Archive for the Newbies Category

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

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

Recording A Demo CD

Posted in Music Industry, Newbies, Recording Techniques with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 27, 2009 by Chris Bracco

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(Image from http://www.associatedcontent.com)

If you’ve ever been in a band, or attended any sort of event with local music, you have surely crossed paths with “demo cds.” Unsigned bands have been using these for decades, whether it be on vinyl, cassette or CD. They are an excellent promotional tool great to hand out to fans before, during and after shows.

Demos can be created in many different ways, but all too often bands are overwhelmed by the process and don’t even know where to get started. Here are some guidelines to head you in the right direction:

1) Pick the Recording Venue: Where are you going to set up shop? Do you have the cash to book studio time, or are you planning on recording from home? If home, try to find a room in the house that is relatively dead (low echo/reverberation). If you are a one man show (acoustic guitar/singer), recording from home would suffice. If you are a twelve man bassoon army, it may be worthwhile to save up some dough and hit up the studio.

2) Choose the Recording Method: This depends largely on your budget and your style of music. Hardcore punk band crunched for money? Record live. Pop music intending to be radio friendly? Multi-track that shite.

3) Choose Recording Equipment: If you book studio time, you should check out the studio prior to your recording session to see what kind of equipment you will be able to use. If you are looking to do a home job, there are several options both cheap and expensive:

– Super Cheap: Purchase a voice/mp3 digital recorder and stick it in the middle of the room. Results will probably be crappy, but if you have virtually no money to spend, it’s better than nothing!

– Cheap: Record one of your gigs. Talk to the sound guy and see if you can work out some deal to get a recording of your show. If possible, see if they can record straight from the mixer, that usually yields better results. Nice sound guys will do it for free 🙂

– Moderate: Rent/Purchase an 8 track recorder and some microphones. Recording equipment is pretty cheap nowadays, you can usually rent or purchase everything you need from your local music store. Ebay is a good resource as well for used gear. However, this could be difficult if you do not know how to set levels correctly or use EQ effectively. Do your homework before jumping into this option!

– Expensive: Buy a computer, audio interface (sound card), sequencing software (Pro Tools, Sonar, Cubase, etc) and some microphones and create your own budget home studio! Record into the sequencer, and either mix & master the tracks yourself or send them to a studio. This will run you at least a few grand, especially if you don’t have a sufficient computer for recording music. Check out Tweakheadz website for some excellent example home studios.

-Very Expensive: Book studio time. It’s expensive, but can yield great results for your demo. Just make sure you prepare thoroughly so you don’t have to book too much extra time to finish your project.

4) Mix & Master: Record labels and fans won’t expect your demos to sound perfect, so these steps are as critical as the actual tracking. If you can put together a rough mix by yourself, more power to you. If not, there are some studios that will offer mixing & mastering services for relatively low costs, just search around your town for them.

_chris

Simple Marketing Tips for Indie Musicians

Posted in Music Industry, Newbies with tags , , , , , , , , on April 29, 2009 by Chris Bracco

eek!

I just read an article that reminded me of some really basic marketing principles that may seem pretty obvious, but can definitely be forgotten over time. And they shouldn’t be! These fundamentals are extremely important, especially to indie musicians. If you are one of these musicians out there trying to do it on your own, selling albums out of your car’s trunk (props to Johnny Cash) or going door-to-door like some kind of perverted Girl Scout, then you need to be aware of these!!!

Basic assumptions as to why somebody would pay for your indie music, merch, etc:

1) They desire or absolutely need what your selling
2) They believe your product/service is exclusive in some way, or very difficult to find
3) They think there is a time constraint, and if they do not purchase your product soon they might miss the opportunity.

And far more important than the tips above: GET PEOPLE TO COME TO YOU, DO NOT FORCE THE PRODUCT ON THEM!

How many of you have ever bought a CD from some random guy running up to you on the street yelling “Yo man! I got these CDs you want one?!” I don’t know, but personally I’d tell him to scram.

People like people, so be an authentic artist by creating quality music and offering your fans something FIRST. Eventually, if what you are providing your fans is something of quality, you will see them coming back for more.

_chris

A Widgets Primer & Useful Ones for Musicians

Posted in Music Industry, Newbies on March 2, 2009 by Chris Bracco

I recently had to write a position paper for my internship over at Ariel Publicity & Cyber PR. Just figured I’d post it here! I hope you find it to be a great read about widgets for musicians.

In recent years, the internet has been evolving rapidly and many are calling this recent Internet transformation “Web 2.0.” This phrase doesn’t necessarily suggest that we are using a new version of the Internet; it simply reflects the current way that people are designing & utilizing it. From the design aspect, the programming languages DHTML, Javascript & Adobe Flash are finally being used effectively to create web-based applications that function as well, if not better, than traditional desktop software. Web 2.0 has also allowed for democracy to develop within the Internet world; amateurs are now frequently surpassing web professionals in several aspects! Two great examples of this are Wikipedia & the concept of wikis in general, and the social networking site, Facebook. A third element of Web 2.0 has to do with better treatment of website visitors. Websites in the late 90’s bombarded users with dozens of annoying advertisements, and most forced visitors to register so they could secretly sell their information for profit. While some sites still continue these practices (cough, MySpace, cough), many more businesses each day are becoming conscience of this maltreatment of users, and are altering their web-based business practices. Basically, visitors have been given more power to do what they want on the web. For example, when iTunes started offering individual songs for download as opposed to whole albums they captured much of the digital download market. This is living proof that web users love having this kind of control over their online purchases. A Fourth element of the Web 2.0 revolution is the concept of social networking. The insemination of websites like Myspace, Facebook and Twitter, and the concepts of blogging and podcasting have revolutionized the way people interact with each other, on both personal and business levels. Initially, these social networking & blogging sites were inhabited by individuals. Today, businesses are utilizing the evolving features these social networks & blogs have to offer in order to achieve success. One industry that is doing an excellent job utilizing social networks & blogs is the music industry. Both major-label & independent artists are creating, discovering & utilizing web-based applications in order to create buzz, expand their fan base & reach out to existing fans. One tool in particular, the “web widget,” is an extremely effective application musicians use to make social networking easier, and to achieve their desired success. Musicians are beginning to realize the potential of these web gadgets, but before they jump into this new technology they should first understand what a widget is and which are the most effective in facilitating their careers.

According to Webopedia.com, “when people use the word widget, in a Web 2.0 world, they are referring to piece of self-contained code — a small application actually, that opens up a doorway to a much larger application.” These pieces of code can be embedded into existing websites, and can do a variety of things. Widgets come in all shapes and sizes, and target different user audiences. However, widgets made for musicians to use function a bit different than consumer widgets. These tools usually fall within the following categories:

1) Allow musicians to upload their music for purchase or free download.
2) Link visitors to the other social networking sites the musician may have.
3) Syndicate information (tour dates, contests, news, etc) to all of the musician’s social networking sites – the musician only has to update the information in the widget & embed the widget on each of their websites.
4) Let visitors sign up for mailing lists & enter contests.
5) Display musician’s videos posted at sites like Youtube, Vimeo, etc.

These widgets simplify information access for the visitor, so they don’t have to waste time searching five different websites for upcoming tour dates, or the most recent contest. Some even provide useful backend statistics that musicians can view and track in real-time to determine target demographics, frequency of hits, clicks and views, and much more. For example, ReverbNation and Facebook do an excellent job of collecting and processing all sorts of activity for artist pages; they make it extremely easy to comprehend for the musician. Also, artists must understand the potential clout these widgets have to increase their reach and availability to potential and existing fans. With sites like Twitter, musicians can update their real-time status, giving fans the ability to view and comment on what musicians are doing at that exact moment. And there are Twitter widgets the musician can embed on each of his/her sites to display that status, so people don’t even have to visit their Twitter page if that is all the information they are seeking from the artist. This quick and easy access to information is making it much simpler for new & existing fans to connect with the musicians they love. If musicians find a way organize this information neatly and effectively on each of their sites, new fans will become easier to recruit and old fans will become easier to retain.

Musicians must also be aware that careful selection & organization of these widgets is just as important as the widgets themselves. If an artist decides to exhaust every option available to them and messily embeds 20 widgets on all 5 of their websites, the chances are that viewers will become quickly fed up with the clutter and leave your pages within a few seconds. This is extremely similar to the concept of dimensions of success for a business. The business must not try to excel in all 7 dimensions (cost, quality, speed to market, flexibility, customer support, predictability and safety and environment), but should focus on a combination of 2-3 dimensions that give them a competitive advantage. It is impossible for a business, as well as a musician (which can be considered a business in and of itself) to competitively distinguish themselves on all 7 criteria. This means that musicians should decide which widgets (dimensions of success) are most important to them, select their options carefully, and organize and utilize them effectively in order to make themselves stand out from their competition (other artists in their genre). Through my experience with my own band and several internships I have worked for, I have come across dozens of these nifty tools. I have personally gone through this process of widget selection without the prior knowledge this document provides, so I’ve had the advantage of learning from my mistakes. My extensive journey through the world of widgets has helped me recognize some of the most effective tools available to musicians. The list below (in no particular order) describes some of the best widgets available to musicians that I have stumbled upon:

1) Music Glue (http://www.musicglue.com) – Quote from website: “…provides artists and record labels with all the tools required to release digital music globally in a way that engages internet savvy fans that currently expect to get their music for free.” The most effective service this website has to offer musicians is the ability to upload your music to their database and share it with fans for free. Fans simply have to be willing to give out their e-mail in exchange for a free song/album. The musician benefits from this because they can now add another potential fan to their mailing list. They provide a “music player”-based widget to embed on artist sites that links to the free downloads offered by the musician.

2) ReverbNation’s Mailing List Widget (http://www.reverbnation.com) – I have recently implemented this for my band. It is an excellent, free mailing list service for artists registered at ReverbNation. Artists simply place the “FanCollector” widget on their website, Myspace, Facebook, etc. and fans will have the ability to sign up for the artist’s mailing list. The widget is simple to embed, neatly designed and comes in several shapes and sizes.

3) YouTube (http://www.youtube.com) – The extremely popular video sharing website YouTube allows anyone to embed any video onto any website in the form of a widget. You can customize the size so it doesn’t screw up your websites’ layouts, which is a very important feature when it comes to organization.

4) ReverbNation’s Show Schedule (http://www.reverbnation.com) – This widget is extremely useful in helping musicians upload their tour schedule onto their websites. Instead of doing just that, musicians can upload all of their show dates into only the “Show Schedule” widget and embed it into all of their websites. This way, the musician only has to upload new shows in one location, which can be a huge time saver.

5) ReverbNation’s Press Widget (http://www.reverbnation.com) – Instead of having to upload all press clippings, reviews, blog blurbs and other musician buzz to several different websites, the Press Widget is a one-stop solution, much like ReverbNation’s Show Schedule. All musicians have to do is upload all of their press into this Flash-based widget and throw it up on each of their websites.

6) SNOCAP Store (http://www.snocap.com) – Recently acquired by iMeem, SNOCAP provides artists with a simple yet versatile online music store. Artists create an account with SNOCAP, upload their tracks to the database, name their prices, embed the widget on their site and start making cash! This widget makes the purchasing process extremely easy for fans since they won’t have to search for the artist on 3rd party sites like Amazon; they can purchase the music directly from the SNOCAP Store widget provided on the artist’s own websites.

To conclude, widgets are a powerful tool for musicians in the 21st century. Because of the decline of physical CD sales in the music industry, artists must find creative and innovative ways to promote and sell their music online by using the technology Web 2.0 has to offer. Widgets make the exchange of information between the artist and the fan much more personal, efficient, and effective. These pieces of self-contained code act as gateways and filters for fans to help them find the artist information they are seeking. Web 2.0 is a doorway for musical success – if you are an artist and have yet to utilize the different elements of the new “web as a platform,” you are missing out on a considerable amount of potential fans, and potential profit. Get started today!

_chris
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References
• Ariel Publicity – http://www.arielpublicity.com/sound_advice/web-2-mastery.html
• Graham, Paul – http://www.paulgraham.com/web20.html
• Kurb Promotion – http://kurbpromotion.wordpress.com/2008/03/17/new-music-promotion-sites-and-widgets-bonus-level-power-up-3/
• MP3 Preview – http://mp3preview.blogspot.com/2007/12/best-tune-widget-for-musicians-artists.html ReverbNation – http://www.reverbnation.com
• Webopedia – http://www.webopedia.com/DidYouKnow/Internet/2007/widgets.asp
• YouTube – http://www.youtube.com
• Venture Beat – http://venturebeat.com/2008/03/12/widgets-are-great-for-musicians-and-not-so-bad-for-businesses-either/

Getting a Handle on Compression

Posted in Newbies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 9, 2007 by Chris Bracco

For some reason, compression was just one of those things for me that I just could not grasp right away. Ratios, thresholds, limiters, maximizers, attack, release…..I didn’t want any part of it. I just figured that compression was something that HAD to be done on a track, and I would just select a preset I THOUGHT sounded nice, and that was that. Little did I know, I was being a total ignorant jerkass. And my music sounded like shit.

Found this article a while back, really helped me grasp the basic functions of a typical compressor:

http://d4dirtyrecords.com/myblog/how-to-use-a-compressor-tutorial-3.html

I really like the analogy that he uses:

A compressor is like a little man who sits there with a remote control for the volume. Every time he hears the sound is too loud he turns the volume down until it’s quieter and then he turns it back up.

your welcome. 🙂

_chris