Category Archives for "Book Excerpt"

An Interview With Drummer And Bassist Charlie Drayton

Charlie DraytonCharlie Drayton is a unique and special player in that he’s equally adept and in demand as a drummer and as a bass player, so his perspective is that of the total rhythm section. Charlie’s long and eclectic list of credits includes such names as Herbie Hancock, Keith Richards, Johnny Cash, Chaka Khan, Mariah Carey, Michelle Branch, Seal, Iggy Pop, Neil Young, Janet Jackson, Courtney Love, among many others, and he laid down the beat for the B-52’s irresistible hit “Love Shack.” In this excerpt from my Studio Musician’s Handbook (written with Paul ILL), Charlie gives us a look behind the curtain of his session work.

“Give me some background on how you got into session work?

My father guided me toward the studio at an early age while watching him produce jingle sessions in NYC. He would occasionally have me sing on spots which featured a young voice, either in a group chorus, or solo performance.

Before a session would begin, I would usually find a seat between the drum booth (this was back in the 70’s) and the bass chair and B-15 amp (which was the standard bass amp in any NYC studio back then). It only took sitting through a few sessions to know that being in the studio was like being in the best classroom you’d ever walk into, and your dad is the principle. My father then took the band I was playing in into the studio to nurture ourselves and grow in the studio environment. What a trip it is to hear yourself played back in high quality audio for the first time! I can still remember the first time experience, vividly.

If I remember correctly, my first professional recording session was playing drums for John Sebastian. He was brilliant and a huge supporter. Walking into the studio was easy, but that first day of tracking was one hell of a ride in my life! The scary part was trying not to be to overwhelmed that the bass player was Anthony Jackson (a highly regarded New York session player) and the guitar player was Steve Khan (I think Steve recommended me for that session). Needless to say, I was hooked and still am.

What do you bring with you to a session?

It depends on what the music or the producer requires and what hat I’m wearing on the session, but I’ll just list some of the items at random. I come with a sense of humor, an open heart and mind, and great deal of patience. If I’m a principle player or producer on a session, a song is also a wonderful thing to bring with you.

I also bring a hot water kettle and assortment of herbal and black tea, an endless amount of sugarless mint candy, some incense, chop sticks, cayenne pepper, hot english mustard, crushed red pepper, and fresh ground cardamom.

Also, there’s nothing better then having your own gear on a session! For me that could consist of, drums, cymbals, rags, hockey tape, bullet mic, Line 6 Bass pod, iPod for drum mute, and a few of my favorite pieces of hand percussion. Also basses, guitars, pedal  steel, amplifiers, stomp boxes, and a really good cable. I also bring my own headphones (Sony 7506 or Audio Technica TH-M50) along with an extension cable,

Sometimes I’ll bring my Black Pekingese,”Holiday” too. My introduction to her was during a session I was producing.

Do you tailor what you bring according to the session?

I try, because I’m lucky to have access to a large selection of gear which I would love to see as often as possible.

Is your stage rig different from your recording rig?

This depends on what will inspire me to execute a performance or what I have access to at the time. Sometimes I may reach for some piece of gear that does not belong to me, so basically anything that will guide me to feed the music.

What do you like in your headphone mix?

The freedom to dial it in myself. My first preference though is no headphones whenever possible. I like to sing with the speakers at low level. If playing live with a band, I’ll dial the entire group into the mix. If playing against prerecorded tracks, it’s possible that I may not play along with all of the elements on the track. I will try different combinations of elements in the mix until it feels good and I’m the most comfortable.

What do see that’s common with all good session musicians?

A good session player is not necessarily a better musician than a player with no session experience, but a good session player has the advantage of having more tools to choose from and is used to narrowing down the options. Dealing with adversity is key. If your talent is on loan and you’re having a shitty day but you’ve committed yourself to a session, guess what? You’ve got to show up and play the music!  The more I do it, the better I get at it.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting out?

That we would come to live in a time where you would not need to have much talent to be successful in the music business. The art of playing music and being commercially successful in the music business are now two entirely different things.

I don’t know why humans would bring computers into the recording environment for some of the wrong reasons and deconstruct the craft of creating and making music. I’m not against computers, but I thought music was doing just fine without them. Didn’t Milli Vanilli try to hip us to that?

Any advice for someone starting out doing session work?

Don’t lose the connection or spirit of playing in a live environment. Spirit is a key ingredient that enables you to shine and make the right decisions in session.

Embrace the music with your heart, even if it’s not your cup of tea. Be in the moment, and that does not mean play everything you know.

Do you have any session musician tips?

Be a musician first without any title before the word musician. I’ll enjoy hearing your playing more. Don’t limit yourself. Be in the moment, because In the studio, you’re making musical decisions that can last a lifetime on record.

What kind of sessions are the hardest for you?

When the producer’s dreams are unrealized. Sometimes they don’t have the ability to play your instrument so he or she endlessly suggest the worst musical ideas possible for you to play, or how you should be playing them. Or when the food is bad, which in reality is the same answer.

What kind of sessions are the most fun?

When it doesn’t feel like work and you don’t want the session to end.

What do you hate about recording?

Not recording!!!”

You can read more from The Studio Musician’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.

Drum Recording Checklist

drum recording checklistProbably the single most troublesome instrument when it comes to recording is the drum kit. Engineers obsess over the drum sound, and well they should since the drums are the heartbeat of virtually all modern music. It’s a fact that drums that sound small in the track will make the rest of the track sound small as well, regardless of how well everything else is recorded. The drum recording must go well and a great sound kit is the first step.

While it’s true that different people have different ideas of what constitutes a great sounding drum kit, in the studio it usually means a kit that’s well-tuned and free of buzzes and sympathetic vibrations. Free of sympathetic vibrations means that when you hit the snare drum, for instance, the toms don’t ring along with it. Or if you hit the rack toms, the snare and the other toms don’t ring along as well.

The way to achieve this is all in the tuning and the kit maintenance. Here’s a simple checklist from The Recording Engineer’s Handbook that outlines how to get a drum kit up to speed before you even set up any mics.

  • Have the heads on all the drums been changed? Be sure to change at least the top heads before recording
  • Have the drums been tuned? Are all drums tuned to work both by themselves and with each other?
  • Are there any sympathetic vibrations occurring? Tune the drums so that any drum that’s hit does not cause another to ring.
  • Is there an unwanted ring? Suppress it with tape, a muffling ring, or MoonGel.
  • Is the hardware quiet? Spray with a lubricant like WD-40 if not.
  • Is the level of the cymbals all the same? Balance the level with lighter or heavier cymbals as needed.
  • Is there another snare drum available? A song may call for a different snare drum sound.

If the drum kit sounds great in the room, it’s that much easier for it to sound great when recorded. Spend whatever time is required to get your kit to work acoustically and your drum recording will greatly benefit.

You can read more from The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.

5 Great Session Tips That Will Save You Time And Money

5 Session TipsWhen you’re recording basic tracks, especially in an expensive commercial studio, it’s easy to get off track in a way that not only causes you to waste time, but money as well. These 5 session tips from the latest edition of my Music Producer’s Handbook will ensure that not only the tracking session, but all the overdub sessions that occur afterwards, run efficiently.

“There are a number of things to remember when the session gets up and running that will keep every happy and motivated, with their full attention on playing and singing.

1. Start off with the easiest song. This is usually something that the band knows backwards and forwards. It will help everyone to get comfortable in a new environment, get into the groove of recording, and make it easier to move on to the more difficult tunes later.

2. Record a tuning note. This may seem a bit old fashioned, but it could be a lifesaver later. Before each session, be sure to record a 10 second tuning note before each song as something to reference to later, especially if there are no keyboards involved. This way, if for some reason you happened to use a tuning that was a couple of cents flat, you have the tuning note as your reference. Even with today’s tuners, sometimes the tuning note just makes things easier.  This seems like such a small thing, but you wouldn’t believe how much time it can save you down the road if a situation arises where you just can’t figure out why everything sounds out of tune.

3. Don’t forget to record a count-off for every song. If someone gets a great idea for adding something to before the song begins, you’ll have a tempo reference point to work with. Even if you’re playing to a click that’s being generated by the DAW itself, recording the click at least four bars ahead of the downbeat is a foolproof way to make sure that any pickup or opening part is easily executed.

4. Take frequent breaks. One of the best abilities a producer can develop is knowing when it’s time to take a break. It’s hard to keep anyone’s attention for more than three hours, so be sure to take frequent short breaks. Sometimes just bringing the band in to the control room to listen to a playback can break it up just enough so their minds don’t begin to wander. A ten-minute break can pump new energy into a flagging session, so the producer always has to keep his finger on the pulse of the players to gauge their concentration.

5. Keep the food light and have it delivered. When it’s finally time for lunch or dinner, going out to eat will waste a lot of time, and sometimes it’s impossible to get back in the flow of things afterwards. If the break is too long, it may take an equally long time for the players to get their focus back. One of the biggest problems to avoid is having a large meal, since normal digestion naturally slows down a player’s ability to concentrate. Keep the mealtime short, the portions small, and allow absolutely no alcohol so that everyone stays fresh and the session is kept on track.

These 5 session tips will keep you session running smoothly and keep all involved happy and motivated.”

You can read more from The Music Producer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.

Helpful Recording Accessories

Vocal EZE accessoryThere are a number of recording accessories that prove to come in handy almost every day you’re in the studio. In fact, a session can absolutely ground to a halt without a few of them. Here are some suggestions for some accessories that you’ll be so happy you have when the need arises.

Console tape – for marking everything from mic position to making notes. Get the real deal – Shurtape P724.

Sharpies – the best ones are the ultra-fine-point type that let you squeeze lots of info onto a small strip of console tape without blurring.

Flashlight – for looking into the many unlit spaces in the studio and around gear. I like the Outlight A100 or the very cool 9V Blocklite.

Gobos – for increasing the isolation between instruments. If you don’t want to build them yourself, the ATS Studio Stacker is a good place to start.

Throat Spray – a quick spray will help keep a vocalist’s sore throat at bay. Entertainer’s Secret or Vocal EZE work great.

Throat Coat – a nice herbal tea to sooth abused vocal chords. Tastes good too, even if your throat feels fine.

Etymotic ER20 ETY Earplugs – for finding the sweet spot when loud drummers or guitar players are playing. The best $13 you’ll ever spend.

Monoprice 108323 headphones – excellent sounding yet inexpensive headphones. If you’re constantly replacing your expensive phones, try these. You’ll be shocked how good they sound for 20 bucks.

Hue lighting – digital mood lighting from your smartphone. The starter pack is expensive, but you’ll be surprised at the effect they have on just about any session when you dial in the prefect color scheme.

Cable adapters – a variety of cable adapters for every occasion. The adapters from Seismic Audio or Monoprice are fairly inexpensive.

– 10 dB inline pad

– XLR Phase reverser

– XLR male to male

– XLR female to female

– 1/4” male to XLR female

– 1/4” male to XLR male

– 1/8” male to 1/4” female

– 1/4” female to female

Headphone extender cables – extend the life of your headphones cables with cable extenders. Once again, the cables from Seismic Audio are pretty good quality yet inexpensive.

8 to 16 channel drum snake – cut down on the clutter of mic cables around the drums. Once again, Seismic Audio beats everyone’s price.

Personal mixes for musicians (at least 4 stations for rhythm section). Hear Technologies is my favorite, but there are lots of alternatives these days.

Every studio, regardless of how large or small, can benefit from having these recording accessories readily available. Anyone else have an accessory that I missed or you find you can’t live without?

You can read more from The Recording Engineer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.

The Most Crucial Part Of Preproduction

Crucial Part of PreproductionIf you’re working with an artist or band, a critical time in the entire recording process is before you actually record, which is known as preproduction. Many producers think of preproduction as working out parts with the artist or band in a rehearsal room, but there’s actually another part of preproduction that can be even more crucial to the entire process, as outlined in this excerpt from the 2nd edition of my Music Producer’s Handbook.

“Getting to Know You

Almost always, the more time you spend in preproduction, the smoother the recording will go. In preproduction the songs are chosen, arrangements are worked out, and parts are learned so well that the only thing to concentrate on during recording is the execution of the performance.

Preproduction is often so much more than the process of working out songs. For a producer working with a new artist or band, it’s a time of getting to know each other. It’s important for the producer to learn the likes and dislikes of the artists he or she is working with—be it food, music, or politics—in addition to their working habits and idiosyncrasies.

Knowing these things can help the producer determine how far to push a singer, or discover what gets the best performance out of the guitar player, or the signs of when the drummer is getting tired, or the hot-button issues of the day to stay away from. If you’re going to be working closely with an artist, even for a short time, the more you know about him or her, the better you can serve the project.

One of the most important aspects of getting to know an artist is learning what music she loves, was influenced by, and is listening to now.

Back in the days of the vinyl record, one of the most effective ways of doing this was for the producer to go to the artist’s house and have them throw a bunch of albums from their collection on the floor and then describe what they liked and didn’t like about each one.

Today, it’s more about looking at a favorite Spotify playlist, but the same thing is accomplished. Among the questions to ask might be the following:

  • What do you like or dislike about the artist you’re listening to?
  • Do you like the sound of the recording?
  • What recordings do you like the sound of?
  • What are some of your favorite records? Why?
  • What Who are your biggest influences? Why?
  • If you have a body of work as a producer already, what does the artist like about you? Why?

You can add any number of questions to those above, but can you see where this is heading? This is the information that you need to help attain the artist’s vision.

It gives you a common point of reference so that you can say, “Let’s go for a sound like the lead guitar on The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry,” and have the artist know exactly what you mean because you’ve found out in preproduction that’s one of his favorite songs.

Or if the artist says to you, “Can we get the sound like on The Weekend’s “Can’t Feel My Face,” you’ll know exactly what he’s talking about.”

You can read more from The Music Producer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.

The Producer/Engineer/Musician Checklist For Getting Paid

Checklist for getting paidYour not a music professional if you haven’t been screwed out of money at least once. That’s par for the course and part of the learning process, but it obviously becomes a real problem if it continues to happen. Regardless of what end of the music business you work in, as an independent contractor it’s your responsibility to make sure that your covered business-wise. Here’s a “getting paid” checklist from the latest edition of my Music Producer’s Handbook that as relevant for musicians and engineers as it is for producers.

Before any serious work on the project can begin, there are a series of important questions that the client must answer about your compensation.

1. Who’s paying? Is it a record label, the artist or band, or an investor?

2. How are you getting paid? Will you be paid per song, on spec, by the hour, or with a flat fee for the project?

3. What’s your compensation? Do you get some money up front (an advance)? Do you get a percentage of sales? Do you get a combination? If so, how many points?

4. Do you get paid from the sale of the first unit onward? Or will you be paid after the advance is recouped, or even after the investor is recouped?

5. Will you get an advance? How much is it? Does it come out of the recording budget? If you can’t get it all, can you get at least half your fee up front?

6. Will you be paid on something other than music sales? Since sales are pretty minimal these days, can you get a piece of merchandise or publishing?

These questions may be hard for you to bring up, especially before even taking the gig, but they’re vitally important to getting paid for your hard work.

You can read more from The Music Producer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.

Resolving A Conflict In The Studio

Resolving a conflictIt’s inevitable that it’s going to happen during some point in the project. There’s going to be a strong disagreement between two of the parties involved, and the producer is going to have to diplomatically sort it out. Even worse, the conflict can come between the artist and the producer, which requires a deft hand at getting the job done yet keeping everyone happy. Here’s an excerpt from the latest version of my Music Producer’s Handbook that covers the steps to take when it comes to resolving a conflict in the studio.

“Being in any relationship requires at least some compromise, and working with a group of musicians is no different from what you’d expect between family members, friends, bosses, and co-workers. There are times when you just have to bend in order to keep the peace.

While compromise is easy for some people to do, others have a personality that seldom allows it and a conflict occurs. Here are some effective steps that you can take to state your case in a way that should resolve or mediate the conflict.

1. Cool off first. Conflicts can’t be solved when emotions are running hot. Take some time to get away from the problem for a bit and brainstorm on exactly what the conflict is, how it was caused, and most important, what a possible solution would be.

2. Present accolades, support, and respect. The first thing to do is acknowledge the person’s accomplishments and talent. Something like “I want to start by saying that I think the tracks we’ve captured are really great, and you’re playing your parts way better than I ever thought possible.”

3. Analyze why the problem occurred. If you give a clear explanation of why you think there’s a problem or why the problem or conflict has occurred, you set the initial groundwork for solving the conflict. If the other person knows exactly what your side of the story is, you might find more often than not that you’re both on the same page, but on different sides of it.

4. Take responsibility and use “I” messages. If you are involved in a conflict that you’re aware of, take responsibility and own up to it, but make sure that everything is from your point of view. For instance, it’s best to say, “I think you were flat on that part,” rather than “Everybody knows that you always sing that part flat,” or worse, “You’re singing sucks, man.”

5. Describe what “I” or “we” need so that the problem doesn’t happen again. This is the solution from your point of view. “We really need you to be here a half hour before the session so that you have time to warm up. That way we won’t waste any studio time, which is costing us money.”

6. Support their success. Tell him that you want him to win, because if he wins, so do you. “The better you sound, the better we all sound” or “Do you know how great this is going to sound once you get that part down? It’s going to kill!”

You can read more from The Music Producer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.

 

Measuring Sound Isolation

Measuring Sound IsolationOne of the things that many musicians and engineers don’t realize is that there’s a way to actually measure sound isolation, and this excerpt from my Studio Builder’s Handbook (co-written with Dennis Moody) shows a real world comparison between different materials and isolation levels.

“Before we get into how sound isolation is accomplished, we need to take a small detour into the world of sound transmission measurement to understand why some techniques work better than others.

All materials have what’s known as an STC rating, which stands for Sound Transmission Class and is the measurement of a material or a partition’s ability to block sound over a range of 16 different frequencies from 125Hz to 4kHz (see Figure 4.1 for some examples). The higher the STC rating, the more isolation it provides at certain frequencies.

Isolation Comparisons

It should be noted that there is no single material that will block all frequencies, and that STC measurements only go down to 125Hz. Frequencies below 125Hz (the ones that usually cause the problems with neighbors) are the most difficult to block, while the higher ones past 1kHz are the easiest. That means that STC measurements aren’t the best for determining isolation because they assume that there will be equal energy dispersion and don’t consider low frequencies. To make matters worse, STC measurements sometimes vary widely from testing facility to testing facility.

That being said, STC has been around since 1961 and it’s the standard measurement that laws have been written around, so even though a few new measurement techniques have been designed (the one called MTC, or music transmission class is the most promising), there’s little support in the design industry for it’s adoption. That means that we’re stuck with using STC. The good news is that humans just don’t hear that well at low frequencies so a wall with a high STC usually attenuates the low frequencies enough to provide adequate isolation (providing other factors in transmission are taken care of, like we’ll see later in the chapter).”

You can read more from The Studio Builder’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.

The Costs Of Hiring A Mixer

Hiring A MixerAn ever-important aspect of production is mixing, which can make or break a song. A brilliant mix can put an otherwise average production over the top, while a mediocre mix can bring down a brilliant production (although sometimes the song itself is so brilliant that nothing can detract from it). If you’re not an engineer yourself, an engineer without a lot of mixing experience, or you just want to bring in the A-team to finish an important project, it’s important to understand the costs of hiring a mixer when you create your budget. Here’s an excerpt from the latest edition of my Music Producer’s Handbook with some advice.

“Mixing engineers are all over the board price-wise, especially in the current depressed music market. At one time there was a mixer (who shall remain nameless) who was charging as much as $10,000 per mix, plus a percentage of the sales to mix just one song. Even more outrageous was the fact that he’d do as many as three mixes a day, since his setting for each instrument never changed much because it was his “sound.” Very few budgets can support that kind of excess anymore, and virtually all mixer’s prices, although still at a premium, have come down in recent years.

While some mixers charge by the song, others charge a daily rate, and so the price can escalate quickly if there are fixes or the mix goes longer than expected. The rates might be as low as $250 a day, and can run up to $2,500 or more (although most rates are somewhere in the middle these days). These rates may not include the studio costs if a mix using a studio console is desired, which are separate from the mixer’s rate. That means that mixing could theoretically cost as much as $5,000 a day with the mixer included, although this is a rate that only a very few A list projects can support.

Because budgets are so small these days compared to what they once were, mixing specialists have been caught in a dilemma—the client (you, the producer) can afford only the studio or the mixer, but not both.

As a result, many mixers have resorted to creating their own mixing environment and giving an all-in price that makes the process much more affordable for the producer. This is one of the advantages of the digital age and DAWs: it was impossible to build and equip a suitable mixing room for less than a half-million dollars back in the analog days.

Since the music business is weak at the moment and budgets are way down from what they were before, present an offer to your mixer. If you’re willing to wait for when the mixer can fit you in during his or her down time, or if you agree to let him mix alone without you or the artist attending, you might be surprised at the rate you can get. Even if the price you offer is below his rate, chances are he can work something out with you that will get you a great mix for a price you can afford.”

The costs of hiring a mixer may be less than you think, and every penny can be truly worth it if it takes your mix to the next level.

You can read more from The Music Producer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.

7 Traits Of A Great Assistant Engineer

Great Assistant EngineerYou may never work in a studio that has an assistant engineer, and if you own your own gear, you may never be one yourself, but it’s good to find out what an assistant in a major facility like the Record Plant, Capitol, Oceanway or Avatar really needs to know. These 7 tips are excerpted from my Recording Engineer’s Handbook, and many come from the legendary Al Schmitt (who’s won more Grammy’s than any other engineer). They will help you understand what’s expected of an assistant and how to run a professional session, regardless of the level that your on.

1. Good assistants are well-versed in Pro Tools. There are a lot of great DAWs available, but as of the writing of this book, Pro Tools was the standard in every major recording and post studio in the US. Most assistants will also be in charge of running the DAW, and they are better at it than everyone else in the session.

2. Good personal hygiene is a must. No one likes to be in a room with someone who has body oder or bad breath, and artists and producers won’t put up with it. Take a bath, put on clean clothes every day and keep the breath mints handy if you want to keep your job.

3. Good assistants are transparent. When you need them, they’re there; when they’re not needed, they’re in the background. A good assistant is always seen but not heard. He never offers an opinion even when asked. He always has a great attitude and leaves his ego at the door.

4. Good assistants admit mistakes. If you make a mistake, admit it as soon as possible. You may have to take your lumps, but we’ll fix it and move on.

5. Good assistants don’t guess. If someone asks you something that you don’t know, be honest and don’t guess. There are plenty of ways to find something out in a hurry if you don’t know right now.

6. Good assistants keep a notebook. They keep track of all the details of the session, from the setup to the players to the mics used to which songs were recorded in what order, to everything else. It’s a great learning tool, but it may also come in handy later in the project, or the next one.

7. Good assistants know how to make coffee. Coffee is still the fuel that powers a recording session. The better the coffee, the happier everyone will be.

If an assistant engineer exhibits the above traits, it’s likely that they won’t stay an assistant for long if they work hard and have the right attitude. Are there any traits that I missed?

You can read more from The Recording Engineer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.