October 26, 2016 - 11:19am
... it crept up again... running a business is "spinning plates" most of the time... and when your schedule is steady... and then full... some things get put off... week after week.
... believe me, I've written a ton of blogs in my head the last few weeks!
... or I guess... months now.
... in short, things are good! :-)
I've been finishing up another children's album with Charlie Hope and keeping steady with several mix projects. The new Parabelle album came out yesterday as well... but while trying to keep on top of all of these... I started another business... using any nook and cranny of time I could find lately.
I produced a few songs for Reid Henry and Brendan McMillan (My Darkest Days) back in January that we've been sitting on the better part of the year now. Reid came out with Age Of Days (Disturbed tour) in February and we got along pretty well (you learn a lot about people on tour). We discussed doing some more tracks but didn't get a chance to "finish the EP" until June/July.
"Do you think we have time to do a full album?"
Reid's tone was half joking... which is fine... since I was thinking the same thing.
We launched the band 3 weeks ago... and I've also taken on the responsibility to manage the project for the time being.
It's been a real eye opener.
It's one thing to suggest bands/artists do things (from the sidelines), but it's (so far) been a lot of fun getting into the game to see what it's like!
Of course, touring gives me that sense as well... but on the business side of being a band/artist... the promotion end... I think back to the days of MySpace and ICQ... and the landscape these days... the ability for bands to reach out to potential fans directly... IT'S AMAZING!!!
Perhaps the initial luster will wear off after a few weeks or months... or years... but as of right now, it's energizing.
I still love the studio side, but I really, really, really miss touring too. I miss waking up in different cities, I miss the 24 hour workday (cycle), I miss meeting the locals, and I miss the adrenaline rush of hearing the intro hit the venue mains. I miss it.
I'm excited about getting back to the tour blog, but also to share some of the discoveries, successes, failures, results, and advice in general from playing in, managing, and producing a band.
The landscape has changed a lot the last few years... and it's not about wearing all the hats, all the time. I look forward to building the team but it's reassuring knowing the group currently in place have similar work ethic, experience, and goals.
...we have big plans for 2017... fingers and toes crossed at least 10% of the plans work out. If you're curious, I'll leave a link to the first single below.
If all goes well... I might need a bigger blog.
- Mike :-)
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.
Work, work, work
Bonus points to anybody who knows what tune inspired that...
Oh the things that pop into my head after what seems like months of non-stop action. I'm not complaining though, I'm having a blast on the albums and EPs that have been in the studio lately.
The downside to a full schedule is while you're working (living the dream!) and helping others, your other life (anything outside the studio) tends to gets lost in the shuffle... time flies by.
It's June... almost mid June. The last time I posted something was in early May.
I get around 150 hits a day here (either searching for my name or "so you wanna make a record") and sometimes I have to remind myself "if I leave it too long between updates, people might think I'm doing nothing." It's often the opposite looking at other producer/studio sites... unless they have a good blog... a personal one.
Anyway, even when you try to schedule gaps in, jobs pop up and you take them.
Because when it rains, you have to collect water one way or another. That's something I've learned over the years that screws up people. They don't find a way to make the opportunities work and willing to sacrifice a little... and often.
Let me clarify... this means good opportunities. Good people + fair budgets/return.
A couple months ago (there's a blog post half written about this by the way) I did a quick 2 hour talk at Durham College about my path in music. One of the questions was along the lines of "I like my sleep... how do balance staying up til 2am seeing bands/emails/research/working and then getting up at 7am to start doing it all over again?"
I held off completely laughing at him in front of the entire class, telling him whoever in the class has insomnia is going to consider it a blessing a couple years after they finish the course... but there's a very clear line in the sand the older you get when it comes to entrepreneurs... we aren't workaholics... we're inspired. When we're inspired, we keep moving... especially our brains. When we aren't inspired, we do something else until inspirado hits.
This ties in with how I view a lot of bands and artists. So many talking about working hard but they have no idea what or where the hard work really is. They get discouraged so easily when something takes too long, costs too much, or seems out of their reach. If it's worth it, you keep moving towards your goals... when it isn't... for whatever reason, smart people change their focus, no explanation needed, no apology necessary.
I'm inspired by so many around me... and I'm not just looking forward to what the future holds, but seeing how many of my predictions pan out regarding who'll also do well.
Short post I know... I should get back to work now though... these songs aren't going to mix themselves!
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!