Life after headphones-bluetooth speakers

Bluetooth speakers are the hottest item for music listening, and for good reason. The portability, sound (volume and quality), battery life, and price have made them a solid alternative to a set of headphones this holiday season.

While it’s difficult for speakers to match the sound quality of a pair of good headphones, the experience of listening through headphones leaves much to be desired. For many, music is best enjoyed when shared with others, and speakers let you break out of the modern personal sound bubble. Also, many listeners report discomfort or claustrophobia after 1+ hours of wearing headphones.
There is also an inherent difference between experiencing sound as it fills the room and surrounds you, and having it pumped directly into your ears.  
A few models to check out:

JBL Charge 2

Best bang for your buck. Tons of battery life, great sound quality. 

Skull Candy Air Raid

Engineered to be the loudest portable speaker on the market, and they got it done. Great for the beach and outdoors. 

Nixon Mini Blaster

Pairing Mini Blasters creates a stereo effect. I hope this standard for all models soon!

Grain Audio PWS

Very clean sound, awesome look from NYC based Grain Audio.

Headphones for the Holiday-Going Beat-less

Before you go out and drop some serious coin on a set of Beats by Dre for the music lover in your life, be sure to check out some alternatives that give you more bang for your buck.

“I used to work for Geek Squad, and I always saw people buying them and I tried so hard to explain that they break so easily and aren’t really that great, but no one would listen. They would usually be back in about 3-4 weeks with a broken pair of Beats..”

V-Moda M100

Great for Electronica, Rock, and Hip Hop-‘Pop’

Sennheiser Momentum

Great for Rock, Classical. A smaller, over-the-ear headset!

Audio Technica M50X

‘Production’ headset-Great for studio use

Klipsch R6i

Best fitting ear bud out there. Deep bass pop, great overall sound.

Grain Audio IEHP

Super clean earbud. Not overpowering bass, good for instrumentally driven music.

 

A big thank you to Evan Zalios of Soundlion for his help with the piece!

Life After Berklee and SXSW-With Nick Grieco

 

Credit Dakyamp Music

Photo Credit: Johnny Anguish at Daykamp Music

“It is weird to say that my rock band is the most stable thing in my life right now.”

Nick Grieco is the guitarist for Boston-based rock band The Field Effect. He is a classically trained cellist yet he calls A.F.I.’s Sing the Sorrow, “Probably one of the most important albums of all time.” I had a chance to speak with Nick about his band, his musical upbringing, and got his thoughts on the current state of the music industry. Check it out.

  •          Do you consider yourself an “indie” band?

o   I hate the term “Indie band” because it really stands for independent, not overly contrived or over-produced. I think as a band we are not trying to fight for any genre. We tell people we are a rock band, which is a vague thing to call ourselves, but that is what we are.

  •         Is it fair to say live performance is where it’s at for you?

o   We love playing live—all four of us—we are performers. We are all of involved in other things in the world of music, but when it comes down to it we’ve all been on tour before. If we can make it happen again as regularly as possible, we would love to. The live element is something we cannot get on a record. We can’t get that feeling either sitting at home. It’s as much for us as it is for our fans. We enjoy playing together. All four of us are original members, I don’t think that will ever change as long as the band is a band. We are all best friends, and that was because the band started.

  •         What drew you all together?

o   We all met at Berklee. Long after we had left, Doug moved back from New Jersey to Boston and hit up me and Annie, our bassist. He said, “Hey, I want to start a band, you guys are free agents, you are cool people, let’s do this.” We weren’t all great friends in college, it was Doug having an idea of what kind of band he wanted. When it came time to lock down a drummer, Annie brought along her boyfriend and that’s how we found Adam.

  •         How long did it take to click as a band? Was there immediate chemistry?

o   We are all pretty active song-writers, and some of us have production experience as well. We have all been in that situation so many times, that when the four of us sat down it was effortless. It only took one rehearsal of the four of us for it to really make sense. Over the next six months we were just playing. We didn’t have a band name and we didn’t have any shows, we just were playing. After choosing a band name, and having it become an entity it lit a fire under our asses, and ever since our songwriting has been maturing. While the fire was always there, it took that first six months to fall into the genre we are now playing, as well as to get an understanding for each other’s strengths.

  •         You have some late-90s tendencies—the catchy choruses, introspective lyrics, distorted guitars—do you trace your roots to any groups?

o   All four of us have very different original inspirations. If you drew a Venn Diagram of all of our music choices, there would be a spot in the middle where late-90s Emo and Pop-Punk and Rock live. The bands that we consistently get compared to are Jimmy Eat World, Saves the Day, Brand New, Taking Back Sunday. At the same time, Doug is obsessed with Wilco and Butch Walker. Annie is obsessed with Tegan and Sara. Adam is obsessed with Steely Dan. I am obsessed with A.F.I. Everybody is all over the place musically.

  •         Some of your songs are anthemesque, some are more sentimental; everything is rock, but you span the gamut. Can you talk about the difference between those different tendencies?

o   I can sum up all of that by talking about every member’s quest for energy within music. Whether it is the dynamic flow of a record or a live performance set, we are always going to write songs that are going to make us move and hopefully make the audience move. You can do that with a quiet song, or a really big pop-rock anthem. It always comes down to energy. If we don’t personally vibe with a song, we are just going to put it on the back burner until it goes.

  •         Does this mean music is more of an emotional endeavor or an intellectual one for you guys?

o   It is definitely emotional for Doug because he is behind the lyrics. For the rest of us, as instrumentalists, we get off on songs that are written really well. We strive to amplify the stuff we appreciate in the bands that we love and we try to channel that. The intellectual side of it powers me emotionally and vice versa.

  •         Where did music start for you personally?

o   I didn’t really have a choice in the matter. Straight out of the womb I was born and bred a musician. My mom’s side of the family is musically inclined, and my dad and his brother are both musically inclined. He was a jazz drummer, and there are pictures of me at 6 years old sitting behind a drum kit. When I was four I decided I wanted to play the cello, thus spawning my musical cello career that got me into Berklee. I have since put that on the back burner. Growing up, I picked up the guitar and started playing in punk bands. I went to Berklee because I knew I didn’t want to be a classical performer for the rest of my life. I’ve always been a composer and a writer of music, and there is no room for that in the world of classical music; so if I wanted to continue with that, I would have to become a contemporary musician.

  •         With your diverse background classically, that must inform what you do with The Field Effect. How much of that bleeds into what you do now?

o   All of it. I taught myself to play guitar. When I picked up my first guitar I tuned it like a cello, just to get used to it. Now I play in Drop C-Sharp tuning and all of my voicings are based on classical voicings. I don’t know how to play any blues guitar or any standard tunings. Everything I do as a guitarist is totally classical. I recently played a song for one of my friends and he remarked that it sounded like something I would write. He pointed out that I was using very classical chords. I hadn’t thought very much about having my own style.

  •         What is your songwriting process like?

o   It is all very much a collaborative thing, and it has become more so as we have matured as a band. There are multiple songs that have had multiple directions. It could be me bringing a riff and playing it over and over again that eventually morphs into a song, or if it’s Doug having just gone through a breakup coming to rehearsal with a verse/chorus that we eventually turn into full song. Originally that’s how the band started. Doug was a solo artist, but he got sick of it. He brought some of the most recent songs he had written and brought it to us and said, “Let’s rip these apart and rebuild them.” Being in a band is like being a relationship with four people. Our relationship is incredibly comfortable. Obviously there are speed bumps and things that cause tension, but we work really well together. The important thing is that we all value each other’s opinion. It is weird to say that my rock band is the most stable thing in my life right now.

  •         You’ve played South by Southwest, Rock n Rumble, and other festivals, and you are certainly a band that plays out. What are you focusing on now?

o   We loved playing the Rumble, it’s such a fixture in the Boston music culture. We have dialed down things with the band because everyone has gone through some crazy transitions. We are really trying to focus on our next record and get back into the groove of playing out—not necessarily in Boston, but elsewhere. One thing people always tell us is that we look like we love what we are doing on stage, and we do. That positive energy speaks volumes for people that want to communicate to us. We make a big effort to be open to fans. If someone reaches out to us, we try hard to get back to them and welcome them into our community.

  •         Part of getting yourself out there now involves the world of Spotify and Bandcamp. Do you have any thoughts on the digital life of musicians?

o   Personally it all sucks, a lot. I haven’t had much luck at all with music discovery or being able to support an artist since maybe MySpace in 2005. The best thing is Bandcamp because they keep themselves out of it for the most part. It is sad that the industry has come to this. The most important and highest functioning website is one that is barely there. Spotify is music access, and that is it. I personally can’t wait until it implodes and disappears; but it is a necessary evil. It is access, a lot of people have come to shows after listening to us on those sites. I was just reading an article about how all of the best bands in the UK have other jobs outside of music. They are saying that being in a touring band doesn’t pay the bills. At this point—and this is one thing I agree with Taylor Swift on [laughs]—and that is this whole thing is a big experiment right now, and nobody knows what is working. It is our obligation to our fans and ourselves to keep trying to put music out there. We are in a dark age where anything goes. If you’re not working your ass off to make more of a statement than just getting signed by a record label, it’s not going to be worth it in the end.

  •         Where do you see yourself progressing at the moment?

o   In the end I’ll always have an entrepreneurial mindset about the music industry because I am passionate about progressing it, but at the moment I’m sort of gun shy. Right now I want to get this album going. Everything that I personally invested in disappeared for a reason. We have half of the new record done and we are trying to work out some touring. We have been talking with another Boston band, The Color and Sound, that we have become really good friends with, and they want to take us along for a week in February.

How to: Getting your band out there

by Buddy Mercury

edited by Dan Adler-Golden

I’ve been in the same band my entire adult life (my own band), and I went from a relatively successful band touring-wise, to a relatively successful band local-wise and it took two very different tactics.

For years I toured and played with Mercury Radio Theater. Our goal was basically to build as big of a social media following as possible in a handful of major towns and cities in essentially a 10 hour drive radius from our hometown of Philadelphia.

Being a Regional Rockstar

We’d call bars, punk houses, coffeeshops, venues and play anywhere, anytime. We had a good press kit with good recordings, made sure the bio was short but punchy and intriguing (I have a friend who books one of the major venues in philly and his facebook statuses are just lines from bad band bios). We would always send press kits to all the local college radio stations before we showed up (about a month in advance), we’d print tour posters (we basically invested in a lot of advertising), we’d make sure to hunt down the local music blogs of each place we played and let them know we were coming to town and tried to play it up as much as we could. Also, we’d research the bands that we knew we would go well with in those towns and tried to hook up shows with them (the best way to do this would be to invite them to a show in Philadelphia and then they’d return the favor when we were on the road).

Eventually, we got a few key opportunities that a lot of bands don’t get. Bigger bands saw us play and asked us to tour with them, we got set paychecks every night and were making ok money. We toured a handful of times with well known bands and would be sure to hit up those same cities (at smaller venues) six months later to try and start our fan-base there.

Was it a lot of work? Yes it was, but we were doing it at a time when there wasn’t such an insane saturation of bands on the market. At the time, we were using mainly myspace in its early days and had thousands and thousands of followers, who would pay close attention to what we were up to. Also, on the old myspace pages you could search for followers by location, and we would use the people who were our friends or followers in given areas to do street team work for us. Then myspace came to an end and everyone moved to facebook.

At that point keeping the momentum going was just too much for me personally (after about 7 years), so I stopped touring, but nothing would ever keep my from playing music. So I decided to shift my attention to just being popular in Philadelphia.

Keeping it Local

Before becoming “local” I knew that I would have to be offering less of an experience and more something that could stand up to repeat viewings.

Through all my years of playing and recording in the city, I had become friends with local musicians, but I never really tapped a local audience that would be considered a fan-base. The first thing I did was ask all those musicians to join my band, and I ended up with an orchestra of around 8 people. I knew that would set me apart from most other bands in the city. I also knew whatever we did it had to be more, for lack of a better term “marketable”. I’ve played this song since I started guitar, and it had always gotten a lot of response from audiences because it was fun and whimsical. I decided I needed to take these 8 people more in that direction. I also needed to add some vocal stuff that people could shout along to (audiences love interaction). Once we had some new tunes we ended up sounding like this.

We pooled all our resources and waited for a big show to come along. It turned out that one of our friends, and amazing local legends, were going to have a reunion show that would certainly sell out one of our favorite venues. They asked us to set up the show, so we did, but tickets sold so fast they ended up having to book both friday and saturday and we opened both nights. From there we were sure not to play too often (there is nothing worse than a local band bugging you to come out every friday), we kept it to every 3 months and tried our damnedest to offer something unique. Each show had a theme and other bands that fit that theme, we MC’ed the shows rather than just have the bands file on and off stage. We made sure the audience/fans knew they were signing on for an entire night of bands who we had hand selected, and since we had 8 members the first few shows we really bugged all our friends and contacts to show. This really impressed the venue and we were able to return and do the shows periodically.

We made sure to try and get as much press as possible from local blogs, that way there is something to say about us. 5 shows happen every night of the week in philly, why on earth would they write about ours?

We made sure to write a press release for every show that gave all the details as well as info on all the bands playing that night (not just us). And what was so special about those nights? Well, we were booked the weekend before thanksgiving, it should have been a dead night for the venue with everyone traveling, but we billed it as “Gobblepocalypse,” and had a local animator make a 3 minute flash animation about robot turkeys taking over Philadelphia. Because it was a dead weekend, every blog in the city picked it up and we had a massive show. You gotta know how to turn a weakness into an advantage ( I know that’s hackneyed shit, but still!)

The shows became really popular, and as we started to sell out venues, we started to increase our frequency of playing. We decided rather than bust our balls trying to play a huge show every month, we’d pick a smaller venue we’d have no trouble selling out (100 person max) and just started a monthly residency.

That’s where we are right now, I know the path of every band and musician is different, but I think the main theme is…there are a lot of talented people in the world, and in 2014, there is just too much damned competition out there for bands, so you have to be offering something no one else would think of, and back it up with good tunes, and a fun time. People go to shows either because they’re fun or the musician is so amazing they want to be in awe of them. I ain’t in the second category, so I damn well better be in the first.

Anyway, hopefully this doesn’t get buried after all that typing, hope you find it interesting. Have a great day.

How to: Making money on tour with Merch

So you’re in a band, you’ve got songs, you’ve got your first few fans, you’ve got a show booked..what’s the next step? Merchandise! Every band needs it, most bands have it, but not everyone is good at it. Having great merch is one of the best money makers for artists, and hopefully these tips can help you make the right choices for merch.

A good design is key.

If you don’t have good designs, nobody is going to buy your merch. Your parents and best friends won’t have a problem buying a shirt with your name slapped across the chest, but your average fan won’t be interested. I’ll show you what I mean here:
Pretend your band is called Chain Lightning (I hit ‘random article’ on Wikipedia a few times and that was the coolest thing to come up). Here are some examples of what you don’t want your shirts to look like.
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Sure, these shirts have your name on them, and they’re going to be cheap to print, but it’s going to be hard to sell a shirt like this to somebody that just found out about your band at a show. Sure, the Red Hot Chili Peppers may have shirts that are that simple, but you’re not the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Instead, aim to have designs that are at least a little stylish.

image

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Both of those designs also don’t use tons of color, so they’ll be cheap to print, but there’s more to them than just your band’s name. I just threw those together in Photoshop as examples, so you’ll get the idea.

If nobody in your band knows graphic design, don’t be afraid to pay a designer. Trust me, it’s cheaper than you think, and your sales will go up exponentially. If the merch in the top two pictures was being sold by another band, would you buy it?

Select the right shirts/CDs to sell. Quality matters.

Have your merch and CDs printed by a reputable company and use good materials. You may be able to shave a few dollars off of your order by printing on cheap shirts, but that may not be the smartest move. You would be surprised how many people have asked to hold/feel the shirts I’ve been selling at a show. If you can feel the different options at your print shop and compare softness and thickness, do it. You don’t have to go with American Apparel shirts, but don’t go with the cheapest option unless you’ve had a chance to feel the quality.

In terms of CDs, be smart about the packaging. There are three main choices when it comes to album printing: jackets, digipacks, and jewel cases. There are pros and cons to all three.

Jackets have the pro of being dirt cheap. They often go for a dollar or less a unit if you’re buying in bulk. The con is that they’re dirt cheap. They don’t really feel like a nice package and you’re limited to printing on just the front and back of the sleeve.

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Jewel cases have the pro of being the industry standard. They’re also very flexible for printing. Do you want a 4 page booklet? Great, sounds good. Want a one page card insert instead? Can do. Want something printed under the CD tray? Not a problem. The con (which is enough to keep me from suggesting jewel cases) is that they break. If you’re planning on traveling with your CDs in a trailer, you’re going to have to throw away (or give away if you’re feeling nice) a few every night. The plastic covers get cracks in them if you’re not careful, and if you drop an entire box of jewel cases, you better hope for the best.

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This brings me to digipacks, which are what I consider the perfect CD option for touring acts. They have the printing flexibility of a jewel case, but without the risk of cracking. They hold up well on tours and they look great on the merch table. Pricing varies greatly depending on how much printing you need, but if you do a simple design without a booklet, the price isn’t going to break the bank.

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The right CD package, with great artwork, is an easy sell. How well you play each night also has a great effect on CD sales on tour, but we’ll save that for a different blog post..

Have unique merchandise, but don’t overdo it.

Sometimes it can be good to mix up your merch catalog a little. You don’t always have to stick to shirts and CDs. Here are some good examples of other merchandise that you can offer:

Poster:

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make sure you have a good photo for your poster taken by someone who knows what they’re doing, and that it’s printed on nice, thick paper. Bands with younger fan bases tend to sell more posters than bands aimed at adults, shocking, I know. be wary of posters that have dates on them. if your poster says TOUR 2014 and you don’t sell them all in 2014, have fun selling them for a discount in 2015.

Flannel shirts:

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my buddy Cody T picks up vintage flannels from thrift shops and has them printed with cool stuff. the overhead on these is really low, since goodwill always has flannels on the cheap.

Flags:

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this is certainly a trending item lately, I’ve especially noticed it in the pop-punk world. if you can get them printed for a reasonable price and have a cool design, i say go for it.

Any creative item you can come up with to sell on tour could become a big hit, but be sure it’s practical. Rapper T Mills sells socks on his tour that are similar to the popular Stance brand of socks you can get at Pac Sun, and he sells out of them every show. Small items like that are great money makers and easy to bring out. Something like socks, as well as iPhone cases, rubber wrist bands, sunglasses, etc.. can be great high profit items.

As with any other merch item, make sure you can price these sorts of things competitively. Hoodies are cool, but they make a bad merch item for touring bands. They’re expensive to print, heavy to bring on tour, and you only sell them 6 months out of the year. Most people aren’t bringing $50 out to a show just to buy one hoodie. Things like hoodies, board shorts, towels, etc.. are probably not your best bet to bring on tour. Your money may be better invested in a larger run of shirts or CDs.

Have a good sales pitch.

Being able to talk to people is a great way to move merch at a show. However, be genuine about it. Begging someone to buy your merchandise is certainly tacky. I’ve worked shows where the band goes around and tries to guilt people one by one into buying shirts so they can afford to get to the next show. When that doesn’t work, they try to down-sell to a CD or poster, and eventually the customer will buy one just to make you shut up and leave them alone. Do you have their $5 now? Yes. But is that worth making them feel awkward? Probably not. That’s one person that may not want to come see you play again.

It’s not a bad idea to bring a merch person on tour. They can keep inventory, sell during the show, and pack up/settle with the venue** at the end of the show. A lot of merch people also act as tour manager for smaller tours. If you can find someone that’s capable of doing both, go for it. That’s one less mouth to feed on the road.

During your set, make sure you mention that you have a merch table and that you’ll be there after the show to say hi to everyone. If the headliner of your tour will allow it, go out to the merch booth between other band’s sets and meet as many fans as you can (don’t do this while any other bands are on stage, this is considered disrespectful). People are much more likely to buy merch when a band member is at the table talking with them.

**(PS: Sometimes a venue will collect a percentage of your merch sales after the show. Yes, it sucks, and no, there’s nothing you can do about it. Don’t give the venue employee a hard time about it; there’s nothing they can do about it, and if they don’t take the venue cut, they could be on the hook for their job. There are ways to fudge numbers and save yourself money on the venue split, but I’m not going to talk about them here. Figure it out for yourself.)

So, there you have it. Way too many words on merchandise and how to get the most out of it. Hopefully this advice can help you make smart choices and a big profit on the road! If you like what you read, take a second to share this post with anything that may find it useful.

How to: Craigslist gear shopping

Compiled+Edited by Dan Adler-Golden

A bunch of people were requesting craigslist tips so I thought I’d share my experience:

Buying:

Patience is your strongest asset here. As long as the item you are looking for isn’t super rare you shouldn’t have trouble finding several over a month or two.

Know what it is worth. Use completed Ebay listings, reverb.com, and other craigslist postings to get an accurate estimate.

Look for older postings. Look for postings at least 15-20 days old. When a seller renews his posting(you can renew every 3 days) it sends it to the top but there is still a count of how long ago they posted it once you click on the ad. Someone who posted 2 days ago isn’t going to sell low.

Get as much info as possible before meeting the seller. Ask for more photos or history if the original post is not descriptive. The ideal sellers are either high level musicians who may have used it a lot but would have taken care of it or someone who bought it and then left it in a (hopefully clean and dry) closet for a couple years. You don’t want gear from the kid who didn’t bother storing it in a case.

Meet in a public place. This is a rule I rarely follow but it is both safer and advantageous to negotiating. Typically sellers won’t come to you so either you meet at their house where you’ve expended all the travel time or you meet them in a agreed location. They’re more likely to accept a slightly lower($20-50 off, no low balled) price in person if they already spent the time to meet you.

Selling

Post and renew at a time when people would be actually shopping for gear. Weekend mornings are best followed by weekday evenings. If you post late at night or during a work day it will get burried before anyone sees it.

There are two pricing strategies: Set a reasonable price that is fair to both you and the buyer and say that the price is firm. You’ll still get lower offers but you can politely tell them the price is firm. No need to take it personally. Second method is to price it roughly 20% higher and expect that people will make lower offers. Unless I’m in a hurry to sell (which is bad) I usually go with the second method. If you can wait for a week or two worth of offers you may find someone willing to pay your higher price.

Take lots of well lit and accurate photos! People ignore posts with crappy or non-existent photos.

Be up front about any damage but stress that it is still functionally sound(assuming it is).

Copy specs from sweetwater or guitar center in addition to personally writing a paragraph or so about the item and it’s history

If your gear hasn’t sold for a couple weeks to a month it is probably priced too high. You may feel your $1000-new amp is worth $700 used but if the demand isn’t there in the market you won’t get a great price. Big names like Fender and Gibson have the best resale value.

Trades

It can be difficult to find the exact trade you are looking for. If you are looking to swap gear in a hurry it is usually faster to sell and buy rather than wait to find the one person in your area looking to trade gear X for gear Y.

As such, it is easier if you aren’t picky. If you don’t care about the specific color or model variation of the item you’re looking for you will have better luck.

It is difficult to trade one type of instrument for another. For example, a guitar/guitar amp for a bass/bass amp. It limits your potential traders to multi-instrumentalists. It’s usually easier to sell and buy in this case.

I mostly like trading without any specific item in mind. If I happen to have a piece of gear I haven’t used in a few years it’s fun to post it and see what you can get.

Feel free to add more!

Recording and Mixing Basics

By Quanah Potts

Edited for Grouptonesblog.com by Dan Adler-Golden

I thought I would try and compile the basics of recording and mixing for musicians looking to release material but not knowing how-

This piece is for first-time home studio musicians. Recording and mixing are incredibly complex processes, so I’m going to try and keep it short and sweet so you can just focus on the music.  You can look at Sound on SoundThe Recording Revolution, or Into the Lair for more elaborate explanations.

Google is your friend. Search for unknown terms.

PREP

1 Buy some gear-Mixing is not about gear, but you do need some: headphones (monitors if you’re serious), a microphone, an audio interface, some xlr cables, a mic stand, a pop filter (for vocals), and a computer to record (Mac or PC, doesn’t matter). You don’t really need more than one mic unless you’re recording real drums, which is good but often not viable. Obviously you also need your instrument rig (guitar, bass, amp, pedals, cables, midi controller for synths, etc.). Also, don’t buy any plugins. Use the ones that come with your DAW.

The most important thing about gear is that in the end, you can make good music with just about any decent equipment. It doesn’t need to be crazy expensive. \

Don’t get swamped in the trillions of potential choices to make here!

  • Headphones: Audio-Technica ATH M-50s $120
  • Monitors: KRK Rokit 5s $150/ea
  • Mic: Behringer B-1 Condenser $100 or Shure SM57 Dynamic $100. If you have the cash: Audio-Technica AT 4033CL $400, Shure SM7B $350
  • Interface: Focusrite Scarlette 2i2 $150

2 Choose a DAW: Pick one program and learn it well. In my experience something like Audacity or Garageband doesn’t really cut it, so look into stuff like ProTools, Logic, Reaper, Ableton. It doesn’t really matter which one you choose in the end (no one’s going to be able to tell), so do some research and choose one you like. ProTools is the standard, but Logic is very common too.

I use Ableton.

3 Make sure your music is good: this doesn’t have anything to do with recording! You can make a great mix out of a bad song. Listen to the radio (heyooo!),  but for the good of everyone, be self-critical of your writing and ideas before you commit yourself to the immense work of making them real.

4 Set up your gear: put mics in stands, put pop filter on stand if recording vocals, put mics in front of audio source, connect mics to interface, connect monitors/headphones to interface, connect interface to computer.

5 Set up the song in your DAW: this is dependent on your program, but always involves setting the tempo and time signature, sometimes the key, and opening and “arming” tracks to record onto. Put down markers for different parts of the song, i.e. “chorus 2” or “bridge,” etc. for organization.

RECORDING

6 Acoustics: you need to make sure things like guitar strums, AC drone background noise, and people talking in the background aren’t recorded-seperate your amp+mic and your guitar+computer and finding a mostly quiet room. Try and isolate the microphone (pillows, blankets, foam, etc.) so it is “dry” and only picks up what you want it to, and make use of unidirectionality: the mic only records from the front. You can also use “close miking” to reduce noise, where you put it really close to the signal source (the amp), turn up the amp level and turn down the interface gain.

7 Start with drums, and use a click track (!!!) : If you’re just starting home recording, you should use midi drums, so this is the point where you set up your virtual instrument and write the midi file. (I have no experience recording real drums, but with two mics you can use the Recorderman Technique). Even when recording with the drums there, I still use a metronome for most recordings. Making sure everything is in time makes editing so much easier later on.

8 Make sure your signal doesn’t clip: digital clipping sounds terrible! Test your signal level going into your DAW. Make sure it’s not red. Aim for like 50-75% from 0db on your master fader (where all the tracks go). Quiet is better. Headroom is good. Check all your tracks again when you start to mix.

9 Mic placement: Where you put the mic has an impact on the resultant tone, so experiment with this a little. Move it from the left to the right of the amp, move it further away, move it closer. All the while, listen back to the part and compare what sounds the best. Always at least try two positions. A good place to start is 6-8 inches from the audio source, but it’s not set in stone. When singing, try to stay a consistent distance from the mic.

10 Record everything how you want it to sound the first time: lots of people think “I’ll just fix it in the mix,” and while there are some things you can fix, your goal should be to make it sound exactly how you want the first time you record it. Mess around with your amp and stomp boxes and redo your performance until you get it as close as you can to how it sounds in your head. Get it right. This will save you so much time.

MIXING

11 Before mixing, save the session as just raw tracks: this way if you make a mistake, you always have the unaffected audio to go back to.

12 Monitor/headphone levels: set the volume at which you hear things (through your interface) to a conservative level. Be able to have a conversation over what you’re hearing. Louder stuff sounds artificially better. You need to make your mix sound great while quiet.

13 Track volume: try to balance your mix and make it sound good as if you only had volume faders, no plugins. Change the overall level of each track through the faders or clip-based gain and balance the whole song with just them.

14 Editing: you’re usually going to have to cut and paste and move parts around and take parts out and so on throughout the mixing process. This includes removing stuff like distracting breaths and “s” sounds in vocals, tiny guitar noises, talking, etc. Do not neglect your editing. If you do, you will sound amateur.

15 EQ: this is nearly half of mixing! EQ is how you make your tracks mesh sonically and create “space.” EQ changes how prominent certain frequencies are, lows, mids, and highs. EQ in mono to remove the illusion of space that panning creates., t

The basic process is to “swoop” around (set high “Q” and high gain, then test different Hz) for bad frequencies to cut and good ones to boost. The rule is: cut sharp (high “Q”) and boost gently (low “Q”). Generally keep changes around 3-4db. Add a “high pass filter” to cut out inaudible low-frequency noise from every track except for bass and kick drum. Use “complimentary EQ” to separate two similar tracks (cut a frequency from one track and boost the same one on the other). The goal is to be able to distinguish tracks from one another, and create a pleasing spectrum of frequencies. Use EQ to fix tracks.

Here are some rough guidelines, excerpted from The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook 

16 Panning: pan after EQing and you’ll find even more space. Keep important things like vocal, bass, kick, and snare down the middle. Pan everything else left and right. You can try LCR panning if you want, where everything is either 100% left, center, or right, or use more precise panning.

17 Compression: this is the other half. Compression is how you give your tracks energy and polish. It evens out the dynamic range of a track, creating consistency. It’s especially important on bass and vocals. Don’t overdo it or else you will kill your tracks.

Compression reduces the gain of any signal above a decibel “threshold” according to a “ratio,” where a higher ratio results in more compression. A 2:1 ratio means (1/2) 50% of signal over threshold remains. 3:1 means (1/3) 33% remains. 4:1, (1/4) 25%, and so on. The “attack” is how long it takes to start this reduction while the “release” is how long it takes to stop it. These two control tone. For example, faster attack means it’s less “punchy” and more “fat” because you’re reducing the attack transient. “Makeup gain” allows the now-compressed signal to return to its previous level. Manipulate these parameters to create energy and consistency. This takes trial and error and is difficult to describe in brief. Rule of thumb: 3:1 ratio is a good place to start, look for about 4db of gain reduction.

18 General EQ/Comp. tips: yes, you still need to mix midi drums. Start at the busiest section in the arrangement. Start with the least important instruments; i.e. finish with vocals. Resist the urge to solo tracks. Compare your work to what it sounded like 10 minutes ago to make sure you made the right choices. Take breaks. After EQ & comp., listen to the song at -20db, on low-quality speakers and earbuds, in your car, etc. to gain perspective. Listen for the bass, kick, snare, and vocal, distractions, and high/low end presence.

19 Coloring plugins: use reverb, delay, saturation, harmonic exciters, etc. to color your tracks and create different tones. As usual, experimentation is the name of the game here. The specifics of use depend on which particular plugin you’re using. Reverb/delay are usually important on vocals to correspond with certain genres and moods. Just remember that while these are helpful in creating a unique mix, they alone will not make a good one.

20 Other tricks: use vocal doubling, “telephone” EQ, de-essing, parallel tracks, sends, panning and volume automation, and other creative miscellaneous tricks that I have no idea about to make your mix better.

21 The principle of limitations: throughout the recording and mixing process, it is generally a good idea to try to prescribe to the rule of “less is more.” You don’t need twelve different compressor plugins. Do good work with just one. This applies to everything: gear, tracks, plugins. This will make it so you’re less distracted by all the options and choices you have to make so that you can focus on what the music sounds like.

22 Reference mix: find a song you think is mixed really well and compare the choices made in it to your own. Theirs are made by professionals, and so some choices would not be obvious to you.

23 Optional master fader and group plugins: this is something you should do before you mix individual tracks, but you can optionally use single plugins and effects on your entire song (master fader) or groups of tracks (i.e. “drums” or “guitars” or “vocals”) to do less work and to create cohesion. It isn’t required, but it is helpful.

24 Leave it alone: after you’re done, leave your mix alone for a little while to get fresh ears.

25 Variations: when all is said and done, bounce down different versions of your mix for assurance. “I might want the vocals louder later,” or “I might want the drums quieter” or “I might want LCR panning” or “I might not want reverb in the chorus” and etc.

MASTERING

I don’t know anything about mastering, really. I just used a limiter plugin to make songs roughly the same volume. If this is your first project, it is probably not especially necessary. If sound production is your life’s aspiration, you should do some research here.

END

I don’t really like mixing. I find it really cumbersome, it makes it so I get worn down by my own music, and I’m only pseudo-competent at it, but it is a necessary evil. Your writing isn’t magically going to turn into audio. If you want people to hear your music and not be distracted by how it was recorded, you have to learn recording and mixing. This guide has the absolute basics, and there’s a lot more to it than just this, but the basics will get you far.

I hope it helps.

Sources include Recording Revolution, Into the Lair, Sound on Sound, reddit, personal experience, and miscellaneous YouTube videos.

If you’re interested in my music: http://onewon.bandcamp.com

The original post can be found on reddit here