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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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So You Want To Record An Acoustic Guitar?

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So You Want To Record An Acoustic Guitar?

By Paul J. Stamler

The basics of a successful acoustic recording, explained…

Recording Acoustic Guitar

Recording Acoustic Guitar

It’s actually simple, right? Just put the guitarist in a room with good acoustics, put a mic 8″–16″ over the fingerboard and aim it just above the 15th fret (see Figure 1), and you’re ready to roll. But, as usual, there are subtleties, and that’s why we’re gathered together today. Here’s a stream-of-consciousness look at recording this fundamental and wondrous, yet elusive, instrument.

 

Start with the instrument

The first step in recording a good acoustic guitar track is to make sure the guitar makes sounds that are worth recording. At the risk of repeating myself (I mentioned this in the last segment of my “First Steps” series in December 2016), you probably shouldn’t put on new strings at the start of the session; new strings hold their pitch well, yes, but on acoustic guitars they also ring and rattle like nobody’s business. If you change your strings 24–48 hours before you’re planning to record, they’ll have a chance to settle in and calm down.

 

You routinely use a humidifier in your case or inside the guitar, right? Unless you live in a climate with consistently high relative humidity (and never use an air conditioner or forced-air heating at home!), your guitar spends much of its time in a dry environment, and its tone suffers—the bass goes away, and the action gets troublesome. I routinely use a Dampit® humidifier, a piece of rubber tubing that contains a hunk of surgical sponge; you soak it for about 10 minutes, wring it out, and put it into the guitar’s soundhole. (Some people keep a slice of apple in their guitar case as a humidifier; it smells nice, but can attract ants.) If you’re not using a humidifier routinely, at least use one the night before you record; the tonal dividend can be remarkable.

I’m assuming your guitar is set up properly: no fret buzzes or rattles, comfortable action all over the neck, good intonation. If not, get thee to the town’s best guitar fixer and make it right.

 

Four categories

Now that the guitar sounds its best, what are you planning to record? There are four major categories into which an acoustic guitar recording may fall, and some of them need specialized recording techniques.

 

  1. Solo/twin guitar. Solo is self-explanatory, but the techniques used for recording guitar solos also apply when there are twin guitars interacting—the classic example being the longtime partnership between Doc and Merle Watson.
  2. Guitar accompanying a solo singer, such as a singer-

songwriter recording without a backup band. This may not work with the same setup as the solo/dual guitar recording if the musician sings and plays at the same time, since now leakage issues present themselves. If you play the guitar part first, then overdub the voice, obviously leakage isn’t an issue.

  1. Guitar as part of a small ensemble. This might be a bluegrass band, or an Irish ensemble, or a small rock combo, but the salient characteristic is that the guitar still counts as, and is still recorded as, a full-range instrument. (But for caveats, read on.)
  2. Guitar as an element in a dense mix. This is a whole ’nother ball game; when the guitar is part of a large ensemble (whether live or overdubbed), it’s usually not recorded/mixed full-range. Usually the ensemble includes a bass instrument that takes care of the nether frequencies, so the acoustic’s low end gets chopped off to some degree.

Obviously, there are intermediate or hybrid situations. One classic example is Elvis Presley’s famous Sun recording of “That’s All Right, Mama”, where the guitar is certainly accompanying a singer, but in the presence of a small group (electric guitar and bass fiddle). There, the engineer (Sam Phillips) rolled off the bottom of the guitar’s sound to avoid having the guitar’s lower frequencies overlap the bass.

 

Mics and guitars

Which mic you choose for the task depends to some extent on the scenario you’re working in, although not as much as one might think. Guitars have a lot of bottom (particularly larger guitars, like dreadnoughts), and directional mics—cardioid, hypercardioid and figure-8—have proximity effect. That acts like an EQ which boosts the bass when the mic is close to the sound source. Even for a solo guitar recording, you probably don’t want that; you want full-range sound, yes, but not a boombox.

That’s where the 15th-fret position I mentioned above comes in; on most guitars, in most situations, you don’t want to fall into the hole. Some people think that the soundhole is the place to put a mic because “it’s where the sound comes out.” But that isn’t really true; most of the sound from an acoustic guitar comes from the vibration of the top, with the strings themselves contributing a small amount (their main job is to set the top in motion).

 

The hollow body of the guitar forms a resonator, which boosts the bass frequencies to a lesser or greater degree, depending on the body size. The hole helps tune this resonator, and what comes out of it is not the wide range of the instrument’s sound, but a spectrum centered around the note to which the resonator is tuned. This one-note sound is sometimes called “jukebox bass”, and while the strong bass can help the instrument carry in a bluegrass jam session (that’s why the Martin D-18 has become the quintessential “bluegrasser’s guitar”), it can interact with the microphone’s proximity effect to produce the dreaded one-note boom. One solution, if leakage from other instruments or voice isn’t an issue, is to record the guitar using an omnidirectional mic, which has no proximity effect. Even so, keep the mic away from the hole.

 

So back to my question: which microphone to use on that 15th fret (which is away from the soundhole)? What you don’t want is a mic with a shrieking high end. I read a recent review describing a mic with a rising response through its range, culminating in a +12 dB peak in the treble. Yes, +12 dB; that’s not a mic you want recording an acoustic guitar, as it will sound thin and wiry, and exaggerate pick and fret noises like nobody’s business. Even in Scenario 4, the small-element-in-a-big-mix recording, a mic with such an exaggerated response won’t produce good results.

 

In class a few weeks ago we did a mic shootout between some mics renowned for their ability to record acoustic guitar. We were using a not-particularly-fancy plywood-topped guitar; when the student brought it out and started playing, we were all pleasantly surprised by its tonal excellence. Cheap guitars have gotten a lot better in the last 20 years!

 

We didn’t have a chance to make the shootout comprehensive or scientific; we only had the chance to try a few mics. The students’ favorites (and mine) were the ones I predicted: the AKG C451B small-diaphragm condenser, and the Microtech Gefell M930, which has a large diaphragm but a small body size. Interestingly enough, the published frequency response curves on these mics are surprisingly similar (Figs. 2 & 3—our thanks to AKG and Microtech Gefell for permission to reprint these).

 

Over the years, those mics have become favorites for recording acoustic guitar. Their prices aren’t comparable, though; the M930 goes for about $1200 new, whereas the C451B can be had for about $500 new. Of course, the M930 will do a lot of other things well, though, like drum overheads and vocals—it’s become my “money mic” for many reasons, not just its usefulness on acoustic guitar. (Interestingly, my limited experience when I was reviewing the Neumann TLM 102 suggests that it might share some of the M930’s strong points on guitar.)

 

If you prefer a flatter frequency response on acoustic guitar, two good alternatives are the Shure SM81 and the Oktava MK012. The Oktava has interchangeable capsules that include cardioid and hypercardioid pickup patterns… and therein lies a tale.

Way back in the Paleolithic Era I recorded a musician named Bob Abrams in a Scenario 2 setup—guitar and vocal. I had eight tracks available for the recording, and I decided to try a trick I’d read about: putting a large-diaphragm Neumann U 87 on the guitar, with a couple of small-diaphragm Neumann KM 84s flanking it. Everything sounded fine, right up until Bob launched into some blues shouting.

 

When it came time to mix these songs, I discovered that Bob’s voice had leaked into the U 87, and the leakage sounded terrible. He was seriously off-axis, and many large-diaphragm mics have squirrelly response off axis. (The M930 and TLM 102 don’t, but they hadn’t yet been introduced at the time.) The leakage into the small-diaphragm KM 84s, however, didn’t sound bad; their response off-axis is pretty uncolored.

KM 84s, however, have an odd interaction with large-bodied Martin guitars; they “woof out” at the bottom. I suspect that this is a combination of proximity effect and saturation of their minuscule output transformers; whatever the cause, it doesn’t go away with EQ. Fortunately it wasn’t too obtrusive on this session, but would have been nice to avoid altogether.

 

The nice thing about Oktava MK012 microphones, however, is that they’re transformerless, and they don’t woof out. For recording a Scenario 2 (guitar+voice) or Scenario 3 (small-group) combination, I might use an MK012 with its hypercardioid capsule; that allows a little bit of leakage from the voice, but less than the cardioid capsule, and the off-axis response is still nicely uncolored. The hypercardioid capsule has more proximity effect than the cardioid, but a 100 Hz rolloff will usually cure that.

If you’re looking for Oktava MK012s, by the way, you need to get them from the official distributor (oktava.com). I mention that because there was a rash of MK012s on the market about 10 years ago that had failed to meet specs, and they were followed by knockoffs that weren’t really Oktavas. Go to the official source and save yourself some heartache.

 

What about Scenario 4, the dense mix? I’d actually choose the same mic I’d use for the other setups, making sure not to use one that woofs out or screeches. A little gentle boost in mixdown around 10 kHz (no more than a couple of dB) plus a steep rolloff of the lows should make it fit in nicely.

 

Other voices

I’ve only mentioned a few mics above. What about some others?

In an article I wrote for Recording several years ago, I touted the Neumann KM 84 (hero of my session with Bob Abrams). Unfortunately, the KM 84 is long gone, and its successor (the KM 184) is a very different-sounding microphone; though I’ve liked the KM 184 on flutes and mandolins, I haven’t had much luck using it on acoustic guitars. The KM 84 occasionally shows up on Ebay, though, and deserves mention here. I’ve had excellent results using it on Taylor and Gibson acoustic guitars; it seems to get along less well with Martins and their imitators, as it tends to woof out on them.

What about the venerable Neumann U 87, which I also lauded in that long-ago article? When you’re recording solo or duo guitars, without a singer, it can do a splendid job on an acoustic guitar—the U 87 has an unusual liquid quality that imposes itself over the guitar’s tone. It’s a very 1970s sound. Unfortunately, the U 87 now sells for about $2400, not including shockmounts.

 

Somewhere along the road, I had the pleasure of reviewing the Sennheiser MKH40, a small-diaphragm condenser mic. My memory of using it on acoustic guitar is that it had a unique ability to draw the listener’s attention. When it was on a guitar (say, in a small ensemble) you had to listen; the instrument just wouldn’t stay in the background foliage. That might be what you’re looking for or it might not, but in the right context it can be an enormously attractive sound. The MKH40 costs about $1200, the same as the Gefell M930.

 

Hear me in stereo

One alternative available for recording acoustic guitar in Scenarios 1 and 2 (solo/duo guitars, with or without a singer) is to mic the guitar in stereo. One way to do this on a solo guitar is to point two mics at the instrument’s body—one on the usual 15th fret, the other down by the bridge—panning them hard-right and hard-left respectively. This can produce a “bigger-than-life” guitar sound that spans a listener’s speakers—sort of like a 10′ acoustic guitar body. I’ve done this a few times; Julie Henigan’s album American Stranger has several examples. On that recording, I think I was using Shure SM81s on the guitar. When vocals leak into these mics from the side, their response is basically flat with a rolled-off treble.

The hazard in recording guitar with two parallel mics is that most guitarists move around a little when they play. (Julie doesn’t, luckily for me.) This changes the relative distances of the two mics, and two things can happen: first, the image of the guitar can shift drastically in the speakers, sounding like the guitarist just jumped across the room.

The other problem that can develop from the guitarist’s motion is comb filtering. If he or she twists the guitar so that it’s closer to one microphone than the other, cancellations and reinforcements will happen in the high frequencies—a 1″ difference in guitar-to-mic distances will produce a cancellation at 6.8 kHz and a reinforcement at 13.6 kHz.

For recording an acoustic guitar in stereo, therefore, I prefer to use an XY arrangement, using two cardioid mics (usually small-diaphragm) nose-to-nose, with their capsules angled at 110° and stacked one above the other (see Figure 4), and the whole assembly sitting—where else/—above the 15th fret.

 

The sound clip that goes with this article (downloadable from https://is.gd/RECJuly2017AcGuitarExample), used by permission of the artist, Phil Cooper, is one of my favorite acoustic guitar recordings. Phil was playing a small-bodied Breedlove C2 guitar, and I put an XY pair of cardioid Oktava MK012s over the 15th fret, panning them hard left and hard right. I think I rolled the bass off at 100 Hz to compensate for proximity effect, but there was no other EQ or processing used.

Can you do this when someone is singing? Yes, if you’re careful. If Phil had been singing on this track, I might have used the hypercardioid capsules on the MK012s; XY works with hypercardioids if you change the angle to 90°. And here’s something that might only work with Phil Cooper’s voice: I used to record him with an XY pair of KM 84s or MK012s at neck level (his neck, not the guitar’s), and I could change the mix of guitar and vocal by adjusting the mics’ angle. I did need to use a pop filter when I did that, as most small diaphragm condenser mics are inordinately sensitive to p-pops. The guitar was off-axis, but on the KM 84s and MK012s I was using, it actually sounded good that way… so much so that I occasionally recorded Phil’s guitar with the mics in that position even when he wasn’t singing.

 

Beyond the mic

The quality of your mic preamp matters a lot on acoustic guitar recordings. If the preamp is thin-sounding, or one-dimensional (flattening everything out until it sounds like a cardboard cutout), or hard and shrill in the high frequencies (the telltale clue is exaggerated pick and fret noise), your recordings of acoustic guitar will suffer for it.

I can’t emphasize this too strongly; too many low-priced interfaces include cheap mic preamps that won’t do an acoustic guitar justice. If you have a separate mic preamp, and can patch it more directly into the A/D converter, your acoustic guitar recordings can gain a great deal of depth, three-dimensionality and realism. Some interfaces have insert jacks; they’re worth their weight in gold at times like this.

Other manufacturers are putting better preamps into their interfaces—see, for example, Paul Vnuk’s June 2017 review of the Antelope Goliath. That’s good news for everyone, but especially for guitar players. Even if the recording’s destiny is to have its bottom chopped off for incorporation into a complex mix, you can make a track that fits more effortlessly if the preamp is good.

What about pickups? They used to be anathema for serious recordists; magnetic pickups made your acoustic guitar sound like a pawnshop-special electric, while piezo pickups often had a characteristic timbre that received the moniker “squacky”—if you’ve ever watched “Austin City Limits” you’ve heard it.

 

Well, pickups got better, and more important, the preamps used with them got better. It turns out that pickups (all pickups, not just piezos) really prefer to operate into a really high impedance, like 10 MΩ or more… that’s 10 million ohms. Preamps with input impedances like that used to be rare birds, but now they’re more common, and the “instrument” inputs on some interfaces have sufficiently high impedances too.

The singer-songwriter and virtuoso guitarist Joel Mabus has, for his last several CDs, blended a track from his pickup (via a good preamp) with the microphones on his guitar. The result adds just a little edge to the sound, in an engaging way. Check out the guitar sounds on his latest, a gospel record called Different Hymnals, for some examples.

 

In closing

The acoustic guitar is its own universe; listen to a recording by John Renbourn, or John Fahey, or Joel Mabus, or Doc & Merle Watson—listen deeply, until you get lost in the sound. Acoustic guitars are like that; their sound is endlessly complex and fascinating.

A certain renowned guitar player once said in an interview that he thought the sound of an acoustic guitar had much more variety and depth than that of an electric guitar, and was just plain “more interesting.” This purist rock-hating retro-folkie was named Keith Richards. If Keith thinks the acoustic guitar has the most possibilities, who am I to argue?

In any case, I hope this article will help you to record the acoustic guitar more richly, capturing the interest that Keith (and all of us) love. Enjoy!

 

[Reprinted by permission by Recording Magazine]

 

Paul J. Stamler is an audio engineer, educator, musician, and collector of vintage and historical audio recordings, living and working in St. Louis.

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

 

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The Importance of Creating An Internal Band Contract

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The Importance of Creating An Internal Band Contract

by Wallace Collins

 

 

Andy Hill & Renee SafierOver the years there have been many lawsuits between and among the members of various musical bands. These lawsuits have concerned everything from disputes over the distribution of money to the right of departing members to use (or not to use) the band name in connection with ongoing endeavors. In most cases, it would have been better to be safe than sorry, and get the understandings of the band members in writing when everyone was in agreement just so all the parties remember what they agreed to at the start.

The internal group member contract between the members of a band is fundamentally important, but many musical groups ignore this crucial early step. When two or more people associate for the purpose doing business they create a partnership in the eyes of the law. General partnership law applies to the association unless a written agreement states otherwise. General partnership law provides, among other things, that all partners equally own partnership property and share in profits and losses, that any partner can contractually bind the partnership and that each partner is fully liable for the debts of the partnership. In the case of most musical groups, a written agreement setting forth the arrangement between and among the group members as partners is preferable to general partnership law.

A band agreement can address issues such as who owns the group name (and whether and in what capacity a leaving member can use the group name), who owns what property (including not only sound equipment but intangible property such as recording agreements and intellectual property such as the songs and the recordings created by the group), and how profits and losses are divided. Since it almost goes without saying that members of a band inevitably leave and groups inevitably disband, it is important to structure an inter-band agreement in the early stages of a career. It will function in a sense like a prenuptial agreement when matters start to disintegrate, and it can make the break-up process less painful.

Some bands may deal with this agreement among themselves and some bands may have a lawyer prepare a basic inter-band agreement. If it is a fairly equal partnership where all members are writing and performing and sharing equally, it is a fairly simple process. However, where some members are songwriters and others are not and/or where one member claims ownership in the name or another makes significantly larger financial contributions than the others, it can become a complicated process. If the band cannot work it out among themselves, they can either sign a conflict waiver permitting the one attorney to act solely as scribe (and not as advisor) on behalf of the group, or each member of the group may need to get his or her own lawyer to protect each respective member’s interests. Like it or not, as artistic and creative as forming a band can be, this is a business and it is wise to recognize that and deal with it. These inter-band issues are better dealt with at the beginning when everyone is optimistic and excited rather than later when tempers flare and bitterness pervades as egos clash.

A typical band contract will address certain fundamental group issues. One important issue is who owns the group name if one member leaves or if a group dissolves which group of members are entitled to use the name. Under partnership law the partners would be the joint owners of the name and any member would probably be permitted to use the name (or maybe no members would be allowed to use the name once the partnership is deemed dissolved). Trademark rights are determined based on the “use” of a mark (not on who thought of the name) so each of the members of the group would be an equal co-owner of the group name under trademark law. The end result under either partnership law or trademark law might be impractical.

In most cases, the band agreement will state that if a particular founding member was the creator of the group name then only a group comprised of that member and at least one other member can use the name. This will apply whether one other member leaves or if the group disbands and only the founding member and one other reform the group. There are as many different ways this provision can be drafted as there are different group names.  When a group member leaves, the remaining members are going to want to keep the group name and are not going to want the leaving member to dilute its value or confuse the public by using it in any way. The band agreement provision may say that a leaving member cannot use the name at all or that the leaving member can only mention that he was “formerly” a member of the group (provided that such credit is printed smaller than the member’s name or his new group’s name, etc.).

Rights in the group name may also concern revenues generated in addition to rights, specifically as they concern the sale of merchandise (e.g., hats, t-shirts, calendars and other products and paraphernalia). The band agreement should have a “Buy-Out/Pay Out” provision which would deal with this financial aspect of the group name.

The band agreement will need to contain provisions regarding the sharing of profits and losses. One provision may pertain to revenues earned during the term while each member is in the group and another may pertain after the departure of a member or the demise of the group. In most cases, a group just starting out will have a provision that all profits from the group are shared equally between all members with an exclusion for songwriting monies (which each of the respective songwriter members would keep for themselves). Where an established group adds new members the provision may provide that a new member gets a smaller percentage than the founding members.

However, in most cases, during the term there is not a problem determining appropriate revenue shares. The more complicated problem of revenue division arises after a member departs. The agreement may provide that the leaving member is entitled to his full partnership share of profits earned during his tenure but a reduced percentage (or no percentage) of profits derived from activities after his departure – or the agreement may provide for a reduced percentage for a short period of time after departure (e.g., 90 days) and then nothing thereafter. This is an easier issue to remedy as it relates to live performances and sales of merchandise during those performances than it is as it relates to record royalties. The group needs to determine what happens, for example, when a group member performs on 3 albums but leaves before the fourth album is recorded. Although it might be acceptable to refuse to pay the leaving member any royalties on the fourth and future albums recorded by the group under the record contract the leaving member signed as part of the group, it might not be fair to refuse to pay that leaving member his share of royalties from the 3 albums that he did record with the band. Of course, this might vary in the agreement depending on whether the leaving member quit or was fired.

Another important financial issue is the question of the leaving member’s share of partnership property such as band recording equipment or a group sound system. Again, the agreement might specify a monetary payout to the leaving member if he is terminated but forfeiture if the leaving member quits. If merchandise with the leaving members name and likeness still in inventory is sold after the member leaves, a decision will have to be made about whether and how much the departed member might receive for the use of his name and likeness.

The issue of control is also very important to deal with in inter-band contract. In most cases, each member will have an equal vote and a majority will rule. However, there are as many variations as there are bands. For example, some acts might require unanimous agreement or an important member may have two (2) votes and/or the band’s manager may have a tie-breaking vote. The agreement may also provide that certain matters such as requiring financial contributions from group members or incurring debts on behalf of the band require a unanimous vote. Again, there are endless variations including situations where a particular member makes all of the decisions or where new members do not have a vote on band business. One interesting inter-band arrangement was that of The Beatles.  In answer to that age-old question, “no”, Ringo did not get less. In fact, my understanding of their arrangement was that it was what might be called a reverse democracy: each member had one vote but if any member voted against doing something then the band would not do it. In other words, their arrangement required unanimous consent to proceed with an activity.

Another issue of control that must be decided for the band agreement concerns the hiring and firing of band members: how votes are calculated (e.g., will each member get one vote or will a particular member’s vote count double) and how many votes are needed (e.g., a majority or a unanimous vote) to fire a group member and/or hire a new member. In most cases, a new member voted into the group will then be required to sign on to the internal group contract. It must also be decided how to vote on any amendments to the band agreement since this may materially effect the relationship between the members after the group has started. In most cases, a majority vote will be deemed determinative but some members may prefer a unanimous vote on such things as amending the agreement (as well as hiring or firing). This will have to be decided between and among the members of the group.

Finally, the group’s internal agreement should contain a comprehensive Buy-out/Pay-out provision that deals with departing members. In most cases, whether the leaving member quits or is fired the agreement will provide that the leaving member waives all rights in the intangible assets of the partnership (e.g., the group name, the group contracts, etc.). If the member quits, he might waive any right to and benefit derived from the hard assets such as band sound equipment. If the leaving member is fired, the agreement might provide that he or she is entitled to the pro rata percentage of the current value of the hard assets. With respect to this payout, the band agreement may provide that if the valuation exceeds a certain amount (e.g., $25,000.00) or would put the band partnership in financial distress, the payout would be in a certain number of equal monthly installments (e.g., over 12 months).

Again, this Buy-out/Pay-out provision can be as simple or as complicated as the band members deem necessary. There are as many variations in this as there are differences in personalities between the members of a group. Each member and each group must find its own balance.

Inter-band issues and disputes are many and varied. Recently, a member of the Eagles sued the remaining members saying he was forced out of the Eagles’ corporation by the other shareholders (and invoked provisions of the California corporate law pertaining to minority shareholders in close corporations). Years ago an ex-member of The Black Crowes sued his former band mates claiming that he was entitled to an equal share of all the money they made after they threw him out of the band. His contract claim was based on nothing more than a pie chart drawn on a napkin. Legend has it that, years before while eating at a dinner after a band rehearsal, each member had signed his name on his slice of the “pie” drawn on the napkin allegedly agreeing that they would stay together and share all of the money equally come what may. Of course, when circumstances changed the fired member used that napkin to assert his rights.

It is difficult to form a good band and to achieve a successful career in the music business. Any group of two or more musicians working together would be well-advised to create and sign a good Internal Band Contract so that the band does not later self-destruct over money and ego issues and forfeit its hard-earned career success. In a perfect world, each member could afford its own lawyer to quickly and inexpensively prepare and sign such an agreement. In the real world, that may not be the case. In any event, some kind of basic band agreement is a good starting point for any new band.

 

Wallace Collins is a New York lawyer specializing in entertainment, copyright, trademark and internet law. He was a recording artist for Epic Records before attending Fordham Law School. Tel:(212) 661-3656 / www.wallacecollins.com

 

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

 

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7 Ways to Improve Your Music Recordings

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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.

  1. Get focused on your target goals
Recording Guitar

Recording Guitar

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.

 

  1. Fine tune your Unique Sound.

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.

 

  1. Co-write your songs with another Songwriter, or Producer.

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.

 

  1. Get into a Professional Studio to Record, Arrange or Remix.

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).

 

  1. Test, Test and Test.

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.

 

  1. Get better at Songwriting.

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.

 

  1. Record Your Music/Song Ideas As You Go Along.

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:

http://www.inacoustic.com

 

 

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