Your Turn Challenge Day 4 – The 3 Essentials of producing a good recording.

Write about something you’re good at doing.

On average, I would say that I spend 30 hours a week looking at a screen like this.

Screen shot 2015-01-22 at 13.10.39

Every once in a while, I sit there and think in order to have achieved what I am doing right now thirty years ago, I would have had to be sitting in a much larger room than my office right now, working on a mixing desk that would be the same value as a car then plugging through interfaces that would be twice the value of said car.

Like this.

Recording in SAE, Oxford

It’s pretty incredible how technology and software has advanced and here I am recording music on a laptop with a couple of microphones and an interface. However, the development in technology does not by default make one capable of producing a good record.

The drawback of having such an abundance of sound engineering at the tips of our fingers is that it is easy to forget the important elements of producing a good recording. A lot of the older records made in the 70’s that have become loved so fondly is because the people behind them were working with limitations.

I sat in a class at metropolis studios with Eddie Kramer whilst he told me the virtues of recording Jimi Hendrix with a four-track mix tape and it has been a revelation to me ever since that going to town and back with Pro-Tools 10 isn’t necessarily the way to achieving a good recording.

So, here are the three-essential things I believe are necessary to producing a good recording.

1.) The Song

Without a good song, a good recording is impossible. What is a good song then? The answer to that is subjective but I think it revolves around three words: and that is conviction, conviction and conviction! It’s about knowing what you want to achieve with your song, the emotion, the feeling or the atmosphere you are trying to create; that doesn’t necessarily mean including a strong chorus or hook, you may be able to produce a good song simply from one or two long notes. The more aware you are of what a song’s purpose is, the more likely you are of producing a good recording

2.) The Arrangement

The arrangement is probably where most aspiring writers initially stumble. You can have a plethora of great ideas but the key to then producing a good record is arranging them in a way that is sophisticated and logical. How much should one section be repeated? How much texture should be added? What is the role of the dynamics? Does that harmony really need to be there? When producing a record, one needs to have these questions continually running through their mind, and being decisive and honest about them when answering them.

3.) The performance

As with the song writing, it is all about CONVICTION in your performance. The delivery, the sincerity, the phrasing, the tone, the dynamics; It is about awareness of the details! In my previous record, there were some guitar solos that took me two hundred takes before I got what I wanted, other solos just required the one take. It is a bizarre process, but it is about what feels right.

When you listen back to your records, it is a very difficult task, but you have to truly ask yourself if what you are producing is at all close to what you want. It is by only being very honest with yourself, that you can expect to eventually reach as close to what you envisaged in that beautiful moment of inspiration.

5 examples of great records

There are hundreds out there, but here are the first five that came to mind, and include some of my favourite glorious moments of production. It is a good exercise for any producer, aspiring or experienced to do – sit back, relax, enjoy listening to music and finding out what they love so much about their favourite records and how it can influence their own work.

The Carpenters – Top of the world

 Talk Talk – I believe in you

 Jeff Buckley – So Real

 Mew – Am I Wry? No

Bjork – Mutual Core

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Your Turn Challenge day 3 – The Spotify vs. Musical Artist conundrum

Day 3 – Write about something that you think should be improved

What truly defines the value of something? What really are the principle things that should be considered when anyone is paid a certain amount for what they do or a product is sold for a certain amount for what it is?

That is a pretty complicated question isn’t it? Things like that are incredibly nuanced but for most industries, it is a manageable question, from the price of coffee or designer clothing to the housing market and financial sector (without disregarding the obligatory bureaucracy)

Music on the other hand has in recent years taken that whole concept to another level and I have lost count about the amount of times that I have debated the issue or re-evaluated where I stand on the whole subject. Especially when the digital technology industry is moving so fast.

Over the last year, I have invested a lot of time into experimenting and mulling over ways in which I release and format my music. I use three main ways to distribute my music. My label undertakes one way and I deal with other two (I am very lucky to have a situation where everything is transparent and I have the option of distributing myself). The first way is through Bandcamp where I engage directly with my audience and the second is through a licensing company called Tunecore, which release my music to Itunes, Spotify and any other company willing to spare me a penny when my music gets played.

I was very reluctant to put up my music on Spotify and said streaming companies initially but eventually decided it was the best option to promote and advertise my first full-length release. I have countless spreadsheets of analytical data but if there were one thing I wish I could retrieve, it would be who out of the people listened to my music on Spotify, decided to buy a physical copy of my album. I would feel that then, I actually have some determination of how effective streaming companies are as a platform for discovery.

This is where the problem lies; streaming is a very grey area in terms of how music artists are paid. Taylor Swift and Thom Yorke are two figureheads to have spoken out about it and preceded to strip their catalogue from the service. Without, dwelling too far into the subject though, there is one fundamental improvement that needs to be made from both the streaming company and the artist: and that is attitude.

The attitude of streaming companies

It has been publicly stated that an artist is paid $0.007 per stream of a song. Over one year, I earned just under $20 for 3000 streams. What do you think of that payment? I’ll be frank, it comes across as approved piracy to me.

Spotify recently hit back at the criticism of Thom Yorke and Taylor Swift by stating that it has collectively paid out 500 million to artists in the last year. However, their argument disregards one major thing, and that is the fact that major labels tie in with this with deals that are not necessarily relative to the $0.007 per stream and a lot of the payouts would be to past catalogues, suggesting that there is a massive gap between those who get paid sufficiently and independent artists who don’t. I did do some research on Spotify’s explanation on how it pays artists, and only ended up feeling a bit more perplexed about the whole thing.

http://www.spotifyartists.com/spotify-explained/

Whilst I am still confused enough to be unable hold an opinion that streaming companies are The Devil, I do question its sense of middle ground, and that’s where attitude needs to improve. Streaming companies need to make paying artists fairly and sufficiently a priority as they continue to grow.

In full perspective, it is still early days for streaming, and whether artists like it or not, it is rapidly on the rise, so we have to accept the reality.

The attitude of artists

Having said that about Spotify, I think a lot of the resentment and bitterness from some artists is misplaced and the attitude needs from us can be improved to some extent. Ultimately, as the artist, you have control over how you choose to format your music, you also have control over how you engage with your audience and communicate with them and add a sense of value to the art you display. Just because you release music, does not necessarily mean you have to stream it. The most important thing for any musician to remember when they are out there in the world trying to make music for a living is that music owes you nothing. One of the best artists in recent years to have embraced the new age of music is Imogen Heap. This wonderful woman has enlightened me with a big streak of positivity and I recommend any aspiring musician drowning in cynicism to read her story for a change in perspective.

There can be a simpler answer to the question initially asked.

What truly defines the value of something? You do.