Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Basic Recording Studio Fundamentals from a Singer Point of View

If you still have not seen or visit a professional recording studio, then you need to read this short guide in order for you to prepare the real world as a professional studio singer. It is because if you still have not visit a recording studio, then most likely you only know 3 things – the microphone, your speaker and even your headphones.

Even with these 3 things, the real studio is filled with out of these world microphones, speakers (monitors) and headphones. In short, the equipments you know in your home are NOT the same as what you will see in a professional recording studio.

If you are ready, then prepare to get to know the lists of equipments and studio gears below:

1.) Condenser or Ceramic type microphones – if you are recording in a professional made studio, you will not be using dynamic microphones (these microphones are the ones you had in your home). But you will be using condenser microphones in the recording studio.

Below are the tips for using condenser microphones (see screenshot below for the picture of a condenser microphone):

a.) Since is microphone is “ultra” sensitive in picking up sounds, put your mouth at least 5 inches from the microphone. This is not a strict rule, feel free to experiment and follow what the engineer advises you to do for best recording results. Do not record if you have colds (nasal congestion for example) or mouth related problem as it can really ruin your day at the studio.

b.) Most condenser microphones include a pop filter, so get used to it. The purpose of that is to prevent the “pops” and “clicks” in your mouth in reaching the microphone, so that the recorded vocal is clean.

2.) Headphones – this is not an earphone you commonly used in your iPod but this a “full” headphone such as shown below. In the picture of me below, you will also see the condenser microphone with a filter (black in circular shape).

Tip: Be comfortable with your vocal level, you will actually hear it in the headphones. So if something is not comfortable or distracting, feel free to report the problem to your engineer.

3.) Control room – this room is where the engineer and producer are sitting to watch you recording the vocals. In most professional studios, you can only hear them through headphones or microphones; it is because the control room is separated from the vocal booth. A sign language is important; so in case you have a problem and they won’t hear you taking in the microphone; feel free to give a “sign” language to them (waving a hand for example).

You can see the control room through a glass from the vocal booth.

4.) Vocal booth – this is where you will be recording the vocals. This is done purposely to avoid bleeding of noise from other sources or instruments.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Background singer/vocalist training and tips

You might amazed to know that background singers are all NOT bad and infamous. In fact legendary singer like Mariah carey starts to work as a background vocalist before she went to a become a great lead singer.

Background singer is an important step in pop music production where their skills are needed to:

a. Further enhance the song hook as background vocals are commonly employed by record producers in the chorus section of the song.

b. Blend with the lead vocalist in terms of emotion and harmony.

Background vocalist in fact requires a lot of skill more than you imagined. You might think that a lead vocalist training is much more rigid than being a background singer.

In reality , they are almost the same and even being a background singer requires much more complicated task in the studio. It is because they have some problems when doing recording sessions such as:

1.) If the background vocalist does not know how to sing along with other singers at “different pitch or harmony”. They will sing easily out of tune. Unfortunately this type of problem does not have solution except to fire the background singer and replace with a more competent background vocalist.

2.) Specific control with respect to vibrato, styles and volume - if the singer will sing too much vibrato or no vibrato at all, it sounds dull. So if the recording producer instructs the background singer to entirely sing without a vibrato, she/he should sing that without vibrations.

Too much vibrato can destroy the nature of the vocal blending which producers are hoping to achieved desire results.

3.) In some cases where the lead vocalist conveys a certain emotion and tempo, the background vocalist is required to blend or convey that emotion also. This might be difficult if you are not the type of vocalist which is not flexible enough to adjust different types of emotions when singing.

4.) Some record producers expects the background singer to understand and sing from the musical transcripts or series of notes. This might be impossible if you are the type of singer which does not know how to read musical notes from the sheet or no strong musical background.

The following are the suggestions on how you will start to become a better background vocalist or singer:

1.) Try to join choir. Joining it , provides a good ear training ground for wannabe background vocalist. It is because you will be required to sing at a different harmony with the rest of the singers. Doing this in unison, helps you to practice singing at a different harmony together.

2.) Take music classes to help you read musical notes. Practice it at home by downloading free music sheets online and see if you can sing directly by reading those notes.

3.)It is important to be prepared at all times, when you are hired to become a background singer of a certain track. Be diligent and hard working enough to do the assignments in advance before coming to the recording studio.

4.) This means you should fully know your role, the song, those notes that you need to sing as well as everything including the lyrics and the emotions you need to convey.

If you are great and successful at singing background, it will be very easily to become a lead vocalist.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

How to set goal as a musician or indie artist?

You might be reading this post because you need to set goals as an independent musician. If you are just started out or planning to become an indie music artist. It is highly important to read this post to avoid frustrations, failure and problems from being an indie artist.

OK, so lets jot down to this FACT: There is no overnight/quick success in music. If right now you have just write a great song, cool, but do not expect to hand it over to a recording label in the hope to get a deal tomorrow, next week or even one year from now.

Why? Music business is just extremely and intensely competitive , these labels are accepting materials from “established” artists. These artists have thousands of followers ready to buy their CD with their own cash.

Aside from that, these artists have strong financial support from either their own pocket (most of these are rich anyway), or coming from somewhere else.

So what you can do? I suggest starting a five year plan and what you will need to accomplish each year. It should be realistic enough that will prove your skills and effort. For example, if you are dreaming to become a succesful artists signed to a label, you might have this 5 year plan:

1st year: Write 50 songs and perform in public once a week. I need at least one loyal fan a month liking my music, I will get his/her email for my updates.

2nd year: Record my top 5 songs in recording studios, I need to meet a recording producer that likes my music. These top 5 songs are what I considered a hit. I should be completing these songs in a year. I will send it for FREE to my friends, fans and asked them to share it to anyone interested, I will start a profile where fans can drop by a message and comment on the songs.

3rd year: I will play a lot in public for FREE but also provide my EP CD for FREE, the technique is to get more and more fans. I will perform a lot of performances, video taped it and upload it in Youtube for others to see.

4th year: I will continue playing live, and hopefully I will have a lot of fans right now, a lot of song reviews, a lot of performances, I will start releasing a self produced album, start to sell it with my fans at a very low price. I should sell a thousand CDs (or downloads like iTunes) this time from my thousand lists of fans.

5th year: Contact a reputable entertainment attorney to review my performances, just down all my achievements as a musician and create press kit to be sent to his label A&R contacts. I should be getting a record deal this time.

So what are the chances of failure? I should say low but there are still chances of getting rejections even at this level. You should really have:
a. Extremely good original songs and demo recording.
b. Extremely good performances
c. Nice long list of supporters and positive reviews.

I mean its quite challenging; could take your 5 year plan to a 10 year plan maybe. Quit? No, if you enjoy it → NO because what makes you happy makes you rich right?

Friday, June 11, 2010

How can I improve my singing style

I can say that the best way to improve your singing is to keep practicing. However, lots of wannabe singers do that so it should not be real problem. Days or years past practicing singing, you might ask again “How can I really improve my singing?”

This is where you might realize that practicing is not enough. Do not stop, below are the some of things that you can do to further improve your singing.

1.) Believe in the principle that it is not enough to just practice singing, you need to affirm that: “Constant Correct Practice Makes Perfect”.

So what defines a constant correct practice? Let’s elaborate in detail:

a.) “Constant” in the sense that you need to practice at a regular intervals. Or it means you need to schedule your singing practice. It does not matter whether you can sing daily but definitely it is NOT good that you practice singing only once in a month.

The most recommended is to allot one day in a week of your time to singing. This is what professionals do. If you cannot commit at least once a day in a week to devote to singing, then do not expect in the long run to improve your singing.

b.) “Correct practice” is important. This is what again separates amateurs from professionals. You need to adopt a standard routine in your practice that tests your skills to the limit, which is:

b.1) before doing any singing performance during practice, you need to “vocalize”, spend a lot of time singing the low notes, medium pitched notes, the high notes and the ultra- high notes.

If during these exercises you seem to fail in a certain aspect, then that is your weakness. Weakness does not define failure but it provides a clue to your “vocal range”. So maybe your vocal range is not good for pure pop or ballads like Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, etc. But this is not the end. Your vocal range is possibly optimal for country, rock, or other genres..

You need to find your vocal range in the practice. Principle: Strengthen more on your vocal range and slowly practice/correct your weaknesses.

Refer to this tutorial I wrote on what are basic vocal warm-up exercises.

2.) Test your vocal quality by getting public exposure or training.

If you like singing, do you have it takes to have a “signature sound”? What defines “Quality” is your signature sound in singing; this is what differentiates you from other singers. 

Some might say that if Beatles do not exist today, there is no single event that Paul McCartney will be accepted or even make up to the Hollywood for American Idol. It is because Paul does not have a superstar vocal quality in the likes of David Cook or Kris Allen, he cannot compete even on the same age.

But why Paul McCartney or the other Beatles makes a living out of singing for their entire life? It is because:

a. They love to sing. (Yeah, they do not even need to be voice idols, but if you listen to their music, it carries their signature voice)

b. They love to write. (A big plus to any singer, if you cannot write, do not expect singing be a lifetime career for you)

c. They kept singing and enjoying from it. (Yeah always, not only weeks but maybe everyday)

d. People start to love their performance.

e. People start to follow them.

f. They become legends.

There is no other excuse that you should not do the same. You can get exposed easily nowadays as compared before, today we have You Tube, My Space and lots of live venues that were not available before. It takes time, it takes practice – done correctly.

Monday, June 7, 2010

How to make your own song?

One of the best hobbies that a musician can do is creating songs. This type of endeavor requires a lot of creativity, imagination and musical skills in order to make a good song.
In fact, creating a “hit song” is very rare, even in top writers catalog such as Paul Mc Cartney, you can as well estimate that his hit songs are well around 5 to 20% of the entire songs he written.

This short how-to guide maximizes the chances of creating a good song.

Things you will need:
1.) Cassette Recorder
2.) a piece of blank paper.
3.) Ball pen
4.) Musical Instrument (Guitar or Piano)

Step 1 Write Lyrics first.Using your imagination, write lyrics that tell a story or something that can be inspiring. Using poetic lines is ok, but it is best to write meaningful and easy to understand lyrics.

Write lyrics that can relate people’s lives. This has a strong impact on a success of the song particularly if it is common among people. Start with a good title then followed by the first stanza.

I use 4 lines for each stanza, with the same or similar number of syllables in each of those lines. Example:

Can I know your name?”

I can’t understand how I feel
When you smile my heart beats so fast
I can’t understand why I feel so shy
When I try to look at you

Step 2. Complete the lyrics by defining its pre-structure. Typically, a common structure is:

Verse 1
Verse 2

It is important that you have to present the chorus as early as possible. In music business, time matters, if you are going to present your song to music industry professionals; most of the time their attention span is short particularly around 1 minute and 30 seconds. Chorus is the most important part so make sure that it is well presented in that short span of time.

It is also the reason why the chorus is next to the 1st verse.

Do not yet write any melodies at this stage. Just complete the lyrics.

Step 3. Now start writing melodies. To do this, you need the complete lyrics and start humming or guessing any good melodies that might fit the lyrical lines. It is important that the melodies should fit the lyrics. You can as well tweak the lyrics to fit a great melody line. It is your choice.

Writing melodies is not actually writing notes, but you will base your humming on a chord progression. For example, C-Am-F-G or G-D/F#-Em-C, it is ok to deviate or make your own unique chord progressions but this is not recommended.
If you examine the chord progressions of most hit songs, it is relatively common and predictable like the one shown above.

Step 4 It is ok to spend one day humming the 1st stanza finding good melodies, remember that melody of the song plays an important role on the success of the song. You have freedom to select any tempo of the song. The important is to have a great melody.

If you find a good melody, it is now the time to record it with a cassette recorder (by singing the 1st stanza lyrics with the melodies you create).

Do not forget to write down the chords.

Step 5 Write the hook of the song. This is the most critical part. Great/professional song writers even spend at least a week figuring out the best hook for the song.

Hook is the most addictive part of the song. It is placed in the chorus. It is often the part of the song that is easiest to remember. Hook is often characterized by high but long notes. You might be able to define a hook in 5 notes or 4 notes. For example:

a.) A song “Come Together” from the Beatles. You can remember the song in the long run by just singing “Come—To—Ge—ther” …

b.) All by myself by Celine Dion. The 4 notes on the “All—By—My—Self” is the part which is easiest to remember even if you forgot the rest of the verse lyrics.

This is the characteristic of a good song hook. Make sure to write a hit quality hook, something which is addictive, meaningful and easy to remember. One way is to use the song title as the hook lyrics like the example above.

To test how strong is the hook. Sing it in front of your kids (5 to 6 years old) on a daily basis. If they sing it with you without telling or guiding them, it is a good indication that you have just written a good hook (your kids like it and they remember it).

Step 6 Complete the bridge by creating a contrast melody. The bridge part does not follow the chord progressions of the verse and chorus. The bridge is also optional; some great songs do not even have a bridge part.

Step 7 The ending is just a repetition of either the hook to make more memorable to the listeners. It is why in most commercial songs, the ending might consist of the repetition of the chorus (either using the same or different set of lyrics) and fading out until it ends.

Songwriting is not that simple but it is really an enjoyable and a rewarding hobby. Even a single hit song can make you a living in the long run because of the royalties involved. Not to mentioned, how many lives are changed because of your song (lots of songs became couple wedding themes or inspire them to work, fall in love and enjoy life).

Tips & Warnings

1.) Avoid boring sections of the song. You can always sing it to your friend and if they find it good at first but feel bored at the end, something is wrong within your song. Maybe the verses are too long? Or you have very slight melodic variations?

2.) Do not forget to file a copyright with the copyright office. Protect your asset.

3.) Try to join an open acoustic guitar sessions within your community and present your song. You might receive some constructive comments or even confirm that you have written a very good song.

4.) During the process of tweaking the lyrics to fit a great melody line, make sure that it is still sensible and meaningful.