The basics of time and tempo for musicians.

I came across this great series over at GuitarWorld.com by Mark Bacino from Intro.Verse.Chorus. In the article below he talks about how tempo is so rudimentary that it is often overlooked, yet it’s an essential part of setting up every song.

As a music creator I (try to) use a metronome on every project I produce. Some are harder than others because many young musicians aren’t formally trained so using one is not standard practice (pun intended). When I do use one my metronome of choice is the one included with the iPhone and iPad app, Guitar Toolkit.  The app has a lot of features for guitar players, but the metronome itself is very easy to use and it’s tap friendly.

 

 

Songcraft: It’s About Time

by Mark Bacino

As songwriters, we think of tempo as the most basic of basics. Tempo, or the speed at which we perform a song, is sort of the quiet engine, the driving force behind all our tunes; yet, because we consider it so “Songwriting 101,” tempo can sometimes become songcraft’s sadly neglected middle child.

The hard, cold facts are these: Perform a great song too fast and you’ve lost the race. Play a great song too slow and the only animal left in the barn when you finish will be the turtle you rode in on. Your audience may never intellectualize your tempo miscalculations, but they will certainly feel them and sense something’s “off.”

Recording

Before you begin to record those new songs with your band, have all your tunes’ tempos decided upon and documented via the BPM (beats per minute) standard of tempo measurement.

This is great advice. Along with figuring out the tempo there are three other bits of advice I have for you. They are:

  1. Rehearse
  2. Rehearse 
  3. Rehearse. 

Rehearse these set tempos constantly. They should be second nature to the entire band because once recorded and your fans have a feel for them they will expect them come showtime.

Another tempo-finding hack I’ve employed goes like this: Think about your new song and try to recall a favorite tune from another artist that might have a similar vibe or feel. Dig out that artist’s track and try and figure out what tempo their song lives at. You can do this by using the “Tap” function in your DAW or app.

Live

The same thoughts apply. Before leaving that dingy rehearsal room and stepping on stage, try and get your tempos in place. If your drummer is tempo-challenged (and a bunch of good drummers are, believe it or not), they make a lot of tempo-keeping gear for live application that can be used as an on-the-fly reference. If you can, use these tools. They will stop you from playing that 45-minute set in 15 (Been there, done that).

For more on the subject of tempo see Mark’s article at GuitarWorld.com.

A brief history of sheet music.

I read this article on a new music learning service/site called Chromatik. It tell of the advent of sheet music and how music in the days when Tin Pan Alley thrived was all about the song and not so much about the performance. I think you’ll find it interesting.

A brief history of sheet music.The advent of sheet music as a viable business didn’t really take on until 1880 with the rise of Tin Pan Alley. Originally Tin Pan Alley only referred to a specific building on W. 28th and 5th Ave. in New York City, but eventually it came to represent an entire period of popular music dominated by music publishers and songwriters.

Since the early Renaissance-era manuscripts of monophonic chants, sheet music has been around in one form or another. As the printing press made waves in the 15th century people sought to print music, but it was not easy at first. The first recorded printed book to include music, the “Mainz psalter,” (~1457) had to have the musical notation hand-written in. Yet as technology advanced throughout the centuries and songwriters eventually came together into a de facto publishing house, Tin Pan Alley came to represent an industry that was growing exponentially. Within the first ten years of the 20th century songwriters and publishers were churning out upwards of 25,000 popular songs per year, the highest production of popular music ever.

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“All music is used to make money”

Singer/Songwriter Ralph Murphy shares his insight and experiences from his 30+ years of being in the music “business”. This is a fantastic lecture that took place at Layola University. He stresses over and over about how this is a business.

He also stresses that all artists need to know how to craft a song so that it appeals to your audience/fans. If you can keep you fans entertained and wanting more then you will remain in the business and potentially make a pretty good living. If you neglect the basics of songwriting you will more than likely not be in the business for very long.

Below are a couple of gems I picker out as points to remember for up and coming artists like yourselves.

“What brings you to a song 100% of the time is melody. What keeps you there is lyric.”

“For you artist or singer songwriter a song is not a song, a song is a linear lyrical conversation between you and every single person in that room.”

“Music is the underpinning of society.”

“The three things you ask yourself when you’re finished with your work are, what’s in it for the listener? What’s in it for the listener? What’s in it for the listener? If there’s nothing in it for the listener you’re wasting your time.”

 

What made your favorite record memorable?

This is a great question by Steve Guttenberg, CNET Blog Network author. He  asked…

What’s the best-sounding record you ever heard?

This might be a tough question for a lot of people: defining what good sound is, and separating sound from music isn’t easy.

It might be impossible to distill it to just one album or song. We tend to like the sound of music we like, and conflate good sound with good music.

That’s understandable, but when the sound jumps out and draws your attention, take, for example, the sound of Jimi Hendrix’s feedback. It was Hendrix’s distortion, not his songs, that forever changed the sound of electric guitars.

Paul McCartney said it was the sound of the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” album that inspired the Beatles to radically change their sound and make “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

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Becoming an overnight success in music isn’t for everyone.

Here’s a post from Brian Thompson over at MTT. He raises some very good points about the downside of becoming an overnight success. I posted a comment on his original article, but I’ll reiterate some of my points here.

I’ve been in this business a long time. I’ve seen artist come and go. Sometimes they burn out, maybe they want something more or they simply want a laid back lifestyle. Starting a family and creating a “normal” life is probably the biggest reason for voluntarily leaving the music business.

More often than not, however, the biggest reason an artist or band is no longer in the business is because they received too much too soon. They weren’t prepared for the potential consequences of being an overnight success. If you’re in the music business, no matter what level, you want to make a living creating art. We all do. There are, however, some pitfalls and I think Brian has outlined a few below that most new artist should be aware of.

When one of my clients says “My dream is to get signed and become famous!” I always reply with “Be careful of what you wish for. It just might come true.”

10 Reasons You Shouldn’t Wish For Overnight Success

Be careful of what you wish for.

1. You won’t be mentally prepared to deal with all of the fame, fortune, and international attention.

2. You won’t be well-rehearsed or experienced enough and your performance won’t be ready for overnight global attention.

3. Critics and fans will eat you alive for every little misstep you do, crushing your soul and spirit in the process.

4. You will have a very short career. Overnight successes do not create life-long fans.

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5 Ways To Spruce Up Your Live Show

This is a post I found on Echoes, Disc Makers blog, about how to add some punch to your live shows. As a mix engineer I think about this topic quite a bit. How do you keep things fresh while playing the same material over and over? For those of you who aren’t professional mixers we will listen to the same song from 5 – 12 hours in a row to set the proper EQ and levels that will make the song great. That’s our job and we live for it.

As a touring musician, however, you play the same set of songs for months at a time. How do you stay interested in the material and make sure your audience doesn’t think that you’re bored of playing it? Well, Cheryl Engelhardt explains a few tips below so that you and your audience stay interested. Enjoy!

Freshen Up Your Live Show – 5 Ways To Spruce Up Your Live Music Performance

by CHERYL B. ENGELHARDT

Make a lasting impression and your fans will return in droves.

There are lots of reasons to want to freshen up your live show. Maybe you hit a point where you are performing songs off your new-but-not-that-new record and feel like the show is getting stagnant – not just for you but for your fans. Or maybe you feel like you haven’t found the sweet spot of what your live show should be. Perhaps you want to experiment a bit but don’t know how.

The good news is that there are some easy ways to shift your performance, from “ever-so-slightly” to “total overhaul,” and you can gauge the results immediately – i.e. people start coming out to hear your live music, stay the whole set, buy more CDs, have great comments afterwards, YOU feel great, you feel like you hit a stride, etc.

Here are 5 ideas and performance tips to help you freshen up your live music performances without losing yourself in the process. Take one on, or all five and really shake things up. (And add some of your own in the comments section!)

1. Go crazy with cover songs
No matter what cover song you do, as long as you do it authentically as you, you really can’t go wrong. To me, cover songs are about stretching yourself, giving the unexpected, and being playful with your audience. I’ve covered Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” (and folks, for obvious reasons, it doesn’t get much different than that) as well as Led Zeppelin’s “D’yer Maker.”

“…Branching out into the amazing history of delicious hits is a fun musical expedition.”

2. Change arrangements
I can’t tell you how bored I get when I do solo tours. Me and my piano, every night. On the other hand, I LOVE playing with my band (electric guitar, drums, bass), but I can sometimes overdo putting on the same show over and over. So, recently, I switched it up and did a show at Rockwood Music Hall in New York and had my guitarist play acoustic guitar and brought in Kristine Kruta, a cello player who played on my record.

3. Involve your audience more
I’m talking before, during, and after the show. While promoting on Facebook, Twitter, fan emails, ask people what songs they want to hear. Ask them what merch they’d like to see at the next show. Have a contest to see who can share the event page the most. Just before you start playing, go up to a fan and ask them to take on passing around your mailing list mid-set. Tell them you’d be grateful and honored and offer a free CD.

4. Switch up your lineup
This doesn’t mean permanently fire your band and hire new people with no reason other than you’re spring cleaning. It means making friends with some other musicians, doing a few gigs with them to see if anything sparks. Maybe these gigs are acoustic, or duets, or something other than your normal schtick. If you always play with the same people, it’s great to see what other musicians can do with your music. You may get ideas to bring back to your original players, and you may also forge a new relationship and want to add them to your regular lineup.

5. Change venues
Tired of the coffee house scene? The loud bar scene? The background-music restaurant, ski resort, hotel bar scene? Whatever it is you usually play, look into something totally different. Ask a friend to host a rooftop party. Call the booker for a bigger rock club you’ve been wanting to play and ask for an early slot six months from now, or start pounding the pavement to get an opening slot for a band you’d like to tour with.

“If you’re always playing loud venues, do a stripped-down show at a coffee shop to showcase your songwriting.”

You can read the rest of Cheryl’s article over at Echoes, Disk Makers blog for up and coming musicians.

A Guide To Recording A Killer Lead Vocal.

The article below comes from the latest edition of Electronic Musician (emusician.com). It was written by Michael Cooper who really seems to know his stuff. It’s a long article, but if you are serious about recording great vocal performances you should read this in its entirety. I’ve been in this business for about 15 years and even I took away some great tips. At times it gets a bit technical, but continue reading. He blends advice for techies and newbies alike quite nicely.

Best of luck and please remember to contact us if you have any vocal tracking needs or simply want to discuss a technique in Michael’s article. We love to talk shop!

A SOUP-TO-NUTS GUIDE TO RECORDING KILLER LEAD VOCAL TRACKS

By MICHAEL COOPER

Recording a Killer Lead Vocal

"Pamper the Talent", Michael Cooper

THERE’S A good reason why music-production illuminati dub the lead vocal the “money track”: If it’s not fantastic, you don’t have a record. To casual listeners, it hardly matters how good the instrumental tracks sound. The lead vocal is the thing that grabs their attention and impels them to listen to a recording, or hit the Skip button.

In this article, I’ll detail the techniques that have worked for me when recording lead vocal tracks over the past 30 years. My focus will be on overdubbing vocals to existing instrumental tracks, but much of what I’ll cover applies equally to tracking a singer simultaneously with a band. It all begins with common-sense tips.

Prepare Ahead of Time Nothing drains a singer’s mojo faster than waiting forever while his mic is set up, a preamp and compressor are patched into the signal path, a new DAW track is created, and a headphone mix is devised and routed to his cans. If possible, make sure all these tasks are completed before the singer arrives at your studio. That way, you can immediately get down to making magic together after a couple minutes of ice-breaking chitchat.

I’ll talk in-depth about equipment selection and setup shortly, but a few words about mic choice bear discussion now, before your session begins. If you’ll be working with a singer for the first time, ask her well before the session what her favorite mic is for recording; that is, one that has yielded flattering results on her other sessions. Try using the same mic model if you own it. If it’s not in your arsenal and you can’t justify renting it, choose another mic from your collection that has a similar frequency response, polar pattern, and bass proximity effect.

An alternative tack is to set up a few of your best vocal mics before the session and have the vocalist briefly sing into each one so you can hear which is the best match for her voice. The drawback to this approach is it takes time, something that the project’s budget might not allow. Fortunately, there is a simple way to choose the perfect mic on the spot. But first, a little feng shui is in order.

The rest of this article includes topics like…

  • Pamper the Talent (I wrote a similar article recently titled, Putting a singer at ease in the studio)
  • Hang it High – Microphone placement
  • Patch in Preamp and Compressor Before the Talent Arrives
  • Tweak the Cue Mix
  • Fix Now or Comp Later
  • Using Polar Patterns to Shape Tone
  • And much more.

To continue reading please head on over to Electronic Musician.