By Brian Tarquin
I remember, as an adolescent in the ‘70s, recording guitar parts on my Dad’s Grundig 2-track 1/4-inch reel-to-reel tape machine, using a razor to edit the tape—which I still do today. That’s right. I find it necessary, for certain types of music, to record to 2-inch tape, especially when tracking drums, bass and rhythm guitars.
But today, of course, all one has to do is buy a computer, Mac or PC, and there are a plethora of digital recording platforms that come complete with tons of music loops to help you create songs. This takes the worry out of the recording process, letting the artist concentrate on the actual music at hand and not so much on the technical aspect of it. But all of this high-tech freedom to create doesn’t mean you can overlook some essential areas.
To help you get better results for your DIY recording projects, here are some tips and tricks that always work for me.
Combine Both the Analog and Digital Worlds
Even with the convenience of using built-in samples and recording everything in the “Box,” I find you need to combine both the analog and the digital worlds. That’s why I mix everything out of Pro Tools or Logic through my analog classic Trident recording console and use physical outboard gear, like Urei 1176, LA-4, and so on.
Though an indie artist does not have to go to that extent, if you want to record guitar I strongly recommend recording it from an amp with a very affordable mic, like a Shure SM57. Direct guitar signals are not very pleasing to listen to and many of the plug-ins have a processed sound.
Before I had a recording studio, I recorded guitar cabinets with a SM57 in my apartment in Los Angeles, I would place the amp in a closet, so as not to disturb the neighbors. To an all-digital song, this brings the track alive with an actual live instrument.
Keep in mind, if you want to change the tone of the instrument then move the mic first before you reach for any of your EQ plug ins. Usually this is the most natural and effective way.
Invest in Tools of the Trade
You would be surprised how many instruments the SM57 can record—everything imaginable. For less than a 100 bucks this is the most versatile microphone a musician can own, being able to record everything from horns to drums. There are also companies like CAD, Nady and Audix that make affordable mic sets for drums as well. Plus, depending on your digital interface you may want to use a mic preamp, which, again, a plethora of companies make from 99 bucks to thousands. One of my favorites is the Universal Audio 610.
But remember you don’t have to break the bank to get pro audio equipment today; there are so many affordable companies that manufacture gear for every price range. Bear in mind, this is a one-time expense for an essential item that you can use for many projects. If you plan on doing recording music for your livelihood, then it is a good investment.
Don’t Drown Under Too Many Tracks
This is an area where I see so many musicians drown themselves. Just because you can have unlimited tracks doesn’t mean you have to use tons of tracks for a song. If the song really calls for many tracks and crossfades, okay, then go ahead. But I still like the track limitation we had in the past—there was no choice but to stop recording take after take—simply because you would run out of tracks. Decisions had to be made when the take was completed so you could then move on.
Believe me, after 20 years doing this, 99.9 percent of times the best takes are usually within the first three; after that you can hear musicians start to wane. I advise you to label every track, such as Bass 1, Bass Chorus, Sax Solo and so on; otherwise during mixdown you’ll waste way too much time searching for the correct tracks to mix. There is nothing worse than having 45 tracks staring at you, unlabeled, for a five-minute song, in which you have to determine how to reconfigure the whole song.
Don’t Crush the Living Essence Out of Your Mix to Make It Loud
Man, when the Waves L2 Processor came out, yes it made everything loud, but destroyed so many mixes just for the sake of loudness! Music has to have some sort of dynamics, not just soaring levels constantly in the red. This is why vinyl has been making a come back in recent years, especially the old recordings, like David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs, Led Zeppelin IV, etc.—those records possess dynamics, no matter how much they rock out. Hell, even the hair bands had dynamics in their mixes.
If you crush the living essence out of your mix and make it loud, you’ll lose all of the tone of the instruments and vocals. But fortunately there is a great, affordable mastering plug-in that doesn’t squash your mix and still keeps it alive: the Slate Digital FG-X. For 200 bucks this plug-in is terrific. It keeps your dynamics in place and still gives you the loudness you need for modern-sounding tracks.
Today’s musician can be it all: the engineer, producer and artist all in the confines of their own home. So use the technology to your advantage and take your time when recording to get the performances correct. And always be well rehearsed before you hit that red button!
(Reprinted by Permission, courtesy of Music Connection magazine)
BRIAN TARQUIN is the winner of multiple Emmy Awards, having established himself as a top-rate TV composer/guitarist. In 2006 SESAC honored him with the Network Television Performance Award. In addition, Tarquin has produced and composed the Guitar Masters series, trading licks with such guitar greats as Leslie West, Steve Morse, Billy Sheehan, Frank Gambale, Andy Timmons, Chris Poland (Megadeth) and Hal Lindes (Dire Straits). For further information, visit http://tvfilmtrax.com.
For more information on IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), visit: http://www.inacoustic.com/entry.html
by Jeannie Deva
We can probably all agreethat a powerful performance is one that engages and emotionally moves the audience. There are many details that go into this achievement: from sufficient vocal technique so you can easily express and “sell” your song to performance technique; from being able to handle yourself confidently on stage to excellent mic technique; from working comfortably with the sound system and monitors to the art of how to connect with your audience, it is possible to address and develop each aspect to complete confidence.
Here are a few of the details that go into a powerful performance.
Technique versus Performance
I’m sure you’ve heard vocalists who don’t have technically developed voices, yet they really command your interest and can inspire you.
While not having the technical proficiency of a Bobby McFerrin, Pink or Rachelle Farrell, performers like Tom Petty, Mick Jagger and Bono still inspire huge audiences. Technique can give you a bigger vocabulary of sound, develop your self-confidence, and avoid vocal blow-out. But what makes one singer great and another, a bore, is the degree of life and communication projected through the song, and the resulting emotional impact on the audience.
Certainly, the emotion of a song will be barriered by a voice that goes off pitch, strains or sounds weak or bland. I’ve constructed a vocal method to help singers develop the natural workings of their voice resulting in not only in improved tone, a wide range, stamina and power but more importantly, a voice that is at your command to say what you want to say how you want to say it and not hurt yourself in the process.
Nevertheless, focus on the technical details of singing during your practice time until they become part of your approach. When you’re performing, the techniques will be there to support you while you immerse yourself in the music, your message and your audience.
More Vowel – Less Strain
A straining voice is physically uncomfortable and painful for the audience to hear. The sound of your voice is the result of sung vowels. This means that every time your vocal folds vibrate, they are creating the sound of a vowel at a certain pitch both of which are determined by you and your imagination. More basically, the melody that you sing is your vowels.
Stressing consonants closes your mouth and its internal muscles (such as the front or back of your tongue) and causes your breath to exhale quickly and forcibly. Vowels, on the other hand, require a more open mouth and utilize your breath more efficiently since the breath has to act as your vocal vibrator. It’s vital to work closely with the vowels of your words.
Choose a song and sing it through. Notice any words that coincide with points of strain. Work those phrases over, while directing your attention to the vowels of these words. As you stop pushing on the consonants and focus on the vowel, you should find yourself gaining greater vocal comfort while improving sound quality. Continue working through the song in this manner. I have a number of specific exercises to help you with this, found in my “Contemporary Vocalist” book and CD series.
Making the Song Your Own
It’s got to be your song when you sing it. Getting across the emotion of the song is what gives the song its punch. I once heard someone sing a simple, quiet song like it was a big tear-jerker. She used little “catches” in her voice to show just how much “feeling” she had. It was inappropriate for the song and created an undesirable effect on those listening. The most effective and powerful vocals are ones that are emotionally believable to your audience. Your voice is sensitive to your emotions and thoughts. The meaning you give a song will automatically influence the integrity of your sound and your impact on the audience.
Take the lyrics of a song. Look over the words to each verse. What’s the story of the song? By singing it, what do you want to say? It’s not always some deep significant message, but if you don’t understand what you’re saying and how you want to interpret it, your audience won’t either. Speaking, then singing the words aloud as though TO someone, can help you find your own interpretation.
Dynamics or Din
Contouring your song through phrasing and dynamic changes while sounding natural is essential in holding the interest of your audience. Once you’ve developed your own interpretation of the song, use the following guidelines.
To achieve an emotional build-up, you don’t always have to increase your volume. Often, an ascending pitch or melodic phrase builds emotion. You can draw back your volume at these times and create even more intensity.
Use pauses to breathe or to place greater emphasis on a key word. Ensure that your pauses stem from an understanding of what you’re saying and are natural rather than mechanical or choppy. Incorrect phrasing can obscure the meaning of your lyrics.
Giving your words equal stress is monotonous and robotic. Likewise, phrasing that is unnatural to how you would really say what you’re saying in the song will not communicate. In every sentence there are key words that carry the meaning. The others are connective or supportive which, if stressed, obscure the overall meaning. For example, if you spoke this sentence stressing the word “the,” it wouldn’t make sense. Place your emphasis on the words that will create the greatest expression and meaning.
Emphasize a word by: increasing its volume, holding it longer than the other words in the phrase, adding texture to the vowel such as a growl or rasp, or using vocal embellishments on one or more syllables of a word. For examples of these techniques, listen to Robert Plant (Led Zeplin), Chaka Khan, Patti LaBelle, Steven Tyler (Aerosmith), Patty Griffin, Kings of Leon, Christina Aguilera or Luther Vandross.
When applying these principles, keep in mind the saying: “Less is more.” Vocal acrobatics are technically impressive but will only communicate when done tastefully, in context; and spring from your emotions rather than merely an effort to impress.
Deciding what effect you want to create on your audience is the final and most important aspect of performance preparation. This enables you to make each song your own. It may be easier to sing a song glibly or pretend to be someone else, but that robs you of your own personality and you know what, the audience will pick up on it. Only by being yourself and deciding that you are singing those lyrics to each individual in your audience, will you be able to have the impact of a great performance.
You may be thinking this all seems just a bit too calculated and wouldn’t it be better to just go with the flow. Well, it is calculated. If you pre-decide where you’re going with the song, what your interpretation of it is, etc. you use that as your form. Then, within that, you can add spontaneity.
This is done to make sure that you are really in the “driver’s seat” navigating the song and its nuances. This way, both you and the audience have a mutually great experience. If you go with the flow, you are abdicating control and who knows how that will end up. All successful artists – especially those that last – control their performances and their careers.
Acoustic Music Tips: Doing a House Concert
Written by Christopher Bingham (edited by Jessica Brandon)
What’s a House Concert?
House concerts are good alternative venues to perform, especially if you are a unsigned acoustic music act. However, more established acts have performed at house concerts, making this more popular these days
A house concert is a concert in a living room. They’re happening more frequently as artists find that 25 to 40 people can fit into a living room quite comfortably. There is much less overhead, no smoke, low or no amounts of alcohol to compete with, little advertising necessary and cover charges can be whatever the artist and presenter want.
Before you start to think that this is something that only amateurs do, think again – you’d be amazed at the quality and notoriety of artists that do or have done house concerts, even when they were filling clubs and getting airplay. Often artists who play house concerts will have a show at a coffeehouse or club the same week or weekend. Imagine seeing Dar Williams or Lyle Lovett in your living room the year before they were playing large halls. It happens.
Since 1991 we’ve presented some pretty amazing artists including: (Sorry if we’ve left you out – I’m doing this from memory!) Erin Corday, Gene Burnett, Chuck Brodsky, Hand to Mouth, Carolyn Currie, Jef Jaisun, Bill Bourne, Jim Page, Scott Cossu, Lori B., Craig Olson, Katya Chorover, Cristel, Spring and Carper, Sheryl Wiser, Amy Read, Reggie Garrett, Annie Gallup, Larry Murante, Bill Davie, Janice Carper
How to present a house concert
It’s best to start planning at least two months in advance, once you’ve started speaking with artists, though some folks do it in a month. Some people treat their concerts as an ongoing series and will book the artists a year in advance.
You’ll want to ask yourself honest questions about how much time you’ll want to spend presenting house concerts. If you have a difficult time with deadlines, the time to establish methods for overcoming this difficulty is BEFORE you book anyone.
Keep in mind that touring artists live by their performances. Take your commitment seriously – a low turnout is like showing up for work and having your boss inform you that today you’re working for less than minimum wage. Not fun for anyone. That said, it’s usually a good time for all concerned. Like many good things, sometimes a little work is involved.
Finding an artist
You probably have some idea of who your favorite small time artists are already. You may have heard them on a community radio show, as a local opening act for a touring artist, at a fair or festival or even at a another house concert. Other sources for house concert artists are non-profit arts groups, web sites or booking information on the back of a self produced CD.
Now that you’re in contact with the artist and he/she/they are excited about doing a show in your living room, it’s time to work out your arrangements regarding who gets how much of what money that is generated, where will the artist be staying, food needs, how “public” you want the show to be. Make sure all of this negotiated ahead of time with the artist, preferably in writing.
We’ve chosen NOT to make the presentation of house concerts a business. (Though that doesn’t mean we’re not business like – anywhere money is involved, it’s best to keep things orderly) We usually don’t take anything but mailing expenses. For us, presenting house concerts is a labor of love. We enjoy getting to know some of the artists we present by having them stay with us for a day or three on their tour.
Some artists like being able to stay in homes as opposed to hotels. Home cooked meals, participating in the lives of the people who present you and just the pleasure of knowing friends await you in the next town can be a positive aspect of being an artist on tour. It all depends on the people involved. Be flexible.
When to present / what to advertise
Our experience shows that Saturday nights are best, but other nights can work out well if things like rush hour, and early next work days are taken into account when it comes to deciding start times. The most important factor is that the show is advertised as a “sit down concert” – audience expectation will be the difference between having a party with some poor fool making barely audible noise in the corner and having a concert that changes peoples lives.
Our invitations are a mix between a postcard and a “party” invitation. We put some kind of interesting graphic on the front with an inviting scenario and then the vital information on the inside in larger type.
Here’s an example (sans graphic – be creative!) of a house concert we did a few years ago: (Some of the names have been changed for privacy issues.)
Imagine a cool summer evening,
the scent of fresh cut grass and resinous fir
You are led to a seat surrounded by cool stone and tall trees.
Someone puts a latte in your hand.
The sun begins to set
And the music begins.
Then on the inner right hand page:
You are cordially invited to a
will perform music from his latest CD
Saturday, July 11, 1994
7:00 – 9:00pm
(doors open at 6:30)
at the home of
David and Betsy Showmaker
Non-alcoholic punch, coffee and munchies will be provided
Please feel free to bring food or beverages
There is no cover charge, but we will pass the hat
$6-15$ SUGGESTED DONATION
(More if you can, less if you can’t)
Inner left page:
Art doesn’t happen until it passes between people. Come and Participate!
This will be a non-smoking, low alcohol event. It will be held outdoors (weather permitting) If you’re allergic to cats you might want to ingest antihistamines or leave your nose at home.
Insert DETAILED directions here, with ADDRESS!
Please RSVP to Chris at (206) 555-5555 or Betsy at (206) 555-6666 and let us know how many will be in your party.
Who to Invite
Make a list of your closest 50-100 friends and their addresses. Then make a list of another 50 people you know who you’d allow into your house who you think might want to see this particular artist. Our experience is that we get a 20 to 25% turn out. We’ve been doing it long enough that we have a fairly educated audience, people know what to bring and how to behave.
We recommend little or no alcohol. People tend to not realize they’re being loud when they’re drunk.
When to mail
Send your mailing out 3 weeks in advance (Two weeks in advance at the latest!) to the 100 to 150 people on the list. Getting the invitation into the homes of your audience with enough time to plan to attend is the most important aspect of the advertising!
We’ve found that if we send the invitation too early, (more than three weeks in advance) people tend to forget about the show. Too late (less than two weeks before the show) and people have made other plans. Take delivery time into account. A piece of mail in town will take form one to three days to be delivered. We assume the longest.
It doesn’t have to be fancy – a 4X5″ postcard with the essential information will do. This $30 – 50 dollar expense can be taken from the hat or can be given as your donation. Think about how much you might spend on party – some of my best friends might spend fifty dollars on alcohol alone.
Be sure to include directions to your house/apartment, your phone number, the date and time of the show, information about food, the amount of donation you expect, artists names, “IN CONCERT” etc. We’ve found that providing drinkables and some munchies before the show, with a potluck AFTER works best for feeding people and making the music happen.
If there is an intermission, people will grab food then as well. Keep the food simple and cheap. The focus should be the music.
If you’re short on chairs, request that people bring folding chairs or pillows. We usually end up with a half circle of devoted (and limber!) fans at the feet of their favorite artist. It’s never been a problem for us.
Creating a stage
We create a stage in the corner of our living room by putting a guitar stand there in a way that says “This is the performance space.” We set the stage as if the musicians are story tellers (they often are, they just sing their stories) and they deserve the same amount of attention as if we were sitting in a theatre about to see a play.
THIS STUFF IS NOT BACKGROUND MUSIC – IT’S THE FOCUS OF THE EVENING!
Handling money – getting the folks to give
The method that seems to work best for us (and it’s not the only way by any means) since we usually don’t charge a “cover” is to suggest a donation between $6 and $15 dollars in the mailing , (more if you can, less if you can’t) and pass the hat just before the fourth song before intermission or the end of the show if there is only one long set.
It’s vital to do this during the first set – you want to make sure that everyone who comes has the opportunity and encouragement to give what they can.
It’s important that the MC (that usually means YOU the presenter) get up, SEEDED hat in hand (we have a “lucky hat” just for this purpose) and announce that the artist(s) who has given us so much this evening lives by his/her (their) art, and that if we want to see more of these events we need to give in return financially.
I usually remind people of the last time they saw a show with some “name” artist, they probably paid 20 to $25 dollars, and that our artist is as good or better, and you saw them so up close you can shake their hand.
Keep it short, try not to get in the way of the artist, but get the cash flowing.
As performers, we’ve often made more money on house concerts than at coffee house shows with the same number of attendees. That allows for people who may not have money to attend, and for people with money who want to contribute more to participate at their level.
People give more when they are excited. Have a jar placed strategically for stragglers, people who need change and check writers. The hat or jar should have sign suggesting a donation of at least $6-$15.
We also provide a place for the artist to sell their CDs and tapes and to provide a mailing list. Since Suddenly Naked keeps it’s own list, we try to centralize the list for the evening’s show and mail a copy to the artist after it’s entered. Do the follow-up ASAP.
As an artist doing house concerts, we’ve NEVER performed a house concert that didn’t have someone ask us if we’d like to do this at their house. It’s a great way to build an audience, and folks who see you at house concerts bring their friends when we do the club dates. As an individual wanting to be more involved in the music community (or beginning to build our own!) it’s a great way to meet folks of like mind.
After the concert, enjoy good food and conversation! Encourage folks to by CDs and get on the mailing list.
Decentralize the music industry – support independent artists!
(Reprinted by permission from Christopher Bingham)
For more information on IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), go to: http://www.inacoustic.com
David Francey, top winner of 7th Annual IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), is one of Canada’s most revered singer-songwriters, had both the most-played album (So Say We All) and song (“Rain”) on folk radio during May 2013, according to charts compiled by Richard Gillmann from radio playlists submitted to FOLKDJ-L, an electronic discussion group for DJs and others interested in all folk-based music on the radio. The Boxcar Lilies, a western Massachusetts-based Americana harmony trio, had both the #2 album (Sugar Shack) and song (“Lightnin’”).
The May 2013 FOLKDJ-L charts are based on 12,615 airplays from 137 different DJs. The number of reported spins (airplays) is shown in parentheses, while label and release dates appear in brackets. They are posted, with permission, on AcousticMusicScene.com.
Top Albums of May 2013
1: “So Say We All,” David Francey [Red House, 5/13] (88)
2: “Sugar Shack,” The Boxcar Lilies [boxcarlilies.com, new] (80)
“If I Needed You”
“6 Ways To Sunday”
“That Lonesome Road”
3: “Some Part Of The Truth,” Brother Sun [brothersunmusic.com, 2/13] (66)
“I Ain’t Got No Home”
“In The Name Of Love”
“Lady Of The Harbor”
“House That Jack Built”
4: “No More Rain,” The Steel Wheels [thesteelwheels.com, 4/13] (64)
“Go Up To That Mountain”
5: “These Wilder Things,” Ruth Moody [Red House, 5/13] (63)
“Dancing In The Dark”
“Trouble And Woe”
“One Light Shining”
For more information on IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), go to: http://www.inacoustic.com