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6 Secrets to Produce Great Recordings at Home

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6 Secrets to Produce Great Recordings at Home

by Jessica Brandon

Home Recording Secrets

                     Home Recording Secrets

Remember the old days of recording on a 4 track cassette recorder and find out that the recordings are to plain and you need to go a 24 track recording studio to get a great recording? Well, those days are over. An old laptop with some inexpensive gear can now produce high fidelity recordings that can rival those made in expensive studios!

However, many musicians who aren’t recording engineers can find the task of recording and producing a great track really daunting. Here are 5 great tips that home recording enthusiasts can employ right now to start getting more polished recordings…

 

  1. Obtain a Preamp

Plugging a guitar or microphone directly into your recording interface can often produce a very transparent sound that lacks the warmth and volume that a great track requires. There is an easy and inexpensive way to get a better source sound: plug the guitar or microphone into a preamp first.

A decent preamp one can be obtained for as little as $50 and will immediately add volume and warmth to everything that you record. A few technical things to note: First, if you buy a tube preamp, it’s best to junk the tube that comes with it and replace it with a better one (doing so requires nothing more than a screwdriver) which you can buy at a guitar shop.

An example, I used PreSonus Studio Channel for a mic preamp and it really made a difference in my recordings. I used LR Baggs Beltclip Preamp with Passive 2-band EQ for an acoustic/electric steel string guitar and it made a bug difference in the sound quality.

Secondly, keep in mind that the output of the preamp will require a balanced audio cable such as a TSR or XLR cable. Don’t try and connect the preamp to your interface with just an instrument cable, even though it will fit into the input.

 

  1. Obtain a Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone

It is important to get a good condenser microphone. I used a Audio-Technica AT2035 Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone for just $150.00 and I could hear the big difference compared to my previous use of Shure SM57 microphone. The Audio Technica AT2035 is widely regarded as the ideal first mic for anyone starting a home studio on a shoe-string budget. Among the dozens of terrible mics in this price range, the AT2035 is one of the few that actually delivers on its promises.

I strongly recommend that anyone mastering their own recordings, even on a shoestring budget, make purchasing a large diaphragm condenser microphone mandatory. The reason I believe in this item so dearly is that in addition to recording vocals, you can also record acoustic instruments (banjos, acoustic guitars, mandolins, etc.), light percussion (tambourines, bongos, etc.), and a whole host of other things.

If you start buying separate condenser microphones of various shapes and sizes for all of these different tasks then your wallet is going to take a beating, and the results really won’t change all that much.

 

  1. Obtain Good Mastering Software

I use a product called Ozone 7  by Izotope. You can get it for about $250, and older versions of the product can be had for even less. This gives a pretty cohesive, pleasing mix, with enough dynamics to master.

One thing that virtually any new home recording enthusiast inevitably says is, “my track is done, but it’s not as loud or punchy as my favorite band’s tunes are.”

Many folks will then turn to professional engineers to master their finished songs. While these consultants often do great work (at increasingly cheap rates), it is no longer required that artists use them.  If you are like me and like to record a lot of material, using a lot of outside engineer help is just too expensive.

 

  1. Obtain Decent Monitors

Many home recording honchos fall into the trap of buying really expensive monitors for playback. But if you are on a budget like me, nothing fancy is required.

I used a pair of PreSonus Eris E5 5.25″ Powered Studio Monitors, and I obtained it for just $275.00. These speakers sound fantastic; very balanced, plenty of Bass, plenty of volume, etc. At this price and size, you can’t go wrong.

The only important thing is to simply know how your monitors compared to other speakers. Listen to your tracks, as well as commercial recordings on headphones, car stereos, and cheap computer speakers and compare what you hear to the sound profile of your monitors. Maybe your monitors don’t project certain frequencies especially well so you know to turn those up a little bit when mixing. If you follow this rule your tracks will be just as well mixed as the guy or gal who is using an exceptionally expensive monitoring system.

 

  1. Avoid the overuse of Auto-Tune and other Effects

A common mistake that many musicians make when attempting in-home recording is to rely on “Cher inspired” Auto-Tune and other effects that they hear on radio, both pre-amp and post-recording, to make up for the lack of clarity, warmth and overall quality of a recording. Here at USA Songwriting Competition, we have listened to demo tracks where the auto-tune, reverb and other effects overwhelm the song to the point that it is hard for the judges to listen to the actual melody and lyric.

The most commonly over-used effect is reverb, which is all too often used to make recordings sound less ‘flat’ or ‘more professional’. However, the proper amount of reverb to use to remove the flatness of a vocal recording is rather difficult and is why so many make the mistake of drowning out their recordings by making them so ‘wet’ with reverb that the notes become slurred together and indistinguishable.

A rule of thumb should be to always try to record each track as clean as possible, avoiding pre-amp effects whenever possible, and then only using effects to do minor touch-ups or additions afterwards.

 

  1. Obtain a decent Mixing Control Surface

If you use a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) , you may want to use a decent DAW controller. I used a PreSonus FaderPort 8 Production Controller for less than $500. This 8-fader control surface features motorized, touch-sensitive faders that handle effortlessly and follow automation precisely. Channel controls include all the standards, such as level, pan, solo, mute, and record arm, and a full set of digital scribble strip displays also help to keep you on track. The great thing is that this FaderPort 8 has native support for PreSonus Studio One DAW (got this a few years ago for less than $400).

So, do you have any more tips you wish to add? If so, please add your comments below!

For more information on the 14th Annual IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), go to: http://www.inacoustic.com

 

 

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How to Improve Your EPK/Press Kit in Six Steps

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How to Improve Your EPK/Press Kit in Six Steps

by Kari Estrin

EPK/Press Kit

An EPK/Press Kit

Having an effective Press kit or Electronic Press Kit [EPK ] will not only increase your chances of getting gigs, but will ensure you receive better publicity for the ones you get. Also, that more strategic publicity you’ll receive usually results in attracting more audience members, with the chance for better pay scales and more CD’s/merchandise sold. However, you would be surprised at how often press kits don’t give the important information and delivery that venues, festivals and publicists need. Unfortunately, when your kit is not only ineffective in providing info to entice a venue to consider your booking request, another artist that may not be as accomplished as yourself, but with a well thought out and professional kit, might be the one who snags the gig instead!

Here are six elements of a good EPK which I’ll also explain below. I recommend hosting your EPK on your own web site, as either a separate tab or a link solely for booking, as with your own site you can control the format and the data while sending the venue to one source for everything. You can still keep an alternate kit set up on other digital sites, but I would encourage artists at every turn to ultimately drive the traffic to their own website. It is not uncommon when a platform other than your site is the host, entire kits can be wiped away if you don’t keep up with communications from them.

What Makes an Effective EPK

1) an informative bio

2) a quote page and/or review shorts

3) various publicity shots

4) music to stream

5) video

6) downloadable posters

7) stage plot, sound requirements in your basic contract rider

 

Explanation of Each:

1) An informative Biography

This is perhaps the most misunderstood component of a press kit by artists – as to what makes a good bio and what you should include about yourself. I highly recommend hiring a writer for this, as they will know how to look at your life, musical achievements and make it an interesting and effective read. But if you’re writing it yourself, here are a few tips. First, A bio should captivate the reader with a strong first sentence – perhaps to pique interest or to give an intriguing summation of the artist and what s/he does, filled out in the first paragraph’s subsequent lines. The second and third paragraphs might delve more into specifics about the artist’s current sound, musical life and past achievements. If you’ve received lots of songwriting finalist awards, no need to list them all in a sentence. You can summarize your achievements. Then usually, the last paragraphs might talk about where the artist was born and grew up with some more historical information. Be prudent here, giving homage to your 5th grade teacher or that role in the school play is not usually interesting to others. That said, in general, when writing your bio, when looking at our own lives, we often leave out some of the most fascinating things about ourselves that may stimulate human interest in your story. It’s that memorable content that helps you stand out from a crowd. The trick is in how to incorporate it. Again, If you are unsure of how to write about yourself, talk with friends who may be accomplished writers or hire someone who professionally writes bios. It will be worth it!

2) A Quote page and/or Review Shorts

If you have received some reviews and/or quotes, it’s quite illustrative and impressive to include these in your press kit. The key to selecting quotes when they are three to four sentences long is to create a shortened version of the quote for quick reading. You want the reader to be able to skim over the quotes, not to be weighed down in them. It’s ok to edit out some of what is said – to make the quote have more punch! But, this is also an art, you can’t put words into their mouth, and your edits must keep their intention the same. However, taking out extraneous words or even thoughts focuses the reader to know what the most important take away is. As to reviews, it’s fine to print them in their entirety if they are well written and informative, but many times there will be a lot of filler information found elsewhere in your press kit, so feel free to reproduce a paragraph or two from a longer press clip. If you have a particularly strong and brief quote that sums up the essence of what you do, that may also be included on the front of your website; the top of your bio, placed under your name; on a business card; etc. Do not include fan quotes; try to get quotes from reviewers, people in the business who run/book venues, other well-known musicians, etc. One last caveat – you can use a quote if it is published or asked for, but if someone says something or writes to you personally, it’s best to write back and ask for permission before using – and at that time, they can even clarify what they said once they know you’re looking for a quote.

3) Various Publicity Shots

It’s important to have a good publicity shot – one that is something a newspaper or venue can use to generate interest and attract attention. Depending on your image and branding – having a shot that also can reflect your music is a plus. Clothing, settings and good lighting and camera work are important in getting your shot chosen over others for print. Sometimes a photo editor picks the pictures for previews and it is not uncommon for an unknown artist with a better photo to have it printed larger than someone famous! Therefore I advise hiring a photographer, since if you find one whose work you like, you will usually get a picture that will be more professional which will garner attention. Whether you are looking at the camera, looking away or are relaxing, the shot should convey something about you and your music, albeit in abstract terms. A professional photographer can help you find your best and most interesting camera angles, encourage you to relax and give your shot the polish and nuance it needs. Please avoid taking your pictures in front of barns and brick walls – these backgrounds are overdone. You can scout out interesting backdrops for your photo, or your photographer will have some in mind. If shooting indoors without natural light, your photographer will have the proper lighting with them. You can have a variety of types – head shot, full body shot, horizontal and vertical. The final shots should be available and downloadable in both hi resolution pictures (300 & 600 dpi)and low res (72) for computer screens and should be indicated as such on your site.

4) Music to stream/download

Of course, your kit should include your music – this is easy if you have a CD – you can either include a few (5 or so tracks) from your CD – or stream the CD itself. And if making your music downloadable, you can also have a private link on your site for your whole EPK, or just the music in full, so that only venues/festivals can have that access to your press kit and music. If you don’t have a CD, then put together maybe five or so tracks of your music, well recorded. Indicate if you are about to record an album and that these are some of the songs that you will include. If you are a band, whether in a recording, demo or video, record your sound as you usually perform. However, if you are a singer songwriter and usually perform solo, your CD most probably will include other instruments that you don’t take on the road, but that enhance your sound. Venues look for what is somewhat reproducible in your performances, but not literally. Instead, leave off those drum kits and electric guitars if you don’t perform with them, but it is fine to add bass and some additional instrumentation that doesn’t dominate your sound. Read on to the next section as venues not only need to know what you sound like on CD or recorded, but also live.

5) Video

When booking a gig, it is important for many presenters to know how you are live in performance, not just what you do on your CD. So instead of hiring everyone who played on your CD to record your booking video, when you may only intend to bring two or three or go solo, be sure to include at least one video on your site that represents you in performance. It’s always a plus to have a two or three camera edited shoot, but not necessary if your video, which can even be recorded on an iPhone, is recorded up close enough to see your face, (not from a distance where you are barely visible) that is not shakey (!) and that the sound is not muffled or distorted. That type of video will turn off a promoter. Also, If you’re planning a nationally-released recording, it is always an advantage (but not necessary) to have a story-line type video, in addition to a straight-up performance. Some artists also may include a video of their own story – a bit of a biography – and these can be fun. Just keep them to roughly 3 minutes or so, to hold the attention of the viewer. If you sometimes play solo, but can also bring a trio, record the trio – when you negotiate your contract, then you can see if their offer allows you will bring the trio, come as a duo or perform solo. The booking agent for the venue will have an idea what they are negotiating for either way, you can quote a price for the trio – then if there is not enough money for all three of you, can offer to just bring the duo or come solo.

6) Downloadable Posters – yes, some venues want a poster or two to put up – usually 8.5 by 11 is sufficient, as there is not always space for a larger one. You might even have postcards they can reproduce with your info. But you can have these different sizes on your site, including something larger like 11 x 17 – with the artwork completely done except for the white space where the venue can print their information and reproduce for their own purposes. Your graphic designer can assist you with this. Make sure your design is professional, clean and easy to use – and having it downloadable frees you of the responsibility of having to mail them to the venues, if they can use the downloads.

 

7)  Plot, Sound Requirements and a Basic Rider (optional)

 

If you can, include this as well on a presenter only link on your EPK, it is helpful to the venue to know where you are standing on stage, where the equipment is placed, who is performing with you and what their sound needs are. There are drawing programs on your computer – where you can create a pro stage plot without much fuss. You can indicate where you are standing, what side the microphone is placed, where the equipment will be, etc. That is referred to the stage plot. You can also include a list of equipment that each person needs, you can suggest brands you prefer and list some alternate brands as well. And all of this can be included into a basic “rider” – a document where you let the venue know not only your sound/light specifics and preferences, but for backstage purposes, what you might appreciate and any other special information in making your performance more comfortable and less confusing. For new performers who are not in demand, you do not want to ask for too much, it is more a guide for your sound and backstage preferences, if the venue can provide them. Just remember, when you send this to a venue, they will read it over, then “mark it up” – deleting provisions they don’t provide – then send it back to you for your signature. But here is a good place to indicate if you have an oversize vehicle to park, if you need a keyboard, etc., so this can all come into your booking negotiations. It just allows the presenter to have the best possible picture before making an offer to you.

Kari Estrin

Kari Estrin

Summary:

I hope these tips have been helpful as a general guideline. Each of these items has a wealth of information to delve into further, but this post will start you off on knowing what components to consider including. It is always preferable to seek out help in areas where you or those around you don’t have the expertise to create your most professional press kit – in terms of graphic design, photography, writing and video, if you are looking for better gigs and to improve your overall profile. You don’t have to spend lots of money for this or record in and with expensive places/equipment. It just has to look well done and sound clean. ­If you don’t know anyone in your area, networking with other musicians may be helpful to help you find these resources. And graphic designers and writers can be found at any distance to complete your work. A good press kit will pay itself back over time in better gigs and more of them! www.kariestrin.com

 

For more information on the 14th Annual IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), go to: http://www.inacoustic.com

 

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7 Rules of Recording the Singing Guitarist

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7 Rules of Recording the Singing Guitarist

by Jessica Brandon

Recording the Singing Guitarist

Recording the Singing Guitarist

The challenge of recording a vocalist/guitarist singing guitarist is that you are, in effect, trying to capture two sources at the same time and in close quarters. The microphone choice and placement that gives you the perfect guitar sound might completely foul up the vocal sound, and vice versa.

Plus, you would think recording an acoustic guitar would be easy. And yet, 9 times out of 10 when I hear a mix from a home studio recording, the acoustic track sounds thin, harsh, muddy, and just downright disappointing. A bad acoustic guitar track can bring the quality of the entire mix down considerably.

 

Rule #1 – Acoustic and Any Noise to deal with

Are you’re dealing with a relatively quiet source, or do you have noise pollution from whirring air conditioning units, computer fans, central heating pipes, buzzing fluorescent tubes, traffic outside and so on? This can be murder, so be sure to vet both your recording setup and recording environment appropriately.

 

Rule #2 – Do Not Record With A DI

Direct boxes are often referred to as “DI” boxes. This stands for “Direct Injection” as their main purpose is to convert unbalanced and/or high impedance instrument signals into a format suitable for direct connection to a mixing console’s mic input – without the use of a microphone.

The rule is never record your acoustic guitar through the internal pickup into a DI. Why? This is because it sounds bad.  I have seen acoustic electric guitars being plugged into DIs on stage at church and other venues but in a recording situation, the recording turns out sounding horrible and unnatural. No one ever listens to an acoustic guitar with their head inside the sound hole. So why do we try to record that sound?

Instead people hear acoustics from outside the sound hole. We like to hear the strumming and the entire body and resonance of the guitar (more on that below).

So please – trust me on this. If you are currently recording your acoustics through the pickup and through a DI, stop today. Use a microphone instead. It will sound infinitely better.

 

Rule #3 – How to Mic the Vocals & Guitar

Try to use separate close mics for the vocals and the guitar, to achieve the most pleasing sound possible on both, and to gain, if possible, a useful degree of separation between the two, which will allow independent treatment at the mix: different reverbs, level rides, EQ and so on.

A friend of mine recorded his vocals on a Shure SM57 microphone with a vocal filter a separate Shure SM57 microphone on his acoustic steel string guitar. He liked the results of his recordings on his tight budget. To my ears, though, while the vocal sound from the SM7 is perfectly usable, it doesn’t come close to that of the Neumann, and personally I would choose the better vocal sound over increased isolation in this case. (If you want that level of isolation with the clarity of a condenser mic, you could try one of the modern stage condenser designs such as the Neumann KMS105, Sennheiser e965, AKG C5 or Shure Beta 87a.)

Another option is to treat voice and guitar as a single sound source (which, after all, is what any listeners in the room will hear) and use relatively distant mic techniques to capture it all in one go.

 

Rule #4 – Minimizing Vocal Spill

You will need to know how to capture a good guitar sound that is relatively free from vocal spill. The challenge in this situation is to capture a nice guitar sound while minimizing vocal spill onto the guitar mics. Without the added complication of vocals to think about, the most common point to focus on when close-miking a guitar is the area where the neck joins the body.

If that didn’t yield the required sound, or we wanted to add a second microphone for a stereo guitar recording, most of us would probably next shift our attention to the area around the bridge, perhaps just behind or below it.

 

Rule #5 – Miking The Voice

Choosing a microphone and mic position for the top half of your singing guitarist is, similarly, about balancing the twin priorities of achieving a good vocal sound and rejecting guitar spill. And, once again, ‘normal’ vocal miking techniques are often perfectly successful in this application, as long as you don’t go too far away. If you’re using a conventional large-diaphragm condenser microphone (such as Audio-Technica AT2035), and you place it as close to the mouth as you’re comfortable with — personally I’d want it at least four inches or so away — then as long as your singer has a reasonably strong voice and doesn’t move about too much, chances are you’ll get a healthy vocal level without too much guitar spill. I usually try to avoid pop shields, as I feel they color the sound, but if your microphone is right in front of the singer’s mouth, you will need something to reduce popping and protect the mic diaphragm from moisture.

 

Rule #6 – Mixing A Singing Guitarist

When you’re just recording solo guitar and vocals, the options available for fixing things at the mix are minimal. If you didn’t get it right at the recording stage, chances are it will never be absolutely right, although there are certainly rescue missions you can attempt. For example, if there are audible phase problems between the vocal and guitar mic, and you can visually identify vocal events within the guitar track, ‘slipping’ the vocal part by a few tens of samples for better alignment can sometimes help. If you use one of the techniques that aims for a high level of separation, you might also find that you can comp the odd dodgy vocal word or phrase in from a different take without it being too obvious.

In general, compressing either the vocal or guitar mics will tend to bring up the level of any spill contained therein, so don’t be too heavy-handed with the threshold control. As this sort of music can often be quite delicate in any case, I much prefer to keep compression to a minimum, and use automation to draw in level changes. Achieving the right balance between guitar and vocal can be surprisingly difficult, so don’t be afraid to make fairly radical moves on occasion. Also, don’t be too aggressive in muting the vocal mic where the singer isn’t singing, because if there is guitar spill on the vocal track, the guitar sound will suddenly change as soon as the vocal fader is raised.

One of the major advantages of gaining some separation between vocal and guitar mics is that you can use two different reverbs, or at least different amounts of reverb, on the two signals. My own preference for vocals is usually something plate-ish, with plenty of pre-delay, and perhaps a touch of slapback echo. On guitars, by contrast, a much more natural reverb is often the order of the day — perhaps something involving mainly early reflections, just to add a bit of life and zing to proceedings. Separation will, of course, also allow you to equalise the two signals independently if need be, although, again, you need to be aware that adding a large high-frequency boost to the vocals will make the guitar spill much more obvious. If you’re forced to use the output from a pickup as your main source of guitar sound, you might need to get much more radical with EQ or even multi-band compression; both piezo and magnetic pickups tend to put out too much mid-range, which will need to be reined in if you are to achieve a natural sound.

 

Rule #7 – Determine what is it you wish to accomplish

This is probably the most important rule is to ask yourself what exactly it is you really wish to accomplish, how you really want to sound like? Can you envision the sound of your vocals and guitar?

The seven rules above, however, are applicable EVERY time you sit down to record a singing guitarist and they will serve you well. Follow them and your recordings will improve. The rest is open to your tastes.

Do you agree or disagree with these 7 rules? If you could add a eighth rule what would it be?

For more information on the 14th Annual IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), go to: http://www.inacoustic.com

 

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Expert Tips for Building a Home Recording Studio

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Expert Tips for Building a Home Recording Studio

Tips for Building a Home Recording Studio

Tips for Building a Home Recording Studio

It’s true that at some point every talented and aspiring musician hopes to advance to a level where there will need to be a professional touch added to your audio track. Becoming a sound engineer does not necessarily require a college degree! You can set up your own studio at home with some basic and affordable equipment.

As a newbie, there isn’t too much you need to start enjoying working from your own home recording studio.

 

 

The Room

An important thing of what you require is a room inside the house. This is the most important gadget you will need. Put in mind which room to use that will be inaccessible to noise and possibly sound-proofed. The ancillary noise from the laundry room, playing kids in the sitting room, the knock from the delivery man – all these are likely means that can distract you and spoil a smooth track.

Preparing the room then requires a measure of effort, before you think of bringing in other instruments and accessories like the headset, drums, speakers and microphones. Remember you will need a desk with a few seats, as music can be enjoyed as a collective process. You should also think about sound absorbing panels, furniture and some colorful lights to get the inspiration flowing.

 

The microphones

One or two microphones are all that you need to start with for now. As your studio continues to grow bigger, you can then increase your range. There are several different types of microphones, which depend on the instruments you have and what you want to record at home.

From the many options available, you can get low-end microphones as well as higher brands like AKG and Neumann, which have specialist microphones for each and every task. Other types of microphones that are suitable include Rode NT1A for recording vocals. For any high-frequency instrument like the cymbals and acoustic guitar, the AKG P170 in particular excels.

When investing in microphones, make sure you also stock up on its accessories such as microphone stands, pop shields and XLR cables. It always helps to have spares too.

 

Monitoring sound

Speakers and headphones come next. Good speakers produce perfect sound depending on how well they are sealed. Examples of such include the mixing studio standard Yamaha NS10 speakers that produce a realistic & true sound.  Though some engineers do suggest you go for more costly choices from JBL companies.

At this stage, it’s better to avoid high cost headphones and settle for ones like Sony MDR-XD200. A good headphone set should be large and comfortable and demonstrate a true flat sound so that you can work on your music as accurately as possible.

 

Separation

It’s also very important to bear in mind how you are placing your set up. For example, the guitar and the cymbal are operating in the same frequency; the cymbal crash will break-off the guitar solo.

Good engineering principles are therefore needed to ensure the sounds are separated and won’t spill into each other.

Working with your EQ settings will help aid the separation of your instrument’s frequency space in the mixing phase.

 

Music production software

Now let’s focus on what digital software we need to get started. Your main program of choice will be important in dictating how you work. These are called DAWs (Digital Audio Workstation) and here, there are a few options.

The most popular are Pro Tools (made by AVID), Logic Pro (made by Apple), Ableton Live and Cubase (made by Steinberg). Of course there are options that are available for a range of prices such as; Reason (made by Propellerhead), Fruit Loops Studio and Reaper (made by Cockos).

Your plug in library should be thought of as your box of tricks and there are many expensive tricks out there from companies such as Waves, Soundtoys and Fabfilter. Luckily each DAW comes with its own basic box of free plug ins, which have been found to perform their respective mixing tasks to more than an adequate standard.

 

This blog article has been brought to you by Mixbutton

 

For more information on the 14th Annual IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), go to: http://www.inacoustic.com

 

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5 Things I’ve Learned About Composing for Film and Television

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5 Things I’ve Learned About Composing for Film and Television

by Fred Kron

 

Fred KronAt 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.

 

  1. When in Doubt, Ask

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.

 

  1. Know Your Studio and Sounds

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.

 

  1. Don’t Be Married to Anything

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.

 

  1. Always Be Improving

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.

 

  1. Remember: Composing Is Collaborative

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!


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