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.

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

Freelancing Florida with Christian Ryan

Christian Ryan at House of Blues

Christian Ryan Interview 3/23/14

By K. Winslow Smith

Christian Ryan is an Orlando, Florida based saxophonist who epitomizes the idea of the

freelance musician. He plays with dozens of bands and is a constant fixture up and down the

sunny Florida peninsula and America’s southeast. He blends genres and breaks down musical

barriers, having played with Incubus-like prog bands, Christian-Pop-Spanish groups,

jambands, funk outfits, and much more. I recently had the opportunity to catch up with

Christian, check it out!

 

When did you discover music?

I grew up listening to my parent’s music. My mom was really into Motown and my dad was

more of a classic rock guy. I started playing saxophone when I was in 6th grade, just over ten years ago.

Right about when I was seventeen or eighteen I really

started pursuing music seriously. I grew up doing the school band thing for a while,

and I didn’t think I was going to be a performing musician. I thought maybe I was

going to be a band director, but right around when I was seventeen I heard the Dave

Brubeck Quartet and I never heard anything like it before and it changed my whole perspective.

 

How has being a freelance musician differed from being in a set band?

When I first started I was primarily playing with a singer-songwriter. For a while I

was just involved with that. When you really put your heart and soul into something

and it doesn’t really work out, it can really drive you crazy. It got to the point where

I was frustrated, and it got to where I couldn’t rely on people to be a certain way.

After that I started branching out and playing with other people. Freelance, opposed

to being in other groups, is like being a mercenary in a certain way. Any band that

I play with sends me their music and I learn it, a lot of times I don’t even rehearse

with these guys. I’ll show up and do the gig, and that’s it. As a freelance guy you

take everything into your own hands. Most everything I’ve done has been by myself.

It’s gotten to the point that a lot of people in Florida, when they think of a saxophone

player, they think of me. Being a freelance person, a lot of people just wait for things

to happen, rather than going out there and making things happen. I’ve played at some

festivals in front of a lot of people, and I’ve played in backyards with a handful of people.

 

How do you approach a new gig?

Recently, there was a band from Tampa who hit me up because

their trumpet player was going to be out of town—they sent me a few dates and I

told them which ones I could make it to and in a about a week’s time I learned the

horn lines, I drove down to Tampa and played the show. I just always try to be as

professional as possible. Being prepared is one thing I really strive to do. When a new

group approaches me it’s not just that I’m open to their music, it’s that I’m open to

how they do things as well.

 

Do you have any musical goals?

I have this three-headed goal. My main goal is be a part of the music festival circuit—whether

with a particular band or as myself as an artist. I’d love to have the ability to tour

and then have my own home-base here in Orlando. The last thing would be to make

my own music. I feel like I have a lot left to learn before I pursue my own particular music.

 

Do you have a philosophy of music or any guiding principles?

One of my mantras is to do what you love, whatever that may be. Once I discovered

the flame and realized that I wanted to play music for the rest of my life I just went

for it. Any art in particular you’ll have the naysayers who say you’ll have to get a real

job or you can’t possibly make a living that easy, but what is easy? If it’s something

you’re passionate about, you gotta do it. I’m fortunate because some people might

not find that thing, but for me it clicked and I rolled with it. It hasn’t been easy all the

time, but when I’m playing on a stage, whenever that may be and with whoever that

may be it’s like nothing else. I don’t do drugs, and I don’t drink, so that feeling I get

when I’m on stage performing with people is all I need to keep on keeping on. It’s

like you’re in another world where nothing can go wrong. It’s euphoric.

 

Where do you get your kicks, live or recording?

I’m much more of a live performer than a studio musician. With live music you

get the audience reaction, and any one moment could go in a direction you might

not expect. There are those moments that happen that you can’t duplicate, where

everything comes together at the right time and that can’t be matched. The studio

gives you the opportunity to do a lot of things; you can bring in different musicians

and overdub and there are multiple takes. There’s more freedom live. In the studio

there’s schedules and deadlines. I’m trying to find a unique voice in the studio,

whereas live I already have an established sound. Recording is an art in itself, from

the musicians to the engineers to everybody else that has a hand in it. Whereas live

it’s the band and the audience.

 

If you could collaborate with any musician who would it be?

I’d love to have played with Frank Zappa. I have the greatest respect for him, not only

as a musician but as a person. I’d love to play with Snarky Puppy. I got to meet their

bass player and he’s a really down to earth guy, and to see someone you really look

up to be so humble is great.

 

What would the one thing on your studio contract be?

I’m just really happy if I get some food. [laughs] A nice fresh home-cooked meal. I’d

also like a bottle of original Listerine for my reeds.

 

Be sure to check out Christian’s music at christianryanmusic.com, as well as his projects, Buster Keaton and Holey Miss Moley!

Getting to know Ali McGuirk

Image

Ali McGuirk brings to the stage a refreshing comfort and grace uncommon in Boston. It’s as though she and the stage are old friends who share intimate jokes.

A few weeks ago at Atwoods I saw her perform a balance of superbly picked covers; ranging from Beyoncé’s “Love on Top,” John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy,” and “Mercy Mercy Me” by Marvin Gaye—and her own gems, including “That Way”, “Honeymoon”, and “Grown Ups.” Her show has intimate beginnings, building towards the end, making the room (and the audience) hum with energy.

I was lucky enough to catch up with Ms. McGuirk prior to her set on the Atwood’s stage. She discussed her summers abroad playing in Santorini, Greece and Hong Kong, as well as her thoughts on the current scene and much more.

GT: What are you up to in Boston these days?

AM: A lot! I’m playing with new people from Western Mass. They play funk and R n B. There’s so many funky people in Western Mass, I always find myself playing with cool people out there. We’ve been playing around the area—Somerville, Cambridge, and Boston. We just did a Valentine’s Day Show, it was a benefit called Hardy Meals for All. I’ve been writing new songs recently. It would be nice to make a full length mixtape.

GT: Mixtape?

AM: Whatever those full length things are called.

GT: So you’re more focused on the studio than touring?

AM: More immediately I want to create a repertoire of stuff that is more than just my favorite songs. Ideally I’d like to have time to sit down and write songs, not just have them come to me in moments of inspiration. I want to be more conscious about what I’m writing about. Not only love songs, but songs about social change, everything.

GT: You have an old sound but there is also a modern influence in there as well. Is this a conscious decision?

AM: It is. When I was growing up, my two favorite singers were Mariah Carey and Bonnie Raitt. Then when I got into high school it was Joni Mitchell and Lauren Hill. Now it’s Fiona Apple and Jill Scott.

GT: Who should we check out in Boston?

AM: I’ve become a super-fan of local rapper Dutch Rebelle who I worked with at The Sinclair.

GT: Were you playing originals or covers in Greece and Hong Kong?

Ali McGuirk: Both. In both situations I had to be myself but also had to play music people were familiar with. There was a lot of work for me over there, they take care of their musicians.

GT: Were you playing solo or with a group?

AM: In Hong Kong I played in a lot of duos. I performed with Philipino Pop Star Paul Sapiera, who is a Filipino pop-star. He made me sing Bonnie Rait “I Can’t Make You Love Me” and “I Will Always Love You,” the songs I always dreamed of singing that I could never get away with here.

GT: If you could open for anyone who would it be?

AM: Honestly, it’s been a secret dream of mine to be a back up singer for India Arie

GT: Do you have a philosophy around playing music?

AM: When I nourish music, it nourishes me. It’s something that is there for anyone who wants it. The more you put into it the more you get out of it.

GT: What is your ideal audience?

AM: I’ve played shows of all sizes, shows are at dive bars because I could really let loose in there. That’s where you get the moments where it’s just me and I’m getting the emotions out.

GT: Any larger goals with music?

AM: I just want to have enough swagger to call up musicians and have them be excited about playing with me.

GT: What would your one pre-show, dressing room amenity be?

AM: A bunch of pink starbursts. [laughs]