A 10-year-old can tell the difference between a well recorded and produced vocal and a bust. They probably couldn’t describe what the difference is, but we are all so thoroughly doused in commercial music releases we instinctively know what a vocal should sound like and if something is off.
So next up when you’re working on recording a new track here are a few tips, things to avoid, and advice for getting a great vocal sound.
TIP #1 — CLIP GAIN YOUR VOCAL BEFORE PROCESSING IT
This tip is for once you’ve already tracked and comped your vocal performance.
Subtip #1.1 — Comp your vocals.
Clip gain — a function in Pro Tools that allows you to adjust the gain of an individual clip on an audio track. Similar functions exist in other DAWs.
Most singers cannot perfectly control the dynamics of a performance. This is a function necessary to even out the loudest and quietest parts of a track so they are closer relative to each other.
You may also clip gain down breaths, weird mouth noises, plosives, etc… The more a vocal track is compressed the more you will hear such noises. Also delete sections of clips that are gaps between the vocal performance — blank space. If you are recording mic level there will always be some amount of inherent noise in your track. All that noise adds up the more tracks you have. So be sure to edit it out before finalizing your mix.
CAN’T I JUST COMPRESS THE SH** OUT OF IT?
You could, but here’s what you’re missing if you do: Many pros use compression not only for the utility of controlling dynamics through gain reduction of peaks and makeup gain but also for tone shaping and saturation. If you control / even out the input of what you’re feeding your compressor you can ensure that the compressor is reacting is a consistent manor.
Perhaps you like the saturation / tone of a 1176 compressor driven just so… However, if your vocal track is incredibly dynamic and only the peaks are triggering the threshold of your compressor you won’t be able to get as even and consistent an effect. Your input affects your output. If your input is dynamically erratic, then you output even though you have applied some gain reduction may still be compromised.
TIP #2 — CHECK AND EXPERIMENT WITH YOUR DISTANCE FROM THE MIC WHILE TRACKING
If your singer gets too close to the mic you may run into an issue called the Proximity Effect. Lots of microphones have a proximity effect. A disproportionate amount of added low frequencies “boominess” the closer you sound source gets to the capsule. Sometimes this can be a nice added effect if your singer has a thin or wispy voice.
You might inadvertently increase the amount of sibilance or plosives in your track.
Sibilance is just a fancy word for the nasty “ssss” noises (upper mid-range frequencies) you hear that can sound harsh and unpleasant.
Plosives are pops you hear when singers sing some consonants such as p-words or b-words. Words that shoot out a quick pop of air at the mic. Microphones do not like pops of air. Use a pop-filter to avoid plosives and help with sibilance.
You may need to compromise. If your room is super small and dead (does not have a lot of reflections) you can track your singers further off from the mic. If your room is larger and has lots of reflections, then you may need your singer to sing much closer to the mic. It’s easier to EQ out unnecessary low end than it is to get rid of “room tone / reflections” from your vocal track.
I will sometimes purposely ask the singer to back away from the mic several feet because I want to hear that distance and the early reflections in my track to create depth of space in my mix. You can use the distance of your singer from the mic as an affect.
TIP #3 — BGVS CAN MAKE A GOOD SONG GREAT AND ARE OFTEN THE SECRET SAUCE OF POP SONGS
I’m not just talking harmonies. Ever wonder how the chorus of your favorite song sounds so huge and wide. It is a common technique to record “stacks” of the lead vocal. Have the singer sing the melody of the chorus three times. Have the lead vocal track panned dead center and then pan the two stacks (I call them “doubles’) hard left and right. Doing this as an effect in the chorus can really open up a mix and add width.
Duplicating a track and panning it is not the same as “doubling” a track. All this will do is double the loudness of that track and this will not add width to your mix as the two tracks will sum to mono if they are exactly the same. You actually have to track the part twice. The timing and pitch inconsistencies are what create the spread & width.
There are tools you can use to tighten up doubles and harmonies such as Vocalign. Vocalign is used a lot in pop music when you want your stacks and doubles to be near perfectly lined up.
Experiment with harmonies and experiment with layers. Instead of sending your vocal to a an aux with reverb, what if you sang the melody twice (doubled it) and then added an instance of a reverb plugin to the doubled vocal and made it 100% wet on the mix knob. Then you can use that doubled vocal reverb track as your lead vocal reverb and avoid the verb pulling your vocal too far back in the mix. Just a thought…
TIP #4 — HAVING A VOCAL WITH “SOUL” IS BETTER THAN HAVING ONE WITH PERFECT PITCH AND TIMING
I’ve told singers, “I don’t believe you”. I don’t deliver this in a mean way. What I mean in the moment is that when the singer sang that emotional lyric I didn’t believe them. I felt no soul.
Sometimes singers can get caught up on a performance being in perfect pitch, but by the time they hit the note the soul is gone. I’d rather have soul. I want to feel something. You can pick out what vocal performances were delivered with soul. I personally think a lot of modern music has been systematically de-souled, sometimes to a cool effect but still breaks my heart sometimes. After all, it is pretty easy to correct pitch these days. So go for soul!
TIP #5 — DON’T TUNE IT IF IT DOESN’T NEED IT (MOST POP MUSIC EXEMPT)
Unless you’re making straight down the pipe mainstream pop music, you may not need to hard tune your lead vocal. If it sounds good, then it sounds good. Don’t effff with it. Singing with perfect pitch is not natural. Don’t sacrifice soul for perfect pitch. Did it give you chills the first time you heard it? Good, keep that feeling and don’t ruin it by getting rid of all the life by over tuning.
You have likely come across reference to mechanical royalties in researching revenue streams for music. Perhaps you are like me and at first had no idea what these were or how to get them. I would wager most artists do not even know that they are owed mechanical royalties and that they have money sitting somewhere out there in the abyss.
When you have written or own the copyright to a song (musical work “composition”) you have six legal rights in relation to that copyright.
The royalty money from the right of reproduction is called a “mechanical royalty”.
This money is totally separate from the money paid out to you through your distributor (Distrokid, CD Baby, Tunecore, etc…).
Mechanical royalties are paid out to the owner or owners of the copyright for a musical work or composition. If you write your own music, then this is you.
Your PRO (BMI, ASCAP, SESAC, etc…) does not collect your mechanical royalties.
Your distributor does not collect your mechanical royalties. Some distributors do offer publishing admin services however you have to opt-in and pay for this additional service.
You must either do this yourself, which most artists likely won’t be able to do due to bureaucratic BS and lack of interest and effort by music services to establish infrastructure to deal with these payments. OR you must sign up with a 3rd party go-between service (who of course takes a fee) such as Audiam, Songtrust, or the Harry Fox Agency.
Dear friends who have had success on Spotify or other streaming platforms, please go get your money. Look into these three services to collect your mechanicals:
As of November 2019 the US mechanical royalty rate for a stream on Spotify was $0.0005390232 per stream.
That is $539 for 1 million streams.
Many people across the globe are being told or asked to work from home right now. I personally have been working from home for the past three years.
Here are some tips for avoiding the common pitfalls and mistakes work-from-home noobs often make:
Separate your literal work space from your most valued leisure space
In other words, don’t work on your computer in your bed. Your bed is for sleeping. This will not only benefit your work life but even more so your home (off-work) life. You will also sleep better.
Train yourself to work in one area of your home. Have a physical space for your work. Do the best with what you have. Make it a habit. Habits = good.
Go on walks.
Your boss and coworkers can’t give you eyes or shame you for taking a break when you’re working from home. We are humans. Humans were not meant to be stationary for eight hours at a time. Get up. Go outside. Walk.
Avoid your phone like the plague.
Your phone is the single greatest source of distraction in your life. You are most likely programmed to want to whip it out and scroll your IG newsfeed when you are at your home. Don’t do it. Put it in a different room than the one you are working in. If you need your phone for work, then be very intentional about it’s use. Stay strong my friend.
Set boundaries with roommates.
Let your roommate know that your work time is not chat about the weather time. You initiate the conversation. Hey Roomie, “Now that we are both working from home I think it important we set some work boundaries. I need to be able to focus and get sh** done from 9am — noon. Would you refrain from playing drums or watching really loud TV, etc…”
Limit your screens (No TV).
Do not put Gilmore Girls on in the background while you work. No TV. This will not help you work. There is no such thing as being good at multi-tasking.
Use a calendar app, and/or checklists.
If something needs to be done, then put it in your calendar. Map out every hour of your work day in your calendar. 9am — 10am write for blog. 10am-11am respond to email and send proposals, etc…
Use checklists to keep track of everything that needs doing. I like to keep it analog with an actual pen and paper. This helps me avoid my phone.
Test everything and keep the good.
A positively biblical idea. Try different approaches to your work day. Put your ideas to the test. If something works, then keep it. If it doesn’t work, then don’t do it. You may find you are most productive with creative work in the morning. If that’s the case, then get the creative juices flowing fast and don’t do non-creative tasks such as checking email until the afternoon.
If I could start over as a music producer I would get these pieces of gear:
It’s not the sexiest item to think about, but no music studio runs without a computer. In order to record you need a computer powerful enough to handle large session files. Fortunately computers keep getting faster and more powerful.
I would get a Mac. I started out on a 15” 2011 MacBook Pro. I bought a larger monitor and connected the two via HDMI. I ran like this for several years. I already had a MacBook Pro from my school days. Were I to start over without one I would look into the Mac minis (cheaper) with an external monitor UNLESS I needed to do remote recording.
If you own a Mac computer, then you will find it much easier to find the most popular supported products for recording. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen PC users in forums bemoan the fact that they aren’t receiving support for a new product yet.
I have been using Pro Tools for 10 years. I have a love hate relationship with Pro Tools. Were I to start again I would NOT have started on Pro Tools. I would have considered these two options:
1) Sometime this Spring a company called Universal Audio is releasing a free DAW software called LUNA to all owners of any of their hardware products. I own one of those products and will be most eagerly trying out this new DAW once it drops. I am actually hoping it is good enough so I can transition away from Pro Tools.
2) I would have gotten Logic Pro X, which is $200 one time compared to the perennial exorbitant cost of Pro Tools. Logic has arguably better stock plugins, is more intuitive to creatives who want to get making music fast, and has greater midi capabilities (most top 100 commercial songs are nearly all midi).
The Audio Interface
I would have gotten an Apollo Twin (~$900) or Arrow (~$500) interface (depends on your I/O needs) from Universal Audio. I started on an M-box and it wasn’t great. In my opinion, Universal Audio is unmatched in quality for the price and being able to track through the unison technology (no latency plugins) is a game changer. Plus you will soon get LUNA for free.
I would have invested in a used Shure SM7b. This is one of the most classic vocal microphones of all time and you will likely find one in nearly every commercial studio. This was Michael Jackson’s vocal mic of choice and if it’s good enough for MJ, then it’s good enough for you. Added bonus: You can find these used for $250 (which is hella cheap for an all-purpose vocal mic).
I started out with the MXL 990s mic pack which is about as cheap as you could go. I later grabbed a pair of Audio Technica 4050s which I am a fan of. I would have wanted to grab either a pencil or large diaphragm condenser microphone for any acoustic instruments such as guitar or banjo, etc… The Audio Technica 4033 is also a great mic for instruments (you can find these for $250 used).
I would have bought all my cables (XLRs and 1/4”) from Seismic Audio. These guys make great cables of higher quality than Livewire (basic Guitar Center brand) and cheaper than Mogami (pricey but also great option).
Doesn’t matter just get one.
M-Audio makes some cheap and serviceable controllers / keyboards. If I was feeling boujee I would have splurged and got something with weighted keys and touch pads. Probably would end up meeting in the middle and getting non-weighted keys and a touchpad — Perhaps something from the Akai Professional line.
Sample Packs / Virtual Instruments
I would have bought Native Instruments Komplete 12 and perhaps bundled it with a Komplete Kontrol midi keyboard. I actually have one of these but it doesn’t cooperate well with Pro Tools. Were I in Logic I’d better be able to take advantage of it’s capabilities.
I started on Sennheiser HD 280s (<$100) and likely still would start again with these. They are fine. They are headphones. They do the job. Were I to pursue a majority of mixing work I would look into getting a pair of open back headphones from a site like Drop (formerly Massdrop). On Drop you can find the exact same headphones from popular brands with a few cosmetic changes + Massdrop’s logo for way cheaper.
I would have looked into getting a pair of Yamaha HS 8s or a pair of monitors from the Focal Alpha series off Sweetwater. I also may have looked for a used pair of KRK Rokit 5s.
I would have bought as much of this used as I could or walked into Guitar Center and asked to speak to the PRO desk. GC Pro is a totally separate sales department from the people walking the floor. If you are a professional in the music industry you can get more competitive pricing on certain products from the sales people at GC Pro. I would also have compared prices with my Sweetwater sales rep.
An old buddy here in Nashville, Nick Byrd, runs an Instagram where he posts used gear all the time for great deals. Find him @brydfinds.
Reality for most aspiring artists is working several part-time gigs to make up for the low earnings of recorded music and touring. Piecing it all together month to month and barely scraping by.
In the chaos of multiple jobs it can be difficult to find large chunks of time to work on music. When will I have a spare hour to work on writing? Do I really have a weekend anymore? I must run to rehearsals in the evenings, skip meals, get into the studio at a reasonable hour to not upset my producer who also wants to have some simulacrum of work-life balance.
Creatives and makers need time to make. It’s imperative that we give ourselves the time to create. We need large blocks of uninterrupted time. Creative work is exceedingly difficult to fit into a spare hour here or there.
Paul Graham, writer of the now very popular essay, “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule”, explains:
“When you're operating on the maker's schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting. That's no problem for someone on the manager's schedule. There's always something coming on the next hour; the only question is what. But when someone on the maker's schedule has a meeting, they have to think about it.
For someone on the maker's schedule, having a meeting is like throwing an exception. It doesn't merely cause you to switch from one task to another; it changes the mode in which you work.
I find one meeting can sometimes affect a whole day. A meeting commonly blows at least half a day, by breaking up a morning or afternoon. But in addition there's sometimes a cascading effect. If I know the afternoon is going to be broken up, I'm slightly less likely to start something ambitious in the morning. I know this may sound oversensitive, but if you're a maker, think of your own case. Don't your spirits rise at the thought of having an entire day free to work, with no appointments at all? Well, that means your spirits are correspondingly depressed when you don't. And ambitious projects are by definition close to the limits of your capacity. A small decrease in morale is enough to kill them off.”
Artists are makers.
I personally think of work time in units of days or half days. Paul Graham writes similarly using coders and writers as examples. I do not like booking recording sessions for one hour. Usually anyone who suggests we only need an hour in the studio is inexperienced and unaware of just how much time goes into recording.
As an artist I believe one of the best things you can do is structure your work week in a way that allows you to have at least one block of 4 or more hours to work on your music. All the better if you can create two days a week where you have this available.
If you are running around from one gig to the next, harried, and too “busy” to even consider sitting down for more than an hour to write a song, then it’s time to call a timeout.
Perhaps the part-time gig was only ever meant to be a means to end, but somehow now it’s the main dictator of how your time is spent. Perhaps you know in your heart of hearts that being a touring / recording artist is what you want to be and you’ve slipped under an enchantment of compliance with your part-time gig. Well, snap out of it. Wake up and look around. Are you working your “real job” for you and your dreams or are you a cog in a system helping the world more efficiently get lattes and smoothies?
I want to hear the kind of music you’ll make when you really give yourself time to work and be creative. It pumps me up just considering the beautiful art that might enter this world through you if you only just give your time to it.
I recently witnessed members of a facebook group debating how much an online course on mixing pop music should cost. The comments were interesting. Suggested prices ranged from $5 - $1000. This thread got me thinking about the price we pay to learn and grow.
I have spent a considerable amount of money on online courses in the past few years. I personally have gotten much more value out of the courses I purchased then what I paid for them. I am at a point in my music production and business journey where new & actionable information is extremely valuable to me. Consider this:
When you first start learning something it is relatively easy to level up fast. The lowest hanging fruit and all the answers to beginner problems are widely available. Google it. Youtube it. You will probably find an answer.
As you advance in your knowledge and understanding, of a certain topic or trade, information becomes more scarce. The ranks are thinned. There are objectively less people who have advanced as far as you are now and therefore less reliable resources to help you. No matter where you are at on your journey there is someone yet ahead of you and others behind.
These numbers are arbitrary but let's say 100 awesome points makes you a world-class master of something. Starting out I might be a 2 awesome points music producer. I then stay up all night on Youtube watching every video on music production I can find. By the next day I have gained 5 awesome points and am now a 7 awesome points music producer. Woah... Not bad. In a month of endless Youtube videos and reading blogs I become a 25 awesome points music producer. I then get hired for my first gig that I later regret doing for free. I produce my very first song for another artist and after that project I become a 33 awesome points music producer. All this happens in a six month period.
It is way easier to go from 0 - 33 awesome points then it is to go from 33 awesome points to 66. Refer back to that graph at the top of the page. It could take a lifetime to get to a 100 awesome points or if you're like most people, then you'll never actually get there.
As you progress, new knowledge / information is going to become more and more valuable to you. Starting out maybe a mixing course on pop music is only worth $5 because you only have 2 awesome points at mixing and you naively feel that you can learn all there is to know on Youtube for free. Maybe you are an intermediate level 50 awesome points mix engineer hungry to get better. At that point dropping $300 on a mixing course might seem like a worthwhile investment (assuming the mix engineer teaching you has more awesome points than you).
Considering how difficult it is to reach 98 awesome points in anything, what would the value be of an online course taught by a 99 or 100 awesome point person to that 98 awesome point person? $10K? 100k? $1M? The knowledge at that point would be priceless.
If you want to be a world-class master of anything, a famous artist, or sought after producer, then you are going to have to make an investment. In some, if not most, cases a massive investment. That could be an investment of time, money, hard work, etc... You will never get there if you do not invest.
What is compound interest?
In the money and finance world compound interest occurs when you reinvest the interest earned off an initial principle / investment. Then your principle plus the interest earns more interest which you can reinvest to earn more interest which you can reinvest to earn more interest and so on… The ‘ole logarithmic millionaire maker..
However, we can see the effects of compound interest in our lives in many other areas as well.
Let’s take exercise for example. Let’s say you pick up running as a hobby. You go from running zero times a week to running two miles three times a week. At first, the exercise is miserable and you’re grumpy and dang wouldn’t it be nice to get back inside and turn on Netflix and finish season two of Outlander.. Alas, you persist and after a month you start noticing you have more energy at work, you are sleeping better, and you’ve lost 5 lbs. Woah that’s cool. In month two it’s easier to get up and run then when you started. In month three you’re feeling real good and have come to enjoy running. You’re in better shape which makes running easier and now you can run faster and longer. The effect of running has compounded in your life and the longer you do it the more benefits you achieve.
Now let’s talk about your music career and the easiest way to blow up any potential of compound interest.
1) Quitting Too Early
So many things to quit. So many ways to blow it all up and kill the potential of compound interest. Here are a few example:
2) Making Bad Investments
Homework for the people who care:
Try writing down three ways you can utilize the effects of compound interest in your music career. This could be really investing in your relationship with a co-writer, choosing 10 cities to really really focus on and play shows in until you can fill 100+ rooms, reinvesting your earnings from one release into the marketing of the next released and so on…
Every so often I get struck with an otherworldly creative flow state genius. However, more often than not I'm just working and it's an uphill slog. In my own experience, when I'm in that special creative state, the art I'm making is an expression of me. It's not cookie-cutter and It's not for you.
Now when I say “not for you” that does not mean I won’t be sharing my art. It means that form of expression came out of my soul in an authentic and vulnerable way. It was of me and for me.
I have a side music project called “INST” where I release instrumental pop cover songs. I do it mostly for fun. This work is creative but I wouldn’t say a large part of my soul is going into the music. These are not original works and for the most part I am analyzing the existing production elements of a song and trying to replicate them with an acoustic guitar. Music has the power to steer culture and change the world. However, instrumental pop cover songs likely won’t be responsible for such change. I don’t know if work created in such a way can.
In part, we love the music we love so much because somehow the artist has found a common thread between us and expressed something we know to be true about ourselves in a new way. However, whatever magic happens in that experience is minimized or nonexistent when art is born from an inauthentic or invulnerable place. The music I love ends up being for me regardless of if it was ever intended to by the artist. Personally, I find that to be a beautiful exchange.
As an artist I want my music to be heard. I want to be genuine and I want to be authentic. However, I also want to be successful — whatever that means. It’s easy to look at someone else’s work and think I could write and produce a song like that. They did this type of song and now it’s very popular… I could do that type of song.
We can imitate and replicate out of curiosity or fear. I am often curious and experiment with music production after being inspired by someone else’s work. I almost always feel that I learn and grow when I do this. However, when I try to capture someone else’s lightning in a bottle out of fear it never works.
The distinction between a worker and a leader:
A leader takes ownership of and responsibility for their part.
A worker does not have to worry about the results they just do what they are told.
When you go into the studio to record try being a leader unless you are explicitly asked to be a worker.
What does it look like to be a session leader?Be willing to satisfy your creative expression first before taking feedback. The artist likely will have already given you a general idea as to what they want. I’m not saying ignore that. Once you know the boundaries set by the artist or producer act with autonomy within them. Do not defer decisions to anyone else in the room too soon. Set a high standard. Care about the end result as much as if it were your song. You know better than anyone whether you could have played the section better. If you know you can play it better, then ask for another pass. If you are unhappy with the part do not sign off on it.
Pay attention. Every section, every phrase, every transition, etc… Pay attention to what you are doing. If the transition into the second chorus felt off, then speak up and overdub it. Tell the engineer what you need.
Tell the engineer what you need.
You help dictate the pace. You do not need to wait to be told what to do.
A leader says, “give me another pass”. A worker stares vacantly at the ceiling until they are told what to do.
Do not let a producer comp your part. Write your own part. If a producer or artist wants another option, give it to them. The artist has final say because it is their song. Giving dozens of options to an artist is not the same as writing a part. Your session work should not be the equivalent of a creative brain dump unless you are asked to dump. Commit. Fast.
DO all this and you will have an edge over every other session musician and be asked back for more gigs. You will certainly make your artist, producer, or engineer happy.
Have you ever been paid by a friend to work on their music project or have you ever paid a friend to work on yours?
It can be pretty uncomfortable owing a friend money or asking a friend for money that they owe you. We’ve all been there.
Music is more fun to make with friends.
I mean don’t we all just want to retire someday and all own a house in Crieve Hall and have our own personal home studios and spend all day making music with our friends?!
Making music with somebody is a great way to become friends. I almost always become friends with the people I make music with unless they ask me to put a 32nd note tambourine in their song. Then we become enemies…
How do I avoid getting hurt and feeling resentful?
First off, I know what this feels like. I have had struggles in this area. This can be really hard, and there’s always room to grow.
A proper agreement or contract should protect both parties from feeling hurt and resentful.
I once heard someone actually call contracts, “disagreements”, because they are meant to lay down the rules when parties disagree. That’s what they are there for. They offer protection to both sides if such a situation arises.
There’s a stigma surrounding contracts and working with friends. Ewww Zach that’s way too formal and businessy mannnn. I get it. It can be awkward coming up to a friend with a contract and asking them to review and sign it, but would you rather feel awkward for five minutes or hurt and resentful towards a friend?
Working for free may not be a good idea.
Here’s a surefire way to be annoying and likely piss off a friend: assume they are going to work for free without any mention of money or the value they offer.
It is not wrong to work for free or to honestly communicate your lack of a budget, but it is always the service provider’s right to decide whether they will work without pay.
Have you ever played a show for a friend and they didn’t pay you? With no mention of money at all… That’s no fun. We need to create boundaries.
Here’s the thing that people often miss: your boundaries are for you.
You set your own boundaries. Boundaries are not about what other people should do to you or for you. Boundaries are about what you will do when other people misbehave. People will misbehave. People can do whatever they want. Your boundaries and your reactions are up to you. For example:
I may think it’s really funny to spit in my hand right before I shake hands with any one I greet. I may do this every time I see you. But you could set a boundary,
“Hey man, I don’t like having your spit in my hand so I’m not going to ever shake your hand again if you do that. I’m not judging you for doing that or saying you can’t do it. I can’t tell you what to do but I can tell you what I will do if you do that to me again.”
Setting boundaries with your friends can actually be really kind and loving!
Say no to your friend if you don’t want to do it.
If you know the conditions of a gig are not what you want then don’t do it. Say no. If someone is really your friend then they would rather hear a no from you and an honest explanation instead of have you go through with it and be hurt and resentful towards them.
Be honest about your budget.
If your friend charges $150 / song to play drums, but you only have $100 budgeted for drums be honest and upfront about that. Also if you aren’t in a rush you could also just postpone tracking for one month or until you save $50.
Think about what you would want.
How would you like it if your paycheck was delivered to you at random and your “money in” was always in a state of “tbd”… You wouldn’t like that would you? So stop doing that to your friends. If you’ve agreed to pay, then pay promptly and at the agreed upon time.
If you are the one being paid don’t be afraid to follow up.
Stop haggling just to “get a deal” from your friends.
If you have the money, then pay your friend what they are worth. If you don’t have the money don’t haggle, just be honest about where you are at.
Your creative work is valuable. You offer something unique and beautiful and so do your friends. See the beauty in what your friends do and respect the value of that. We all want more money. We all want to be highly valued for what we bring to the table. Getting our shit together in the money department I believe will actually lead to better projects and better art being made. We all spend a considerable amount of brain calories thinking about money. You do yourself and your friends a great deal of service, and enable them to spend all those brain calories instead on creativity, when you handle the money stuff with integrity and honesty.
Hi, this is fear talking. I just want to remind you that you are a tiny little worm that should probably curl up in a ball somewhere in a hole and do nothing….
Actually no… Effff that.
How about you stop being chicken and start taking action. You — the artist with beautiful music who is withholding it from the world. Let it go. Release it.
1) It is a blessing to you and others to release your music.
You will be blessed if you release your music. You may also be sad and disappointed and angry but you will also be blessed. This is how you grow. How are you going to grow by being idle? How are you going to grow by doing mix revision #117 on your song? You won’t. Do the best you can and move on. This doesn’t have to be your best work. It might end up being your best work for all the wrong reasons because it will be your ONLY work.
There are a lot of benefits for everyone when it comes to listening to music. However, you can’t really reap any of those benefits if you don’t release the music. No one can hear it. I want to be blessed by your music, but I can’t because you won’t let it go. Why don’t you want me to be blessed?
2) No you actually aren’t making the song any better.
A wise person once told me that 1dB never sold any more records.
Yeah but Zach I need to turn the snare down by minus half a dB because that’s art.
NO YOU DON’T THAT’S YOU BEING AFAID TO MOVE ON TO THE NEXT STEP AND THAT IS NOT ART.
It is very likely you have lost objectivity and no longer know what is good for your song. You cannot be impartial and objective with creative decisions when you have listened to a song 1000 times. It won’t work. You will make it worse. Once cure would be to get outside feedback. The ultimate cure would be to release your freakin’ song and move on to making more art.
3) You weren’t made to live your life dictated by fear.
We would all be miserable little weasels if we lived our entire lives dictated by fear. Sure, sometimes it is helpful. For example) a bear is going to eat your face and fear says run. Yes! You should run. However, when it comes to taking the next step on your creative journey when did you decide to make fear a mentor? Why is fear the expert? Why ignore all your friends and collaborators and this tiny little blog article?
Maybe you like feeling afraid. Maybe you get off believing about yourself that your some creative genius who must hide away in cave for centuries to make the perfect song. I’m surprised there’s enough room in that cave for your Apollo twin, speakers, and your EGO to fit.
Now, maybe I’m being harsh. I apologize if I hurt your feelings. However, I’d rather tear the bandaid off now then suffer a life where I don’t get to be blessed by your beautiful art and you never grow to reach your potential.
Pirates are kinda cool — the Hollywood version like Captain Jack Sparrow. Real pirates are actually pretty terrible. In this case, music stealing pirates that take your album re-upload it through a distributor and profit off your intellectual property. Those pirates are lame.
My friend had her album stolen and re-uploaded to a different artist profile. Ironically, the music pirate likely used the same music distributor (Distrokid) that my friend did to upload her album in the first place.
Imagine coming across an album on Spotify — you click to view it and play the first song, and then you realize, “Wait! That’s literally my song. I wrote that!” You play the next song and the next song and they are all your songs. Not cool.
Unfortunately music theft and streaming fraud are all too common. Music site Saving Country Music conducted an investigation into music piracy and fraud and found as many as 24 fake artists accounts that stole music and affected as many as 112 real artists. Read about that here.
Just from the 24 confirmed fake accounts Saving Country Music discovered, the stolen songs were receiving enough streams to generate and estimated $1,500 a week, or $75,000 a year.
What you don’t often hear is that for every illegal music upload and fraudulent stream the value of ALL music streams for EVERY artist is diminished.How’s that happen? It comes down to the system by which Spotify and most streaming services use to pay artists. Artists are paid pro rata for their streams relative to total streams generated on a given platform.
Here’s how it works:
Spotify makes a pot o’ money. Spotify takes 30% off the top of the pot. The remaining 70% is paid out to all the artists on Spotify.
You the artist are paid relative to how much you own of the total market share of streams on the platform. For example, if 50% of all the streams on Spotify in a given year were of Ed Sheeran (I would guess he actually gets closer to 1%) then Ed would get half of the pot (half of the 70% leftover after Spotify gets theirs for that year).
As total streams increase the value of a stream for everyone goes down. Fraudulent steams affect every single artist who has music on Spotify and most other streaming platforms even if it wasn’t your music that was stolen.
French music streaming service Deezer is experimenting with a new system for paying artists on their streaming platform. This other method is called the User-Centric Payment System (UCPS). UCPS would be a step in the right direction to help eliminate streaming fraud. To learn more about UCPS read about it here.
A Bulgarian Scam reportedly uploaded hundreds of 35 second tracks, added them all to playlists, and then registered 1200 premium accounts to stream the tracks 24/7. It is believed that the scammer made over $1,000,000 before the operation was discovered and shut down. This scam would have produced nearly 250 million fraudulent streams. This scam would not have worked on a User-Centric Payment System.
In another case the band Vulfpeck uploaded an album of literal silence and encouraged their fans to stream the album nonstop around the clock. The band reportedly made $20,000 off this album which Spotify ultimately removed from the platform. I am actually a fan of Vulfpeck and though I don’t agree with the tactic I commend them for trying.
Remember that as total streams on the platform increase all artists make less per stream. Every fraudulent stream takes money away from real artists and musicians.
Reports from Vulture online magazine and Music Business Worldwide say that Spotify may be paying producers upfront or negotiating a lower commission to create ambient and instrumental piano tracks and then placing those songs on massively popular playlists such as Peaceful Piano, Deep Focus, Sleep, Ambient Chill, etc… By doing so Spotify avoids having to pay real artists and content creators large streaming payout sums and consequently lowers the value of all music streams for actual blue collar artists.
It can be difficult to determine if an artist profile on Spotify is real or fake. Artists do have some control over how they their profiles are setup. Artists can add a bio, links to social media, a banner image, a profile image, and an “artist’s pick”. When artist profiles have no external links to social media, no bio, no photos of a real human, and in general no humanness or personal curation at all, then that is a bit suspicious.
This matter is particularly frustrating to me because I actually produce original instrument guitar, piano, cover song, and lo-fi music. In 2019 I produced and released 18 original instrumental tracks and not a single one has been placed on any Spotify editorial playlist. As I am writing this the top three tracks on the mega popular Peaceful Piano playlist by all appearances seem to be from fake artist profiles. Lame sauce.
Streaming fraud is a growing problem and needs to be addressed. Distributors, artists, and music streaming platforms all have a responsibility to fight against it. Artists, maybe don’t upload an album of silence. Upload art. Our money should be going to art, not a con. Distributors — implement systems that alert an artist if their music has been re-uploaded under a different account. Use waveform analysis to identify the song. Spotify for one stop pretending like their is no problem and be more responsive to artists when they raise the red flag. Show an effort that you are attempting to put systems in place that protect artists and make it more difficult for fraudsters.
I’m not saying the solution will be easy to execute, but honestly there isn’t much worth doing that is. Helping to protect artists and the value of beautiful art certainly is worth doing.
Song overload. I was talking with a friend and we were trying to decide what to do next in the studio. My friend played song after unreleased song of his to the point where I’m sure we both felt a little overloaded.
Most artists are sitting on a back catalog of songs that they would like to record. However, lack of time, money, energy, and other resources get in the away. I myself have about 100 voice memos of song ideas that I would like to pursue.
My friend and I decided to determine what the goals and outcomes we wanted to reach are for the coming year. Then once we knew where we wanted to get to it was a lot easier to determine the steps we needed take take now to get there.
We decided our goal is to release four four song EP’s this year. One has already dropped, leaving us a dozen songs to work on. One of the EP’s is going to be released before Spring, another in the Summer, and another in the Fall.
We decided to chip away at the songs with the soonest release dates and we used an Eisenhower decision matrix to determine what are the most urgent and the important tasks to do now.
This process sounds so simple when you type it out and as I read it back to myself. Reality is that sometimes we get stuck and we don’t know what to do next. We have the freedom to choose so many different paths and as artists we want to share and express all of the art that is important to us. We can get fatigued with too many possibilities and all the uncertainty surrounding our work. Sometimes you just need to take some time with a friend to talk about the future and where it is you want to go and then go FULL NERD with an Eisenhower decision matrix.
If you need a friend to pull out a huge whiteboard with you and go through this process, I got you.
So you want to book more shows?
There are lots of artists out there who really want to book more high quality shows. If this is you, then you are not alone. It can be hard. It can take a lot of work. I have some thoughts that I truly believe will help you stand out and earn more high quality gigs.
First point I want to make: In order to book shows you will likely have to come into contact with another human who must sign off on you or your band to play.
It’s super important to realize that this person likely receives dozens if not hundreds of similar requests every day, week, month…
Therefore I tell thee: Have empathy!!!!!
Whenever I go “King James Voice” you know I’m being serious!
Don’t be an a** to this person. Be kind. Be patient. Be humble. If you piss the booker off you’re done.
Word of the day: Positioning
Everything I write from here on out revolves around this idea of positioning.
Positioning is the strategy of placing yourself, relative to others, so that you may deliver a unique impression (hopefully positive) to the consumer or in our case the show booker.
In other words, place thine self hither because over thither is everyone else doing the same fracking thing!
AWESOME TACTIC #1:Update your entire online presence so that everything validates and supports your goal.
There are a multitude of other ways to position yourself well online, and hopefully these ideas are enough to get your creative wheels turning.
AWESOME TACTIC #2:Ask for referrals and testimonials from venues or other artists you’ve previously played great shows with.
Bookers talk, hangout, and share experiences with other bookers. If you have a glowing review from Booker A and can hand that to Booker B when you reach out for the first time, then that will earn you some points.
If you are playing in a new city but know a band there who has played with you before, then you can ask that band for a referral. Obviously don’t do this if the band is unpopular with bookers in their hometown.
If I was a touring artist I would try to get glowing five star reviews from anyone and everyone I could as it related to shows. You could ask the sound guy / gal, bartender, owner, booker, manager, etc… Post these reviews on your site.
AWESOME TACTIC #3:Write personal thank you notes and leave merch gifts for the people who work your shows.
This might be my favorite and maybe the best way any artist can stand out and be asked back to play.
People remember kindness. What if you were remembered as the band that left the sound guy an awesome T-Shirt or a mug that literally said “Best Sound Guy Ever”? What if you were remembered as the kind artist that wrote personal thank you notes to everyone who helped run the show?
The next time you email that booking agent will they even remember you?
AWESOME TACTIC #4:The recipe for winning in the gig economy:
Honestly, two out of three ain’t bad either. This applies to booking and playing shows as well.
Put on a good show. If your show sucks, then why would anyone want to book you?
Lots of venues have load in and load out rules. Follow those rules. Do whatever you can to expedite the process. Don’t take an hour to soundcheck when you were only supposed to have 15 mins. If you are a guitar player and you finish load out early, then help your drummer and everyone will get out faster.
Be a good hang. People remember kindness.
AWESOME TACTIC #5:Say “No” to bad shows.
This is tough. I understand that it can be hard to judge ahead of time whether a show will turn out to be a dud.
However, I do think you can trust your gut. What does your intuition say? Will this show move the needle at all? What’s the goal of the show? Were you asked to do it by a friend? You do not need to say yes to everything.
I bet 20% of the shows you play cause 80% of all the distress, anxiety, and discouragement you feel towards playing shows. Get rid of that 20%. Say No!
AWESOME TACTIC #6:Start a spreadsheet and start following up.
How exciting!!!!!! Don’t you love spreadsheets?
Somebody smart said one-time:
“If it doesn’t get measured, then it doesn’t get managed.” — somebody smart
Ed Catmull, president & co-founder of Pixar, expands on the point in his book Creative, Inc. that you do not need to measure everything. You can’t possible measure everything and a large portion of what we manage can’t be measured.
I would argue that you need to measure some important metrics from the shows you play.
If a certain venue or festival is super important to you, then I would encourage you to follow up with whoever manages the booking. Send them new music when you have a release. Let them know when you’re coming through town. Send them a happy birthday note after you creep and find their birthday on Facebook. This could be as little work as sending a nice email twice a year.
AWESOME TACTIC #7:Be a human and don’t treat people like a means to an end.
I caution you to not implement any of these tactics in a shmucky way. You have your goals. Everyone else has their goals. Try to be helpful. Add value to the people you come in contact with.
It might be worth interviewing a booker in your hometown to get a better sense of what it is
they do and are responsible for. Research and see if there are any podcast interviews out there with booking agents or even shows hosted by them. If you understand their job better, then you can come up with creative ways to make it easier.
I’m talking to the artist with a vision. I’m talking to the person who wants to make change.
You have to do something. Whatever it is you want.. Whatever your goal is.. Whatever idea you want to get across.. You have to do work. You have to execute. You have to spend time - likely a considerable amount of time.
I would like to save you some time now and say that if you aren’t willing to do “it” for two years, then don’t even bother.
Maybe you are willing to commit two years of your life to this work, but will you feel good doing it? Don’t lock in two years of your life if the work makes you miserable.
If it isn’t a hell yes, then it’s a hell no.
Anyone can write a song. Anyone can pick up a new instrument. Anyone can start a blog. But what we need… What we really need are people who are willing to give the best of themselves to a work they genuinely care about for the long haul.
If you don’t care, I know. You know too. We can smell it.
Don’t be generic. Show me what it is you love. Show me your depth. GO FULL NERD. Then I will follow.
Maybe you are giving the best of yourself to a work that you genuinely care about for the long haul. But are you releasing? Are you sharing your work?
There will be no change if there is no release. I can’t be blessed by your art if you don’t share it with me. I freakin’ want to be blessed. Why do you hate me being blessed??!!!!! Ehemm. I digress..
Fear. Insecurity. Comparison. — All pretty bad creative collaborators.
Maybe you are doing it for you. That’s fine. Then why did you read this far?
There is such a unique depth and perspective that only you can deliver. Somewhere there is an audience that wants it. That needs it. Are you looking?
Founder of @lostharbormusic