It’s Time to Drop the Masks

It’s Time to Drop the Masks

I’ve been staring at a lot of recording studio sites lately and I noticed something.

With all the mention of COVID policies and Instagram photos showing staff wearing masks, it looks like some sites haven’t been updated since 2020. Which is probably the case.

I understand how busy it can get. Probably the only reason I find time enough to keep all my sites updated is because content is my main source of revenue.

But it’s high time you took new photos and showed your wonderful staff without masks. Even if they are still wearing masks inside the facility during work hours.

I never treated the pandemic as though it were a meme and can’t understand those who do, either.

Look, I’m not here to pass judgment. I fundamentally disagree with the notion that masks are “warm,” “cute,” or “fun,” but you’re entitled to your opinion.

What I’m saying is – let me see the faces of your wonderful staff. Photographing them with masks is mostly pointless. I can’t identify them. I can only see their eyes, maybe their hair. There’s no sense of connection created, and that’s the whole point of photos. If you’re not going to take profile shots without masks, you may as well not even take them.

People connect with people. They don’t connect with studio setups or gear lists. So, if you want to create a connection with your prospects and customers online, show your beautiful faces.

If you want to create a connection with your prospects and customers online, show your beautiful faces. Share on X
5 Mistakes Artists Make in the Studio

5 Mistakes Artists Make in the Studio

Hey, gang!

T. Perry Bowers is back with another great guest post, this time on mistakes you should avoid making in the recording studio.

If you feel you have something worth contributing to the community, feel free to scan our guest post guidelines here.

Now, let’s discover what Perry has to say about what and what not to do in the studio!

Most recording sessions go well. Once in a while they crash and burn. Usually it’s not the studio’s fault.

The artist carries the biggest burden of a poor recording session. It’s their music. Nobody cares where the record was made. They’ll listen to the music (particularly the vocal) and immediately pass judgment on it.

But if you avoid these five mistakes you have a good chance of making a good recording:

1. Not Preparing

It may sound cliché, but it happens all the time! An artist comes in with no idea what they are about to do. It’s common with rappers. They’ll come in and write their lyrics in the studio, all while paying $50 per hour. Sure, I’ll take their money,  but an artist like that is only good for a session or two. They’ll get frustrated with how little they achieve in the studio and burn out.

One exception to the rule may be guitar solos. I’ve seen beautiful guitar solos get crafted in the studio on the spot. However, I’ve also seen guitar players get frustrated and nervous trying to improvise.

You need to know what kind of a musician you are. Are you spontaneous and in the moment or are you deliberate and intentional? The most important thing is to prepare your state of mind for the studio.

2. Not Being in the Right State of Mind

I meditate every day, twice a day. While meditation may not be your thing, implementing some sort of ritual into your day helps get you into the right state of mind for recording.

For you it might be exercise or maybe just sitting in a coffee shop for 10 minutes without looking at your phone. I use visualization so much that I don’t even realize I’m doing it. I’ll just be daydreaming of the session and see myself nailing all the parts.

Visualization will backfire on you if it’s not positive though. Once I had to audition for a band and I was so anxious that all I could see was it crashing and burning. When I finally did the audition, I was too stiff and it didn’t go well. Needless to say, I didn’t get the gig. Your mind is powerful. Make sure you thoughts about recording are positive.

Your mind is powerful. Make sure you thoughts about recording are positive. Share on X

3. Drinking

Some bands can get away with this. The Rolling Stones had unlimited budgets. Jim Morrison had talent that oozed out of him – sober or high. But most of us are pathetic when we’re drunk.

You’ve saved long and hard for this recording session, so make the most out of it. Playing drunk or high is sloppy. Recording sessions can be long. You’ll need sustained energy.

Have teas, juice and water in the studio. Have a beer when you’ve wrapped for the day. Or skip the beer if you’re coming in the next day too. You need to be fresh and give your all to your recording. Influence your band mates to do the same.

4. Eating Poorly

Pizza is the number one studio food. I love a good pizza, but I also like to stay awake for my recording sessions. Pizza and other fast foods make most people sleepy and grumpy.

Think ahead about food that will give you energy. Good nutrition to keep your body and brain sustained and hydrated will be a valuable asset in the studio. The way you feel during your takes will be reflected in the sound.

Remember you all have to share the studio bathroom for a couple of days too, so try not to make a nuclear wasteland of it.

5. Ego

This depends on where you are in the music business. If you’re recording a massive record for a huge label and your worldwide reputation is at stake (you’re probably not reading this anyway) then you may have some reason for being a massive prick.

But if you’re making a local record for yourself and your 20 YouTube followers, you need to settle down a little bit. Listen to the advice of the studio engineer. You may be a star one day, but for now, you’re just you. The way you treat people on your way to the top matters – because these are the people who can help you get there. So have fun and keep your ego in check.

Bonus Tip: Don’t Distract the Engineer!

I’ve been in many sessions where the whole band is talking in the control room while the engineer and another musician are trying to get a take.  Sometimes the engineer is mixing a song while the whole band is having a party.

He might not say anything, but you can be sure he is annoyed as hell. So keep talking to a minimum in the control room when recording is happening. When it’s your turn to record, you’ll appreciate it.

How to Set Up a Home Recording Studio

When it comes to building a home recording studio, it’s easy to have some fancy Hollywood studio in mind, get overwhelmed and throw the idea in a trash can.

To be honest, you don’t need a gigantic budget to get started, so long as you are realistic and committed to getting it done. Starting simple allows you to get set up faster, and save money in the process.

Just don’t go too cheap, as this may inhibit your ability to create great quality recordings.

Here are the basic elements needed to get started on your audio production journey.

A Computer

MacBook ProYou don’t need to be Stephen Hawking to know that you need a good computer if your home studio dream is to take form.

You do not need a sophisticated CIA movie computer to run a home studio. Most computers produced these days can handle basic studio work. If your computer was built after 2010, it’s probably more than sufficient for your recording needs.

Here are a couple of recommendations if you don’t have a suitable machine now:

  • MacBook Pro. The MacBook Pro is one of the best machines for home studios, but it can be a little pricy. If you’re on a tight budget, you might consider the…
  • Mac Mini. Though underrated, the Mac Mini is enough machine for a home studio, and its price tag is reasonable.

DAW/Audio Interface Combo

Presonus Audiobox USBIn case you don’t already know, DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation. It refers to a software application you can use to record, mix and edit audio in your computer.

The audio interface is the device that connects your computer to other hardware like microphones and musical instruments.

DAWs and audio interfaces sometimes come together in bundles. If budget is a concern, a combo can be a good way to go, though you might end up having to compromise in terms of either the DAW or the audio interface.

For beginners, the combo can be a great choice – you’ll save yourself from having to purchase more products, and you’ll also save some money.

The best combo deals are offered via Presonus and Avid. I recommend either the:

Microphones

Rode NT1AYou don’t need a huge collection of microphones to get started with recording. One or two microphones are often more than enough to get your projects off the ground.

Choosing mics is typically a matter of the sounds you’re looking to capture – voice, acoustic instruments, electric instruments, etc.

Large diaphragm condenser mics are great for recording vocals. The Rode NT1A walks that tight rope between quality and affordability (but there are more affordable options).

For recording instruments like electric guitars and drum cymbals, a small diaphragm condenser mic is ideal. You can’t go wrong with the Audio Technica AT2020, which is great for a variety of applications.

A dynamic microphone is also a good tool to have, since it can help cut out extraneous noise in your home recording environment. There is virtually no studio – home, project, or professional – that doesn’t own a Shure SM57.

Headphones

Audio-Technica ATH-M30xEvery home recordist requires a good pair of headphones. There are two basic types of headphones you should know about – closed back and open back.

Closed back headphones are used for tracking and allow for more isolation, though offer a lower quality sound overall. Basically, if you want to cut out background noise while recording (i.e. what you’re hearing in your headphones while recording), you’ll want to purchase a set of closed backs.

Open back headphones offer better sound quality than closed backs, but lack good isolation. Open back headphones can also be more expensive.

If you’re wondering whether to get closed backs or open backs, and which are best, check here for more information.

If you’re just getting started, you’ll probably want to purchase a pair of closed back headphones. A pair of Audio-Technica ATH-M30x closed back headphones are easy on the wallet and should be sufficient.

As a sidebar, practically every type of technology has been going through a revolution, including headphones. Wireless headphones are becoming increasingly popular, though their use will be limited in the studio. If you’re interested, it wouldn’t do you any harm to check out the best wireless earbuds around.

Studio Monitors

 KRK RP5G3-NA Rockit 5 Generation 3 powered studio monitorsIt is possible to mix your tracks on headphones, but it’s best not to rely on them, as it will inhibit your ability to mix accurately and with balance.

Studio monitors offer more transparency, and can offer better feedback for mixing. Just for reference, they aren’t the same as the speakers you’re using in your living room.

Proper studio monitors are designed to offer a more neutral sound – as opposed to the “colored” sound of your living room speakers – and this will make it easier for you to sniff out inconsistencies, noise, and other artifacts in your audio.

Studio monitors will give you the best mixing experience overall, and if you don’t utilize them, it will take more time and effort to craft the kinds of sounds you’re looking for. I recommend the KRK RP5G3-NA Rockit 5 Generation 3 powered studio monitors for beginners. You’ll can find these in project and home studios everywhere, because of the quality they offer.

Cables

AmazonBasics XLR cableYou don’t need a network of complicated bundles of cables when you’re getting your home studio set up.

You’ll probably want a long XLR cable for your microphones, as well as two shorter ones for your monitors. Just make sure your audio interface accepts XLR cables, and you’ll be off to the races.

The AmazonBasics XLR 6 Feet and 25 Feet are good options to consider.

Mic Stand

AmazonBasics Tripod Boom mic standHandheld microphones are great for live performances, but not so much for the studio. You should anchor your mic to a stand when recording to reduce and avoid unnecessary strain and noise.

Whether you pick up a desk stand, or a free-standing stand is entirely up to you. It all depends on your budget, but it’s better to get a solid stand than to go too cheap.

The AmazonBasics Tripod Boom mic stand and the On Stage DS7200B Adjustable desk mic stand are reasonably good options, especially if you’re on a tight budget and you’ll only be using them at home, but don’t be afraid to pay more for stands, because low quality stands can be annoying.

Summary

Beginner musicians and engineers often assume they require expensive gear to get started in home recording. This simply isn’t the case.

Home recording is all about making the most of the limited resources available to you. You can still capture a great sound and get great mixes without shelling out for the best equipment available. Find a meaningful balance between sustainability and affordability – you want to capture quality recordings without paying an arm and a leg for it.

It would also be worth exploring the best recording studio equipment with the best discount by CouponsMonk. If you’re going to be picking up some gear anyway, you may as well see if you can buy it at a reduced cost.

Are You Planning to Record & Publish an Album? You’ll Love This eBook…

Recording and promoting a release of any size can be a massive undertaking. That’s why I put together a new eBook titled: How to Record, Promote & Sell Your New Music Release – Single, EP, or Album. This resource is packed with information detailing each step of the recording process, and even covers how to promote and sell your new release. Click HERE to find out more.

4 Tips for Designing and Organizing Your Home Studio

4 Tips for Designing and Organizing Your Home Studio

Are you ready to embark on your music business? Well, the first step to any successful career is to find a place to work. This place should inspire you, keep you focused, and provide all the functionalities you require to complete your job.

Whether you’re looking to become the next big thing, or looking to find the next big recording artist, here are some tips to organizing the perfect home music studio.

1. Set Up Your Room

Many people like to organize their gear in a circular format; however, this hinders the spread of sound. Instead, you could opt for a hybrid recording setup. Your desk will be at the front of the room, with two layers of equipment in front of it.

In the second layer, you should have some kind of remote that allows you to record or hit play/pause from anywhere in the room. This remote can even be your iPad, installed with an app that controls all your gear.

2. Tune Your Room

You need to make sure your room is equipped to produce good playback. It is important that what you’re hearing from the speakers is what the rest of the world will ultimately hear.

So, you need to minimize any echoes in your room. It might require some investment, but it will be good for your career in the long run. You can hang some Auralex panels, bass traps, and a ceiling diffusor in the room to reduce any echo and vibrations.

3. Organize Your Desk

The most important rule to follow when setting up your room is to make sure your desk is distraction-free. You should only keep what you need on your desk, and put everything within an arm’s distance of your chair.

Another tip is to place a big desk calendar right in front of your chair. This will keep you organized, and with it right in front of you, you’ll never miss a task or appointment.

4. Label Your Cables

Your studio will no doubt have loads of cables, and at times it can get confusing. A simple solution is to label them. You can use a label maker, or a cheaper solution is to color code the tips with fingernail polish. This simple solution will help keep your cable mess contained.

Conclusion

Starting a music career is both hard and scary. There are many unknowns, but the first step is to design and organize your office. At least you’ll have one unknown solved, and you’ll be able to tackle everything else, one step at a time.

Recording An Album, Part 5: Session Musicians

Recording An Album, Part 5: Session Musicians

Recording session musicians can be a source of great fun and inspiration, because you witness your songs growing through the craftsmanship of professional players.

But it can also drag your day into an emotional abyss, if your sessionals lack the energy and experience that your record requires.

Today I’d like to share some of my most and least favorite studio moments.

Choosing Session Musicians

When my producer Craig and I started discussing the choice of session musicians for my debut album, I made the point that I wanted to be present for every recording session.

Firstly, I wanted to have a say in the arrangement of the songs. It is a lot easier to change a particular banjo riff or flute note, if you’re able talk to your musicians live in the studio.

Many things can be changed afterwards during the mixing process, but it is a lot more time-consuming to push little snippets of sound around than it is for the musician to play a particular part again.

If you have the time, I definitely recommend sitting in for every session. Even if you don’t have anything to add to the discussion between producer and musician, you still get to watch your song grow.

My second reason for sitting through every single recording session is my social media campaign. During every session I took pictures and shot video of the musicians in the act of art, and I posted those snippets as teasers on my social media pages.

How that turned out will be discussed on a different day. In any case, I now have plenty of material that I can use for promotional purposes. I think that’s a good thing.

On Working with a Producer

If the option exists: stick to one producer. When the recording process of my album was completed to approximately 80%, my producer Craig decided to move from Alberta to British Columbia, and oddly enough that move was not helpful for our work relationship.

Craig promised to return to Calgary relatively frequently, and attend remote sessions via online conversation. Neither of these options found fulfilment to any great extent. We pulled through, and the record sounds great, but recording without producer was a great labour.

Both quality and efficiency of the recording sessions dropped markedly after Craig had left town. Despite all the wonderful options that modern technology has to offer, nothing beats direct conversation.

How to Determine What Instrumentation Your Album Needs

What kind of session instrumentation your album requires is subject to consent between your producer and yourself. In general, your producer is more experienced than you are, and will probably not only have a good idea of the instruments that will sound good with your music, but also know the right players for those instruments.

Personally, I play about a dozen different instruments. Some I play much better than others, but still good enough to provide me with a reliable perspective on composition and sound.

If you play more than one instrument, you can obviously play lead yourself, but I don’t recommend it. As my friend Frank pointed out: “that would be too much YOU on that record.”

No, I wanted to drag as many of my musically talented friends into this project as I possibly could, because I wanted to implement their unique perspectives and talents into my music.

Except for one player, I enjoyed every single recording session, and I am very happy that I made time to witness them live.

Against all odds I did end up playing a bit of lead guitar on one song. “Your Love” is probably the weirdest song on my album, not least because I wrote it on autoharp. After Craig sent me the rough cut of that song, I experimented a lot with its composition. Some relatively simple, but intentional guitar chords added a lot of structure to it.

I think the greatest obstacle for my session players was the absence of a click track on my songs. Due to the absence of a metronome, the tempo of my rhythm tracks changes a bit over time, and even deliberate tempo changes are not always easy to follow.

Still, we managed. Various studio artists asked about the absence of the click track, but everyone found their way to follow my rhythm.

Working with Session Players

Obviously, some sessions were more amazing than others. The key players on my record (as judged by my own subjective perception) are Corry Ulan (banjo), Barb Olorenshaw (violin), Dan Mills (flute), and Joanna Drummond (vocals).

Every one of these four sessions was terrific. These four musicians are masterful artists, and brought a lot of beauty to the table.

I remember sitting in the studio with Barb, and my producer asking me if I had any comments on her contributions, and all I could say was: “can we just sit here and listen to Barb playing for the remainder of the day?”

There are sessions that are simply joyful. Art knows no perfection, and sometimes you end up with three different versions of a song that are all equally splendid. That’s just how it goes.

Decisions are part of our life, and sometimes they are so overwhelming that we cannot make them ourselves. And it’s always better to have multiple options to pick from, instead of being confined to one mediocre take.

Music needs time to grow. You cannot force art, and thus some sessions require more time than you might be inclined to put in.

Recording horns with Goemon5 - session playingWe sat in the studio with Johnny Summers, who was supposed to contribute French horn to one song (“Long Black Braids”). It took about an hour to get decent takes for that six minute song.

At first I thought that maybe Johnny was out of touch with his instrument, or even not good enough, but that is an odd thing to suggest to the director of the Calgary Jazz Orchestra. As it turns out, that horn is just typically French: rude and uncooperative.

Johnny managed to wrangle the French horn into submission, but it took a long time to get the sound that we wanted. He also played an option of Flügelhorn, which went swimmingly, and took us one take to complete.

Accordion - recording with Goemon5As result, we now have a beautiful dialogue of horns on that track, both played by Johnny Summers. You won’t get THAT with a live recording! Neither will you get Hammond B3 legend Mike Little on the accordion, because he is a busy man, and even for him it takes more than two tries to get accustomed to my weird bluesy chord choices.

So, be nice to your session players, and send them the rough cuts of your songs ahead of time, if you can, so that they have an idea of what will be happening on recording day. Recording an album in sessions has the advantage that you can experiment with its sound; use that!

There were various other recording sessions that either took longer than planned, or needed to be rescheduled.

Emma Rouleau, who sings a very beautiful duet with me, offered me ad hoc to sing the second half of the traditional “Every Rose”, because the song lends itself to a male-female dialogue.

Since my version is a bit difficult to follow, Emma needed to study the song at home, and return the studio at a later time.

When I asked Joanna Drummond to sing an a cappella duet with me (“Winter’s Cold at Sunset Bay”), she basically tore that song apart, and reassembled it into a much more structured form. Luckily we did that in a rehearsal session.

And then there was the tin whistle. Oh, dreaded instrument! Apparently tin whistle players are incredibly rare in Alberta, and it took me half a year to get a lead on one. That is already a bad timeline, considering that we had planned to finish the album within six months.

But we can top this drama: when we finally sat in the studio with my elusive tin whistle player, he turned out to be just not good enough. I know, I should have noticed that earlier, considering that I had several rehearsals with him, but I didn’t.

Flautist - recording with Goemon5As mentioned before, I am quite new to the idea of music, and my ears don’t always work as the well-trained harmony detectors that they should be. When Craig sent me the rough cuts of the whistle tracks, we immediately omitted the whistle from two of the three intended songs, and Craig said: “I’d be okay with finding and recording another flautist.”

This was in January, about three month after my originally planned release date, and three months before my intended departure from Calgary, so you might conclude that the schedule looked a bit tight.

And considering the small amount of luck that we had with that topic thus far, the outlook was rather bleak. But fortune smiled upon me, and I got into contact with Dan Mills, who had just moved to Alberta a few weeks earlier.

And not only did Dan play all the whistle parts that we wanted, he also added some incredible Irish flute sections that we had not even planned. I think the grand prize question is this: what would we have done without Dan? Probably we would have omitted the flute and whistle parts.

In such a stripped-down composition, you would hear that something was missing from those songs, but in this case parts missing are better than parts half-asked.

Budgeting for Session Musicians

Jonathan Ferguson - recording with Goemon5Besides the fact that I have many friends who I love to hear play, there was also a financial component to my decision on the identity of session musicians. Friends usually charge friendship fees, while unacquainted artists don’t.

I paid around $100 per song and artist. A bit more for unionized musicians; a bit less for friends. It was worth every dollar.

Some musicians won’t like to accommodate your schedule wishes for just one song, but you have little influence on that. James Hutniak plays harmonica on only one song, and he spent at least three hours on that, because said session was riddled with technical difficulties. Still he was kind enough to not charge me by the hour.

Similarly, Johnny Summers and Jonathan Ferguson played their instrument for one song only, and like true professionals they gave it their best possible effort. I think the key is to find session musicians that actually love their job, and put their emphasis on passionate play. In that regard I totally lucked out.

How Do You Get the Musicians You Want on Your Record?

Playing piano on a record projectYou Ask. Duh! It sounds obvious, but when the session musicians on your wish list play way out of your league, you might hesitate to contact them. Sometimes you just have to overcome your little butterfly daemons to progress with your art.

I asked Hayley Sales to sing lead vocals for “The Fair”, knowing that her level of musicianship lies yards above mine, and that she was likely to laugh politely in my face. Surprisingly enough she agreed anyway, which provided me with a great leap of energy and enthusiasm for my art in general, and this record in particular.

It didn’t work out in the end, because Hayley signed a contract with Universal Music, but that is beside the point. My message is: you’ll never know unless you ask.

My friend Jim Burke performed his debut album together with grand talents such as Steve Pineo and Mike Little. Initially, Jim did not think that he was good enough to draw those Country legends onto stage with him. Honestly, who would?!

But he asked, and he succeeded, and that is really all you need to know. Music connects people. You will never know what kind of connection your art can draw unless you actually approach your prospective collaborators.

Some sessionals may only materialize before you due to sheer luck, or because your producer has worked with them in the past. About half of the 16 musicians that played on my debut album are friends of mine; most of the other half are in some way associated with the studio that I recorded in.

Playing blues harp in the studioSome are actually rather recent additions to my circle of friends, such as flautist Dan Mills, as described above. My blues harpist James Hutniak, in particular, was a last-minute find.

My producer had big trouble getting any blues harmonica player to commit to our project. It was only one song, but the harmonica was to be the only instrumentation on “Free Bird” beside my slide guitar, so I did feel the pressure to find someone. And I needed to find him or her quickly, because Craig wanted to close the project within the week.

I took my chances, and posted a message on “Calgary Music Classified”, one of our musical Facebook communiqués in Calgary. Within two hours I had three replies, one of which was actually committed to the job. James turned out to be a great person, and the player for the record. Sometimes you just luck out.

Final Thoughts

Recording this album has been quite the journey. The record sounds amazing, and I can say that without sounding self-centred, because the impressive bits were all contributed by my producer and my session musicians.

My own participation in this project is dwarfed by anyone else who worked on it, but still it feels like I earned this piece of art. Because I was there when it happened.

I cut out and arranged many of the pieces of this musical puzzle, and I was present when they started to fall into place, revealing a majestic landscape of sound.

But there is a lot more to be done to develop your music into a commercial product, so next week I will take a break from audio, and will talk about design, layout, and advertisement instead.

Did You Enjoy This? There’s More Waiting for You in the eBook…

Recording and promoting a release of any size can be a massive undertaking. That’s why I put together a new eBook titled: How to Record, Promote & Sell Your New Music Release – Single, EP, or Album. This resource is packed with information detailing each step of the recording process, and even how to promote and sell your new release. Click HERE to find out more.