Archive for November, 2007

Half Steps: How Marketing Affects the Project Studio (part 1)

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

MARKETING IN PERSPECTIVE
We often hear how advertising and the media can affect consumer spending habits and their capacity for decision making. We sometimes hear how the media can offer more choices to the consumer, thus opening up more options as regards consumption, and we also sometimes hear how the media can narrow down or even dictate the competition. We sometimes hear some individuals blame the media for overemphasizing certain things and blowing up news ‘facts’ out of proportion. But what we do know (yet sometimes not understand fully) is that advertising and the media has become ingrained in the way we live, spend and interact. I feel that the discipline of Marketing instills in the student a way to view the consumer and how she/he reacts to stimuli from outside a box looking in, leading to a greater understanding of the why’s and the how’s of what we do. If we are able to take ourselves away from a situation in order to study it unattached, we let go of biases and preconceived notions, leading to an unadulterated flow of information and greater learning. This is the advantage of knowing what Marketing is, and although I’m not an expert by any means, this two-part post will try to show how Marketing can benefit your project studio.

The Need to Market

In a time wherein we are barraged by information more often and at a quicker pace than ever before, how does one enable his product or service to stand out? This is the fundamental problem posited by Al Ries and Jack Trout in their book Positioning. With so many things going on, how does a brand (in this case, your studio) set itself above from the rest in order to be recognized? Is it worth going after the industry leader by offering value added service and undercutting, only to be dealt the same blow by the one in second place when you’ve arrived at the top? The answer to these questions may be a yes or a no depending on your appetite for business and scope, but what the authors maintain to be integral to both is the notion of Market Positioning.

The Need for Positioning

What’s the first brand that comes to mind when you think of photocopying? What’s the first brand that comes to mind when you think of a vehicle with high standards of safety? What about cola? These are questions that, when asked, provide the researcher with details about a target market or segment’s mindset. If the answers are Xerox, Volvo, and Coke (and most likely, they will be), then you know that you’ve armed yourself with significant information about that target’s perception of the market. These brands get first place in the minds of that segment, simply because these brands were one of the first (if not the first) to market themselves according to their positions. Xerox for photocopiers, Volvo for safe cars, and Coke for cola soda (‘The Real Thing’). There is great recall with these brands because they have positioned themselves in the minds of the consumers. According to Ries and Trout, the way to do this is to be ahead of everyone else so as to gain the attention of the consumer (Volvo for safe cars), and to build brand loyalty. The way I see it, you have to find or carve your niche market, project the image of your company as a provider of a particular kind of need, and make sure your clients don’t leave you for someone else anytime soon, or at all.

I’ll give some examples on how to position a project studio in my next post. Until then!

Music Collaboration and the Internet

Monday, November 26th, 2007

Have you ever wanted to collaborate with other musicians online? The ubiquitous availability of broadband and the increasing familiarity musicians are experiencing with all things digital, are making this once out of reach fantasy, a reality as close as your computer.

There are many different ways to find other musicians, collaborate, jam, record, mix, master, distribute and even schmooze online. I’m going to talk a bit about each of these based on my own reading and online research, and then tell my own virtual collaboration story.

Find, Write, Jam and Record
Most new projects begin with the search for inspiration. If you want that inspiration to come from the juice that flows when you collaborate with other musicians, then www.digitalmusician.net may be just the thing for you. Digitalmusician is a community-based site, like many other musician collaboration sites and after registration and log in, you can take advantage of their Talent Scout feature and search for musicians by genre, location etc. Like most sites of this type, Digital Musician’s utilizes a proprietary session-hosting tool. The Digital Musician Link (DML) is a VST 2.0 or RTAS plug-in that you insert into one of your sequencer’s channels. From there, you log into the Digital Musician server. Through broadband connections, DML allows you to connect with other musicians and jam in real time with high-quality synchronized stereo audio (as high as 256 Kbps), as though you were in a studio together.

Another site I have come upon recently is www.ejamming.com wherein musicians use a proprietary software provided by the service that allows them to host live song writing and jamming sessions. This site is entirely MIDI controlled, so you and your collaborators will need to have MIDI controllers to play any and all instruments.

And if you’re looking for collaborating with pro musicians who make their talents available for a price, check out www.esession.com, where you can find the industry’s finest musicians, engineers and producers. Keep in mind that on this site you are working with professionals, so depending on the agreements you make with individual professionals, your cost could get pretty steep.

Other sites that specialize in hooking up musicians include www.musofinder.com and www.myvirtualband.com. I haven’t tried either of these sites, but came upon them in my reading.

Another similar site called www.sonomawireworks.com, utilizes RiffWorks software ($129; Mac/PC) an online jamming platform that allows you to create, collaborate and podcast your music in a seamless flow. Riffworks used to come bundled with Line6’s Guitar Port and is particularly geared towards the guitarist.

Another alternative is to us a plug-in such as Source-Connect 2.5. This plug-in allows musicians to collaborate online as long as both are using a hi-speed broadband connection. You can download Source-Connect 2.5 at www.source-elements.com.

Mix and Master It
Once you have found others with whom to collaborate and have worked out and recorded your creative ideas online, you may want to hire others to mix it down and ready your work for the mastering stage. That’s where www.themixingbox.com comes in. For a price, professional engineers will do everything from fix your drum tracks, to completely mix your song. Musicians submit projects created using any major DAW and receive high-quality mixes, vocal correction and drum editing by a professional team of Digidesign-certified mix engineers. Prices range from $225 US for fixing drum tracks to to $849US for full song mixing including vocal and drum fixes.

As with finding professionals online who will mix your music, there are many sites that provide professional mastering services. I couldn’t’ write this piece without mentioning Massive Mastering, one of Studio Forum’s top contributors. Massive Mastering provides artists an affordable, yet professional quality dedicated digital audio mastering alternative. You can find more out about their services by going to www.massivemastering.com.

One of the most highly touted mastering services on the web can be found at www.emasters.co.uk. Emasters provides top industry professionals Streaky and Kevin Metcalfe both of whom have mastered some of your favorite albums of all time. Some of the musicians they have mastered include Oasis, Bowie, U2, the Who, Sex Pistols, Orbital, Duran Duran ,OutKast, A Tribe Called Quest, Erasure, Depeche Mode, Fatboy Slim, the Stone Roses, Groove Armada and more. Fees for their services are extremely reasonable and run around $130 US dollars per track. That makes getting your music mastered by the pros whose work you have loved and grown up listening to, a real possibility.

Once you have your work ready, the sites where you can distribute your music, share it with others, sell it, and or receive reviews are numerous. Sites like MySpace and YouTube provide places for musicians to share their music and even set up their own websites. Other sites that specialize in musician and music sharing communities include www.soundclick.com and www.broadjam.com. For a small monthly fee, both of these sites allow musicians to upload music for free listening or paid downloads, as well as support for website creation and maintenance, blogs, reviews, contests, and submission to film and television calls.

Other sites like www.tunecore.com actually manage the distribution of your music to some of the web’s largest sales platforms including iTunes, Rhapsody, Napster, e-music, and AmazonMP3. TuneCore has arrangements with leading digital music retailers. This lets them place your music in these online stores and you get 100% of the money that your music earns. Sounds to good to be true. It’s true. You pay a subscription service of $0.99 per track, $0.99 per store per album, and $19.98 per album per year storage and maintenance and Tunecore gives you 100% of all sales through these online venues.

And once you have written, jammed, recorded, mixed, mastered and distributed your music online, you may want to stay connected to the industry via www.nextcat.com. For musicians, Nextcat serves as an online publicist where you place your bio, photos, songs, professional and personal info and user comments. It’s not the most innovative concept as you could use MySpace, broadjam or soundclick to basically do the same thing. But Nextcat’s is betting that its all-encompassing talent pool and one-stop-shop for industry insiders to hook up and do business will make it a more attractive place for musicians looking for an industry inside track.

My Online Collaboration Experience
I’ve been collaborating with other musicians online for about two years. I have basically conducted two collaboration efforts. One with a friend from Sydney, Australia and the other with a wonderful musician and home recording enthusiast located in New Jersey.

My first introductory experience was with Alex Shay from Sydney, Australia. Alex has been a friend of mine for several years and a few years ago during a business trip to Sydney, I was visiting with him and we began to play around with Garageband on his Macbook Pro. Using loops, I would create foundations over which Alex would record vocals. We enjoyed the experience of creating electronic music together so much that we decided to continue collaborating online. Alex would use loops and samples to create tracks in Garageband. He would then bounce these down to .wav files and send them to me.

We looked at several different file sharing sites and chose www.box.net as the place we would upload and download each other’s contributions. The Box is an online storage and sharing service that gives you access to your files from anywhere. With the Box, you can upload music files from your desktop computer, laptop, or even mobile phone. Once you’ve uploaded your files to your online storage on Box, you can then share them with anyone.

Alex and I would share ideas via the Box and discuss them via phone. Once a song came into focus, I would move the files into Logic Pro and continue building further tracks, editing, processing and mixing. I would then send finished .wav files to Alex to add vocals. We named our collaboration project, “The Sand Men”. You can hear our collaboration on a site we created using Broadjam’s musician web site tool, called www.dasandmen.com. This site has all 10 songs we created on an online album we entitled “Dance of the Divine”. The recordings and mixes are somewhat raw, but we had a blast creating them. I learned a lot about working over the net on that project. It would come in handy when I began my second online collaboration project entitled “DNA”, an abbreviation for Dave ‘n Albert.

“DNA” is the name given to an ongoing collaboration project I have with Dave Wohlman from New Jersey. Dave and I met via Tweakheadz Studio Central’s online forum. After months of talking via e-mail, Dave and I had learned quite about each other. We were the same age, shared the same musical influences, and much more. Dave is a fabulous guitarist as well as a hell of a musician on several instruments including drums and keyboards. He also has a wonderful fully analog home studio. Look ma, no computers! As Dave and I began sharing our home recordings with each other, we were both impressed by each other’s set up. In fact, we had extremely complimentary rigs.

Dave’s rig is completely analog, built around a Soundtracs Topaz 32/8 going into an Alesis HD24XR MTR. Other outboard gear Dave uses include two DBX 266 Compressors, a Lexicon Alex and a Lexicon PCM91, a Behringer Mulitgate, an Alesis Midiverb 4, two Roland Digital Delays, an Alesis Quadraverb 4, and a Behringer Ultrafex. Dave mixes down to an Alesis Masterlink. He records guitars and basses through a Line6 Pod Pro XT, various Sansamp stomp boxes and through a Behringer Ultra DI. He uses a Roland JV1000 digital workstation and Roland A-90EX for his synthesizers and uses a JV1000, an Alesis SR-16 and a Roland TD-7 drum module with a complete set of pads to create all drum and percussion tracks. He uses two types of monitors; Alesis monitor 1’s (the original passive model) driven by a Samson Servo and Mackie HR824s.

My rig on the other hand is a mixerless almost totally digital in-the-box set up built around a Mac G5 Quad running Logic Pro with an RME Fireface 800, Mackie control surfaces, and MOTU midi interfaces. Like Dave, I also use a Pod Pro XT for guitar and bass. I use a T.C. Helicon VoiceWorks as well as a variety of software including Propellerhead Reason, NI Guitar Rig 2, NI Battery 3, BiasPeak, and more. Additionally, I also master down to an Alesis Masterlink and monitor with Mackie HR824s as well as a pair of KRK Rokit 5s that I control with a PreSonus Central Station.

So Dave is Mr. Analog to my Mr. Digital. Each one’s rig serves a specific purpose in our online collaboration process. Dave records short snippets (approximately 30 seconds in length) These snippets come fully tracked with drums, bass, rhythm and lead guitars. He posts .wav files on the Box (www.box.net) of the finished snippet as well as solo drum tracks of the same snippet, as well as other solo instrument tracks as we decide are necessary.

One hundred percent of our collaboration is via e-mail and the Box. Although Dave and I have become great friends, and have spent hundreds of hours together, we have never actually met in person, or even heard one another’s voice. A bit strange at first, but completely natural a year into our collaborations.

Dave’s snippets set the foundation for the final sound of the mixes. I take these snippets into Logic Pro and edit them, organize them into different arrangements, add instruments, other chord progressions etc. and return to Dave for feedback. To date, Dave and I have worked on several pieces together and have recently posted our favorites in an online album we call “DNA: Collaborations”. You can hear our songs on my site at www.albertvinasco.com by clicking on Albums. There you will find call “DNA: Collaborations” along with my other solo efforts under the name Albert Vinasco.

So all in all, my online collaboration experience has been technologically pretty simple. I use the Box to share files, and e-mail and chat to discuss work, and my home studio rig as well as other musician’s rigs to create the music. I use Broadjam and Soundclick to post and share my music, and I use TuneCore to distribute internationally. Although I have written about several online collaboration sites, I have yet to use most of them seriously (other than Broadjam, Soundclick, Box, and TuneCore), as I have found a way that works for me with the musicians with whom I am collaborating. And in the end, that is the key. Find a way to collaborate that works for you and your collaborating partners. There is no one right answer, only tons of fun no matter what method you find that works for you.

See you on the Forum!

Half Steps: Your Own Project Studio Venture

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

Greetings to all! It’s definitely a pleasure to be among contributors who I look up to and recognize as authorities in their respective fields in Tweak’s Studio Central forums. I’ve been browsing the forums and reading Tweak’s guides for a little over two years already, although I haven’t contributed much in terms of posting in the forums. I recognize that the help I’ve received as well as the advice I’ve been given have been instrumental in the development of my knowledge as an engineer and hobbyist.
Since this is my first post, I’d really like to start out, if I may, by introducing myself and what it is that I do, followed by a brief description of what this blog (which I have titled Half Steps for no apparent reason other than it sounded music related. I could call it “Romantic Asteroid” or “Big Hard Explosion Stick For You, Ladies” also if you want).

I own and operate a small project recording studio that’s just starting up with my friends that caters to independent artists and bands. I hold a day job in an office as an assistant, and so I have some time to write in my personal blog (and in this one, hereonafter). After work, I head on over to the studio to check up on how things are going, and to engineer a session if there’s a booking. It’s a lot of work coming from both ends, but it really makes me happy to be able to balance (most of the time, at least) both duties.

My initial aim for this blog is to write about several aspects of a Project Recording Studio. One would be operating the recording studio as a small business on the side, that is, moonlighting as a proprietor while keeping a day job. Since our studio is just starting out and I’ve seen some of those kinks and quirks involved in such a start-up, I’d want to share them with you guys. Generally, I won’t offer a solution that is the end-all-be-all answer to the problem, preferring a healthy discussion over it, and I’d really like it if everyone chimes in if they feel like it. The blogosphere thrives on participation! :) Second, I’d like to input some of the coping mechanisms I’ve learned recently when it comes to balancing both office work and studio work (it really is a bit of a duality), as sometimes one can actually complement the other! :) And lastly, this blog will be an outlet for me to publish some first hand thoughts on being a novice engineer and post some of the key things I’ve learned through the months that have passed.

In closing, I’d like to thank Tweak for giving me a chance to write some stuff in his blog, and I’d like to acknowledge the other contributors here (Blue Bear, joepilling, nanashi, fooman, _controlfreak, everyone!) for being true sources of inspirational advice for other project studio owners/engineers/producers/employees/assistants the world over.