Author Archives Andrew McGee

How To Record Songs In Nashville

July 19, 2012

Six Steps to Recording In Nashville

The only definite answer to this question, is that it will probably cost some money.

1.) Pick a studio

Home studios

They’re a dime a dozen and they produce great results.  Few people have the money to afford the luxury of a commercial studio.  Many home studio engineers have devoted a lot of time and money into making their home space as close to a commercial space as possible.  They probably don’t have a million dollars worth of high end gear but that doesn’t always matter.  They are the sole producer and engineer, and usually they play many of the instruments for clients who don’t have their own bands.  In Nashville home producers/engineers can play a wide variety of instruments very efficiently.  Whether you hire musicians or have your own band a home studio will certainly be acceptable.

Commercial studios

They’re scattered all around Nashville.  They don’t always have flashing neon signs that say “Open for Business”.  Some of these bigger studios have extravagant websites, numerous big flat screens, and leather couches, but these things are just aesthetics.  What you really gain by going to a commercial studio is the recording space, gear and talent.  These recording studios usually have huge rooms that are acoustically designed and filled with a million dollars of the most advanced recording gear that exists.  Great producers work at these studios and the musicians are regular session players who are called upon frequently.  These places operate like businesses and the producers, engineers, and musicians are all employees.

2.)  Know the Costs

The running joke is when people with home studios get random phone calls asking how much it costs to record an album, they’re tempted to just blurt out, “$10,000″.  It probably won’t cost that much but it’s such a subjective question.  Do you want a full orchestra or just two acoustic guitars?  How long are your songs?  How complex are they?

The range for recording a demo of one song could be anywhere from just $25 all the way up to $1,000.  It really comes down to how good the people are, how efficiently they can perform in the studio when they’re on the clock, how much work you’re asking for, and how well prepared you are for studio time.

If you are recording at a producer’s home studio then his fees usually include the use of his studio and you can find a great home-producer for around $25 per hour.

If you go to a commercial studio and hire an additional engineer that will probably be another $25 per hour plus the facility costs.

If you want truly professional musicians to play on your songs, expect to pay them about $25-75 per track, depending on how many tracks you are recording that day and how complex the music is.

A mastering engineer will probably charge $25-100 per song.

Any of these people could work by the song, or by the hour.  There are no hard and fast prices because these are creative services.

Often studios will give a fixed cost for the whole band, then maybe charge extra per hour of editing or vocal tracking.  Even if someone gives you a fixed price for all of it, you will still be surprised by something you didn’t expect before it’s all over with.  The costs are always subjective.

3.) Know the moving parts

People do one or more of these things:

  • Producer

    This person will work with you to understand your overall goal for your recordings.  They understand how to effectively communicate with everyone else involved.  They know the lingo, they know how to achieve the best results in various environments, and they will have the sole responsibility of ensuring that your project is a success.  They will listen to you and hear the big picture, and while the musicians are recording the rhythm beds today, the producer will be thinking about the guitar overdubs that will be recorded tomorrow.  They will be thinking of how to make your song the very best it can possibly be.  Long after the musicians leave, the producer will be investing more time into overdubbing, editing and mixing all the tracks.

  • Session Leader

    This is the person who is responsible for making sure all the musicians are scheduled to record your music.  This person usually writes out all the song charts which will be followed by all the musicians.  The session leader will be someone who is very familiar with how a recording session happens, and most likely he is the person who will select all the musicians to play on your music.

  • Engineers

    Just like there are different types of doctors called “specialists”, there are different types of engineers.

    • Tracking Engineer

    This person runs all the equipment; he mans the board and makes sure all the levels are set, that the mics are placed properly, and that the musicians and producer have exactly what they need to accomplish the goals.  The tracking engineer is a quick problem solver when the equipment isn’t operating properly, and having a good engineer can prevent a project from derailing if something goes wrong with the equipment.

    • Editing Engineer

    Sometimes people are just really good at doing a certain thing extremely well.  While a tracking engineer is really good at tracking a session, some engineers are really good at editing.  Even though producers typically take on the role of editing a project, it’s not unheard of to have a specialized engineer make the edits and mix very quickly as the producer directs him.

    • Mixing Engineer

    Mixing engineer adjusts the levels of each instrument, adds effects, adjusts the EQ, sets the panning, and basically puts all the final puzzle pieces together.

    • Mastering Engineer

    This person takes the final tracks and adjusts the frequencies and EQs so that your music sounds incredible to the ear.  This person is rarely involved during the full process.  Once the editing and mixing are finished, it’s the mastering engineer’s job to smooth everything out so that it can compete with everything else out there.

  • Musicians

    These are professional instrumentalists.  These people make their living from being highly efficient at playing their instruments.  They understand how to play in a studio environment, which is much different than playing in a live situation.  They will all understand how to read Nashville charts, and they can quickly play a part according to how the producer wants them to perform it.  If you are a band looking to record, then you are the musicians.

  • A Recording Space

    This can be a home studio, or a full-blown business with a million dollars of high end equipment.  Typically, studios have many different types of gear that make it possible to capture sounds onto a digital or analog medium.  These spaces are usually specifically designed with acoustics in mind, and often there are several different booths in which musicians are placed to prevent sounds from bleeding into other microphones.  A good recording space most definitely affects the quality of your recording.

  • Songwriter

    This person is the reason why everyone shows up.  “It all starts with a song.” as they say.  A songwriter has spent many painful hours writing a song which they wish to share with the world with hopes to move people emotionally.  Without a songwriter, there is really no reason for everyone else to get together to record.  In situations where a label or publishing company is backing the project, there is usually a separate vocalist singing the song, rather than the actual songwriter.  But again, there are no hard and fast rules because every situation is unique.

 

4.) Have a plan

I think it’s best to start by finding the producer you want to hire because a producer can help you plan your entire recording project.  Maybe you already have the musicians for your project chosen and just want to rent a facility.

  • Go to a home studio and let them handle it
  • Go to a home studio and bring your own musicians
  • Go to a commercial studio and let them handle it
  • Go to a commercial studio and bring your own musicians, producers or engineers.

5.) Know the process

Each producer has their own process; their own bag of tricks and secrets. Be sure you understand the full process before it starts, all the way to Mastering.  Ask about mastering for sure, Google it, it’s voodoo but it’s something for which you should plan.

6.) Act like a customer

Major artists have tens of thousands of dollars to record their albums and can afford ample time and production to make things sound perfect.  Besides using extremely high-end hear, time and expertise play contribute to your project’s quality.  Just like in college when you wrote a rough draft of your term paper, your final draft had more time and editing invested, which is what got you that “A” instead of a “B”.

We all wish we could record our songs with the budget of the major artists, but don’t discount the value of a home studio, because at the end of the day, if you can simply pop in your recordings and enjoy them without cringing at the quality, then you have accomplished your goal.  Any good producer/engineer has the ability to create a product that will move people, regardless of your budget.  At some point you have to understand that even with less expensive equipment, you are paying for their time and expertise, which is how they achieve good results regardless of the equipment.

Most importantly, it comes down to the song being good or bad.  I’ve heard beautifully recorded songs that just plain suck, and I’ve heard rough recordings of masterfully written songs.  Take Ani DiFranco for instance, she puts out very raw recordings, yet people love the songs.  Then you have Toby Keith who puts out super-produced songs that have all the marketing power behind them to make them soar into huge sales; even though Red Solo Cup makes me want to puke, I am in no position to critique the song because it’s made his camp a ton of money.

The music business is just that — a business.  Think of it like Starbucks and the coffee industry: I am completely satisfied with a cup of Folgers Black Silk in the morning, but Starbucks has commercialized the industry and made it cool to spend $5 on a cup of coffee.  Both music and coffee are subjective to one’s taste, no matter how much it costs to make.

And we all want a good cup of coffee.

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You Can’t Sell A Song In Nashville

June 6, 2012

Ever Wonder About Selling A Song?

It’s easy.  Just mail your song to:

City of Nashville
c/o The Song Purchaser 
123 Music Row
Music City, USA

I’m kidding.  Don’t do that.

I want to clear something up for you: There is no such thing as just “selling a song”.

I understand, you’ve painstakingly written this incredible hit song and everyone is telling you how great it is.  You’ve got girls dancing on the bar when you play it.  Now you want to sell the song to a major artist or a publisher here in Nashville.  You’ve heard about this Internet thing and think you can send off a few emails or post it all over Facebook and make $50,000 because Blake Shelton is going to write you a check for this song when he hears it.

It simply doesn’t work like that.  It’s not like manufacturing where you build something tangible and sell it for a profit.

The reason it’s not that simple is complicated to explain but just understand that in Nashville there are thousands of great songwriters who are already here writing great songs for publishers and artists literally everyday.

I’m sorry to burst your bubble but it’s very likely that your song just isn’t that good.  I’m not saying mine are but I will say that everything I had written before moving to Nashville doesn’t hold a candle to the stuff I have written since living in Nashville.

To be a songwriter you have to live, eat, sleep and breathe the craft.  There are so many incredible songwriters here that will inevitably open your mind and make you a better writer.  It’s also partly about who you know.  Sure, you have to have good songs but knowing the right people is what opens those doors to having one of your songs cut by a major artist.  There are many approaches that will get you to where you want to be whether it’s a writing deal or a serendipitous encounter with someone that sets you on the right course.

With the Internet you can certainly build yourself a foundation which will give you more exposure and credibility, and you can pursue certain channels outside of Nashville that will get your songs heard by some of the right people, but actually living here in Nashville is a musical journey that any serious songwriter has to take if they want to improve their chances for success.  You might not have to move here but visit here, stay a week, make friends, go to writers nights.  You have to keep at it. Your bubble will only burst if you have the impression that your song is so good, that anyone who hears it will buy it on the spot.  That just doesn’t happen – it has, I mean, there are stories, but how many times have you played the lottery and hit the jackpot?

In the country market songs are rarely written by the artists.  Taylor Swift is a good example of the exception to that but typically all the creation happens in the big machine that is “country music”.

Around Nashville there are established networks that are in place to keep Joe the songwriter from bombarding executives and artists with crappy songs.  It’s a pretty tight filtration system.  You have to play the game if you want to join the circle.  When you move to Nashville and stick around long enough for people to realize you are a serious writer doors will slowly begin to open.  Think of advertising and how many millions of dollars go into exposing you to a product until you finally remember it and eventually buy it.  It’s the same with songs; the first time someone hears your song they might be distracted or they might not fall in love with it.  So you have to keep playing around town and expose people to your style of writing.  You have to show that you are actually a songwriter and write other good stuff besides that one good one.  Eventually people will begin to recognize you and remember they liked your songs the last time they heard you and they’ll stick around to hear you again.

You’ll meet a lot of smoke blowers and over time you’ll learn how to act around the people who can really open doors for you.  Remember, just because someone has had success in the industry does not mean they can help you.  Your personalities might not match or it might not be the right timing.  Also remember that just because someone has had success does not mean they are rolling in the money – their own professional connections might be dwindling.  Every hit songwriter is searching for their own next big hit so if you do have a great song, they are usually not willing to just introduce you to all their connections.  They’ll likely want to build a relationship with you and help you grow.  If you get signed up under one of the better publishing companies with the stronger connections you are more likely to have your name on the next hit song.  It’s so hard to do this unless you are living here in Nashville for a while.  That’s why songwriters move here.  It takes time.  And it takes a major hit song, or a lot of moderately hit songs to make a living.  Everyone is working hard to make that living.

There are advantages to being with a bigger publisher; they schedule you to write with other great songwriters and when you present them with a good song they will pay to have a demo recorded; with all their major connections they’ll pitch it to be on a major artist’s upcoming album.  There are definitely advantages but if you’re like me – a non-country songwriter – this system is pretty much useless to you.

I’m not in the country market but I see several people who are and I pay attention to their struggles and successes.  If I could write country music I would take my own advice.  I’m taking a different approach with my personal strategy: I record my own music and I am my own artist, I enjoy performing but certainly am trying to become a better writer who gets commercial work.

If you are not going to be just a songwriter and also like to perform then I suggest you take the steps to record your songs here in Nashville; stop making demos and start investing in yourself.  That is the ultimate reason I moved here.  I knew there would be extremely professional musicians, producers and engineers who could capture the sound I wanted for my music, and I knew there would be endless opportunity to grow as a songwriter.

Each of us has our own path but if you are taking the path to being a country music songwriter you are taking the path most traveled, and therefore have a lot of other travelers taking that path with you.  In advertising it’s called “noise”.  However, by taking the country music songwriter’s path you’ll find that you have a solid road map, and if you follow the course you’ll get to a good destination.  Step one: Be in Nashville and find your course. Step two: Stay the course.

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Getting the Facebook description to update when posting links – clearing its cache.

November 18, 2011

When you are editing a page on your website, or the description on one of your YouTube videos, and you are eager to post it to Facebook but the description field hasn’t yet updated, here’s a neat little tool that usually fixes the issue and clears out the cache.

For those of you who found this page in search of a solution, I’ll cut to the chase: http://developers.facebook.com/tools/debug

There – just paste the URL of the page you want to update, and Facebook will clear out the cache and your updated description will be shown.

I was about to post my latest music video, Autumn Air, and the description was still cached from last week.  I had important credit information that needed to be displayed.  Additionally, we’d set up an event to post the video today at 10 am, so I couldn’t just wait for Facebook to hopefully update it.

Works like a charm.

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