DRUM BEAT BLOG - Buy On Band Tips
This article popped up a few times on my facebook feed yesterday... and quickly opinions came with it.
For those who don't know, a "buy on" is a spot on a show/tour a band can pay for hoping the slot will put them in front of similar music fans who might like their band... and become fans.
So what's the big deal?
Well... I think it gets down to how you see this "pay to play" opportunity.
The main argument against is that any band or artist could simply raise enough money (the richest wins!) to get on a tour... and that the headliner (the one actually selling the ticket fans are buying) only cares about cash and not the quality of the band that takes the spot.
This may be true... and money does talk... but in my experience, a few things factor (talent, sound, attitude, professionalism, team, etc) into the selection of a band looking to... pay for a slot on a tour that's for sale because the established headliner knows it has value.
Trust me, bands care about who's opening or direct support. The live show is more important than ever so the bigger acts want to make sure the bill is worth every penny... even if the entire crowd is there to see them (the headliner). You can't steal the live show. It has a price and it has an expiry date.
Another valid argument is bigger bands should help smaller bands since they have the audience to help grow talent.
I agree 100% and if my soapbox ever reaches that height, I certainly would!
... that's how I felt several years ago at least.
The problem is once you're a professional touring act (or a professional in any industry I'm sure)... there's tons of people wanting to ride your coattails... for basically nothing in exchange... you know, because they asked, you now magically owe them something.
Maybe they're trying to do it on the cheap, maybe they can't afford to run the band as a business, maybe they're daydreaming hobbyists just looking for that "one tiny chance" to hit the big time... because that's all they need right? Opportunity! They have the talent so that should be able to make up for the money they don't have (want) to invest.
Once you reach a certain level the tables turn and so does your focus... and you can no longer help the majority of those bands.
... because they can't help themselves... and they wave that flag, high and proud.
They tend to be pretty unprofessional (on several levels) and/or they can't afford (or not willing) to run the band as a business... and when you've made the sacrifices (I'm talking financially, since nobody cares about what your time is worth when you aren't willing to invest everything in your own idea), a band or artist knows the value of that spot on the bill and offers it up to someone who's going to make the most of it.
... or has a boatload of cash.
Believe me, if your band sucks (musically, professionally, and/or personality wise), you'd have to offer a lot of money... so much they'd be insane not to take it. In that case, the band (and crew) probably won't care to meet you, interact to you, etc. You're just around for a bit. You're just a wicked paycheck.
That being said... in my opinion, the costs (per show) for this arrangement probably just goes towards the headliners crew. Is it so bad to offset some of the production costs for the headliner? Again... they're the one selling the ticket, not the opening band. They're the one the promoter is taking the risk on to make a profit. Follow the money and things make sense... and this isn't a bad thing.
There's the argument it's just as bad as radio being bought and sold. Well perhaps, but my opinion of radio is it also simply gets down to advertising space.
Radio campaigns can be expensive and a huge risk if you don't have the rest of your musical machine cranking along in the background (single and/or album, touring, marketing/promo, etc).
I get asked often by bands if I think buying on a tour is a good use of funds. Well? Chachi's first point in his post... is it worth it?
Often it isn't.
Why? (... assuming your band is actually ready.)
The headliner isn't big enough, not enough dates, weak bill over all, terrible routing/dates, etc. Sometimes it looks like a cash grab and I don't want to say "go for it" knowing the band is probably going to end up paying $250/show to play to 17 people for 5 nights.
That's just not worth it.
When is it worth it?
When you know the headliner thinks your band is decent and you know they can sell tickets.
... back to radio for a second. When you service a song to radio, you're hoping it a) gets added to the rotation and b) someone hears it... and likes it enough to find out who the band was.
This is asking a lot. Not everyone checks the charts Tuesday afternoon like I do.
So say you were paying $10,000 for your radio campaign, this is high or low depending on genre/market, but it's easy math for the time being.
Your song is amazingly 3 minutes long. You're played 3 times a day for 3 weeks.
9 mins/day X 21 days = 189 minutes or 3 hours 9 mins total playing time.
(... yes we don't know how many people this station reaches... and yes we're sort of a assuming this is only 1 station, in 1 market... but keep in mind 21 spins (3 spins a day X 7 days) a week might get you into the Top 50 on Canadian radio! I'm not joking!)
... stay with me here... yeah I'm sorta pulling numbers out of the air and I know every case is different! It's more about the concept!
... anyway, in our example, you've paid $10,000 for just over 3 hours of airtime. You're hoping someone hears it and hoping they like the song enough to follow up and Google the band.
... keep in mind, if that single takes off... you really should have some money around to tour and support it. Don't pretend money will magically appear giving you the ability to tour!
Now with a buy on, let's say it's $500/show to open for a band you know is going to put on average 500 people in a venue per night.
Simple math again, we have $10,000 to put towards a buy on. $10,000/$500 = 20 shows.
Sweet... 3 week tour! Let's just round it to 21 days.
Now, you have a 20 minute opening set.
20 minutes X 20 shows = 400 minutes or 6 hours and 40 mins.
I know we're not factoring in the costs of touring at this point, but you can see a major advantage in time already... we could even cut that buy on budget down to $5,000, do 10 shows, and have $5,000 left for tour support and be back where we were timewise for our radio campaign.
Here's' the thing though... you're hoping someone hears you on the radio. They are passive listeners. I listen to music playing in the grocery store, but I don't stand around in the cookie aisle and rock out if my jam comes on.
Exception being if Tame Impala comes on.
Again, these are passive listeners, being exposed to the radio... they're doing something else and your music has to catch their attention.
The live show environment is a completely different story. Those 500 fans waiting for your band to hit the stage are primed! Just like if you've ever been to a comedy bar, those inside are primed to laugh. It doesn't take much to get people engaged when they're primed. This is the huge edge to a buy on situation over radio. Active listeners.
If you have a great headliner (the one selling the ticket), you now have a captive, paying, engaged audience who will endure your entire set... and in this case, that's 500 people a night, for 20 nights.
You have your entire set to win them over.
That's 10,000 people... people you can meet at your merch table. People who might buy your album, buy your shirt, tag your band in pics and videos they post, etc. I'm not saying they all will... but if you leave a city with even 5 new core fans (1% in our example)... those seeds will grow.
Do the math.
Consider the cost vs value.
With anything in business, stop thinking you can't afford it and start thinking is it worth it?
The opportunity is there for bands willing to consider the opportunity... the price is often too high for those that complain about how the system works though... and it's usually a trickle down effect of excuses throughout their entire business plan. With any basic business plan, below "concept" is "capital". You have this great idea, but how do we fund this great idea? How do we get it out there in order for it to grow?
If you are in a band and do reach the level you have bands willing to buy on your tour... all I can suggest is do what helps you sleep best at night. Bad business comes in all shapes and forms but I think even though the industry is incredibly wonky right now, it's all for the best... growing pains.
Bands and artists have never had more control over their own careers or direct and instant access to their fan base. Many of the traditional gatekeepers have disappeared or lost power and the (smart) artists are gaining more and more control over what will become their industry... shaped by the fan and the artist through the exchange of ideas, entertainment, and dollars between them.
If you made it this far... thanks for reading and feel free to pass along.
Chachi is an awesome dude and an awesome drummer by the way.
- Mike :-)
P.S. Yes I know many people could shoot many holes in my radio vs buy on math. Please do! I'm aware of the endless variables but at least it'd get people talking about it... the realities at least. This shouldn't be a conversation bands think is on the downlow.
P.P.S. Don't get me started on "promoters" who ask bands to sell tickets to play shows in support of a headliner that can't sell the ticket... because you know, you can say you opened for them. It's just sad... sadder because that headliner often gets paid.
My hobby outside of music/studio life is hockey... this is pretty clear once you get to know me. I love to talk about it and happy I'm surrounded by people who either share in the joy of adult rec sports or humor me by listening and asking... it is now (summer) playoffs after all!
I don't message (spam) people with Facebook invites about my games.
I don't invite (spam) people to like my team(s) Facebook pages.
I don't worry about how many Twitter followers my team(s) have so people take it seriously.
I don't daydream about how to play for a living.
I don't complain about how expensive it is.
It's my hobby. It's for fun. I love it. If I was running my hockey career as a business (attempt at a form of income) though... it's considered a money pit.
The topic came up recently, yet again, about bands and budgeting... and it got me thinking.
Here's the quick math on how much I spent the last year to play hockey:
Team 1 - $600
Team 2 - $600
Team 3 - $400
Team 1 - $500
Team 2 - $500
*This is obviously excluding things like sticks, repairs, new gear, skate sharpenings, etc. It really does add up though!
So easy math, over an entire year, I spent about $50/week ($2,600/52 weeks) on hockey, my hobby... which I love.
Feel free to do the math on what entire teams cost... but think about how much money that $50/week could mean to a band of 3-5 people. People who apparently love their band.
3 X $2,600 = $7,800
4 X $2,600 = $10,400
5 X $2,600 = $13,000
Now if you're in a band for fun, this might comes as a bit of a shock, especially if you've never really sat down and figured out how much being in a band actually costs you, even just for fun... or more importantly, how much money $50/week could've raised for recording, touring, merch, etc, if you're somewhat serious and career minded.
Something to keep in mind... if you're running your band as a business, this is money invested... not simply money spent... and these numbers are still quite low for career minded bands... plus it normally takes a few years to get things off the ground.
There's a great book called The Indie Band Bible (written by Mark Makoway of Moist) which has this golden advice under a "band tax". The cost to be in the band.
Bands cost money, businesses cost money, and you need money to get them rolling and keep them going. If you find a way to pool money in some way (in advance), you won't run into what I think is a common (amateur) mental roadblock of "we can't afford that"... without actually thinking more importantly (professionally) "is that worth it?"
What do you spend your $50/week on?
That's what your priorities are.
... and this gets factored in when negotiating budgets of any sort.
... and the same applies to how you spend your time as well.
... maybe some day I'll share with everyone how much I've invested in my business in order to turn making music into a living. It's pretty obvious that's where my priorities are if you look over my balance sheet... and I'm glad I wasn't afraid to run my business in the red the first few years.
P.S. Huge 3-1 win the other night by the way. :-)
Recently (well, reposted several times now) there was a post in the Toronto Craigslist Musicians section (which I frequent) about "How To Find A Good Producer". While it touched on a number of good points, I'm fairly sure it was written by a Producer or studio posing as an artist's perspective. It got my rant brain going so I thought I'd expand on a few of the points for fun.
Original post is here by the way.
*Update: already flagged apparently.
1. Check & Verify their Credentials. For example, if they say they've been Juno/Grammy Nominated, confirm & verify the claim by going to the Juno or Grammy Web Site. If they claim to have hits on the US National Charts, don't take what's on their web site as fact, check the US National Charts to verify that this is true.
True... always check the facts... but that's part of doing your homework.
There's an ongoing joke I'm a Juno nominated/award winning producer but I can only correct that so much. Yes, I've worked on a few Juno nominated/award winning projects but nothing with my actual name on the award.
In my opinion, if someone needs to boast in order to get your attention... chances are they probably haven't done anything relevant recently in your genre and/or you have no clue where their career trajectory is headed... for better or worse.
2. Check References. Talk to multiple people who have hired the Producer & listen to what they have to say about their experiences, good, bad & indifferent.
True. I always encourage bands and artists to contact anybody on my discography about what it's like working together. Most of the time they already have and that's why they contacted me in the first place. I'd say 80% of my projects are referrals. Reputation goes a long way in any industry.
Sidenote: If none of the bands and artist in your circle have worked with (established/semi-established) producers... you probably need to focus on raising your game and making friends with some more career minded people. Circles are small, but always open to good people and new talent. This is how networking works in the real world.
3. Listen to previous work. Listen to multiple recordings done by the Producer to decide if the sound they provide will be compatible with your style & genre of music.
True. Obviously sonics/end product need to factor into the equation. From there, get their contact and set up a meeting. If the vibe is good, and you feel their quality of work is "commercially viable" and their mindset is professional, odds are you're going to get a solid product at the end of the day.
Oh wait, this might be assuming the Producer also recorded and mixed the project. Make sure you know who else may have been involved on the project(s)... and do your homework on them as well! I chose that pic above for a reason.
Sidenote: Understand regardless of what's on the Producer's reel, you're going to sound like you.
As much as you might like to (or think you) sound like someone else they've worked with, there are too many variables to guarantee you're going to sound just like them or even close to them... and odds are you won't... and that's a good thing.
Every Producer wants the last project they worked on to be the best thing they've done. They're hoping what they do with you sounds better than anything else on their reel. They need it to be... that's how they stay current!
4. Be wary of anyone who over-advertises. Competent, Professional Producers are busy & in demand. They don't have time to post countless ads for their Services on a daily basis, they're already booked & working with their Clients.
Sorta false... because they can just assign the task to someone else.
Yes, they may be busy and in demand, and no they may not be posting ads on Craigslist/Kijiji, but they're still doing as much as they can to keep things rolling... and that means keeping their options open and their name in the fold. You'd be surprised how many producers and studios have their interns/assistants post online, scout bands, listen through demos, go through email responses, etc.
The playing field has changed so much the past decade and with decreasing budgets, even established producers still have their ear (and the ears working in their camp) to the ground for new bands and artists... usually to fill in schedule gaps but still... they want to be in the know!
Just because you don't think someone has the time (and it really doesn't take that much time) it doesn't mean they won't bother... besides, just think about how many household name brands still spend serious time and money to advertise.
5. Be wary of unsubstantiated claims. If what a Producer tells you sounds too good to be true, (promises of airplay, grants, getting your songs in movies, commercials or TV, etc) it probably is.
True... and this is a major red flag... sorta leading back to #1. If it sounds like someone is pumping their own tires to get your attention... they probably don't have anything relevant to support their career right now.
That being said, be open to their ideas regarding what they think you should do with the final product. They want people to hear it and they want your value to increase along with theirs.
Honestly, present day Producers aren't in it for the money... if they were, they'd simply open a studio and hustle to fill the time with corporate clients. Producers want to have their name attached to great projects, that'll get their name out (as much as yours) in order to help attract (and keep attracting) better artists to work with.
Truth is... better artists are generally easier to work with, have better songs, take less time, and have smarter budgets to work with.
6. Money. Get it up front & in writing just how much things will cost & the time-line for getting them done. If they Guarantee to get you Grants or to make you money from your songs, probably best to keep looking, as there's no guarantees in any business, especially Music.
True... and sorta false... since there are two points made here... with another huge waving red flag.
You obviously want to know what the budget is for the project... just understand that the budget agreed upon is for a certain set of conditions. Change the conditions (time, songs, details, etc), the budget might need to change as well.
Also, making your decision should rarely be about the amount of money (investment) involved... because if you manage to get ahold of your top pick and there's chemistry, you're going to find a way to make it work... both parties will. Money is the easiest problem to solve when opportunity presents itself.
Speaking of time and money, it's common for younger/inexperienced bands to not realize how long recording can take... so use those first few recording projects as a learning experience. Keep in mind how long people took to track their parts, how you solved creative differences, how well you handle making changes on the fly, etc. See if your band survives the process.
All that being said, I've had 2 projects (in 10 years) run so far over (our projected) budget that I felt we needed to readdress the budget. The bands understood and all was cool.
If they didn't want to reopen the budget, we would've pushed on to finish somewhat on time... but I'm certain the end result would've suffered.
I've heard a dozen horror stories over the same 10 years where Producers have readdressed the budget just before completing the project where they basically hold the project to ransom. I've never sided with the Producer in this situation.
Sometimes you have to take a hit... often Producers take a hit. If you're a Producer, you have to weigh the pros and cons such a move could do to your reputation... probably bad... it does work both ways though since people on this side of the glass all talk to each other.
Regarding grants... if someone claims they can guarantee getting you a grant... it's more about what happens if they don't.
If they say they can, and they don't, and then suddenly lose interest in the project... or better yet, lean on you to come up with the missing funds yourself... grab your pillow, roll over onto your side, and go to bed knowing you were only a money gig. It happens often enough in Canada because of the amount of grants we have... and like anything political (government = political), if you're working with people who have friends in the circle, you probably have a better chance of getting those grants. So again, maybe ask what the plan is if that grant doesn't come through.
Treat those grants like a bonus... not a welfare cheque you rely on to survive. This will make your business plan much stronger in the long run. If your plan is based around waiting on "maybe money", you've already put up a roadblock you could've dealt with long ago... not to mention a false reality of demand (income) you're working with.
7. One person cannot do it all. For example, if a Producer claims they can Mix & Master your songs, probably best to keep looking. Mastering is an art that most competent professional Producers will admit is not their specialty & refer you to someone who is highly qualified.
False... with a dash of true.
The up and coming Producers can and will be able to do it all. That's the way the grew up, all they know, and how they'll continue to operate given the budgets they're working with.
I've met a handful of Producers in their early 20's (working in basements/bedrooms on laptops, for next to no money or free) making a serious run at established guys in their 40's. It's just how it is, and how it's going to be in the future.
Many current (surviving) Producers are musicians, writers, editors, mixers, and engineers... they aren't amazing in all areas, but more than competent to get the job done.
Regarding mastering, lots of producers/mixers could master their own projects(and I believe mastering engineers are the next to get hit hard just like engineers and studios already have the last 10 years) but they'd rather not because they're too close to the project. It's about getting an extra set of ears (hopefully ones you know and trust) on the project.
Also, simply put, mastering is about sonically balancing the songs on a playlist. There are far too many people out there who think Mastering is this "black arts" voodoo thing nobody understands... well it's balancing songs on a playlist... and in modern day, mixers do way more in balancing the songs on an album/EP than someone could 20 years ago (on tape machines and consoles) because we can jump around from song to song, easily adjusting elements within a mix... not just general EQ curves and perceived volume levels of the final mixes.
That being said, at the end of the day it's about standing behind the product you're presenting. Doing the best you can given the time, budget, and talent you're working with.
... holy crap this is long.
I've been doing a lot of mixing the past few weeks and it's looking like the rest of this month will be much of the same.
One thing I love hearing (and questioning) is when bands talk about attending mixing and mastering sessions... then asking them...
"Why? What for?"
The answer is usually along the lines of ...
"So I can help."
lol... help do what? Be honest, you want to go and hang out... and it's easier to digest (and explain to your loved ones) spending $500 or $5,000 on your project if you're in a studio and around some gear with flashing lights and stuff. I get it.
Here's the truth. Most mix and mastering engineers prefer not having people around during 90% of the mixing and mastering process... and in some cases, it's clearly reflected in their rates by charging more to attend, or less for unattended, depending on how you look at it.
Because we feel you won't get our best work if you're around... so it's a subtle way of giving you the hint.
... but... but why?
Because... well, off the top of my head, here's the quick list.
You're going to talk/make noise/ask questions/etc.
This is a sure way to keep someone from getting in the zone. Even if you think you're being quiet... unless you can sit still, making very little noise, as if you're not even there... you might as well not even be there at that point.
Side note: With the honesty box open, if you're paying hourly/daily for a studio, they might actually love having you attend. They're banking on it taking longer, you not being happy with the mixes the next day, and needing to come back for tweaks... and that's more billable hours for them.
Remember what their business is... and most traditional studios are in the business of selling studio time along with the rock and roll fantasy camp experience.
You're that person in the band looking for a free lesson.
There's obviously stuff to learn from any studio experience, but past the hobbyist curve, there's often someone in the band that wants tips and pointers on mixing, recording, production, etc, so they can attempt to do it themselves to save money... so they want to attend to learn. This leads back to the first point, where there's lots of questions and comments, and it's going to cripple workflow.
(... especially guys like myself who will gladly go through the history of whatever you wanted to know because I love talking about crap I care about!)
Sidenote: Sometimes we factor in their plan (hope) might be to take one mix/master and apply it to the rest of the songs, on their own, to help keep costs low. That's sorta like asking someone to build you one room, and you'll just use it to help build the rest of the house. How hard can it be right? I totally understand wanting to cut costs... but this is not the way if you understand the Time:Money ratio in business.
You have no idea how the speakers or the room sounds.
The bass is too loud right? That's probably because you're sitting on the couch in the back of the room. In a studio, you might be able to listen in context but you don't really know how the room/setup sounds.
I do most of my critical listening in 3 places. Chances are you have 2-3 places you do most of your listening as well. We'd rather you listen on systems you're familiar with, and get a better idea of how it stacks up against other material you've been listening to.
You need your point of reference and it's always better to listen there first, then send/bring your notes in for tweaks.
Sidenote: A personal favorite is discussing sonics, only to realize someone is making judgements on computer speakers, iPod earbuds, or sitting on the left side of their car. I know it still needs to sound like music there because many people are listening to music there... but... nevermind.
You don't have much to contribute early on.
... and by early on, I mean before the first draft ends up in your inbox.
I mean this in the nicest of nicest of ways. Just like how you probably shouldn't show people your song ideas/demos until they're in a presentable form, you should give the mixing/mastering engineer time to get things in a form they feel are presentable.
After the first draft of an album, that's when attending makes sense, if necessary.
Mixing can be a messy and odd process.
How would you feel if your mix engineer spent 45 minutes on a bass guitar sound... meanwhile the snare drum (after they've been working on the drums for a while) still sounds way too loud. It's probably going to freak you out and eventually you'll crack and make a comment along the lines of "is the snare going to be that loud in the mix?"
Again, the "quiet" thing. Please.
Yes, I admit I've sat in on my share of mixes and mastering (hanging in studios is different when you're on this side of the glass for a living... since you're often invited), but I don't question anyones process or workflow. I'm often several steps ahead while I'm working on something. It's not uncommon for me to "compress, eq, balance" several times before feeling like I have something I'm happy(ier) with.
Imagine listening to a mix for 6 hours then seeing your engineer zero the faders and start again.
Yup... glad you're paying for the mix (end product) now and not the process? This leads to what I think is the biggest reason mixers and mastering engineers I've talked to don't like attended sessions.
We're afraid to backtrack in front of a client.
Obviously past a certain point in your career you no longer care what people think... probably because those people don't question the results... but a big part of the creative process is knowing when you should undo/redo something.
Over the years I've seen (and also guilty of) some very creative approaches and explanations for backtracking when there's a client around. Bottom line, they decided, for whatever reason, to try something else... knowing full well they might even go back to what they had before... 2 hours later.
This leads to a big reality in the creative world...
Sometimes no schedule (with a deadline) gives the best results.
One of my favorite perks to mixing is I can can do it alone, whenever I want. I can work when forced too as well... but I absolutely prefer working on my own schedule for editing and mixing. If I had to wait for people to show up to start mixing, that's time/opportunity wasted in my opinion. If I feel like staying at the studio until 4am because I'm in the zone, I can, no problem!
The flipside is sometimes I'm not in the zone or not feeling a particular song/album/ep that day and I'll decide to work on something else.
Better yet, maybe I'll fire up the xbox for an hour to take an ear break, walk around the market, read some blogs, play guitar and watch a history channel doc, etc. All the things I probably shouldn't do if I have people (clients) in... well most people... the xbox usually gets turned on for vocal breaks.
... and yes I know I probably forgot another 50 reasons not to attend... and if you are on this side of the glass, feel free to submit them and I'll add them anonymously.
Don't get me wrong, we do want you to be part of the process... we need to make you happy, first and foremost... but we also want to show you our best work. If you're around, we have to do some form of entertaining and also cater to the experience you're looking for.
An awesome part of hiring a professional is trusting they'll take care of whatever you've brought them onboard for. Again, we want your input once we have a draft we feel is presetable... and we're always nervous waiting to hear back after we hit 'send' on that first draft. It's been over a decade for me now... and it still hasn't changed.
The thing is mixing and mastering is a lot like driving... especially these days where we don't need 8 hands on a console to manually automate a mix... a mix we need to nail so we can move onto the next. If you trust the driver, you're going to get to your destination so it doesn't really matter how you get there as long as it's on time and on budget... just zone out a little and enjoy the trip.
- Mike :-)
P.S. Yes I know that bridge support is actually helping the bridge... but I thought it was too funny to pass up.
... so it's March already... and I have to admit... life has been a blur since xmas... the good kinda blur though.
As always, I've been trying to find time to write... even something short... but no dice... so I'm forcing myself to write something (anything) tonight.
Studio life has been kick ass since December. Usually the holidays are pretty tame... people are busy spending money they don't have and then dealing with their credit cards come January. This is a problem when it comes to budgeting for band related costs and investments... this wouldn't be a problem if more people actually budgeted for things... but that's another rant. A couple mix projects and EP's showed up though which filled up the schedule in a hurry.
They say when it rains, it pours... and it's definitely been pouring the last few months. All the major projects: Jason James, One Fire, The Sole Pursuit, The Divided Line, Blind Race, and now Luke Michielsen who started his new album yesterday, have been/are going awesome... and the mix and oddjob/editing projects have been fun as well. It's nice to have some variety, but really nice having so much positive energy floating around the studio.
A couple highlights...
Tony Roost from One Fire Movement asked me to produce a single called One Day featuring several of the One Fire artists. A sort of urban/soul tune along the line of Bruno Mars/John Mayer... but with several artists trading off verses and all singing the chorus together.
I'm sure you can see how this could get complicated and turn into a jumbled mess. You have to be careful taking on projects like this... recording is far from simply recording most of the time... I'll leave that for imagination and for another rant too. But I signed on pretty quick because I knew the level of talent that'd be involved, and when you've got singers who can sing, and egos checked at the door, the track will sort itself out.
I think the tune will be coming out in the next month or two. Looking forward to sharing it with everyone... it's definitely a departure from the norm around here.
The uber talented Samuel Bisson was in to track cello on the Jason James EP. It's an acoustic guitar/vocal based project Jason asked me to produce and during prepro he tiptoed around the 'c' word. It's easy to name off a wish list in the early stages of a project, but if you need session players, you have to either know the right people, or start looking now.
Not many people know session players for strings (or horns actually) that can just "play". I met Sam on one of the Parabelle albums. Kyle (guitarist for Parabelle) found Sam through Google. Sam showed up and threw down. He's been my 1st call ever since.
I'd like to write a post on what I think makes a good/great session player. The biggest thing I feel they should add to a project though is production value. Exceptional players make the whole recording sound better... strings especially make things sound expensive.
Some people might puke at the idea of paying someone $100/hr (standard around here for session players, and most will get through a song an hour), but after you hear what great players can do, it quickly turns into ear to ear smiles and a "shut up and take my money" situation. One song in and Jason fully understood what I was talking about.
Here's a link to Sam's site: www.samuelbisson.ca. Definitely send him a message if you need the good stuff.
I'm only listing two highlights because I said a couple earlier (a couple means 2... unless we're talking about cookies or ice cream scoops), and because I don't want to play favorites.
I've found myself staying at the studio late and getting up early simply because I'm excited to get back to work. Again, meaningful work... with appreciative people... it's a two way street... there's a lot of extra hours that go unnoticed (and unpaid) on the production side... or probably in the entertainment industry in general.
#DearBands: It's amazing how much further you'll go if you say thanks instead of making (assuming) demands... just because you think someone is working for you. There's more than enough music being made these days... and more than enough good stuff to go around... and the good stuff gets priority, if given the choice.
Heading in for 9am to get some mixing done before we get back to tracking drums on the new Luke Michielsen album. This is album #4 (including the Slowking album) I've worked on with Luke. He told me to "go crazy" sonically during prepro... thanks Luke. :-)
P.S. I put all that stuff in the title because I'm curious if it'll show up in search engines.
P.P.S. Hoping to get some tour dates for Age Of Days soon... I miss playing.
P.P.P.S If you puke at the idea of paying a highly skilled musician $100/hr, quit music now if your goal is to turn it into a career... and hopefully you can go through life without ever needing to call a plumber or electrician.
"Why aren't people taking us seriously?"
That's basically what it gets down to when I hear people grumble about why they can't find shows, or a manager, or a label, or sell cds, or merch, or get more people out to shows... or find investors. You name it, there's a good chance it falls under this umbrella.
This video might seem a little harsh at times... and you can sense the hesitation they have on certain topics (so they don't come across as assholes), but in my opinion, it's right on the money.
I've decided to do a sort of "Coles Notes" version for those who might not have the 30 minutes to watch right now. Oh by the way, I tried to setup the link to start at 6:46... the time before that is spent talking about a dog, new born babies, and poo.
So... in a short... this is why people don't take your band seriously.
... and I'm putting the headings in bold caps so the super impatient can skim through... and so you feel like you're being yelled at. I know what your hearing is like... since most of you don't wear ear plugs.. and most of you reading this are probably guitarists or drummers.
1. YOUR BAND PHOTOS AREN'T GOOD ENOUGH.
It's the awful, honest truth, we judge a book by its cover. Life is too short not to. Make sure you stand up to what's going on (aka considered professional) in your genre. Hiring a great photographer doesn't have to cost a fortune and that one great pic can last you a year or two.
If you look like hacks, you get treated like hacks. It might not seem original, but at least try to look like a band... as much of the time as possible. You will anyway if it becomes your career.
2. YOUR RECORDINGS AREN'T GOOD ENOUGH.
We've entered a stage of very affordable record production. There's a lot of misguided carobbyists (career hobbyists) who think they can produce, record, and mix their own albums... or their buddy can do it for a case of beer in his spare time. There's been a few great albums made in the past this way (often demos remixed after being shopped for a deal), but most often they fall short.
Experience, time, and talent... those are three important elements to the outcome of any creative project. When it comes to recording, rarely someone with all three is in the band or doesn't do it for a living already.
Will that change in the future?
Are we there yet?
... lol. No.
I could go on for a while about this but bottomline... do your recordings stand up to what's out there?
Don't just ask your friends and family what they think of your recordings. Actually put your best song between two successful songs on your iTunes playlist. How does it sounds? Then factor in the time/money spent, and people involved on theirs versus yours.
Does it stand up?
Do you need it to? <-- be honest
If it doesn't and it does, perhaps change your formula, and try again.
... backing up for a second... how are the songs?
3. YOUR SONGS AREN'T GOOD ENOUGH.
Now a good song is subjective... but... if you know your genre, and you know a few people with "great ears" within the genre, you'll know what your best songs are... and if they're in fact, good enough at all.
I've met a handful of people over the years who I think have "great ears" regarding "great songs". My old assistant Tyler, even at 17 years old, could pick out hits by new artists well before anybody else I knew. He loved discovering new tunes and has a real ear for it.
This is the #1 piece of advice for bands out there trying to do something serious with music... you can write cool songs that are self serving and please your imaginary fanbase... but you'll learn to love those "hit" songs that put you on the map... they're what can actually launch your career. It's hard to name a successful band that doesn't have a "hit" song behind them... regardless how far in the rearview mirror it is.
4. YOUR WEBSITE ISN'T GOOD ENOUGH.
Update it often. Constant quality content is queen these days.
There's also this misconception that simply buying your domain name and linking to your FaceBook or Reverbnation page is good enough... well it's not... and it's stupid to rely on these things in the long run.
What if they disappear overnight or fizzle out? What happens when people move on? You want these sites to feed into your main, personal website. The one you have ultimate control over. That's where you need to direct your core fans.
I use Weebly for my site... it's easy... and at least someone in your band should be able to figure it out in an afternoon... if not, you've gotta know at least someone who can help you.
I'm gonna go out on a limb though and say a weebly site is better than majority of the dated and clunky sites I see built by friends and family. Keep it simple and don't pad your content if you have nothing to talk about in your bio... nobody needs to read 37 paragraphs about a band that hasn't done anything worth mentioning.
You need three paragraphs basically... who are you, what have you done, where are you going. Your blog/YouTube/Twitter updates are for what you're doing.
5. YOU DON'T TAKE YOURSELF SERIOUSLY.
So many bands play the "we just want to get together in the jamspace and see what happens... it's just for fun... if it goes somewhere, cool" card. Well... as long as you know it's just for fun, have fun! My men's league hockey is just for fun... despite all its glorious moments (W 3-0 yesterday, 1 G) I ramble on about to friends and family.
If that's your attitude, it'll go nowhere... or the people in the band that want it to go somewhere will eventually dump the rest of the band once they find better people to work with.
Lots of successful bands are a collective of what I call "heavy lifters". The ones who get sh*t done... or at least don't make things more difficult for the ones getting things done.
The successful in any industry are hardcore lifers. If you want to do something that's hard, you have to make your goal not to simply "accomplish it", but to see it through... it's the difference between having a kid and raising one... since there's no real end goal if you're in it for the right reasons.
P.S. It was a garbage goal... but that isn't what they mark on the gamesheet. :-)
For the record… no pun intended… I'm on Team Grohl.
I agree 100% with the idea that musicianship should be viewed not only as an art form, but a discipline. As musicians, or creatives in general, we're always striving to be better… and despite how good we are, we'll always hear or see someone better than us, that makes us smile and inspires us to keep learning.
With that out of the way… I haven't seen Sound City yet. I've heard mixed reviews from "It's amazing! It'll change the way you feel about recording… Dave Grohl is a genius!!!" to "It's basically a 2 hour promo for Dave Grohl to start producing albums… oh, and he's also got a boner for some recording console."
I'm cool with the overview my friends have passed along… which is sorta why I haven't watched it yet.
One thing that's evolved from Sound City, is this current movement Dave's spreading about keeping things raw… you know… just getting in the jam space, hacking out some songs, playing loud, and keeping it real! Play from the heart! That's the way it should be! Just go! Just hit record, giv'er, and go!
That's cool Dave… but there's a lot of bands out there who now have this idea that whatever they come up with, if they care about it enough, and work from the heart, it'll get noticed, and should do well. That "keeping it real" is better than that overproduced, co-written (or worse, pro-written) Nickelback garbage on the radio.
Over the last year, there's absolutely been an increase in bands choosing to shy away from production, having no idea what the word actually means.
'Production' - It's basically hair, make up, and lighting for your recording.
Yes, it can be overdone… but typically "overproduced" is the result of someone who doesn't know how to use the tools, and/or abused them and/or chose the wrong production style for the song altogether.
Recording to 2" tape involves its own style of production and if you don't know what you're doing, there's a good chance you'll throw it in the weeds. The right amount of cleaning up and complimentary production style is what separates pro from demo… or worse… the insanely expensive professionally recorded demo. There's an analog equivalent to most of the "studio magic" we can do in digital these days. We can simply do it much quicker in the digital realm. Use the technology as a tool, not a crutch.
Even with Dave swingin' from the rafters shouting "we didn't use Pro Tools! We didn't edit anything! We recorded on tape! We kept it real!!!" There's still a couple crucial things to keep in mind... besides the talent level and experience of the people involved on that last album.
Foo Fighters has done really well. They played by whatever set of rules applied at the beginning of their career and now they can afford to do whatever they want. Foo Fighters have a lot of value. Dave's already made his money.
…a similar case could be made with Radiohead releasing the first really talked about "name your price" album and Beyonce's recently released "overnight, zero promotion, iTunes video album"… these are established artists. They already have a fan base… arguably more to lose if they mess up but more to lose means you had something to start with… again, they've already made their money… and they can still fall back on their old hits if need be.
Back to Foo Fighters… I can remember my brother commenting on how much better The Colour And The Shape (1997) sounded than their debut album (1995). I would've been 13 years old at the time… and I heard the difference in production. But it not only sounded better… it had more, "good" songs.
They say you learn the rules so you can break them. That's this in the real world.
… what a great lead up to my last point about Grohlology!
"because the deep [album] cuts don't keep the mansion running."
I was trying to find the quote I read a while ago where Dave basically said "I only record songs I think are hits… there's no point in recording anything else."
This should kinda feel like a gut punch to a lot bands out there waving Grohlology flags.
Does that mean you shouldn't record those other songs anyway?
... even though they might not be hits?
I still believe if it resonates with you, there's a good chance it will with others. But when Dave says "don't bore us, get to the chorus", and encourages bands to shove their idea in pop structure to start… I'm laughing on the inside when a band waves the Grohlology flag in my face and argues boring pop structure... meanwhile they can't even identify their own chorus… yet they're thinking their song should be a single… and should get them noticed... and help get them signed... and should be able to get on the radio... because it's that good. It's that much better than all the crap that gets played on the radio these days.
I encourage people to read the article above or at least check out the video that's included.
Just to clear things up, yes, lots of music out there is not aimed at radio and is quite successful despite never having a "hit". Music needs to resonate and I think that's what we all love about Dave… regardless what he's doing in music, he radiates the passion... he's giving 100%… or I guess 1 Dave Grohl Unit. Just don't confuse passion and hard work with a ticket for attention and riches. Dave's done well because he came from a great band in a booming pop culture trend that *cough* figured out how to write a hit *cough*, and then went on to figure out the formula to start writing hits for Foo Fighters.
… anybody want to tally up the similarities between Foo Fighter and Nickleback songs… err hit songs?
- Mike :-)
101 Tips To A Better Band: #7. Submit For Things (Grants/Awards/Etc.)... Even If You Don't Really Care About Winning
Another Juno Awards submission deadline passed yesterday... a handful of projects I worked on were submitted by the bands and artists... and a handful of projects were not.
In the past I never cared much... since I always felt like these types of things were out of my reach...
What's the point in submitting if you aren't going to win?
It costs money... I hate wasting money... and if I was to flush $50-$90 down the toilet... I'd hope the meal was worth it.
The thing is... it's not about winning... it's about giving yourself (and more importantly, your music) another opportunity (and approach) to get heard... this time specifically by industry folk. You're probably looking for help still... why pass up this really easy opportunity? This is a form of networking in my opinion.
Every week I get emails from new bands/artists... and every week I get a few "We're broke!? All we need is someone to help us out! We just need to get heard!"... someone looking for a deal routine... and me being me... I'll give them a half dozen ideas to consider to help provide solutions to their problems... if I think their music is good of course.
Huge pet peeve... and a sure way to get on my "wait... why do I care?" list... is shooting down every cheap (affordable) and easy idea. While it's easy to say "no" to everything... it probably took more energy to plead your case than to actually try something.
Submitting for awards/contests/grants/etc. probably won't bring you fame and wealth... well... from my experience at least... but it will get your music past some more industry ears. If your music is good or great, people will do their homework on you. If it looks like it could be worth/making money (important), they might want to get on board... or at least pass you along to someone who might.
So... with another Juno Awards submission deadline passing... as the old saying goes...
"You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."
– Wayne Gretzky
It pairs well with this other old saying...
“Listen to your mother kids, aim low; aim so low no one will even care if you succeed.”
– Marge Simpson
Which one are you now... and which one are you going to be this time next year?
October 11, 2013
I'm trying to do this from my phone since I probably won't have internet access until sometime tomorrow afternoon... it's a long drive to Winnipeg.
I snapped this pic just before our set tonight. It's my 1,000 words about 100's of 1,000's of bands out there.
This is what back stage looks like... most of the time.
Whenever I'm talking to a band about budgets, I know two things after about 5 seconds... Is their focus on the people involved or simply the costs involved?
If the focus is on cost, and it's outside their budget, they'll shut down the conversation pretty quick.
"We can't afford that!?" <-- Their brains.
"... just do some quick math... carry the 1... they want me to work for $3/hr." <-- My brain.
Keeping in mind there's usually 3-5 people splitting up a few thousand dollars of said budget... which I now laugh at because bands/businesses are really expensive if you can't stomach numbers past $5k or $10k.
If they'd done their homework, they'd have a ballpark idea what the costs involved are. If they actually didn't have any idea what the costs are, the next question they should be asking is why the costs are what they are. <-- Pro Tip For Life In General
When a band is genuinely interested in working with someone, and the costs seem to be a bit more than their initial budget, the next thing they'll do is ask if there's a middle ground or any flexibility... you know... negotiate! This doesn't mean low ball... this means find a way for both parties to get the important pieces of what they need. This is what a deal is... and don't confuse this with compromise... which in my opinion is settling for less by giving up some of your main objectives.
Of course, not everything is open to negotiation... but at least it shows that you're willing to try and make something work if you really want it to work. There are always ways to attempt to work out a deal... so many aspects of a recording (ex. songwriting, masters, scheduling flexibility, payment schedules, etc) can be used to help reach that deal.
One of the no-brainers for project negotiations is to simply cut down the number of songs you were aiming to do. Say you want to do a 10 song album for realistically the cost of a 5 song EP? Or a 5 song EP for the cost of a 3 song Ep?
I know you really want to end up with that 5 or 10 song project but... quality is more important than quantity. All the time. Especially these days... when one song is what's ultimately going to make the difference anyway... regardless what stage you're at... but especially early on.
Mike Langford - Official Blog
Being on both sides of the glass, I get the chance to wear many hats in the music industry. This is a place to share my thoughts, views, predictions, rants, stories and news!