Is Going To School For Audio Worth The Price You Pay

Today, we are going to comment on a very common inquiry we get from many young producers who come through our studio in Chicago and book time. It is the question of whether it is useful or not to go to an audio school to pursue a career in music. With so much of the younger generation discovering a passion for music production (largely due to the affordability of powerful audio & production software), the natural move for a small percentage of them is to want to make a living engineering and producing music full time.

So just like many careers out there, the natural logic is to presume a degree is needed not only for the skill and insight but for the resume, proof of effort, etc. In addition, the idea of going to school to learn how to play around with mixing consoles, top end audio gear and microphones is pretty enticing. So if you’ve toyed around with these questions, let us give you a few thoughts to take into consideration. Remember, the ultimate decision though is up to you and no one else, don’t ever forget that.

No Degree Is Needed To Make A Living In Audio Engineering

We’ll just get right to the point here. No degree is needed to make a successful living recording, mixing, mastering, or producing music. As a matter of fact, it wouldn’t be all that shocking to discover that most of the top level audio engineers currently in the field didn’t go to school for a career in audio. It would even be fair to say that a decent amount didn’t even go to school at all.

Audio engineering and music production is not just a field of study. It is an artform, a craft. The typical method of training for a career in audio is an internship where an aspiring engineer learns and works under a seasoned audio engineer, studies and actively employs his or her techniques and philosophies in order to one day develop into a skilled successful engineer. Its been like this since the earliest days of recording. The two things that matter most in this business in order to induce ultra success are connections and experience. These days, one can go to any studio around the world, beg like a dog for an unpaid internship, and start the long and somewhat brutal process of planting one foot in the door. Of course you’ll make a lot of coffee, clean a lot of toilets and answer a lot of phones, but its all for that one day when you might be able to assist a session for the first time or be relied upon to edit some audio in Pro Tools before an important mix. Then before you know it, you’ll be sitting in more sessions, learning more techniques, asked to do more important things in order to make the engineer or engineers lives that you are interning under exponentially easier in the studio.

Go To School If You Can Pay

With all that was just previously said talking down the idea of going to school for audio engineering, a college education can be invaluable for an aspiring young engineer, giving you hands on experience with recording equipment and real world situations commonly found in most professional studios around the world. You see, its more than just recording and mixing. It’s learning the process to meet deadlines, proper session flow, understanding your clients or client psychology, the art of effective promotion, business management and so much more. Some of these things can be hard for an intern to learn in the studio. Having a firm grasp on all these concepts before beginning what is the usual mandatory internship makes it easier to get both feet in the door at a studio and thrown into everyday studio life.

The one unfortunate thing about going to school these days is the amount of money that one must shell out in order to get that piece of paper at the end that confirms you did it. So if you have the money to go or your family or relatives are willing to pay for it so you don’t have student loans, go to school, it would be silly not to. The amount of people you’ll meet, relationships you’ll develop, and life experiences you’ll have are ultimately important for personal growth and development. And you can apply these life lessons and relationships to the world of professional audio. Good people skills and relationships can lead to more networking, more networking can lead to more connections, and more connections can ultimately lead to more clients and business.

However, if you have to take out loans to go to school, it’s tough to advocate putting yourself in serious financial debt for a degree in audio. Why? At the end of the day, the sad fact is that even with an esteemed degree from a top college, you still have to be accepted into the school of ‘hard knocks’ as an intern in a recording studio. As we said before, the education should help give you a one up with your experience and knowledge over the rest of the interns. Engineers may turn to you more often to assist or sit in on their sessions, but that’s not always a guarantee. At the end, you’ll have to ask yourself if its really worth spending all that time and money on a degree only to do what you could have done for free without that certified piece of paper.

So in summary, going away to school for an education in audio is a great thing. As we said before, the relationships you’ll build and life experiences you’ll have are not only important for self-development and growth, but they will also help out in the real world environment of professional audio. However, not going to school shouldn’t be the excuse one uses for not pursuing a career audio engineering. Going back, most top-level engineers didn’t go to school for audio. They got in the door and advanced their careers because of their motivation, dedication, hard work ethic, reliability, and personality. They also advanced their careers because of their extraordinary hearing abilities. All these qualities are vitally important in the profession of audio engineering and can’t necessarily be learned in school. Plus, a seasoned engineer might be more willing to take a chance on a person with these qualities versus someone with a degree. You’ll never know though until you give it a try.

 

Kris Anderson

Studio 11

345 N.Loomis St. Suite 500 5th Flr

312 372 4460

Looking To Record A Song In Chicago?

Recording A Song In Chicago

Back in the day there was simply no other option to record a song than to go to the recording studio. These days with the advent of digital technology, it seems that everyone is under the belief that they can record their own songs. The unfortunate aspect of this logic is that most people are not skilled and trained to record very well. Let’s look at the reasons why heading to the recording studio is your best option when looking to record your next song.

Audio Quality

Audio quality is the most important aspect of your next recording following the music. If your recording sounds sub-par, listeners will not take your work seriously. The recording studio brings you the combination of top quality equipment and engineering. These forces combine to do wonders for your sound and success.

Focus On Music

Let’s face it, if you’ve got your head buried in a computer screen you’re likely not making much music. Engineering audio and making music are married forces that are in fact quite departed. As a musician your goal should be to focus on the music. Imagine the difference between cutting your own hair and going to a salon. You need to sound your best, and the studio will insure that you have the focus to do that.

Economy

While many people think they are saving money by spending thousands on home recording setups, they are in fact throwing money out the window. These home setups end up worthless after just a few years of use and yield no professional results. For the same amount of money dozens of songs could have been recorded professionally. Time is a valuable resource, and the recording studio insures that you’re making the best use of it.

If you’re looking to record a song in Chicago you’ve landed at the right place. After 20 years of servicing Chicago, Studio 11 brings you the best combination of recording equipment and engineering. Call us for a consultation on your project at 312-372-4460.

Mixing Rap Vocals: Ideas to Follow

9 times out of 10 in the studio, the most frequent question we get asked on an everyday basis would have to be “what are you doing to the vocals to make them sound so good in the mix?” Sometimes clients word it a little differently, but it all leads back to the same question

Here at Studio 11, we mix a new rap vocal anywhere from four to six times a day — much more if there are multiple rappers on the same track. Over the years recording and mixing rap and hip hop in Chicago, we have developed an approach that genuinely works, and works extremely fast. In fairness, we understand that all songs, their track makeup, vocal styling and performance can be quite different. Truthfully, there can never be one formula to mix all vocals effectively. In the genre of rap and hip hop, there are many approaches to conceptualizing a vocal treatment. Ours is just one of many.

The Approach

It all starts with the approach. We say this time and time again, and every time we say it, it only gets more true: in order to mix anything music related, you need an end game. There has to be some kind of idea of what the song is going to sound like when it is finished, where the vocal is going to go sonically in the song before you start getting it there. More than likely, your initial approach can and probably will change along the way, but there has to be some kind of guiding direction or else why do anything at all.

The biggest issue most people have when mixing rap vocals is that they think of the word “vocals” without considering the word “rap.” Rap is a supremely general term — there are big differences between 1994 LA style rap vocals and 2015 Chicago style rap vocals.

The point being, when it comes to mixing vocals, the ‘what’ and ‘why’ are just as critical as the ‘how’. Important things to consider before the mix are: what is the artist’s style, where is the song being played, who exactly is the artist’s audience, and how can you, the engineer, tie all that together and bring the song to life?

So that you have an overall approach to the song, how exactly do you get it there?

Cleaning Things Up

After all the rap lead’s, overdubs, and adlibs are recorded in the song, many of them are going to need a bit of cleaning before the mix process can begin. There are many related issues that can occur during any given vocal tracking session.

One common issue we hear all the time when clients send us projects to mix is their vocal tracks were recorded in a terrible spot. One such place is the closet (we get that one a lot) or in the crapper. We know its crazy, but a legend has gone around that it’s a good idea to record in a closet or bathroom. Lets be clear, it is never a good idea. However, if a closet receives the proper acoustic treatment, it can work just fine. But only with proper acoustic treatment is it possible.

The other common problem we get all the time from our clients is that the vocal tracks were recorded too hot or are clipping. Again, a myth has persisted that it’s a good idea to record the vocal signal or any signal for that matter as loud as possible. This is completely not true, particularly in the era of 24-bit audio.

Cleaning things up can be a little rough sometimes because the capacity of what can be done to the audio in question can be quite restricted. One useful tool for audio files that are clipped out is iZotope’s distortion removal software called Rx De-Clipper.

Another thing to keep in mind is the distortion on the audio file will create resonances in the center frequencies. This can be corrected with precise parametric equalization.

For vocals recorded in reverberant spaces, subtle gating, expansion and careful equalization can contain the sound of the room — or you can use software like SPL De-Verb. Another trick we incorporate is to mix the track in a way that utilizes the reverb printed with the vocal. A good way to do this is heavy compression

For vocals recorded in closets or corners, the main issue will be comb filtering.

One simple idea we use for reducing comb filtering is if there are doubles of the vocal, pitch shift each one up or down a slight amount. This will slightly alter the frequency bands that are being filtered, so that when stacked with the main vocal, the same bands will not be missing entirely. The doubles or overdubs will “fill in” the missing frequencies. At the end of the day, the comb filtering will still be there, but it won’t be as noticeable.

Another noticeable problem we frequently get when clients send us projects to mix is that the vocals will be poorly edited, containing clicks, pops, noises, jumpy or unnatural cuts. At Studio 11, we always go through all the vocal tracks one by one and delete the dead space and fix all the editing so each performance is as smooth and natural as possible. If the breaths are real loud on the vocal track you might want to gain them down or delete them. If the vocals are stacked and there is no particular lead, the best idea is to just delete the breaths all together.

Lastly, if the artist is in the studio with you for the mix process, it might be a good idea to mention these problems to them if they exist and just rerecord all the vocals or just the ones that are in question.

The Power of Processing

Now that the vocals have been cleaned up (or maybe they came in clean to begin with), it’s time to decide what to do with them in the mix.

Now, its not really our style to tell you how you should or should not process the vocals in your mix, but we can give you a couple of pointers to consider and think about.

B-B-B-Balance

First and foremost, when it comes to mixing Rap and Hip-Hop, especially Chicago Rap and Hip-Hop, it is extremely important to understand and figure out the relationship between the vocals and other instruments that fall in the same frequency range.

Typically, Chicago Rap and Hip-Hop is all about the relationship between the level of the vocals and drums. The number one contender with the voice is usually the snare. Discovering a way to make both the vocals and the snare prominent and pocket without getting in each other’s way will make the rest of the mix fall nicely into place.

Rap and Hip-Hop vocals generally do not have much in the way of reverb.

There are three main reasons for this:

1. Rap vocals tend to hold more of a rhythmic function and generally move faster than sung vocals — long reverb tails can smear the rhythm and articulation and even dull out vocal presence.
2. Typically, the idea in Hip-Hop is that the vocal needs to be “up front and in your face,” whereas reverb tends to push things back into the stereo field.
3. All the dogs and cats are mixing vocals that way. Not necessarily an okay reason, but resonates with truth.

However, Rap and Hip-Hop vocals usually do profit from a slight sense of three dimensional sculpting, or what is known as “air.” This is a sense of space around the vocal that makes it more vivid and exciting. Very small, wide, quiet reverbs can really do the vocal a lot of justice here.

Another thing that we do that helps out a lot is use a small amount of delay (echo), keeping it in the background, with a lot of high-end rolled off. This creates the sense of a very deep three dimensional space, which by contrast makes the vocal seem even more present and forward.

Lastly, if you are recording the vocals in a really nice professionally designed tracking room, carefully bringing out the natural space of the room on the vocal track can be a good way to add a bit of “air” and realism to super dry vocals.

Mid to heavy compression with a very fast attack, relatively quick release, and a boost to the super-treble range can often help accentuate the natural “airiness” in the vocal.

Consistency and Shape

A little compression often works well with vocals, just to tame them, place them into a mix and add a smidge of tone.

On a mix with few tracks, a small amount of compression will usually get the job done, unless you are truly going for that over-compressed sound where there is little dynamics. However, the most common error most people do make when processing Rap and Hip-Hop vocals is over-compression. Extreme levels of compression really only works well within in a mix when there is a lot of stuff fighting for frequency space. When you hear about rapper’s vocals going through three different compressors it’s probably because there are many things already occurring in the mix, and the compression is necessary for the vocals to cut through. Or because it’s a stylistic choice to really crunch the vocals and get that over compressed ‘in your mouth’ kind of sound.

Filter Cats Ho!

What’s happening around the vocals music wise is just as important to the vocals as the vocals themselves. Carefully choosing what frequencies to keep and get rid in the mix is very important in helping the vocals sit or pocket just right. For example, a lot of engineers choose to high-pass filter almost all the tracks in the mix except the kick and bass. That helps create room for the low frequency information. Often though, the importance of low-pass filtering is overlooked. Synthesizers, even bass synths, can contain a lot of upper frequency information that just isn’t needed in the mix, leaving the “air” range around the vocals feeling stuffy.

A couple of well utilized low-pass filters could very well bring your vocals to life.

Also, a little more on high-pass filtering, unless you are going for that thin mid rangy thing, you really don’t need to high pass filter your vocals past 120-130 Hz. Both the male and female human voice has chest resonance that on average goes down to 80 Hz (and sometimes even lower). Try applying a moderate high-pass filter at around 70 or 80 Hz to start with if you’re just trying to clear up the vocals. This will usually remove any microphone boom that might be on the vocal track or tracks. This will definitely your low end instruments push through the mix better too.

Presence not Presents

Deciding where the vocal sits in the frequency spectrum is important. Mid heavy vocals (telephonic sound) can be really cool at times, low-mid “warm” sounding vocals certainly have their place, add charm, and moisten panties. Most of the time, we like to hype the natural presence of the vocals through subtractive equalization of the “throat” tones and proximity buildup which generally occurs around the 230-650 Hz range. As a result, this will over exaggerate the head and chest sound— particularly the consonants that form at the front of the mouth, tongue, and teeth — which is what we use to pronounce our words. These consonant sounds generally live in the upper midrange (2k-5k).

Although these are the methods we use to get vocals to stand out in a Rap or Hip-Hop track, at the end of the day, there really is no correct way. Remember to use your ears, because as long as the client is happy and the mix sounds good and translates, then you, the engineer did his or her job. Then maybe just maybe, someone will throw you a cookie at the end of the session for a job well done.
Studio 11

Three Important Skills Essential for Better Recording Sessions

Often during recording sessions, audio engineers have their technical jacket on and can periodically overlook some of the psychological aspects of engineering a record. The psychology doesn’t only make a record, it also can transform the way an artist or band feels about the record in the end.

It is important to remember that there are certain realities in the studio that can discourage artists when making modern records.

1. Editing

Most modern music production nowadays consists of recording and rendering audio files and moving them around in some kind of DAW session. For example, you may want to move a percussion fill from the end of your first verse to the last verse. However, after this simple rearrangement, the percussion fill doesn’t lock to the groove of the drums and bass guitar the same way that it did at the end of the first verse.

Correcting this problem between the relationship of the percussion, drums, and bass might require a few simple adjustments on one or more of the tracks in question. As technicians in the studio, often times we don’t take this concept to heart as much as we should. Musicians and artists will often become self-aware the longer they are in the studio. The psychological affect this can have over time in the studio can kill inspiration and motivation.

The truth is, it’s not that the percussion is out of time or the drum and bass tracks were performed poorly. Slight feel shifts happen all the time during performances, especially when two or more musicians are playing live together.

One way to avoid this psychological hiccup from having an affect in your recording session is to make sure the artist and/or musicians take a periodic break from time to time while recording. Send them outside for a walk around the block to clear up their heads. It’s always a good idea to have your client’s take a short break after they’ve just recorded a bunch of takes anyway. The brief separation can lend objectivity to the overall project, keep emotions balanced, and ears fresh. This objectivity can help the artist or musicians hear their song from an outside listeners perspective as opposed to an inside perspective

Between a Rock & a Hard Place

As sure as the sun rises in the east, it’s quite likely that at some point in your audio engineering career you’ll have to edit a song or performance way more than you either wanted or planned to. This can be due to a few things in your control as well as a number of factors that aren’t.

Most of the time in the studio, you’re stuck with the band or musicians you are recording on a project. And most of the time in the studio, its not going to be possible to replace a musician or band member that isn’t carrying his or her own weight in the recording process. It’s just something that has to be dealt with, which means that you’re probably going to be doing a lot of editing and or secretly replacing.

The best thing to do is to get the band or musicians you are working with to leave for the day or wait until the end of the session when they leave before starting editing. You’re going to be doing major surgery, which can become quite a long and tedious job. Time and patience are required, which is something that doesn’t always sit well with an artist or band that is not familiar with the process. And if any of them are sensitive or thin skinned, watching you fix their performances could potentially make an artist or band member tune out and not focus their attention on the creative aspects

2. Getting Punchy

Generally during most recording sessions, punch-ins need to be made. It is definitely a time saver. Sure it’s nice to massage your client’s ego and do numerous takes until they nail the whole track in one take. But most times, doing this takes and wastes a lot of time in the studio. Clients who are booking time in the studio now usually don’t have the kind of recording budgets that people had 20 years ago. Time is definitely a factor when recording, which means punching in a performance has become an even more important step in the recording process than before.

If it’s one note or one phrase that you don’t like, just punch it in. It’s not quite as easy as it sounds though, however with computers taking over much of the recording and editing process, you don’t need to have the fastest fingers in the west anymore to do a good job. Always record a little more than what you need so you have space to edit what you are punching in cleanly and correctly. This will help give the performance that feeling like it was recorded all in one take.

Work Dat Sh*t

Do be afraid to practice counting and punching in. Remember, practice makes perfect. It’s important to know everything there is to know about the punch settings in your DAW, cause every audio system is different. Build your experience with both auto-punches and freehand punches. The goal is to make it effortless and sound natural.

Before the Roll, there was Pre Roll

This can be a real mind bender when recording. It’s important when you’re punching in or recording multiple takes that you use the same amount of pre-roll and a consistent starting point. Too much pre-roll can lead to forgetfulness or over analyzation from the artist or musician who is punching in. Not enough pre-roll can lead to an unnatural punch in which can destroy the emotion and character of a given recorded performance as a whole.

Starting randomly at different times in the beat will not put the artist or musician in a comfortable state of mind either. Pay close attention to your time ruler. Have a rule that you will either use one or two bars of pre-roll when punching in. Stay away from odd starting points unless the song is in an odd time signature.

The important thing is you always want the artist or musician you are recording to feel grounded 100% comfortable. If your start times are herky-jerky and inconsistent, you can and should expect weaker recorded performances overall.

Also, make sure the artist or musician you are punching in understands the aspects of pre-roll and punch ins. Practice it a few times with them so they can become comfortable with the punch in procedure. Practice makes perfect!

3. Markers

It’s important to make sure you label each section of the song. Do this as early in the session as you possibly can. Nobody enjoys hearing or watching you take the time to search for a specific section of the song.

Every DAW on the market has different options when it comes to markers. Systems like Logic and Pro Tools allow you to name and color code markers. You can even come up with your own system. Doing this for every song will make navigation much easier for each song because there is consistency, and you are building good engineering habits.

So remember, its all the small things that add up to making the studio experience more memorable and positive. If your goal is to become a better engineer for your clients, make sure you consider these skills.

Recording Audio with Mixing in Mind

Audio engineers play a critical role in three aspects of the process for creating music. These aspects are recording, mixing, and mastering.

Occasionally, three different engineers, who specialize in each kind of engineering, complete these tasks separately. Sometimes, one engineer might be responsible for all three.

Nonetheless, it helps the process of mastering to have a great mix. Just as well, it helps the mixing process to have a great recording. Therefore, it can be helpful to keep the big picture in mind. In this new blog, we’ll take a close look at the aspect of recording

Over time, I have come to believe that there are two common missteps to make in the process of recording.

The first blunder that many amateur engineers make is to assume that something recorded poorly can be fixed in the mixing process. While it is correct that signal processing tools such as equalization and compression are very powerful and can solve many problems, they can make some poorly recorded audio sound good. But just as well, those same powerful signal processing tools can also make good things sound great. To achieve the best results when mixing and mastering, there is nothing that beats beginning with an amazing sounding recording.

The second common mistake people make when recording is to concentrate on each individual sound of the song without acknowledging their context in the overall mix. This means that you are focusing too much on the fidelity of one particular sound in the song, without considering how it works spectrally with other instruments. For instance, you might put in significant effort to record drums that sound “clear” and “big” their own. However, this could actually cause problems when the drum tracks have to fit in with a full mix of other instruments.

Certainly, it is the fundamental responsibility of the mixing engineer to fit all the pieces of a song together. However, this can be better achieved if the original sounds in the mix were recorded with the intention to pocket together.

Here are some things to consider if you want to record with mixing in mind:

1) SONIC SPACE/DEPTH

If your mix has several various instruments, then it is common to want some instruments to be perceived as “close” to the listener and while other instruments are perceived to be “distant” from the listener.

There are a couple techniques when mixing that can be used to change the perception of depth in your mix. However, there are also different recording techniques that can produce similar results in a simpler and more natural way.

One method to achieve that upfront sound is to place the microphone close to your sound source when recording. Set up your microphone within a few inches of a vocalist’s mouth. Put a microphone angled at the top of snare drum. Place a microphone next to the grill cloth on a speaker cabinet.

If you want an instrument to sound far away and distant in your mix, set up microphones further away from the sound source. Moving a microphone several inches away from a guitar amp can make a big difference. Setting up microphones in the back of your live room when tracking drums can add to the perception of realism in your drum tracks. Occasionally, it means setting up microphones several feet away from the sound source.

2) STEREO IMAGE

In a stereo mix, there is a lot of dynamic and spectral space available in the horizontal plane. Not only can you pan mono sound sources to the left and right of your stereo mix, but there are other techniques that be used to ingeniously fill the stereo width. There are many stereo microphone techniques that can be used to obtain everything from a narrow to a wide stereo image when recording.

Another accepted and commonly used method to fill out the stereo width is to double track or mult a performance. If you are recording electric guitar, record it twice and pan one track to the left and the other track to the right. To go another step further, record each guitar track with different microphones so that each side sounds unique. Another common method is to also use different amp and guitar combinations when double tracking guitars

Similarly, to achieve a stereo vocal recording, one method is to use three separate mono tracks of the same vocal part. Start with the best vocal track panned to the center at a volume that will fit in the mix on its own. Take the other two vocal tracks and pan them to the left and right. Depending on how wide you pan each track will determine the width of the vocal performance. Blend the volume of these extra takes so that you subtly perceive the width. If you want the stereo image to be the dominant feature of the vocal, raise the volume of the panned vocal tracks so that they are louder than center panned vocal track.

3) SPECTRAL BALANCE/TIMBRE/TONE

Another aspect to consider when recording is the spectral balance or the sound of the mix. Do you want the overall sound of the mix to be bright or dark? Do you want certain instruments to sound clear while other instruments are meant to sound warm ?

One fast method to change the tone of a recording is to set up the microphone to be off-axis instead of on-axis. Another common idea is to choose between ribbon (typically warmer) or condenser (typically brighter) microphones.

The placement of the microphone in relation to the instrument you are recording can also make a significant difference in the overall tone of a track. If you would like to achieve a “full” and “tonal” sound with an acoustic guitar, place your microphone directly in front of the sound hole. If you would like to achieve a “crisp” and “percussive” sound, then point your microphone precisely at the 12th fret.

4) RENDERING EFFECTS

Motivation and creativity can occur at any point in time. If you are experimenting with certain effects during the recording process, don’t be afraid to push the envelope. Remember, the recording engineer’s main job is to capture the sound song, it might become easier to build that “signature” sound for a mix. This might be a specific delay, reverb, or modulation effect.

Rather than leaving this all up to your mix engineer, it doesn’t hurt to render or print both “dry” and “wet” versions of the signals. You never know if your mix engineer will be able to perfectly duplicate a great effect you created.

This novel idea also works for the re-amping of guitars. It can be advantageous for a mix engineer to have a reference (amped) version, even if they anticipate using re-amping after the original recording session. Its possible the original version ends up being better than the re-amped version.

Keep in mind that it can be beneficial to have both processed and unprocessed versions after recording has finished up. Only use what is known as destructive editing when you are certain that you want to commit to a particular effect.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it’s always good to have a solid vision of a song’s finished state before you start recording. It can make the recording process more constructive, and save a whole lot of time when mixing and mastering.

Mixtapes In Five Steps

Here at Studio 11, recording and producing the mixtape is what we do day in and day out. It’s an everyday occurrence, kind of like tea-bagging and the pudding dip, but that’s another story for another day. Over the last 17 years, we have recorded, mixed, and mastered close to 2000 different mixtapes for various rappers from Chicago and abroad. The writing is actually on our walls (come see for yourself). You’ll find that we have way more than a lot experience in the whole mixtape game. One thing that all this collective experience has taught us, it takes more than a well-produced mixtape to be heard. It takes a concerted effort from the artist, his or her manager, friends, family and even the fans. Here in this blog, we’ll discuss 5 detailed steps to producing, marketing, and promoting your mixtape so you can obtain the best and most impactful response out of its release.

Find The Right Studio

The first step on the journey of putting out a mixtape is finding a good studio in which to record your mixtape in. It’s important to find a studio that you are comfortable recording in, who understands your vision, and produces amazing sounding records. Always try and find out as much as you can when looking for a studio to record in. Who has worked in the studio before, what is the quality of the sound the studio produces, what is the speed of their workflow. Once you have found a studio you like and reserved the time you need, make sure that you come fully prepared. Write your rhymes at home to the music you are planning on recording to. Make sure all the lyrics you’ve written are memorized and well rehearsed before you arrive at the studio. Before you get to the studio, double check that you have all your beats with you in the best quality and format possible. It’s also important to have a back up plan just in case whatever device you brought your beats on such as a hard drive or cd doesn’t work.


Get A Good Mix and Master

After all the songs have been recorded, the next step in the mixtape journey is the process of mixing and mastering. To simply put it, mixing is defined as the process by which multiple sounds are combined into one or more channels. In the process, the source signals’ level, frequency content, dynamics, and panoramic position are manipulated and effects such as reverb may be added. This practical, aesthetic, or otherwise creative treatment is done in order to produce a mix that is more appealing to listeners. Always make sure your mixtape is cleaned up and mixed by a professional engineer who is experienced and knows what he or she is doing. Make sure that the sound is clear and crisp and that the sound levels are balanced throughout your mixtape.

Hire A Graphic Artist

When hiring a graphic artist to design your mixtape cover, make sure they understand your music and brand and that they can bring your ideas to life. Also be sure that they can bring forth their own creative cover ideas that will represent you and your mixtape effectively. So, with that being said, here are three tips to consider when hiring a graphic artist to design your mixtape:

Versatility: When choosing a graphic artist, make sure that they are versatile, creative, and have a wide range of design skills. The main thing is you want someone who can convey your individuality and the themes and messages of your music, not someone who has a pre-designed approach to designing mixtape covers.

Track Record: Request to see work they’ve done in the past. Additionally, when you’re hiring for services, such as PR, marketing, or website design, check track records too.

Professionalism: We know that the hip-hop/rap industry can be a little casual, but business is business. Make sure you have a timeline for the design job and ask that the graphic artist is being consistent and communicating effectively with you throughout the design process.

Use Social Media to Promote Your Mixtape Release

Engage: Follow other hip-hop artists, both established and up-and-coming, who have similar followers and fan bases. Additionally, follow DJs and other hip-hop influencers’, such as hip-hop editors, bloggers, etc. Keep track of who’s talking about you.

Fan Promotion: Constantly engage with your fans and include them on your journey. For example, you can ask fans for opinions regarding the title of your mixtape, which track to promote, mixtape cover art, etc. Join their conversations; don’t just always flood them with links pertaining to your music.

Plan: Plan an overall strategy so you do not get distracted from the main goal.

Find a DJ

When starting out, especially if it’s your first mixtape, don’t just look for DJ’s who are established to play your music. Go out and find Djs who are up-and-coming and who will truly believe in your music. The more Dj’s that have it, the more chances your mixtape will have to be heard. Power of the masses!

This list covers the overall basics. However, it is important to mention the viability of building your fan base prior to releasing your mixtape. Creating anticipation and hype prior to the release helps bring mystique and excitement to you as an artist and to the release as a whole. Don’t be cheeky, create that buzz!

All the best with your mixtape release!

The Common Sense of High Resolution Audio

Here in Chicago, it is well known that we like our women dirty and our music even dirtier. So is it really worth it to record and produce music in Chicago or anywhere else at a high resolution when it is meant to sound raw and lo-fi, like hip hop and rap. While many audio engineers and producers would say there is just simply no need to, more and more of them are beginning to realize the benefits of higher resolution recording such as 96kHz and 192kHz. And I too realized it after eating two Chicago style hot dogs and one polish. You can too, so listen up!

Wandering away from the times of DADC (digital audio data compression), collectively the questions of why high sample rates could benefit the consumer delivery platform becomes increasingly important. We inside this audio community struggle with the notion of using sample rates that improve fidelity outside the limits of our ears. Why can’t we just stop at the 16 bit, 44.1 kHz digital format. 16 bit gives us the dynamic range to mask the noise floor while 44.1 kHz gives us the full 20 Hz – 20kHz frequency spectrum our ears can discern. Wasn’t the conclusion Phillips and Sony made back in the day good enough? A CD’s sampling rate and bit depth delivered the best sound possible over any other digital product. The answer today in the year 2014/2015 would be no.

High-Resolution Audio systems offer the assurance of an extended high-frequency range. These digital systems now operate at 2 to 4 times the sample rate of the standard CD. This means that these systems have the ability to extend the playback frequency range well above the 22 kHz limit of the standard CD. Does this added high-frequency range really improve the quality our listening experience? Yes, it definitely will. The problem is that High-Resolution Audio will only arrive when all the components in the playback chain can equal the resolution of playback.

For example, lets consider a digital audio playback system consisting of a CD player, preamp, power amp, and speakers. If each component has a frequency response of 20 Hz to 20 kHz, is this good enough to reproduce all the frequencies we humans can hear? The quick answer is no, and here is why.

An audio system’s real frequency response can be understood by adding together the frequency response of each component in the audio systems chain. If we look at our example above, we have four components total in the chain: CD player, pre amp, power amp, and speakers. If each component is -3 dB at 20 kHz, then in total, we have a system that is -12 dB at 20 kHz. Because this collective curve is so steep, it will begin to affect the audible high frequency information we humans hear, measuring at -4 dB at 10 kHz, -.66 at 5 khz, etc. In conclusion, this system will not even come close to matching the performance of what our ears can do.

So, if we want to accurately reproduce audio at 20 kHz, the frequency response of each component must continue well past 20 kHz. Is this what you call excessive and unnecessary? To argue this, let’s change each of the four components in our example above with components that have a 200 kHz bandwidth. Combined, the audio system now measures – 4 dB at 100 kHz, – 0.8 dB at 50 kHz, and close to – 0.2 dB at 20 kHz. This simple 4-component signal chain achieves a 100 kHz bandwidth and is consistent with the 96 kHz bandwidth of a 192 kHz digital sample rate. It can be argued that the region between 20 kHz and 100 kHz may offer little musical content, and even if it does, the only living thing in your house that could possibly hear it is the family dog or cat. The real asset is that we have preserved the entire 20 Hz to 20 kHz bandwidth after passing through four audio components in a typical playback system.

Nowadays, professional audio systems usually have analog signal chains that are much longer than 4 components. These operations place difficult requirements on the frequency response of each analog component in the chain. A chain of 16 analog components total, each with a bandwidth of 20 kHz, will produce an overall frequency response of about -48 dB at 20 kHz, 16 dB at 10 kHz and – 3 dB at 5 kHz. This really is telephone quality at best if you look at the curve on frequency graph! If the same system is built with 200 kHz components, the overall response will be – 3 dB at 50 kHz, about -1 dB at 20 kHz, and -.33 dB at 10 kHz.

All together, very high bandwidth is required of each component in the audio chain if we want to assemble a High-Resolution system that can handle sampling rates such as 192kHz. The proposed benefit of high resolution audio is not inaudible content, but better performance of digital systems within the 20 Hz – 20 kHz range. The idea of high resolution has now branched out to not only recording studio playback systems but consumer playback systems as well. Neil Young’s popular consumer playback system ‘PONO’ offers response all the way up to 250 kHz.

How does this all relate to recording and producing one of these lo-fi Chicago sounding record’s on a high-resolution system. Well if you think about it now after what was mentioned above, it’s going to be a better lo-fi sound. Not in the fact that it’s going to magically sound better because of the high resolution, but in the fact that it’s going to translate better across the consumer market because of the high resolution. What this means is for the first time, people are going to be able to hear the same sound at their home as what the artist heard when making the record in the studio. This is because from recording to mixing, mastering to final print and consumer playback, the full 20 Hz – 20 kHz spectrum will have been entirely preserved. This means the sound is accurate and unaffected from the process of making the record to hearing it. To all you audio engineers out there, take it into consideration, even if you’re recording lo-fi music such as hip hop and rap, especially hip hop and rap from Chicago.

So don’t be afraid to make those high-resolution records in 192kHz, that is, if your system can hack it. The consumer market is finally picking up the pace on affordable high resolution, or high definition playback systems. Really all we need now for high-resolution consumer audio to take hold is for a significant market progression away from the mp3 format. Lets keep our fingers crossed guys and girls!

Skill Sets of the Chicago Recording Engineer

To become a prosperous recording engineer in Chicago, you must possess both a wide and unique set of skills in and out of the field. Nowadays, not only do you have to be a good musician, computer tech and gear junkie, but you also have to be an extremely good salesman, business manager, psychologist and even journalist. When it comes to the subtleties of sound, the engineer needs to have or develop a trained ear, master complicated analog and digital devices, be in the know on new technologies and methods that achieve specific artistic results.

It isn’t too surprising that most premier recording engineers in Chicago and elsewhere are musicians themselves. Many of them at one time were eager musicians who eventually realized their affinity for being in the studio, helping other artists make the most out of the projects they are recording.

One of the most important skills a recording engineer needs to master is having a sense of balance. No, I am not talking about standing up and falling down. We are not gymnasts. We are recording engineers, specialists of audio and sound. Mostly everything the recording engineer undertakes before, during, and after the recording session primarily has to do with determining and maintaining balance relationships with all the elements or parts that make up a song. The vocal can’t be too quiet. The drums can’t be too overpowering, etc.

One important thing to keep in mind with balance is unless you have learned how to use the tools to properly achieve it, having a good ear is pretty useless. A professionally experienced recording engineer will commonly say that the control board or DAW system is really just an extension of himself, a third hand that invisibly manipulates and paints the sound into a 3 dimensional sonic painting. Kind of like a jigsaw puzzle builder. You will also hear them say that to be a good engineer one must be able to see or visualize the song before it is finished. This visualization is key to understanding what the level of each particular element inside a song should be relative to the rest of the elements.


Commonly with powerful digital audio workstations (DAWs) like Pro Tools and Logic, there is an allurement to really go overboard and use every engineering trick out there on every track. A professional recording engineer will not only know how to balance levels in a session, but also how to balance compression, equalization, and effects through a vast array of editing tricks and software based plug-ins. There is, you know, that thing called being overproduced.

It is also important that a recording engineer should be intimately knowledgeable with every piece of equipment in the studio. This means understanding how each piece of equipment works, how each piece of equipment affects the sound of recorded audio, and what it’s strength’s and weakness’ are. For example, certain compressors sound good on drums, while others sound better on vocals. The engineer must also be a specialist on the varieties of microphones available to him in the studio (condenser, dynamic, ribbon), as well as the different pre-amplifiers and amplifiers that will be used to amplify signal from the microphones.

Another uber important skill that defines the good engineers from the bad is the ability to continuously maintain a strong work ethic while also paying incredibly close attention to detail. The profession of the audio engineer doesn’t always follow the usual 9-5 pm work routine found with most professions. It really isn’t that uncommon for a recording engineer to endure marathon studio sessions that last several days or more, even weeks! No matter what the working conditions might be, the engineer is always expected to make the best recordings he or she can while keeping everything in the session running smoothly.

It is also important that a good recording engineer learns how to work in the studio quickly. He or she must never be a bump in the road to the overall creative process in the studio. For the client trying to record new, spontaneous ideas, if the engineer isn’t ready to go, the client could lose confidence and creativity, thus creating frustration and tension during the recording session. Even though the recording engineer’s job can be incredibly complex, managing many different important tasks at once, it should never dominate the focus of the actual studio session. The focus should be on the creative process at hand as well as the prostitutes you ordered 10 minutes ago to help additionally ‘inspire’ your client.

This brings us to the final and perhaps most demanding skill that the Chicago recording engineer must master in and even out of the studio, communication. Recording artists, who each have their own style of communication, can sometimes make the job quite difficult for the recording engineer. It is important for the recording engineer to learn when to speak out and when to be quiet, as well as learn the intricacies of the words the client speaks. A good recording engineer will designate his or herself early in the recording session as a helpful resource in the creative process. If the client is a new client, the recording engineer will usually try to get to know the client a little bit before the session begins. This can take place by either inviting the client to the studio for a pre session meeting or tour, going to the client’s rehearsal space or home, or even attending a live show of the clients. By creating these personal relationships with your clients, you will ease the process of communication and make the overall recording session more pleasant for everyone involved.

Parallel Compression on Vocals

Whether you are a recording engineer or in the process of learning to become one, chances are you have probably heard of the drum mix technique called ‘parallel compression.’ If you haven’t, let me quickly explain. This is when the recording engineer sends the drum mix out through a stereo buss to a compressor and mixes that signal back into the original stereo mix of the song. The method of ‘parallel compression’ can either be used in an extremely subtle or overt manner by modifying the extent and character of the compression and how much of that compressed signal is sent through the stereo buss. I have found that by using this technique the drive of the drum track performance really comes alive in the mix, even during quieter passages. It gives the drums that ‘in your face’ kind of sound while still retaining a smooth listenable quality.

The results vary from just compressing the tracks because at a low level you get both retained transients and an extra sense of loudness from the compression. When the song starts to get louder, the effect of the compression applied to the bussed signal will become less prominent due to the uncompressed track’s dynamic swells that can tend to dominate the mix.

However, the technique of ‘parallel compression’ doesn’t have to be used just on drums. I discovered a similar technique for myself many years ago for vocals, only to learn that other recording engineers before me used this technique too. The reason why I decided to use ‘parallel compression’ on the vocal was I wanted the lead vocal track of the song to be articulate at lower levels while still retaining a listenable quality at higher levels. In essence, what I had created was my own form of dynamic equalization.

So, I wanted my lead vocal track to be brighter at low levels to help it slice through the mix. However, I knew adding top end would only cause the vocal to be really harsh at higher levels. Adding compression to the vocal really didn’t create the sound I was looking for, it just sounded like I was sitting in the vocalist’s mouth. A little to intimate for what was needed in the mix of the song. Also, the amalgamation of compression and high frequency boost caused the vocal track to become really sibilant, which is usually not a good thing when it comes to lead vocals. Moving the compressor to the front of the vocal chain helped a little bit, but it still didn’t provide that magical sound I was looking for.


I wanted my vocal to be brighter at low levels to help it cut through a mix, but just EQ’ing it caused it to be too harsh at higher levels. Adding a compressor to the vocal did not create the sound I had in my head. It was still to harsh at high levels and the EQ caused the compressor to react in ways that I felt were inappropriate. The combination of high frequency EQ boost and compression often causes a well recorded voice track to become sibilant. Not a good thing. Placing the compressor in front of the vocal signal chain helped, but still did not deliver the “magic” I was looking for.

The solution to my problem presented itself after a few hours of mad science and experimentation. Since I work primarily on a DAW, I decided to duplicate the lead vocal track to a second track, so in essence, there were now two lead vocal tracks. On the duplicate lead vocal track, I first Eq’d all the bottom end out by running it through a high pass filter. I then boosted the top end of the duplicate lead vocal by about 5 or 6 dbs’s. My goal was to create a vocal track that didn’t have a lot of tone to it or vowel sound, just consonants. I then heavily compressed the duplicate lead vocal track to control and push back any loud passages, allowing for the softer passages to come through. Once this was done, I mixed the duplicate lead vocal track back in with the original lead vocal track. The end result was a lead vocal track that was now easy to understand at low levels because of the extra boost in the highs, while also be pleasant to hear at louder levels because of the reduction of the highs due to the heavy compression.

Now one thing you must pay attention to when using this technique on a DAW is processing delay. It can vary a lot from plug in to plug in. An easy way to correct this problem is by inserting the same plug ins on both the original and duplicate track. You would then set the plug ins on the original track to bypass so they don’t effect the sound of the original track. If your DAW already has delay compensation built into its software, then make sure this feature is engaged.

This technique can also be done using your analog console. Buss your lead vocal to two channels on your console and then assign both of those channels to the stereo buss. Insert a compressor that has both a quick attack and release onto the duplicate or ‘articulation’ vocal track. Insert an EQ or filter on the articulation track that can high pass everything below 3khz. Set your compressor on the articulation channel to an extreme compression setting with the fastest attack and release possible. Listen to how the consonants sound coming from the articulation channel and make sure they are clean and without and tone or vowel sounds. Mix the articulation channel back into the stereo buss mix until you can noticeably hear the articulation come up at lower levels while hearing the tone change to a warmer sound during elevated levels. Mix the articulation signal in to taste.

The Music Producer

In the world of music production, the definition of the phrase ‘music producer’ can mean many different things to many different people. Some producers are musicians, some are just engineers, some are actually remixer’s, while others are all three. So what is it exactly that a music producer does then?

In the simplest and most cohesive terms, the producer is actually the project manager to the process of composition, recording, mixing, and mastering. He or she is in charge of directing and maintaining the overall vision of the project, defines the sound and the goals of the project, brings an exclusive mindset to inspire, and assists with the provocation of the artist. A good producer will make the record more than the sum of its overall parts. In a way, you could almost say he or she is a scientist trying to create musical chemistry.

Each producer brings their own set of skills and approach to the project, so this can make summarizing what they do quite difficult. In this blog, I will define several recognizable types of producers so I can hopefully make this more clear for you, the reader.



The Audio Engineer

The profession of the audio engineer is what usually defines the average person’s stereotypical notion of the ‘classic’ music producer. This definition is aided by the visualization of the engineer perched over the mixing console, sweating over equalization and compression settings, effects combinations like chorus and reverb, track phasing, headroom, dynamics, so on and so forth. To many in the music industry, the studio is almost like an instrument, and it’s the music producer who plays it like a true virtuoso. For them, the project isn’t finished until the overall vision has been 100% realized. Whatever and however long it takes to get to the end goal of a sonic masterpiece, they will attempt it.

The Advisor / Mentor

There are many producers in the music industry who unlike the audio engineer, don’t have much technical expertise to speak of in the studio. They usually don’t sit at the mixing console during production of the records they make, but instead hire the best engineer who can help achieve the overall vision of the specific project in production. These advisor/mentor producers usually focus squarely on the artist’s vision, inspiration, and performance, helping them to produce the best sound and music the artist is capable of. One good example of this kind of producer is Rick Rubin, who seems to have a knack for positively inspiring and energizing the artists he works with.

The Midas Touch

There are some producers in the industry who almost seem to have a magical touch with whatever artist they work with, a kind of mysterious recipe that assures the best chances of success for the artist. Flood, with his trademark “wall of sound”, is one good example of this kind of producer whose career has dominated alternative, punk, and rock music for over 25 years. Dr. Dre, a more recent representation of ‘the midas touch’ producer, was almost entirely responsible for the vast output of some of the biggest names in R&B and Rap. It is important to keep in mind though that a distinctive sound is only a good thing if the style of the producer fits in with the artist.

The Remixer

A lot of people from today’s generation think the profession of ‘remix producer’ is a recent evolution in the music industry. However, the origins of the ‘remix producer’ actually began in the mid 70’s with the fusion of edits in the disco genre. These edits would be comped together to form what are known as ‘dub edits’ or ‘dub remixes.’ In the early 80’s, artist’s like Grandmaster Flash invented the sound of cutting and scratching. Shortly afterwards sampling and midi took remixing to a whole new level. Now, remixing has become such an essential part in the evolution and marketing of a song, that the remix often becomes the top ten hit before fans have heard the original version of the song remixed.

The Musician

Musicality, while one of the least recognized, is probably one of the most fundamental skills required of a producer. A good producer will add to, remark and counsel on the performance, songwriting, and arrangement of a song they are producing. Many producers are usually great musicians as well. It is also not uncommon to find them playing on the albums they produce.

The Artist

Some artists take their musicality to a whole other level by actually being the producer of the project. One famous example of the artist taking on the role of producer is Chicago’s very own hit maker, R Kelly. Not only has Kelly produced a continuous stream of hit records for his own brand name, he has produced hit after hit for virtually every major label artist in the dance, pop, r&b, and soul genres. Another great example of the artist/producer is Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, who does everything from write to perform and engineer his own records.

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