A Songwriter’s Pocket Checklist

Though often reserved for the mundane realms of the shopping cart or office Post-it note scene, a good checklist can be a helpful tool in any situation - a collection of stripped-down, simple reminders that quickly focuses the mind toward the core of the matter.

At the risk of appearing clinical or oversimplifying the often amorphous process of songwriting, here are three song-centric bullet points you may find helpful/worth running through before declaring any new composition complete:

- Does it have a good beat? Can you dance to it? No matter what style/genre you’re working in, remember the hook is king. Does your song have at least one melody, chord pattern, phrase, riff or groove that will (potentially) grab the listener and make them want to sing along, cry, scream, dance or bang their head?

- Say anything? Do your song’s lyrics make a definitive statement whether they’re obtuse, simple, serious, silly, etc? Be it “Won’t Get Fooled Again” or “Love Shack”, each makes a strong statement of intent.

- Do you feel it? Does your song convey a strong feeling or mood? Although both are quite intangible, they are still very real commodities. Never underestimate the power of creating an emotional connection between you and your listener.

Despite its grocery list leanings, hope you found the above checklist helpful and worthy of keeping in your back pocket; a little something to refer to next time you stroll down the songwriting aisle.

-Posted by Mark

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Mark Bacino
is a singer/songwriter based in New York City with three album releases to his credit as an artist. When not crafting his own melodic brand of retro-pop, Mark can be found producing fellow artists or composing for television/advertising via his Queens English Recording Co. Mark is also a contributing writer for Guitar World as well as the founder/curator of intro.verse.chorus.

www.introversechorus.com

29 Hour Music People: A Writing & Recording Collective Pt.3

(If you missed the previous installments of the 29 HMP series, here are links to parts one and two.)

PART III: Sunday

Matty: We finished all the music for 11 songs on Saturday — while still leaving time for a pizza break and a prosecco-and-cupcake break —  slept five hours or so and walked into our own rehearsal / recording-studio at noon Sunday. Rob set up two vocal mics and made it crystal clear that we were not to take more than an hour per song, including singing a lead vocal, figuring out the harmonies, singing those, and in a few cases doing handclaps. Though some of us had thought about harmony parts on Saturday, and sung some of them into our iPhones, it felt to me like we were starting from scratch with most of them on Sunday. Or am I mis-remembering?

Cheri: Chalk that one up to exhaustion, Mr. K. I didn’t remember, either, so I took stock on a song-by-song basis. It looks like we had most of the harmonies figured out ahead of time. Maybe four songs were started from scratch as far as harmony vocals go. Remember we went outside to work them out on a bench in front of (ubiquitous coffee chain) while one person was recording lead vocals?

M: I do remember that, and I remember having to run back inside 15 minutes later because the previous person’s hour was about to be up! At one point someone said, unhappily, “The clock’s making a lot of decisions.” But of course, that was the whole point of the weekend. It was very much a game, and there was a game clock.

One limitation imposed by the clock on Sunday: Almost all harmonies for any given song were recorded live on a single track on a single mic, which is not the way it’s normally done. We spent a little bit of time, each time, working out how far away from the mic everyone had to be to make the blend work.

C: It’s hard to get a blend with six people who aren’t used to singing with each other. Next time maybe we’ll warm up with scales, like they do in choir. But eventually it sounded good. Then we remembered: We forgot to record handclaps!

M: I assume at some time in the next few weeks we’ll remember that we forgot to record a lot of things! With speed comes carelessness. And also, hopefully, some happy accidents. It’s all part of the game.

C: Happy accidents… Chris messing with the rototoms and everyone in the room simultaneously saying, “We have to have a rototom breakdown!”… Listening to “The Value of Seafood,” hearing some sort of glitch or guitar cord noise, and deciding not only would we leave it in, but we’d record a track of us saying “oooohhhh” and applauding it right after it occurred.

M: Ohhhh! I had no idea why we decided to applaud. But I loved that we did it. It was a rather tepid applause, but it sounded quite full when we played it back. We may have stumbled accidentally on the trick to recording small audience applause right there.

C: “Let it be lame.” Another lesson in acceptance.

M: But the thing is, it didn’t sound lame in the end. It was a lesson in advanced recording techniques.

And speaking of applause, that’s kind of it, isn’t it? We clocked three hours on Friday, 16 on Saturday and 12 on Sunday, including meal breaks. Eleven songs and three or four meals, depending how you count, in 31 hours. And the songs are totally, irreversibly done. They still need to be mixed — that wasn’t part of the weekend, as we’re not that insane yet — but the rules dictate there can be no more recording.

C: Hmmm… I predict an overdub. I think someone will sneak into the studio and add a glockenspiel, or another guitar part, to one of the songs. Unless TEOTWAWKI happens first.

M: Under our rules, an overdub will in fact cause TEOTWAWKI. So there.

-Posted by Cheri & Matty

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Cheri Leone and Matty Karas
have written and played music together for as long as they have known each other, in bands including The Trouble Dolls and Lightning Kites. The Trouble Dolls’ “Giant Moon: The Difficult Neverending Second Album, Vol. 1” will be released in 2013.

www.introversechorus.com

29 Hour Music People: A Writing & Recording Collective Pt.2

(If you missed part one of the 29 HMP series, it can be found here.)

PART II: Saturday

Matty: We reconvened at 10 a.m. Saturday in a recording studio, with the plan to write music for at least 10 songs, and record them, in a single day. What were our limitations on Saturday?

Cheri: The only limitations were that we had one hour for each song, and a “No overdubs” rule. No leaving out parts on Saturday for a subsequent recording session.

Then there were rule-y things, set up by Rob: Grab a set of lyrics and start to write music. Congratulations: you’re now that tune’s “song leader.” The “song leader” should come into the recording session for the song with the basic structure already worked out. This could happen individually or in small break-off groups. Is that how you understood it?

M: Yup. I would put extra emphasis on the no-overdubs rule. That’s a huge one. Whatever you come up with on Saturday, that’s it. You can’t re-think the bass line later on. You can’t decide to add a synth tomorrow. You can’t even add it two hours later. You’ve got one hour. Go!

So with that in mind, how exactly do you write and record an album’s worth of songs in a single day?

C: I can tell you what I saw, and what I did. I think five of us picked up some lyrics and went off to our individual corners to write music. I spent the first hour in my corner cleaning up the red wine that spilled in my gear bag. Then I sat down and started to block out chords with a MIDI controller and sequencing program. After a while, a few other people came in and all of a sudden I was deeply involved in a conversation about AKG headphones, so I had to move into another room and shut the door. Not a gesture that screams “work with me,” but I couldn’t concentrate. I was a pretty unreliable witness to everyone else’s process from that point until around 4 p.m. What was going on in your wing of the building?

M: Sorry! I think the red wine spill in your gear bag had something to do with the jury-rigged napkin cork I made for you Friday night. I should have used a higher thread count napkin.

I picked up a lyric that was entirely someone else’s work and headed to the stairway outside the studio door with my guitar and iPhone, which I use as a portable tape recorder for song ideas. I thought it would be more fun, and actually easier, to work with somebody else’s words and inherent rhythms instead of my own. The lyric suggested a certain tempo and feel. I picked a random chord to start with, found a melody fairly quickly (it was a lucky morning), and then spent most of my time sweating over whether this chord should have four beats and that one eight beats or vice versa. Then I found you in the other room and asked if you had any ideas for harmonies. But you were busy with your laptop and your AKG headphones.

C: Yeah, that was before the room got heavy. I think Kate came in before I left and started to work out some melody ideas on the keyboard. I thought maybe I should make beats to offer up for any song that didn’t have a drummer attached to it, then I started to do this for the song I was working on, then I realized that it was going to take longer to make cool beats than I thought. So I finished chords and melody. Then I got back to you about the harmonies. You, me, Meave and Alan recorded some on my iPhone.

M: …and Alan suggested an alternate melody for the first line of the second verse. My first, automatic impulse was to think “b-b-but I already have a melody! I spent many minutes coming up with it!” My second impulse was to block my first impulse and go with the moment and let the collaboration happen. Like you said, it takes discipline. My third impulse was to listen and realize, “Holy shit, he just made the song better.”

By early afternoon we had something like eight songs written and nothing recorded. You were one of the first to lead a team into the recording room, including resistant-obstacle-man me, who didn’t know how to do the guitar part you were asking for and didn’t want to do it. Then I figured out how to do it, and suddenly I did want to do it.

C: I was the song leader for song number two. This was about 4:30 p.m. (!) and the pressure was ON. I didn’t have the song structure completely worked out to my satisfaction, so I was pretty stressed out. I played the “demo” and someone suggested we just use the sampled beat instead of a live simulation of the sampled drum kit. Yes, and… the technical difficulties began. The beats mysteriously began to fade out in the middle of the song, leaving everyone stranded with his or her own approximation of the tempo. The structure wasn’t sinking in. Thankfully you had it figured out, and were able to conduct a quick mini-seminar for those around you. Eventually, sheer repetition triumphed, and we had a song! Because I was so busy dealing with the technical f-ups, I didn’t notice the cool guitar and keyboard parts, or mandolin part, or gentle reggae stylings of the bass player until we were actually recording. That was a happy surprise.

M: That’s pretty much how it worked all day, though the hours seemed to get shorter as we raced against the ever-spinning clock. Some people had “their” songs pretty well mapped out in their heads, and some came in with a much looser structure. One song was four chords cycling around and around from start to finish, and five of us just started jamming on those chords until the song leader heard something she liked, which fortunately happened pretty fast. There was a much more complicated song, chord-wise, that three of us worked out beforehand in another room, so when we got into the big room it was pretty easy to explain it to everyone else. I was fascinated by how everyone had a unique way of describing and/or notating music for a roomful of people who weren’t used to playing together. Patience and having an open mind definitely helped. One big lesson for me: “Mistake” is just another word for “new idea.”

C: One lesson for me, which I apparently must re-learn at regular intervals: You will always be the one who gets the parking ticket.

Another one: If you shut the inside door very tight, distracting sounds will come in through the window. Humans will not.

I think that’s two lessons: A) Try to incorporate distractions into what you’re doing. There’s no escaping them. B) Open the door at some point, fer Chrissakes. You need help.

M: Those both sound like oblique strategies. Which is appropriate, considering how this project started. [Editor’s note: 29 Hour Music People grew out of a live performance of Brian Eno’s album “Here Come the Warm Jets”.]

Coming up in Part 3: Lead vocals, harmonies and handclaps.

-Posted by Cheri & Matty

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Cheri Leone and Matty Karas
have written and played music together for as long as they have known each other, in bands including The Trouble Dolls and Lightning Kites. The Trouble Dolls’ “Giant Moon: The Difficult Neverending Second Album, Vol. 1” will be released in 2013.

www.introversechorus.com

29 Hour Music People: A Writing & Recording Collective Pt.1

With this post, we welcome Cheri Leone and Matty Karas to the IVC family. Cheri and Matty, longtime songwriting and performing partners in bands including the Trouble Dolls and Lightning Kites, kick off their contribution to IVC with a three-part account of their experience with 29 Hour Music People; a collective of songwriters and musicians who write and record albums, from scratch, in intensive three-day sessions. The first 29HMP album, “Soft Eno Blessing,” written and recorded in 29 hours in January 2012, will be available this March at 29hourmusicpeople.bandcamp.com, with all proceeds from downloads to benefit Sweet Relief Musicians Fund.

This Q&A was conducted after the making of album #2 in October 2012, which took 31 hours (including meal breaks). The group to date includes: Alan Black, Alan Blattberg, Rob Christiansen, Kate Edmundson, Kim Howie, Matty Karas, Cheri Leone, Chris McBurney, David Satkowski, Meave Shelton and Pam Weis.

PART I: Friday

Matty: Let’s start at the beginning!

Cheri: Friday.

M: Yes, and…

C: Write lyrics to at least ten songs in 3 hours.

"Yes, and…" refers to the suggestion that you pick up an already-written stanza or title that is in a paper pile in the center of the floor, and add to it. Don’t approach it as an editor or critic. See how you can develop the idea already expressed.

M: And then throw it back onto the floor for someone else to pick up. “Yes, and” of course is a principle that comes from improv comedy. Which you have studied, but I have not. How did we do on that front?

C: Pretty well. Mostly one person would write a starter line or verse, then someone else would grab it and add to it. In one case someone had come prepared with a rhyming prescription for a series of lyrical lines.

M: I loved writing lyrics that way, partly because it’s so different from how it works in our band. Usually one of us writes and the other adds/subtracts/tweaks as necessary. Sometimes we argue over words. I assume that happens in most bands. But I loved NOT arguing, and instead everyone just assuming that everyone else was right. There’s that old Motorhead motto, “Everything louder than everything else.” In this case it was, “Everything exactly as right as everything else.” It certainly allowed me to open myself up to the kinds of lyrics, and therefore the kinds of songs, that I could never have written on my own. Or, more to the point, that I WOULD never have written on my own.

C: I don’t assume that arguing over lyrics and words happens in most bands…NOT arguing is a choice. And it requires a lot of discipline to stick to that decision — the "yes, and" mandate — in any collaboration. It feels inorganic at first. People are very excited about their own ideas, and they get very possessive of them. They have a vision. They want to see that vision through. If they’re directing “Bridesmaids” in their heads and someone walks in with a maimed puppy, the tendency is to put the puppy in the next room and resume the hilarity. But the puppy should not be denied!

Reality check: not everyone in the room assumed everyone else was right. On Saturday someone who had started one lyric declared, “Last night I thought about my lyrics some more and I know how the whole song should go” — and discarded the additional lyrics someone else had written. Technically, that went against our rules. Like I said, it requires dedication, and constant self-policing, to trust that others will make your idea, not necessarily better, but what it should be (in a Zen way?).

M: Alternatively, someone could hilariously insert that maimed puppy into the middle of their “Bridesmaids”! But I digress.

One of the interesting things to me about the thrown-out lyrics is that you picked them up and used them as the chorus for another song. We ended up with two really good songs. Win-win. I think the chance element in all of this is kind of cool. But I also agree with you that the more buy-in you get from everyone in the room about the whole process, the more likely it is to result in a successful and productive weekend.

So those were the limitations we imposed upon ourselves on Friday night: the “yes, and” principle, the idea that no one in the room “owned” any particular lyric, and a rigid three-hour time limit. We ended the night at 11 p.m. sharp with complete lyrics for 13 songs, along with a few extra scraps and unused titles that we threw in a folder just in case.

Coming up in Part 2: How to write and record all the music for an album in one day.

-Posted by Cheri & Matty

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Cheri Leone and Matty Karas
have written and played music together for as long as they have known each other, in bands including The Trouble Dolls and Lightning Kites. The Trouble Dolls’ “Giant Moon: The Difficult Neverending Second Album, Vol. 1” will be released in 2013.

www.introversechorus.com

Sneaky Feelings

Songwriters are a funny lot. We spend hours toiling away in darkened rooms, talking to ourselves out loud, pausing occasionally to step out into the bright lights, only to be largely ignored by the general public. You could be mistaken for interpreting this as narcissism with a backing track, but that, dear writer, is where you would be wrong.

Songwriting is, by far, the cheapest form of psychotherapy you are ever likely to encounter. Here’s why: No subject is out of bounds, there’s a price plan to suit all and the doctor is always in. Bad day at work? Write it down! Trouble with your partner? Lay those feelings down on parchment! Wrote a great song? Errr… But, seriously, this stuff is pure, unadulterated, full-fat, songwriting gold. Whether it’s a form of catharsis, by osmosis or any other “sis” you feel like tagging on the end, those feelings are going to find a way out somehow, so why not channel the little suckers into something positive?

Depending on your writing style, you can probably categorize your work as either fiction or non-fiction or both (Peacock alert! ~ Ed). There’s nothing wrong in being completely detached from your subject matter and sometimes this can really help with the creative process. However, direct your ears towards a copy of Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” and, in particular, the line “making love in the green grass, behind the stadium with you.” Straight away, you know that ol’ Van has been knocking boots for real beneath the shadow of the floodlights. It’s an instant widescreen moment and a classic example of how, just by including a little piece of yourself in the song, you can move one step closer towards the holy grail of songwriting: A connection with the listener.

-Posted by Mick

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Mick Terry is a London-based singer/songwriter. His debut album, “The Grown Ups”, was released in 2010 and he is currently knee deep in Ampex 456 tape working on the follow up. Mick also hosts the monthly “The Living Room Scene” songwriter circle shows in London.

www.introversechorus.com

Backstory: “Going Up”

Oh the back story, isn’t there always a back story? This is a story about a little song called “Going Up” by Gedeon Luke. Gedeon is an artist that I have been developing for 3+ years. The song is actually the 1st song we ever co-wrote together. We have all heard the stories of how songs come from magical places, they write themselves, they are gifted to us, etc and I gather this tune falls into one, if not all, of those descriptions!

Gedeon and I met at my partner’s office which was probably not the most inspiring place to write but hey, you take what you can get. We sat around discussing some ideas and I was tuning my guitar as we chatted. After I tune up I always use the same 3 chords, D-C9-G, to check if the guitar is in tune. I start strumming the chords in a certain rhythm and Gedeon says, “Marc, I love those chords, they move me.” and I asked him to explain. He then proceeds to tell me how they resonated a certain feeling within him almost like a Gospel hymn. I thought about what he said for a second and said, “Wait a minute, I have an idea for a Curtis Mayfield inspired song!” and started strumming away. Well, in a matter of minutes the proverbial door bell rang, the skies opened up and the delivery of “Going Up” just happened; Gedeon began singing some melodies, I started grabbing some words and quickly soon after the song was done.

The tune is about love and hope and can be interpreted in whatever way you choose.

We’ve just finished Gedeon’s debut record and this song will be included on it as a featured duet with his baby sister, Evvie McKinney:

(Can’t hear the clip? Click here)

Lyrics -

Feeling so strange about so many things
Even the message of love and what it brings
We all need joy and happiness to reign
And with this song I’ll fight away the pain

I’m goin’ up up to feel the rhythm
I’m goin’ up up to dance divine
If you believe there’s love inside
I’m goin’ up up to give the sign

From the first time I felt your presence
There was no doubt, fear or questions
It takes me back to the place
Without you there is no grace

I’m goin’ up up to feel the rhythm
I’m goin’ up up to dance divine
If you believe there’s love inside
I’m goin’ up up to give the sign

The hope for a better day
will soon come my way
and the tears have washed away

What felt so strange about so many things
now with this song I’ll fight away the pain

I’m goin’ up up to feel the rhythm
I’m goin’ up up to dance divine
If you believe there’s love inside
I’m goin’ up up to give the sign

Gedeon Luke, Marc Swersky (c)2010

-Posted by Marc

A recurring feature on IVC, each “Backstory” showcases a song and shares the story behind that song’s inspiration and creation via the songwriter’s own words.


Marc Swersky is a two-time, Grammy Award winning songwriter. As a writer/producer/musician his albums have sold in excess of 50 million copies. Marc is also president/founder of Monocentric Music, a full-service entertainment and artist development company dedicated to mentoring young singer/songwriters.

www.introversechorus.com

More Cowbell: The IVC Production Series Pt.6

With a majority of today’s songwriters having powerful recording tools at their disposal just a laptop’s click away and the line between home and studio recordings blurring daily, writers/artists are now finding themselves, more and more, in the role of de facto producer when looking to capture their latest creations. With that thought in mind, IVC’s “More Cowbell” series will look to dissect, simplify and offer insight into the (sometimes daunting) process and art of DIY music production.

(If you missed the previous installments of “MC”, here are links to parts one, two, three, four and five of the series.)

Mastering

Now, with final mix master in hand, we come to the last phase of our production process, mastering.

If you’re happy with the way your newly mixed track or tracks sound and you’re not planning to release the music commercially, it can be said that you don’t really need to have your tracks mastered. Consider the project complete. If, however, you’re planning to send the music out into the world (iTunes, Spotify, CDs, etc), you’ll want to offer your material the benefits and the competitive edge that mastering can provide. As mastering is very much a specialized process, this is where veering off the DIY path is definitely a smart move. Do some research, find a qualified, professional mastering engineer in your city who has done work you like and put your music in their capable and experienced hands.

Here are some thoughts on what pro mastering brings to the sonic party:

- The basics. A professional mastering engineer’s main function is to sonically enhance/improve and (when needed) repair your tracks through the use of precision monitoring, EQ, compression and noise removal techniques. A good mastering engineer will always strive to do as little as possible to your music, intervening only when necessary.

- While working to enhance your tracks, the mastering engineer will also look to improve the sonic compatibility/versatility of your songs, so that your music will sound its best whether listened to via a high-end stereo system or a pair of earbuds.

- Another function of the mastering process is to increase the average volume level of your tracks while still retaining your music’s inherent dynamics. A good mastering engineer will achieve all through the judicious use of compression/limiting. When done correctly, dynamics will remain intact and your tracks will be comparable in volume to most commercially released songs. When done incorrectly, your tracks can sound overly loud, small and crunchy with little to no dynamics present (i.e. the gentle parts of your songs will sound as if they’re at the same volume level as the energetic sections). Be sure to discuss loudness vs. dynamics balance with your mastering engineer at the top of your session.

- When mastering an album of material (as opposed to a single track) it’s the mastering engineer’s job to compile and sequence the songs. With guidance from either the artist or the producer, the engineer will put the album tracks in running order, create the spacing between songs and make sure the volume level from track to track stays relatively consistent.
 
- In the final stage of the mastering process, the engineer will create a production master (usually a Red Book CD-R) that will contain your newly polished, “mastered” tracks. This master is what will later be used as the source for the creation of end-user products (CDs, mp3 files, etc).

So that does it for IVC’s “More Cowbell”. Hope you enjoyed the series and found its breakdown of the DIY production process helpful. If you have any questions about mastering or any of the production phases previously discussed throughout “More Cowbell”, feel free to email me at - mark@markbacino.com

-Posted by Mark


Mark Bacino
is a singer/songwriter based in New York City with three album releases to his credit as an artist. When not crafting his own melodic brand of retro-pop, Mark can be found producing fellow artists or composing for television/advertising via his Queens English Recording Co. Mark is also a contributing writer for Guitar World as well as the founder/curator of intro.verse.chorus.

www.introversechorus.com

More Cowbell: The IVC Production Series Pt.5

With a majority of today’s songwriters having powerful recording tools at their disposal just a laptop’s click away and the line between home and studio recordings blurring daily, writers/artists are now finding themselves, more and more, in the role of de facto producer when looking to capture their latest creations. With that thought in mind, IVC’s “More Cowbell” series will look to dissect, simplify and offer insight into the (sometimes daunting) process and art of DIY music production.

(Missed the previous installments of “MC”? Here are links to parts one, two, three and four of the series.)

Mixing (Cont.)

Picking up where we left off last post, we now continue discussing the mix phase of our production process.

- Compression. A compressor (or limiter - a compressor on steroids) is a processor that’s primary function is to electronically control spikes in volume (transients) present in an audio signal. It can, for example, automatically tame peaks in level on a vocal track and reduce those peaks by an adjustable amount. Once those spikes in volume have been controlled by a compressor, you are now free to raise the new, more consistent, overall level of said vocal in your mix without the danger of signal overload. In addition to its main leveling function, compression can also be used as an effect. 200 blogs could probably be written on the subject of compression. Educate yourself on the topic; begin by watching this great tutorial on compression basics and don’t be afraid to experiment. That said, if you’re confused about compression (& if you are, you’re not alone), refrain from using it on that “mission critical” demo until you get a handle on the ins and outs.

- De-essing. A de-esser is a processing tool used to remove excess sibilance from an audio signal. If, say, you find your recorded vocal track sounds a little harsh when your vocalist sings a word with an “s”, “t” or “c” sound (or similar) in it, try using a de-esser on the track to electronically lessen those sibilant frequencies. Be sure to educate yourself (here’s a de-essing tutorial) and experiment before using this tool on an important vocal track. Misuse of a de-esser can give your singer a serious speech impediment.

- Effects. Effects processors - reverbs, delays, chorus, distortion, wideners, etc - are tools used to add sonic depth, color and texture to a mix. There are a myriad of different effects and many applications for each. As such, the topic of effects usage is, unfortunately, too vast to explore in detail within the confines of this space. As always, education and experimentation is key. Jump on the web and look up each effect mentioned above as a start (highlighted effects link to tutorials), then find those effects in your DAW software and begin to investigate.

- Panning. Panning refers to the practice of placing instruments/tracks left, center or right (& all points in between) across the stereo field in efforts to create the perception of space within a mix. Note: While panning covers left to right placement, adding the aforementioned effects of reverb or delay to instruments can help place those elements back to front in the soundscape.

- Balancing act. With some/all of the above processing and panning in effect, use your DAW’s virtual console faders to balance the volume level of each instrument (relative to the others) in your song to taste. You should already be close to a semi-decent blend if you’ve been “rough mixing” each individual element in as recorded (suggested in our recording rundown) to assess if said parts were working from a production standpoint.

While balancing, realize that one set volume level placement of a track may not always sound right for the entire duration of a song. That track’s instrument may have to move up or down in level several times over the course of a mix. Program you DAW software’s automation function to perform these adjustments for you.

Also, when balancing, monitor your mix at varied volume levels (loud, soft) to get different perspectives on instrument placement and remember to take frequent breaks from all the heavy listening. Ear fatigue can send you down some undesirable mix roads.

- Reference. Use a professionally produced, stylistically similar, favorite song as a sonic reference. Compare your mix to the “pro” tune and see how close or far off you are in terms of the overall picture; does your mix have too much or too little bottom-end compared to your reference track? Is the model track brighter than your mix or are the top-ends similar? Adjust your work accordingly. Warning: At first it will be fairly discouraging (to say the least) when comparing your mixes to pro cuts, but the knowledge derived from these exercises will help you grow and shape your work for the better.

Next, check out your mix on different playback systems to get a sense of how it’s translating outside of your workspace. Listening on boom boxes, in cars, on computer speakers and ear buds will lend you some valuable perspective. Obviously, your mix will never sound the same on each of these systems (mastering, the next step in the production process, will help with that) but if you’ve done a good job with your mix, your track should sound fairly balanced in terms of levels and frequencies wherever you play it. If an element of your mix is calling attention to itself when you’re listening on speakers other than the ones you mixed on, you might need to revisit that instrument again and adjust.

Lastly, once you’ve got your mix sounding the way you want it, bounce/render a stereo file of the tune (this will become your 2-track “master”) and save both your mix program file and your newly created stereo master file across numerous hard drives or DVDs for save keeping/future reference.

If you have any questions in regard to mixing, leave a comment (above) or feel free to email me directly at - mark@markbacino.com

Next up, "More Cowbell" (Pt.6) goes to “11” as we enter the mastering phase of our production process.

-Posted by Mark


Mark Bacino
is a singer/songwriter based in New York City with three album releases to his credit as an artist. When not crafting his own melodic brand of retro-pop, Mark can be found producing fellow artists or composing for television/advertising via his Queens English Recording Co. Mark is also a contributing writer for Guitar World as well as the founder/curator of intro.verse.chorus.

www.introversechorus.com

More Cowbell: The IVC Production Series Pt.4

With a majority of today’s songwriters having powerful recording tools at their disposal just a laptop’s click away and the line between home and studio recordings blurring daily, writers/artists are now finding themselves, more and more, in the role of de facto producer when looking to capture their latest creations. With that thought in mind, IVC’s “More Cowbell” series will look to dissect, simplify and offer insight into the (sometimes daunting) process and art of DIY music production.

(If you missed the previous installments of “MC”, here are links to parts one, two and three of the series.)

Mixing

With your song now fully recorded, we’re ready to move into the next phase of the production process, mixing.

- Disclaimer. Not unlike recording, mixing is a subject/art so vast, with approaches so varied, one could never hope to cover the topic properly within the confines of a blog post. There are many great mixing tutorials on the web (one of the best/straightforward can be found here), educate yourself and begin learning the basics. In the meantime, here are some rudimentary thoughts to get you going.

- Monitoring. As was the case with recording, it’s very important that you become sonically familiar with the speakers you’ll be listening through while mixing. You don’t necessarily need expensive studio monitors (although owning a pair couldn’t hurt), just make sure to listen to a lot of music on whatever speakers you’ll be working with before starting to mix so you’ll know what things are “supposed” to sound like in terms of lower, middle and upper frequencies when evaluating your own work.

Truth be told, there are many factors that come into play with monitoring; the amplifier you pair your speakers with, the placement of your speakers in the room, the use or lack of acoustic treatment in the space, etc. Educate yourself on the aforementioned when you can, but for now, intimately knowing how other music sounds on your speakers in your space will, at least, give you a solid chance at crafting mixes that will translate decently out in the real world.

- Clean house. Before beginning your mix, take some time to go through each of your recorded tracks (use the “solo” function in your DAW software) and remove any stray pops, clicks, noises, etc that may have accumulated during the recording process. The rustling of a lyric sheet, the clearing of a throat; it’s best to address these problems now so they won’t interrupt your creative flow once you get down to mixing.

- Adjust recorded volume levels. While tending to your house cleaning duties, also listen to your tracks for any glaringly obvious, internal volume inconsistencies they may have acquired during the record process. If your singer’s vocal gets quiet on the bridge because the dynamics of the song call for that, great, but if one line of the chorus sounds a lot louder than its surrounding phrases, go in and tweak said line down in volume at the waveform level to make it consistent with its neighbors. There are tools/processors that can make these adjustments for you electronically, but you should always try and remedy the larger, more overt problems manually.

- EQ. Equalization, or the process of adjusting the balance between frequency components within an audio signal, is a deep topic worthy (& the subject) of many books, blogs, etc. Do your research, educate yourself (check this tutorial) but first, here are a few EQ basics to prime the pump:

Try cutting frequencies before boosting them; If, say, an instrument in your mix sounds dark/muddy to your ears, don’t immediately add top end, first try to remove some bottom or low-mid from the signal by either lowering the volume level of those frequencies or by utilizing a high-pass filter to gain the clarity you’re looking for. Boost frequencies only when cutting fails to achieve your desired result. Cutting rather than boosting will keep your mixes phase coherent.

Lastly, think of the sonic space in a mix as real estate. In order for instruments to be heard clearly, they must be assigned their own frequency-based parcel of land, so to speak. If too many instruments try to occupy the same space in the frequency spectrum, they’ll sound muddled and loose their definition. Attempt to carve out unique, frequency homes for as many elements of your mix as possible.

Again, education is key, try to learn as much as you can about EQ and the fascinating world of frequency that exists between 20Hz and 20KHz.

Next time, "More Cowbell" (Pt.5) keeps tweaking with the continuation of our mix rundown.

-Posted by Mark


Mark Bacino
is a singer/songwriter based in New York City with three album releases to his credit as an artist. When not crafting his own melodic brand of retro-pop, Mark can be found producing fellow artists or composing for television/advertising via his Queens English Recording Co. Mark is also a contributing writer for Guitar World as well as the founder/curator of intro.verse.chorus.

www.introversechorus.com