Tight Mix Blog Has Moved!

Posted in Blog Has Moved! on May 11, 2010 by Chris Bracco


Due to my newfound knowledge of web development, and a couple of extra bucks on my last paycheck, I’ve decided that now is a great time to break off the Tight Mix Blog from the WordPress server. We’ve had some great times together, but I’ve gotten greedy and WordPress’ basic service could no longer satisfy my needs. The break-up was inevitable.

You can now find the new Tight Mix Blog over at:

http://www.tightmixblog.com

The blog will still have all of the articles that appear here, except I fixed up quite a few that had outdated information. Also, I will be writing much more often at this new location (a couple times a week, minimum), and I have expanded the topics to include artist/album/song reviews. So if you are an artist looking to get some blog lovin’ please send me your music! I’d be more than glad to listen to it, and include it in my blog if I enjoy it.

Good riddance, and please follow us all over to the new location! I think you’ll love the new design.

_chris

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7 No-Brainers for Recording Electric Guitars

Posted in Recording Techniques, Tips & Tricks with tags , , , , , , on March 29, 2010 by Chris Bracco

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about anything related to actually MAKING music…..soooo, yeah. Let’s do it.

Guitarist

At first glance, an electric guitar seems like a pretty straightforward instrument to lay down. I, for one, never really stress too much over it. I can always get a decent guitar sound recorded without too much effort – thanks to my trusty Shure SM57, and some patience while tweaking the mic position millimeter by millimeter until I hear something I like. Recently, though, I had some excellent equipment and a good player to work with, so I wanted to make the session worth it, and really nail it. Enter Internet.

After some trolling around Google, and some soul searching, I’ve dug up 7 good pieces of advice to consider while recording your axe:

1. Show your axe some love – GET A TUNE-UP!

Intonation and old strings can easily transform a $1500 American Strat into an $89 Yamaha. Take care of your guitar and make sure you have some fresh strings put on about a week (max) before hitting the studio. Also, if you hear any buzzing notes or notice the higher notes are a bit out of tune, spend the $35 bucks to get that sucker tuned up. The differences are SO noticeable, and will help your guitar sound great when its time to record.

2. Spin around in circles until the hum is gone.

Sounds ridiculous, but it actually works (And it makes for some great b-roll video)! Equipment containing transformers will often cause hum interference with electric guitars, especially with single coil pickups. If you experience this humming, move the player as far away from the interfering equipment, and have the player rotate until you find an angle that produces the least amount of hum. Then, have the player stand or sit like a Roman statue throughout the entire performance. Seriously, it works. And saves you a ton of headaches trying to figure out where that damn hum is coming from.

3. Can I get a big amp sound out of a dinky practice-sized amp? YES! It’s all about mic positioning.

Here is where engineering and trickery can go hand in hand (awesome). If you don’t have the luxury of some beastly amp setup, like a JCM-800 head  over a 4×12 speaker cab packed with Celestion Vintage 30’s – then, well, fake it! Plug in the 5W tube amp, and start moving that microphone around the room. Seriously, everywhere. Try putting the microphone at the position of your head, so it “hears” what you hear. Try miking the amp from the side, the rear, the top, even the bottom (hang that wimpy thing from the ceiling!). If you lift the amp off the ground, you can eliminate bass, or shove it in the corner to enhance the bass. If it sounds brittle, try facing the amp into a corner, then miking the amp from behind. You can get some crazy cool tones just by mic positioning.

-Extra tip: pick up a pair of noise-canceling cans, enable input monitoring, and have the guitar player strum away as you experiment with mic positions. This is much easier than recording a short take, playing it back, moving the mic, recording another take, playing it back, etc (ow, my head…).

4. Double your takes RIGHT AWAY.

Many artists, producers, and engineers like to save overdubs for another day. However, guitar parts aren’t usually written out note for note – there is a bit of spontaneity involved while doing a take. If you think you may need to beef up the part a bit, it is much easier to just lay down the double track during the same session so these spontaneous moments are much easier to replicate. Swap guitars or amp settings to get a slightly different tone, and have at it. Don’t worry – you’ll nail it on the first try. 😉

5. Only use effects pedals that are crucial to the song.

I’m not gunna lie – I’m kind of a pedal whore. I love screwing around with my rig to find some crazy new sound. However, when recording, it is important to use the least amount of pedals necessary in order to get your point across. With too much going on, it’s easy for the microphone to pick up a garbled mess of junk. More often than not, reverbs can be turned off and added during mixing instead. While it may sound great live, it may not serve it’s purpose in the studio. Back it off  bit, and your track will thank you.

6. Don’t overlook timing.

Lots of axe players fear the metronome. PLEASE, make it your friend. As a result, you will have more friends. At least in the studio. Playing fast may be impressive, but if you can’t time your killer solo perfectly with the click track or the rhythm section, people will notice. And it will suck. My advice is to start absurdly slow with something that you normally play fast, and work your way up until you reach the desired speed, while still being able to articulate the notes well. If you already have experience playing with a click track, then just make sure you get a few weeks of solid practice in before the recording session so you aren’t rusty. This saves a TON of time having to redo a rhythm take 75 times because you were off by a 1/16th note in the bridge.

7. Broke? Get a 57.

The Shure SM57 is the go-to microphone for recording electric guitars. You can get one used on eBay for like 75 bucks, which is dirt cheap compared to the other end of the microphone pricing spectrum. GET ONE. This thing is a warrior, and will probably outlive you. Just place it in front of your cab and you are pretty much guaranteed an okay guitar sound. Play around with mic positioning and you can track some excellent tones! If you are the non-conformist type, or have some extra cash on hand, give the  Sennheiser MD 421 a try. You can get some cool sounds outta that guy as well.

I hope these no-brainer tips were helpful! Even if you have been given all of this advice before, consider them as important reminders. 🙂

_chris

Learning a New Instrument

Posted in Newbies, Tips & Tricks with tags , , , , , , , , on January 11, 2010 by Chris Bracco

Happy 2010 everybody! What are your goals and aspirations for this year? One of mine is to learn piano, using “traditional methods” like lessons and classes.

Piano[img courtesy of mysterytrax]

Learning a musical instrument is always a scary and daunting task for any person – musician or not. There are so many ways to start learning how to play an instrument, that just the thought of learning can be overwhelming. For the sake of this blog post, I’d like to lump them all into two categories – traditional methods and DIY methods. I’ve had experience with both of these methods, and I have a love/hate relationship with each of them.  They each have their own advantages and disadvantages, and i’ll list a few later on.

The first instrument I ever learned how to play was the trumpet, back in 3rd grade. I was in the school band and was taught by school music teachers using very traditional methods. Memorizing scales, notes on the staff, sheet music, sight reading, mezzo forte, the works. I would go home and re-practice the things that were taught to me during school, and then take proficiency tests and receive grades for my progress. I was pretty damn good, and kept at it until my junior year in high school. I gained tons of musical experience from these years of traditional learning, a lot of which I still can remember.

Here are some pros and cons that I have experienced while learning the trumpet traditionally:

Good Stuff  –

  • Starting with easy concepts and working your way up from there.
  • Structure and discipline enforced by a third party (teacher, school, whatever).
  • Tests, auditions and other tools to track your progress.
  • The “correct” way, as regarded by many industry professionals, with degrees and other certifications available to prove your proficiency.

Bad Stuff –

  • Lack of freedom/experimentation/creativity during lessons.
  • Mistakes are frowned upon.
  • “Making progress” is determined by something/someone other than the player.
  • “This is the ONLY way to learn” mentality.

At the end of my junior year in high school, I left the school band. Really, I just got bored of playing crappy school concerts for people that didn’t want to be there. It was no longer new and exciting for me.

After retiring the trumpet, I was given a guitar and just started plucking, strumming, and playing my favorite songs by ear. It was pretty liberating to just start hammering away on my acoustic guitar and not having to worry about someone telling me I was doing it all wrong. I learned how to read tabs, and found online lessons about how to pick and strum, or how to play a certain scale. I then found simple exercises to work on these techniques. While practicing, I would go off on many tangents and just improvise and play shit that I thought was cool. I would record myself with my small home recording setup to hear what I sounded like, and develop my technique until I started liking what I heard. The exploring and ambiguity of trying to do things way above my head excited me, and motivated me to get better and try new things with my instrument. Amanda Palmer clearly likes this way.

I still create and experiment everyday. It’s tons of fun. However, I spend less and less time on music theory and correct practice, and can tell that my previous knowledge of music theory is declining and become fuzzier with each passing day.

The good and bad of going at it DIY style (from my experience):

Good Stuff –

  • Total freedom while practicing.
  • Craft your own lessons and learn what you want to learn.
  • More time to experiment and be creative.
  • Build confidence in yourself and your actions.

Bad Stuff –

  • Less discipline, direction and guidance.
  • No way to measure/prove your musical knowledge.
  • You can totally suck and not even know it unless you get an outside opinion or record yourself.

Either method can work well, in my opinion. Going at it yourself definitely requires a lot more work and self-discipline, which is why it is much less popular than traditional learning. It really just depends on what kind of person you are. You can even mix the two together to allow for discipline and direction during lessons, and experimentation/creativity during your personal practice time.

This semester, I took an interest in piano and decided to give the traditional teaching methods another shot. I enrolled in a beginner’s piano course at Penn State (MUSIC 050). This morning, the professor was talking about things like pitch, the grand staff, meter, and other crazy simple musical elements. Back to square one for me, but I think it will be beneficial to go back to my musical roots.

How have you guys learned your instruments? Lets talk about your methods and experiences.

_chris

Re-Blog: How to Turn a Show in Front of 8 People Into Your Most Important Show Ever

Posted in Music Industry, Newbies with tags , , , , , , on October 12, 2009 by Chris Bracco

I absolutely love Musformation — every single freaking post there is valuable & interesting. Now if only the site didn’t take 384 years to load….. 😀

Anyway,

I showed this article to the rest of the members of my band a few days ago, and it totally inspired them. Minutes later, no joke, they actually came up with this insanely awesome idea to get more people out to our gigs (can’t share, top secret hehe).

This article really drives home some great points that I would like to summarize for all you busy people out there.

Play a killer set, regardless of audience size

Give it 3,924,873,289%. You never, ever know who will be listening.

Also, if there are literally eight people there, make them A PART of the show. Dedicate a song to “that guy in the corner,” everyone will know who you’re pointing at since the place is nearly empty. Buy a round a drinks for them on the band…you get the picture.

Socialize with bands & fans

This is something that my band and I took literally YEARS to realize. Just talk to people at the place! Bands, fans, bartenders, managers, etc…just talk. About anything. Make a new friend.

My band and I used play our set, pack up, thank the owners/booking agents and leave. I hate to admit that, but it was true. We we’re such boneheads in high school, it was ridiculous. We had this mentality that we were better than the rest and that our music would speak for itself.

If you read nothing else in this post, read this quote –

“If you don’t know it by now, being a dick doesn’t make you seem like a rock star, it makes you seem like a dick.” – Jesse Cannon, Musformation

_chris

Artists Need To Be Fairly Compensated in the New Music Industry

Posted in Music Industry with tags , , , , , , on October 6, 2009 by Chris Bracco

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[img courtesy of f5m-millionaires-club]

While scanning through my RSS feeds on my phone this evening, I came across a good article over at audio4cast. This article then led me to another excellent article at the Future of Music Coalition’s website called “Principles for Artist Compensation in New Business Models.” They are both a few months old, but still drive home some interesting viewpoints that are relevant to my business idea I posted about last week and that I am currently developing (which got great feedback! thanks again to everyone that contributed).

Key points from audio4cast’s article:

“While record companies may be getting paid from all the new online music services, those payments are not necessarily making their way to the artists’ pockets.”

“…there’s a significant struggle brewing between record labels and artists, which has become aggravated by declining cd sales and new online music business models.”

Key points from FOMC.org’s article:

“Legitimate digital business models and legitimate digital music marketplaces are critical to musicians’ ability to promote, distribute and earn compensation for their music.”

“The history of the music industry is littered with stories of artists who have not been paid anything for the sales of their recordings. Typical major label contracts only give musicians 10 to 15 percent of the revenue from sales, and that’s after the label has recouped all the costs of recording, manufacturing and promotion. It’s no wonder that many musicians never see a penny in sales royalties.”

“This principle simply says that revenue generated by new models for music access or delivery should be fairly shared between rightsholders and artists — after all, they created the music that provides the value for these new business models.”

“…services should be able to experiment with variable pricing and offer different marketing opportunities depending on the level of the artist or based on the size of catalogue…”

Do you think we will ever see the day when the majority of mainstream musicians and performers own 100% of the rights & control to their music? I have considerable doubts, but something’s got to give. And in some ways, it has already started happening with the advent of companies like ReverbNation, TopSpin, InGrooves and many more aimed towards helping artists reach large audiences in cutting-edge and unorthodox ways.

I am definitely excited to see what the future has in store for the music industry.

_chris

Business Idea: The Reverse Record Label

Posted in Music Industry with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2009 by Chris Bracco

I am currently writing a business plan for one of my classes (COMM493, not really sure why this is a communications class…) and this is the basic idea my roommate and I are developing:

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[img courtesy of Ariel Hyatt’s Flickr account]

According to statistics provided by the New Music Seminar that I attended this past summer, there were only 5,945 artists able to sell over 1,000 copies of their albums in 2008. And only a mere 110 of these artists managed to sell over 250,000 albums (the majority of which are signed to major record labels). These numbers prove how rare and difficult it is these days for an artist to get their music heard by the masses, and how incredibly slim a band’s chances are of getting major label representation. The problem in this case works from the top to the bottom; the top being the corporate interests with the money and control and the bottom being the artists. Often is the case that the talent works for the talent agency – this situation should be reversed. Record labels shouldn’t have artists on their payroll; instead, the artists should have a slew of passionate, focused and talented people providing services for them based on their individual needs and desires.

Artists are becoming smarter and want to be more proactive about the business decisions surrounding their music. There are a wealth of artists out there recording great quality music for cheap in their basements, garages, bathrooms, friend’s houses, etc. Once this music is recorded, however, many of these ambitious young people don’t have a clue how to spread the word and start living their dream. Instead of sending their music to record labels in hopes of “getting signed,” artists can opt to have a team of motivated individuals work for them; all the while maintaining complete creative control over their music.

Empower

To reverse the tides and help empower artists, the business idea is an all-inclusive service team specifically geared towards unsigned and independent musicians and performers. Essentially, the business provides unsigned musicians with many of the services they’ll need in order to achieve their professional goals. These include consulting, marketing, booking, promotion, public relations, and much more.

The concept fundamentally functions as a record label “in reverse”. The business is working for the artist(s) and not the other way around. Traditionally, a label seeks out artists who can potentially sell a lot of music and solicit a large fan base. The traditional label will produce, promote, sell and distribute the artists’ music and give them a small percentage of the profit. In many cases, that percentage is less than 10%—which is a very small payout considering the effort put in by the artist to create that music. I mean, the music wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for the artist in the first place.

The reverse record label’s primary revenue stream would come from the payment plans negotiated with each artist/band. The payments can be made upfront, in monthly/yearly installments, etc…whichever model seems to serve the relationship best. These prices would be flexible depending on the artists’ financial situations. In turn, the reverse record label provides the services (with some sort of a guarantee) and receives no further compensation. The artist collects 100% of the benefit from that point on. Most importantly, however, the artist maintains full control of the rights to their music regardless of the service(s) they seek—which is rarely the case at the typical “record label.”

[img courtesy of A.S.B.P.K.]

The reverse record label aims to serve the prevalent but struggling independent music culture. Unsigned and independent artists need organized, determined, and talented individuals to help them create and sustain long and successful careers. Any independent act can have the opportunity to receive consulting and development advice through the reverse record label at an affordable rate. The core focus of the business’ services is to increase overall exposure for its clients in their target markets, thereby providing them with future opportunities that will help to enhance and uphold their musical careers. By exposing clients to their target markets, this can also indirectly enhance the quality and diversity of local music everywhere, and help the previously unknown, but truly excellent talent rise to the top.

The reverse record label would compete alongside traditional artist public relations, marketing, management and consulting firms, as well as traditional record labels. However, what differentiates it from the rest of the pack is that it provides a customized combination of all these services, geared towards individual artists and bands, in one convenient and affordable package. These packages will be unique and tailored to each specific artist. The reverse record label would take the time to research an artist’s target market and develop a strategic plan based on the services the artist requests. And if an artist does not know what to request, the reverse record label can offer them the proper consult to guide them in the right direction and give them several options to consider. With this business, artists no longer have to spend countless hours of research to find a publicist or manager that would suit them best. They no longer have to send promotional CD’s—which cost big money and rarely make it much further than the office garbage can—to record labels in hopes of getting a dream record deal. The reverse record label’s services would provide its clients with the essential knowledge to achieve success in their independent music careers. And once again, it would not take any rights away from its clients, so the artist(s) will always be in control of their most important asset: their creativity.

This is just an idea I had a few months ago. But at this point, it is just that – an idea. I’m sure somebody has thought of the same thing/something similar at some point in time. At the end of the semester my roommate and I will have written a full-length official business plan surrounding this idea. I would love to hear any feedback/discussion arise about it. Thanks!

_chris

4 Ways to Book Your First Gig

Posted in Newbies with tags , , , on September 19, 2009 by Chris Bracco

So you’ve written some music. Your friends dig it. But, that’s about it.

What now? Aren’t satisfied?

Get out there and play to some randoms!

There are dozens of ways to go about getting your first gig, and it can be an intimidating process at first. So you can delegate more time towards creating your music, I’d like to present some quick, basic methods for booking your first gig:

1) THE INTERNET – There are an insane amount of places you can go on the internet to find somebody willing to give your music a chance. Although it’s popularity is diminishing, I still believe that MySpace is an EXCELLENT starting place to locate venues and booking agents on the net. This is precisely how I booked the first gig for my band.

Of course, at the bare minimum, make sure you have your own MySpace page with a few of your songs available for listening. Once you’ve established that, do a MySpace search within 10-20 miles of your zip code and use keywords like “booking,” “entertainment,” and “agent.” There is bound to be at least a few search results that pop up. Check out their pages carefully and search for e-mail addresses, official website links or other type of contact information. If there is nothing, send them a MySpace message. In your message, briefly tell them why your contacting them and make sure to give them a way to listen to your music and a way to contact you directly. Tell them your extremely interested in working with them and willing to help them in some way. If you sound professional, chances are you will get a reply back.

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[Img Credit: ala.org]

2) THE VENUE – If you’re search results came up empty, don’t give up there! Burn some CD’s, walk around town and look for places (bars, clubs, coffee shops, VFW halls, churches, restaurants, houses) you think may be interested in booking your type of music. Go into the venue and say you would like to talk to whomever is in charge of booking the live music. Introduce yourself to him/her, hand them a CD and tell them you think you’re music will work well in their venue and you would like to play a show sometime. Usually they will direct you to their booking agent or give you their contact information. Follow up a few days later and see if they have any open slots in the near future. If they enjoyed your music they will usually give you a shot. And don’t feel bad if you end up opening for someone; be glad you got on stage in the first place! You have to start somewhere.

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[Img Credit: terragalleria.com]

3) THE COMPETITION – If you’ve found a few places that you’d like to play your first gig at but haven’t been hearing back from any venues or booking agents, get to know some of the bands already playing there. Find a band of similar musical style that you enjoy, and go out and support them! Go up to their merch table after the set and introduce yourself to them. Give them a CD and tell them you’re looking to play your first gig here. More than anyone else these guys will likely sympathize with your situation since they had to book their first gig at one time too. They can put in a good word for you and increase your chances of landing a show date. Befriend your competition.

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[Img Credit: hollywoodteenmovies.com]

4) JUST DO IT NIKE STYLE – If your genre of music can allow for it, just go someplace public and …play. Make some CD’s and hit up a mall, a beach, a street corner, a parking lot, a front porch, a subway, whatever. Somebody new is bound to hear you and who knows – maybe they’ll dig it.

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[Img Credit: republicupdate.com]

_chris