Tag Archives: music production

If Touring Is Too Costly

I often hear people talking about the expense of touring. First, I do not truly believe that touring has to be expensive, or should be out of the question for most artists who take themselves seriously. For an artist who actually finds themself in a scenario where touring is out of the question, I suggest an alternative plan (other than curling up in a ball and crying).

Take the tour to you.
– Find 10 bands around the country that are similar to you and will be touring this summer. Ideally, bands that are doing better than you!

– Offer to book their show in your city. You will open for them and promote this show.

– Now you have a reason to play 10 shows this summer within your region (not just your city, but your region).

Although this may not expose you to as many people as a proper tour, it will open the doors for future touring oportunities with those 10 bands. You will also strengthen your promotions and marketing muscles within your region. If you play your cards right, you can make enough money with a summer like this to make that record (WITH ME) that you have been thinking about.

Tips For Becoming A Better Session Musician

How Session Musicians Fail

Most of the session players that I work with area really great people, and wonderful players. It is often the players that I don’t hire (the artists mother in law who plays piano….) who have some major issues. If you play on sessions, or would like to start working as a session musician, here are some guidelines as to how to up your session player etiquette.

1. Show up early, and don’t disturb the session until you are supposed to be there. The engineer and artist are well aware that you are paid hourly, and coming at a specific time. Often, when a recording session has a time alloted for a session musician, it is a race to make sure the song is ready for you to come in. We probably can’t stop to chat before you get started.

2. Make sure your instruments are in perfect working order. Your guitars need to be properly intonated, and all tubes in working order. Your drums should ALWAYS have new heads for every session. This is expensive, so include it in your hourly rate.

3. You are hired to play a part, not to play “de-facto” producer or engineer. If you have an issue with your performance, let the engineer know. He is probably thinking the same thing. If you feel that your written part is clashing with another part, speak up. If you feel that the vocal is out of tune and you are playing drums, don’t say anything.
There may be a very sour note that will be redone. The vocalist might be kicked out of the band and never coming back. It is not your job to critique the song, it is your job to play your best and to aid in the groove.

4. Follow up after your session. Shoot an email to the producer, the engineer, and the artist. Make sure that your performance was up to their standards and they are happy with your services. Most likely, they were very happy with you, but in a scenario where your performance was an issue, you need to man up and offer to re-cut the part for free. Although this is a tough pill to swallow it will often ensure that your reputation is not marked with a shitty take. It is likely that the shitty take was not your fault (never is…) but it is your responsibility to make it work for the producer.

5. If you want another gig, keep your past contacts informed on what you are doing. Let us know what records you are playing on, who you are working with, and your newest gear acquisitions. As a producer, I have to sell a session musician to an artist. If I can tell them that you played on a record that they have heard, it will bring you closer to sealing the deal.

If you are a session musician, please sign up for my Musician Network Forum. Post a short list of credits, your instruments, and your contact information.

The Milling Gowns On The Noise Top 30

The Milling Gowns are listed as #16 on The Noise Top 30 list this week.

We finished a record together called Diving Bell Shallows last year. They are making waves and building a tribe of followers. Here are some notes on things they are doing right.

Most fans of rock music will HATE them.
They aren’t everything to everyone. They write short, sad and dramatic pop songs that will sicken most listeners. For their core audience, there is no one else who is doing exactly what they are doing.

They are associated with a a cause… sort of.
The Milling Gowns are fighting for the pink team. With two gay members and lyrical themes to match, it is no question that M’s (lead singer) preference is a part of the band. Their fans embrace this and it sets them apart from legions of other gothy post scenesters. At the same time, they are classy enough to keep the flag waving at bay. Their stance is not an overt statement, but a statement meant for their true audience.

They know how to produce a record, and can still rock.
Milling Gowns have a clear internal vision of what their band actually sounds like. They could describe it to you in one sentence, and with dedicated confidence. Everyone in the band knows what that direction means, and it has been discussed. When we were in the studio together, there was never an issue of how a song would be organized or how the audience should perceive the song. It was just a matter of making it happen in a way that sounded right. The preproduction was left for the rehearsal room.

These qualities might seam trivial to some. To me, they are the difference between a band that will sputter out, and a band that will continuously grow artistically and with greater reach.

The Milling Gowns

The Milling Gowns

Home Recording Tips #5 The Keyboard Dilemma

When mixing songs that I didn’t record, I am often asked to make the synths, keyboards, and digital pianos “more realistic” to fit into the mix better. This can be considered a real challenge if you look at these types of sound sources as “fake”. Instead, I think of digital keys as simply a starting point for a more natural sounding result. Here are some techniques to take your software synths and digital keyboards to the next level.

Cut A Frequency Hole

Software synthesizers, especially those which emulate analog synthesis, often contact much more sonic material than needed. By simply making generous EQ cuts these synth parts can find a simple way to blend in a mix. I either take a cut at the low end, with a subtle makeup gain in the high end, or I push the mid range up a bit. This if often executed really well with a very colorful eq such as a pultec tub EQ or Neve 1073 EQ. If you don’t have a colorful eq like this, there are plenty of cheap mixer EQ’s that would do the trick (thats another post).

Add REAL Space
A Helpful technique lies not in expensive equipment, but using the acoustical space that the other instruments were recorded in. For synths that need to sound pristine, try setting up studio monitors in the recording room. Re-record the synth parts through Room mics set back from the monitors. You can also blend in some artificial reverbs to aid in the process. Careful placement of the room mics (like in a cinder block!) can have awesome affects.
If your synth part needs to rock a little harder, this same technique can be done with guitar amps, or a broken speaker. I find that using a gate in the signal chain (either before the amp, or after the room mic) can help to lessen the audio chaos in mix.

Drive Those Pres

For some more distorted color without the added “space” I often run synths back through very colored preamps. Any tube preamp driven hard will probably do the trick. Blend into the original source to taste.

Secret Weapon
My (big in size) little secret weapon is a cheap TAPCO spring reverb from a rack mountable mixer. The mixer is extremely noisy, but the eq and the reverb sound magical. It only works on certain sources, but when it works, there is nothing quite like it. I use the mic input, fader output, as well as the master output to control the amount of reverb, the distortion level, and the envelope of the reverb tail. Really an amazing tool for $20.

What Daisy Did Right: Follow Through

I recently finished a 5 song record with Daisy, the newly formed band of songwriter Michael Boezi. I am truly proud of this band not just for the record that we made together, but for how they developed in their vocabulary of music production and recording technique. Daisy started as a bedroom demo project with slightly out of time, very lo-fi recordings. I finished the record with a band that was versed in how to analyze, criticize, and think critically about their recordings. Here are some things that they did right:

Pre Production
– We met at Jamspot to go through each song that the band wanted to record. We discussed the intended arrangement, how the songs would work together, and how the record would feel as a whole.

Studio Choice
– The band chose a studio which was within their budget so that we could work in a realistic amount of time to complete the recording process. Although we chose a studio based on budget, the room was equipped with instruments that helped with the creative process. The record was largely guitar based, so we picked a room that had a large amp collection.

Tracking
Through the tracking process, the band was in continuous contact with me about their thoughts and intents with the project. At each overdub session there was a concise “to do” list that we loosely followed. This really kept us focused and left us with more time for creative use of the studio and our overdub time.

Mixing
In preproduction the band made mix CD’s of songs that they like, or thought would be a good guide for their mixes. They also attended all mix sessions. This really helped to create a mix environment and vibe that was exactly what they heard in their head.

10 Formats:

A List Of Record Templates That Will Make Your Work Stand Out:

1. A Split Record
Most rock bands have another band that they play with often. If you are sharing an audience, that often would probably be into the idea of a collaboration. Write the songs together, trade members, cover songs together. There are a million ways to make this special and significant.

2. Live Recording
This is really the original format of any recording. Rock and Roll loves the idea of sweating dudes making it happen in a room. If your band plays live… what are you waiting for? This option may be the most economical way to cut a record… and yet, a truly awesome production challenge.

3. Alternate Arrangements.
Take a cue from The Postal Service. Sometimes awesome songwriting can best be interpreted through the lens of a new genre. If your band has made 3 AC/DC power pop records, maybe its time to try an EP that is based on different instrumentation. My bet, is that it might rock harder and challenge your band to break out of old habits. Acoustic Record, piano based record, drum machine and synth record, no guitars record… make it happen.

4. Covers Record
Your band probably has a slew of covers that you throw into your live set. They might be the favorite part of your set for a lot of your audience (tough pill to swallow…). Put them together in an interesting way.

5. Live In Studio Record
Similar to a live recording, but in a studio scenario. I have done this type of record several times, and it is a very interesting way to make something special for your core audience. Cassavettes did this with me, and they brought an audience! Imagine 30 drunk rockers around my expensive microphones. Thankfully it came out sounding awesome, raw, and emotion. No microphones were destroyed.

6. Play Producer
If you band has a production method that is a core value to how your music is created, why not elaborate that skill to a new artist. Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine is known more for the production associated with My Bloody Valentine than for the actual music. If this sounds like something you would be interested in doing, send me an email. Although I am a producer myself, I engineer for other producers often.

7. Themed Record
This one can walk the tight rope between amazing and very lame. I wouldn’t suggest shooting to create The Wall, but writing a record with a loose theme can be a great way to bring in a new type of audience and marketing potential. A record about animal rights activists would have a very specific niche market that could open up lots of new opportunities for the right band.

8. Location
It is often said that great artists write about what they know. If you are stuck and looking for a new way to create, MOVE! Write about a new place. Take a week and move to detroit. Write from the eyes of the people that you meet. You may be able to tap into more that way, than staying within your comfort zone at home. Go back to detroit and record with a local producer from that area. You will be happy you left.

9. Add A New Member
Modest Mouse would not be the band they are today without the addition of Johnny Marr. Adding a member can be just the thing to drive new songs into a direction you wouldn’t expect. That new member could be just the “producer” you are looking for.

10. Let It Go
Some of the most inspiring bands I have worked with intentionally write their songs in short time periods. Give yourself one week to come up with 10 songs. After 7 days, the record HAS to be written and demoed. No excused. Could be the best material you have ever written.

If any of these ideas inspire you, we should get in touch. I am excited to try different ways of making music. I can elaborate extensively on any of these ideas. This is just the tip of the iceberg of awesome formats that an artist could try. If you have additional format ideas, do let me know. This is an ever expanding list. you can find more blogs and information on my production services HERE. Email me at Shaneoconnorrecording@gmail.com

Home Recording Tips #4

Home Recording Tips #4

Recording Vocals

I imagine a lot of you have probably caught on to the theme of my home recording tips. I am largely focusing on techniques that will not cost you a lot of money, and will open the doors to new and creative methods of recording. Often, a simple acoustical consideration, or a change of microphone positioning can be far more beneficial than some fancy API/NEVE/WHATEVER Gooderizer box. Here are some things to ponder before jumping into recording vocals at home:

Acoustical Space:

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE! Don’t build or buy a vocal booth. Unless you are a very experienced acoustical engineer, chances are your DIY vocal booth will probably sound horrible. They are very expensive to build or buy, and often major corners need to be cut to create this within an existing structure. A much better plan is to take some time to treat your existing recording space.

Don’t Kill The Room:
I find, for pop and rock vocals, it is often better to have control over the room sound, and be able to blend it into the end result of the vocal ambience. I often do this by moving room treatment around the vocalist and the microphone to taste. Sometimes this will be done with packing blankets hung over unused microphone stands. I can create a semicircle around the vocalist, so that less room reflections are getting into the vocal sound. There will still be some room ambience, but it can be adjusted to taste.

Keep It Open:
For very expressive and dynamic vocalists, I may suggest that they take a big step back from the mic, so that more preamp gain can be used and the compressor can grab the transients with a slower attack time. This can create more room ambience, but that might be just the ticket!

Stay Centered:

If possible, keep the vocalist in the center of the room, away from reflective walls. Even if you are in a space that you want to capture, it is better to give the room a distance to “breathe”

Room Mics:

If you choose to go with a very tight, close mic vocal sound, don’t be afraid to throw up another room mic in the corner of the room. In mix time, this mic may be just the thing to create a vocal ambience that is truly original and specific to your recording. This can also be very useful for a a bridge or prechorus section that needs to sound “lo-fi”. Consider using a trashy mic, through a mic pre that isn’t your “awesome” expensive preamp.

GEAR:

Vocals are the one area where I will admit that the recording gear really does matter. I can’t lie and tell you that the $100 MXL microphone comes close to a nice, refurbished neumann U47. The expensive stuff is expensive for a reason, and if that is the sound that you are after, this is the kind of thing where it will SAVE you money to rent out a facility with this type of gear.

Having said that, there are some mics that are reasonably affordable, which can give a great vocal sound for the right vocalist. I find that large diaphragm dynamic microphones are often far better than the cheaper condenser microphones within the same price range. The Shure SM7B is a wonderful vocal mic for husky male vocals, or the right female vocal (usually more gritty vocals). This microphone can often be found used for under $300.
A microphone preamp can have just as much affect on the vocal sound as the microphone itself. In the same manner as the vocal microphone, the really high end microphone preamps are expensive for a reason. Thankfully there are a few very nice DIY mic pre kits that will compare, and sometimes surpass the sound of a really nice Neve or API preamp. I suggest checking out Seventh Circle Audio as a starting point.

Production:

Before the vocal sound, the performance is the often the first thing that a listener will notice, at least in pop music. The inspiration of the performance cannot be canned in an expensive vocal microphone or mic preamp. An experienced vocal producer can really help to make the most of studio time in tracking vocals. The first time that I saw Matt Taheney produce vocals for The Click Five, I was sincerely impressed by the humor he used in getting into the nitty gritty of vocal punches. A great producer/ engineer will create a fun and exciting vibe around recording the same line 15 times. More importantly, an awesome engineer will make sure that the same line is recorded 15 times until it is right. I find that this type of detail is the sort of thing that gets bypassed in a home recording scenario.

U87 microphone set up for Daisy at The Moontower Recording Studio

U87 microphone set up for Daisy at The Moontower Recording Studio

80 unfinished songs.

I just talked to an artist who was thinking about working with me, but decided to go the home recording route about two years ago. I don’t blame him for this decision, in that he got an advance from his label to create a record. He now has the freedom to record anything and everything in his awesome home studio, but does he? Since then, he has partially recorded around 80 songs. None of them are finished, and there is no record out.

My question to you is, where do you draw the line? Is the creative process just about the action of creating, or does it also involve the resolution of finishing.

This is one of the dangers of embarking on a home recording project without a dedicated engineer or producer. There may be no specific end point. Sometimes the limitless possibilities of home recording can be the most crippling thing for your record.

What if you prepared for your record in pre-production, but you could only afford a certain amount of time to do so?

and what if you cut your record live, making sure to get all the songs done in 3 days?

Maybe every note won’t be perfect, but it will create a record, and in my experience, it will create an exciting record this way. Usually, this can all be done for cheaper than the expensive vocal mic and preamp that you have been eyeing at Guitar Center (trust me, it doesn’t sound as nice as they are claiming)

After a recording like this is done, it has to be done. There is no going back. You can only move forward to new music, which is more creative than sitting in your bedroom trying to figure out how to autotune your home recorded vocal takes…..

If you are currently in a never ending home recording production, shoot me an email Shaneoconnorrecording@gmail.com

I can help your project to move along.

How much does it cost to record with Shane O’Connor? Answer: NOTHING

I have spent the last couple of days tweaking, and working on my Rates and Services page. Although I am still not done (always details…) I think that I made it pretty clear how the financial, and logistical side of working with me usually goes down. I created this…. because I am often asked how much it costs to record an album, EP, single, or whatever it is you are looking to do.
The true answer: it costs nothing to begin working with me….. at least to begin with. All it takes is a commitment. You have to commit to making your best record ever, and giving it everything you have (emotionally, not financially). We can always work out the details of money and studio bookings later, but to start a record, you just let it happen. Starting, is the biggest step.

One of the best ways to make your record happen, is to tell 20 people. When you have decided that you are going to work with me on your new record, tell 20 people that are within your social circle. Not just any 20 people, but 20 people that will follow up and have an invested interest in your goal. Give them a due date for when the record will be released. Now you HAVE to do it, and you HAVE to do it now. You have a due date and a commitment with 20 people. The record is a reality, even though not a single note has been documented.

There is nothing in your way.

The next step, pre-production

New Plugins That Rival Analog

As many of you know, I recently started mixing most of my projects In The Box. By in the box, I mean that there is no physical mixer involved. All summing is done digitally with a DAW such as Protools or Logic (my new DAW of choice). This option is convenient, in that all mixes are 100% recallable, but there has always been a loss of “that special thing” with mixing entirely in a virtual environment.
That special thing often came from the chaotic, non linear characteristics of how an analog console, and analog compressors/ EQ’s/ reverbs worked. The digital world has come a long way, and there are some amazing new plugins out there that can create something very similar, if not better in some ways, as the old analog desks. I put together some reviews of plugins that I have been tinkering with recently.

NOTE! although I love all of these plugins, they are not a cure all method of making your mix shine. It is not so much the tools, as the user.

EQ:

Stillwell Audio is a new plugin company with a vision far beyond many plugins I have used costing 10 times at much. They focus largely on how the plugin will be used in a real world setting. Their controls are obvious and inspiring. The metering makes sense, and is similar to what you would find in the analog domain. Stillwell Audio also takes care to emulate the distortion charactaristics found in similar analog devices. For example, their Vibe EQ has compression/ distortion qualities when it is pushed harder, similar to a pultec design. I highly suggest checking out all of their plugins. They are amazing.

Vibe Eq (stillwell audio): FREE to try, suggest that you pay up….

The low end can get very chunchy and distorted for kick drum. The mid range can do the same thing, yet when cutting, the midrange, the outer sides of the frequency being cut have a certain distortion that is very pleasing and familiar. This will also do a great high end boost for vocals. Vibe EQ

COMPRESSION:

My favorite tool to geek out about!

Rough Rider (Audio Damage): FREE

I was using the rough rider Fuzz pedal emulation for years before I decided to check out what else they have cooking. The Rough Rider is a seriously smacky and agressive compressor. I found much use for it on kick,snare, and bass. The makeup gain is intentionally very distorted, so if you are looking for that kind of thing, it fits perfectly. If you are looking for clean yet interesting, I would keep the makeup gain down and use another plugin to compesate for the compression. Comparatively, this compressor is very similar to a DBX 160.
Rough Rider
Camel Crusher (camel audio): FREE

I have been a huge fan of the camel crusher for years. Similar to the Stillwell Audio aesthetic, this compressor includes tube distortion emulation that can be dialed in. Although this is cool, and sound amazing on a guitar bus, I often end up using this plugin as a clean compressor with an opto/ LA-2A feel. Its a great compressor for glueing things together, without smashing up the transients. camelcrusher-origsize

DELAY:

WatKat (Genuine Soundware): FREE

I downloaded the Wat Kat three days ago and was blown away. It is such a simple tape delay that sounded so close to the real thing that I felt a little sick! This unit is based off of the Copicat tape delay/ echo box. It has strange hisses and low frequency modulation built in, just like the real box. I had never heard of this company until I found this free plugin. I am going to try their free REVERB as soon as I get a chance.
watkat