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Monday, June 25, 2007

Submitting Your Demo to a Record Company or Producer

Sound and Recording
B. Thomas Cooper

It's the dream of every aspiring musician
. Whether one is a member of the hardest working club band in town or the next fresh face on American Idol, rest assured they long for a crack at that mythical pot of gold, the recording contract.

But what exactly is a recording contract? If you just shrugged your shoulders you answered correctly. You see, there are as many types of recording contracts as the mind can imagine.

Jon Duff

As a staff producer for Power Station Records, one of my duties was finding and developing new talent for the label. In the music industry this is usually referred to as A&R, or Artist Development. The larger record labels may have several persons working A&R. None of them think alike and thus each may specialize in a specific genre. Furthermore, just because one guy in the office hates your new demo doesn't mean everyone else in the room feels the same.

A motivated musician learns quickly to become a resourceful musician. The old clich that one gets but a single chance in this business was not true twenty years ago and it's not true now. If you really want it bad enough, you will do whatever is necessary to bring your talent to the attention of the industry.

Although some might wish you to believe otherwise, record companies are not magical entities controlled by super-humans. They may sometimes appear larger than life but behind the curtain the man pushing the buttons needs you as bad as you need him. Believe me; if records companies thought they could make their millions without developing new talent, they would have attempted it long ago. Without you, the talent, the entire faade that is the music business, would crash to the ground.

Try not to feel intimidated by the scope of your endeavor. Surround yourself with equally talented people and learn everything you can about your craft. When approaching a record company or a producer with your demo be confident and be prepared. No-one expects you to hand them a finished record, but if you don't take your craft seriously, why would you think these individuals would take you seriously? Be sure you present yourself in a professional manner. Hire a reputable photographer and be prepared to hate every single photo. Like it or not, repeat the afore-mentioned process until the desired results are obtained. Having a friend or family member shoot your photos is generally not a good idea, unless of course this person happens to be a photographer.

Find some-one to write a bio that doesn't read like a bad book report. You really only need three or four paragraphs. Go light on the clichs, stuff like talent shows and battles of the bands. Be sure to have your contact information at the top of the page and be absolutely certain your contact number appears on the actual cd itself, as it is not uncommon for the cd to become separated from the jewel case.

Here comes the fun part.

Once you have your package organized and ready for presentation, I want you to pay a visit to your neighborhood office supply. Ask an employee to escort you over to the 91/2 X 121/2 clasp envelopes.
Select the most brilliant solid color available, like bright green or orange.

You see, somewhere within three point range of the A&R persons desk is a large cardboard box or plastic bin filled to the brim with demo packages, many which get neglected for no better reason than because it's lost in the pile. I always recommend you contact the person you are sending the package to, and let some-one know it's on the way. You should always follow up with a phone call as well. E-mail is nifty, but in this instance, it's apt to be ineffectual. Don't ever assume anyone on the receiving end will have any idea where your package went. This is where the large, brightly colored envelope pays off in spades. It's infinitely easier to pick out of the pile.

It is true that many of the larger record companies don't accept 'unsolicited materiel' but what does that mean, really? Truthfully, it makes good business sense for these behemoth companies to adapt such policies, as it limits possible copyright disputes. Don't let this minor little speed-bump deter you. Fear not, brave heart, there are limitless avenues one can pursue. Once again, I implore you to take yourself and your craft seriously. The best advice I can offer is to do your homework and do it well. Don't focus your energy on landing a record deal. Instead, I suggest you prepare yourself to be ready when opportunity comes knocking.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Go Session Cat, Go!

Sound and Recording
B. Thomas Cooper

So you want to be a session cat'.
Way cool, daddy-O! After all, those cats just may be the coolest musicians you'll ever work with, even cooler than the big stars themselves.

Paul Bruce C01

What's so cool about being a session cat, you ask? Well for starters, good old fashioned professionalism goes along way in this business. It's not about how many notes, or how many decibels, or even how agro' you may look with that new tattoo on your forehead. Being a session player requires a disciplined attitude toward your craft, and a level of musicality usually not appreciated by the average player. It means showing up early and being well prepared. It means listening to the ideas of the artist or the producer. Most importantly, it means learning to listen to music in a whole new way.

A great session player always plays what is right for the song. A drummer plays for the pocket and the bass player lays down the groove. I can't stress how important it is to build upon a theme, not on top' of it. As a staff producer for the legendary Power Station Studios I was fortunate to work alongside some of the most sought after session players in the industry. I needed only a few minutes to understand why they were the go-to guys,
because they had earned it.

Ego is the killer of all good ideas, and seems to prey hard on musicians. When at all possible, leave yours at home. Instead, show up at the session with an open mind. A bad attitude will not impress the producer, nor will drugs or the like enhance your playing. Show up ready to work. Making music should be fun, but business is business. Stay focused. Learn all you can about your craft, and by all means, enjoy the experience.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Recording Drum Tracks

Sound and Recording
B. Thomas Cooper


Recording drums and percussion instruments can be tricky at times. Every sound engineer has his own story to tell. Noisy symbols, poorly tuned drum heads, questionable room acoustics etc. All can contribute to the chaos, a kind of sonic dysentery. We can't actually cure the disease, but we can treat the symptoms.

The underlying problem can be attributed to those pesky transients. No, not the ones under the overpass. Transients are those sounds that come out of nowhere, like the crack of a snare drum, a sudden burst of signal, or the grinding smash of a distorted guitar or a crash symbol. Drum related transients often tend to be especially problematic. So where do we begin?

For starters, new drumheads and a decent pair of drumsticks seems obvious, but never overestimate a musicians common sense. Invest in your craft. You are only as good as your tools. Dampening the drums heads is often necessary, but certainly not mandatory. When recording, capturing a workable signal is tantamount. Learn to strike your drums in a manner conducive with good sound management. Pardon my saying so, but garbage in, garbage out.

Next, let's go over room acoustics, as a bad room adversely effects those afore-mentioned transients, and any listeners within earshot. A live' sounding room, like a garage or a nite-club will be subject to various bounce back' issues, such as unwanted room echo or worse yet, the dreaded square wave'. You can't see it, but it's stalking your studio, even now. The louder you play, the angrier it gets. Acoustic treatments will usually do the job, but each room is different. Sound baffling, bass traps etc. all play an important roll, but ultimately, it's up to you to get it under control.

Finally, we reach the subject of microphone placement and technique. The possibilities are limitless, so I'll cut to the chase. The more microphones you set up, the more sounds you must dial in. Some engineers can successfully mic an entire drum kit with a pair of overhead room mics, but as a rule, I recommend a minimum of at least four, adding a mic for the kick drum, and another for the snare. The overhead microphones can be adjusted to pick up signal from the toms and the symbols. The two produce radically different signal response, so crosstalk and cancellation usually aren't a factor.

Here's something to keep in mind. Most drum isolation booths are far more trouble than they are worth, so don't bother. The drums are the foundation upon which your song is being constructed, so set them babies up in the big room. Let the guitarist set his rig up in the iso' booth, as his tracks may need to be re-recorded later anyway. Today, it's all about the drums.

Keep an open mind and learn all you can about your craft. Leave your ego home, and play what is best for the song. Recording music is really not that hard, but capturing the magic often takes a little time. Just keep banging away, and by all means, enjoy the process.

Friday, June 8, 2007

More Tips for Recording Vocals

Sound and Recording
B. Thomas Cooper

When it comes to recording vocals
, misconceptions abound. So many wonderful singers, so little dependable information. We are all instantly capable of recognizing a strong vocal performance, but what goes into capturing that performance usually isn't so obvious.

It all starts with a good singer and a good song. From there, choose a reliable microphone. Many engineers prefer using large diaphragm condenser microphones, but I have no preference. After thirty years of intensive studio experience I have learned to rely on the vocalist, not the microphone. While working as a staff producer at the world famous Power Station Studios, I had at my disposal, nearly every mic imaginable. One quickly learns that not every vocal should be captured with an expensive ribbon mic. Think hard about what it is you're trying to accomplish. Feel free to experiment.

sound and recording

Remember, good microphone technique and proper singing habits will profoundly effect your vocal performance. A mic can only capture what you produce. Once the performance has been captured, it can be enhanced through various means, including reverb, compression, etc. but all the reverb in the world will not drown out a bad performance.

Singers tend to be a finicky lot, a fact I can personally attest to. Still, no two vocalists are alike. Do whatever it takes to make the singer comfortable and confident. A good headphone mix is crucial. If you can't hear what your doing, you stand little chance of doing it well. I can honestly say the Power Station had the best headphone systems I have ever experienced. It is little wonder to me why the studio produced so many hit records.

From here, things get somewhat slippery. A producer like Terry Date will not approach a vocal for the Deftones in the same manner Jim Steinman might approach a Meat Loaf recording. Even at the highest levels of the industry, approach can be radically different.

Unless all indications suggest to the contrary, go with the flow. In other words, don't rock the boat. Learn all you can about recording, and keep an open mind. A vocal track can make or break an otherwise average recording. It is our goal to recognize the difference.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Tips For Recording the Acoustic Guitar Pt. One

Sound and Recording
B. Thomas Cooper

Who says recording an acoustic guitar is difficult?
Oh contraire, my friends. Recording an acoustic guitar is no harder than recording any other acoustic stringed instrument. Oh sure, some simple sonic rules apply, but certainly nothing worth getting high strung about.

Guitar 002

I’ll begin by addressing a few of the common misconceptions. Most microphones are designed with a general recording purpose in mind, but there are few hard and fast rules that apply to recording. Although a particular mic may seem appropriate for the setting, there are few guarantees. No two acoustic guitars sound alike, no two rooms sound alike, and no two players play alike. Each recording presents a different set of variables.

Some folks believe a good acoustic guitar sound can only be accomplished by placing the microphone inside the sound-hole of the acoustic. My advise is to forget such nonsense, as it falls dangerously far from the truth, and almost always results in a very poor recording. Even a high quality contact condenser mic mounted inside the instrument produces a compromised result and is generally not used for serious recording. You don’t stick your ears in the sound hole when you listen to an acoustic guitar do you? I certainly don’t.

Indeed, microphone placement is key to recording any acoustic instrument, but it need not be difficult. An acoustic guitar has wonderful ambient and dynamic qualities, often overlooked or misunderstood. Try backing the mic away from the guitar a few inches, pointing the diaphragm toward the sound-hole. Relax, and let the instrument breathe. Changing the axis alignment of the mic, even ever so slightly, can produce startling results. Most importantly, listen for the subtle changes, and learn what is meant by ‘critical listening’. Don’t settle for the first sound you dial in. Take your time, and by all means, enjoy the process.




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