How Your Record Can Sound Big and Bold And Compete With the Best

I’ve written this post to give some simple tips on how to compare your recording or demo with the top songs on the charts. You need no training, fancy pro mixing-editing programs, tutorials or hours of studying to do this test. There are only a few short steps and it only takes a few minutes. For those of you not having access to any of  the professional programs, such as Logic, Reaper, Vegas Pro, ProTools, Cubase, Nuendo, Acid pro, etc., I am going to share some engineer secrets and give a simple recommendation for you to discover this phenomenon of possible deficiencies with your song on your own. And it will be at no cost of having to buy any expensive professional recording equipment or programs as stated. But if you do have one of the above, I assume you know what to do.

Naturally, songs you hear on the radio or iTunes in the top of the chart positions have been mixed to the fullest extent by professionals on those programs, and mastered with other great equipment, programs and plugins. These critical procedures give the listener the loudest possible level and best sound that will compete with the next record. No matter what, there is an absolute limit with digital levels and if you are not at that limit or close to it with a record that doesn’t sound over limited or compressed, then you are not in the same league and can’t compete.

Most people, I believe, when surfing and listening here and there to music will have their volume control set at a certain level to listen either on earphones or speakers judging and comparing what they hear to their own record. But you cannot make a fair comparison between two recordings unless you have the two side by side, back to back listening and comparing under the same identical conditions.

This comparison I speak of is not easy for the casual listener not having the right tools to A-B it, as we engineers call it. For instance, you might have a CD of your song and put it on to listen, and then throw so and so’s number one hit on, and then yours again, and back and forth and try to make a comparison or determination. It is impossible. You really need to see and hear the wave-forms next to each other.

Therefore, the solution is to have the two cuts, or sides, or MP3’s, or wav files side by side, with facilities to have them play back independent of each other and to be able to instantly switch back and forth and compare levels. Engineers with the proper professional DAW programs, and/or home based studios also with professional setups, are able to easily and quickly make those comparisons.

This comparison is an absolute must when professional mixing, with the adjustments being made thoughtfully and with very special care. This means evening out a vocal performance, leveling out the instruments, equalizing unwanted and unneeded frequencies, limiting and/or compressing the singer and certain instruments to deliver the needed energy and presence to make the record sound no less than great. This, of course, relies on the condition that the song, vocal, arrangement and musicians are delivering the best possible performance. The final touch up is then up to the mastering engineer.

Once you see what to look for and the obvious solutions, then it is up to you to correct your recording to fit the standards of the highest level possible. Otherwise, you will be sending it out there to stations, companies, publishers, etc, putting it on YouTube, SoundCloud, OurStage.com, and ReverbNation.com etc, and wondering why no one even notices it or gives you any feed back. But then, it’s all too late since your free or low price mixing and mastering persons or your mixing and mastering efforts just weren’t up to snuff.

AUDACITY ONE TRACK

Photo 1 – The Free consumer program Audacity with a song loaded

Go to http://audacity.sourceforge.net/download/ and download the free and simple consumer program “Adacity” and install it. The program is provided for both the Mac and PC, and there is no studying involved, unless you are just so fascinated with what you see that you are hooked into learning more.  Be aware that when something is free, they succeed in sneaking in other programs on your computer while it is downloading. A simple solution to this after you install it is to go to “Uninstall a Program” and see what they sneaked in for the day you are working and simply uninstall them. In my case they sneaked three by me that I did not want.

For ease, have your two MP3’s, (or wav files) on the desktop. Click on Audacity and the program will come up on your monitor. Simply drag one of the files over onto the Audacity work space. You will immediately see the waveform of the file laid out in its entirety on the timeline as in Photo 1, end to end with the time in minutes over the top. At the upper right you’ll see plus (+) and minus (-) signs and clicking on them will make the track extend longer or shorter on the time line. Next to the minus sign is a sign to “fit selection” that will have the track fit the width of the timeline, which in this case is about 3:35 minutes.

At the very bottom of the track to the left, there is a tiny arrow like this ^ that when you click on it, it reduces the size of the track vertically and shows that little arrow pointing down like a v, which will restore the vertical height back to the larger size when you click on it.

AUDACITY TWO TRACKS

Photo 2 Audacity with additional song loaded 

Now click on the other track on the desktop that we are comparing and drag it over onto the work space under the other track.  See photo 2  It runs 2:30, and much shorter than the other. A quick glance without even listening tells us that the first track is fatter, and has more energy than the second track. Click on the plus sign a few times and both tracks will stretch out as in photo 3, whereas you can see even more strength in the first track.

ENLARGED TRACKS TO COMPARE

Photo 3 – Audacity with the tracks stretched showing more detail

Now it’s time to listen. Set your earphones or speakers to a comfortable listening level and familiarize yourself wih the SOLO & MUTE buttons at the left end of the tracks. Move the mouse to the timeline above the tracks, anywhere you choose but for instance do it at one minute and a finger will point there and the music will play. Solo the two back and forth as quickly as possible and you will now have a perfect A-B-ing between your record and whatever you are comparing it with.

If it doesn’t match up, I strongly advise you to go back to your mixing and mastering people to show them the lack of energy and levels and how it doesn’t stand up to the competition and that you must shoot for a hotter mix to equal that number one hit. If you get an argument, then maybe it is time to find other engineers who know better. I’m here at your service and can eMix anything with any number of tracks. And I guarantee that your mix will match whatever you want me to match, provided your tracks are the best they can be.

over level peak

Photo 4 Enlarged section showing  peak over the Zero limit

On most all top recordings you will see high levels that compare to the ones in photo 1, whereas the overall average stays close to zero throughout the recording with good limiting and compressing. Lastly, a most critical situation to be aware of is peaks that go above digital zero and cause distortion. Zooming in on the lower track as in photo 4 , we see that there is one peak in the whole song at 151.7350 seconds (the red mark) that goes over and can cause distortion.

As high as the levels are in the first song, they never go over zero since they are obviously controlled by limiting and compression. The work of the mixing and mastering engineer, finally, is to use his/her skills with equalization, physical riding of levels and careful limiting and compression of all the elements to bring it all together into a successful final recording.

 

 

 

 

“Industry Standard” in the Music Recording Industry – Is it Fact or Fiction?

“Industry standard” is defined as: “The optimum criteria for any industry to function and carry out an operation in their respective fields of production.”

Industry standard envisages the regulated, lawful, logical usage in the segment of the economy dealing with industrialization. This may include services or goods. Industry standard contributes to global as well as domestic competitiveness.”

So, how does this term play out in the music recording industry, whereas at least one company’s product  has been held to be the “industry standard” because their program is in use at many if not in almost every professional recording studio in the world? Therefore, this implies that you must use theirs and nothing else if you want to make hit records.

This post was written to draw attention to the fact that throughout the recent history of digital audio in the recording business, one with the necessary skills and talent did not and still does not need the highest priced or highest touted console, amplifier, microphone, speakers and the touted “industry standard” DAW to make a hit record. In addition to recordings made in some of the great or not so great studios, many great recordings have been made in basements, bedrooms, and garages, and with other than the so-called industry standard DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) program.

And those who brag about the industry standard DAW may fail to mention the great vocal performance, the great song, arrangement and players on a recording, which actually made a record great. In some DAW and equipment companies’ eyes, these factors apparently don’t even exist when they are playing their PR game with their multi-thousands of $$$.

How loud does money talk?

Some of the reasons for the public’s comprehension of industry standard may be that money talks too loud in advertising with words that make it all so believable. And this may also apply to articles written that repeat the phrase, “X is the industry standard.” If we read or hear something over and over, don’t we all tend to believe it without even questioning it? Also, word of mouth plays a hand with someone saying, “Did you hear so and so’s great new record that they say was done on X’s DAW program? We’ve got to get that program. It’s got to be the best.”

There is no question that more incentives and higher commissions are probably being paid to sales people at big name music-recording store Y to sell X brand. And Y store has free Saturday classes on the X brand with those eager sales people right there for the sale. And if there is news that a famous person’s recording was made on X brand, therefore X brand must be the best and is sure to get you up there also.

A music magazine amplifies the question

The latest issue of a leading music recording industry magazine, although maybe not meaning to, certainly raises a question about the idea of “industry standard” with its articles and ads, big and small, of companies attempting to attract one and all to their greater than great products. But once again, it is the big money doing all the talking. Call the magazine and ask for the cost of an ad on the back of the front cover, back cover, and first page. Guaranteed it is many thousands.

Who really pays for those full color ads?

From there, go to page two and three where famous Z retail seller lists about 100 companies’ products they sell, but devotes a whole half page to the DAW company that shouts about their being the “industry standard,” and then Z pays great big bucks for another full page ad on the last page. And we wonder what big companies  may be helping Z retail seller pay for those full page color ads, especially when they devote a half page to that one in particular who is called the “industry standard.”

The estimated rate for a full-page, black and white ad in that magazine is $7,490.00. God knows what a color ad might cost, especially in those coveted page positions. It is probably double that amount. And for the readers, a lot of who have free subscriptions like myself who are in that business, may (they hope) just heed to the ads composed by the advertising agencies’ geniuses touting “industry standard.” And when they shout about what’s new, implying that what you have is obsolete, you’re led to believe that you absolutely must buy the latest and greatest.

Has payola raises its ugly head?

Another important question arises: Is it likened to the scandal of payola by big companies to play their records? A good look at the beginnings of digital recording may give a hint toward this with certain companies bending over backwards to get their DAW program used in the studios, with tutorials, coaching and total access to company reps running and flying out to solve their every qualm or problem, and also most probably freely supplying them with their DAW. And if that’s all the engineers had access to, how would they know about any other program?

But there are also the industry standard wannabes, whose programs are just as good and in use throughout the industry but will probably never catch up because the “industry standard” people may continue to pay, and may have paid dearly from the beginning to broadcast that they were the “best.” And a front page feature article from the latest issue of another well respected trade magazine tells of companies who are giving X brand  “a run for it’s money” and tells of an online forum by users of X brand “to air their views (at what has been dubbed a short-sighted decision by X brand) that has turned into one of  the biggest threads I have ever seen on the forum. It is now pushing 84 pages.”

One big message delivered by the other  magazine was about quality music delivery, and the great importance of sample rates, bit depth and bandwidth. Between the lines of that story is that the touted “industry standard” DAW is not the only one around that delivers these specs. The magazine also spotlighted fifteen different interfaces for use with your DAW, and any DAW. And it wasn’t that long ago that X’s DAW required a proprietary interface sold only by them.

The little guy can also deliver the same quality as the big boys

The loudest message of all delivered by the magazine was the not so subtle reminder that those strategic ads and their placement tells you that there is “none other than” these great names which includes company X. But another message you had to strain to hear was that a well equipped professional studio, as well as the home based studio, can deliver the same quality as the big boy studios without the thousand dollar coffee machines in the bedroom or garage, and with other than X’s DAW.

So, is “industry standard” fact or fiction? I’d love to hear some of your comments.

WHO ARE THE SELF PROCLAIMED EXPERTS AND THE CON ARTISTS?

Just what are the real odds against making it big in the entertainment business? We’ll examine that area and expose a possible and probable area of thieves among thieves.

If you are on Twitter, you may have gotten something like this (quoted below), in response to a legit submission of a song or a demo recording, or video, which may or may not be a scam. It’s really hard to tell, but scrutiny is advised. My instincts tell me that this may have been a team of two posing as important contacts repping themselves and a major record company, only to lure and rip off hopefuls who have a big “nice” budget.

The flag was raised when the person made an excuse on Twitter of slow responding because he had 6000 emails to answer, but had the time to respond via direct email to me with a 500 word apparent form letter with the bottom written “Sent from my iPhone.” Don’t we all know what a pain it is to send just a few words from an iPhone? That was the first flag. Second was “hit ___ up now kid thanks great music by the way”. Kid? I’m no kid.  Third was “Make sure have a nice budget to start today with —.  Fourth was his big star name dropping “working with” with no apparent searchable credits to back it up.

The alert is that the possible scammer with over 18,000 following and followers may be baiting selected ones with the same or near same email. Note that I have not revealed the names nor the phone number he instructed to call. So please read and digest and if you receive this or similar, beware of the possible scam and judge for yourself. It is well worded and long, suggesting a form letter to impress and convince of a possible false sincerity, provided you have a large enough nest egg, or “nice budget,” and “You have a wonderful blessed night,” implying that he is trustworthy and holy.

The email is reminiscent of the typical Nigerian 419 scam letter with huge promises to the unwary if you pay them in front. And he implies that if you don’t have a “nice” budget”, then don’t bother calling — —— at (—) — —-.

This email was in response to my sending him a great MP3  to check him out. So please read and if it sounds familiar, please comment or DM me at Twitter @roughmixdon. Note that he loves what he is hearing, doesn’t know me from Adam but thinks I need more artist development. Go ahead and type this on the iPhone keypad and see how long it takes. You judge:

 “How are you? I love what I’m hearing. I just think you will need more artist development, you need Media base spins and Digital sales. Do you have a small or big budget for marketing and promotional services for your music career or label? Do have a buzz in the city you live in? If not I am not looking to sign. What I am looking for is an unsigned Artist with a big buzz, selling their music online, social network following and have the full package done. I have an A&R friend that does artist development with his company, I think he can really help you with your career with his company, I think he can really help you with your career skills, so once you have a professional package to present He will begin marketing and promoting your project to management companies, business funding agencies, Investors, record labels & booking agencies. He has work with the likes of The Wanted, Flo-rida, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna & He got The Weekend signed UMG.He also did some major work Breaking independent Artist MACKLE MORE & RYAN LEWIS  with his music video for his second single can’t hold us. He got them over 20.2 M views here’s the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zNSgSzhBfM .Far as marketing and promotions go he can help you he has a lot of great Artist Development and marketing skills, hit — up now kid thanks great music by the way. I just need you to build a little more buzz… so I will be watching you’re online to see how it’s going. Remember you must have a budget if you hit him up. Please call — I am out of town!!! Call — —— now it’s very important A.S.A.P!!! He can get the music on radio & in all the clubs call my friend — he can help you with your online and radio!!! For more info contact — ——, at (—)— —– if you are ready to work Call Him Now! If You Have the Budget to work today! Make sure have a nice budget to start today with — don’t waste his time he a business man and he can get you where you need to be. I will be watching your online and the promotions he will do for you and I hope you don’t let me down with this contact. Please call him now don’t mess up this opportunity I am giving an important contact don’t mess this up I need to see you built a buzz before I showcase you. You have a wonderful blessed night and looking forward to the future! Call him now I’m very interested just needs to see more Going on before I commit to doing any showcases or setting up any meeting. I think with the right guidance you could do well as an artist. If you open to taking my advice as an artist?”

There are literally thousands of hopefuls out there with the great big dreams of being a star, and the odds against this happening are about as much as winning the New Jersey Lottery. While it is true that with a lot of hard work and time to practice and knocking on doors, one can help sustain a living at least in the entertainment biz. But like all other areas the thieves are lurking, searching, and looking to spot one or more of the young, eager and hungry for success hopefuls who may have some hard earned money, or maybe even ready to spend their life savings to get known.

And along comes the Joe Success Maker saying: “for x amount, (nice budget) I can make you a star.” Gullible Suzie or Jimmie Wannabe falls for the scam and winds up broke.