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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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