| By Thomas Brett |
Introduction To The Series:
Tired of endless tutorial videos and thick books on mixing? Take a break and live a bit!
*SHH, JOEL WANASEK WILL HEAR YOU!!!*
All “#Smalltime” jokes aside – Believe it or not, staring at a computer screen or sitting in front of a mixing console in the studio for weeks-on-end without seeing any sunlight isn’t the only way to improve your productions…
Often, simply going about your everyday tasks while focusing on a certain goal you have in mind is enough to cause breakthroughs and improvements! Sound a bit crazy? Read on to find out exactly what I mean…
Here are 3 tips which might have a positive effect on your musical output and help expand your studio business in the process:
1 – Hot or Not? (Understand And Utilise Current Trends)
“Mainstream” is a term which people within the rock/metal communities tend to use as a derogatory slur more often than not, and given the fact that a huge percentage of the tracks you hear on the radio nowadays are basically recycled iterations of what seems like an “annually-standardised formula”, this is often a fairly accurate assessment…
Pride vs. Progress:
As dire as it may seem, the reality of the situation is that people within the “mainstream” are making money… While a lot of the musicians you consider to be “real” are probably struggling to make ends meet.
Now don’t get me wrong! I’m not saying that you should throw your morals and personal tastes to the wind and “sell out” completely… I’m simply saying that there’s definite value in understanding why a particular musical trend is popular in order to try and extract certain elements of said phenomenon and appropriate them into your own productions!
My Advice? Rather than conforming to a stereotypical “real musician’s” mindset of mocking or being jealous of those who have achieved any level of mainstream coverage, why not take a few cues from their process in order to improve on your own chances of success?!?
This being said – Here are a few audio lessons that can be learned from analysing “The Mainstream”:
NOTE: These points are more “suggestions based on my own interactions with mainstream media” rather than “definitive advice”. The severity at which you decide to apply the following information in your own situation is entirely up to you…
#1 Video Killed The Radio Star:
- Unfortunately, we live in a time of short attention spans and constant sensual bombardment via the media. As a result, simply posting a link to some standalone audio often isn’t enough to spark a potential fan’s interest…
- As can be gathered from taking a quick look at the artists and bands which are at the top of the charts, Image is an extremely important factor towards attracting a fan-base.
Fact: It’s much more likely that people will be drawn to click on your content if there’s some sort of visual appeal to help grab their attention.
- I’m not necessarily just talking about “image” in a physical appearance context, but rather in the context of having an image element (a video) for people to look at while consuming your music.
- A quick improvement? Something as simple as attaching a lyric video, a live playthrough, or an animated album art background will go a long way towards getting more people to click on your content!
NOTE: Carefully selecting the thumbnails and titles you select for your releases is another great way of securing a higher number of views/listens etc. I’m not suggesting/condoning the use of clickbait by any means… I’m just pointing out the importance of selecting your visual components strategically in order to assure maximum marketing potential. Remember: It’s not clickbait if your image is relevant and the content is actually decent and worth people’s time!
#2 Accessibility Is An Advantage:
- Wondering why your obscure “avant garde blackened trve kvlt metal” band isn’t getting anywhere fast? Probably because you’re catering to a niche audience which consists of around 5 people…
- Not that there’s anything wrong with playing the music that you like… It’s just that you can’t expect many people to be on the same page as you if the page you’re operating within isn’t even in the same book!
- Being able to cater to a wide range of audiences simultaneously via covering multiple musical bases is one of the best ways of reaching a larger number of people.
NOTE: This is partly why “genre-mashing”, ex: ‘metal covers of pop songs and pop covers of metal songs’ etc. are such a huge thing on YouTube and social media.
- A few successful examples which come to mind from the history of heavy music are: Metallica doing ballads, Aerosmith collaborating with Hip-Hop group Run DMC, and Korn doing a Dubstep album with Skrillex.
- Whether you were personally a fan of them or not, each of these endeavours resulted in said bands widening their potential audience and growing in popularity as a result.
- This same cross-breeding of genres can be observed in how electronic dance music has become an integral part of pop production, effectively helping merge their respective audiences into a sort of “mega-audience”. This at least partially accounts for the huge amounts of streams and views generated by modern mainstream music.
Conclusion: You don’t have to go as far as making an album you don’t like, but it might be worth looking into some new ways of injecting a bit of popular appeal into your productions if you actually want people to listen…
2 – Go To Gigs
Even though it may seem like an integral part of a musician’s lifestyle to some, the concept of attending live music events isn’t always high-up on everyone’s list…
Here are some of the audio-related benefits of taking part in the world of live music:
- Networking: Small local gigs are a great place to network with potential clients and start building a studio presence within your area, as the bands which are performing at said events are often fairly new to the music business or yet to record anything of studio quality.
- Why not introduce yourself and make your services known to them? It’s not unheard of for connections formed through these interactions to turn into long-lasting band/studio relationships which span the course of multiple albums.
- Making a good impression on each of the people you meet will also go a long way towards generating further opportunities via any unexpected word-of-mouth advertising they might do for you.
NOTE: Approaching people with the goal of converting them into potential customers in mind isn’t always the best way to go… The truth is, a more genuine approach of simply taking an interest in people’s lives and being a cool person to hang out with will often lead to a similar outcome!
- Inspiration: There’s nothing quite like going to see a great gig to inspire you musically and refresh your drive to achieve goals.
- A primary example of a metal gig which really inspired me was Periphery. Witnessing how each member of the band worked together to form a tight rhythmic unit of crushing progressive metal really opened my eyes to some of my own shortcomings as a musician. I went home that night with a more grounded view of my own abilities and a renewed sense of drive to reach that level musicianship.
- Another example on the other end of the musical spectrum was going to see Ellie Goulding. The obvious amount of detail that went into the visuals and choreography for the show was simply mind-blowing and at a whole new level to that which I’d been to previously (Of course, it also helped that she was a pitch perfect, brilliant performer throughout the duration of the entire show…) My point is: It made me realise the extent of the effect which having a high-standard visual element to accompany the audio can have on the final experience of attending a gig.
NOTE: Engineering at live gigs is another great way to hone your audio skills while also covering pretty much all of the above. Check out Dave Whelan’s You Should Be Doing Live Sound URM Blog series for some great advice and information on the benefits of live sound engineering.
3 – Learn To Take Breaks
A common re-occurring problem involved in a time-consuming and often tedious career such as audio engineering is mental (and physical) burnout.
It’s fairly easy to get stuck in a technical or creative rut when you’re repeating the same process every day or practicing the same things for countless hours without any noticeable improvements.
Here’s a simple piece of advice that has worked for me too many times for it to be a fluke: Learn to take breaks and give yourself time to rest!
- As counter-intuitive as it may seem, taking a step back from the goals you’re working towards and re-evaluating is often a better solution than wearing yourself down further and eventually driving yourself to insanity!
- I can tell you from multiple past experiences that taking some time off, or at the very least, focusing your attention towards something else for a short period of time can often lead to important breakthroughs when said work is returned to.
- Taking a break from audio doesn’t necessarily mean doing nothing… There are always other musical areas that you can improve in which will have a direct impact on your ability to mix or produce.
NOTE: Check out my URM Article from the beginning of the year titled 5 New Year’s Resolutions For The Studio for a few ideas on this subject.
To sum up the main points I’m trying to convey in this article in a few simple sentences:
1 – You can either choose to hide away in your “bubble of musical superiority” and avoid everything which is connected to popular music culture. OR… You can study the mainstream and use it as a learning tool to better your own productions!
2 – Going to live events is great in general… But it’s also a great way of establishing relationships and raising your overall musical standards!
3 – Working yourself too hard can be just as harmful as not working enough.
This concludes “Live And Learn: Audio Lessons From Everyday Life – Part 2.” I hope that this article has given you some new ideas to try out during your next project. Be sure to comment below if any of this information has helped you out, or if you have any questions.
Stay tuned for more production/mixing related articles in the not-so-distant future!
Thomas Brett is a producer, mixing engineer and songwriter at Brett Brothers recording studio in the UK. Check out the Brett Brothers studio website for more information and articles on all things mixing www.brettbrothersstudio.com
Read Live And Learn: Audio Lessons From Everyday Life – Part 1 here!
Want mix tips from Thomas Brett? Read them here!
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