The Most Important Piece of Equipment in Your Home Studio?

[Editors Note: This article was written by Dom Morley, a 20-year industry veteran and owner of The Mix Consultancy. Dom is a Grammy Award-winning engineer and producer, and has worked with artists like Sting and Adele, as well as producers such as Tony Visconti and Mark Ronson.]

 

If I were to ask you “What is the most important item of equipment in your studio?”, what is the first thing you think of? For a lot of people it’s their favourite instrument, or their most expensive outboard compressor, and that’s understandable. These are the big-ticket items that you saved a long time for and you’re very happy with. However, if your answer wasn’t “my speakers” then I’m afraid your answer was wrong.

Your monitors (aka speakers) are both the most important part of your studio and the part that you use the most (with the exception of, possibly, your chair – but that’s another topic). You can’t really be sure how sweet the tone on your trusty sunburst Les Paul is, nor how much your Korg MS20 is delivering that bass swell unless you can hear them accurately. Equally, if your monitors aren’t up to scratch then dialling in the perfect punch on your expensive bus compressor will be more down to luck than judgement.

So how do we go about choosing our perfect monitors? Here are a few tips:

  1. Budget. Remember that we are talking about the most important bit of gear in your studio, then budget accordingly. Save up. Push the boat out. All those phrases. There’s not much I find more frustrating in this world than seeing someone jamming on their £10k-worth of modular synth whilst listening on £200 speakers. “YOUR SYNTH MAKES AMAZING SOUNDS BUT YOU CAN’T HEAR THEM ON THOSE THINGS!” (That’s me, shouting at YouTube).
  2. Try before you buy. As this is going to be a big purchase, you want to make sure that you get it right. The second-hand market is a minefield that I would personally avoid as it’s easy to trash a pair of monitors by listening too loud for too long. Also, hit ‘play’ on your DAW with monitors on full and the instant hit on the cones will damage both your hearing and those cones. Do that a few times and they’ll need to be replaced. If you’re buying second-hand then you don’t know if the previous owner has been doing this, unless you buy from someone that you know well and are familiar with their working practices (and volumes). So, you’re unfortunately better off buying new (and I’m saying that as someone who loves a bargain). Here’s the best way to go about it: Find the biggest music equipment store that you can get to and give them a call. Tell them that you’re looking to buy a pair of monitors and what your budget is. If you have a couple of pairs that you’re interested in then ask to try them and whatever else the store suggest.Any big store worth it’s salt will have a way to set up a few different types of monitor which a customer can switch between to choose a pair that suits them well. Get an appointment booked in and bring along a few reference tracks. I’d recommend both something you’ve been working on that you really know the sound of, and also a favourite album that you’ve listened to a million times. Then all you have to do is pick the pair that give you the most information. This isn’t the pair that sound the most exciting (probably too much bass or treble), but the pair that tells you something about your mix / favourite record that you didn’t know before. Those monitors are keepers.
  3. We need to talk about NS10s. These are the classic, white-coned, Yamaha studio speakers that we’ve all seen in every studio photo ever taken. They’re not made any more and although you can find the originals second-hand, and there are new versions of a similar design out there. I love them. Some people hate them. Here is why: NS10s give you loads of mid-range. This is why they are accused of being ‘harsh’ or ‘hard’, or worse adjectives. But, within those frequencies that NS10s give you in spades are all the vocals, the snare, most of your electric guitars, saxophones, violins, etc. So, what you get to do with NS10s is work in detail with all those really important lead instruments.If you use NS10s for what they are good at then they are amazing, but there’s way too much hype and mis-information about them. I’ve used them for years and so they work well for me when I’m doing detailed work in the mid-frequencies. Outside of that work I use something else.
  4. Headphones. There is a bit of a debate over the use of headphones in mixing too, but I’m a big fan. We can get all technical about panning and the way that things panned fully left are still heard by the right ear through speakers and not through headphones and so on, but really that’s just an argument against mixing only with headphones, which I’d agree is not a great idea. However, headphones have one thing going for them that no speakers in the world can boast: the room treatment has no effect on their sound. This can be invaluable if your studio isn’t professionally built and you know there are problems in, for example, the bass response of the room. That also works when you are on the move, which is again a huge advantage.I prefer open-backed headphones as they sound more natural to me, and because I have a quiet studio I don’t need the sound-proofing of closed-backed headphones. You may find the opposite works better for you. In terms of buying headphones, please see points 1 & 2 above.

So hopefully now you are armed with a bit more information about what to look for in monitors, and how to find that. The better you can hear your mix, then the better your mix will be. And if you ever find yourself stuck on a mix then remember to hit up The Mix Consultancy and I’ll give you a helping hand (ear).

Introducing YouTube Music – YouTube’s New Streaming Service

YouTube has long been the go-to platform for all things video – whether it’s series, news, music videos, viral user generated content or everything in between. Along the way, it also became a hugely popular destination for just general music streaming and discovery.

Meanwhile its parent, Google, established its own streaming and download service Google Play Music. Both entities offer expansive access to music new and old, and it appears that there is a desire to serve users all in one location.

Now, YouTube has announced that their new music streaming service will be launching on Tuesday, May 22 in five markets – U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, and South Korea. YouTube Music will be offered both as a free, ad-supported app and a paid subscription service (YouTube Music Premium).

If you’ve been following TuneCore’s ‘Monthly Industry Wrap-Up’ series, you know that there’s been chatter of a new launch from YouTube, originally rumored to be titled ‘YouTube Remix’.

YouTube is referring to its new service as a “reimagined mobile app and brand new desktop player that are designed for music”, featuring “thousands of playlists, the official versions of millions of songs, albums, artist radio and more, in addition to all the music videos people expect”.

YouTube Music Premium subscriptions will run a user $9.99/month, and any Google Play Music subscribers will receive this membership as a part of their subscription each month.

YouTube has assured Google Play Music users that nothing will be changing in terms of how they access all of their purchased music, uploads and playlists on the app.

What Does This Mean For TuneCore Artists?
All in all, TuneCore Artists who have their releases live on YouTube and Google Play do not need to take any action.

Moving forward, the option to release your music on YouTube Music will be offered alongside all of the store partners we currently distribute to – if you haven’t already, adding your previously distributed releases here will be free of charge. (This was formerly offered in the TuneCore distribution dashboard as “YouTube Art Tracks”.)

What stands to benefit independent artists using TuneCore to distribute their new releases is YouTube’s increased focus on music discovery. In addition to a user-friendly search function (such as using lyrics and descriptions of unknown songs they may have heard elsewhere), YouTube Music’s home screen will adapt to a user’s listening history, location and activities:

At the airport? We’ll recommend something relaxing before the flight. Entering the gym? We’ll suggest some beats to get the heart-rate going.

That means your music has a greater chance of being discovered by people who aren’t necessarily searching for songs by name yet.

On top of that, YouTube Music will offer thousands of playlists based on genre and mood, a method of discovery and music consumption that has more than proven to be effective in boosting the profile of up-and-coming or otherwise under-the-radar independent artists.

Elias Roman’s (Product Manager – YouTube Music) blog post also indicates that YouTube Music will launch soon in Austria, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany and other territories, and also teases the soon-to-be-launched YouTube Premium app – head over there to learn more.

As always, TuneCore Artists can reach out to our world class Artist Support team with any further inquiries.

Introducing: Two-Factor Authentication For TuneCore Accounts

At TuneCore, our biggest priorities are helping independent artists get their music online and making sure that they keep 100% of the sales revenue owed to them. But of course just as the digital music landscape evolves, so too do the realms of online privacy and security. We value our artist community and want to make sure their TuneCore accounts are secure, which is why we’re introducing the opportunity to opt into what’s known as “Two-Factor Authentication”.

Two-Factor Authentication is becoming a relatively mainstream security measure online – whether it’s your email client or your favorite food delivery app, brands want to ensure that their users are the only ones who can sign into their respective accounts at any given time.

The process essentially gives users the chance to confirm to the platform (in this case, your TuneCore Dashboard) that it is in fact them signing in, and it’s done so by simply sending them a code to enter in order to verify that.

TuneCore Artists who take advantage of Two-Factor Authentication will have the option of receiving verification codes via text or phone call.

Before we explain our new process further, let’s be clear: Two-Factor Authentication is completely optional for TuneCore artists, and our introducing it is not the result of a hack or data breach. We’re simply taking steps to give our community new options when it comes to keeping their accounts secure.

If you’re interested in taking new measures to keep your account and funds safe, read on for instructions.

Keep in mind that after setting up Two-Factor Authentication, you’ll be sent a verification code to use alongside your standard password when you sign into your TuneCore account or change any sensitive information.

First, log in to your TuneCore account – once in your Dashboard, head over to “Account Settings”. There, you’ll see the option to enable Two-Factor Authentication, and you can click “Get Started”.

Next, you’ll be prompted to do the following:

  1. Enter the email address and password associated with your TuneCore account;
  2. Enter your country and phone number;
  3. Select which mode of communication you’d prefer for verification codes:
    1. Text Message
    2. Phone Call

Once you’ve chosen your preferred method of receiving codes, TuneCore will send you your first code to enter. If all goes well, you’re account will officially be set up with Two-Factor Authentication! Congrats – you’ve officially taken steps to make sure your TuneCore account is safer.

As always, if you have further questions about Two-Factor Authentication, please reach out to our stellar Artist Support team here.

How Streaming Platforms Are Changing Music Promotion and Discovery

[Editors Note: This article was written by Patrick McGuire.]

As music streaming giants like Spotify and Apple Music continue to transform and revitalize the music industry, artists are just beginning to fully comprehend the seemingly limitless potential of new music discovery and promotion technology in 2018’s musical landscape. Songwriters and musicians continue to struggle to financially cope in a world with that’s almost completely shifted to streaming music over owning it seemingly overnight, but a slew of new analytic and discovery features delivered by streaming platforms could be the silver lining artists have been waiting for.

Spotify, who has yet to make a profit as a company, isn’t able to pay compensate an artist much money when one of their songs gets streamed through their platform, but they are able to help in other ways. Through tools like their Discover Weekly playlist, Spotify has made significant investments in helping new music find an audience. A thoughtful mixture of human curation and algorithm genius is helping new and unknown artists connect and resonate with fans in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago. Will 100,000 plays on a big streaming platform earn a band enough money to pay all of their bills? No, but that sort of exposure might give a new artist enough attention to find opportunities that can.

The music industry’s newfound collective acceptance of music streaming is one of the driving factors behind what many are calling music’s big comeback, but new opportunities for exposure and promotion ushered in by streaming platforms and playlist culture deserves a good amount of the credit.

Last summer, an article published by The Guardian profiled a Venezuelan singer named Danny Ocean, an artist whose career was launched by Spotify. In a matter of months, the Latin star went from being completely unknown to having a smash hit with over 261 million plays through Spotify alone. Spotify’s technology was able to detect interest in Ocean’s single after its release, so it added the song to a few of its popular playlists and the rest is history. 

Songwriter Ron Pope has a similar rags to riches story. The Georgia native apparently earned over $250k from streaming alone in 2014 without significant radioplay and help from a label. The incredible breakout success stories of these artists is one that would be simply unthinkable just a decade ago.

With big music streaming players increasingly lending a hand to small artists, the music promotion sector the music industry may need to rethink their strategy.

In addition to helping to launch undiscovered new musical talent in a perpetual quest to satiate the music-addicted masses, streaming platforms are now able to give artists analytic insights and helpful information about their listeners that they used to have to pay good money for. For example, a college or alternative radio campaign usually runs bands anywhere from $1,500 to $10,000. The main purpose of these campaigns is to physically submit an artist’s music for possible airplay, but a huge benefit they deliver are detailed insights into which stations have started playing the music, where they’re located and how often they’re playing it. Streaming platforms are now offering up this and other helpful information to artists for absolutely free.

Radio continues to be a major source for music discovery, but with the trend of many influential stations curating playlists replicating the material they play over the air, the free analytic information artists can get from major streaming platforms can help them gain powerful insights about their unique audiences. With these free resources, artists can track the success of their individual songs, book tours based around countries and cities their music is being played in the most and can even see information as detailed as what gender their listeners are.

Shortly after the birth of social media, platforms like Myspace and then later Facebook were the ones mostly responsible for hosting the party as far as where audiences went to listen to an artist’s music, learn about them from their bio and find out about their shows. But in 2018, the party is swiftly moving over to streaming platforms.

In addition to helping artists connect with and learn about listeners, major streaming platforms now provide customizable profile features like pictures, concert listings and even merchandise store options. Essentially, big streaming companies are now helping artists condense and leverage their virtual presences in ways that non-musical social media platforms have never been able to do. Just a couple of years ago, most people used Facebook pages to learn about and keep up with bands, but now fans can do all that directly from the sources they discover and consume music.  

But while some musicians and writers are rejoicing over the new features and benefits streaming platforms are offering artists, others continue to feel the strain of diminishing record sales and fear the possibility that the artform of the album will be replaced by playlists. While no one can predict the future, the music industry’s sweeping irreversible transformation is a certainty, and those who learn to adapt will fare better than those who dig their heels in and wish for a pre-streaming era to return.


Patrick McGuire is a writer, composer, and experienced touring musician based in Philadelphia.

The 3 Biggest Business Missteps DIY Musicians Make

[Editors Note: This was written by Suzanne Paulinski.]

 

As the music industry evolves, more and more responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of independent musicians who wish to build a sustainable career in music. In order to do that, they must embrace their role as CEO of their own business.

For many, this is a dreaded role they would have preferred never to fill. After all, we tend to shy away from things that don’t come naturally to us and if one’s passion and talents lie in creative endeavors, spending time with spreadsheets and business plans doesn’t exactly sound like a walk in the park.

While there is a lot to learn about the business, there are 3 major missteps DIY musicians make when setting out to build their career that can trip them up, no matter the tools and resources they have at their disposal.

#1: They spend money on the wrong things

All too often I have musicians approach me and say, “I want to work with you, but all my money needs to go to recording my next album.” Now, for some, that may make sense.

If they have an engaged following, songs that are ready to record, and plans to leverage that album by booking shows and gaining more press – awesome! Then investing in studio time serves their goal and they should move forward.

However, if they’re spending money in the studio just so they can tell people they’re back in the studio, while in reality they’re paying to sit and write songs that aren’t ready to record, and they’re not at all sure what they’ll do with the album once it’s done, maybe that’s not the best use of their money.

I’m not saying it should all go to a career coach, but one has to ask, “What will serve me right now in my career? What’s holding me back the most? What will make a difference in my efforts moving forward?”

If you’re unclear on your goals – get a coach. If you’re failing horribly at social media, take a class. If you’ve got great songs but your vocals are weak, invest in voice lessons. Being the CEO of your career means taking charge and doing what’s right for the future of that career.

#2: They focus on building a team too soon

Much like the misstep with money, many musicians put an endless amount of energy into seeking management, or fail to book a tour for themselves because they’re convinced they can’t get the gigs they want without proper representation.

There is very little one can’t do on their own in this industry. There is a distinct difference between “can’t” and “don’t know how.” While one term is definitively limiting, the other indicates that one can eventually succeed with the right tools and knowledge.

Obviously, with everything that a musician has on their plate, the thought of a team to carry out what needs to get done seems like the answer to their problems. However, what ends up happening is that they spend time pitching managers and booking agents rather than booking shows and engaging fans.

Managers and booking agents then turn the artist down, after being unable to see any action from the artist’s career to warrant their help.

If you’re hitting roadblocks in your efforts to book shows or grow your fanbase, do some research or enroll in a reputable online course to learn better tactics.

If you’re completely overwhelmed with little time to accomplish what needs to be done, look into hiring a virtual assistant (or outsource on Fiverr/Task Rabbit) who can help take care of the day-to-day administrative tasks while you focus on bigger picture goals.

An assistant doesn’t need to see a certain level of followers or performance history before jumping on board. Build until there is something formidable for someone else to manage. Let them seek you out, they’ll know when you’re ready.

#3: They try to learn too much at once

Gary Vaynerchuk, as well as many other successful entrepreneurs, often warns that a lack of patience is the ultimate downfall for many who try to follow their dreams. There is no such thing as an overnight success. Much like building a team, you must use the same advice above when it comes to building up your knowledge of the industry.

Too often musicians begin learning about one aspect of the business and then lose focus because they heard someone mention something else that was “super important” so they switch their focus to learning that bit of magic, until someone else comes along and mentions the next “up and coming” piece of industry know-how and then it’s onto that new focus.

In the end, they are left with information overload and a very low retention of skills and knowledge. Success is comprised of healthy habits. Habits take time to form. Trying to learn all of the industry’s “secrets to success” at once is a fool’s errand.

Decide what is a priority right now for the next phase of your career. Figure out what resources you have to carry out the tasks required as well as what’s still needed. Seek out the information and tools necessary to move you forward and nothing more.

If you happen to download an ebook or resource that doesn’t serve your current focus, save it in a folder for later. Finish tasks. Move forward. Reassess. Learn more.

There is no one way to building a successful career, as success is defined by the person pursuing it, but there is a right way. Hopefully avoiding these missteps will allow you to focus more energy directly on the goals you’ve set out to achieve, rather than allowing your energy to splinter off into unrelated paths.


Suzanne Paulinksi is an artist consultant with over 10 years in the music industry and owner of The Rock/Star Advocate

The Misery Myth: Why a Self-Destructive Attitude Won’t Improve Your Songwriting

[Editors Note: This article was written by Patrick McGuire.]

No matter how gratifying songwriting can be, making meaningful music and sharing it with the world is often tedious, thankless and discouraging. With that in mind, it’s no wonder so many artists associate emotional pain represented by addiction, depression and other self-destructive habits with songwriting gains. But while it might be tempting to liken the economy of songwriting to a bank where the more misery you put in the greater the songwriting returns, it’s just not true.

The Misery Myth

From modern songwriting greats like Elliott Smith, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse to legendary musicians active all throughout the 20th century like John Coltrane and Bix Beiderbecke, misery has been associated with musical genius for a long time.

Some of the world’s most influential songwriters have fought and lost battles with addiction and depression on the world stage, so it only makes sense that music fans and songwriters equate self-destruction with songwriting talent and potency. And because the fact that pure, unbridled sadness is something everyone longs to relate to in music has never changed, the misery myth continues to persist and thrive today.

Recognizing the Problem

The fact that lots of phenomenal musicians have tragically succumbed to their own self-destructive behaviors doesn’t mean that misery is an essential ingredient for meaningful songwriting. There’s no telling what sort of music Elliott Smith would be making now if he were still alive today. Misery didn’t enhance his legacy, it ended it.

It’s time to recognize this problem for what it really is. Glamorizing self-destruction is foolish, destructive and completely disrespectful of musicians who’ve died battling their personal demons.

Music fans and songwriters alike have a habit of holding up a few examples of depressed, self-destructive musicians as sacred musical role models while ignoring the overwhelmingly vast majority of artists with the same behaviors who never became successful.

The truth is, things like substance addiction, depression and mental illness make it nearly impossible for musicians to create music. The great songwriters we associate with misery, self-harm and addiction somehow managed to musically thrive in spite of their demons, not because of them.

Rather than imitating and fetishizing self-destruction, if you want to become a great songwriter like Kurt Cobain, songwriters should try defining what it is they really admire about him.

Separating the Music From the Myth

Things like talent, musical intuition and consistent hard work are what make songwriters great.

And while dramatic stories about addiction and suicide often elevate artists to a legendary status, a songwriter’s legacy is built off their music, not their tragedy. Misery will only hurt you as a songwriter and as a functioning human being. If you want to thrive as a musician and writer, you’ll have to learn how to write great music. Using self-harm and destruction as tools to relate and connect with your listeners will only end up making true, impactful music a more difficult and remote goal to achieve.

Creating meaningful music over the long term is almost impossible without taking care of yourself. That’s something that isn’t discussed much in our culture for the simple fact that it’s less dramatic and sexy as the misery myth, but it’s true. It’s absolutely possible to emotionally resonate with listeners while being healthy and centered.

In fact, that’s a position the majority of musicians working today operate from. If every songwriter in the music industry was perpetually high, suicidal and on the brink of death, the world would have much less music. If you want to make meaningful music, misery in all its forms something important to write about, but it alone just isn’t capable of doing the job.


Patrick McGuire is a writer, composer, and experienced touring musician based in Philadelphia.