Musician Tip: Standing Out In The Crowd


Musician Tip: Standing Out In The Crowd

by Susan Gabrielle

Musicians Tip; Standing Out In A Crowd

Musicians Tip; Standing Out In A Crowd

Grabbing the attention of someone from a record label is what most singer/songwriters are working towards. Whether it be one of the major labels, a big indie label, or a startup that is all about the artist, you want to put yourself in a position for something wonderful to happen. Or, if you believe the old adage that says, “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,” you want to be ready for some luck to grab hold of you.

Personally, I love that saying. It makes it sound as though we can create our own luck. Well, if you are truly prepared in every way and you are in an environment to be seen and heard, it really is just a matter of time before somebody who can make a decision that can alter your life forever will find you.

Then the question is where and how long. This can probably be answered by a very long and complicated mathematical formula having to do with where you live and where you are most likely to be, how many other people are likely to be there, divided somehow by how many industry people frequent such a place. Okay, I didn’t understand it in high school and I don’t think I’m getting it now either.

There are easier ways to level the playing fields, take advantage of opportunities, and make your own luck. Contests like IAMA are probably the best way to bring everybody to the same starting place. I’m not saying that because I happen to be writing an article for them. I used to produce (much smaller) contests myself with a partner. I was always mesmerized by the amount and level of talent we would find.

These competitions are inexpensive and a great way to be heard. So, here are some things that can help you stand out.

1. Have a clear sounding recording. I don’t know what the rules or how much importance that holds in this contest. For ours we said it was enough as long as we could hear and understand it. But if you are in an acoustic contest and you really want your artistry to shine through you want a quality recording. I’m not saying you have to spend tons of money. Just something that shows you in a good light.

Also, don’t make winning the only reason you enter a contest as prestigious as this one. You just have no idea who’s ears you may catch with your music. Maybe you won’t win a prize but a judge will make a point of saving your info to see how you develop from here. Maybe you aren’t ready yet and they are anxiously waiting to hear what you bring to the table next year.

2. I am not one of those real secure people when it comes to songwriting. BUT, I know that I can write decent melodies. I just can. I think it comes from a lifetime of piano playing. I understand the theory and most of the time get a good beat going too. Lyrics, well that’s a different story. I have had the most success with songwriting when I had a co-writer.

I know some people are just so set on doing it all themselves. I don’t know why. I would rather have even one cut with a co-writer than nothing at all, ever.

I lived in Nashville, MUSIC CITY, USA for over 10 years and going to open mics there is like no place else on earth. I feel like I can say that I have heard some of the best songs ever written.

So many of these people at the open mics had been going for decades, however, without a single break. They worked all day and did open mics at night waiting for that break. They were a type and you could recognize them at every venue. They had great lyrics but they got lost in mediocre music or the music was catchy but the lyrics weren’t strong at all.

Many of the people with this issue welcomed the idea of co-writing and moved up the ladder. Maybe they didn’t become the song writing duo of the century, but they were part of what they dreamed about for so long. The purists who refused to work with someone, the ones who said, “I just can’t do that,” were left behind.

3. The last thing I will offer is some words to non-writers. To players and vocalists. Don’t let yourself be swept under the rug. You are needed and we all know how competitive your role is. Don’t slack off. Always take a song and look at it from another point of view. Add something vocally, such as ending one verse on a harmony. Play around a bit with the melody.

Sometimes when a fast song is turned into an acoustic ballad, I can’t believe it’s the same song. I can’t believe I had missed the message for so many years. Or perhaps I didn’t miss the message. Perhaps a different style just changed everything. Maybe that’s the magic of music.

All of you singer/songwriters have so much power. You have the power and the gift to make people feel. To feel what it would be like to be someone else for a few minutes. Or realize that we all have different experiences but the feelings are the same. It’s important.

In an industry as big as this one, these are a few things record label scouts and executives notice.


For more information on the IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), go to: http://www.inacoustic.com



IAMA Finalist Jeff Gutt becomes new lead singer of Stone Temple Pilots


by Jessica Brandon

Jeff Gutt, a finalist at the 9th Annual IAMA was a runner-up on X-Factor USA. He has just been confirmed as the new lead singer of the Stone Temple Pilots

Jeff Gutt, a finalist at the 9th Annual IAMA was a runner-up on X-Factor USA. He has just been confirmed as the new lead singer of the Stone Temple Pilots

The IAMA finalist has just made headlines to debut as the veteran rock group’s front man.

Jeff Gutt, a finalist at the 9th Annual IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards) was a runner-up on X-Factor USA. He has just been confirmed as the new lead singer of the Stone Temple Pilots.

Filling the front man slot for Stone Temple Pilots in 2017 is a daunting task. The group, which scaled the heights of mega-rock stardom in the 1990s through the aughts, has seen its fair share of internal strife — particularly the firing of front man Scott Weiland in 2013 and replacing him with Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington — turned public tragedy when the former passed away in Dec. 2015, less than a month after the latter returned to his flagship band.

Stone Temple Pilots is known worldwide when their song “Plush” hit #1 on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks Charts in 1993 and became a world-wide household name to rock fans everywhere.

After searching for a new lead singer with an online audition process, the band faced more tragedy this past July when Bennington committed suicide, leaving the future of Pilots even more in question. It helps explain the air of secrecy surrounding Pilots’ return to the stage last night (Nov. 14) at Los Angeles’ famed Troubadour, when surviving members Dean DeLeo (guitar), his brother Robert (bass/backing vocals) and Eric Kretz (drums) unveiled their new singer in front of a crowd of industry insiders and dedicated fans eager to see the addition to the iconic band. (Adding to exclusivity: the club forcing attendees to put their phones in locked bags for the entirety of the show, though cameramen were on hand to capture the debut.)

Stone Temple Pilots took the stage around 9:15 p.m., with each longtime member emerging one by one. The new singer made the final entrance, the crowd reacting with understandable remove: Jeff Gutt, best known for competing on seasons two and three of X Factor and a hearty rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” sauntered onto the legendary stage, seemingly aware that he might be unknown. With his formerly black swoop of hair styled into a spiky bleached coif, the Detroit native wore sunglasses and a nametag across his chest, branded “Hi, My Name is Jeff” that he removed a few songs in.

For the most part, banter was kept through a minimum throughout, even when fellow Detroit rocker Wayne Kramer of MC5 came out to shred an extended guitar solo on the group’s classic “Kick Out the Jams.” Tonight, Stone Temple Pilots let the music mostly speak for itself. It was a tour through their catalog, from hits like “Interstate Love Song” and “Plush” to “Vasoline” and “Down,” which opened the show. The only time the energy wavered throughout the hourlong set came when Gutt announced new Stone Temple Pilots single “Meadow,” meriting a lukewarm response that turned to intrigue once the band ripped into the attacking track.

Between songs, one concertgoer remarked, “It must be shitty to fill in not just for Scott’s shoes, but for Chester’s shoes, too.” That didn’t seem to be of concern to Gutt, who seemed fully aware of the pressures and appreciative of the opportunity, grinning throughout (and at one point singling out his son, who flew in from Detroit to watch his dad from the balcony). He inhabited the spirit of the singers that came before him, his powerful voice toggling between soft moan to powerful roar, his fluid dancing recalling Weiland’s serpentine movements. It was clear that inhabiting the role of Pilots’ front man wasn’t intended to detract from its legacy, but merely to add to it — nothing could fill the big shoes left empty, and he seemed respectful of that.

The rest of the band, meanwhile, lived up to the expectations they’ve set throughout the decades, as tight as any aging rock group with masterful command of their instruments. The notion that they’ve become something of a glorified tribute band to themselves didn’t seem to hold weight as the night came to a close — this new incarnation may have deep roots, but it certainly felt fresh.

For those who couldn’t make the show, the concert is set to air on Friday (Nov. 17) at 5 p.m. ET on Sirius XM’s Howard 101 and Lithium channels.

(Source: Billboard Magazine)

IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards) has discovered entrants for the past 14 years that have gone on to get signed and hit the Bllboard Charts. Its past winners include: Meghan Trainor, whose debut single hit #1 on the Billboard Charts and sold over 15 million copies worldwide, her debut album debut at #1 on the Billboard 200 Album Charts and she won a Grammy for Best New Artist. For more information on the 14th Annual IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), go to: http://www.inacoustic.com



6 Music Recording Secrets of the Beatles


6 Music Recording Secrets of the Beatles

by Jessica Brandon

The Beatles in the Recording Studio

         The Beatles in the Recording Studio

The Beatles is undoubtedly the greatest and most influential band in the history of pop music.  Along with revolutionary producer George Martin, ‘introduced the recording studio as an instrument’.

Yet the first two Beatles albums, Please Please Me and With The Beatles, were recorded on very simple BTR two track machines; with the introduction of four-track machines in 1963 (the first 4-track Beatles recording was “I Want to Hold Your Hand”) there came a change in the way recordings were made—tracks could be built up layer by layer, encouraging experimentation in the multitrack recording process. This is a far cry from the unlimited tracks you are able to create on a laptop today.

How did they do it? Here are some examples of creative music production techniques used by their producer George martin and the group and the talented crew of engineers that helped create a catalog of albums that have sold well over two billion copies:


  1. Half-speed recording on “In My Life”

There were three separate recording sessions booked at Abbey Road, in which George Martin was there to record the baroque-style piano overdub onto “In My Life”.

Martin initially tried a Hammond organ solo, but was unhappy with the results. He then attempted to play a part on a piano, but had difficulty playing the complex solo in time. Eventually he instructed engineer Stuart Eltham to slow down the tape to half speed, and played the solo an octave lower, so upon playback it gave the desired effect.

There are numerous other examples of the engineers using this technique on Beatles recordings, including extensive use on “Strawberry Fields Forever.”

Using the “varispeed” mode in Pro Tools’ elastic audio can perhaps yield similar results.


  1. Backwards Tapes

As the Beatles pioneered the use of musique concrète in pop music (i.e. the sped-up tape loops in “Tomorrow Never Knows”), backward recordings came as a natural exponent of this experimentation. “Rain”, the first rock song featuring a backwards vocal (Lennon singing the first verse of the song), came about when Lennon (claiming the influence of marijuana) accidentally loaded a reel-to-reel tape of the song on his machine backwards and essentially liked what he heard so much he quickly had the reversed overdub. A quick follow-up was the reversed guitar on “I’m Only Sleeping”, which features a dual guitar solo by George Harrison played backwards. Harrison worked out a forward guitar part, learned to play the part in reverse, and recorded it backwards. Likewise, a backing track of reversed drums and cymbals made its way into the verses of “Strawberry Fields Forever”. The Beatles’ well-known use of reversed tapes led to rumours of backwards messages, including many that fueled the Paul is Dead urban myth. However, only “Rain” and “Free as a Bird” include intentional reversed lead vocal in Beatles songs.

The stereo version of George Harrison’s “Blue Jay Way” (1967, Magical Mystery Tour) also includes backwards vocals, which is actually a backwards copy of the entire mix, including all instruments, which is faded up at the end of each phrase.

Essentially every modern DAW has a reverse audio capability, but actually taking the time to write out the performance before the effect is applied will definitely result in something unique.


  1. Splicing tape loops together on “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”

In a 1968 interview, Martin recalled that he achieved this “by playing the Hammond organ myself and speeding it up”. In addition to Hammond organ, a 19th century steam organ was found for hire to enhance the carnival atmosphere effect.  After a great deal of unsuccessful experimentation, Martin instructed recording engineer Geoff Emerick (as instructed by George Martin)  to chop the tape into pieces with scissors, throw them up in the air, and re-assemble them at random.

The resulting effect is quite unique, and fits in perfectly with the rest of the psychedelic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

This type of effect (if desired) is not only much easier to do in a modern DAW, it is certainly cheaper than mangling sought-after analog tape.


  1. Muffling Techniques

The use of tea towels and other drum muffling techniques on multiple recordings are one of the big trade secrets of the Beatles. As early as 1962, Ringo can be seen using John’s Harmonica to dampen his snare drum.

Whether it be how hard or light he hit a drum, a cigarette pack or wallet on his snare, masking tape or tea towels on a tom, creative mic placement or the type of mic used, the tightening, loosening or complete removal of a drumhead, the use of  calfskin or mylar drumheads, etc. Ringo was a creative genius in the use of basic drum kits and getting the most out of them. It’s amazing. This list of techniques may seem ordinary by today’s standards but Ringo is the guy who knocked down the door in the recording studio with these simple and effective ideas.

Using tea towels or other muffling devices can allow for more control over the volume, attack and decay of individual drums. Especially considering it was common for the engineers to apply extreme compression on Ringo’s kit with a Fairchild limiter, dampening the drums allowed for a tighter, more focused sound.


  1. Outtakes, Vocal Warm-ups, Practicing singing on “Oh! Darling”

Performing a song until the performance sounds the way the artist wants it to — what a concept!

McCartney later said of recording the track, “When we were recording ‘Oh! Darling’ I came into the studios early every day for a week to sing it by myself because at first my voice was too clear. I wanted it to sound as though I’d been performing it on stage all week.” He would only try the song once each day, if it was not right he would wait until the next day. In order to make sure he got every precious first take right, McCartney would practice the song in the bathtub. He once lamented that “five years ago I could have done this in one take”.


  1. Artificial double tracking

Artificial double tracking (ADT) was invented by Ken Townsend in 1966, during the recording of Revolver. With the advent of four-track recordings, it became possible to double track vocals whereby the performer sings along with his or her own previously recorded vocal. Phil McDonald, a member of the studio staff, recalled that Lennon did not really like singing a song twice – it was obviously important to sing exactly the same words with the same phrasing – and after a particularly trying evening of double tracking vocals, Townsend “had an idea” while driving home one evening hearing the sound of the car in front. ADT works by taking the original recording of a vocal part and duplicating it onto a second tape machine which has a variable speed control. The manipulation of the speed of the second machine during playback introduces a delay between the original vocal and the second recording of it, giving the effect of double tracking without having to sing the part twice.

The effect had been created “accidentally” earlier, when recording “Yesterday”: loudspeakers were used to cue the string quartet and some of McCartney’s voice was recorded onto the string track, which can be heard on the final recording.

It has been claimed that George Martin’s pseudoscientific explanation of ADT (“We take the original image and we split it through a double-bifurcated sploshing flange”) given to Lennon originated the phrase flanging in recording, as Lennon would refer to ADT as “Ken’s flanger”, although other sources claim the term originated from pressing a finger on the tape recorder’s tape supply reel (the flange) to make small adjustments to the phase of the copy relative to the original.

ADT greatly influenced recording—virtually all the tracks on Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band had the treatment and it is still widely used for instruments and voices. Nowadays, the effect is more often known as automatic double tracking.

ADT can be heard on the lead guitar on “Here, There and Everywhere” and the vocals on “Eleanor Rigby” for example. The technique was used later by bands like the Grateful Dead and Iron Butterfly, amongst others.


With today’s technology, you have pretty much carte blanche to create any music you want on your laptop, without even stepping into a recording studio. Your technology you have on your laptop is far more advanced than the recording studios the Beatles used in the 60’s.


For more information on the 14th Annual IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), go to: http://www.inacoustic.com



IAMA Podcast 2017


Thank you for tuning into our 2017 podcast episode for the International Acoustic Music Awards.

Acoustic Music Radio

Acoustic Music Radio

  1. “Crossing the Bar” by Bertie Higgins & Bellamy Brothers
  2. “Novocaine” by Tim Schou
  3. “For You” by NEeMA, featuring Emmylou Harris
  4. “Drive” by The Well Pennies
  5. “Voyageur” by Rob Tardik
  6. “I Don’t Know My Name” by Grace VanderWaal
  7. “Where Do You Go” by Marty Cintron
  8. “Hurry Home” by Zane Williams

6 Secrets to Produce Great Recordings at Home


6 Secrets to Produce Great Recordings at Home

by Jessica Brandon

Home Recording Secrets

                     Home Recording Secrets

Remember the old days of recording on a 4 track cassette recorder and find out that the recordings are to plain and you need to go a 24 track recording studio to get a great recording? Well, those days are over. An old laptop with some inexpensive gear can now produce high fidelity recordings that can rival those made in expensive studios!

However, many musicians who aren’t recording engineers can find the task of recording and producing a great track really daunting. Here are 5 great tips that home recording enthusiasts can employ right now to start getting more polished recordings…


  1. Obtain a Preamp

Plugging a guitar or microphone directly into your recording interface can often produce a very transparent sound that lacks the warmth and volume that a great track requires. There is an easy and inexpensive way to get a better source sound: plug the guitar or microphone into a preamp first.

A decent preamp one can be obtained for as little as $50 and will immediately add volume and warmth to everything that you record. A few technical things to note: First, if you buy a tube preamp, it’s best to junk the tube that comes with it and replace it with a better one (doing so requires nothing more than a screwdriver) which you can buy at a guitar shop.

An example, I used PreSonus Studio Channel for a mic preamp and it really made a difference in my recordings. I used LR Baggs Beltclip Preamp with Passive 2-band EQ for an acoustic/electric steel string guitar and it made a bug difference in the sound quality.

Secondly, keep in mind that the output of the preamp will require a balanced audio cable such as a TSR or XLR cable. Don’t try and connect the preamp to your interface with just an instrument cable, even though it will fit into the input.


  1. Obtain a Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone

It is important to get a good condenser microphone. I used a Audio-Technica AT2035 Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone for just $150.00 and I could hear the big difference compared to my previous use of Shure SM57 microphone. The Audio Technica AT2035 is widely regarded as the ideal first mic for anyone starting a home studio on a shoe-string budget. Among the dozens of terrible mics in this price range, the AT2035 is one of the few that actually delivers on its promises.

I strongly recommend that anyone mastering their own recordings, even on a shoestring budget, make purchasing a large diaphragm condenser microphone mandatory. The reason I believe in this item so dearly is that in addition to recording vocals, you can also record acoustic instruments (banjos, acoustic guitars, mandolins, etc.), light percussion (tambourines, bongos, etc.), and a whole host of other things.

If you start buying separate condenser microphones of various shapes and sizes for all of these different tasks then your wallet is going to take a beating, and the results really won’t change all that much.


  1. Obtain Good Mastering Software

I use a product called Ozone 7  by Izotope. You can get it for about $250, and older versions of the product can be had for even less. This gives a pretty cohesive, pleasing mix, with enough dynamics to master.

One thing that virtually any new home recording enthusiast inevitably says is, “my track is done, but it’s not as loud or punchy as my favorite band’s tunes are.”

Many folks will then turn to professional engineers to master their finished songs. While these consultants often do great work (at increasingly cheap rates), it is no longer required that artists use them.  If you are like me and like to record a lot of material, using a lot of outside engineer help is just too expensive.


  1. Obtain Decent Monitors

Many home recording honchos fall into the trap of buying really expensive monitors for playback. But if you are on a budget like me, nothing fancy is required.

I used a pair of PreSonus Eris E5 5.25″ Powered Studio Monitors, and I obtained it for just $275.00. These speakers sound fantastic; very balanced, plenty of Bass, plenty of volume, etc. At this price and size, you can’t go wrong.

The only important thing is to simply know how your monitors compared to other speakers. Listen to your tracks, as well as commercial recordings on headphones, car stereos, and cheap computer speakers and compare what you hear to the sound profile of your monitors. Maybe your monitors don’t project certain frequencies especially well so you know to turn those up a little bit when mixing. If you follow this rule your tracks will be just as well mixed as the guy or gal who is using an exceptionally expensive monitoring system.


  1. Avoid the overuse of Auto-Tune and other Effects

A common mistake that many musicians make when attempting in-home recording is to rely on “Cher inspired” Auto-Tune and other effects that they hear on radio, both pre-amp and post-recording, to make up for the lack of clarity, warmth and overall quality of a recording. Here at USA Songwriting Competition, we have listened to demo tracks where the auto-tune, reverb and other effects overwhelm the song to the point that it is hard for the judges to listen to the actual melody and lyric.

The most commonly over-used effect is reverb, which is all too often used to make recordings sound less ‘flat’ or ‘more professional’. However, the proper amount of reverb to use to remove the flatness of a vocal recording is rather difficult and is why so many make the mistake of drowning out their recordings by making them so ‘wet’ with reverb that the notes become slurred together and indistinguishable.

A rule of thumb should be to always try to record each track as clean as possible, avoiding pre-amp effects whenever possible, and then only using effects to do minor touch-ups or additions afterwards.


  1. Obtain a decent Mixing Control Surface

If you use a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) , you may want to use a decent DAW controller. I used a PreSonus FaderPort 8 Production Controller for less than $500. This 8-fader control surface features motorized, touch-sensitive faders that handle effortlessly and follow automation precisely. Channel controls include all the standards, such as level, pan, solo, mute, and record arm, and a full set of digital scribble strip displays also help to keep you on track. The great thing is that this FaderPort 8 has native support for PreSonus Studio One DAW (got this a few years ago for less than $400).

So, do you have any more tips you wish to add? If so, please add your comments below!

For more information on the 14th Annual IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), go to: http://www.inacoustic.com




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