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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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Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone to Achieve Success

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Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone to Achieve Success

by Wallace Collins

Wallace Collins

Wallace Collins, Entertainment Lawyer.

Wallace Collins has experienced the music industry in many forms, breaking in as a music artist himself, and now represents numerous music artists as well as visual artists, designers, and media properties as an entertainment lawyer and intellectual property attorney.

 

In the most high profile court case Wallace was involved with, his client received the largest monetary judgment ever awarded for the use of a single “sample” in the rap song “Whoomp! There It Is”. He has written numerous articles for legal and trade publications, Billboard magazine, Entertainment Law and Finance and The New York Law Journal, and has appeared on many national television and radio broadcasts including Court TV and Hard Copy.

While it seems like Wallace had an easy road,  as the cliché goes, “looks can be deceiving”.  What first seemed like a monumental failure turned into a greater passion for life and ultimately, greater success.

Here’s Michael Nova’s inspiring interview with Wallace Collins…

 

Wallace, before becoming an entertainment lawyer, you were an artist yourself. Can you please share with us how you got your start and how you were able to get discovered by your first record label, Epic Records?

As a young teenager I was an avid songwriter inspired by The Beatles like so many others at the time. I formed bands to be able to perform my songs for an audience and to be able to record my songs.

It was a different era then where you recorded on a small cassette player at home then rehearsed in order to book time and record in a formal recording studio. We would save up what we could for months to afford to book a studio session and make the best demos we could.

For years we would send around our demos to record companies only to be rejected – until one day that changed. Long story short, one time we moved from a 4-track studio where we had started some basic tracks to an 8-track studio. There it turned out that our reel-to-reel master tape now had a lot more tracks, so we filled them up with overdubbed vocals.

We shopped that demo around and got interest from CAM, Jimmy Ienner’s production company that had worked with the Raspberries and he was impressed with what we had done vocally (even though we barely even understood what we were doing). That production company financed us making real masters in a real studio with a real producer, and when I was just 18, I was signed to a record deal with Epic Records.

 

And what happened after you were signed? This led to a second record deal with EMI?

Without getting into the nitty gritty of the record label shenanigans that went on in that world, our Epic single “Rock & Roll President” was not properly set-up and promoted so was not a hit.

Although it was released by Epic on the same days as Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” and Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music White Boy” – so we were in good company – when our single failed to get the traction that those other artists got, we were dropped.

We were heartbroken, but CAM believed in us as a band, and me as a songwriter, and so they financed some more recordings. They pitched us to United Artists records and we were signed again.

We were in the studio working on our album when we got the word that EMI had bought out United Artists. We soon realized that this was not good news since EMI stripped most of the artists off the UA roster, including us. So again we were without a record deal (in an era when you had to have one to be viable as an artist).

 

That’s unfortunate, but it seems like many bands were caught in similar situations around that time. Can you talk about dealing with the adversity you faced as a recording artist that led you in another direction?

After the Epic deal and the EMI/UA deal I was still just 20 years old, so I kept on working at my craft: writing songs, recording, and performing live at every club and venue we could play. The band line-up would evolve with other players over the years always in an effort to make it better and better.

We played New York clubs during the week and pretended to be a cover band on the weekends to make a go of it. In the early 80s we were playing double bills with The Smithereens at The Bitter End and Kenny’s Castaways in New York city – but when they got signed and we did not, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

It seemed we were relegated to playing smoky clubs until the wee hours for meager pay as a cover band, and I grew to resent it. I had hit a sort of glass ceiling that allowed me to play music, but not the way that I wanted to.

As I explained to a friend by analogy, I wanted to be a painter, but instead of painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel like Leonardo I was relegated to painting houses – not the level of painter sufficient to satisfy my ambitions at the time.

I did a lot of soul searching while I continued to play music in the club scene.  I was not sure what to do at the time, but I knew I needed to change course. Gradually, I gravitated toward the idea of law school, something that would take me completely out of the scene I was in and let me reinvent myself and then come back to the music business reincarnated.

 

So is it fair to say that you would never have found your passion in life as an entertainment lawyer if you had never experienced the disappointment you felt as a music artist? In other words did the setback in your journey eventually lead you paradoxically in the right direction?

Absolutely, although I felt that I had failed at my life’s goal of being a successful songwriter and recording artist, and I was devastated at the time, having the courage and fortitude to make the extreme change necessary to change course at the time proved to be a lifesaver.

I was stuck on a path that was not leading me where I had wanted to go, and there were certain enjoyable elements of the musician’s lifestyle that acted as a powerful inertia for me.  However, as hard as it was to leave the laid back life of a musician living day to day, and engage in the rigors of law school, the change functioned like a rocket launch in moving me to another path in life.

Had I not been brave enough to push myself to make the radical life change, (although there was still a bit of a rocky road ahead), I would never have found the passion I now enjoy as an entertainment lawyer.

 

So then your journey took you back to law school, but upon graduation, you couldn’t find work in the entertainment industry, so you had to take work in corporate law while looking for the right opportunity to get back into the entertainment industry. Was that a difficult process for you and how did you overcome that challenge?

Although many of my fellow students did not enjoy the rigors of law school, for me it was invigorating. It was hard work, but I was motivated and I enjoyed the challenges.

After graduating there were hefty student loans to pay off and no options for me to get a job with a record company or entertainment law firm since they all wanted lawyers with experience.

I had no choice but to take jobs with corporate firms to get that experience (and pay off some of those hefty student loans). For a few years the big paychecks at the corporate law firms were somewhat satisfying (and practical), but after a while the work seemed soul-killing for me.

I had no passion for the daily work. I was heading in the right direction toward my goal, but I realized that I still was not there yet. However, since some of my old musician friends and others I had known in the record business knew I was now a lawyer, they contacted me, and I started doing some work for them on their contracts on weekends. I found my moonlighting legal work and the music business contracts (and interacting with the music people) was more satisfying than what I faced at my day job at the corporate law firm.

 

And how did you eventually work your way into the entertainment industry again?

It took some time, but the music business work I did weekends and evenings eventually led to more and more.  Friends told friends, and eventually I was getting more and more inquiries – even though I still had my big law firm “day job.”

I kept hustling as best I could to make more and more contacts in the music business, both through musicians and through other people I met that worked at record companies. I attended music business conferences and started writing articles for Billboard and other trade papers.

Eventually, I was invited to speak at some conferences.  I came to realize that if I was willing to take another risk, leave the comfort of the big law firm life and strike out on my own, the risk might bring a reward – and it did!

 

So how were you able to build up your reputation in the entertainment industry to where you were able to reach a level where you felt you were achieving the kind of success that you dreamed of?

Lucky for me, when I struck out on my own as an entertainment lawyer it was the early 1990’s – still a boom time for the record industry. CDs caused many people to re-purchase the same music they already owned on vinyl or cassette along with new music, so money was rolling into the record business.

Rap music was burgeoning, and since some of the bigger entertainment law firms were overloaded with their rock star music clients (and did not necessarily see the future of urban music), solo practitioners like me could pick up business.

Again, luck and timing played a part once I moved myself into the right place. One day an unknown artist called me for a consultation, and we ended up doing a deal with Puff Daddy’s BadBoy Records (and then more and more artists that were going to get signed to BadBoy came to me).  A year or so later the same thing happened with Jay Z’s Roc-a-Fella Records: one artist came to me to do his deal, and once I did that deal, the word spread, and then many more artists and producers working with that label came to me.

To be honest, it just kind of kept going and growing like that, and I built it up one brick at a time, until I had built up an entertainment law practice of my own. All the time I kept writing articles and speaking at conferences to it all worked to reinforce what I was doing day to day.

 

So now as you look back on your journey, what have you learned about overcoming adversity in life, as in our phrase, “fall down seven times, rise up eight”?

The secret to success has certainly been “fall down seven times, rise up eight” for me. There are moments in life where you can stay on the path you are on, even if you are not satisfied with your life just because it feels comfortable and is easier than pushing yourself to make a change.

You need to trust your instincts, and use your mind to overcome the resistance around you. Pushing against the inertia of habit and lifestyle was not easy, but the reward has been great for me: from bedroom songwriter to Epic recording artist, from singer in smoky clubs to Fordham law school, from stuffy corporate law firm to entrepreneurial entertainment lawyer in control of my own destiny.

Each move required me to push myself out of my comfort zone to reach further for something more – but each time the new life turned out to be much more satisfying.  I believe that loving what you do and doing what you love for a living is worth a million dollars (no matter how much or how little you actually make doing it). The secret to having a good life is to be happy doing what you do.

 

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!


For information for the 2016 IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), visit: 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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Size does NOT matter: The REAL secret of great musicianship with Meghan Trainor

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by Kate Beaudoin & Jessica Brandon

Meghan Trainor, singer-songwriter

Meghan Trainor, singer-songwriter

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

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