10 Things: Know Your End Game

Know The End Game: 10 Things to budget for when recording your indie album

 By Devlin Miles

  1. Have the money set aside based on the estimate from the producer, do not co-mingle your money or you will end up not being able to finish your project
  2. Always budget 3+ days for mistakes – what? Yes, every time I have gone into the studio there are always things that you don’t plan for that happen. Here is a list of things that can trip you up in the studio.
    1. An instrument is out of tune –yes it happens and you don’t realize until after the musician is already gone
    2. The drum kit was not mic-ed properly and you are missing the Tom sound or the Sizzle on the cymbals
    3. The producer has an inspiration one day and then when you listen later you hate the way in turned out – that’s what you call a do-over
    4. Technical issues, so there is a delay
    5. You don’t like the lead vocals or background vocals, this is something that is saved for history, it is really important that you like the quality of the vocals. Vocals make or break a project!!! Remember this!!! (See Also: Raise The Spirits: 10 Things to do when you are recording vocals)
    6. Complicated pieces that the musicians have to record until they get it. (See Also: Be The Best: 10 things to do before you get to the studio)
  3. Where To Pitch Your Stuff – AAA, Country, Alternative Rock, etc? If you don’t know this you might very well end up with a little too much fiddle for country or not enough kick drum for pop.
  4. Artwork and Design – Determining where to pitch your stuff will also greatly influence your artwork. If you look around you will see lots of similarities in styles on album design, when artwork is used, when photography is more expected?
  5. PhotographyCan be very costly and it absolutely needs to be well executed. In no way should you ever chince on a background or take a selfie – never!!!
  6. Mastering – Do you want radio play and is your music appropriate for radio? What stations- name 5 right now, if you can’t find out where. If radio/TV is your end game then you cannot skip mastering it raises the bar of your sound and brings it to a commercially viable product that can play on many different mediums- car radio, internet, radio, etc.
  7. Duplication – How many cds should you have made? Although physical cd sales are down, vinyl is up or trending. Where do you fit and what age group will buy your product might directly influence whether they will stream your music for free on Spotify or if they will buy the cd in person or download it from Itunes.
  8. Merchandise – Will you have T-shirts, stickers, guitar pics, etc? Budget for it. Your fans and audience will determine which direction to go – but you will need tools to help you spread the word.
  9. Promotion – How are you gonna promote this beautiful sounding, looking, piece of art you have created? This is probably one of the most fickle points here – you can spend a lot of money on PR and get nowhere. The fickle part is you can pay upwards of $1500 a month to 10K dollars a month for an indie PR agency and there is absolutely no guarantee that they can get you any press.
  10. Professional Memberships/conferences You have to run on the same track as the as the Olympians to win a Gold medal- This is not an us and them kind of thing. If you have spent the time to get the excellent quality that you see on the Grammys, then why aren’t you competing with the other Grammy members? Make sure when you draw the line in the sand mentally that you are on the side where the other professionals are and not on the amateurs side.   (1 extra tip today)
  11. Time frame Be realistic and know that although you wrapped up recording in January that it is highly likely that fans won’t hear your music for 10-18 months! Establish a true timeline based on budget.

Know The End Game  PDF


10 Things: The Bottom Line

The Bottom Line: 10 Things producers should know when working with indie artists

By Devlin Miles

  1. Know the real budget– this is important to keep artists realistic as they start adding instrumentation or several vocalists. You want artists to respect your time, but it is also important to communicate how the editing process works, best to have this discussion before recording day, so everyone is on the same page. Artists may not be willing to divulge this information because they want to keep money available for the post-production, so be specific. “How much money have you set aside for recording because I anticipate with your style of music and the project ahead to be costly on editing – around 10K.” If the artist looks surprised by this then they really are new to this process and you will have to cut corners with instrumentation and hours whenever possible, but let them know that it might sacrifice the integrity of their life’s work. The artist might appreciate your honesty and either try to find more funding or be willing to cut corners.
  2. Life’s Work – every artist hopefully believes in their project and themselves enough to bring it to the recording studio, so when attitudes fly or people get on edge remember this is the artist’s life work-to-date and they are trying to leave their mark on this world and they need your help to bring the project to life.
  3. Egos – egos are going to fly on both sides to try and win the client, “I worked with so and so or I have toured with so and so.” It is important to be more interested in the project and be open to the possibilities of working together. Pay attention to the person, do you like them, can you work with them for 6-8 weeks?
  4. Do you like it? – Do you like the material/songs the artist is working on? Listen to some of the newer stuff to see if you like what they are doing now verses what they have done in the past.
  5. Timeline – know it and is it realistic based on your current workload and given what the artists vision is for the whole sound of the album?
  6. Don’t be afraid to refer out if the artists genre is not your specialty, better to have a good working respectful relationship than to have it sour because you were not able to track a 32 track album or more
  7. Communicate your expectations in terms of pay and how the files will be managed and given to the artist
  8. Put the agreed to terms in writing, so everyone is accountable for what they agreed to. If you are expecting to get paid hourly regardless of mixing or tuning vocals- you need to communicate that and give an expected budget, nothing worse than being in the middle of the project and not being able to finish due to lack of funs- it kills the momentum of the project and strains the working relationship.
  9. You in the mixWhen giving out mixes give your best mixes possible at that point because the artist is more than likely going to share it with others or fellow musicians that are to play on the album and best to put your best work out there as your calling card to future clients. DO NOT give out shitty mixes that will have the artist questioning your work or work ethic.
  10. Be accountable – if you have made mistakes in recording and know that you can do something better, you might have to suck it up and admit to it and offer your free time in exchange. Your error will be figured out eventually in mixing or mastering and you don’t want to leave a bad impression on other music industry professionals. Also a view from the artists side- Link to: Directing Your Project: 10 Things to ask when interviewing producers & engineers for your project

 (See Help Me!!! 10 Things to Beware of when recording a new album)


The Bottom Line  PDF


10 Things: Get It Together

Get It Together: 10 Things Indie Artists should bring to the studio

By Devlin Miles

  1. Charts and lyrics with tempo and keys for each tune (See Be The Best: 10 Things to do before you get to the studio)
  2. Reference tracks– songs that are similar for each tune
  3. Work for Hire agreements to musicians as well as Producer’s Contract that should possibly be signed before the project begins.
  4. Checks to pay musicians – upon signing the Work for Hire agreement
  5. Cash for meals– in case you have to order in
  6. Production worksheets– with your thoughts on instrumentation on each tune, you can also use this to make notes as things happen, like cut the guitar in bridge, etc.
  7. Pen and pencils – for others to make notes and changes on their charts
  8. Water – best to bring a few gallons for you and others or check before you go that the studio provides water. (if you are recording in the middle of nowhere, it is small essential that is overlooked)
  9. Sweater– depending on the studio, but many studios have rooms they don’t always heat or the A/C could be cranking, so you need to be prepared
  10. Camera or video to document this once in a lifetime moment for your band’s history. Post and update your social media sites to get fans excited about your project

Get It Together  PDF


10 Things: Raise The Spirits

Raise The Spirits:  10 Things to do when you are recording vocals

by Devlin Miles

  1. The mic – the microphone to the singer is as important as a 9-Iron is to a golfer, if you don’t have a good one you are trapped, you might as well be singing in the shower because no one will hear you in the details. I repeat NO ONE will really hear YOU. The studio mic must capture your vocals with a crisp sound, you should be able to hear every syllable as it leaves your lips, better yet the sound your throat makes as your vocal chords first touch– this is not captured by every microphone, so don’t be afraid to ask if you can try out a few mics and have a listen back. I am a stickler for crisp vocals because once you have heard the difference you can’t go back. I often say I want it to sound like I am singing in someone’s ear. Now if you are a metal singer, you might want a little more distortion in your voice, so the mic could help that, however I would still lean towards crispness and then add effects after. It will save on the singers voice dramatically
  2. Hit and Miss – You are here recording because you “just know you have a hit song on your hands”, ok, well sing the song three times and then listen and see how you are approaching it, you are probably going to over sing into the microphone the first few takes. It takes a little time to get used to the distance and levels with a studio mic versus a live microphone. The nuances of the voice are there in the subtleties so be sure to take a second to listen and find your true uniqueness. Now go get some tea and start again.
  3. Review your lyrics – Now is the time to put your voice down for history, so make it count, but remember you are delivering a message. Review your lyrics and remember what you are trying to say and find the right way to phrase it. This is where you break grammatical rules and deliver things with attitude and sincerity, so the listener will believe your intentions with every line.
  4. Coaching – consider having a vocal coach in the studio that can help you get the best sound out of you, from phrasing to delivery to breath control on the higher and lower notes. This is not the time for a voice lesson, so you must have some understanding of how to use your own voice, but having another singer present while you are doing lead vocals can be very helpful. As long as you let this person know you are looking for them to listen for texture and pitch issues. Believe me this person will save you money in tuning if they can help you deliver the product more unaffected. If you can’t think of anyone, ask another indie artist, they would probably enjoy being a part of your project and maybe even lend some background vocals too.
  5. Timing – sometimes knowing what time of day you sing best can be key to a great performance or if you need a whiskey voice for a tune you might want to attack that first thing in the morning or later in the evening.
  6. Order your songs – if you are going to record many lead vocal tracks in one day be sure that you have the songs in an order that is best for delivery. If you have a lot of tougher/higher tunes you might want to put them as your second or third song when you are warmed up, but don’t wait until the end of the day when your voice is tired and breathy.
  7. Take breaks– recording lead vocals can be very mentally exhausting as you listen back and hear that you might be pitchy in spots or if you don’t like the way you are phrasing this or that, be sure to walk away and get some water/tea, go for a walk, get out of the vocal booth and play guitar/piano for a minute. I was recently told by a friend, who also records that eating chips can help give clarity to the voice when singing. This IS true, the saltiness in the chips helps cut through the mucus and can offer clarity.
  8. Breathe– Be sure to have a good stance and full breath support when singing, especially when you are singing very high and very low and also when you are belting out a chorus. This will really help you stay on pitch and save time. Consider swimming, running , or cross-training 3 months before you get to the studio. This will really help you with breath control for the long notes and quick pentameter or raps.
  9. Rest – be sure to stop when you are vocally fatigued. You don’t want to sing yourself into an injury.
  10. Hydrate – A day or 2 before recording vocals increase your water intake to be well hydrated and always have water with you in the studio. I also take 1 or 2 aspirins before going into the studio to sing, to help with inflammation and to have smooth blood flow through the throat, it could be superstitious, but it works for me. (Get It Together: 10 Things Indie Artists should bring to the studio)

10 Things- Raise The Spirits  PDF


10 Things: Be Laser Focused

Be Laser Focused:  10 Things that can add to the overall cost of your studio project

By Devlin Miles

  1. Inflating the bill-
    • Extra tuning hours when you can’t hear a difference from the original,
    • Taking several takes of something that isn’t working, be mindful of when something is not working as the clock is ticking. Consider attacking it with a new approach the next session.
    • Working with a musician that doesn’t have the right skill set. If after many different directorial notes, the musician isn’t able to give you what you want on a song, move on to the next one and find someone who can. People can misrepresent their skill sets often because they need the money. Don’t sacrifice the integrity of your song because of a bad drummer, who drops the beat or a pianist who can’t play the organ too.
  2. Listen backs – listen backs are important, so be sure you know what you are listening for – you might need to focus on the bass line at this moment or hear how the vocals are EQ’d In this moment, make a note if a drum track is too loud or the guitarist hit a wrong chord, but stay on point with what you are listening for and then when it is addressed add your other correction. This is very important for bands, all band members are going to innately listen for their parts, so make a note if your part needs to be fixed, but know when it is productive to bring it up. Many different inputs about different items that the producer/engineer is not focusing on at the moment can waste time. It’s like someone interrupting your train of thought, stay focused with your listening!
  3. Kitchen sink – this is not the time to try out every instrument on your tune. Of course it would be cool to hear your song on an obo or perhaps add a piccolo solo, but if it is not a main instrument in your tunes and you don’t know a piccolo or obo player, don’t go out of your way to bring one in, keep the budget in mind, if you really hear a specific instrument on only one tune, then see if you can send it out electronically to get it recorded and fly it in to the track. Remember everything you add will add to the overall mixing time in the editing.
  4. Quality – when you receive your reference mixes, if you are concerned about the quality, speak right up to the engineer/producer. It shows you are really listening and that you expect higher quality right from the beginning (See Also 10 Things Producers/Engineers should know in working with Indie Artists) They should take pride in their work at every step of the way and know that their reference mixes are their calling card too.
  5. Organized – I tend to harp on organization, but when you are dealing with electronic files nowadays, you need someone that knows how to organize their folders, so they can easily find things and access them. Note if you are working with analogue recording because you like the warmth and are crossing with the digital world too, know that it can be time consuming to “fly” in tracks from other studios or to find previous takes to pull snippets, so be sure that you know up front how well this producer/engineer can move from analogue to digital. Yes, recording analogue is warm and lovely, but if the producer/engineer is working with analogue because they themselves haven’t tried the digital age, that can be very telling about how pliable they will be with ideas and flexibility. (Note this is not something, someone will readily admit to being disorganized, so look for red flags)
    • How organized is their studio or home if they have a studio in their home?
    • Is their equipment organized?
    • How has your communication been with this person? Prompt?
  6. Work ethic? – This is hard to tell until you deal with someone, but you can find out some information about a producer/engineer by contacting other people the person has recorded with. I would contact 3 other bands/artists if possible and have this be one of your questions. Also ask the referral – “Did you feel working with John (producer/engineer) that he is fair and honest?
  7. Convenience – how convenient is it going to be to get people to the studio. Yes, I too loved the idea of recording in the woods somewhere where we could focus only on music for days, well, it was all great being 3 hours away from NYC until I wanted to incorporate working with some of my local musicians for overdubbing piano or background vocals and got very complicated and costly to get them their, so I had to compromise. I also personally found it taxing to have to travel 3+ hours every weekend for 6-8 weeks.
  8. Gear – when you are working with a producer/engineer chances are they are going to have tons of gear and it is all going to look very impressive when you walk in, but don’t forget to ask the questions that matter to your band. “My voice needs a dynamic microphone with a pear shape, so that my high voice doesn’t get too tinny”. Also if you see a Hammond B3, Rhodes, Grand Piano make sure to ask if it is in operation and if it will be tuned and ready for use? If they are using their gear to sell their studio to you, it should be in working condition. Yes, this happens a lot! Beware!~
  9. Vocals – it is a good idea to have 1 other person there besides the engineer/producer in the studio when you are recording vocals. Unfortunately, it can be an intimate thing when you do vocals, however if the producer/engineer is having technical problems and are addressing/adjusting levels they may not be as focused on the actual vocal performance. Yes, I made this mistake and had to re-record leads to half an album because I wasn’t happy with my overall performance. It happens and it gets costly. Preferably have another singer there, one who knows how to coach a singer- not necessarily even someone from the band, but someone who understands vocal phrasing, another indie artist would also be great and might be able to lend some background vocals as well. Note: if you pick someone who doesn’t know how to coach you, for example if they critique you more than coach you, then you will probably get pissed off, which will in turn show up in your voice, so choose wisely and maybe have a rehearsal with them. There are also vocal arrangers for hire too. See also Raise The Spirits: 10 Things to do when you are recording vocals
  10. Crispness – when listening back in studio on recording day, solo out every instrument
    • bass – can you hear the quality of the bass or amp?
    • drums- check that every instrument in the kit is being heard for each song and is mic’d appropriately (overdubbing nightmare, if not and costly)
    • acoustic guitar- sounding crisp, good muted sound and open strumming?

NOTE:  It is wise to address concerns here if you are not hearing things as they should be. Yes EQ-ing comes later when the musicians aren’t in the studio, but if you have a heavy tom song and they are only mic’d with one overhead it will sound muddy and might have to be recorded again. If you have a lot of toms or cymbal work on a tune, pay close attention that all instruments are mic’d individually. You are paying for crispness. Anyone can record with room mics – this is the producers/engineers time to shine. It also gives them a chance to make sure nothing is recorded too hot. (can’t really be fixed later in EQing, if something is recorded at too high a level it is like trying to save an overexposed picture- you will lose a lot of instrument detail and the sound will be distorted)

10 Things- Be Laser Focused PDF