Best home studio recording to get the biggest bang for your buckBaltimore Post-Examiner

‘I want to be that super-hot chick’

The days of begging and pleading your local radio stations to play your music are over.

Musicians don’t need to stand out on the corner and hand out flyers, or play shows at bars where no one wants to listen.  Thanks to social networking mediums, soundcloud (sweet), and YouTube  (blah), we can freely, easily distribute as well.

I asked a friend who is doing well in the industry, what is the most important thing that an artist should be doing?

“Just play shows – play as many as you can.”

Nope.  Totally disagree.

Let’s say I have two choices.  One is playing a 30-45 minute set at a local bar/venue, where most of the audience probably isn’t there to see me.  How many people’s attention and fandom will I earn?  Twenty-five percent  if I am really lucky?  Probably more like 10-15 percent of strangers would really care.  Even if I blew people away, I’d say 33 percent of people, at the very best will actually go out of their way to track me down on the Internet, listen to my songs, tell their friends, and continue to be a fan.

Second option – Slowly release quality material online, for FREE (the key).  Grow a following through non-pushy advertising and word of mouth (what I have been doing since May 2012).

Option two sounds like a way better plan of attack to me.

When I first started releasing songs, I would get 100-150 or so unique plays in the first week, and hopefully new fans would listen to older material.

Now with every release, it’s in the low thousands, and I admit that’s really not a big of a deal in the grand scheme, but it’s a significant improvement for essentially a rookie in this new music game.

The big thing is, I haven’t played one single show.  Not one.  You don’t need to do it like that anymore.  Hop in a bus and hit the road (although that would be fun).

Not this early at least.  My goal is to keep building/producing. Once I have enough original material, and fans want to see a show, it will happen.  I don’t want to be a side-act for their night out.

Imagine this.  Say you get dragged along as a wingman for your buddy’s date.  You can simplify it to three levels of excitement, depending on the situation:

  • You don’t know if your friend’s date will have any friends for you to talk to, so you’re neither excited nor upset.
  • Friend’s date will have friends there, but you know them already and aren’t interested (disappointment).
  • Friend’s date confirms a super-hot other friend will be there, who you have never met, but seen pictures of, heard great things about, and this friend heard you will be there too and is excited.

I want to be that super-hot chick.

As I’ve mentioned before, the other great thing about new technology is how cheap, and easy, it is to create music, as compared to even ten years ago.  I have a KORG Electro-thingy beat maker on my iPad that I mess around with every once in a while.  The price is $20, and is occasionally on sale for $10.  The program in this app used to be a tangible drum machine that came out fifteen years ago.  For $800.

You don’t need a professional studio engineer and their tens of thousands of dollars of equipment any longer.  Allow me to save you time and money.  Learn from my trial and error.  Want to make music?

First, you don’t have to own a Mac, but I highly recommend it.  Even with the strides PCs have made over the past few years, the simple fact is Mac’s almost never crash.  Ever.  You still need to consistently back up your work, even turning on auto-save if it’s possible in your DAW (Digitial Audio Workstation).  To make life even better, subscribe to an online data backup service like Google Drive, Carbonite, or just pick up an external 500GB hard drive for $50-100 on Amazon.

logicThere are numerous great DAWs to choose from, like Logic (Mac only now), Fruity Loops, Reason, Ableton, Komplete, Akai MPC Software, and the industry standard, Pro Tools.  Every music store will tell you to buy Pro Tools because it is the most widely used program by professionals.  What they may not mention is Logic is just plain better.  Problem is – Logic is also more complicated, taking much longer to learn.  I’ve been using it for almost a year, and it feels like I know 30% of the program’s capabilities.

All of these programs range from $99 for simplified, semi-trial versions, or up to $1,000.  Why more?  Usually they include more pre-packaged samples, synths, drum loops, etc.  More money gets you more bells and whistles.

Do research.  Teen prodigy Madeon uses FL (Fruity Loops).  Three producers work with all use Logic.  My friend Areo uses FL for production and Ableton to mix/master.

Next is instrumentation, or a controller (fancy word for keyboard and/or drum pad machine).  M-Audio has mini-keyboards that go for as cheap as $100, but they also have big boys that have knobs, digital interfaces, drum pads, and tuners for much more.  I recommend making your first purchase no less than $100, but no more than $300.  At first, you just need something that makes notes/sounds.  You can always upgrade, and sell the old.

maudioIf you’re more into beat-making, you should lean towards the Akai MPC line.  Akai’s products have been around for decades, and used to run for thousands of bucks.  I just picked up the MPC Studio for $599, which has its own software and samples.  For some of the older Akai MPCs, or even the new Akai Renaissance, you actually do not need a computer or software to make your beats.  You can do everything on the controller itself.

(*Picking a controller can be a critical money-wise, as many of them actually come with a simplified/ trialversion of a DAW.  You may able to save hundred on software, depending on the controller.)

I just realized I should be getting paid for this.

Anyway, the next two items are crucial to quality production.  You can’t go cheap with these if you want high quality.

Let me say that again, with emphasis.

You cannot go cheap on these next two items if you want your creations to sound professional.

micandinterfaceMicrophone and interface.

An interface is the “box” that you plug in your microphone, or any other instrument you would plug into an amplifier, which connects to your computer.

Simplified:  Microphone/instrument–interface–computer.

Using a cheap interface is like if PGA Golfers played with counterfeit, used Titlest Pro V1s at the Masters.  Regardless of how good you are, the final product is not what you intended.

Make sure you spend at least $150-200 on your interface.  There are too many brands to name, but some stick out more than others.  If you want to go all out, as my friend Zak Jablow (@ProfessorFox) essentially ordered me to buy, pick up the Apogee Duet.

You’ll think it’s straight from the future.  The Duet is pricey ($599), but as the clerk at Sam Ash actually said, “when you hear the quality of your songs from what you were using compared to the Apogee, you’ll want to punch yourself in the fucking face.”

Lastly is microphone.  Spend at least $150 on your first one for a studio space.  If you want to go all out, pick up the German brand Neumann, which will run you at least $1k, depending on the model.  Simply put, they are the best.  Let me show you the difference in quality.

Below is the demo version of “AA” I made last June with my old mic and 8-year-old interface.

Next is the fully produced version of “AA” made with an Apogee Duet and Neumann mic.

Science’d.

If you do go crazy on a mic purchase, there are two other items you must buy.  A quality studio mic stand is essential.  Make sure you ask the clerk for a STUDIO mic stand, not a normal mic stand.  Normal stands cannot hold the weight of an expensive, quality microphone.  Studio stands run from $90 to $200.

Second, you’ll need what’s known as a reflexion filter.  Ever notice in studios that parts of the wall are covered with dark Styrofoam blocks that are the shape of the Simpson kids’ hair?  Those help deaden extraneous sounds that can ruin your recording.  Now you can actually buy those blocks and cover your walls (or use cup holders like in Hustle and Flow.  WHOOP THAT TRICK!  WHOOP THAT TRICK!), or you can pick up a reflexion filter, which is essentially a portable ring that goes around your mic.  They run anywhere from $100-300.

One more HUGE thing.  Never pay the price as advertised.  If you buy in store, look up the product on your smartphone, find the cheapest price (not through Amazon) from a retailer, and the store will almost ALWAYS match.

That’s it.  You’ll need microphone cables, and some other little things here and there.  Good luck, and send me your beats.

Reed


About the author

REED

REED is a songwriter/producer out of Philadelphia, creating haunting music with a heavy emphasis on the specifics. Ben Reed, born in Chadds Ford, PA, began releasing his own style of Electro-Soul earlier this summer, and continues to produce tracks that infect your memory with catchy hooks enhanced by relatable, detailed lyrics. Reed is a self-taught guitarist and pianist, who writes, sings, produces, and masters all his own material. Formerly of an acoustic songwriting-duo, Reed played numerous shows along the East Coast, and gained a respectable following nation-wide via local radio play and social media sites. In late 2011, after moving back to Pennsylvania from a 2 year stay for a job in Huntington Beach, CA, REED purchased a new Taylor guitar and began writing music again, but this time expanding to a newer, unique sound by combining electro, soul, rnb, and pop. . Contact the author.
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