Overhead Microphone Phasing And Urban Legends

Nearly every sound engineer has dealt with phase. I have showed how to cancel an entire signal simply by duplicating and inverting the signal in this video. We’ve spoken about identifying phase by using phase inversion and listening for changes in the low end. But, how do we avoid phase issues?

This article will focus on drum overheads using the spread pair technique, but the principles will hold true for other studio applications.

Spread Pair Overhead Technique.

This is when we spread our two overheads apart from each other. Personally, this is my favorite overhead mic position. It provides an exciting stereo spread of the cymbals and natural tom panning. But, it can cause phase issues! The trick to avoiding phase is to place the microphones equidistant from the sound source. But, there is more than one sound source! Which source should we measure from?

There are two schools of thought on this:

1. Equidistant From The Snare. When you listen to the overheads, the snare drum is likely to be the most audible drum. If you’re like me, you will put a high pass filter on your overheads to better isolate the cymbals. This will cut some bass drum frequencies out, making the bass drum a less important part of the overhead mix.

2. Equidistant From The Bass Drum. If you are not intending to use a high pass filter, this is the method may be for you. This is a very realistic interpretation of a drum kit. The snare is not the center of the drum kit. That position belongs to the bass drum.

The best way to avoid phase issues is to keep the mics low and therefor closer to all of the drums. This is due to the speed of sound and the relative distance the microphones are from each sound source. The greater the height and microphone spread, the greater the time smearing. This discussion will continue below…

Time Smearing Due To Microphone Spread


The speed of sound is 340 meters per second. Meaning if one overhead microphone is 4 inches further from the sound source, it will take the sound 3/10ths of a millisecond longer to reach the furthest mic. 12 inches will get you about 1 millisecond of this time smearing.

I’d like to address an urban legend. Some colleagues have attempted to convince me that I must use the bass drum as the center of my spread overheads. They explain that low frequency sound waves move slightly slower than higher frequency sound waves. And they’re right about the psychics, but they’re wrong about the math.

And here’s why:

A frequency of 10 Hz travels 0.1 meters per second slower than a sound wave of frequency 100 Hz. This however is not a scalable equation. As sound sits in the more normal audible range, this speed change is close to negligible. (And as many of us know, 10Hz is not an audible frequency.)

But, let us walk through their argument as if it were:

Picture a signal generator. 340 meters away from the signal generator is a microphone.

The speed of sound is 340 meters per second.

If the signal generator were to generate a sound wave of 100Hz, it will reach the microphone in 1 second.

Now, imagine the signal generator were to generate a sound wave of 10Hz, it will reach the microphone in 1.0003 seconds.

This is a difference of 0.0003 seconds.

That is 3/10ths of a millisecond slower than the 100Hz signal over 340 meters!

Now think about one of your drum overhead microphones being 4 inches further than the bass drum than the other overhead microphone.

100Hz signal reaches the mic in 0.00029412 seconds

10Hz signal reaches the mic in 0.00029420 seconds

A difference of 0.00000008 seconds or 8/100,000ths of a millisecond

We have now put this urban myth to bed.

Please leave your comments and feel free to contact me directly at Anthony@myrecordinginternship.com. I’ll do my best to respond to you and answer any of your questions. Now, go out there and make great music!


Record Producers Guide To Saving 306 Lives

This is a guide to being respected, feeling valued, and creating personal brand ambassadors. In PART ONE, we went over how to identify the problem clients. In PART TWO, we discussed how to hack the primal brain using dogs, Ben Franklin, and elevators. In PART THREE we focused on diffusing initial tension with an honest and forthright introduction. I promised to start giving you the silver bullets for the record ruining monsters that you see in the studio. The first monster we will deal with is reactive thinking.

Reactive thinking is a skill taught to athletes, pilots, and marines. It’s the reason they can make split second decisions when they encounter a change. It’s how professional baseball players decide what pitch is being thrown, if it’s a ball or strike, and how to best hit the pitch in less than 4 tenths of a second! Reactive thinking has also caused airplanes crashes, surgeries deaths, and your recording sessions to fall apart.

First, here’s how to train your brain to make reactive decisions:

1. Make a mental picture of how things should be. Consider the baseball player. He would picture the perfect release of a fastball that crosses perfectly in the center of the strike zone.
2. Consider the alternatives. The baseball player may picture a poor release that will guarantee a ball. He may also consider a release that causes spin on the ball. Go through every alternative to the perfect mental picture that you originally had in your head, and tell your brain what you should do in each situation.
3. Run the situation in real life as much as possible. Your brain will now process new alternatives to the perfect mental picture and attempt to come up with the proper reaction to it.

This is a skill that can make you incredibly valuable in high-pressure situations that need split second analysis. It can also cause catastrophic failures.

Air Transair Flight 236 was in danger of crashing due to reactive thinking. This airplane, carrying 306 people, had a fuel leak in the line leading to the right engine. The fuel there was leaking at a rate of a gallon per second. The onboard computer alerted the pilot that there was a fuel imbalance. This was not a part of the perfect mental picture he had in his head. Reactive thinking told him to correct it the way he had so many times before. He diverted fuel from his working engine, into the leaking engine. This caused both engines to flame out due to fuel starvation.

This seems like an illogical decision to make. But, reactive thinking isn’t based on logic. It’s more akin to muscle memory. And, if you’re wondering, the pilot recovered from this and was able to make an emergency landing by gliding his massive plane to the closest runway and doing what’s called a “dead-stick” landing. He was a very skilled, experienced, and smart pilot.

What does this have to do with your recording session? Everything! This type of thinking doesn’t just happen when you need to make split second decisions. An artist almost always has a mental picture of how their song should sound. Sometimes they have a mental picture of how the session should go, and how you should do your job. If something does not fit into the perfect picture the artist has in his head, he will attempt to remedy that.

Before I explain how to break this cycle of reactive thinking, you’ll need to understand something very important. It will not work if you’re trying to manipulate the situation in your favor. I have used this method before and it works extremely well. But, only in situations where it is in the artists best interest. I once had a band in for a preproduction session that hit a wall. I pointed out a transition that was destroying the lift of their chorus. The drummer was starting the chorus on a downbeat while the rest of the band and the vocal came in on the previous upbeat. They were literally starting to play the part at different times! After pointing it out to the drummer he told me that was how it’s supposed to go. Of course, he was referring to the mental picture in his head rather than the actual song. He was sure he was right, and would not even attempt to play it properly. Here’s what I did.

How To Break Someone Out Of A Reactive Thinking Cycle:

1. Ask for a temporary change for experimentation. Instead of saying “You’re absolutely wrong!” (Even if the person is.) Ask the person to consider it a different way.
2. Ask why he can’t try it differently. If you still get pushback ask the person why he won’t attempt it a different way. Remember that his brain is holding him hostage, and he won’t have a logical answer.
3. Show your human side. If you’re still met with a storm of no! Make a grandiose statement to diffuse the tension he’s feeling like “I’ve been known to be stuck in my ways from time to time. Truth be told, I’ve been in this situation before. It feels like some imaginary person is holding a gun to your head and telling you any change is wrong. So, you don’t try any of it. When I get that person in my head, I try to remember I’m in control. Then, I dress the imaginary person up like Wilma Flintstone and imagine that Stone Age cutie cheering me on.”
4. Explain the psychology behind his feelings. This is a last resort. People generally don’t like being told how their own brain works. Soften the blow by telling the airplane story. Don’t forget to explain how talented and smart the pilot was when he stopped thinking reactively and assessed the situation properly. If this doesn’t work on the person thinking reactively, it has a good chance of convincing his band mates to continue the conversation for you.

Now that you know how reactive thinking works, consider if you may think reactively as a creative professional. Do you cringe when you so the cheap guitar the artist brought in for the recording? Do you hear it out on the setup that he apparently thinks sounds great before starting to defend the affront to your perfect mental picture?

Ready for the next monster?


5 Key Points You Need To Hit During Your Introduction With Your Artist

How To Convince Your Client That You Know What You’re Doing (Part 3)

This is a guide to being respected, feeling valued, and creating personal brand ambassadors. In PART TWO, we went over the primal brain and first impressions. Now, we’re going to talk about your introduction. A good introduction can set the tone for the entire record. If you do this properly, you’ll establish that you are a professional and the client will feel that you are a valuable part of his recording process.

Your introduction should have one main goal. Clarify Your Role. This will go a long way to change your client’s expectations. Artists bring their musical prejudices with them to each session. When they first see you, it may remind them of a bad experience they had in a different studio. Your presence may induce fear from a client who wants to protect the integrity of the song. Or, your client may have seen too many Metallica documentaries.

Here’s how to properly clarify your role:

1. Start with “I – You – I”

Before explaining what you can do for the client, introduce yourself, and explain why you’re looking forward to working with them. Sample introduction…

“I’m so glad to be working with you. You have some fantastic grooves and melodies that I can’t wait to be a part of. Before we get started, I want to tell you a little bit about myself, and my process as a producer. I’ve been producing records for ___ years.”

2. Qualify yourself.

Add some quick resume highlights. Even if you have little to no resume, you need to find a secondary way to connect with the client. I would personally say something like this…

“I started out as an artist, so I see everything from that perspective first. But, I’ve also done A&R for an indie label, so I know how those guys think.”

(And, if you feel you have little to no resume highlights at the moment, you can use your drive and excitement as a qualifier.)

“I’m obviously a music lover, but I’m also an incredibly hard worker. I care deeply about the record we’re about to do.”

3. Tell the client how to think of you.

As strange as it sounds, telling the client how to think of you is the most important step. Here’s how you can do that…

“I want you to think of me as part of your team. We both want to make the best possible record. I’m going to give you my professional advice to help facilitate that.”

4. Default to the client’s decision.

This little piece of reverse psychology is very disarming. Letting the client know that she can overrule you will stop the power struggle before it gets started. It will also tip the power towards the producer! You just qualified yourself, then told the client you’re going to do anything you can to make the record better. Now, throughout the session you can say things like “Hey, just give this a try. If you don’t like it after we hear it this way, we’ll go back to the old way.” In my experience, the client will at least try the vast majority of your ideas. Here’s how I would add that to my introduction…

(“I’m going to give you my professional advice to help facilitate that.”) “But, I was an artist, and I understand that you need to love your music. It takes a lot of drive to go out and tour on a record. I don’t think I would have gotten through it if I didn’t love what I was playing. So, if we try out an idea and you don’t like it, I want you to feel comfortable telling me that. We can try other ideas or head right back to the original way it was played.”

5. Get to work.

End your introduction by actually starting to work. You may want to show the client how you’re planning to mic the drums, or talk to the client about her tempo changes. Show the client that you care about the record by talking audio while you set up the session. Say something like…

“So, lets get this record started. Could you come inside with me and make sure these drum microphones are in good spots for you? Drummers play differently, and I don’t want you to adjust your style to my microphone placement.”

Remember that this is likely to happen in conversation form. So, learning this monologue is not as important as understanding what points you want to make during this introduction discussion. Here is the entire introduction…

“I’m so glad to be working with you. You have some fantastic grooves and melodies that I can’t wait to be a part of. Before we get started, I want to tell you a little bit about myself, and my process as a producer. I’ve been producing records for ___ years.

I started out as an artist, so I see everything from that perspective first. But, I’ve also done A&R for an indie label, so I know how those guys think. I want you to think of me as part of your team. We both want to make the best possible record. I’m going to give you my professional advice to help facilitate that. But, like I said, I was an artist. I understand that you need to love your music.

It takes a lot of drive to go out and tour on a record. I don’t think I would have gotten through it if I didn’t love what I was playing. So, if we try out an idea and you don’t like it, I want you to feel comfortable telling me that. We can try other ideas or head right back to the original way it was played.

So, lets get this record started. Could you come inside with me and make sure these drum microphones are in good spots for you? Drummers play differently, and I don’t want you to adjust your style to my microphone placement.”

I hope that this introduction will convince your client that you are a valuable part of the team. If you do this properly, you’ll avoid butting heads with the client for the majority of the record. In PART FOUR of this series, we’re going to talk about handling problems and disagreements that come up during the record. These situations can turn into record ruining monsters! But, I have silver bullets ready for you.


How To Hack The Primal Brain Using Dogs, Ben Franklin, And Elevators

Part two of our “How to convince your client that you know what you’re doing” series.

This is a guide to being respected, feeling valued, and creating personal brand ambassadors. In Part One, we went over how to identify the problem clients. In Part 2, we will discuss how to make and change first impressions. Here’s how to hack the primal brain using dogs, Ben Franklin, and elevators. Note: These tactics are very powerful. Only use them if it benefits both you and your client.

1. Why your dog seems to know what you’re thinking

We’ve all been in a situation where we know we’re being judged. Opinions are constantly being formed, and they are most commonly formed based on feeling. Consider how illogical that is.

In a split second, the brain makes a primal decision. Friend or Foe? This decision is made by a part of the brain that we do not fully control. We actively read body language. But we passively read faces. And we’re very good at it.

Have you ever wondered why your dog seems to know what you’re thinking? Dogs and humans look at human faces the same way. We look at each half of the face separately from left to right while searching for that person’s intent. Face’s are NOT symmetrical. Expressions work across our faces. So being able to read each side separately is powerful. Perfection is alien. That’s why when you symmetrically invert Sylvester Stallone’s face in a photo… [images style=”0″ image=”https%3A%2F%2Fwww.myrecordinginternship.com%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2016%2F04%2Fa75XWVA_700b.jpg” width=”700″ align=”center” top_margin=”0″ full_width=”Y”]

He looks like an alien!

We consciously look for symmetry and ignore imperfections in that symmetry. This leads us to believe things are symmetrical. It’s also the reason we recognize face shapes while looking at craters on the moon or mountain structures on Mars. The imperfections in symmetry is what shows that persons emotions.

I will explain how to train your face using elevators in a moment. But, lets go over a much simpler way to hack into the primal brain.

2. The Ben Franklin Effect

“He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself have obliged.” – Benjamin Franklin

A person feels obligated to do favors out of kindness. Completing a favor gives that person a sense of pride, accomplishment, and completion. The brain is pleased by these feelings and the brain attaches you (the person who asked for this favor) to these feelings.

As a music producer, I ask for something that will help me produce the record I’m working on. Simple requests do work, but leading requests work more consistently.

Simple request: “Could you bring that guitar you mentioned?”

Leading request: “That guitar is going to be a huge help to me. I need it for the record. You can bring it, right?”

Leading requests are more exciting. The favor sounds larger than it really is. This will correlate directly with the pleasure your client feels when she does you that favor.

3. Elevators – The rise of walking emoticons

Training your face to display the proper intention cannot be done alone. A mirror is of no use to you. You need someone who does not have a set opinion on you to read your face. So, you cannot practice with friends or family. That’s why you should use elevators.

In an elevator, you will meet people who have no intention of talking to you. Start by engaging people in the elevator in conversation. Use your face to say things silently. Show surprise, concern, joy, pain, and other emotions without saying a word. Keep mental notes on which faces worked to move the conversation in the direction you wanted it to go. After you begin to really understand how to use your face in conversation, start conversations using only your face.

I personally thought this was a fun exercise. After getting the hang of it, I would enter a crowded elevator and stand towards everyone. I would be the only person facing the back of the elevator. This afforded me a lot of eye contact with people who were unsure about my intentions. It’s amazing how different the reaction will be when you change your face emotions. I was able to make people laugh without speaking! They’d smile and even laugh if I was displaying the right amount of surprise and happiness in my expression. I would be asked if I were okay if I displayed sadness with my face.

If you happen to be a fan of the television show “The Office” than you’ve seen this in action. Those actors do single camera candid shots and talking head style shots that move the story along without any dialogue.

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Look at the lips from left to right. They show a slight curve up at first and a straightening towards the right. This person has mixed emotions in his lips. It leads you to believe he is concerned about something. Of course, when you look at it as a whole you can tell by this expression that he is very troubled or concerned at the moment. But remember, that’s just your brain doing all the work for you.

So… dogs know your intentions, Ben Franklin is a brain hacker, and elevators are a great place to meet new people.

In the next article, we will speak about convincing a client you’re valuable while you work with them.

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How to convince your clients that you know what you’re doing (Part 1)

This is a guide to being respected, feeling valued, and creating personal brand ambassadors. Music producers work with artists from all walks of life. The artists have different skill sets and varying levels of experience. But, you’re the producer. You have A LOT of jobs to do. You manage the sessions, help structure the songs, place the microphones, get the tones, supervise the performances, edit the audio, stop the artist from making mistakes that they’ll regret later, and that’s just scratching the surface. Even with all of that in mind, I still see this as a dream job. But, there’s one thing that can quickly turn this dream into a nightmare.

Your clients!

Part 1 of this series explains how to spot the problem client.

Identify the person who will give you the most trouble. The problem clients come in several forms, but they are very easy to spot.

Here are the archetypes I most commonly see:

1. The know it all. This person has went to school for music. They have their nose up in the air while they explain their grasp on music theory.

2. The know it all audio student. This person is going to or has went to school for audio. He is probably the person telling you how to use the microphone you’ve owned for 6 years in a room that you spent months fine-tuning.

3. The hobbyist. This person will quickly say something like “That’s not how I do it in garage band.” Or “I read an article on what you’re doing. I should forward it to you.”

4. The idealist. This person will tell you how the record has to be produced with absolutely no real knowledge on the subject. Watch for statements that contradict themselves like “I want the drums to sound like they do on that Taylor Swift song, but there’s no way we’re using any drum samples. We have to record it live like Rage Against The Machine!”

5. The quiet leader. This person hides in plain site. The entire band defaults to his decisions, and look at him every time you ask a question about their music. He is comfortable being king of his small group, and he is waiting to see you fall in line so he can secretly run the session himself.

6. The too cool. This person has worked with other producers that he considers more high-end than you. He’ll spend most of the session telling you how good the other producer was while second-guessing everything you do. You may even hear something like “I don’t want to tell you how to do your job, but I’ve been in the studio before.” Followed by him telling you how to do your job.

Have you dealt with any of these archetypes? I’d love to hear about it in the comment section.

Now you know how to spot the clients who are most likely to mess up your workflow, turn the band against you, and ruin what can be a great record. In Part 2, we’ll learn how to disarm these record ruining time bombs by gaining their respect and confidence.

If problem clients are a real worry for you, you’re not alone. I originally spoke about this subject with the interns I’m currently transitioning to producer roles. They’ve worked on dozens of records with me and are very capable of doing the job. What they’re worried about is dealing with difficult clients. Here’s what I told them…

Please check back for Part 2 on April 14th.


5 Reasons Music Producers Should Sleep Around

I chose the term music producers carefully. Not only should record producers sleep around; I think artists should sleep around as well. Anyone involved in producing musical content needs to experience different music. If you’re a metal producer, spend some time with alternative rock or pop. Don’t tell me that working with pop artists will make you less metal. Machine produced Lamb Of God and Fallout Boy. If you’re a pop vocalist, try out some rock. Even Britney Spears loved rock and roll. You should get into bed with every genre of music you can for these 5 reasons:

1. Where’d you learn that from? When you work with different genres you pick up new tricks of the trade. You might find out that layering and spreading vocals on pop songs works great when you want ambient screams on a metal song. (It does. Try it out.) Different genres have different best practices. As you explore the genre, you’ll figure out what they are and how to use them. The next step is adapting them to your core genre.

2. I’m going to put this somewhere it’s never been. You know how to bring production elements. Now, it’s time to bring actual sounds. 808’s are used in everything from pop to metal. Where did they start? Pop … but that’s okay metal heads. You have made it your own.

3. Don’t knock it till you try it. You’ve heard this phrased different ways. My favorite version is a bit more descript. I once told a friend that I’d never date a smoker. Her response “Until you meet a smoker you want to date.” You may think a genre is terrible. Maybe you hate the simple progressions that have made pop punk a major musical genre. But one day, there will be a punk band you like (no matter how many cigarettes they smoke.) *I mentioned joining online communities in “How To Skip Audio Engineering School (Part 2)” Let me take a moment to acknowledge how a pop punk Facebook group has brought new music lovers to the scene lately. I’m a member of the “Defend Pop Punk Group” on Facebook. That community is all about having fun and being supportive. Participating in that group will teach you about musical psychology. Music is something we lean on, and in that group, people ask questions like “I need some songs to listen to. The guy I like just got a girlfriend. Suggestions?” I know some of you think that’s childish. But, listening to music during particular emotional states can help. They can get you ready to go out and have fun with your friends. They can also bring you back to the place you were when you first listened to it. That’s a good thing and a bad thing. I don’t consider myself hyper-emotional, but there are some songs I purposely skip because they bring back memories I rather not relive. I suggest my producer and musician friends join that group and learn from its members.

4. I’m sick of doing this missionary sweetie. Do something to impress me.Different genres have different structural staples. A music producer that sleeps around can bring these one-time structure and arrangement staples to new genres. One of my favorite is the whole step modulated chorus. This comes primarily from country, but it can be used in everything from metal to pop punk. It’s as easy as creating a quick pause, and then playing the final chorus up 2 frets on guitar and bass. It’s a little more complicated for keyboard players due to chord shapes. But, for those of us with a chromatic fret board in front of us, this is simple. It’s also very effective, and it shows some musical prowess.

5. Lets make a baby. I just scared every guy reading this! But, when you know your child is on the way, you hope it has the best genes. Which usually means that you hope the baby has her smile, her eyes, and if you’re in love, pretty much her everything. A child is given genes from its parents. Thousands of years of genetics go into making a new human. Do you do the same amount of research when creating new music? When we make a baby we want it to have all of the best genes. When making new music, you can afford it all the best genes by investing your time. Learning what makes great music in different genres will give you a sort of genetic edge.

If I haven’t convinced you to study new musical styles, please read “The Four Dimensional Record Producer.” It may take a different type of thinking to get you there, and this article explains producers should approach a song in order to get the best mix. The more you focus on how to get the best finished product, the more you’ll want to learn from other musical genres.

Please leave your comments and feel free to contact me directly at Anthony@myrecordinginternship.com or at my facebook page https://www.facebook.com/AntSantoMusicProducer I’ll do my best to respond to you and answer any of your questions. Now, go out there and make great music!


How To Structure A Song (Part 2)

Song Modifiers

We spoke about basic song structure last week. Now, you’re able to identify the sections the verse, chorus, and bridge. If you haven’t read How To Structure A Song (Part 1), you may be confused by a few of the terms I’m going to use. So, give part 1 a read first. As you’ve been listening to songs with basic structure in mind, I’m sure you’ve noticed structure deviations. As an artist or producer you should focus on creating interesting structures that make songs stand apart from each other. Well written and produced record have different styles, tempos, moods, feels, and STRUCTURES. So, how do you deviate from the basic song structure? Here are 4 song structure modifiers you can use.

1. Pre Chorus. The pre chorus separates the verse from the chorus. You’ll be able to identify a pre chorus by listening for a different chord progression or a different vocal motif after the verse and before the chorus. This part is used to set up the chorus so you’ll likely hear a mood change as well. You might hear a drop in dynamic in the pre chorus. This is a popular arrangement trick. Softening the dynamic allows for the chorus to have more impact.

2. Intro. There’s a lot of confusion about this song modifier. Every song has a beginning (or intro.) Not every song has the song modifier referred to as “intro.” In terms of structure, an intro is a different part of the song that does not happen again (Except in rare cases where it’s also used as an outro.) This also means that an intro can be a part of a song played without vocals for a few chord rotations. So, if the chorus is played at the beginning of a song, without vocals, it can be considered an intro. To help you better understand intros, I’m going to link to Say Anything’s “Alive With The Glory Of Love.” The intro happens just once at the beginning of the song.

3. Theme. Themes and intros are very similar, but themes need to happen more than once. A theme is likely to be heard at the beginning of songs. It’s considered a theme because it can be used to set the mood of the song. It likely has a catchy instrumental top line. The theme will repeat after choruses. To help you understand the idea of a theme, I’m going to link to Paramore’s “Misery Business.” The theme starts the song, and come back two more times. You can find it after the first chorus and the last chorus.

4. Post Chorus. A post chorus occurs immediately after the chorus. This song modifier is used to transition out of the chorus and into a verse or bridge. So, a post chorus is different than a theme because a theme happens at the beginning of the song and likely has a catchy instrumental top line. A post chorus does not happen at the beginning of a song. A post chorus is just as likely to have a vocal topline, as it is to have an instrumental one. Now, I’m going to make one more distinction so that I cover all bases. But this distinction is not an incredibly important one. If a post chorus is used at the beginning of a song without a vocal or instrumental topline, that part is considered an intro.

Use these song structure modifiers to help build the song. Each modifier you use needs to have a purpose. Consider how the theme was used in “Misery Business.” It created an in your face feel and provided an instrumental hook. We haven’t gone over all of the song modifiers yet so keep an eye out for Part 3.


How To Structure A Song (Part 1)

Properly Identifying Song Sections

Maintaining proper song structure while creating original and innovative music is much more impressive than ignoring structure all together. There will always be a place for progressive music, and there will always be some artists making incredible progressive songs. But generally, if you structure your songs like this: riff one, heavy part, groove, calm part, solo, ending riff… thank you. Sincerely, I really am grateful. You are one of the reason producers exist. Producers study song structure. They can change that collection of riffs into a song.

So how do we do it? First, we learn how to identify each part of the song. These 3 parts are in every properly structured song:

1. Verse. In the most basic song structure (Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus, Chorus) the verse is the part the song starts on. It also serves as the first separation between choruses. You’ll be able to identify the verse by its lyric changes and chord progression. In verses, the lyrics change. The second verse vocals will not be the same as the first verse vocals. The verse may also have a specific chord progression, but that is not a rule. A lot of top charting songs use the same chords in the verse and chorus.

2. Chorus. The chorus should be the easiest part to identify. You will hear it at least three times in a song. This is where the artist puts the “A hook.” The top line hook is usually a vocal singing words that fit a specific vocal motif.
* Top Line – The melody that stands out from the chords. It is usually a vocal but can be an instrument.
*A’ Hook – The primary catchy melody in a song.
*Vocal motif – A melodic pattern used in repetition. The words can change, but the melodic pattern stays constant.

3. Bridge. You won’t hear the bridge of the song until two verses and at least two choruses have been completed. In a basic song structure it will come after the second chorus. But, in a song that intros on the chorus, it will come after the third chorus. A new melody and/or chord structure will be introduced at this point. In some advanced structures, the bridge will not come directly after the chorus.

Keep this in mind while you listen to music. You should be able to identify these 3 parts even when you’re listening to more advanced structures. The next article in this series will explain song structure modifiers. That’s where you can have some real fun.


Part 2


How To Tell If Your Band Is Ready To Record A Full-Length

I’m taking a week off from the “How To Skip Audio Engineering School” series to answer a question I get a lot. As a producer or an artists, I can say with 100% certainty that you’ll eventually come across this question.

Should I do a full-length record or an EP?

You’re getting geared up for a recording and the first question crossing your mind is should I do an EP or a full-length. Everyone you’ve spoken with has a vested interest in you doing more songs. Your fans want as many songs as they can get, the studio you’re recording at makes more money if you do a full-length, and your mom really likes that soft song you wrote a few years ago and insists you record it.

I’m about to do something so counter-intuitive that you won’t believe I say it to my clients. Hi, I’m a record producer and I’m going to do everything I can to talk you out of doing a full-length before your ready.

1. What three artists do you fit on tour with?

Be careful with this question. It has a tendency to devolve into a conversation about influences as quickly as a bad Rolling Stone article. Stay focused on the core of this question. You only fit on tour with artists who have similar fans as you. If you can name three artists who’s fans would appreciate you, you have an understanding of your sound (you may be ready to do your full-length). If you can’t or other band members disagree whole-heartedly, you do not have a clear enough understanding of your own sound (start with an EP).

2. Do you have enough material?

When a national act records a ten-song record, it’s likely that they wrote more than ten songs. Don’t stop writing at ten. If you stop writing at ten songs, you will likely have 5-7 that show off your artistic potential and 3-5 that don’t. Contrary to popular belief, putting the first ten songs you write on a record together as your debut is usually a mistake. If you have ten songs, pick your favorite five, and do an EP. If you have more songs, you’re much more likely to be prepared for a full-length.

3. How many different tempos do you use?

This is a great way to self-police your music. A full-length should take you on a ride with the tempos. There should be peaks and valleys created by tempo difference. There are rare cases where this isn’t 100% true (ie: Street Punk). If you have too many songs that hover around 120 bpm, time to ditch a few. That may mean that an EP is the way to go for now.

4. Have you explored different time signatures and feels?

Really think about this one. Having one song in a 6/8 time signature doesn’t cut it. Try a swing feel, write in 7/8, write a riff-centric song, write a feel-centric song, use dynamic shifts to write a song softer than your softest song, then write one heavier than your heaviest song. Varying time signatures, feels, and dynamics helps you find your musical identity and makes for a more interesting full-length. If you haven’t explored this yet, start with an EP.

5. Are you organized enough to capitalize on a full-length record?

There are a lot of benefits to doing a full-length, but most of them call for an organized effort on your part. You may save some money by booking longer sets of time or doing more songs at once. This only matters if you’re ready to move units. Doing a full-length lets you capitalize on economies of scale by buying more recording at a cheaper per unit cost. It also lets you increase your return on investment. You can usually charge about $5 for an EP and $10 for a full-length. When you start looking at the cost of printing hardcopies of your CDs (which is still very important when it comes to touring and having events like a CD release party) you’ll see they vary according to how many you buy, but the price is likely to be between $1 and $3 per CD. Lets use the CD duplication cost of $2 per cd for this example. You spent $2 per unit on EP duplication. You sell it for $5. You make $3. It’s pretty simple math, but when you compare it to a full-length you see a big difference in profit-per-unit. You spent $2 on full-length duplication. You sell it for $10. You make $8. That is a per unit profit of 266% more than your EP. If you have the ability to book a proper CD release show and make arrangements for touring/record promotions, you’re ready to do a full length.

You now know what the next step. This guide is to help you choose between an EP and a full-length. If you know now that you aren’t ready for a full length, it’s time for an EP. So, don’t put everything on hold and lock yourself in a room till your ready for your full-length. An EP can help you answer a lot of these questions. It’s a great way to test how your music is connecting with your fans. You can get real feedback, and your fans can show your music to their friends. This will increase your viral fan-base growth. The experience you get by recording will help you as you continue to write, and you’ll have a better understanding of your own songs. No matter which route you choose, send me a link to the finished product. I can’t wait to hear what you come up with!


How to Skip Audio Engineering School (Part 2)

How To Skip Audio Engineering School

If you read part 1, you already know why you should skip audio school. You also know that I skipped audio school and you probably remember this amazing fact: 5 out of the last 5 producers that won the Producer of the Year Grammy don’t have an audio degree!

In this article, I’m going to layout the steps you need to take in order to skip audio engineering school.

How To Skip Audio School

1. Give yourself a budget for learning. You’re about to teach yourself a lot about audio engineering. Get the right tools. You’ll need a computer and a DAW. A DAW is a Digital Audio Workstation. I personally recommend Pro Tools. It is the industry standard. That means you will be able to walk into most studios in the country and start working on Pro Tools. That can’t be said for other DAWs. If you want some help choosing the right computer, click here.

2. Set a schedule. Set aside time every-week specifically for your audio education. This can be an hour a day or 40 hours a week. You can learn at whichever pace you want, but don’t allow yourself to stop or stray from your schedule. Remember, this is not a hobby. This is your career.

3. Find some relevant blogs and YouTube channels. I aim to be your number 1 source for free training and free information. However, it’s always good to explore many blogs and YouTube channels.

4. Join Online Audio Communities. I’m a member of several online audio communities. The information in these communities is not always 100% accurate, but people are sharing knowledge about what works for them. You can pickup some good ideas from these communities. You can find them on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other sites created specifically for audio engineers.

5. Find professional quality audio files to work on. It’s hard to tell what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong when you’re working with amateur audio. You should be practicing your edits and processing (EQing, Compressing, etc.) on professionally recorded tracks. That way, you know that there aren’t major flaws in the sound quality. I know that it’s difficult to get your hands on professionally recorded tracks. So, I’m going to leave a Pro Tools session file right here for you.

6. Practice recording. You’ll need to eventually start working with artists. I highly recommend practicing editing, processing, mixing, and mastering before you ever work with an artist. But, when you’re ready, you’ll need to tap into that budget you made for yourself during step 1. Remember, when you acquire recording gear, you will be able to record artists. You’ll have what you need to start the career you want. First, you’ll need an interface (which converts the analog signal from your microphone into a digital signal that your computer can process and understand) and you’ll need microphones. This article will tell you exactly what you need to put together that recording studio. Click here

7. Find a producer you trust. You’ll need advice from someone who has been successful doing what you are trying to do. Find a full-time producer who’s willing to help you round out your edges. There are great resources for this online. It’s likely that producers will charge a fee to examine your sessions and give you professional feedback, but it can really help you get better at your craft. Budget for this. I also recommend attempting to get a recording internship at an active studio. The best way to do this is to bring in business. So, the small recording studio you personally set up will be the catalyst for this. Keep recording bands. You can do it for free or charge low rates, but this is about practicing and building relationships. Soon, these bands will want to take their sound to the next level by going to the type of studio that has $4000 microphones and acoustically treated rooms. You may be able to leverage your relationships with the bands, into an internship.

8. Never stop learning. So you made it. Your recordings are sounding good, and artists want to work with you. You have an edge. But, you need to constantly be a student. Look into processes that you take for granted. You might find out that your noise shaping you use during dithering isn’t as good as it can be. As boring as that may sound, that’s some of the advanced stuff that you’ll be thinking about when you get further into your career as an audio engineer.

9. Build Relationships With Other Producers. Keep going to those communities you joined. Invite someone you respect to co-produce a record with you. Share your new techniques. Other producers will respect you for it. They’ll know you by name, and they might even send a project your way.

10. Build your own studio. Some of us may have no interest in running a business. Freelancing can make you a great living. But, the best way to make a lucrative living as an audio engineer/producer is to own your studio. You will now make what you made as an engineer plus you’ll collect fees for studio time. You’ll have a lot more control over your income, and you can rent it out to your producer friends.

I know that I may come off as anti-school. I’ve been accused of that before. I assure you that I am pro-education. I’m just anti-getting ripped off. Some recording colleges cost $80,000 or more. If you could educate yourself, you’ll take on less debt and have enough left over to buy some amazing gear. In my next article I will dig further into a few of these steps. And remember, as a leader in free education, I have over 100 lessons available for free inside this site. Just click here to get started.