Posted on 31-07-2009
Filed Under (stinson bulletin) by Jon Stinson

I’m going to have to take a little time off again from Producer Notes, as I’m going to be traveling for a bit. For the next three Wednesdays I will not be posting. The band I manage, Mother/Father, is currently on tour on the west coast, and I am going to spend some time with them in Tucson, Los Angeles, and Seattle. Should be a good time.

www.glasvegas.net

Additionally, there have been some late-breaking developments in the Mother/Father camp. We had a last minute addition to their current tour as the opening slot for Glasvegas in Tucson, AZ at The Rialto Theatre on Saturday, August 1st (tomorrow!). Doors are at 7pm if you’re in the Tucson area and want to drop by. But check online first, as I believe tickets may be in short supply at this point.

Mother/Father Official Website

Also, we have launched the Mother/Father official website today. We intend to use this site as a tool to form and participate in a constant and direct dialogue with the fans of Mother/Father. Through the site, fans can get up to the minute updates on developments as they happen, such as new music, join the conversation on the blog, find out about tour dates the moment they are booked, and pick up on exclusive promotions that may come through various mediums-such as the blog or the newsletter. Jump on over to thisismotherfather.com to take a look at the new site. We already have some ideas for future additions to the site, but let us know what you think so we can work your ideas in with ours.

Mother/Father Facebook Page

Lastly, yesterday we published a Mother/Father Facebook page. For those that prefer Facebook over the other social sites, this will allow us to connect with you. Take a look at The Mother/Father Facebook Page, and become a fan to start a conversation and/or post some pictures of a past Mother/Father show.

Thanks for being readers of Producer Notes. I’ll be back at the end of August.

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Posted on 29-07-2009
Filed Under (producing and engineering) by Jon Stinson

Seth Godin says that everything you do is marketing. I think he’s right. So if that’s true, then how you interface with people throughout the record making process is everything as far as your career is concerned.

Catching a Laugh

Everything you do-every reaction you have to a good or bad situation, how relaxed you seem, how focused you seem, they way you respond to people, the way you listen to people, they way you respond when your ideas aren’t used, the way you respond when your ideas are used-shapes your reputation and personality as a record maker. Through this reputation and personality you’re inadvertently “branding” yourself.

You can learn all the information in the text books, and regurgitate that information verbatim. You can learn everything about the circuitry of all the most popular equipment, and even build a lot of it yourself. You can know everything there is to know about gain staging, acoustics, phase, mic placement, or gear components. You can even know all there is to know about harmony, key changes, scales, tempo, or time signatures. But if you don’t have people skills you won’t be making records with people.

I’ve seen people who knew more than anyone else about all of the above and beyond, get passed over for people who did not know as much but were very creative and had great people skills.

The trouble with the people who know everything is that they get hung on the verbatim part. If it does not look and feel exactly like what they know it’s supposed to, exactly what the science says it’s supposed to look and feel like, then it’s wrong.

Text on pages and what you “know” are just a tiny spec of dust in the universe of record making. You have to have people skills. You have to be able to speak the language of creativity. You have to open your mind to other perspectives. You have to throw out the legalistic thinking of what is “right” and what is “wrong.” You have to be able to sympathize and empathize with people.

So how are your people skills?

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A little over a year ago I published a post titled, 5 Tips To Make Your Recording Sessions More Efficient (Vol. 1). The idea was to create a topical theme which would serve as an ongoing series. I didn’t intend to wait this long to post a second installment, but nevertheless here it is.

As I said in the first post of this series, these tips are meant to be five individual tips, not a step-by-step process.

Tape Machine

Have Preproduction Sessions
If you’ve been hired to produce someone else’s project, scheduling in a few days of preproduction before the first day of tracking will improve your productivity and workflow-once actually in the studio-100 percent. Find some time to meet with the artist or band to talk about the vision of the project and how you plan to approach making the record. Focus in on specific parts and instrumentation that may need to be ironed out ahead of time, before you enter the studio to record. Have the band rehearse and A/B any changes that have been suggested, both to be certain that the change is a good change, and so that everyone can become familiar with the new way to play the song.

If you’re a part of an indie band who is going full DIY, not hiring a producer, it’s still more than highly beneficial to go through this preproduction process as a band. Talk about the vision as a group to make sure everyone is on the same wavelength, and rehearse all the songs so that they can be performed as confidently as possible when it is time to record. You want to make sure you capture the performances in a way that is congruent with the vision. This process has to be a collaboration between everyone.

Wear headphones when dialing in a cue mix
And make sure you’re listening to the cue mix. This way you will hear exactly what the musicians are hearing, and you have an accurate frame of reference when creating the mix which will serve as the “space” for the musicians to perform in. If there is not an extra pair of headphones for you to use, the next best option is to simply listen to the cue mix over the main monitors.

Set up talkback mics
This will require extra resources in terms of mics and preamps, but if you can afford it, it’s worth it. Setting up talkback mics, mics which allow the person being recorded to talk back to the engineer, keeps everyone from having to run back and forth from room to room to communicate with one another. Or worse, having to yell all throughout the recording space. Setting up talkback mics will make the communication easier to understand, and you won’t have to interrupt the flow of the session.

Take Notes
When I was on staff at Quad Recording Studios, projects would often come in where I would have to transfer 20-30 year old tape into Pro Tools. And all too often these tapes would have hardly any documentation. It’s amazing what new type of swear language you can invent when it’s 3am, and you’re in the middle of one of these projects with no map.

You need to be taking as many notes as possible all throughout the recording process. Document all takes, parts, arrangements, equipment, settings, lyrics, alternate lyrics, spontaneous ideas, and anything else you can think of that’s relevant. It may seem pointless at the time, but trust me, when you go to mix the project, or if you hand the project off to someone else, or if you revisit the project after months of being archived, you will thank yourself. And you won’t get that horrible tightness in your chest that usually shows up just after having this epiphany. Most importantly you will appreciate the favor you did for yourself when word gets around town about how organized you are.

Name your tracks and audio files
Name your tracks and files! Keep them in a specific folder! Don’t put them on your system drive! Here’s another source for a massive panic attack. When editing, transferring files, mixing, or any one of the endless tasks that take place during the record making process, the last thing you want is an Audio Files folder full of generically named files, such as “Audio 1″ “Audio 2″ “Audio 3″ etc. You’re only going to make things harder for yourself on all fronts if you do this. Especially if something goes wrong and some files turn up missing. And if you think you can simply hand the project off to a “professional” who can sort this out for you, think again. You will most likely have to pay through the nose in fees because of the tremendous amount of extra time and work it will take to straighten this out. Most importantly you will not be doing favors for your reputation.

Hopefully a couple of these tips were useful. With any luck the next installment of this series won’t take me another year to get around to publishing. Don’t forget to go back and check out the first post in this series here: [5 Tips To Make Your Recording Sessions More Efficient (Vol. 1)] And if you would like to post your own tips, feel free to do so in the comments. I’d also be glad to take your tips via email. Send them to me at stinson[AT]producernotes[DOT]com. I’ll post them in my next edition(s) of this series along with a credit to you, so make sure to include a link to your website and how you would like to be represented in the credit.

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Posted on 15-07-2009
Filed Under (producing and engineering) by Jon Stinson

Magic Bullet

There are so many magazines, books, and blogs on the subject of producing and recording music. Throughout the years I’ve read my fair share of all these books, often times focusing on each and every technical step to the point of overcomplicating the learning process for myself.

Unfortunately most of these published works put a heavy focus on the “A,B,C’s,” and the “tips and tricks” aspect of record making as if the process of recording can be simplified down to a homogenized operation-with a strict right and wrong attached to that process.

Or that there is some magic bullet that will work for any and all situations. And because some hit record-maker thought up this trick, if you use it, everything the trick is applied to will magically be a hit.

Granted, I have written a few “step-by-step” posts myself, and I think that in the grand scheme of things, there is powerful knowledge and wisdom that can be garnered from learning about the tricks that the hit-makers invented (but you have to understand the theories behind why it works).

But what I really try to shine light on with Producer Notes is the underlying artistic and human qualities within creating and recording music. Every situation has a specific context. Each one of these contexts requires an artistic choice which is congruent with that record, and that artist’s identity and vision. When you understand, really understand, the underlying scientific theories which compose the environment in which you are making these choices, you will realize an empowerment that hit-makers experience every day.

But to get there, ironically, you have to first DO-Learn By Doing

Certainly there is a scientific base point upon which pretty much all recording concepts were invented. But that does not make recording any less of an art form than the underlying scientific base point of music itself makes playing an instrument.

Producing and recording is mostly art, and a little bit science. Approach it that way. Take risks. Think up your own ways to do things. Don’t worry if you’re breaking some scientific theory. And Don’t carbon copy the hit-makers tricks. Study them like a musician studies other musician’s compositions-to better understand music. Record-making should not be cheapened to a “one, two, three” process. There is no “right.” There is no “wrong.” And tricks are not invented to be applied to all things. That also cheapens the trade.

Photo by www.photos8.com. Licensed under a Creative Commons license.

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Posted on 08-07-2009
Filed Under (producing and engineering) by Jon Stinson

Piano Recital

Do you know where the front of the piano is? It apparently turns out that too many engineers don’t. And it turns out that I was one of them.

The other day, I opened up an email I got from Stumble Upon to peruse some new links, and came across this gem on Daniel Farris’s blog: Piano Recording: The Dumbest Popular Wisdom in Modern Record Making

Now I have not actually done any research on the piano to fact check Daniel’s post, so take all this with a grain of salt (I have some questions, too. Like what about the upright piano? Where’s the front of this instrument?).

The reason I felt inspired to share this idea with you, is because reading Daniel’s post caused me to have some epiphanies about the general understanding of capturing recordings in stereo, which I hope to further dissect and discuss. Whether or not Daniel’s post originates from knowledge that actually does reside in the history books, the ideas shared in his post are still valid in the field of creative recording, and illuminates a technique worth significant study, practice, and use. Not to mention that whenever you attend a piano recital, the instrument is positioned as Daniel has described.

For now I simply wanted to share this learning experience. Here’s the link to Daniel’s blog post: [http://danielfarris.wordpress.com/2009/02/23/piano-recording-the-dumbest-popular-wisdom-in-modern-record-making/]

Photo by woodleywonderworks. Licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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Posted on 07-07-2009
Filed Under (marketing and promotion) by Jon Stinson

FREE Book Cover

I’ve been anticipating this book for a while now (I don’t think I realized how much, actually). Today, as the book comes out in the United States, I’ve been reading some blog posts. I thought I’d share some quick thoughts as I prepare to read FREE: The Future of a Radical Price.

When Chris Anderson first started talking about the economics of free, it naturally piqued my interest as Radical Notion (independent media), my startup, is a company which uses various versions of free as one of the core concepts of it’s business model. Chris Anderson’s discussions on free have been very exciting to me, as it put a name and economic model around many of the strategies on the cutting edge of the music industry. Strategies in which I have found inspiration for my own company. Namely, strategies which bands like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have acted as leaders for many other bands which are now developing very similar strategies.

I just watched a video of Rich Fahle interviewing Chris Anderson for Borders, discussing his new book. There are a lot of interesting ideas touched on in this interview that I can hardly wait read more about as I study the book. There were a couple of the things I thought particularly interesting in the video, though. One was hearing more of Chris’s thoughts on this idea of “freemium.” And the other was that (according to Chris) people who are over 30 tend to not believe in the idea of free as a business model, and people under 30 say, “no duh” to the idea of free as a business model.

Something that I whole heartedly disagree with, however, happens around the 5:10 mark where Rich Fahle says, “you can’t turn to an expert anymore, in this model that you’re describing, to do all that background business work. It sounds like what you’re describing is you gotta be a business man. If you’re an artist, you also have to be a business manager.”

Of course I totally disagree with this. I think that today, an artist needs a manager in a way that they have never needed one before. They need someone who thinks radically enough to direct their career in a way that is relevant to the changed establishment. To be successful in today’s music world, it is most important to find a manager who not only will pursue and/or invent new ways to harness the power of free (among an infinite number of other new marketing concepts), but an artist needs to find a manager who realizes that it is their obligation to protect this strategy at all costs. Because there will be others who want to partner or invest in the artist, then water down the strategy.

I recommend you watch the video (total length 15:02) [http://www.bordersmedia.com/borderspresents/anderson%20?cmpid=SL_20090707_RWB] Pay attention around 5:35 when Chris says, “Radical Notion.” I love when things like this happen!

Also, in honor of “walking the talk” of the book, Chris Anderson has partnered with a few companies to offer several ways to consume the book:

For what it’s worth, I think I’ll opt to purchase the book, acquiring the “freemium” version. Nothing like being able to actually touch and smell a creative work.

Got any other links/thoughts/etc about Chris Anderson’s new book, FREE: The Future of a Radical Price? Please post comments.

Talk with you tomorrow, where we’ll get back to our usual discussion of making records.

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Posted on 01-07-2009
Filed Under (producing and engineering) by Jon Stinson

Microphone Close Up

After publishing my post a couple weeks ago, Record-Making Purgatory, I got to thinking about some examples of overdubbing ideas that may help spark creativity. If you’re currently stuck in a “purgatory predicament,” perhaps these suggestions will snap you out of it.

1) Overdub a second snare
Try putting an additional snare track over or under the original snare. Use a different snare/tuning/timber, and have the drummer (or anyone, really) perform this the entire length of the track. You may need to slightly edit the timing of the track later to line it up closer to the original. In the mix there are a lot of different options-wild EQ and compression settings, huge reverb, small reverb, gated, expanded, wild delay settings, or leave it totally natural. Do whatever you feel, but get creative.

2) Overdub a floor tom
Try this in sections of the song. Maybe there is a breakdown that it would fit nicely into. Maybe you simply reinforce the drum fills. If you go with the latter choice, and you know you are going to do this on the tracking day, you can plan ahead by yanking some direct mics off the drum kit to use elsewhere. Again, in the mixing phase your options are wide open to your complete creativity.

3) Overdub another part on bass
Usually when people think up parts to add to an arrangement, they never think to see what this may sound like on bass guitar. Don’t overlook this option. We did this on a project I was involved in a while back, and it was a brilliant idea.

4) Double the bass guitar with a synth bass
This can add a sub-harmonic, distorted texture under the bass. In the mix tuck it just under the original bass to make it all blend in, sounding as one part. The combined tracks can sound like the most unique bass guitar anyone has ever heard.

5) Reamp vocals
Kind of like using a synth to add a sub-harmonic texture to the bass, try adding a somewhat subliminal timber to the vocal. It will require you to obtain possession of a reamp box of some sort. I’m pleased with this one: www.reamp.com. In the mix, blend this new track under the original vocal, add a little EQ magic to the top end, and you will get a nice touch of added presence to the lead vocal (or backgrounds if you’d rather).

Hope these five ideas inspire your creative vision to help you escape the dreaded record-making purgatory. I may actually take my own advice, and try some of these ideas out on a project I’m currently working on.

I would love to know how this turns out for you. If you end up trying some of these ideas out, post links to your recordings in the comments for all of us to hear. And if you have any other creative overdub ideas that you would like share, please leave those in the comments as well.

//Jon
Website: jonstinson.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/stnsn
Twitter: @stsn

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