Oftentimes I’ll find myself in the studio, working with a client, doing multiple takes of a performance. Inevitably at some point in the tracking the client will say, “Can we go back to that take I did 18 times ago? I really think that was the one.” Inside I’m thinking “Well if that was the one, how come we moved on from it?” Shouldn’t we have known it was ‘the one’? Won’t ‘the one’ be glaringly apparent at the time? You see, back in the tape based days we didn’t have this luxury of undo. When you recorded over a part, it disappeared forever. You made damn sure that you weren’t throwing ‘the one’ away, because there was no getting it back. On one hand it’s nice to have the option of undo and non destructive recording. It saves the day for me all of the time. On the other hand, it sometimes takes away our need to commit. Commiting is not a bad thing. It’s our way of saying “this is the best possible performance that I can do at this given point in time, and I am fully comfortable in having the rest of the world hear it.” Ahhhh…. that feels good, doesn’t it? Just letting go of all of those other options is quite freeing I believe. I am all about getting it right and working hard until it is…I just feel like we shouldn’t be afraid to say “That’s the take, and I am not looking back.” Ultimately that uber indecision will cripple you in the studio and leave you thinking about all of the takes you didn’t keep, and not the one you did. Ultimately you will have to commit, so the sooner you can get it out of the way the better. Scott Smith
Today’s blog is about, well other people’s blogs…or more accurately, forums. I was speaking with a fellow engineer recently while they were telling me about how everybody on this particular studio forum was saying how you had to buy Brand X piece of gear if you wanted good results. More brazenly, if you didn’t use Brand X, then you would never get good results, and all of the other engineers would laugh, and scoff at you for not buying Brand X. I see this myself all of the time on many different studio forums. Opinions are like assholes they say, and when you’ve got a room full of engineers talking about this stuff, well let’s just say you’re going to be neck deep in ass. The important thing to remember is that there is no magic bullet. What works for one guy may not work for another. It’s easy to get sucked into the hype when your peers are discounting, or expounding on various gear and techniques. While it can be helpful to read and learn from others… take it for what it really is, an opinion. Probably no better or worse than your own. Case in point: I’ve never liked Yamaha NS-10′s. Now I know for many years they were the industry standard in monitoring, and thousands and thousands of great records were made on them… but I never liked ‘em. I was definitely in the minority on this opinion, and had the internet existed at the time I could have been posting all day long about how much ns-10′s sucked. Maybe I would have even bent someone’s opinion even before they actually even heard the speaker. And that’s my point here. Alot of times on these forums people will spout off on something they’ve never even used or heard. You can’t judge gear or a technique by reading about it. Rememberr the golden rule: Use your ears, because if it sounds good, it is good. Then again, that’s just my opinion. -Scott Smith
Okay… I can’t believe I’m actually blogging about guitar picks, but here goes. What is it about that oft forgotten little piece of 10 cent plastic that would prompt me to do it? Well for starters, it can be an important part of the equation in the overall tone of the instrument. Also, it can have an impact on the overall groove of the part you’re playing. “Really” you say? It’s just a pick after all! I keep an assortment of all sorts of picks and plectrums in my studio. Ones made of plastic, nylon, metal, rubber, felt … I’ve even used cardboard at times. A lot of times instead of reaching for the EQ, I’ll just grab a different pick that might emphasize more of what I want.
Obviously metal, and harder plastic picks tend to be brighter. Nylon, felt and rubber tend to mute those glassier frequencies, and also serve to soften the attack of the notes. Almost like an auto-compressor pick of sorts. “Okay” you say, “I’ll buy the tone thing, but a pick that affects the overall groove of a song?” Yes I say… it can be done. Let’s say you’ve got someone laying down an acoustic rhythm track and it’s just not quite pocketed the way it should be. The player is a little nervous, and playing on top a bit. One quick fix is to let them track, and when they’re not looking do a quick time shift edit and force the track into place. Nah… why do that when you can just hand them a thinner pick? The thinner pick will have more lag time, take longer to recover to its position, and in practice will slow the playing down a bit. It’s a great way to help get that ‘behind-the-beat’ laziness so many strive for. Also, the thickness of the pick will affect tone as well. Thinner picks tend to de-emphasize the bottom end of a guitar while thicker ones will get you more thud.
So get started on your pick collection now. It will become an important part of your studio arsenal, and may just save the day one day. -Scott Smith
Today’s blog is about those magical moments that erupt from not divine inspiration, but rather human error. In the playing/recording world we tend to be super finicky about every move we make. We want things to be perfect, and “right”. Sadly, sometimes with this mindset we may lose a true moment of greatness that wasn’t what we planned, but nonetheless a beautiful occurence.
Here’s an example: Recently I was recording a faux timpani part for a song I’m producing. I had a large tom set up with a large diaphragm condenser in front, playing with felt mallets. I tracked the part throughout the song ’til I was happy with the playing and sound. On playback, I was pleasantly surprised at how ‘roomy’ the drum sounded, and was just what I was looking for in a fake timpani. I shut everything down, wrapped the cables, went to put the mic away and realized I had put the microphone backwards to the source. The mic had been pointing at a large glass window and recording the reflections of the drum off of that. Immediately I sighed, started cabling up again, and turning everything back on to redo the part. But then I stopped myself, played the part back and really listened to what was there. Without any preconcieved notions of whether I recorded it “right’ or ‘wrong’, the part sounded excellent. In fact, had I recorded it “properly”, it would have lacked the very quality I was trying to get out of it in the first place.
I packed everything up again and chalked it up to one of those happy accidents that most times we don’t give a chance. So the next time you’re playing some ripping solo and at the end realize you played some notes you didn’t plan… make sure you listen back with objective ears. It just may be the one… -Scott Smith
The Million Dollar Question, right? If you want to be playing original music full time, it’s a question that really needs answering. The short answer: find new fans, keep them and believe in the value of what you do. This is a very short list of things that may be of value to the many of us who are not yet consistently selling 200+ tickets/show. I will revisit this topic in the near future and would love to hear your ideas as well.
1. Fans. If you’re performing original music you are going to be counting on fans to support you; whether by ticket sales or music & merch sales. So, and this sounds pretty obvious, we want to spend some time & effort finding and keeping new fans.
Your mailing list is crucial to keeping in touch with your fans. Always have a sign up sheet available at shows and make sure your listeners know it’s there. You can even put sign up slips on the venue tables and offer a giveaway of some kind to the folks that sign up. Post a sign up form on your website. Maintain the list and respect your fans privacy when they do sign up.
2. Festivals. My favorite way to find new fans is by playing festivals & outdoor concert series. Just about very state, city & county government has something going on. Commercial Town Centers have become a popular place for live concert series as well. These presenters are generally a pleasure to work with because, unlike clubs & venues, they are more concerned with the type and quality of your performance than they are with how much money you will help them pocket. Many have an OK budget as well. Placement of your mailing list and merch table are important at these events. A lot of people will want your music, but may not want to approach the stage. Have the table in a high traffic and easy to access area and bring someone with you to take care of customers/fans at the table. Visit the table when you’re not playing so you get to meet and chat with folks & sign CDs.
3. Booking Strategy. If you book a festival in a new town, book a follow up show for a month later at a nearby venue. Bring flyers for the venue show to the festival and promote the hell out of it while you’re there in town. Do an open mic in town the night of the festival to promote your next show even more. Having the festival date booked will also help you when you’re trying to get the venue to lock in a date for you. Also worth mentioning – if you are trying to establish and keep a new region, plan on playing there at least every 4 months.
4. Confidence in Negotiating. This can be a tough one for some of us. We love to play and it can be difficult to put a price on something we enjoy so much, in and of itself. The bottom line is that you need to make a living. I would personally like to forget what Nancy Pelosi said (so wrong in so many ways – isn’t this a job?) about leaving work and ‘focusing on talent’. A while back, I went through a year of serious gigging burnout. When we would get calls for gigs, I basically doubled our price because I really didn’t want to play. I picked a number that would make it worthwhile to me at that time. I was very surprised at how many presenters accepted my price without flinching. That was a MAJOR lesson for me. Take the time to consider what is a fair price that enables you to continue to deliver great music and a quality performance… and then ask for it. -Jen Smith
As a vocalist, do you find yourself having ‘good’ days and ‘bad’ days? Have you filled your toolbox with special tricks like eating potato chips, bringing along your lucky grasshopper charm, whisky & cigarettes? I have my own funky tool box and have found that anything seems to work sometimes. In this blog, I’d like to share with you those few things that I’ve found that always work for me.
1. Stay Hydrated with Five to Eight 8oz glasses of water a day. If you’re not properly hydrated your vocal chords can’t vibrate efficiently. You’ll loose your fabulous tone and your pitch control. Flying (in airplanes), coffee, alcohol & smoking will make you dry out faster so make sure you compensate.
2. Warm up. Really. Give yourself a half hour to gently run through your exercises and work on any tough transitional spots in your range. This is huge and becomes more important as you get older and your vocal cord tissue may not be as supple and elastic as it used to be.
3. Prepare. Tape yourself singing the song at home or at a live show before you come to the studio. Listen back critically and ask yourself, your producer, bandmates or someone you trust to be straight with you (not your mother – she thinks you sound great ALL the time) if your vocal performance is truly excellent or could use some improvement. Work through any parts you don’t love. Consider hiring a vocal coach if you’re having trouble. Live with the song for a while. Sometimes it takes 10 gigs before I settle into a really nice groove with a new song. I’ve often listened back to a CD performace and wished I’d waited for the song, melody and phrasing to grow a little before I tracked the vocal.
4. Have No Fear. You probably wouldn’t be on your way to the studio if you didn’t have some skills & talent, right?Imagine the fantastic job you’re going to do. Love the sound of your voice and love the song you’re singing. Love the feeling of singing. If you are hydrated, warmed up and have your song prepared, then there really isn’t anything standing in the way of your best performance except your fear. Let it go! -Jen Smith