As hard as it can be, learning to accept criticism can be the most helpful thing you do. It is the first step in getting people to listen to your music. Although family and friends may want to spare your feelings, they are a good place to start, especially if one of them is particularly musical, creative or you just trust their honest opinion. It might not always be easy, but criticism isn’t always negative or personal and it’s a very simple way to learn and grow as an artist. Nobody says you have to take all (or any!) of their advice on board but putting fresh eyes on your work can give you new perspectives and will give you things to consider.
What Am I Writing For?
Before you can decide where to share your music and/or lyrics it might be important to work out who and what you are writing for. Are you writing for yourself or to sell to others? Are you wanting to make a career out of lyric writing or is it a hobby? What genre/s are you writing for?
Some genres of music lend themselves more to performance, some to public environments and some to individual listening. You should consider these when you begin to think about sharing or selling your lyrics, compositions or music.
Finding People to Work With
If you are looking for people to work with, whether it’s co-writers, performers, or producers, there are many places to look.
If you’re at university, even if you aren’t studying a music related subject, you’re in luck; universities are breeding grounds for creative types. Once you get talking to people it’s likely you’ll find someone that play instruments, are writers themselves, or are studying music in some shape or form.
The same goes for the workplace, although it maybe less likely to find these creative types if you don’t already work in the creative industries, it’s still worth having the conversation! You never know what people do in their spare time, or if not them personally, they may know people who could help you.
Social media is perhaps one of the easiest ways to get your name out there. You could make posts on your own social media pages promoting yourself or asking around for other musicians. Of course there are also websites that specifically cater to ‘musicians finding musicians’ that will be specific to your local area.
It may be useful to look out for music industry networking events. They are a chance to meet with other like minded people and other musicians, you never know where it could lead.
The main take-away from this should be to talk. Keep people in the loop about what you’re working on, what you’re looking for, get your name out there so people know to think about you.
Recording a Demo
It’s easier than ever to record your own demo without spending a ton of money. Firstly, you need to choose where you a going to record. Are you going to book a studio or are you recording at home? If you are recording at home, you may need to consider what equipment you will need and what the acoustics are going to be like.
The next thing to think about is how are you going to be recording and/or producing your track. You can choose to record a live demo; with all instruments and vocals being recorded in one take. Or you can choose multi-track recording, with each instrument being recorded independently. Again, this may depend on what exactly you are producing. You could also use MIDI instruments rather than live instruments and then record a vocals over the top.
After recording, your track needs to be mixed. You may want to get someone to help you with this if you aren’t used to mixing but as it’s a demo a rough mix is fine, so don’t feel like you have to spend a lot of money on it. You can then master your track. Nobody expects a demo to be perfect, it just needs to showcase your potential.
Soundcloud, YouTube etc.
When you have your finished demo, its time to share it, which is very easy to do. There are so many platforms online now where you can share music for free – SoundCloud and YouTube as well as social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and even LinkedIn.
The main thing to consider when sharing your work in this way is intellectual property protection. Once your content is online pretty much anyone can access it so be sure to cover yourself. This is where copyright comes in.
Copyright allows, by law, an original work to be considered a property that is owned by somebody. Copyright happens automatically once the ‘product’ is created so it is not necessary to register (except in the U.S where there is a registration process). Intellectual property protection comes in many forms (copyrights, patents, trademarks etc.) which must be made tangible in order to be protected. It is important to have proof of ownership. One way to do this is to post a copy of your recording, composition or lyrics etc. to yourself, keep the envelope sealed.
As a copyright owner you hold the right to copy, distribute, rent, lend, perform, show, communicate/broadcast and adapt your work.
Selling Your Lyrics
Music publishers are responsible for ensuring that songwriters and composers are paid for commercial use of their compositions. As a songwriter or composer, you can assign your copyright to a publisher, who will then license, safeguard and monitor the composition, and collect royalties and distribute them back to the songwriter/composer. Publishers also deal with synchronisation, so that the composition may be used for television and film.
If you are interested in music publishing see our sister company Anara Publishing.
The relief that comes from quality track production is mostly felt when an artist completes the lyrics to a song, finalises the recording process and sends it off for the final touches.
The creation process has always been the most exciting part of writing a song. Without a good song, there is only so far a track will go publicity wise of course. Although still relevant, the post-production stages has played a bigger role in bringing about success for artists and their music.
We have 4 ways quality track production can build you a successful career but even increase your fanbase.
Synchronisation has played a key part in helping many new or even established artists by creating awareness of their music. Once something has been synched, it can open doors that’ll evidently expose you to a wider audience. When Music Supervisors search in hopes of finding something that fits their briefs, the better it sounds, the easier the process will be. It’s also more likely your track will stand out amongst other potentials.
2. Connections and More Jobs
If you’ve gained a history of testimonials based on quality track production you may have worked/or were featured on, you can use this to open doors to more connections, work opportunities and overall industry attention. For example, you may be approached to be a session singer for a producer or you may be asked to mix/master a track. All this can happen because they’ve heard your work and thought the quality was awesome. In the first couple of moments of listening all that really matters is the quality of the production.
3. It Can Make you Look Really Professional
As the distribution/creation of music changed, so did the way it was listened to. From the phonograph to radio, from the walkman and now streaming. The quality of music has become increasingly compressed, all with the goal of creating easily distributable files. Compression has often been blamed for stripping much of the intricate sounds in the track.
However, having a well mixed/mastered track without harsh editing can make you look quite professional amongst your peers. It shows others you know what you’re doing. It’s not just about getting the frequency of a record so small so it fits in a small file. It’s about creating an enjoyable / immersive experience for the listeners.
4. Major A&R Points
Although it’s not majorly important, an A&R executive will like to see that you know how to finish a track well that embodies the qualities of a good sound. If you consider the amount of tracks they might receive, a badly produced demo may not get the attention it deserves. If your songs sound like demos, it’s best to not pitch them to A&R’s. Aim for professionalism, mix and master well and let the sky be your limit.
We could go on and explain other ways a quality track production is key to success in the industry. However, you get our drift. It’s always something worth investing in and something you won’t be disappointed in the results of. If you’re looking for someone to work with to mix your track simply click here to login to our platform and create a project today. Better yet, get a track mastered for free by Grammy award winning Metropolis Studios, click here to find out more details and how to get involved.
Written by: Trudy Kirabo – A&R Marketing Assistant
Music Gateway is a B2B platform specifically designed to allow music industry professionals to connect and work together in a global capacity through sync opportunities and record label placements, the platform has established itself as the go-to platform for the music business.
Whether this is through hiring music professionals or collaborating with other industry creatives, it is a well-known platform that provides opportunities for international established clients who are looking for songs for television, film, and song placement briefs.
A Brief Music for Sync Background
In recent years, ‘Sync’ or “Synch’ has become a buzz word in the music business. Music sales (or ‘mechanicals’) in the old sense of the word have diminished to the point where bands, artists and writers are looking for additional income streams. It seems the entire industry are looking to get a piece of the ‘music for sync action’. Most publishers now have a dedicated music for sync department whose sole purpose is to pitch their back-catalogue to sync opportunities. It’s a very competitive sector of the music market. Sometimes the Music Supervisors (the people choosing the music) are seen as having God-like power over music creators. Make sure you read one of the previous blogs about music synch deals.
Here’s a simple guide to the world of Film and TV music for sync, and writing and pitching music for Sync opportunities from my own personal experience. This is a very rapidly evolving part of the industry, but hopefully this will be a useful introduction.
For simplicity, we’ll assume a ‘sync’ or ‘placement’ means music used for Film, TV, Games, Adverts, etc.
There are a few different paths, in my experience, to take to get your music ‘placed’ or ‘synced’.
1. Music Supervisors
Music Supervisors are generally part of the major Film, TV and Games Companies’ world. This is where music is crucial for a particular scene or title sequence. Music Supervisors are in the business of ‘knowing’ music and knowing what will work. This is based on the emotional impact needed to enhance the visuals. After all, that’s the whole point of music for sync.
Here’s the good news. Music supervisors WANT to hear your music. Honestly, they do! They don’t have time to listen to your album from start to finish, and they definitely don’t want to be hassled with ‘follow-ups’. They do, however, LOVE music. That’s why they do what they do. Most of the supervisors I’ve met like to receive music via a link – don’t send them files via email. A download (e.g. ‘Dropbox’) or streaming link is the best plan. Some supervisors are actually still OK receiving audio CDs.
Music supervisors will hold on to your music if they think it may be useful in the future, even if it’s no use for their current project(s). Again, they don’t like to be reminded that you sent them a link to your music. They will listen, and if they think it could be good for a project, they will file it for future reference. Don’t expect a call to let you know they’ve received it.
2. Sync Agency
A Sync Agency is a useful link between you, and those looking for music to sync. They will send out a ‘who’s looking’, ‘tip sheet’ or ‘listing’ for opportunities in the business. Some may charge membership, or charge per ‘submission’, or both. A Sync Agency could also act as A&R, and actually evaluate your music before sending it on to the opportunity or even send it back as being ‘not on target’. Their reputation is on the line with the Libraries or Supervisors they are feeding. So understandably, they won’t want to send music which they consider to be below standard or irrelevant.
Sync Agencies generally supply music to Music Supervisors (Film, TV, Games), Music Libraries, Producers or Artists looking for songs (not for Sync in this case, obviously), Independent Film Makers, and Editors.
3. Music Library (or Publisher)
Music libraries can contain MILLIONS of tracks. BMG publishing, for instance boast having over 2 million in their ‘Catalogue’. Often, these large publishers buy-out smaller libraries to add to their own catalogue. Some libraries are more ‘Bespoke’ or ‘Boutique’, which generally means they have a smaller number of tracks. Music libraries are often called publishers, because they usually own a portion (or all) of the copyright of their catalogue. They therefore make their money by sharing the ‘sync fee’ and ‘performance royalties’ from the placements with the creator. (More about the money later.)
If your music is in a library, then hopefully they are pitching to every suitable sync opportunity out there. You will have an agreement with the library with regards to percentages, plus ‘exclusivity’ etc. If they have your music ‘exclusively’ then you’re not able to offer it to any other libraries, obviously.
4. RELATIONSHIPS – The most useful word in the music business!
After listening to successful publishers and music supervisors, you start to notice the same of advice cropping up:
Relationships are absolutely the key to the music business. My most successful syncs have been the result of relationships. Picture this. You have a 9 o’clock meeting with the Director of a major television documentary film, which is in the edit stage, to discuss the music he needs for a particular scene. He gives a brief outline of what he wants then he shoots off to the editing studio. You have something you think may work by around 2pm, and send over a rough mp3 mix. He, and the Editor get back with a few ‘tweaks’ by 3pm, and by the end of the day you have secured over a minute of music synced to the film. Then, the following morning he’s back. He wants more!
This happened to me, and together with my co-writer, we ended up placing almost 30 minutes of music in a 60-minute film. This only happened because we had a RELATIONSHIP with the Director. He knew us, knew our work, and trusted us. Also, there was no Music Supervisor on the film, and it was quicker for the Director to join forces with us to supervise the music and create it on the fly, than to spend days listening to track after track on music library websites.
So, get out there and meet people. I confess, I’m normally quite shy, but I recognise that relationships are vital in this business. I have no choice if I want to increase my chances.
A good start would be to find local independent Film Makers or Production Companies making corporate video. Mostly, they need music, but are not sure where they can get so-called ‘copyright-free’ or ‘royalty-free’ music and use it without problems later. Just point out to them the fact that music isn’t ever really copyright-free, but you can provide them with yours, without worry, for a ‘sync fee’ and you will still retain full ownership of it. (This is presuming you own or control your music 100% in the first place). Film makers love the security of being able to do this directly with the writer or artist.
I’ve known film makers edit for days to a track which they believe they have free license to use, only to find that their film is blocked on certain devices in certain countries if they upload it to YouTube.
On the plus side, a sync fee could be as much as tens of thousands (especially for a high profile ad campaign). It could be even higher for a famous artist singing the theme to a blockbuster film. On the downside, these days the sync fee for a placement in, say, a reality show on MTV is often zero. Sounds unfair, but for most of these shows they will often use over 100 instrumental ‘cues’ (another name for a sync – but more background type use), and for a few seconds each. There’s millions to choose from, so it’s a simple case of supply and demand.
Your income will come from the ‘back-end’ royalties. This is your Performance Royalties, usually through PRS membership for UK writers. This could be pennies per sync, so it’s a numbers game. You have to rely, therefore, on multiple syncs, and lots of repeated episodes if this is your market.
For a placement in a feature film which is ‘source’ music, such as music playing from a jukebox in the background of a bar scene, you can expect £100-500, to give a general idea.
The actual amount of performance royalties you receive will depend on the channel, country (territory), time of day, etc. When you have music out there in various placements, your royalty statement can be an absolute lottery.
Often, a film or TV production company working on a reality-type show will have a ‘blanket license’ with a library, and their Editor will work incredibly quickly, putting a 30-minute show together, acting also as Music Supervisor. He will have a ‘bin’ (I hate that term!) of music on a hard drive to use, categorized for ease, crammed full of music from that library, and use as much as he wants. Any sync fees are worked out later for the writers involved.
So, all told, it’s very difficult to put a figure on the value of sync. It’s all down to the individual placement.
Some Useful Tips on the Music for Sync Business
Make sure all your Metadata is in place for every track. If a Music Supervisor comes back to your music months down the line, they need to be able to contact you or at least know who you are.
It is YOUR music. You should never have to give away the ownership of your music entirely. In fact, you shouldn’t ever need to give up more than 50% to a publisher (library) to get your music placed.
If you have secured a placement or got a song cut with a major artist, and you need a publisher to deal with the administration and royalties’ collection, a 90/10 in your favour is pretty standard.
Music Supervisors generally won’t want any part of the ownership in your music.
Music Supervision is taken VERY seriously in the Film Industry. They also love to be part of ‘Discovering’ new bands and writers. They will spot ‘less authentic’ music and songs a mile away and they want the real deal!
If you are un-signed and un-published, you are at a real advantage, since clearance for use of your music is far simpler for the Supervisor. Clearance is a major part of using music in film and TV, and top Supervisors have a legal department within the film company to deal with this. If you own 100% of your music, they love it!
100% ownership means that you (or your band as a collective) own the copyright (the song or composition) AND the master rights (the ownership of the recording or ‘master’). This is often called ‘both sides’ in the business. Make sure that if you use a studio, they pass the master rights to you upon payment for the recording session. Get it in writing.
If you are published, it just means that your publisher is part of the clearance and negotiation process for your music to be synced (and they will be receiving their percentage of the sync fee and performance royalties).
If you sign to a library or publisher, you need to weigh-up the pros and cons of exclusive versus non-exclusive. Non-exclusive library music sometimes makes supervisors nervous that another library will claim ownership of the sync because they also have it in their catalogue. Exclusive could mean that your music is tied to a single library, and may never achieve its full potential. It’s a difficult one, but at least make sure there’s some kind of ‘reversion clause’ so you can have your music back after a couple of years if there’s been no placements from an exclusive deal.
Remember that it is the Music Business. Take time to take care of Business.
You might not like the idea of library taking 50% of your sync income, but remember that they are in the music business to do business, and make money. They won’t make a penny if you don’t. 50% of a decent sync fee or performance royalties is better than 100% of nothing.
Gary White is an Independent Music Producer, Composer and Songwriter 1994-present. He plays guitar, bass, keys, drums, whistle, banjo.
For the ‘Techies’, I use Protools, Studio One 3, Logic Pro X, and Cubase 8 – depending on the client’s preferences, Studio One 3 being my ‘go-to’ DAW.
A studio sound engineer is an engineer who works alongside a producer in a studio during the recording process. It is a varied role that can reap great rewards.
What Does the Role Involve?
The role of the sound engineer is to oversee and control the mixing desk during the recording process. In a studio environment they edit, manipulate, and mix sound by technical means in order to realise a finished track. Engineers are not generally involved in mastering, as this is a whole different role in itself. The sound engineer should work in tandem with the producer and make sure the artist is happy with the recording. This is in terms if the quality of the recording, equipment they will need and any other needs.
The role involves a great knowledge of recording and mixing consoles and technical expertise. A good sound engineer also needs to have a vast understand of many different genres of music. It’s important to know of other tracks that can be used as reference material too. Make sure you don’t copy the material though, as this can lead to legal problems further down the line.
An engineer can work with a producer and or an artist on more than one occasion. Often in bigger sessions the engineer will be more than likely brought in by the specific producer.
Making Money as a Studio Sound Engineer?
A sound engineer receives a set fee for the project taken out of the bands recording budget. On a smaller scale one person can so both jobs and they will usually charge more money. How good you are dictates how much work you will get and how much you could get paid.
AES (Audio Engineering Society) – www.aes.org/sections/uk/index.html
APRS (Association of Professional Recording Services) – www.aprs.co.uk
The sheer range of software available for sound design is staggering. To someone who’s looking to start using their machine for more than just recording, it’s sometimes difficult to know where to start looking for new tools. There are some real gems hidden out there; there’s a huge selection of bitesize programs capable of creating sound design that will add spice to any track. The good news: they’re powerful. The best news? They’re free! See our previous blog about useful free music software.
These four programs are capable of completely changing the face of your track. It doesn’t matter what you put into it – vocals, guitars, saxophones, you name it. These tools will help you come up with surprising and interesting sound design. PaulStretch, SPEAR and Cecilia5 are standalone, but don’t be afraid to combine them or alter the result even further. Go forth and experiment!
If there was an award for the sketchiest looking website and the most “vintage” interface, then this little antiquity would certainly win it. This is a powerful tool which uses Fast Fourier Transform to stretch samples to ridiculous lengths, creating beautiful chime-like sounds from the grungiest of sources. PaulStretch is perfect for creating haunting pad sounds from guitar chords and pure, crystalline sounds from vocal samples. Armed with processes such as a pitch shift and an octave mixer, you can achieve a complete transformation before you’ve even touched your recording software.
SPEAR takes your sample, breaks it down and recreates it using sine waves which you can then manipulate to your heart’s content. You are free to crush them, stretch them, alter their frequency/volume or delete them entirely. If you’re feeling arty, you can even draw the sine tones in yourself. For vocal tracks, SPEAR’s sine wave reconstruction is a fascinating effect in itself.
This selection of fast Fourier transform-based plugins by Michael Norris are simple but very effective. They plug directly into most DAWs (e.g. Logic X, Ableton Live, Cubase) which, whilst it may require a bit of Googling, means you can use them directly on your recordings. There are 24 separate plugins – there’s a couple that deal with stretching to achieve similar results to PaulStretch, and others that add harmonic detail. Play around, but keep the FFT size below 4096 to prevent slowdowns.
Cecilia is a standalone tool with many facets, capable of automating multiple sample parameters at once. It has its own set of FFT processes and a range of more conventional plugins, such as filters and pitch-altering suites. Whilst it’s slightly more complex than the other pieces of software we’ve talked about, the ability to combine each process on the fly can lead to some interesting results.
Finding ways to improve your mixes can be difficult (see the mixing basics blog), and there are no black and white rules. We created these 9 steps to help you improve your mixes in the best way possible, before you move on to mastering.
1. Understand what you want from your mix before mixing
Before starting a mix, create a rough version and listen for a couple of days. This allows for approaches and ideas to present themselves organically. The music should dictate the mix, not the other way around. This is a good way to get out of ruts and habits and endless cycles of noticing things you’re not happy with and changing direction.
2. Try not to solo everything
Using solo is useful for cleaning up noises, or making sure your edits are tight. However, EQ-ing and compressing sounds in solo mode can cause them to clash and compete when put together. Mixing should get all parts of a song to work together as a whole. Soloing this way can make parts sound thin and small, but when placed into the mix with the fuller lead elements it works.
3. Make the most of filtering
High-pass and low-pass filters can be your best friends in a mix. Rolling off the lows, and occasionally the highs, on tracks that you think don’t need them actually opens up a lot of space you didn’t know you had. Again, don’t worry if the sound is slightly strange and thin when soloed – it only matters what individual parts sound like when mixed with everything else.
4. When stuck in a rut, go crazy
Obviously, we’re all striving for a mix that sounds balanced, defined, and well-proportioned. But a mix should also be interesting. If you get stuck in a rut this could be the perfect time to get lost in experiments. Try reverb and delay in ways you wouldn’t normally, run unusual sounds through a synth, use that EQ technique you’ve never used before. This could result in a terrible sounding mix or you stumble on your new signature sound. At least it gets you out of your rut and makes you understand what works best with the track.
5. Lower your levels
Recording too hot unnecessarily pushes your recording into harsh clipping territory. An average level of -18dB or a peak level of around -10dB on your faders will keep your signals safe from clipping. If you want it louder, turn up the volume on your speakers. You’ll save lots of headroom on your mix ready for mastering and your mixes will sound more open, intricate, and dynamic as a result.
6. Don’t rely on compression to set your levels
This is a crucial step, ignoring this can hamper your efforts to improve your mixes. Compressors tame wildly dynamic performances and add character, but don’t rely on it to set the final level of your tracks. If you do this while leaving volume faders static, it results in a lifeless mix. Once you’ve got a basic balance between all your elements, automate small fader rides. This helps bring parts together in a more natural and musical way.
7. Get rid of parts that do the same job
When faced with a busy, dense mix, ask yourself “do all the parts really need to be there?” before committing time to editing each part. Give each individual part space. Listen to the track multiple times with a different part turned off each time to work out what adds to the track and what you could go without. Sounds that are complementary instead of similar are more beneficial (i.e. a short, attack-y sound with a softer, sustained sound). If multiple sounds are too similar do you really need them all? Treat a mix like an arrangement and this can take the finished track a long way.
8. Listen to your mix through multiple mediums
Having a high-quality monitoring setup and room treatment is incredibly important, but once your track is completed and becomes a song, it is unlikely that it will be listened to through this setup. Music sounds different when played through different mediums, so listen to it through different mediums! Laptop speakers, earbuds, in the car, out of your phone. If it sounds great on all these systems then your mix is done. If not, take note of the problems go back to the mix, fix them and repeat the process.
9. Finally, think from a fan’s perspective
With the ease and quality of editing and correction tools and infinite tracks, it’s easy to get carried away and be forever finding the perfect mix. But once it’s completed, people don’t listen to it as a mix, they listen to it as a song. They won’t sit there intently looking for mistakes. If you really want to find mistakes in your mix, you always will. Listen from the perspective of a fan.
Improve your Mixes
If possible, take some time away from your tracks. Listen to your mix away from your computer to get you out of producer-mode and into music-fan-mode. If something sticks out as sounding wrong then it needs fixing. If the song comes across as something you would enjoy listening to, then the mix is done. Don’t waste time constantly trying to find things wrong, move on.
A common problem that occurs before getting your track mastered is a lack of headroom. Headroom is the ‘safety zone’ or the space for the loudest parts of your song to extend fully without clipping. Clipping can result in a very harsh sound, causing distortion and a generally unpleasant sound to your track. If you create headroom you will make your tracks more dynamic and leave producers room to work their magic.
Regardless of your gear and your studio setup, making sure there’s adequate headroom is one of the best things you can do for your mixes. So, here are six tips to help you create headroom before mastering your track:
1. Use Your Eyes, Not Just Your Ears
Keep an eye on your master fader. The “0” is the clipping point. Ideally, at the end of your production, you should have around 6dB between zero and the highest peak of your song. This should leave adequate headroom.
2. Use Your Channel Faders, Not Your Master Fader
Use your channel faders to avoid hitting zero in your master channel. Decide ahead of time which parts of your arrangement are going to be on top volume-wise and start there. After that, work in the other tracks underneath. There is only so much space in a mix to work with, so adjust the volume channel-by-channel according to which elements you want to be louder than others in order to leave headroom, rather than adjusting your master fader. This will make for a better mix-down to work with during mastering.
3. Louder Isn’t Always Better
Everyone gets excited because loud sounds good, so we crank up faders unnecessarily. If you think music sounds better louder, turn up the volume of your sound system until it feels right. This will let you work with loud music without limiting your headroom.
4. Work in 24 Bit
Many engineers are using 24 bit as their default these days. The reason is not necessarily that 24 sounds better, but rather, it gives more headroom to work within – perfect if you’re not confident about your skills at limiting yourself during the recording and mix down process. It is important to know the difference between 16-bit and 24-bit before you start.
5. Leave Automation Until The End Stages
Automating volume and effects changes is a very useful process but using it too early is a common mistake. Automating too early in the mix process will use up headroom. Making a rough mix with no automation first, flesh out your track as much as possible. Then, use automation as a tool to make a more dynamic mix during the end stages.
6. Work Backwards From the Loudest Sections
Most DAW’s (Digital Audio Workstations) run from left to right, so it is tempting to adjust volume starting with the beginning of the track. Instead, start with the loudest section and mix that first. This will give you an idea of how loud the rest of the track should be to compensate. Move onto the medium intensity sections and finally the lowest and adjust these according to how loud your loudest sections are. This will ensure you leave plenty of headroom without compromising the volume balance in the track between the different sections.
Create Headroom to Benefit your Mixes
It can take a few tries to make headroom a part of your workflow as it seems like such a small part of the overall process. But it is worth it! Your mixes will become far more dynamic with a far better feel and make it much easier to get those huge sounding masters. Also read why mastering is so important in our previous blog.
What Is Mastering?
Before digital, mastering was mainly about duplication with vinyl and tape. But now, as digital recording has become the norm, mastering helps to fine-tune how your music sounds. It’s an often misunderstood and sometimes confusing process (see the mastering process in one of the previous blogs).
It uses tools like compression, EQ, limiting, stereo enhancement to put that last sprinkle of magic to your music and make it sound the best it possibly can. It smooths out the wrinkles the final mix without losing the qualities that makes your music yours.
Let’s dive in and discover why mastering is important.
Is Mastering Important?
Definitely! If it is done right, mastering is important and should solve 3 problems for you:
- Not hearing your music the same way other people do? The acoustics in your room, the quality of your monitors and your mixing skills can all have an impact on your final sound. Mastering should fix this.
- Music sounds different when played back through different mediums (laptop speakers, the car radio, your phone, on a streaming platform, on rubbish earbuds). It’s hard to get a consistent sound across all of these playback methods. Good mastering should help your track sound good everywhere.
- It’s incredibly difficult to be objective when it comes to your music. All those hours spent on it makes it hard to listen to how it truly sounds. Mastering lets you take a step back, listen to the track as a whole and fix any major problems you could have missed.
Mastering is frequently misunderstood but it can give your tracks a shot at standing up against the music created by more established artists. Getting your track mastered also gives you a second set of ears to ensure the quality of your music. If you can master yourself then great! That’s some money saved. But we would still recommend getting other people to listen to it before you fully finalise that track.
Helps To Finish Your Tracks
Finishing music is the hardest part of the music making process. After putting in so much effort (and sometimes money) into creating your music, it can be hard to let go. Let’s be honest, all of us can be perfectionists when it comes to our own creations, but at some point you have to stop trying to find mistakes and just get it done! Otherwise you’ll never move forward and no one will ever hear your music.
However, finishing a track can also be the most satisfying part of making music. To see what you’ve created in all it’s glory! In essence, mastering is finishing. It gives that final lick of paint, so to speak. Mastering is important because it is the final wave of the magic wand to make it audience ready.
A music producer works alongside the artist in the studio and oversees and manages the recording process. The main role is to work with the artist to produce the best recording possible. A producer should share the artists’ vision for the music and what the artists wants the recording to sound like.
What Does the Role Involve?
In the studio a music producer should oversee recording sessions and make sure everything sounds as good as it can. The producer can work solely with an artist however in bigger studios they will likely work alongside a studio engineer. The relationship between the producer and artist is vital as they can be a sounding board for any ideas.
They oversee the creation and therefore have to be in tune with the artist and what they’d like to achieve. They can act like a mentor and will often be the first port of call to discuss any musical ideas.
Artists often return to work with the same producers album after album simply because they know what is required. Successful artist and producer relationships know how to get the best out of each other.
How to Make Money as a Music Producer?
If working with a big name artist it’s more than likely the producer will be approached to discuss working together. The next step is to find a studio everyone is happy working in and feels comfortable in.
Bigger name producers will usually bring their own engineers as they get to know each other working practices and styles. The producer will be paid a cut from the bands’ budget for recording. The size of the cut depends on the size of the band and the caliber of the producer.
The main thing for producers who are running their own studios is how good they are at what they do. The better they are, the more work they get; as their reputations grow the more money they will be able to earn.
- MPG (Music Producers Guild) – www.mpg.org.uk
- AES (Audio Engineering Society) – www.aes.org/sections/uk/index.html
- APRS (Association of Professional Recording Services) – www.aprs.co.uk
Deep in the countryside of Cheshire lies Castle Rock Studios. Focusing most of its time as a recording studio, Castle Studios is also an established artist management company and label. We caught up with Managing Directors Stret and Alex to ask them how they got where they are today. Here is what they had to say…
How did you both get into working at Castle Rock Studios and the music industry in general?
STRET: In 2005 we purchased the building that is now Castle Rock Studios. I had been working with bands within entertainment as I owned an events company and we booked acts for events.
We’d been contracted to deliver production elements for The Stereophonics, Joss Stone, etc. so I was working with lots of bands. Coincidentally my business partner’s son wanted to be an Audio Engineer.
When we spotted the building we are now based in up for auction, we knew it would be a good place. We created a recording studio with rehearsal facilities and a base for the label, representation and talent procurement.
ALEX: I’ve always been into recording and production. Since I got my first 8 track Tascam minidisk recorder when I was 14 I was hooked. I’ve been playing guitar for most of my life, and have toured in bands since I was 17. Whilst at university studying Philosophy I went to a local unsigned gig night and started chatting to the engineer there. He said that I could come down and shadow him so the next week I did. It was a fairly small scale operation (only about a 200 capacity bar), but a great learning experience.
On the second week of my shadowing, he got stuck in Liverpool so we were without an engineer. The manager of the bar came up to me and said “You’re a sound guy aren’t you? You know what you’re doing?” to which I replied “Yep, no worries” even though I wasn’t totally sure. So I set everything up and it seemed to work and then in walks the band – The Courteeners. Thankfully everything went well and I got offered a job there but it was quite nerve-racking to say the least!
Have you got any advice you could give to aspiring producers and engineers?
STRET: For me this is about standing out from the crowd. Get as much experience as you can and work with as many different people as possible. Somebody needs to give you a chance and my advice would be to research as much as possible. I’ve had people approach me and ask to shadow me, and not known even the basics of what Castle Rock Studios offer.
We recently exhibited at the Manchester Music Show where there was a Q & A session with some music high flyers, and someone asked the question:
“How do I gain experience in the business? I want to be a recording engineer.”
The advice given was to get qualified, which in general is the right advice, but I‘d take that further. Get yourself qualified to a high level of expertise. Alex Miller, our Head Engineer, is a Pro-tools expert level operator. At the time he qualified, he was only one of 10 in the country. So when the latest batch of engineers approached Castle Rock Studios, Alex stood out from the crowd because he’d worked hard to gain an expert level of expertise.
The sheer quantity of people looking to work in this very specialised sector of the industry is phenomenal. I can’t imagine there is sufficient quality paid work to satisfy the demand.
One young guy came up with a great way of standing out from the crowd. Instead of sending the usual email asking for work experience, he researched and discovered I was a Deep Purple Fan. He then recorded himself performing ‘Smoke on the Water’. He then posted it on You Tube saying “this is for Stret at Castle Rock please let me work in your studio”!
I contacted him and asked him to learn ‘Mistreated’ also by Deep Purple… a far more challenging track. He did and made a cracking job of it, even adding his own solo at the end. I then asked him to perform it in our gig room in front of bands that use the studio. I gave him a fortnight’s work experience, and he went on to join a band called The lost37. They then rehearsed and recorded at Castle Rock Studios and supported Ocean Colour Scene.
By the way that trick won’t work again, so don’t go sending me recordings of Deep Purple tracks. The message is be creative, stand out and research your target.
ALEX: You have to be prepared to commit everything to the job. It’s not a 9-5. It’s 10-10 most days, and longer than that on others. I’ve done 23 hour runs in the studio before now. Sure it’s long, but I’m doing a job I love so I don’t mind so much. It’s still fun, even though it’s hard work. It’s just how this industry works.
There are a frightening number of people trying to work in this industry. When you look at the number of people each year going to audio schools it’s crazy. You have to be more dedicated, and more proactive than all of them. As Stret said, don’t just send a CV addressed to “To Whom It May Concern”. At the very least drop it in yourself. We get about ten CV’s a week via email and at that volume they all just blend into one another.
Commitment is a big thing for me, so bringing it in personally shows you have that extra bit of enthusiasm most people don’t. If you email it, find out a little bit about the studio, and address your cover letter to them. “To whom it may concern” and “Dear Sir/Madam” makes it look like you’re sending out a blanket email. Include things about the studio that you like or are interested in and why you want to work there. Tell us why you are better than the others asking for a job.
But while you’re doing that, you also need to be doing the fun stuff. Record yourself, record bands, listen to your favourite albums and listen to the production. Ask yourself, why doesn’t your record sound like that? Then figure out how to make it sound like that. Come down and look round the studio, and find a way to bring a band here to record. I started to get more work at Castle Rock Studios when I started brought many of my projects here.
You also run a label and work in artist management, can you tell us a little more about this? What artists are you currently working with?
STRET: Our Label is very much in its infancy. We launched Sandbox UK Records in January 2014, signing three Artistes – Milla Muse, Alex Buchanan and Rian Peters.
All three artists are either completing recordings, or working on finishing touches for live performances.
Milla has recently completed recordings with Rory Ruadhri (Ed Sheeran, Mumford and Sons). Alex had great success with The Voice and is close to completing commercial recordings of his original music. He is off on tour to Australia for three months. Rian has also just finished recording with Alesha Dixon for a potential release in 2015.
Our representation division was born out of the passion I felt when I heard Milla’s voice for the first time. I had such a strong connection with Milla that I wanted to help her gain a career in the music industry.
The same happened with Purge. They had rehearsed at Castle Rock Studios and then they recorded with us too. I loved the recordings – the tracks reminded me of bands I grew up listening to. The Riffs were very catchy and when I saw them perform live I knew I wanted to be involved. I approached them to offer myself as their Manager and was delighted they agreed. The band have now performed in front of 8000 people at Chester Rocks supporting Razorlight, and were asked to perform at See-Rocks festival in Austria in 2015.
What advice can you give to young bands that are looking for representation and want label and management deals?
STRET: Again, it’s about standing out from the crowd. In this day and age it’s vital bands engage with their fans or those that come across them. Nowadays it’s easier to get your message out there, but because it’s easier means more people can do it.
If you do manage to attract the attention from management or a label, they will be checking your social media platforms. Not just the number of people who “Like” or follow you, but the creative content too.
I’m not saying labels don’t sign emerging talent from home recordings, but it’s rare. The quantity of demo discs they receive is huge. So if your demo looks good, has been duplicated professionally, and the recording is professional, there is more of a chance of that A&R guy giving it a spin.
To break a band from the pub/club scene is a very hard and long road in my opinion. If you get a crowd of 200+ fans, management will be attracted and should take you to a larger audience.
What’s your favourite piece of equipment in the studio and why?
ALEX: It’s always nice to have great gear, but without a good musician and a great sound it doesn’t matter.
The best thing about Castle Rock Studios is that there is no real weak link in the chain. A vocal chain could be: 414 > 1073 > 1969 > SSL > Pro Tools. All quality, great sounding gear. But that’s all no good if you don’t have great rooms.
So really, I think the best things are the rooms and monitoring – without them you can’t hear what you’re doing.
What top tips can you give to bands and artists who are looking to go into the studio for the first time?
STRET: Visit the studio beforehand, meet your engineer, book a listening session or rehearsal the night before. This way you can have your gear set up and ready to rock when the session starts. I see bands come in all excited, as they should be, to realise recording can be a laborious process. Setting drums up and “breaking the ice” can take 2-3 hours. By the time tracking commences, the guitarist and singer realise they won’t be playing today, unless it’s a live recording.
I would also say it’s very important to ensure you and your equipment is fit for purpose. Consider putting new skins on the drums, and re-stringing the guitars. Do it a few days before and bed them in.
And get tight, know your material inside out. If your first take is the one, then it’s the one. It leaves more time to spend on the mix. We’ve even had some bands writing lyrics whilst the engineers are wanting to crack on with recording. All the while the clock is ticking and you are wasting your money.
ALEX: As Ginger Wildheart put it “Before you spend a fortune in studio expense, rehearsing the fuck outta your songs makes a lotta sense.” You should be able to play your songs blindfolded, backwards. Sit down and listen to what you’re all playing in the practice room.
I’ve had occasions with two guitarists; one plays their part for the other to say “what are you playing? That’s not gonna fit with what I’m playing…” We then spend half an hour figuring out whose part to change, and what to change it to.
It’s hard to hear this stuff loud, so unplug and make sure you’re all on the same page. If you can, record your practice, listen to it back. How’s the momentum? Is the tempo shifting? Is the song too long? Are the drums accenting the right parts? Are there too many cymbal hits? Is the kick drum consistent… the list goes on..
After that, make sure all your gear works. Get your guitars set up by a professional, so that the intonation is spot on and there’s no nasty fret buzz. Re-string them before you come in. Re-skin your drums, polish your cymbals, check your amps aren’t making any horrible buzzing noises. Remember, we’re recording tracks that are going to be out there forever.
What do you prefer – analogue or digital – and why?
STRET: Speaking as a non-engineer I like the warmth and fullness of analogue, but it’s not practical.
ALEX: For tracking, I love the sound of analogue tape, but it’s such a pain I don’t use it anymore. I did one album totally to tape a few years ago. It was a good experience but during mixing the machine broke, and we couldn’t get it fixed in time. So we mixed off the Pro-Tools backup files we ran along with the two inch. Steven Slate came to the rescue with his Virtual Tape Machines plug-in. I compared it to the tape after the machine was fixed, and I actually preferred the sound of the plug-in.
We’re seeing so many analogue emulation plugs at the moment that I don’t feel I need analogue multi-tracks. The flexibility of digital wins for me every time. It’s faster, cheaper, and still sounds great. Mixing is a slightly different story. I prefer analogue consoles to mix on because I feel I’m more creative. But I find myself mixing hybrid more and more these days, mainly for speed and ease of recalls. Things like side-chain the bass to the kick would take about five minutes with the physical routing and patching. Whereas in Pro Tools you’re done in 20 seconds.
If you could record with any artist/band in the world who would it be and why?
STRET: Deep Purple. I would ask Alex to record it and then have it mixed by Andy MacPherson (The Who, Saxon, Buzzcocks, Blondie).
Why Deep Purple? I’m a fan… I’ve followed them all around the world. If you do get to visit Castle Rock Studios you will see purple sofa’s, carpet with purple lines in; and my pride and joy vinyl collection of their 19 studio albums.
ALEX: The Offspring. They are without a doubt, to me, the greatest band in the world. Every album is amazing from start to finish, and I listen to at least one of their albums every day. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen them. I don’t know exactly what it is about them, but the music just grabs me. Ever since I first heard “Ixnay On The Hombre” when I was about 12 I’ve not stopped listening to them. So being involved in the production of one of their records would be a career highlight for me!