Archive for music

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

null
[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:

null
[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

Recording A Demo CD

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

null
(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

American Idol 2009 Finale Mishaps!

Posted in Music Industry, Randomness with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 21, 2009 by Chris Bracco

null

bada-bada-bada-bada-bawwwwaaaa……..ooh-woo-ooh-woo-ooooohh…….(my rendition of the theme song hehe)

Okay so I was forced by my family to watch the American Idol Finale last night. There were some excellent performances, I’m not going to lie, but it really just isn’t my cup of tea. So, because of my relative disdain for pop music, I would like to highlight some of the funny/crazy/dangerous mishaps that occurred last night.

1) 2 hours before the show even started, stage manager Debbie Williams fell off some retractable unnecessary staircase and suffered a huge gash in her leg that required a trip to the emergency room and lots of stitches.

2) Also hours before, a large, random, most likely useless tower decided to fall and shatter into a million pieces all over the stage. CLEAN UP ON AISLE “SELL-OUT!”

3) The audience was not permitted inside the venue until 20 minutes before the show started, causing ushers to disregard tickets and have people just sit wherever the hell they pleased.

😀 This is gettin good.

4) During the show’s “Golden Idol Awards” the winner for Outstanding Female, Tatiano Nicole Del Toro, took the microphone from Ryan Seacrest and started singing and strutting all over the stage. TOTALLY UNPLANNED. I was laughing my face off. hahahaha. Security was trying to usher her off the stage and she would pull some sweet spin moves to dodge their attempts. Eventually they just cut to commercial mid-performance because they didn’t know what else to do. She is my hero of the week.

For those of you who didn’t watch, I suggest to keep your eye out for a vid to pop up on youtube showing this funny mishap with Tatiano Nicole Del Toro. Good stuff.

_chris

PSU’s Music Scene is Getting Molested.

Posted in Penn State Stuff with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 1, 2009 by Chris Bracco

The State College music scene is taking another hit. A huge hit. And I thought Asher Roth was bad (he performed last night at Wallypalooza for ONLY 40 MINUTES….some headliner, huh).

Nittany Booking, one of, if not the best music promoters in State College, may cease to exist after this semester. Why, you ask? Garrett Bogden, founder, is graduating. FUCK!!

They have come a long way since 2006, booking several national acts and excellent local talent at venues throughout downtown State College. They put on some great shows here, it really sucks to see them go. Garrett said that Nittany Booking is “basically over,” it really sucks that he didn’t groom a replacement or wants to keep the company alive in some way. If I had more than a year left here at PSU I’d consider taking the reins!

Anyway, here’s some details from an article in The Collegian: Clickity Click

I’d rant some more, but there is no time! Damn finals week.

_chris