even better vocal performances. Don’t get so caught up in the small stuff; nine times out of ten the small tweaks don’t resonate with people as much as the actual song itself does. Present it well, that’s the main point!

5. Take your time

Don’t rush to the finish line! Sure, the more time you spend on a song, the more it rots. Alternatively, the less time you spend on a song, the worse it gets. Be careful about the balance here, and try to find the sweet spot that matches your creative flow. Spend too long on a track, and you’ll massage it to the death. Spend too short of time on a track, and you’ll experience negative feedback. If you’re in a hurry, slow it down. Take your time to hear the song a few days after not hearing it to return with a fresh perspective.


Joey Sturgis 33Joey Sturgis has racked up a massive list of credits for a who’s who of modern cutting edge metal, channeling the raw power of bands like Asking Alexandria, Attack Attack!, Born of Osiris, Of Mice & Men, Attila, We Came As Romans, Blessthefall, I See Stars, and many more. Follow his podcast here.

10 Totally Uncommon Ways to Better Your Mixes

[Editors Note: This article is written by Sacha-Léo Shenkier and it was originally featured on the LANDR Blog. Polish your tracks instantly and affordably with LANDR Instant Mastering!]

Think Like a Listener

In the era of modern editing and correction tools, infinite tracks, and no outside-world time constraints, it’s super-easy to get carried away and disappear down the “The Perfect Mix” rabbit-hole. But people don’t listen to a mix, they listen to a song.

Very few sit and listen to music with an intense scowl on their face, hawkishly looking for mistakes. After all, if you really want to find mistakes in your mix, you will. Always.

Try to get the perspective of a fan:

  • Whenever possible, take some real time (days) away from your productions.
  • If something sticks out as sounding wrong, then it warrants fixing.
  • If not and the song comes across as something you would enjoy listening to, then the mix is done: Time to move on.

Get To Know Your Track Before Mixing

Before I start a mix, I bounce a rough “faders up” version and listen for a couple of days. Over time, approaches and ideas present themselves organically. Allow the music to dictate the mix and not the other way around. This sounds more Zen than it actually is but it’s a good way to get out of template-driven ruts and habits. Listen to your mix away from your computer. It gets you out of producer headspace and into music-fan headspace.

Mixing As Arrangement

Edit!

Mixing is an extension of arrangement and orchestration. So when faced with a busy, dense mix, ask yourself if all the parts really need to be there before using every EQ, compression, and panning trick in the book. Giving individual parts space and “time off” will increase their impact. Use sounds that are complementary instead of similar (ie. layer a short, attack-y sound with softer, sustained sound). Approaching a mix as a musical arrangement instead of just a bunch of frequencies that need to be wrestled with, goes a long way.

Audition Your Mix With LANDR

Sometimes it’s smart to take a break, get some space and hear what the LANDR algorithm will do to your mix. From there you can identify what’s actually still a problem (have you been EQing that bass for 2-days? Can you stop?). It’s actually one of the most common uses of LANDR – which was a surprising, but cool discovery for us too.

Brooklyn’s Govales – who’s recently caught the attention of MistaJam, Zane Lowe and Gilles Peterson – started running his mixes through LANDR, before they were finished — it helped him highlight which parts still needed work.

Travel Your Mix

No doubt, that having the best monitoring setup (speakers, headphones) and room treatment is very important, but hearing your music in as many “real world” scenarios is a great workaround, especially if your home studio is on the budget side. Listen on laptop speakers, crappy earbuds, in the car, and even at your audiophile friend’s acoustically-perfect-subterranean-shrine-to-Steely Dan.

If it works on all these systems then your mix is as good as it gets. If not, make a note of what the problems are and go back to the mix and fix them.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Get Weird

Making a mix sound balanced, defined, and well-proportioned is only part of the equation; A mix should also be hella interesting.

Get lost in experiments: run your vocal reverb through a granular synth. Vocode your drums with your synth pad. Reverse the delay that’s delaying the delay on your vibraphone, add tremolo, reverse it and add delay. The worst that can happen is it sounds bad and you start from scratch. The best that can happen is you stumble on something truly unique and develop your signature sound, a la “the Cher Effect”. Tip: don’t do this with a paying client in the room. Unless they’re cool with it. Some of them actually are.

Lower Your Goddamn Levels : )

Now that we live in a 24-bit world, noise floors aren’t an issue anymore. So there is no reason to record or mix with every meter blazing red.

Recording too hot needlessly pushes your recording chain into harsh clipping territory. Aim for an average level of -18dB FS (or a peak level of around -10dB FS on your faders) and your signals will be safe from clipping. Plus you’ll save lots of headroom on your mix bus without resorting to limiters or continually pulling down your faders.

If your track needs to be louder then turn up the volume on your speakers. Save the “make it loud” step for mastering.
Your mixes will sound more open, detailed, and less fatiguing as a result.

Automate Your Faders

Compressors are great for taming wildly dynamic performances and adding character but relying on compression to set the level of your tracks, while leaving volume faders static, is a recipe for a lifeless mix. Once you’ve set a basic balance between all the elements, automate small fader rides. This will help parts fit together in a natural and musical way.

Resist The Urge To Solo

Soloing a track is useful if you’re trying to clean up noises, or make sure your edits are tight. But avoid EQing and compressing things in solo mode. The natural tendency is to make all parts sound big and full on their own but this can cause elements to clash and compete when put together.

Mixing is about getting all the parts work together as a whole. Some parts might end up sounding thin and small when soloed, but that allows them to be placed easily and unobtrusively into the mix alongside the fuller lead elements.

F Everything

That’s right kids, filter everything. Well, maybe not everything, but a lot of things a lot of the time. The lowly high-pass and low-pass filters can be your best friends in a mix. Rolling off the lows, and even occasionally the highs, on tracks that don’t need them opens up a lot of space you didn’t even know you had.

Remember, don’t worry if the sound is a bit weird or thin when soloed. It only matters what it sounds like in context with everything else.

From the TuneCore Community: Artists Weigh In On Using LANDR Instant Mastering

Mastering is a key part of the music making process that often goes overlooked, misunderstood, or simply avoided for feasibility reasons. TuneCore continues to offer professional mastering services, in which your songs are sent to engineers at Universal Mastering Studios, but in order to provide multiple solutions for artists, we recently introduced MixGenius’ LANDR Instant Mastering service. It allows you to refine and polish your music for $9.99 per track, perfecting the sound of your recordings in just minutes.

Now, our community of artists is a vocal one (no pun intended). Some flock to services like LANDR for their quality and price, while others are true engineering traditionalists who stand by the standard processes of mastering your music. Here at TuneCore, we love them all! We’re not out to put engineers out of business with innovative solutions like LANDR, rather we aim to simply to provide our artists with options. A few months in, we reached out to some TuneCore Artists who used LANDR to instantly master their songs, and here’s what they had to say about their experiences:

“As an independent artist on a shoestring budget, (but still having to ‘box against Mayweather from round one’ in the musical market), it is a struggle sometimes when recording on budget devices and non studio environment to produce a final mix that has broad spectrum-fullness on the EQ and is still loud without distortion or loss of quality.  Especially when fighting with bass levels and top end levels whilst maintaining the correct loudness for release.  LANDR is a gem of a service: not only is it cheap enough to be a no-brainer, but it means I can record all the levels how I want without fighting for loudness in the mix down. I can submit my final, copy it LANDR and relax knowing it will be sonically maximized to be full across the spectrum, (and still retain the loudness and clarity expected in the marketplace).  Not to mention getting it in 24bit for better quality releases on iTunes.”
ViN (Vince Robson)

“Zero to symphony in one click. Get LANDR-ized! As an independent artist, you are in charge of your success and sound. If you just look extremely sexy and don’t sound incredibly sexy at the same time, you’re a flop. TuneCore and their Artist Services allow the little guy to stretch their recording budget so more money can be used for marketing, merchandise and munchies.”
– I.M.J.O.U.R.

“When I first used [LANDR] I was on a tight schedule and needed mastering that very day. I got an email about LANDR, used it and was amazed by the sound quality and difference from my mixed work. I have two different engineers I use to master my work. The sound quality was very identical if not on the same quality as the engineers I use, (and these engineers I use have worked with major recording artists in the past).
Mastering makes a big difference when it comes to a record, it can make or break it. You can have the best song on the planet at the moment, but it won’t get the recognition you hoped for if the sound quality isn’t on a professional level. When your an independent artist, one of the struggles is finding a cost effective way to get the sound quality you want. I live in Atlanta where being a artist can become very costly, so having something available like this when needed is dope!”

J Cutta

“Mastering is an essential component to achieving the sonic quality necessary for music to sound great,” said Tom Weir, Grammy Winning Mastering Engineer. I’ve worked with Tom on many projects and he always reminds me to master every song before I consider it completed.  I’m very excited about LANDR Instant Mastering service because I’ve been able to send out high quality versions of my music at a low cost.

Sometimes I send out music to get feedback from fans, managers or other musicians and it’s only a mixed version. With LANDR, I can add that extra polish to my tracks in just a few minutes.
Being signed to TuneCore Publishing, I know my music has a greater chance of being placed because I’ve followed all the necessary steps which ends with the mastering process.”
Leonard Rashad

 

“I was thoroughly impressed with LANDR’s ease of use. I’ve been producing music for over 5 years now, and the part I find to be the least enjoyable is mastering. One wrong move there can take a production from great to mediocre. You can always hire an engineer, but if you have more than one song, it can get very expensive very quickly. Most producers aren’t millionaires, so we need a cost and time efficient solution. LANDR provided me that solution.
At first, I didn’t know what to make of it. Good quality mp3 mastering for free and even higher quality WAV files for only $9.99? It sounded too good to be true, but for only $9.99, I decided to give it a try. Uploading my track was easy, and my song was completely mastered in only a few minutes. I was definitely impressed. The quality of LANDR rivals any mastering service I ever dealt with in the past. LANDR did an absolutely wonderful job, and it’s where I’ll turn for all of my future mastering needs.
Not only does LANDR help you save money, but it saves you time, too. LANDR virtually eliminates turnaround time. No need to wait 3-5 business days to get your track returned anymore; 4-5 minutes is all you need to preview your completely mastered track from LANDR.
LANDR is bound to be a game changer due to its low cost, high quality and ease of use. Producers finally have a mastering solution that keeps control in the hands of the producer.”

 

“I love  LANDR. I’ll still use it on any track I get mastered simply because LANDR states that it has the best quality for iTunes and all similar digital stores alike. I haven’t narrowed down a studio yet in Boston, so I’m dealing with a good amount of engineers. I trust LANDR. I trust anything TuneCore recommends. Period.”

 

“Being an independent music artist is tough, but it’s not impossible. There are resources put in place to help us get out here and accomplish our goals. Whether it’s living off of your music or being a known and a consistent name, the opportunities are limitless. You took the precious time in production and if you did not produce your own music, you already half invested in your sound, you might as well fully invest in it. LANDR Instant Mastering gives you the quality you need and should want, but at affordable price. It’s beyond worth it and for little to nothing your music has a professional sound. Other facts being the start up process is easy and only takes minutes, you’re able to hear the sample mastering before purchase, uploading files is easy, they store your files privately, you always have access to them and mastering itself takes minutes where as traditional mastering usually takes hours, days, weeks. I recommend this service to all independent music artists, and if you’re still not convinced, just listen to my music. It’s all the proof you need.”
Tywon Mikado

 

“I thought using LANDR was very easy and effective for my single. It can be really expensive to get your music mastered and time consuming having to book studio time. LANDR was very convenient and inexpensive to use from home.”