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Professional CD Mastering

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

Mixing and mastering usually go hand-in-hand. But while most people refer to them both together, they are two distinctly different stages in the recording process. So why exactly do you need to master your album? Couldn’t you just get your songs mixed by a great engineer (maybe a Studio Pros engineer), skip the mastering step and save a few bucks on your record?

It may seem like an effective cost-cutting solution, but if you don’t get your album mastered, you’re only going to hold yourself back–way back, in fact. What many musicians don’t realize is that mastering is as important as every other aspect of recording, including recording great sounding instrumental tracks and professional mixing. Not mastering your album (or trying to master it yourself) will yield the same unprofessional results as if you recorded low-quality drum tracks or mixed it poorly.

Mastering is essential for making your songs broadcast-quality.

What exactly is mastering anyway?

Mastering might sound like a bit of a vague concept to many musicians, as though it’s just one magical step added to the end of the recording process. But while learning how to master a song very well is an extremely difficult task, learning what mastering actually is is quite simple. In our interview with Studio Pros’ mastering engineer, he explained that mastering is basically EQing, compressing, limiting and gain staging the final mix.

What that means is that the engineer tweaks your mix to sound just like the songs you hear on the radio every day–the same volume, the same balanced sound. Without this step, your song just won’t cut it for broadcast quality.

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Songwriting Tip: Intros

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

Did you ever wonder about what the most important part of a song is? Your initial thought might be that it’s the chorus or the hook… I’m not here to say that the chorus is not important…  It certainly is. But it’s worth noting that a chorus won’t mean much if the listener never hears it. People have short attention spans when they’re listening to music, so you’ve got to catch their attention as soon as possible with your song. That means the introduction had better be memorable, or at least quick enough to let the song get to something memorable as soon as possible.

So because it’s a first impression, and first impressions are crucial, the intro just might be the most important part of your song. That’s why it’s imperative that you don’t write it off–spend as much time crafting a great introduction as you do crafting the rest of the song.

Did you know that when music industry people–like A&R and radio DJs–listen to a demo, they usually only give it about 30 seconds before they skip to the next track? That means a song had better really get going well before the 30 second mark to make them want to listen more. It also means that your demo should probably include songs that get right into the good stuff and have great intros.

Use a hook in the introduction

If you hope your introduction will make people want to keep listening, put something memorable in it–an instrumental hook, a really cool guitar part, a catchy melody, etc. There are no rules to what you can and can’t include, so do whatever makes it stand out!

Studio Pros artist Rich Marcello does this in his song “Mary.”  The introduction includes a catchy little acoustic guitar lead that quotes the main hook of the chorus.  It’s just long enough to give us a taste of the melody, then leads right into the song’s first verse.  Listen to it here:

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Featured Artist: Jeff Heiniger

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Jeff Heiniger knew the importance of a professional production–so he turned to Studio Pros when he didn’t want to settle for anything less.

Jeff Heiniger has known what goes into a professional production for a long time. In 1987, he won a national songwriting competition in the UK that was put together by Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman. The prize: a chance to record in the Stones’ state-of-the-art mobile recording studio with top producers Mick McKenna and Terry Taylor. “It was brilliant to work with actual professionals,” Heiniger remembers. “They turned our demo into something that was fantastic.”

Heiniger first started taking music lessons after getting a piano when he was 13.  He also started listening to all sorts of pop music, from Electric Light Orchestra to Depeche Mode, ABBA to The Beatles. Since winning the competition he has put together a Pro Tools-equipped home studio, but soon realized that without a professional producer behind the board he wasn’t going to achieve the same sort of radio-ready product he got with is winning song. “The problem is that I’m not an engineer, so I didn’t have anybody to record my stuff,” he explains. “What I found was really good about Studio Pros was that the production was sort of taken out of my hands in a way.”

When he found the Studio Pros website, Heiniger was actually looking for session vocalists on the web. “I couldn’t find anyone locally who was any good,” he says. “It’s quite laborious, taking your music to a recording studio and finding an engineer who will record a session singer who you may not like. It seemed quite a lengthy process, and one that may not yield results at the end of the day.” He found himself intrigued by the Studio Pros website. “The site itself looked very professional. Professionalism and price were important.”

With Studio Pros, Heiniger was able to focus on writing a song on piano, then letting our team of world-class studio musicians build the rest from the ground up. Along the way, he would provide input and feedback to make sure everything came together how he wanted it. In order to make it easier, Heiniger would provide reference tracks with other music that matched the vibe he was going for with each song.

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Why You Don’t Need 12 Finished Songs to Start Recording Your Album

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

You probably have an amazing album inside you, just waiting to burst out. The funny thing is, you might not even realize it yet… Sure, you know you have a lot of great musical ideas and a whole lot of untapped creativity swirling around inside your head. But a whole album might seem like something that you won’t be able to tackle until you have 12 fully realized songs ready to go.

But the fact that you only have a handful of songs that you feel are ready to record shouldn’t stop you from starting the process. Back when I wrote about the biggest myths keeping you from recording your album, I mentioned that not having enough songs doesn’t mean you can’t begin recording your masterpiece. In fact, it may be even better to start laying down some tracks when you only have a few songs to work on. Here are a few reasons why:

You can better focus your creativity

Recording just a few songs allows you to think about only a few things at a time–which means you don’t have to worry about spreading yourself too thin while trying to deal with a whole album’s worth of material. Figuring out the background vocal harmonies on four songs is a much less daunting task than tackling a dozen songs!

Find your musical direction and vision

Many professional musicians don’t have a complete album when they go to record. Instead, they take the music they have and start working with top producers and collaborators who help them hone the direction and vision of the album. This is a good strategy, because if you simply go into a recording session with a full album, you might find that some of them don’t quite fit–and then you’re back to the drawing board again. Starting with a few songs will help you figure out what direction your music is heading in, thereby giving you focus and purpose as you write new material.

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How to Make an Unforgettable Music Production

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Have you ever wondered what makes a song instantly recognizable?

Take a listen to the first five seconds of this song:

How is it that it’s possible to know what song it is just from listening to the first five seconds?

One instrument (acoustic guitar). Two chords. It can’t be any simpler than that, yet it’s unique and easy to remember. How many times have you been to a live concert where the artist starts playing their hit song, and within the first couple of seconds the crowd goes crazy? Why? Because they know what song it is immediately.

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Radio Play: Getting Your Music on the Airwaves

Saturday, August 7th, 2010

We’d all love to get played on the radio.  I grew up dreaming of hearing my songs on the airwaves, knowing that thousands of people were also listening.

Have you ever wondered why your songs aren’t on the radio? Most of us probably tell ourselves the same excuses–radio doesn’t care about my music, I need to be on a major label to have any hope of radio airplay, and no one listens to the radio anymore, anyway. But if you think this way, you’re selling yourself short. If you remember a recent post I wrote, that’s a self-defeating attitude that will get you nowhere!

The fact is, you could be on the radio. But there are a few things you should know before you start mailing CDs to every station in town.

Unsigned doesn’t necessarily mean un-played

Most of the bands you hear on your local radio station are signed, that much is true. But that doesn’t mean you have to be signed to get played on the air. Most radio stations have a time set aside each week to feature local artists–your best bet is to target these shows first. Find out from the station’s website what their policy is for submitting music, or find the contact information of the DJ that hosts the local show.

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Music Image: Why You Should Care

Friday, July 30th, 2010

Have you ever been standing in line to get your morning coffee when someone walks in wearing a zipper-laden leather jacket, skin-tight jeans with ripped holes, visible tattoos and a perfectly “messy” hairdo?  Of course, the first thing you think is, “that guy is definitely in a band!” If a scene similar to this has ever played out in your life, you’ve been introduced to the world of image. And like it or not, it’s one of the most important aspects of today’s musicians.

I know what you’re thinking–but my music is most important. It’s the music that’s gonna take me to the top. Don’t get me wrong, your music is definitely important. And if you look like a rock star but sound awful, you may have your priorities a little out of whack. But the fact remains that image is a huge aspect of being in a band, and it’s only the image-conscious artists that stand a fighting chance in today’s cutthroat music industry.

Band image has always been around

Image is by no means a new concept for musicians. Back in the ’60s, the Beatles shocked everyone with their “long” hair (mop tops that are tame by today’s standards), “mods” like The Who were wearing tailor-made suits, and Eric Clapton cared about two things: the blues and fashion. In the ’70s, every musician had a shoulder-length hairdo and Led Zeppelin was making open-shirt fashion statements on stage. The ’80s brought us tight leather pants and so much hairspray the ozone cried for mercy, and the ’90s saw the popularization of flannel shirts tied around the waste and baggy jeans.

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Studio Pros + Taxi = 90% Better Chances for Song Placements

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

Did you know that 9 out of 10 artists who have used Studio Pros’ music production service and submitted to TAXI.com had their songs forwarded to record labels and music supervisors?

In case you didn’t know, TAXI.com is a service that connects independent musicians like you with record label personnel, music supervisors who place songs in TV shows and movies, and other industry people who are always looking for new music. Studio Pros conducted a survey of 10 customers who used our music production services for their songs and discovered that artists–even those who previously had major difficulty in getting their songs forwarded to industry folk by TAXI.com–were now finding it much easier to get their music passed along after using Studio Pros. In fact, as I mentioned above, 9 out of 10 artists noticed this improvement!

We were very proud to hear this, not only because it means we’ve helped lots of indie musicians take a huge career step, but because it further reinforces our belief that it is incredibly important to have a professional quality recording of your music before you try to shop it around. There are many reasons for this… Here are two that directly relate to TAXI.com:

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Featured Artist: Robert Norris

Monday, May 17th, 2010

With a little Studio Pros magic, Robert Norris is making music fun again.

Robert Norris had all but given up on music by his early thirties.  ”Music just wasn’t fun anymore,” he remembers. “I basically ran out of steam and decided to get on with my life.”

Norris had been a musician since he was a kid, when he took drum lessons and started his first garage band in junior high. As time went on, he began learning music theory, became a lead singer, and even got to sample the rock star lifestyle in the beach town of Marshfield, Massachusetts. “The summer we graduated, 1975, the drinking age was 18,” he says. “We were playing in bars that we were barely old enough to be in. Lots of fun, great experience, and a taste of the life.”

After a brief stint at UMass Amherst as a vocal music education major, Norris sang in several bands around the Boston area and began writing original music. After a band breakup, he took to the studio to record a cassette tape of original songs called Nobody’s Dream Come True. But despite getting some local airplay and seeing some interest in his songs, Norris felt like he had hit a wall; music was set aside and life went on.

But as most musicians can attest to, the music bug doesn’t easily go away; years later, Norris wanted to start singing again. But having been removed from the scene and all his old musician contacts for so long, he needed to hire session players for his recordings. “I contacted a studio locally,” he says. “Having no other viable options, I scheduled a four-hour session to start my first song. He charged me from the minute I walked in till the minute I left with no allowance for the three breaks the musicians took. And to make matters worse, I didn’t really like what we had recorded.”

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Featured Artist: Roger Miller

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

Roger Miller, like many musicians, is a bit of a perfectionist. Luckily, Studio Pros is full of perfectionists as well.

At the beginning of summer 2009, Roger Miller acquired the funding he needed to record a full-length album of his Christian alternative acoustic music. In order to get a professional sounding product, Miller decided he would head to Nashville, TN, rent out a recording studio, hire session musicians, and put together an album that could hold its own against any major label production. But during his online search for recording studios, he came across a more convenient option that caught his attention: Studio Pros.

Unsure of whether or not Studio Pros could really deliver the top quality product he was looking for, Miller sent in just one song to test the waters. The final product convinced him to continue on with his entire album. “The final album and the songs, they exceeded my expectations quality-wise,” Miller says.

Miller sang, played guitar and even some cello on his songs, but one of his favorite parts of the process was working with the professional studio musicians that Studio Pros provided. Through this recording process, Miller had access to some of the best musicians in LA playing on his songs, while still involving him in the production of his album. “Going into it, I had pretty high standards,” Miller says. But he was impressed with the caliber of playing he received. “The drum tracks were incredible. They were a lot better than I thought they were going to be. The backing vocals were stellar.” Miller used a strategy that combined using his own very specific musical ideas in conjunction with letting the musicians improvise and do their own thing when the songs called for it.

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