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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

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, February 24, 2008

Tour Announcement

Sound and Recording
B. Thomas Cooper

In recent days, I have been hinting at an announcement. I suspect there is no time like the present, so here’s the deal. I have agreed to participate in a spring and summer tour of the southwestern United States, beginning with an appearance at the Maricopa County Fair in Phoenix on Saturday, April 12th. Myself and the other musicians involved will be billed as ‘B. Thomas Cooper and Friends’. So far the guys include Jon Duff on bass and guitar, Nick Gill on keyboards and guitar, and of course myself on keyboards and acoustic guitar, as well as vocals.

Hopefully, we’ll be dragging other friends along as well. I’ll keep you informed of any new developments. Meanwhile, we have been working up material, and have in fact, posted a performance of the song ‘These Little Wonders’. Don’t panic, I am in the process of procuring limited digital rights. We’ll see how that comes down, I guess.

Left to Right: Nick Gill, B. Thomas Cooper, Jon Duff

The video was shot in front of an intimate crowd at Flower Street Station in Phoenix. As I’ve alluded to in previous articles, I highly recommend you record or video every performance possible. It is an extremely valuable tool in assessing the various aspects of the performance. You know, stuff like arrangements and stage presence, set order… things of that nature. Likewise, the players are able to make personal adjustments, little mental notes to self, etc.

And that’s precisely what we are up to. We can learn more by recording one gig than we can learn at a dozen rehearsals. It just good science.

Which reminds me. On April 1st. 2008, we are officially releasing the long awaited ‘Echo’ CD which includes songs written and recorded by myself and a cast of really great guys. The CD sounds amazing! I kid you not! It’s isn’t the heavy stuff, as that comes later. These are the tunes we will be featuring to promote the upcoming tour. I’ll be providing more specifics in the following days. Until then, keep the faith.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Product Review: SONY MDR-V600 Dynamic Stereo Headphones

Sound and Recording
B. Thomas Cooper

Product Review

SONY MDR-V600 Dynamic Stereo Headphones

This is a fine offering by Sony, a sturdy set of headphones, with firm, comfortable ear pieces and a warm, desirable frequency response. In simple words… a good investment for anyone looking for a reliable set of headphones.


I purchased my first pair of few years ago, and have really appreciated their durability and sound quality. After unconscionable abuse, the material on the ear pieces was beginning to wear thin, so I went in search of a new set, not really expecting to settle on another pair of Sony V600’s. However, once I’d listened to about two dozen different sets, I found myself eager to lay down the very reasonable ninety-nine dollar retail price. I suppose I could have saved myself some time and money by ordering the MDR-V600’s online, but hey, it was well worth getting out there and hearing for myself what was available. The result is that I now own two pair of MDR-V600‘s. I rate the product very highly.

Driver (40mm Aura-Normic Designed Driver)
Impedance (45ohms)
Frequency Response (5Hz to 30,000Hz)
Rated Power (500mW) *1/2 watt*
Max Power (1,000mW) *1 watt* (not recommended)
Cord Length (9.8 feet)

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Choosing the Right Guitar

Sound and Recording
B. Thomas Cooper

So you’re thinking of learning to play the guitar? It sound’s great, doesn’t it. I don't blame you, really. The guitar has been one of the most popular musical instruments for nearly a half a century, and was a major factor in the development of modern music.

Zimbio Cover

While players like Duane Eddy and Carl Perkins defined the guitar sound of 1950's pop culture, innovators like Les Paul and Dan Armstrong were pushing the technical limitations. As the quality of the instrument improved its reputation grew exponentially, until no self respecting teenager would be caught without one. Where would Rock' music be today without the advent of the electric guitar?

There are many styles of guitar available for purchase, each with a specific purpose in mind. In this article we shall attempt to cover the basics without boggling the mind. It al began with the Classical' guitar, an acoustic instrument strung with genuine cat-gut' strings. These days however, most classical players prefer nylon strings, plucked or strummed with the fingers. By the onset of the US civil war, C.F. Martin had ventured into guitar production, manufacturing guitars that had much in common with the violin.

Soon the acoustic ‘Dreadnaught' became the guitar style of choice. Unfortunately, the guitar remained a rather personal instrument for many years. Because the instrument was not loud enough for an ensemble setting, it was relegated primarily for use by folk musicians of the era.

Around 1945 that all changed with electrical amplification. Within a decade, pop music as we know it would change forever. Songs like "How Much Is That Doggy in the Window" vanished from the airwaves, overwhelmed by the new sound coming from groups like The Ventures. Already it was becoming apparent the electrified version of the guitar was far more versatile that it's acoustic counterpart.

Even now, the guitar continues it's domination over other musical instruments. Guitars are readily available, and relatively easy to learn. Still, and you may quote me on this no two guitars are exactly alike.

When choosing the right guitar, one should never be afraid to ask questions. Although the purchase price will almost certainly be higher at your local guitar dealer, I strongly suggest you begin your search with the experts. Unless you really understand what your needs are, I encourage you to steer away from the pawn shops, as they seldom have your best interest in mind. Whenever possible, take a friend along, preferably one with knowledge of guitars. Don't hesitate to think twice. Take your time and choose your instrument wisely. As your playing improves your taste in guitars will become more discriminating.

Learning to play the guitar can be fun and rewarding, but the wrong guitar will only cause you grief. Ultimately your choice of instrument will be determined by your personal taste and experience. The decision is yours, make it with confidence.

Networking With Other Musicians

Sound and Recording
B. Thomas Cooper

Networking. Some bands are good at it, some are not. Some musicians understand how important it is, others don't. Frankly, some people, musicians included, are simply too concerned about they're own egos to do the right thing. What is the "right thing"? working together, of course! Networking, so to speak.

Don't be afraid to get involved. After all, it's your career, and your opportunity to shine. Far too many young musicians believe the club scene is some kind of dog eat dog' scenario, but it doesn't need to be that way.

Nowhere has the pressure been greater or the egos larger than on the Sunset strip in Hollywood during the Big Hair' era. Still, my band, based in Phoenix nearly four hundred miles eastward, played alongside Guns & Roses, Poison, and other future legends without getting sucked down by personal egos. We were always supportive of the bands on the scene, and it paid off for us in big ways. One should not think of music as a competition.

Of course, there are numerous ways to be helpful and self serving at the same time whether it be creating and distributing fliers for the next gig or maintaining a website. Cooperation, as well as determination, are tantamount to any bands' success.

This reasoning applies onstage as well. I often urge my band-mates to help the other bands strike the stage, for example. After all, the sooner the stage is clear, the sooner my band can set up. Doesn't this just make good sense?

Ultimately it's up to you, but having personally booked literally hundreds of gigs at dozens of clubs, I can assure you that a band with a bad reputation is far less apt to be offered the choice gigs, no matter how cool they may think they are. On the other hand, if you can't network on the local level, what ever gives you the idea you'll be ready to work with the big boys?

So get out there and get it done! Making excuses is not going to get you where you want to go in this industry or any other. Don't be shy to show your meddle and remember, networking is your friend. Now that's what I call sound reasoning'.




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