by Fred Kron
At the age of one, when most infants are pounding on the table, I was pounding out the notes to “Happy Birthday.” My childhood was spent studying Beethoven, Brahms, Madonna, and Hall & Oates, as well as the super catchy tunes of television composing legend Mike Post. Did I practice? Sure, sometimes. But did I play what I heard on the radio and television? All the time! From pop tunes to TV themes, movie scores and obscure jingles, I tried to soak it all in. My college years were spent at the University of Miami, studying and earning a degree in Jazz Piano Performance. But once I became aware of multitrack recording and sequencing, I was hooked. My official transition from performing into the world of composition came through a college friend who had just graduated and landed a job with Happy Madison, Adam Sandler’s production company. Without my knowledge, he had bothered someone there just long enough for them to ask me for a demo reel, which I thankfully had been working on. A job was offered to me by Adam Sandler to compose music for a batch of Internet short films, and so began my career as a film and television composer. Here are five things I’ve learned along the way.
Trying to read your clients’ minds and understand what they want from you for their project (musically, emotionally, and stylistically) can seem a bit challenging at first, but with experience and learning what questions to ask, you can greatly improve your chances for a successful collaboration. These questions can range anywhere from what sonic palette you might choose to whether the client is looking for a textural vs. melodic approach.
Everyone works a bit differently, but many composers spend more time than they’d ever care to admit working on templates (preloaded instrument tracks, mix routing, and EFX) so that sounds are dialed in, and always at their fingertips when composing. I have some templates, but I usually like to start with a blank page. I don’t see this as a disadvantage, as I’ve made it a point to become extremely familiar with my sound libraries and plug-ins, and often the extra 15 seconds it takes me to load a sound can be time spent thinking of what part I might lay down, or what I might order for lunch.
Sure, in your heart of hearts, you know that what you’ve submitted on your first pass is “pure gold,” but everyone has an opinion (and, unfortunately, they’re probably making more money than you are), so it’s a good idea to let them express theirs. I’m only half kidding. Making changes is part of the gig! Sometimes, requests for changes come in the form of statements like, “Yeah, definitely add a crescendo there, and make it really soft so we can barely hear it.” That’s one of my personal favorites. More often than not, collaborators give good notes that can really make the cue or piece better.
Prior to my composing career, my background was mainly as a pianist and keyboardist. That part of my skill set has always been extremely advantageous to me, even if I’m landing a writing gig; instant demonstrations are always impressive and create great networking opportunities. It also helps me work faster and more efficiently. For example, if I’m working on an orchestral composition, the less time I spend performing the parts, the more time I can spend on tweaking controllers and geeky MIDI things for realism.
You are composing music to make the picture better, and that is the only acceptable outcome. The people hiring you all have unique personalities, varying degrees of musical knowledge (and vocabulary), and different approaches to their projects. Embrace these differences, as they are often what keeps each project unique and fresh.
[Permission Reprint by Keyboard Magazine]
Fred Kron is a Los Angeles-based keyboardist, composer, arranger, and orchestrator, who currently has music in more than 12,000 episodes of television. His current projects include original composing for Fox, touring with Colin Hay (Men at Work), and subbing on keyboards for ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live!
For information for the 2016 IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), visit: http://www.inacoustic.com
7 Ways to Improve Your Music Recordings
by Jessica Brandon
Today, I’d like to give you 7 ways to help you meet your music recordings and help you grow yourself as a music artist.
A lot of musicians/music artists waste a ton of money on demos/recordings because they haven’t spent enough time choosing the right sound for their music act. Get clear about who you yourself as a music artist/band and who your audience is. Once you do this, you’ll cut your waste to zero and start getting maximum results from all your music.
If you are still comparing and competing with other music artists, then your Sound needs work. We get comment from music artists describing themselves “I sound just like Ani DiFranco, but better”, or “I sound like the band “Kings of Leon, but more acoustic sounding”. Create a sound that makes your music the clear and only choice for your audience.
When you have run of ideas, you may want to co-writer with another songwriter or producer who may bring other ideas to the table to help you with your next song.
Are you tired of your homemade recordings, sound and need fresh ideas? You may need to look for a professional recording studio and seek a music producer (with whom the recordings that the bands you recorded you respect).
If you have a regular gig at a club (or try out at an Open Mic event), you may try performing your song and see what kind of reaction from the audience you get. If it doesn’t work, you can always tweek the lyrics and chord progressions when you get home.
Competition for attention of you and your songs are at an all time high. Too many music acts are sloppy and don’t give enough care to creating good, relevant, compelling songs —consistently. Learn the fundamentals of crafting compelling songs and resist the temptation to just whip something up and get it out. Poor songwriting will alienate your audience—sometimes permanently. While a consistent compelling songs will get them wanting you more.
You might be surprised how many of your great music and song ideas have “gone missing”. Record your ideas on your smart phone or voice recorder as you go through your day. Just a one line change, a lyric change, a chord change may dramatically improve your song and go from good to great!
Doing one of these things will improve your recordings. Doing all of them could make a tremendous impact. Pick one or two to start and once you’ve implemented them; move on to another one (or two) on the list.
To enter the IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), go to:
by Kate Beaudoin & Jessica Brandon
How did Meghan Trainor do it? It’s been a year since pop singer Meghan Trainor hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts with, “All About That Bass.” Within the year of the video’s release, it racked up an impressive 1 Billion views on YouTube. Before long, the single hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, where it stayed for nine weeks (also hit #1 in 58 different countries) and helped Trainor’s debut album, Title, debut No.1 on the Billboard 200 charts. The media has written that Trainor came from nowhere, but did you know she was discovered in IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards) in 2009 and won Best Female Artist with an acoustic song “Waterfalls”? And she became one of the most-talked-about artists of the year. And she did it all on the mantel of empowerment — at least, that’s what she’d have you believe.
“All About That Bass” was so successful in large part due to the idea that it was the new feminist anthem; after all, 2014 was the year of the booty and empowerment was in. But to those who read between the lines of Trainor’s clever marketing ploy, it’s clear as day that “All About That Bass” is as far from a feminist anthem as they come. Trainor’s problematic stance extends far beyond that single. By simultaneously claiming a feminist mantle and advocating an anti-feminist agenda, Trainor has become a threat to all the gains that pop music has made in feminism recently.
What the lyrics are really saying. The messages in Trainor’s songs are often ostensibly about encouraging healthy self-confidence. “I hope [‘All About That Bass’] helps girls love themselves more, because they’re adorable. Women too,” Trainor told Glamour. The issue, however, is that those supposedly empowering lyrics encourage impressionable girls to be happy with themselves only when men deem them acceptable. People criticized “All About That Bass” for its skinny-shaming, but even more concerning is that Trainor claims your worth comes from what men think of you.
“Boys like a little more booty to hold at night,” Trainor sings, explaining why it’s OK not to be a “skinny bitch.” It’s OK not to be a “skinny bitch,” but only because some boys prefer you that way.
The crown jewel of Trainor’s anti-feminism is easily “Dear Future Husband.” When the video for “Dear Future Husband” hit YouTube in March, many rightly claimed that her message was sexist. Trainor’s lyrics advocate outdated gender roles (“Cause if you’ll treat me right / I’ll be the perfect wife / Buying groceries”), seeking self-worth based on men’s opinions (“If you wanna get that special lovin’ / Tell me I’m beautiful each and every night”) and, of course, confirming the idea that all women are crazy, emotional creatures (“You gotta know how to treat me like a lady / Even when I’m acting crazy”). But those who defended Trainor claimed that it was just a song and shouldn’t be taken so seriously.
“I don’t believe I was [being sexist],” she told MTV. “I think I was just writing my song to my future husband out there, wherever he is. He’s chilling right now, taking a minute getting ready for me; it’s going to be great.”
He’s getting ready — doing crunches and 200 pound dead lifts so he’s ready to be strong enough to impress Trainor!
For more information on the 12th Annual IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), go to: http://www.inacoustic.com
Top 7 Essentials For Setting Up a Home Recording Studio
by Jessica Brandon & Jake Weston
Are you a musician looking to record at home on a budget? You will need recording equipment. What type of music gear you will need to get started will vary based on the type of recording you plan to do from home. For example, if you only plan to record demos and rough tracks, you will need less equipment than if you were trying to record radio ready tracks. Another thought is how much you plan to record at one time, one or two tracks and adding vocals in layers requires less equipment than if you plan to do more than two tracks or recording a full band.
The computer is the biggest expenditure by far and most important thing you will need. If you are a Mac user, and you are on a budget, go with a Mac Mini or Macbook Pro. If you are a PC user and you are on a budget, go with an HP computer.
The DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is the software used to record, edit, and mix music on your computer. The Audio Interface is the hardware used to connect your computer with the rest of your music gear. Presonus Studio One is a entry-level budget recommended gear. Other budget conscious interface include: Avid Fast Track or Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (around $200).
Most computers nowadays come with some basic form of recording software, but that isn’t going to be quite enough for those wishing to make some money from recording. Rather than spending money on professional recording software many professionals use Audacity, which is available to download for free. Audacity has an amazing array of features and capabilities for the price, which, as I mentioned in case you missed it, is FREE. I would also suggest adding a program called Reaper for $60 (unless and until you start making 10-20 thousand clams a year using it. Then you are asked to spring for the commercial license for $220).
To start out – especially if you have a very small budget – I recommend the Shure SM57, which you may buy for just $99.00. I would recommend the Lewitt USB microphone if you have a higher budget. Again, if you’re planning to record a band, you’ll need more mics and a larger interface capable of recording several sources at once.
In the very beginning, all you really need is one. For beginners on a tight budget, there’s no safer bet than the AKG K240.
For beginners on a tight budget, there’s no safer bet than the KRK Rokit 5 G3
If your mixing room is a bedroom, as it is for most home recordists, just know that what you hear is already mangled in several ways. You can improve that situation, if you have really good speakers, but it isn’t easy.
This is another thing you need for recording studio accessories – XLR Cable
One day, your studio will have a TONS of different cables…
But for now, you only need 3:
~1 long XLR cable for your mic, and…
~2 short ones for your monitors
While many beginners assume that all mic stands are the same. The truth is that a solid mic stand is one of the most worthwhile investments a new home studio can make.
So, in order to outfit yourself with the basic home recording studio equipment, you’ll need the following:
~Digital Work Station (DAW) Software/Audio Interface Combo
~One Set of Headphones
~A Few Cables
~One Mic Stand
No matter what equipment you purchase the most important thing to remember is that knowledge of the key audio fundamentals is far more useful than expensive equipment. If you lack basic knowledge you will always end up with poor sounding audio, no matter how expensive the equipment is. Remember this mantra: knowledge trumps gear. There are many people making crappy recordings every day with really expensive gear. But if you have some basic knowledge, you can make great recordings with very modest equipment. Therefore, never let an employee talk you into the most expensive equipment in the store, in most cases the $50 USB microphone will provide you with the professional sounding results.
For more information on the 12th Annual IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), go to: http://www.inacoustic.com
A Record Producer on the Importance of Pre-Production
By Michael Beinhorn
A few months ago I met with a band who were planning their next recording.
We began discussing time frame and logistics in order to figure out how their time and money would be best spent. At some point in the conversation, I casually enquired about how many days they had allotted for pre-production. Slack-jawed and confused, to a man, the band and their management all stopped speaking and stared at me as if I’d just recited a sonnet in Ancient Greek.
“Pre-production? What’s that?”
Over the past 10 years, I’ve become increasingly surprised by how many artists are ready to waltz straight into a recording studio without doing pre-production or prep-work. Still more surprising is how often people who comprise the support teams of many artists––such as managers, A&R, publishers, even some record producers––completely ignore pre-production because they figure it’s unnecessary or a waste of time.
A Few Basic Premises
Actually, pre-production is one of the most essential stages of a recording project—perhaps the most essential. I see it as an insurance policy which guarantees that every aspect of every song I’m producing will be functioning properly (and the band/artist will be performing them as flawlessly as possible) by the time recording begins.
I can summarize the process of pre-production by breaking it down into four parts: analysis, discovery, revision and implementation/rehearsal. First, the music is analyzed; through that analysis, flaws are discovered; through discovery of these flaws, repairs are made and through rehearsal, the repairs are implemented and the music is improved.
As well as improving an artist’s music, pre-production helps direct him to work methodically and, thereby, smarter. By introducing organization into the creative process––which, by its very nature, can be highly disorganized––pre-production saves time on a recording project (which also means saving money, and that is especially beneficial for artists with small budgets).
It also provides an opportunity for the artist(s) and the producer to work together under “real world” conditions, instead of initializing their working relationship in a recording studio. This approach tends to set a better tone for the rest of the project.
Of course, the pre-production process can be difficult and even awkward at times. There’s nothing comfortable about having your babies––the fruit of your creative womb––rent asunder by someone you barely know and don’t yet fully trust.
However, the objective examination of your material prior to recording is also a necessity. In over three decades of producing records, nearly every artist I’ve worked with has acknowledged that the pre-production work we did played an essential role in taking their work to the next level. Most of the recordings I’ve produced––such as Soundgarden’sSuperunknown––wouldn’t even exist in their present forms without extensive pre-production. And that is the end result that always justifies the means.
Analysis and Discovery
Since I’m producing the artist’s music, I need to know it intimately. By listening to the artist’s demos, I develop an impression of the material and of the artist as a creative individual. This means I have to be everything from a songwriter to an arranger, to a psychoanalyst.
I listen to all the music we will be recording, as well as previous work the artist has done (including material he may have that is in various states of completion). All of this gives me greater insight––as well as context––to the music—and the artist. By simply being aware of how the music is making me feel as I listen to it (whether that’s good, bad or indifferent) the impressions I form about it come naturally.
The listening process initiates an internal dialog in me. That internal dialog involves questions such as:
I also start keeping notes that include my thoughts about the material (and fixes for problems I’m encountering), as well as the internal dialog and any additional impressions I may have. I also keep notes about how the band play together and how they use instrumentation to facilitate (or impair) each song. All these notes become an initial jumping-off point for the work we will be doing in pre-production.
I also make a habit of checking in with the artist to share my ideas, so he can start applying some of them to his songs. Initially communicating one on one is sometimes more relaxed than doing this while surrounded by a group of people in a rehearsal room. This makes it easier for the artist to feel comfortable with me and thereby, more receptive to input.
After a few weeks of prep-work, we are ready to begin pre-production.
Working With the Material (Revision)
Pre-production is always most effective when the artist/band shows up with songs as finished and rehearsed as possible (regardless of any changes that will be made to them). This may seem obvious, but some artists avoid addressing loose ends in their material (occasionally, until well into the recording process).
As an example, when I began producing Untouchables for Korn, they had over 40 unfinished song ideas––nearly all of which were unusable. Inevitably, we scrapped everything, started over and the band wrote the entire record during a very lengthy pre-production that lasted seven months(!).
The revision process in pre-production is an extrapolation of the analysis and discovery I initiated while prepping the record. The artist/band and I start reviewing my notes regarding song fixes and ideas to be auditioned.
The artist/band also discuss their feelings about the songs. Every question and uncertainty about each song is addressed and we must all agree that we are satisfied with whatever solution we have arrived at before moving on.
As a group, we begin peeling back layers of the music to reveal what’s at the core, deconstructing everything in order to see how it all interacts and then, gradually replacing those layers while reintegrating the structure into a far better state than when we began. We examine everything; we see what works and we change—or eliminate—what doesn’t.
Songs are interesting creatures, as are song structures. You always know when a song structure is working, because you’re not paying attention to the structure—you’re listening to the song. However, when a song structure is problematic, you can’t focus as easily on the song because the structural issues affect the song flow.
You may have a song with great parts or sections, but if they are structured poorly your great parts will be rendered meaningless. My experience is, you ignore structural issues in your songs at your own peril. If you don’t address them prior to recording, you will revisit the same issues later when they have become systemic; your options are more limited and your solutions more time-consuming.
When I analyze a song structure, I always consider the following elements. These categories tend to overlap, but I like to keep them separate for the sake of clarity:
1) Song Flow/Arrangement: how the song progresses and how this progression unites the song as a unified, integrated piece of music.
2) Dynamics: how elements develop in the song to maintain a listener’s interest.
3) Orchestration: which instruments are being used in the song and how.
4) Rhythmic Elements: how rhythms in the song interact and reinforce the song.
5) Integration: how all the elements integrate/interact with one another—or don’t.
Digging into the DNA of a song always illuminates it in new and unexpected ways. Hearing a familiar song shift drastically by changing the way it builds dynamically, by altering a drumbeat so it’s more supportive of a vocal line, or by adding a melodic bass line to reinforce and interact with a vocal melody, often gives the artist a new appreciation for his material.
Often, my suggestions encourage the artist to arrive at his own solution to a creative issue. This demonstrates how symbiotic and flexible the artist/producer relationship can be when they work as collaborators. I had such a dynamic when I worked with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. They were competitive and enjoyed the challenge of finding their own solutions to issues in their songs.
As they are revised, the songs gradually become more focused and some of them begin to exhibit weaknesses that cannot be repaired. Generally, these weaker songs simply can’t be improved since their issues are more systemic than symptomatic. At that point, they are usually eliminated.
Honing Musicianship (Implementation)
The analysis, discovery and revision phases of pre-production involve examining songs under a microscope. By comparison, the implementation/rehearsal phase involves examining performance aspects of the songs from more of an overview.
After a few days of doing revisions, the focus gradually shifts more to rehearsing. Depending on the style of music, I start pre-production with a full band. Sometimes, I start only with vocals and one instrument for accompaniment in order to focus exclusively on song structure (and gradually add the rest of the instrumentation to see how everything interacts).
No matter what instrument configuration we begin with, I focus on the rhythm section as early in the process as possible. I feel that quite often, bass and drums are treated as afterthoughts instead of essential parts of a band and I often work with them separate from the other instruments.
Why focus on bass and drums? 1) although often ignored, they are foundational, supportive and propel the other instruments; 2) they potentially provide great rhythmic and melodic counterpoint for the vocal; and 3) I feel they always sound better when played with feel and aggression, instead of being polite and stiff, but spot-on with a click.
People often make jokes about bassists and drummers, but a great rhythm section makes a song come alive. On the other hand, a great song can fall apart when the rhythm section isn’t doing their job. A cursory listen to any Beatles record will thoroughly prove this point.
As I mentioned earlier, when a band comes into pre-production well rehearsed, we are able to implement changes much faster because they are prepared. This also means that we can focus heavily on nuances in their performances, relationships between the instruments, how aggressively the songs are attacked, etc. The musicians are better able to play with more intensity and get the maximum impact from their material.
Sometimes, however, a band is relatively unrehearsed prior to pre-production. When this happens, pre-production becomes a chaotic overlapping of arranging, revising and rehearsing. Suffice it to say, this is never ideal.
Rehearsing consistently makes a performer better at what they do and a better performer guarantees a better performance. Experience has shown me that people always prefer listening to a great performance than a mediocre performance that has been heavily edited.
We who make recordings are quick to believe that average listeners can’t hear any difference; but, believe me—they can tell.
There is also an interpersonal aspect to pre-production (and record making in general). Since creative work often boils down to people working together in a room, it involves relationships. Because I forensically analyze an artist’s creative work (with the consideration that I may have to rip some of it to shreds), the dynamic of my relationship with the artist can be affected.
Generally speaking, people doing creative work in any environment are happy and productive. Conversely, an environment inhabited by a group of artists jointly working on the foundation of a creative project is fragile and potentially volatile.
Along with each individual’s ideas, his ego is also on the table. Depending on a variety of factors, anything can cause the mood in the room to go from cool to boiling hot in a split second. Perhaps one band member doesn’t like a particular song that another one wrote. One band member might become offended by another band member’s flippant comment, or someone had a bad morning prior to beginning work.
In this case, how do I––as the designated driver of this project––constructively handle ongoing interpersonal dynamics? How do I critique an artist without demolishing his confidence? How do I keep everyone in the room happy, working well together, with the same general goal in mind while navigating around any stray agendas that might be detrimental to the project?
Apart from helping hone the artist’s material, my job is to maintain stability. In this aspect, I have to be an office manager, a psychologist, a parent and a traffic cop.
To handle those roles well, I come into pre-production prepared. This starts by knowing all the music and having a comprehensive plan to make it better.
And, to reinforce that, I come in calm and relaxed. In a work situation involving multiple individuals, one person’s mood and state of mind can affect everyone else’s mood (as well as their ability to concentrate); hence, maintaining my calm helps everyone keep theirs.
For this reason, I always make sure to leave my personal issues outside the rehearsal studio door. I also try to meditate prior to starting work.
If there is a disagreement, my responsibility is to maintain a constant overview of the situation. Remaining calm facilitates a better sense of that overview.
I am also conscious of not getting sucked into anyone else’s personal drama. Drama is seductive, especially in a creative environment. However, it serves absolutely no purpose when it manifests in a group of people trying to work. Looking past the cause of drama enables one to maintain clarity.
When I see what is at the root of a specific problem, I parse out all the individual elements that make up the problem and present them to the artist as concrete facts with concrete solutions. I find that people often get frustrated because they are trying to address a multitude of stressful things at once, instead of separating them and dealing with them one at a time. Bringing clarity to a situation makes it easier to defuse.
Providing critique is an essential aspect of my role. When I critique or share ideas with an artist, I keep in mind that the artist may be extremely close and attached to his work; hence, I do it with care. Often, the way information is presented is as important as the information itself.
The most important thing of all is keeping the creative atmosphere positive and upbeat. The best way to do this is to make sure there is a constant sense of progress. Few experiences are better than hearing a familiar piece of music transform, reveal all its potential and recognizing your own contribution to this metamorphosis.
Some Final Thoughts for the Artist
Producing an artist implies that there is a collaboration between the producer and the artist. Even if a producer has written songs for an artist’s project, the artist’s name is still the first thing people identify with that project.
The relationship is symbiotic, not hegemonic. An artist may consistently defer to a producer by choice; however, this is not appropriate if the artist disagrees with the producer or feels compelled to speak his mind.
What you create is based largely on your own creative instincts. Therefore, as an artist, while it is imperative to accept input, it is equally imperative to trust your instincts and to assert yourself when the situation calls for it.
You may find yourself working with a producer, perhaps someone with a lot of credits and success behind him. Things may be progressing smoothly when, suddenly, he drops an idea on you that you don’t like. In fact, it is an awful idea, one that has (at least, in your mind) absolutely nothing to do with the kind of record you want to make.
What do you do?
Obviously, being open-minded and tactful is a lot more valuable to you than being quick to reject the idea without giving it a chance. Since it might help you to understand why he made the suggestion, you can ask him to explain it.
Perhaps, after he has explained his idea, it still doesn’t make sense. In this case, the next step might be to tell him that although you are still unclear about what he’s going for, you are open to trying his idea, but with conditions. The first condition might be that you’ll try his idea, but you might also want to try your own idea in place of his and compare the two. The second condition might be that if his idea doesn’t work––even after living with it for a time—the song will be restored to the way it was.
This way, a potentially difficult situation becomes a reasonable compromise; one free of conflict where everyone stands to win.
One of my favorite quotes is from novelist William Faulkner and it reads, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” The killing of your darlings, which in this case might be losing a song part that you love but simply doesn’t work, is one of the most difficult—and transformational––things that you can do as an artist.
Change is difficult, but it is also the essence of pre-production. The less resistant you are to change and new ideas regarding your work, the more fruitful the creative process becomes.
In spite of their misgivings, I managed to convince the band at the beginning of this article that they needed to budget a few days in their schedule for pre-production. They agreed to try it for two days. They were so surprised by how much better their songs became that, at the end of the second day, they insisted on three more days.
By Michel Beinhorn
Reprinted with permission of Music Connection magazine
For more 12th Annual IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), visit: http://www.inacoustic.com