Jul. 16, 2008 - Issue #665: Surviving the Industry
This article is part of a series of interviews between Vue Weekly and Mark Feduk, Terry Tran and Ken Beattie about some of the survival techniques employed by musician's in the modern music industry. (circa 2008)
To read the introduction to this story check out this article:
Musician's Survival Guide: Intro to Promoting, Recording, and Gigging
VW: Where do I start?
MF: You’re going to have trouble booking shows without a demo, plus you need to get songs together for your MySpace page. Recording’s a big investment. Start with a rough demo, and after your first few shows think about recording a better demo or high quality EP, three to five songs.”
Terry Tran: Sometimes I think it’s better to do two or three songs to promote yourself on MySpace or else an album. It’s way more fun to make an album because you can really make something with it—you come up with a journey, a theme, unify it and make it a real listening experience. Sometimes an EP feels like a collection of songs that aren’t quite whole. There’s more creative aim with an album.
VW: Can we do it at home?
MF: Not all home studios are created equal—Nik Kozub’s, of course, is terrific. But you can go pretty basic for a demo—a laptop, $200 sound card, decent mic and a program is a makeshift studio. A home studio’s valuable, especially to figure out what you want. If you have a great one and one of your band guys or gals is a producer type, use that resource until you want to take advantage of a studio. If it ends up sounding rough, it’s not wasted work. Consider it a good start and head to a studio.
TT: Depends on what you’re doing—making a record for the industry or for yourself and your friends?
VW: What’s the difference between a producer, engineer, mixer?
MF: An engineer takes care of technical stuff: setting up mics to get the sound you want, pressing record and stop, cabling, etc. A producer has a vision and a more creative role overseeing sound. She or he has ideas for harmonies, arrangements, sonic soundscape. A mixer is often the same person as the producer—they’re responsible for the final sound. It takes longer than you’d think, adding finishing touches, making sure every sound is sitting in the right spot. They listen to the recording in different stereos and situations, compress vocals a bit and make sure you can hear them, add a touch of cohesion. The process goes: tracking, mixing, mastering.
TT: In bigger studios or projects, they specialize and work as a team. Some people do everything, are good at everything, but usually it’s out of necessity. I’d rather work on a specific role—you can really focus. We did that on the SO4 record.
VW: And masterer?
MF: Mastering’s done by a pair of fresh ears. They keep dynamics intact, bring the album together, make it a unified whole, boost levels and even out volumes. Put an unmastered CD on after [listening] to a mastered one on the stereo and you’ll hear it.
VW: How do you know who you need?
MF: What do you want out of your recording? Figure out the kind of sound you want and find the producer and studio who can do that well. Never go into a studio without a clue of what you want to sound like. The more time you spend figuring it out, the better. Then you don’t have to spend as much on pre-production.
TT: Bands have to sort out what’s best for them, and not just by price. Everyone knows different things, specialize in certain things. A good producer balances the technical and musical. They’re a top-level manager and bridge between engineers (technical) and band (creative/musical). Two types of bands who work with producers: the band who knows their sound and the band who works with a producer to develop their sound. Developing a sound isn’t easy—it should be done in pre-production, with the producer there to bounce ideas off of. If you just need an engineer, you don’t need them for pre-production, but the more a producer or engineer knows your sound, the better you’ll do.
VW: Can we co-produce?
TT: How many records have you worked on? Every year I go to at least one audio convention where I hang out with people who do this work and get exposed to the latest in the industry. Co-producing only works if the producer and band have respect for each other, aren’t trying to one-up each other, there’s a common goal and a clear vision of working towards that goal.
MF: If someone in your band has those skills, great. But remember, this is a craft people go to school for. If you come to a studio, this is their career. These people have studied how to get this sound, analogue versus digital, mic choice and placement, and gotten that experience. There’s also a difference between someone who knows how to record and a producer.
VW: How do you choose a studio?
TT: Producers generally use a studio they’re affiliated with. Someone independent like me, it depends on what the band needs. Every studio’s so different—some places are better for overdubs, mixing, live off-the-floor, it depends. Using professionals gives you access to other spaces, because we know other people in our community.
MF: Find someone interested in your project, hear their work, research different studios, book a tour, meet them, find out if you’re comfortable there.
VW: How do you choose a producer?
TT: Hire a professional who’ll tell you the truth about your stuff. Your friends and parents will always tell you you’re great. It’s best if they love your music, but sometimes a producer may do a project for the technical challenge—producers try to reinvent themselves just like bands do. Studio owners or new producers may want to get experience or to stay alive. I think you can really tell who you want to work with. Meet a bunch and see who resonates. A good producer will also ask you why you want to work with them. And there’s one thing I ask bands, and almost none of them have an answer: what does your band offer that no other band does? Look at SO4: two drummers, four bass players that play synths, all-vocoder vocals. Who else can say that? A lot of bands aren’t sure. They’ll say something vague like, “We’re melodic, with deep lyrics.”
VW: How can we prepare for the studio?
TT: Settle these questions at the start of the process—you should have a budget and schedule and know their rates, work out additional musicians if you’re a solo artist, what to bring and expect at the studio. Lay down the process, set up goals and approach—live off-the-floor or overdubs? Talk about sound: most people can describe what they want, but be realistic. That Jon Bonham sound on drums? He’s using a particular kit, particular way of playing, in a particular room, with particular engineers—all these things that brought them to this moment in time. You can use it as a reference, but you’re not getting that exact sound, but something that’s yours. And talk to the technicians: use a drum tech, get the guitars intonated so they stay in tune. Sometimes people have shitty guitars or little things like that. Fix everything before you go in—put it in your budget.
MF: The studio can be intimidating. The worst thing is when the quality and production are there, but performances are lacklustre. You’ll be unhappy with that record forever. Put in the effort, know your parts, get familiar with studio practices. If you’re doing live off-the-floor, that’s where rehearsing comes in. Unless you’re really experienced or going for a dirty, looser sound, you’ll probably be using overdubs, which means you’ll use a click track. You can practice to a metronome or click track at home. Yeah, it’s boring, but you need it for overdubbing.
VW: Studio etiquette?
MF: Be prompt. Appoint one band person to go between you and the producer. While most studios have been around, remember your album never changes when it’s done. One year later you don’t want to be saying, “Oh, I was so baked.” Don’t assume post-production will fix everything. Try not to put too much pressure on yourself. It’ll take longer than you think and there are times when it’s frustrating for everybody. You’re on a budget and watching the clock—it’s stressful. Remember we’re all human.
TT: Don’t assume anything and bring all your equipment. Most producers will only work as hard as you will—hard work before the studio means preparation: practising, working on performances and songwriting.
VW: Anything else?
MF: Don’t set your CD release before your record is done and in your hands. So many bands have a horrible CD release with no CDs. Forget deadlines and work backwards: for an October release, you want them in hand in September and sent to the media, replicated in August, mixed in July and tracking done around June. Of course, you’re working around the studio schedule—find out from them what’s realistic, stay on top of everything, and know everyone is juggling. And a lot of people don’t know we have a replication place in town: mehco-inc.com.
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