by Fred Kron
At the age of one, when most infants are pounding on the table, I was pounding out the notes to “Happy Birthday.” My childhood was spent studying Beethoven, Brahms, Madonna, and Hall & Oates, as well as the super catchy tunes of television composing legend Mike Post. Did I practice? Sure, sometimes. But did I play what I heard on the radio and television? All the time! From pop tunes to TV themes, movie scores and obscure jingles, I tried to soak it all in. My college years were spent at the University of Miami, studying and earning a degree in Jazz Piano Performance. But once I became aware of multitrack recording and sequencing, I was hooked. My official transition from performing into the world of composition came through a college friend who had just graduated and landed a job with Happy Madison, Adam Sandler’s production company. Without my knowledge, he had bothered someone there just long enough for them to ask me for a demo reel, which I thankfully had been working on. A job was offered to me by Adam Sandler to compose music for a batch of Internet short films, and so began my career as a film and television composer. Here are five things I’ve learned along the way.
Trying to read your clients’ minds and understand what they want from you for their project (musically, emotionally, and stylistically) can seem a bit challenging at first, but with experience and learning what questions to ask, you can greatly improve your chances for a successful collaboration. These questions can range anywhere from what sonic palette you might choose to whether the client is looking for a textural vs. melodic approach.
Everyone works a bit differently, but many composers spend more time than they’d ever care to admit working on templates (preloaded instrument tracks, mix routing, and EFX) so that sounds are dialed in, and always at their fingertips when composing. I have some templates, but I usually like to start with a blank page. I don’t see this as a disadvantage, as I’ve made it a point to become extremely familiar with my sound libraries and plug-ins, and often the extra 15 seconds it takes me to load a sound can be time spent thinking of what part I might lay down, or what I might order for lunch.
Sure, in your heart of hearts, you know that what you’ve submitted on your first pass is “pure gold,” but everyone has an opinion (and, unfortunately, they’re probably making more money than you are), so it’s a good idea to let them express theirs. I’m only half kidding. Making changes is part of the gig! Sometimes, requests for changes come in the form of statements like, “Yeah, definitely add a crescendo there, and make it really soft so we can barely hear it.” That’s one of my personal favorites. More often than not, collaborators give good notes that can really make the cue or piece better.
Prior to my composing career, my background was mainly as a pianist and keyboardist. That part of my skill set has always been extremely advantageous to me, even if I’m landing a writing gig; instant demonstrations are always impressive and create great networking opportunities. It also helps me work faster and more efficiently. For example, if I’m working on an orchestral composition, the less time I spend performing the parts, the more time I can spend on tweaking controllers and geeky MIDI things for realism.
You are composing music to make the picture better, and that is the only acceptable outcome. The people hiring you all have unique personalities, varying degrees of musical knowledge (and vocabulary), and different approaches to their projects. Embrace these differences, as they are often what keeps each project unique and fresh.
[Permission Reprint by Keyboard Magazine]
Fred Kron is a Los Angeles-based keyboardist, composer, arranger, and orchestrator, who currently has music in more than 12,000 episodes of television. His current projects include original composing for Fox, touring with Colin Hay (Men at Work), and subbing on keyboards for ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live!
For information for the 2016 IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), visit: http://www.inacoustic.com
7 Ways to Improve Your Music Recordings
by Jessica Brandon
Today, I’d like to give you 7 ways to help you meet your music recordings and help you grow yourself as a music artist.
A lot of musicians/music artists waste a ton of money on demos/recordings because they haven’t spent enough time choosing the right sound for their music act. Get clear about who you yourself as a music artist/band and who your audience is. Once you do this, you’ll cut your waste to zero and start getting maximum results from all your music.
If you are still comparing and competing with other music artists, then your Sound needs work. We get comment from music artists describing themselves “I sound just like Ani DiFranco, but better”, or “I sound like the band “Kings of Leon, but more acoustic sounding”. Create a sound that makes your music the clear and only choice for your audience.
When you have run of ideas, you may want to co-writer with another songwriter or producer who may bring other ideas to the table to help you with your next song.
Are you tired of your homemade recordings, sound and need fresh ideas? You may need to look for a professional recording studio and seek a music producer (with whom the recordings that the bands you recorded you respect).
If you have a regular gig at a club (or try out at an Open Mic event), you may try performing your song and see what kind of reaction from the audience you get. If it doesn’t work, you can always tweek the lyrics and chord progressions when you get home.
Competition for attention of you and your songs are at an all time high. Too many music acts are sloppy and don’t give enough care to creating good, relevant, compelling songs —consistently. Learn the fundamentals of crafting compelling songs and resist the temptation to just whip something up and get it out. Poor songwriting will alienate your audience—sometimes permanently. While a consistent compelling songs will get them wanting you more.
You might be surprised how many of your great music and song ideas have “gone missing”. Record your ideas on your smart phone or voice recorder as you go through your day. Just a one line change, a lyric change, a chord change may dramatically improve your song and go from good to great!
Doing one of these things will improve your recordings. Doing all of them could make a tremendous impact. Pick one or two to start and once you’ve implemented them; move on to another one (or two) on the list.
To enter the IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), go to:
by Kate Beaudoin & Jessica Brandon
How did Meghan Trainor do it? It’s been a year since pop singer Meghan Trainor hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts with, “All About That Bass.” Within the year of the video’s release, it racked up an impressive 1 Billion views on YouTube. Before long, the single hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, where it stayed for nine weeks (also hit #1 in 58 different countries) and helped Trainor’s debut album, Title, debut No.1 on the Billboard 200 charts. The media has written that Trainor came from nowhere, but did you know she was discovered in IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards) in 2009 and won Best Female Artist with an acoustic song “Waterfalls”? And she became one of the most-talked-about artists of the year. And she did it all on the mantel of empowerment — at least, that’s what she’d have you believe.
“All About That Bass” was so successful in large part due to the idea that it was the new feminist anthem; after all, 2014 was the year of the booty and empowerment was in. But to those who read between the lines of Trainor’s clever marketing ploy, it’s clear as day that “All About That Bass” is as far from a feminist anthem as they come. Trainor’s problematic stance extends far beyond that single. By simultaneously claiming a feminist mantle and advocating an anti-feminist agenda, Trainor has become a threat to all the gains that pop music has made in feminism recently.
What the lyrics are really saying. The messages in Trainor’s songs are often ostensibly about encouraging healthy self-confidence. “I hope [‘All About That Bass’] helps girls love themselves more, because they’re adorable. Women too,” Trainor told Glamour. The issue, however, is that those supposedly empowering lyrics encourage impressionable girls to be happy with themselves only when men deem them acceptable. People criticized “All About That Bass” for its skinny-shaming, but even more concerning is that Trainor claims your worth comes from what men think of you.
“Boys like a little more booty to hold at night,” Trainor sings, explaining why it’s OK not to be a “skinny bitch.” It’s OK not to be a “skinny bitch,” but only because some boys prefer you that way.
The crown jewel of Trainor’s anti-feminism is easily “Dear Future Husband.” When the video for “Dear Future Husband” hit YouTube in March, many rightly claimed that her message was sexist. Trainor’s lyrics advocate outdated gender roles (“Cause if you’ll treat me right / I’ll be the perfect wife / Buying groceries”), seeking self-worth based on men’s opinions (“If you wanna get that special lovin’ / Tell me I’m beautiful each and every night”) and, of course, confirming the idea that all women are crazy, emotional creatures (“You gotta know how to treat me like a lady / Even when I’m acting crazy”). But those who defended Trainor claimed that it was just a song and shouldn’t be taken so seriously.
“I don’t believe I was [being sexist],” she told MTV. “I think I was just writing my song to my future husband out there, wherever he is. He’s chilling right now, taking a minute getting ready for me; it’s going to be great.”
He’s getting ready — doing crunches and 200 pound dead lifts so he’s ready to be strong enough to impress Trainor!
For more information on the 12th Annual IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), go to: http://www.inacoustic.com
Top 7 Essentials For Setting Up a Home Recording Studio
by Jessica Brandon & Jake Weston
Are you a musician looking to record at home on a budget? You will need recording equipment. What type of music gear you will need to get started will vary based on the type of recording you plan to do from home. For example, if you only plan to record demos and rough tracks, you will need less equipment than if you were trying to record radio ready tracks. Another thought is how much you plan to record at one time, one or two tracks and adding vocals in layers requires less equipment than if you plan to do more than two tracks or recording a full band.
The computer is the biggest expenditure by far and most important thing you will need. If you are a Mac user, and you are on a budget, go with a Mac Mini or Macbook Pro. If you are a PC user and you are on a budget, go with an HP computer.
The DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is the software used to record, edit, and mix music on your computer. The Audio Interface is the hardware used to connect your computer with the rest of your music gear. Presonus Studio One is a entry-level budget recommended gear. Other budget conscious interface include: Avid Fast Track or Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (around $200).
Most computers nowadays come with some basic form of recording software, but that isn’t going to be quite enough for those wishing to make some money from recording. Rather than spending money on professional recording software many professionals use Audacity, which is available to download for free. Audacity has an amazing array of features and capabilities for the price, which, as I mentioned in case you missed it, is FREE. I would also suggest adding a program called Reaper for $60 (unless and until you start making 10-20 thousand clams a year using it. Then you are asked to spring for the commercial license for $220).
To start out – especially if you have a very small budget – I recommend the Shure SM57, which you may buy for just $99.00. I would recommend the Lewitt USB microphone if you have a higher budget. Again, if you’re planning to record a band, you’ll need more mics and a larger interface capable of recording several sources at once.
In the very beginning, all you really need is one. For beginners on a tight budget, there’s no safer bet than the AKG K240.
For beginners on a tight budget, there’s no safer bet than the KRK Rokit 5 G3
If your mixing room is a bedroom, as it is for most home recordists, just know that what you hear is already mangled in several ways. You can improve that situation, if you have really good speakers, but it isn’t easy.
This is another thing you need for recording studio accessories – XLR Cable
One day, your studio will have a TONS of different cables…
But for now, you only need 3:
~1 long XLR cable for your mic, and…
~2 short ones for your monitors
While many beginners assume that all mic stands are the same. The truth is that a solid mic stand is one of the most worthwhile investments a new home studio can make.
So, in order to outfit yourself with the basic home recording studio equipment, you’ll need the following:
~Digital Work Station (DAW) Software/Audio Interface Combo
~One Set of Headphones
~A Few Cables
~One Mic Stand
No matter what equipment you purchase the most important thing to remember is that knowledge of the key audio fundamentals is far more useful than expensive equipment. If you lack basic knowledge you will always end up with poor sounding audio, no matter how expensive the equipment is. Remember this mantra: knowledge trumps gear. There are many people making crappy recordings every day with really expensive gear. But if you have some basic knowledge, you can make great recordings with very modest equipment. Therefore, never let an employee talk you into the most expensive equipment in the store, in most cases the $50 USB microphone will provide you with the professional sounding results.
For more information on the 12th Annual IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), go to: http://www.inacoustic.com
By Jeannie Deva
When I mention “record producer” or “recording engineer” to just about anyone in the music business, I usually get an understanding nod. If, however, I say “vocal producer,” more often than not, I see looks of uncertainty about who that is and what they do.
What is it about the vocals that would necessitate a vocal producer? A guitarist doesn’t need a guitar producer, so what about the vocals is different?
Starting in the mid 1980’s, my involvement with producing recorded vocals began as a response to singers coming to me complaining of difficulties in the studio. They were blowing-out and not giving the performance their producer was trying to get from them and recording sessions were arduously dragging on well beyond projected budgets. Over the years my involvement advanced into a more encompassing role––that of vocal producer.
In this article I’ll share with you tips and advice from my own experience working with singers in the studio as well as those of several of my colleagues who are Multiplatinum, Grammy-winning engineers, producers and A&R reps. In the end I hope you will gain an understanding of how a vocal producer might help you record hit songs and when it would be appropriate to involve one in your project.
Let’s start from the beginning. What’s so special about the vocals? What is it about studio singing that would require a specialist?
Vocals Sell the Song
“It’s the singer, not the song,” sang Mick Jagger way back when. Well, okay––the song DOES matter, but I think you get the point: The singer is the focal point of any recording. No matter how great the rest of your band, the audience usually recognizes you by the sound of your singer.
On your recording, the sound, style, personality and performance of the vocal must be of utmost quality. If so, it will capture attention and interest, building your audience and making hit songs possible for you. In fact, if the singer really knows his/her craft and the recording captures it properly, it’s even possible to transform a “ho-hum” song into something fresh and memorable: such is the potential of an expressive, musical and passionate singer
Singing in the studio is an art unto itself. As anyone who has both live stage performance and recording experience knows, studio vocal recording is vastly different. To start with, the voice is an acoustic instrument. It is “played” based on how the singer hears herself. There’s a sonic loop between ears and mind that is intuitively used by the singer to monitor the muscle actions of their voice. The many components involved in studio recording can and will influence not only how you sing––affecting your vocal performance—but how you end up sounding on playback. In addition, the choices of gear and various “tricks of the trade,” can greatly influence the sound quality of the vocal recording.
Singer or Setup?
Sometimes the singer is just not ready to go into the studio and lay down an amazing vocal performance; they need more pre-production on the songs and possibly more vocal technique and exercise to develop their voice and sing more freely. But just as often, during my years of coaching and producing singers in studios around the world, I’ve witnessed many producers and engineers who thought the singer was subpar when the actual source of the difficulty was poor choice of gear and inappropriate studio set-up.
In one of the first recording sessions I was brought into, the vocalist was having a great deal of difficulty singing the high notes on pitch and without strain. The producer kept whispering to me that the singer had a big pitch problem. After a few takes that were pretty bad, I went into the vocal booth, put on the headphones and asked for the track to begin playing. As I tried singing into the mic, I found that the EQ cut off the treble part of the sound spectrum. This made singing the higher notes impossible! I directed a change in the headphone EQ so as to “open” the treble and instantly the singer had no pitch problems.
The Two Sides of Vocal Recording
There are two sides to vocal recording: the singer’s performance and the technical production. The choice of recording gear and technical set-up joins the two sides together. If you add musical arrangement, instrumentation and post-production that are all conceived to support the singer and the song message––voilà! You have a final result that can be truly exciting.
To help the singer capture the most outstanding vocal performance possible, each element of the vocal signal chain or pathway must be uniquely chosen and matched to the specific attributes of the singer. This signal path typically includes: type of mic and headphones, type of preamp and setting, make and model of compressor (some are smoother and less obtrusive than others), the EQ, the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation, a type of recording software such as Logic or Pro Tools). Even the type of cables, such as those made by Blue or Monster, can make a difference in the sound.
Prior to entering the studio, singers have enough to deal with just practicing and developing their song performances without also having to get trained in the technology of vocal recording and studio gear. And once in the studio, the undistracted focus should be on their singular role and achievement of vocal performance. So, who ya gonna call?
Enter the Vocal Producer–The Recording Artist’s Secret Weapon
A good vocal producer knows the difference between a great vocal performance—one that truly sells the song—versus one that could be better and specifically how it could be better so as to help the singer make it great. Understanding rhythm, phrasing, harmony, note choice and music structure would be part of this skill. By the time the session is over, the vocal producer makes sure there is enough selection of performance takes to create the perfect vocal compilation in the editing and mixing. Toward the end, while the session is underway, every second of each vocal pass is accounted for by the vocal producer ensuring everything will add up to a stunning vocal performance.
To achieve trust and maintain teamwork with the singer, a vocal producer needs good communication skills and has to know how to give constructive criticism and positive reinforcement that is honest. As the multi-Grammy-winning vocal producer Kuk Harrell says, “It’s never, ‘Man you screwed up.’ I can tell Jennifer [Lopez] she’s not singing it the right way without telling her that she’s not singing it the right way.”
In speaking with my colleagues, I’ve found that the description of the vocal producer’s role has variations. Some vocal producers also wear the hat of engineer concurrent with giving directions and guidance to the singer. But a vocal producer does not need to be an engineer.
Some producers simultaneously wear three hats: producer, engineer and vocal producer. However, especially with less experienced engineers/producers who don’t have training as a singer or vocal coach, I’ve observed that trying to do those jobs at the same time can compromise the production of the final vocal. And there are many vocal producers who, like me, prefer to focus all of our attention on the singer and so work in tandem with an engineer and the producer of the overall recording project.
Regardless of our differences, on one thing we all agree: A vocal producer is there to elicit the emotion, style, believability and best performance from the singer during studio recording.
The Importance of a Second Set of Ears
AGT finalist of 2013, singer and award-winning songwriter Deanna DellaCioppa knows both sides of studio vocal production. She has been the vocal producer for sessions with such notables as Sophia Grace (60 million YouTube views) and Paula Abdul. Deanna has extensive studio experience singing background vocals for artists such as Celine Dion and, most recently, multiple backing vocals for Justin Bieber’s song “Prayer.”
“We can be our own worst critic,” she told me. “I do not enjoy vocal producing [my own performance] while I’m in the booth for this reason; having a second set of ears outside the booth helps tremendously. As the singer I only want to focus on giving a solid, emotion-filled vocal. I do not want to focus on keeping track of which takes were best, what harmony I should use or the overall vocal arrangement.”
Khaliq Glover (aka Khaliq-O-Vision), producer, Grammy-winning engineer (Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, Prince) and mixing specialist shared this with me: “Making a record that communicates and connects with an audience that can’t see you face-to-face is a skill that takes time to develop and it usually needs external guidance. You have to nail a combination of feeling, being on pitch, being on rhythm, having dynamics, having great tone and breathing in the right place. That’s a lot, and it can mess with your head unless you have somebody who can help you keep your eye on the prize and not let you get down on yourself.
“The vocal producer,” he continues, “is there to guide and extract the performance from the singer, which also includes the quality of their voice during various sections of the song. Understanding the difference can go a long way towards capturing an awesome performance. Connection to the lyrics is probably the biggest key to a great performance and a great vocal producer will always make sure that the singer is actually feeling what they are singing so that the emotion comes through.”
The Session Vocal Coach
If the producer is not also an experienced session singer or trained voice teacher, as I am, involving a vocal coach in your recording sessions could be a wise move. I’ve heard any number of faulty directions given to singers by producers that include what to do physically to get a certain vocal sound. As the producer was not a trained voice teacher or coach, many of these directions were in fact making singing more difficult.
A vocal coach who knows how the voice works and is armed with techniques to help the singer use their voice freely without blow-out can make a huge difference in the studio. While a vocal producer will give directions pertaining to performance and style, the vocal coach helps the singer know how to do that. I recently worked on a project at Capitol Records with Warren Huart (Multiplatinum producer/vocal producer, mixer, engineer and A&R consultant for Capitol Records) and this is what he had to say: “The best vocal coaches I have worked with have helped to put the artist at ease and warm up their voice without straining them. If an artist has already established a long-term successful relationship with a vocal coach, it can be a great benefit to have them present, especially at the start of a vocal session.”
A session vocal coach or a vocal producer who is additionally a vocal technique expert will be able to help the singer nail the performance while assisting the singer to troubleshoot any vocal or equipment problems that would hinder a free and expressive vocal performance.
Here’s a story to illustrate: Recently a singer studying voice technique with me arrived complaining about a recording session she’d had the previous night. The producer was trying to get her to sing the pre-choruses in a breathy voice but kept telling her that in doing so, her volume was too low. To remedy the lower volume, he told her to “push” her voice out while singing breathy.
The result was that her voice soon blew out, they didn’t get what he wanted for the pre-chorus and in her lesson the next day I had to rehabilitate her voice. Breathy singing is a subdued sound and it cannot be done loudly without straining the voice. If I had been present in the studio, I would have tracked the breathy pre-choruses separately from the rest of the song so that the recording levels could be raised. In the lesson I showed her how to cup her mouth with her hands so that her breathy sound would be amplified by the microphone. Using that technique in the next day’s session, she gave her producer the sound and feel he was looking for without having to “push” and blow out her voice.
In the Studio
• Set-up: The first thing your vocal producer will do together with the engineer is set up the session. Determining the correct match of mic for you can take about 20 minutes of trying out several to determine the one that brings out the best in your voice. When multiple songs are part of the project, the same mic will normally be used for continuity of sound throughout the album or EP. Once the mic has been matched and the headphone mix is comfortable for you to sing easily, the actual session starts.
• Coordinate with the Producer: It is important that everyone is on the same page. “You must all have the same vision for the song,” says Deanna DellaCioppa. “If you (producer, vocal producer and singer/rapper) do not share the same vision for the end result, this is a huge problem. The producer generally has final say over the final product, so it is the vocal producer’s job to be sure that is captured from the singer.”
• Go for Performance: The entire focus of the singer should be on the performance, not on technique. Any vocal “glitches” can always be fixed in one of three ways: 1. Digital editing such as using auto tuner software. 2. A compilation track for the lead vocal created later (selecting the best sections of different “takes”) 3. ”Punching” (to re-record that phrase or section).
• Full Takes or Sections?: As many of us do, Warren Huart decides on his session approach based on the singer and the song: “Some singers can perform songs best in single, full takes. Some songs and/or singers require recording the song in sections. You have to be open to trying different things to find the best approach for the situation and not just using one methodology.” As I mentioned earlier, when a song has big contrasts in volume, I prefer to record them separately. This allows the engineer to set the input volume correctly for each section so that the singer can use the appropriately contrasting vocal approaches
• The Final Track: Once the vocal producer is certain that several choices of great performances have been tracked for each part of the song, the singer’s job is done and the editing and compilation begins. The ears and objectivity of a good vocal producer are invaluable in searching through all the vocal takes just recorded, fixing notes as needed and piecing together sections to make up the final track.
• Last Steps: With the vocal compilation track completed, mixing and then mastering are the important final steps. As long as the tracking has been done right, you’ll have all the ingredients needed for your mixing engineer and producer to create the magic. But that’s a subject for another day.
Who Uses Vocal Producers?
Kuk Harrell is the vocal producer for artists such as Justin Bieber, Rihanna and Jennifer Lopez. Warren Huart has vocal produced artists such as: Isaac Slade (the Fray), James Blunt, Marc Broussard, Tori Kelly and Ace Frehley (formerly of Kiss). But you don’t have to be an artist signed to a record label to use a vocal producer. It depends upon whether you want to achieve a level of quality that a record label would consider good enough to represent, distribute and broadcast.
Aubrey Whitfield, a British producer, mix engineer and founder of London-based indie label 2ube Records, explains something I’ve heard echoed by other labels: “If you approach me and you have a release-ready record that doesn’t need re-recording, then that’s going to catch my attention. Why? …. We won’t have to re-record you. So think smartly and produce something that competes with current Top 40 releases and you’ll be halfway there.”
For lesser budget projects still striving to have the edge of radio-ready songs, you might consider tracking your instruments in your home or project studio. Then track your vocals with a vocal producer in a pro-studio and complete the recording with a mixing/mastering specialist.
The Business of Hiring
Vocal producers and session vocal coaches are hired in any number of different ways. They are hired by artists, labels, managers and even publishers to work by the hour, at a flat rate per song or for the entire project. “Every project is different; there is no [standard] cost,” Warren Huart shared with me. “Also, I generally receive points on album sales. Points fluctuate depending on whether you are working on just the vocal or the whole track plus the vocals.”
Producer points are a percentage of royalties received for working on a commercially sold album. A point would be equal to one percent of the retail or wholesale price of an album. One or two points would be typical, but superstar producers such as Kuk Harrell can demand higher percentages. Indeed, a 2012 New York Times article included: “Having the certainty of Mr. Harrell’s ear comes with a price: several thousand dollars per song and, more significant, a cut of the royalties.”
Since production can also get into co-writing, arranging, etc. and this goes beyond points and enters into publishing rights, anything can be negotiated into a contract. Just make sure you enlist a qualified entertainment attorney if contracts are involved.
(Article reprinted by permission of Music Connection Magazine)
About the Author
JEANNIE DEVA is a Grammy member, the originator of The Deva Method®, Complete Voice Technique for Stage and Studio™, a published author, a graduate in composition and arranging from Berklee College of Music and a recording studio vocal producer/vocal coach endorsed by engineers and producers of, among others, Aerosmith, Elton John, Bette Midler, Fleetwood Mac and the Rolling Stones. Based in Los Angeles, she also coaches online worldwide and travels on location. For info: JeannieDeva.com, @JeannieDeva
For More information on the 12th Annual IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), go to: http://www.inacoustic.com