Tips to Make Your Music Mix Sound More Professional

The first thing you need to think about when mixing a song is what genre you are working with (see also mixing basics). Each genre has its own characteristics however there are general techniques you can use when to improve your music mix.

Stereo Imaging

Using Delay as a Stereo Widener

One clever trick is to use a delay plug-in to introduce small delays in one or both sides of a stereo signal. in Logic Pro you can create this by selecting the Sample Delay plugin. Set the delay on the right to around 200 samples. Anything higher than 300 samples you start to hear the delays rather than a wider stereo image. This effect, often referred to as the ‘Haas effect.’

EQ and High Pass Filtering

Using EQ for clarity

To create space in the music mix you can EQ to remove problem frequencies. One technique using a parametric EQ to find the frequencies you do not want is to boost using a narrow Q width and go through all the frequencies until you can hear the dissonant/problem frequency clearly. You can then further narrow the Q width and reverse to from a boost into a cut, removing this frequency. Doing this on instruments will free up space in the mix making everything easier to hear and less muddy.

Using EQ to create space

You may have a few instruments that share frequencies. For example: guitar, synths and vocals. You need to think about which instrument you want to stand out the most. In most cases this will be vocals. To make sure that the vocals are not drowned out by these instruments you can cut the guitar and synths at around 300Hz-3kHz.

Leave Space for the Bass

A lot of producers use high pass filters on a instruments other than the bass and kick. This frees up all the rumbles/deep tones that are not needed and leaves room for the low end to be punchy not muddy.

Too Much in your Music Mix

There is always the temptation to go overboard when mixing. For example put reverb on everything, EQ everything. Sometimes less is more! It’s also important to take breaks from mixing as once you have heard a song hundreds of times over you begin to loose interest and stop hearing things like you did at the start.

The brilliant song Billie Jean by Michael Jackson was mixed 91 times by audio engineer Bruce Swedien before it was finalised. The final mix they went with was mix 2. It’s great if you have the time (and patience) to create that many mix versions but sometimes its important to know when to stop and say ‘it’s finished.’

The Singer Songwriter’s Guide to Recording Equipment

Soundbase Megastore is located in the upbeat Northern Quarter of Manchester city centre. It boasts a large open plan showroom set up to demo all the latest Studio, Lighting, DJ and PA Equipment. Simon, the author of recording articles at Soundable Megastore, has over 15 years experience working in commercial recording studios as an engineer / producer. His in depth experience provides Simon with the knowledge of recording equipment and techniques and places him in the perfect position to offer advice on music recording equipment in respect to what the artist is looking to achieve within their budget.

Home Recording Studio’s are becoming increasingly more popular. We will explore the basic essentials for all studios, plus further essentials and desirable attributes for a singer songwriter’s recording studio.

So Where Do You Start with Recording Equipment?

The most popular kind of multi-track for sound recording is currently a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). The DAW software you choose should reflect what you want to do and how advanced your production skills are.

After you’ve decided on your computer and DAW software, the next step is to pick the best audio interface. A high percentage of signal path fidelity is in converting your signal from analogue to digital and vice versa. So think carefully about how much you can afford to spend and how many inputs and outputs you’ll need. Also consider whether you require External Word Clock, S/Pdif, Optical and MIDI connections and if so, how many ports are you going to be using.

When buying an audio interface, read forums to see if any users encountered problems while using it. Especially with cheaper PCI soundcards you might find it isn’t compatible with the mother board in your computer.

You also need to think about how to monitor your song during recording, mixing and mastering. What’s best for you, passive or active monitors? What are the acoustics of the room you’re going to be playing and monitoring in like? Will your house-mates be trying to sleep while you’re slaving away on your next big song?

So you’ve got the basic idea of what gear you need to get started. Next we’ll look at what essential and variable peripherals are best for singer songwriters and the different types of equipment available.

Basic Singer-Songwriter Recording Set-up

If building a studio for doing demo recordings or DIY releases of new songs, DAW software such as Pro Tools, Cubase or Logic would be ideal. While this software is advanced it also means you won’t be limited in anyway by its capabilities. These programmes can be as advanced as a modern recording studio or as simplistic as a cassette 4 track. The more you get into recording, the more you’ll want to do with the software. Before long you’ll find yourself wanting to upgrade to a more advanced software package. So its always best to buy a more advanced music programme from the outset.

Audio Interface

For an audio interface for this recording set-up, a simple 2 in, 2 out USB, 24 bit 96kHz interface with XLR inputs is perfect. We recommend buying one with MIDI I/O as there is not much difference in price. Plus its better to have this option, rather than not, especially for you piano players.

When you increase your budget for an audio interface you essentially get better Mic pre amps and ADA converters. This is what gives you clarity and fidelity for your recordings. However, you may find yourself paying for features on the interface that you will never use. There are a number of audio interfaces on the market from as little as £80.

Here are a few recommended audio interfaces suited to budget recording studios:

Next Up, You’re Going to Need a Microphone

The SM58 is a close proximity vocal microphone and has been the industry standard for many years. Although you may want to look into some other options like the SM7. If you only want to use a mic for recording in your home then a condenser microphone would be better suited than a dynamic. Condensers are powered (48v) microphones and often have a larger diaphragm than a dynamic microphone. You get a warmer sound with more clarity as well as the signal to noise ratio being less noisey. For a dynamic microphone, Soundbase reccomend looking at spending £70 plus, and for a condenser £120 plus. Anything less than that and you might as well just flush your cash down the toilet, but do look around at what’s available second hand in the B Stock at Soundbase Megastore.

For a “budget” vocal condenser microphone Soundbase recommend sontronics microphones, they sound amazing for the price.

For the acoustic guitar, you might want to look into buying a second condenser microphone so you can record your guitar in the same performance as your vocals.

While you might enjoy the sound of your guitar plugged straight into the interface, a microphone gives you wider scope for recording. Another benefit is you could simply place the microphone in the room and capture a natural recording. There are no rules as to whether you should use a dynamic or condenser microphone to record your guitar.

Here are a few recommended microphones for recording both vocals and guitars, suited to a range of budgets:

Piano-based Songwriters

There’s a few different options to consider when it comes to how to record your piano parts. The most obvious is simply to place a good condenser microphone on an acoustic piano and hit record. This can be a very complex instrument to capture well, plus if your piano is out of tune then it will also be out of tune on the recording. The second option would be to buy a full size MIDI keyboard with weighted keys and a sustain pedal. You can connect this direct to your interface via MIDI or direct to your computer via USB. The signal from the MIDI keyboard will be recorded to your DAW and you only need a Virtual Piano instrument like the XLN Audio addictive Keys to playback a piano sound. The same MIDI controller keyboard can also be used to add string parts to your song.

All you would need to do this is a virtual string instrument, the same applies for other string instruments. A further option for those of you using a Clavinova or electric piano is to simply connect the line output of your Clavinova to your audio interface. Many Clavinovas also have a MIDI out on them that means they can also be used in the same way as a MIDI controller keyboard.

For a full size budget MIDI Keyboard Soundbase recommend:

Monitoring Your Recording

So you’re all set to record your songs, but you’re also going to need a pair of studio monitors or headphones to listen back to your recordings. While you could simply plug direct into your Hi-Fi from your audio interface it would be more suitable to listen back through flat response, uncoloured studio monitors so you can hear a true representation of what you have just recorded, in terms of both performance and signal clarity.

For a studio of this calibre Soundbase Megastore would recommend active studio monitors as you can simply plug them straight into the output of your audio interface.

Here are a few pairs of active studio monitors for under £250:

Are studio monitors the best option for your studio or would you be better suited for monitoring through studio headphones?

The first major benefit of using headphones is that if you wish to record backing vocals and guitar overdubs, for example, then monitoring the recording through headphones means that your song won’t spill from the monitors into the microphone while you’re recording. The second benefit of using headphones for monitoring and mixing your song is that you don’t have to be concerned with any noise restrictions. You can work on your songs anytime of day, in any place with the peace of mind that you’re not offending anyone.

Recommended Studio Monitor Headphones for under £120:

Complete your Recording Equipment Set Up

Last up you’re going to need to put a little aside in your budget for cables etc. For a recording set-up of this standard Soundbase suggest you put aside £40 – £150 of your studio budget for cables, pop shields and microphones stands etc.

The suggested budget for a recording studio set up for a singer songwriter is between £400 – £1900. If you are looking to buy a complete set-up from Soundbase then don’t hesitate to contact us for a package price, or simply view the following discount packages for everything you need to start recording your songs.

  • Basic Vocal Recording Studio Equipment Package – Click Here – £489.00 inc VAT
  • Intermediate Songwriter (guitar) Studio Equipment Package – Click Here – £805.00 inc VAT
  • Intermediate Songwriter Studio Equipment (keys) Package – Click Here – £1025.00 inc VAT
  • Advanced Studio Equipment Package for Vocals and Keys – Click Here – £1215.00 inc VAT
  • Advanced Studio Equipment Package for Vocals and Acoustic Guitar – Click Here – £1200 inc VAT

 

5 Things to Avoid to Get Signed To A Record Label

Like all indie labels, I receive a high number of emails from musicians requesting that I consider their music for release. Some of these emails do all the right things in terms of how they approach the subject, but many do not. Here are 5 things to avoid to help you get signed to a record label.

If you’d like to get signed to a record label, I hope my advice will be of use to you. Please note: these are my personal opinions and thoughts on this subject will differ, sometimes wildly, from label to label.

1. Don’t Come in Half-Cocked

First impressions count, and chances are, you’re only going to get one chance with each label you approach. Make sure you include all relevant info — things like your name/band name, links to your music, and perhaps a brief biography, reviews of your music and so on.

2. Don’t Send Unfinished Tracks

Demos are fine, of course, but I’ve had people send songs that even they admit aren’t finished yet. “I just need to write a chorus” or “I’ve not worked out the ending yet” aren’t things that you’d expect to hear from an artist who feels they’re ready to take on the world.

3.  “I’ve Just Found your Label!”

Appearing out of nowhere rings alarm bells. For me personally, it strikes me as odd when someone who has not previously engaged with the label makes contact — it suggests that they’ve just Googled “indie labels” or similar and found a handful of labels by pure chance. Much like the above point, it smacks of throwing enough doo-doo at the wall to see what sticks — and no-one wants to be on the receiving end of that doo-doo.

Where possible, approach labels you know and love. If you don’t get the response you’re after, look into similar labels, and do your research on them before contacting.

4. Avoid the Copy-and-Paste Approach

Perhaps even worse than number 3 is the generic or copy-and-pasted email. You know, one that’s been sent to hundreds of labels at once, in the hope of a response from at least one of them.

No-one likes to feel like they’re disposable. Tailor your email to each label you approach — the personal touch goes a long way, as does a little research on the label itself.

5. “Hey Indie-Pop Label in Barcelona, We’re a Sludge-Metal Band from Wisconsin, US…”

This is a two-parter. One: it usually best to approach labels based in the same country as you. They’ll likely be better equipped to handle the music scene and marketplace in your area. Two: if the genre you fit into doesn’t fit with the label you’re contacting, you’ll be wasting your time and theirs. At best, you’ll get no response, and at worst, you’ll get yourself a bad reputation.

I sincerely hope this advice is of use, and helps you get signed to a record label. If all else fails, start your own label…


Written by Lewis from The Adult Teeth Recording Company

www.adultteeth.co.uk

www.facebook.com/adultteeth

www.twitter.com/adultteeth

Careers – Sound Engineer

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.

Links

AES (Audio Engineering Society) – www.aes.org/sections/uk/index.html

APRS (Association of Professional Recording Services)www.aprs.co.uk

How to Get Better Drum Recordings

So you’ve managed to get that all important studio time! Lets talk technical…

When it comes to drum recordings, they are the most important and often difficult part of the process. There are so many ways to experiment with your microphone placement that you can waste a lot of time, which leads to wasting money if you’re hiring a studio. Here, I will break down the process of choosing microphones and where to place them. I will also give some tips that will save you time when laying down the foundation of your track.

Firstly, there will be a lot of microphones mentioned that are suited for different parts of the kit. Whilst there may be cheaper alternatives, these selections are widely regarded as the best for their price range. Below I have listed the microphones and their online prices:

Thud, Thud, Thud

Lets start off with the kick drum – the foundation of drum recordings! A D112 is one of the best kick drum microphones money can buy. This is due to its brilliant low frequency response and 100dB roll-off. With placement, angle the microphone towards the beater for more of the initial click of the drum. Or point it towards the body of the drum to catch more of the ‘boom’ and tail of the hit. You may want to use a sound with more click if you are making metal and heavy rock music as the low end can often be dominated by the bass guitar and low tuning used in that genre.

Drum Roll, Please!

The other most important part of the rhythm is the snare drum. This one is fairly simple to record, you should only need a dynamic microphone like a Shure SM57 or SM58. Angle the mic towards the edge of the drum skin for the resonance of the snare. You can also angle the microphone straight across the top of the drum to capture the initial ‘pop’ on each hit. If you have a second microphone, place it beneath the drum to catch a separate resonant track. This will give you more to play around with when it comes to the mixing stage. If you do this, be cautious of phasing as the microphones could cancel each other out. This can be fixed using phase cancellation.

So you have the two most crucial parts ready, but how do we capture the rest of the kit sound? This is where you have to decide if you want to spend the extra money to isolate each of the other parts of the kit, or cut down on cost and record using one or two microphones. If that’s the case, then you will want overheads!

Use the Space Around You

Overheads will capture the sound of the entire kit from above. Using condenser microphones will give a nice crisp sound to the cymbals. Overheads can be recorded either with a pair of 414’s or NT5’s depending on your personal preference or money situation. Though in both cases you will have to test what height you want them above the drums. Around 30cm usually gives a nice distant sound, though it is important to capture the cymbals as much as possible.

If you want to use more mics, then toms are the next best thing to record. These are very simple to set up as the e604’s are clip on microphones that just snap onto the rim of the drum. Angle it how you like to capture more or less resonance and away you go!

The hi-hat is also an optional part to isolate as it can be picked up by the overheads, but their is no harm in doing it. Using a C1000, you can either mic it up from underneath to reduce spill from the other cymbals, or from above to capture more of the sizzle. Angling the microphone more inwards towards the bell will also tighten the sound of the hat, and further away will get more of a full sound.

Now Get Creative with your Drum Recordings!

From here you should be able to get decent drum recordings. However you can keep layering up to give you more options later on in editing. For example, using a stereo pair of room mics will capture the listeners perspective of the kit, and add room reverb. This can be done with a pair of 414’s or any other condenser with a wide polar pattern. Make sure they are a reasonable distance apart and decide whether you want to use an omni-directional polar pattern to record both the kit and room or just the room itself with a cardioid pattern.

Finally you could also try some other unique techniques to get some different sounds. Using a sub-kick on your kick drum (essentially a speaker cone used as a microphone) can capture a lot of sub frequencies and give you more bass. More bass will mean more powerful drums. You could also use a PZM microphone on the opposite wall to your drum kit to capture more room sound. Or place it inside the kick drum to get more of the click of the beater. There are so many ways to complete your drum recordings that experimenting is usually the best policy, just remember that you should always keep track of what microphones are placed where so that you have no issues when it comes to mixing.

The type of microphone used will also heavily impact what the end result is, so make sure you get the best drum recordings possible. Contrary to popular belief you cannot fix a bad drum take in the mix, so get it right from the start!

Phew, that was a lot to get through, I promise the next blog will be a lot less intense as we cover bass and guitars.

Interview with Niklas J. Blixt

Niklas J. Blixt is a passionate session drummer and music business consultant. He’s mostly self taught but has studied courses spanning from music theory to copyright and lots of drum studies. He can also be seen spreading his wisdom on different music blogs. We’ve asked him to share his knowledge and experiences in music industry with us.

How did you initially start your business?

I grew up playing an instrument and even though I loved playing drums, I didn’t see it as my “day job” when I grew up. The turning point was when I went to study performance at a school in Sweden. I realised I had the ability to adapt quickly to different genres and found it easy learning new songs. I kind of realised that I had to do something with the ability I had.

After a while I felt I had enough knowledge to start doing paid work. I started to do that on the side while studying and working a “real job”. That’s kind of the short version. There’s a lot more to it, but in short that’s how it started.

What is the best piece of advice you could give to aspiring session musicians?

Find out your own musical style and what you want to play. Obviously as a session musician it’s always good to have the ability to play in many genres. You can’t play all styles so find out what styles you want master and try your best at one. For example, I don’t play double pedal and styles demanding that. It’s better to do a few things good than to do a lot of things poorly.

As a Business Consultant what is the most common question you have been asked?

The most common question would probably be something like, ”How do I take my hobby and make it into my profession?” I wish that I had a one-line answer to that question that fits everybody. But the truth is that there are as many answers to that question as there are artists.

You’ll have to find out what you can make into a “product” that you can sell. That’s mostly what my consulting focuses on, helping all these people find their unique selling point. We focus on how to sell that so that you can make a living out of it.

What is the most important business advice you can give to our readers?

Focus on what you can do for the people that hire you, not what you want to do. If someone hires you it’s because you bring value of some sort to them. Again it’s about finding your unique selling point that benefits the people hiring you. If you can do that you’ll be able to make a living from what you love.

What equipment do you use that you can recommend other drummers?

I’d say the most important equipment you’ll be using as a drummer is probably your sticks. So finding a stick model that fits your playing style is very important. One of my most important tools is actually my 12” dual sided practice pad from HQ Reel Feel.

Having a good practice pad is one of the best things you can use on an everyday basis. It has helped me tremendously when I’ve been working on my technique. I still use it almost every day. When you’re on the pad you can just zoom in and work on your technique. It’s great to have while warming up and get your hands going before a gig or studio session.

And a tuning key is a must, so that you can adjust the tuning so it sounds as good as it can.

What are your preferred styles of playing?

I’ve always enjoyed playing a lot of different styles of music, and that’s a must being a session musician. But enjoy playing a lot of blues, funk, soul and that kind of music. Like very groove oriented music I guess you can say. I do love playing singer-songwriter stuff, because that usually has a lot of feeling and emotion behind it.

What is the most interesting session you have ever played in?

I don’t know if this is interesting in a good sense, but it’s a pretty fun story. One time I was called in on short notice to sub for the original drummer in a cover band. The set list contained about 50 songs that were going to be played that night. The good thing was that it was all covers and most of them I was more or less familiar with. The bandleader sent me a playlist to listen and familiarise myself with the songs as much as I could. He also promised me some form of lead sheets for all the songs when I arrived at the gig. So I thought fine, in worse case I’ll be able to sight-read through the gig if I had to.

At the night, we had time to go through just a few of the trickier songs on sound check. When we came to the half way point of the gig, I turned the page for the next song. In my in-ear monitors comes the count in and on the page I read: ”Key of A-minor” and that’s all it says. No song title, no nothing. PANIC is the only way I can describe it.

I managed to fake it by letting the band play the intro alone, 1 bar later I knew what song it was. I could jumped in after 4 bars or something.

What is the most unique project you have been involved in?

The most unique project I’ve been involved in must be a project we did at Bergslagens Folks High School. Just in 2 weeks together with a student from the theatre program made a music theatre show. We did everything in two weeks, writing songs, arranging songs, designing the set and everything else.

It was a very intense period, but I learned a lot and it was a very fun experience. It gave me a very deep understanding of what goes into a production, even during a tour with a band.

As a drummer who is always prepared to travel, what equipment do you take ever time you travel?

I have a tech rider that I send to everybody who’s hiring me that states what equipment I need. At the very minimum I always bring my practice pad and stick bag with all my different sticks, brushes etc. I also like to bring my kick pedal because I’m so familiar with it.

If I can I also bring my cymbals and one of my snares that I know will do the job. Unless I know 100% what gear I’m going to be handed. If I know that it is gear that’s almost identical to mine I’ll just bring sticks.

What advice can you give to readers who are trying to start a business in the Music Industry?

If you’re serious, learn the business side of it. No matter how much you love playing music you have to learn to be a business person. Find your own way of doing it, find a way that works for you.

If you’re going to listen to someone, listen to someone who’s done it themselves. On your way to success there will always be haters and people tying to tell you how to do things. No one can know exactly what works for you. Don’t be afraid of looking outside the music business to seek help when you need it either.

Most importantly, learn how to negotiate prices and don’t discount yourself. Let the client ask for those if they think you’re asking for too much, but don’t give discounts without reason. After all, music business is a business otherwise it would just be music.

Interview with Castle Rock Studios

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!

Benefits of the Home Studio for Musicians

Anyone can create their own home studio, and it doesn’t have to cost the earth. There are also plenty of benefits for musicians to have their own home studio.

Provides a Deeper Understanding of Your Musical Trade

For the brave beginners, the home studio is the key to unlock a deeper understanding of the recording process.

By default, a home studio helps you become a more independent musician. You are capable of understanding and communicating with professionals if you find yourself in a recording / live sound environment.

Self-produced tracks add a deeper sense of ownership to an artist’s music. This could be explored through choosing preferred stereo mixing techniques (Spaced pair, coincident/near-coincident pair, over-the-shoulder etc.) and mixing styles (Parallel compression, Double tracking). This will overall accumulate to the music sounding unique to the artist. It will also let the artist achieve the sort of production style that they initially aimed for.

Home studios force musicians to be creative with recording – a type of creativity that is highly influenced by engineers in a commercial studio.

Research and practice is key to creating professional sounding tracks at home. It will take a few times before you get to studio standard, but don’t let this discourage you! In the long run, it is the cheapest and most worthwhile choice.

No Time Limit: Tracks Don’t Need to be Rushed!

In professional studios, a person can spend a couple of hundred pounds for a week’s worth of recording sessions. This can be nerve racking for musicians; pushing them to give a good performance in as little time as possible.

Even though this pushes the band to become more productive and time conscious, it can prevent soulful performances and further experimentation with musical embellishments during the recording process.

Of course, you could argue that this is what the “jamming stage” of creating music should entail. But sometimes inspiration comes at uncertain points in the process and it would be in the bands’ best interest to create an overall more enjoyable piece of music.

Unlimited Access

This refers to the time of day as well as the time spent in the studio. It is advisable to take short breaks after an hour of recording work to prevent ear fatigue.

Inspiration can strike at anytime, mostly commonly in the middle of the night or in the shower. It’s a good idea to keep a notepad to write down ideas, but it would be ideal if you had a studio to act upon these ideas. Whenever a crucial idea strikes, you can go to your home studio to implement ideas straight away. There is no better time to try something than when it is fresh in your mind.

Distractions can be a common problem with a home studio especially excessive noise. This can be a huge problem when it comes to recording, whether being from neighbours, street noise, or even the material which makes up your home studio (creaky floor boards, computer / preamp hum).

A company named Pod-Space have come up with a great solution to prevent these problems. They offer a range of external study rooms called ‘PODs’ which can provide a whole new take on the creative environment for a bedroom musician.

Mix, Record, Play on Your Own Equipment

There’s nothing more positive for a musician than when their equipment sounds amazing together – it feels sort of like being a proud parent. There’s nothing better than seeing your mechanical hypothetical children succeed. This doesn’t mean entering your new RØDE NT4 for a school sports days (they wont do very well and might get damaged in the process). No, what I mean is hearing them succeed in creating amazing music!

Only using your own equipment means you have all the equipment handy that you require. Sure, studios have a wide inventory that can be used during recording sessions, which can be beneficial. But by exploring your own equipment, trying different combinations will become familiar with features of your gear that you haven’t touched before.

In most cases, you can achieve a lot more with a lot less. Excessive unfamiliar equipment can distract from the sound you are aiming for. Knowing what each piece of your equipment can achieve makes it easy to decide what to use to get the best results.

Test Your Limits in Your Home Studio

Part of being an independent musician is testing yourself and learning new skills. As you continue using your home studio (also see the home recording basics), the more you will learn. Use resources like SoundonSound and Gearslutz. Research: studio techniques, professional Mixers, Engineers and Mastering Engineers like Bob Katz and Joe Barresi, to see what they did to achieve certain sounds on music they’ve worked on.

Don’t leave ideas forever, explore and put down a rough track as soon as you can and see how far you get. This is a great form of practice and if something isn’t quite right, you can always go back at a later date.

Always share your music to get constructive feedback. Try and pick people who have diverse or similar music tastes to you (who are not mean). Play your music in social scenarios without telling people it’s your music; this is a useful way to get an honest opinion.

Remember not to get disheartened when you’re a home studio newbie. Stick at it and you will learn. Everyone learns at different paces and has to start from somewhere. Remember: you are your own worst critic.

Home Recording Basics: What You Need to Get Started

Recording your music is one of the best ways to get new fans, raise money and getting your music out there. But from £200 upwards for a one day studio session, the cost of recording can get extremely expensive. One way to combat this is to set up a home studio and record your music yourself. The problem is many people don’t know what equipment they need for home recording.

This guide should help you understand how to set up a fully working ‘bedroom’ studio and allow you to record all of your music straight onto your computer at home.

Microphone

Microphones are the most important tool in any studio. Simply plugging in an acoustic guitar in and recording directly sounds, well…awful. A microphone gives an instrument character and colouration that you simply cannot get from direct input. Plus it’s impossible to record vocals without one!

But with a vast amount of microphones out there which one do you get?

My suggestion would be to get a large diaphragm condenser microphone. You can pick the SE Electronics SE2000 for around £79. This mic is cheap (in comparison to other condenser mics) and does the job brilliantly. But beware of putting the mic close to high volume sources as this can damage the microphone!

If your budget allows I would also recommend you get a Shure SM57 for around £95. This is a dynamic microphone and is less sensitive to sound pressure levels. Meaning you can crank up the volume without worrying about damaging the mic. It is the industry standard for recording electric guitars, snare drums and even used for vocals!

There are thousands of microphones out there so look around and pick the one you think will work best for you. Each one has their own unique sound and one mic that sounds brilliant for someone else might not be the right mic for you. I’d recommend trying a few out in store if you are unsure.

To go with your mic(s) you will also need a mic stand, pop shield (for vocal recordings) and XLR cables. These can be picked up relatively cheap and can even be found in bundle deals.

Audio Interface

Digital interfaces take the acoustic source you are recording and convert it into a series of numbers. The computer then translates this into digital audio for you to hear. It essentially takes the audio source and puts it into the computer via USB or Fire wire connections.

I would recommend the Line 6 POD Studio UX1, at around £98, which has everything you need to record both instruments and mics. There is also Avid’s Fast Track Solo at a pricier £139. But this allows you to record two sources simultaneously, which can be very handy. It allows for stereo recording techniques and also recording guitar and vocals at the same time!

Software

Both of the above options come with basic software for you to record (Line 6 comes with Ableton live lite, and Avid comes with Pro Tools Express). But there are many other options out there. So if you’d like another option or are unhappy with your software, here is a list of possible options ranging from free to insanely pricey!

There is freeware such as Audacity and Garage band but these are very basic with very limited plug ins. Have a search online for Music recording freeware and see if any take your fancy.If you are looking for more plugin options then you’re probably better off paying for software but it depends on your budget.

Here is a list of a few options for you to look at:

  • Ableton Live Intro: £66.50 (More options available but they are more expensive)
  • Logic Pro X (MAC only): £139.99
  • Propellerhead Reason 7: £342.00
  • Steinberg Cubase: £488.00
  • Avid Protools 11: £550.80

Most of the recording software manufacturers will allow you to download a demo of their software free for a trail period for you to try out. So in theory you can try them all out before you commit to one!

Headphones and Speakers

The last essential thing you need is something to listen back through. I would suggest a good pair of closed back headphones like Audio-Technica’s ATH-M35 (£62). I have a pair of AKG 271 MK2’s which cost around £115 but you get what you pay for. There are cheaper options and more expensive ones so again shop around. Try stuff out and you’ll find ones that fit your budget and do the job you need.

A pair of studio monitors (speakers) are good for listening back to your recordings and mixing your tracks. Tannoy Reveal 501a Active Near field Monitor Speakers are a decent pair for around £300. Watch out when buying monitors though as many shops sell them individually. Make sure the price you are paying actually gets you two speakers!

As always there are loads of monitors out there so just have a look around.And don’t forget the connection cables!

There are two types of speakers, Active and Passive. Active speakers have a built in amplifier and passive do not, so you have to buy a separate amplifier for Passive speakers. I would recommend anyone who doesn’t know about power ratings, impedance and other such electrical stuff doesn’t attempt to buy passive monitors and amps without asking someone first. The wrong amplifier can blow your speakers before you even get chance to hear your music!

All-in-one Bundles

Focusrite have released the scarlet studio starter kit for £200. You get a condenser microphone, audio interface, Steinberg Cuebase LE recording software, XLR cable and a pair of closed back headphones. So all you’d need is a mic stand and you would have yourself a fully functioning home recording studio set up!

So that’s all the information you need to start recording your own music at home and save on those studio fees! Also read our blog about how you get your first recordings done right, good luck!

Your First Recording – Getting it right!

One major obstacle for a new band is the first recordings of their music. An all too common occurrence is where a band rushes their first recordings. Bands are excited to get their music out there, but end up compromising on the quality. Poor quality recordings not only don’t showcase the material well, but often require re-recording down the line. Here are are a few tips for you to keep in mind when recording for the first time!

Getting your Recording Right

One of the most important decisions is to decide what tracks to record. This is one that requires you to be objective about your music, which is not always easy. Having written the music yourselves, you may be too emotionally involved to critically assess your music. Even highly successful musicians have to source other opinions at times; R&B artist Akon tests his music in strip clubs and believes if the girls like dancing to a track then it will work on the radio. Not that you have to go this far, but try to get some more neutral opinions on your songs; ask fans, friends, family their opinions because they may have an insight you can’t see.

The next decision is where to record. Recording studios range in price, size and quality and it is important to choose wisely. Try and look at previous recordings done by the studio. Look out for the clarity – do the instruments sound like they should and is the volume is at a satisfying level. Also, if possible, see if the studio has a history of recording any successful artists. It’s advisable to know what equipment a studio uses as well. You can assess whether it is the right set up for your group and what equipment you need to bring.

It is also vital to make sure you bring all the necessary equipment that the studio does not provide; studio time is expensive and it’s not profitable to spend time going out to fetch leads or pedals.

Plan The Session

Work out what you need to do in each session and in what order. This way everyone can be focused and you won’t need to waste time discussing. Lyric sheets are a good idea, it takes pressure off remembering them and allows vocalists to concentrate on hitting their notes. It’s good to write down score or tab parts to reduce slip-ups. Having plenty of rehearsals beforehand can also make you more accurate too. Planning will help you be efficient in the studio. It will allow you to finish quicker, save money or give you extra time to get things perfect.

Here are a few practical things that I noticed myself when recording. Guitarists: large amounts of effects pedals can be a hindrance to a quality recording. This is because of the internal noise they can generate, especially in large multi-effects units. If pedals are not required for a particular song, unplug them. If the desired effect can be easily added digitally, then often this will give you a cleaner recording.

It might sound obvious to most, but singers: make sure you stand to record, no matter how long the day has been, because sitting down restricts your lung capacity and you will sing much more clearly stood with your arms by your side. Also, make sure you take plenty of water as recording sessions can be long and require many takes and it is important to keep your voice at its best, especially considering those later tracks will probably be the ones you use.

Pop shields can make a big difference to the quality of vocals, especially if they are loud and powerful. Most studios will have proper vocal equipment but smaller set-ups may not and if you try home recording it is something to consider getting. Pop shields are normally quite inexpensive but if money is tight, they can be fairly well improvised with a wire coat-hanger bent into a circle with a pair of tights stretched across the hole.

It is also quite easy to create makeshift vocal booths using packaging foam and music stands, while obviously not as effective as the real thing; just having something around the mic can reduce any ambient noise from your recording room and give a cleaner, drier sound. Similarly, this technique can be used when mic-ing acoustic instruments and even amplifiers.

Take Your Time

Most importantly when it comes to recording is not to rush. Yes, studio time is expensive so don’t waste any time, but you want to make sure your the money you spend is reflected in a good quality recording. Remember the better the recordings, the more likely people are to buy them and if the tracks showcase you well, the better chance you have of scoring that all important record deal.

Have you had any experience of this?  Ever had to go and re-record to get radio play?  Let us know your experiences and thoughts.