Sorry for the lack of updates to this blog, but I’m still here, and composing and producing more than ever. Most of my current work can be heard at the GraphicAudio page, which features new compositions, and sound design clips. There are quite a few examples of what’s been keeping me busy! Check ‘em out!
Of course, I’m still available to work on your project, so don’t hesitate to contact me! In the meantime, stay safe!
I’ve been kind of quiet on “the nerd” (remember when people used to say that about computers?) for a while, and that’s because I’ve begun a new job as a sound designer with GraphicAudio. Needless to say, it has been a pretty significant change from my previous job, going from one which is basically devoid of creativity to one which is almost completely dependent on it. Add the fact that I was thrown pretty much in the deep end, and you might understand how crazy things have been for me lately.
For those unfamiliar with GraphicAudio, we provide “a unique audio entertainment experience that features a full cast of actors, sound effects and cinematic music.” I don’t want to do the company an injustice, so go check out how many titles are available in a variety of genres, and listen to some samples. These aren’t your ordinary audio
My experience so far has been great…I’ve already been involved in quite a few projects in various capacities. You can hear theme songs I’ve composed, and web clips of the books I’ve designed at the GraphicAudio page I’ve added to this site. It can be found here. There is never a dull moment, so expect the page to be updated frequently.
In a prior entry I spoke of how to record audio for video in the best way possible mainly so you can provide the cleanest specimen to an audio post-producer. Post-production is an imperative and inexpensive way of raising the production value of your video to a professional level, and one that often gets overlooked by amateurs.
Your video looks good, and while the sound is understandable and reasonably loud, your speaker doesn’t sound like the pros do on TV or in professionally produced YouTube videos. That’s because there are certain elements of post-production concerning the voice that every form of professionally broadcast media performs as a part of the audio mastering process.
Mastering audio is a necessary process involving various types of compression and equalization. Compression, sometimes utilized while initially recording the audio, is basically smoothing out the loud and soft moments of your recording in an attempt to control noticeable drops and spikes in volume. Forms of compression can also be used to increase the overall volume of the recording, which is especially helpful when a mic is poorly placed or non-existent.
Equalization is a way of modifying certain frequencies in your recording to enhance volume and clarity, and also to remove unwanted noise. Equalization shouldn’t be considered a “cure all” by any means, but it is usually the savior of poor recordings, turning something virtually unlistenable into something functional.
If you don’t know what you’re doing, it is best not to attempt to try and fix audio issues by using preset on-board effects (especially before recording). This usually results in an ultra-compressed recording which makes you sound robotic, and it only gets worse when you upload it to YouTube. Contact an audio professional for assistance, and you’ll save time, and be much happier with the final product. The small amount of money you spend will reap dividends down the road.
The next entry will deal with taking your production a step further with background music!
Picture from Mic Ad #1: Mic Placement = WRONG! (unless he has another head)
I don’t need to tell you how great a medium YouTube is for promoting your business, website, or endeavor. While making your video stand out amongst the 72 hours of footage uploaded to YouTube every minute may not require a professional studio, raising your own production values will certainly help. This is especially important if these videos are a primary method of delivering your message, or are featured prominently on your website.
Recently, I worked with a client who produced promotional videos for his business which contained great content, but were hampered by poor quality audio. He appreciated the tips I shared with him, so I’ll list them here. Remember that this advice is all based around the axiom of “garbage in, garbage out.” It’s much easier to avoid mistakes before recording than dealing with them afterwards.
1. Use a mic. Using a lapel (lavalier) mic should be top priority when it comes to getting good audio. The volume of your voice needs to be nice and loud, but must never distort. To attain this, the mic needs to be properly placed; close to your mouth, but not too high, and not too low. Clip the mic where the third or fourth button on a button-down shirt would be. Make sure it has the foam (pop filter) on it, and if you’re concerned with aesthetics, run the cord through your shirt, but don’t move the mic. If your local news station is OK with the mic being visible, why shouldn’t you be?
Picture from Mic Ad #2: Mic Placement = WRONG! Unless her adam’s apple is doing the talking.
2. Record in as silent an environment as possible. I’m not talking about an Anechoic chamber here, I’m talking about a room free from common household noise, like doors opening or closing, people faintly talking, cars driving by, etc. Some seemingly external noises like “hiss” can be dealt with after the fact, but any sort of external noise severely limits professional post-production, and really makes your videos come across as amateurish. Also, it would help if the room you’re recording in is carpeted, and preferably windowless. Glass, mirrors, and hard wood floors amplify (and color) all noises, not just your voice, so avoid these environments when possible.
3.Be careful what power source you’re plugged into. Wonder why you’re recordings have a constant hum that you didn’t hear in the room? It’s most likely some kind of ground loop, and it could be caused by many things. First of all, check to see if your camera and/or computer is plugged into the same circuit as an air conditioner, refrigerator, or large appliance. If it is, move it until you stop hearing the noise, even if that means running an extension cord from another room. Secondly, if you’re using an external camera or laptop to record your videos, try to use it on its battery as opposed to plugging it in. Sometimes the internal workings of the recording device can be heard, and those usually are related to charging.
With these three tips in mind, you should have no problem getting a great sounding recording that can be made to sound professional through post-production. More on that in my next blog! Any questions? Leave a comment or e-mail me!
However, it’s hard to imagine Timberlake invoking Pendrecki and Coates like Greenwood did, or producing some brooding ambient soundscapes ala Reznor. As talented an individual as he is, I was pleasantly surprised to see he had writing credits on all of the tracks on his debut LP. It’s hard to imagine what direction he’ll go musically, and I suppose we’ll just have to wait to hear the final product (and hopefully not on pop radio).
Popular artists getting into film scoring used to make me nervous in a certain way. Let’s face it, the film composer market is overly saturated, especially when you take into account how few composers get a shot at scoring movies people will actually see. Ultimately, however, popular artists are not creating more competition for film scoring. All they are doing is slightly increasing the small number of composers who are asked to score popular films. Now, instead of one of maybe eight composers picked to score every big budget film, the group widens to 10 or 12.
This leads to bigger questions about the the integrity of the film score and so forth, but I’m sure someone more qualified has an opinion on that. As an aspiring composer though, it should make you reassess your approach to getting “discovered”.
Back in 2008, I stumbled on an LP called Fallen Arches by an artist named Sunken Foal while searching through Planet Mu’s excellent catalog. I was immediately fascinated by the album’s organic instrumentation combined with glitchy percussion and decidedly progressive song structures that made for an outstanding and important LP. After a little investigation, I learned the man behind the project was Dunk Murphy, an accomplished Irish producer and musician, who also has released music as part of the groups Ambulance and Natural History Museum, among others. There were only two EPs (Fermented Condiments on Mu Records and Mother of God on Acroplane Recordings) from Sunken Foal since the debut, so it’s little wonder that I was highly anticipating his newest release, Friday Syndrome Volume 1, which is available as a free download at his website, www.counstersunk.org. Dunk was kind enough to answer a few questions from me via e-mail about his music, label, and artistic approach:
First of all, as a composer and producer myself, I love the way you went about producing the material on Friday Syndrome Volume 1. What was the catalyst behind the method, and did it result in any new or exciting revelations for you?
DM: Every tune is always different – I spent a little less effort at the time of inception with this collection of tunes – my stuff in the past has been far more “composed” working with lots of chord progressions and harmonies on guitars and pianos etc. – this time out I gave myself a few hours each Friday evening to compose some short rhythmic tracks and send them on to some friends as soon as they were done – the idea was to take advantage of that thirst for studio work I get every Friday evening when I know everyone else is getting ready to go out and socialise (knowing that I should to be getting ready too but at the same time getting all annoyed that I hadn’t worked hard enough that week)
On your website, it seems that the recording itself is free for download, and what you’re actually selling is merchandise to promote the record. What made you take this approach?
DM: I tried my best in the past to make a living purely from music whether it be composing for film, performing or releasing music – it all seems to be in this huge state of flux as a business now and I’m starting to think that this state of flux will continue and no one ubiquitous medium for music distribution will be settled upon – so in the meantime I wasn’t really bothered investing in one of the new distribution methods as I wanted to get the music out ASAP – it seemed to me that there was a lot of negativity from one side from people complaining about the kids pirating music, and then a lot of negativity from another side where people are attacking established record companies for selling music through the same old methods – I was thinking it could be nice for the artist to come up with a slightly different way of collecting revenue for their works and accept that it is not “business as usual”
There also doesn’t appear to be a label involved. Is there any specific reason why you’re self releasing this recording, are there any added benefits, and do you foresee releasing music on labels ever again?
DM: Yeah, I’d love to release music on other labels again – my last album came out on planet-mu – I think that they prefer a different side to what I do so I thought releasing this myself might be a little challenge – I’m viewing countersunk as a label and there is music to come out from other artists through the site at a later date – I’m still not sure if we’ll venture into vinyl yet – it’s all still a bit new – by self releasing, perhaps the benefits are that you get to engage with the audience in a more immediate fashion
How important do you find a physical object à la a CD or LP these days, and do you see yourself releasing Friday Syndrome Volume 1 this way in the future?
DM: The physical object to me is really important: hence the generative prints that we have on sale to support the release – it occurred to me that with vinyl, 250 individual sleeves could not be printed with unique artwork without a huge amount of work so the idea of the 50cm x 70cm prints came and I decided to go with it – there are a couple more volumes to the “Friday Syndrome” project to come so there might be a ‘best of’ vinyl release if there is call for it
I think your work is extremely textured and diverse, therefore potentially lending itself to film music. Have you ever considered doing music for film, and if an advertiser approached you about using one of your songs in a large campaign, would do it?
DM: I’ve done loads of that shit!! – ads have paid the bills indeed in the past but they take a lot of work and you really have to be dedicated – not just in terms of composition but you have to think in a business minded way – films are even more work and you really have to be involved with the team at hand – the “Friday Syndrome” stuff started out of a period where I was finishing off a couple of art film sound pieces – One of them was called “Rialto Twirlers” by director Anne Marie Barry - I was all ‘droney-textured’ out and I needed to write some beats … sort of as a method of self therapy : )
The “business minded” approach you speak of seems to be a difficult trait to take on for artists such as myself, especially in today’s fluctuating and seemingly oversaturated market. Do you have any advice for composers struggling to adapt this mindset who are looking to get their music in productions such as advertising or films?
DM: Shed any kind of pride or dignity that you might still be holding on to – be prepared to “believe” in things that you otherwise wouldn’t : ) whore yourself with all your might
I read a fairly interesting New York Times article on the “vocal producer to the stars” Kuk Harrell, who is behind some of today’s most successful pop stars. The article went on to describe his varied history in the industry, his demeanor, and exactly how he became what he is today. The most interesting part of the article, however, was about highly specialized producers, and how sounds are generated, encouraged, copied, cut, and then pasted in today’s modern recording studio.
Depending on your background, this article might be a revelation to you in many respects. I really wasn’t aware that people thought that today’s vocalists just went in to the studio and belted out a full rendition of a song, but this is apparently so. Technology gives recordists and producers the power to cut and paste the tiniest of segments from a plethora of takes into what you hear on the master. This can have a sterilizing effect on the recording, depending on the music (and you’re opinion), but it also provides a world of possibilities at the click of a mouse. It also makes recordings like this one seem even more incredible, given they all had one shot to get the whole thing right. Pretty unbelievable.
It’s very interesting to me to think of highly specialized producers in the studio getting just the right sound out of the performers, their music, or their instruments. As an artist, my recording studio experiences relied on the musicians having their material ready to go, and the engineer using his or her expertise and knowledge of their gear and studio to get the best sounds out of the instruments. In this way, I can see these types of producers being a good and bad thing. The concept takes away a lot of the artistry from the engineer, and makes the job almost purely technical, but it also provides a lot of new and exciting opportunities for individuals with very specific talents and/or training that may have been marginalized previously. So road dogs, and creative visionaries, take note. There may be a (lucrative) place for you in the studio.
There has very recently been a series of reactionary editorials bandying about in cyberspace regarding the fair compensation of artists in today’s technological landscape. This NPR editorial begat this NPR editorial, which was met with this response by a mainstream artist, that led to this reponse by a reasonably successful indie artist. Unsurprisingly, they all had different viewpoints on the way music is changing, and the way these changes apparently aren’t being adapted to by some musicians who once were able to somehow make a living off of record sales. If you choose to indulge in these articles, please set aside a fair amount of time, especially for Lowery’s editorial, which, despite him stating otherwise, comes off as wholly condescending, judgmental, and ridiculously unrealistic.
Now I fit in kind of on the lower end of the age spectrum here, and that’s important. I’d say about a decade separates me from Emily White and Travis Morrison, who is roughly a decade younger than David Lowery. I was old enough to see the transition from cassettes to CDs, and to live through most of my childhood without much worthwhile internet access. I certainly did make cassette dubs of other people’s records, and I recorded the hell out of college radio, an act I hold in the highest of importance regarding my understanding of music. I remember when burning CDs was a brand new venture, one that I had trouble believing was possible. I remember Napster. I was also heavily involved with my college’s radio station for every year of my undergraduate studies, and took advantage of promos and library access with reckless abandon.
I am also a musician that has played in many bands, and has had many records released by said bands on extremely small indie labels. As such, I can barely relate to Travis Morrison’s success with his band The Dismemberment Plan. Lowery’s bands might as well be Def Leopard. Whatever that guy is complaining about in regards to music is outside of my realm of understanding, even if his first band was supposedly a purveyor of “DIY ethics” (probably before signing to a major label).
The main thrust of my argument is that the all-important record label, something Lowery seems strangely bent on defending, is becoming increasingly less important. In fact, I’d say that outside of making really sexy looking limited-run LPs for niche audiences who enjoy such things, they’re borderline irrelevant now. I also bet that record labels are more of a hindrance to a lot of important older music that nobody will ever legally get to hear because the label-owned recording has gone out of print, and/or is mired in red tape.
That brings me to the main point that isn’t addressed by any of the aforementioned articles. I think it would better serve music as a whole to try and use today’s technology to empower both the artist and music fan, and not make them both feel like they’re indebted to an antiquated business model or faceless company. Is there an alternative to buying a physical copy (which people don’t generally seem to want anymore), legally streaming the music (which apparently doesn’t compensate artists fairly), or downloading it legally (which not enough people seem to do)? One alternative is to completely cut the label out of the equation. Distribution channels are no longer monopolized by big labels, and if you need a loan, go to the bank, or better yet, start a kickstarter account. While you’re at it, start a PayPal account, too and/or a site like bandcamp so people can buy directly from you (and in a variety of file types to boot). As usual, it’s up to the band to figure out ways to get exposure, but, these days, putting yourself in a situation where you need to move 10,000 “units” before seeing a profit is absolutely ludicrous. It’s sad that Lowery won’t get a chance to issue his band’s older recordings this way unless he keeps waiting, or buys the masters from the label for exorbitant amounts, but that’s the legacy of the record label in 2012. I suppose he could set up a personal donation page if he doesn’t mind Virgin not getting a cut.
When I first started seriously composing stock audio on AudioJungle last summer, many of the highest selling songs on the site featured the ukulele. Fast forward a year, and this really hasn’t changed. What once seemed like a trend has become something different…and I’m not sure what. Even this current national advertisement features a song from AudioJungle that’s over 2 years old, and has been sold over 1600 times (!). To say that the ukulele is played out and overused is an understatement, particularly in advertising. The fact it persists as the musical focal point of so many of today’s commercials either speaks to the public’s insatiable love for the runty instrument, or of a severe lack of creativity in advertising.
I found a great New York Times article on the ukulele’s popularity from over a year ago, and even then the article spoke of the instrument’s over-saturation in advertising. It also pointed out the possible origin for this craze: Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole’s cringe-inducing version of “Over the Rainbow”, a song I heard at virtually every wedding I did sound for while living in California (so we’re talking 50+, maybe?). The article goes on to tout the ukulele as the instrument for the non-musician, and while I’m not sure I’d go there, I will say that at this point it’s kitsch. Period.
While people may love the uke because of the warm feelings it helps generate, there is more than one way to skin a cat. A different approach will likely yield the same results, and will alleviate the risk of people tuning out at the first strum. So, please, if you have to use a ukulele, please do so in moderation.