Recording Studio – What Is The Quickest Way to Quality Recordings?

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What is the quickest way to a quality recording? – So many people will answer this question focusing on equipment, studios, and producers/engineers… they’ll suggest it’s all about the ‘best’ studio, the ‘best’ microphones, the ‘best’ preamps, the ‘best’ instruments, or the ‘best’ producer. It is true that all these things help greatly in contributing to amazing sounding recordings, but the single most important factor is… wait for it…  your performance.

Have you ever noticed when recording rehearsals and performances in adverse situations using less than awesome recording devices that many musicians sound fine (all the way down to crappy), given the circumstances, yet maybe one or two will always stand out as sounding amazing no matter how low tech the recording device or how horrible the acoustic environment? That is because their performances are so good they transcend technology. In the early days of recording when everyone had to record into one or two microphones (1920s-1940s), it was only amazing performances that made the music happen — think of the precision and excitement of a group like the Andrew Sisters. Musicians had to be a certain distances from the microphones to get a blend, and only had their own skills to help them attain a good recording, and there was still plenty of magic in those captures, low as the fidelity may have been.

In this day and age, we can fix so many issues with bad or mediocre performances that musicians expect it, defer to it, and often approach their own art with laziness and an unforgivable lack of skill development. Even though we are able to polish turds, it will never sound as good as an inspired, well executed performance. So how do you get a great performance? I bet you already know — lot’s of practice and a constant desire to improve your skills. No secrets, no quick fixes — simply dedicated hard work. Some, like me, love practicing and love striving for new heights, and if you do this, it will help you in so many ways. Your live performances will be better, and audiences will notice this, leading to more accolades and more fans. You will save lots of money in the recording studio by taking the responsibility that should be yours anyway. You may even get called to do other people’s gigs and recordings, leading to another source of income. Most of all, you will learn about discipline, you will learn of the satisfaction that comes from focusing on a worthy endeavor, and you will have the pride of seeing what amazing results your hard work will yield–this is the kind of passion that makes for a life well lived.

A few tips for practicing: I tell students this all the time, and almost none of them ever do it — practice with a metronome! You can get apps for smartphones that are great, so don’t whine about expense or another piece of gear to deal with — my app was FREE!! Timing is about the most important aspect of music — it’s what makes people tap their feet, dance, shake their asses, etc. Also, when doing studio work, you will often encounter the dreaded click track — it is really just a metronome, and if you can play to a click(providing the songs you are working on need one), you will get better tracks and save lots of money in the studio. You will just have a better sense of time and feel in general, so do it!

Practice with a tuner or around an instrument you can reference your pitch to. Being in tune is important live and in the studio — it separates the pros from the amateurs just like good time does. Again, better live performances, and less money spent paying for an engineer to have to apply the dreaded auto-tune to your vocals. Record yourself! on your smartphone, on your computer, on an old cassette player if you have to. This is the truth teller — sometimes it’s hard to tell what your performances are like while you are involved with the technical aspects, so listening back without your mind being involved in anything else is very telling. It’s also a great way to prepare for working in the recording studio — there will be no surprises when listening back to your tracks (except the quality will be great, so you’ll sound even better to yourself). And lastly, always study your instrument of choice and try to become the best you can be at it — listen to the best and use them as your target, not the people in your immediate circles (unless your circles consist of the very best musicians/singers/songwriters there are). You are the most important factor when it comes to getting good recordings, so let that empower you.

Our website – Basement 3 Productions – we are a recording studio, we do recording and specialize in singer songwriters, we also orchestrate and add instrumentation to your songs, we also do photography and graphic design.

http://www.basement3productions.com/recording

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‘Cereal’ – was written after watching an interview with serial killer Jeffery Dahmer.

‘Cereal’ is the first song on my first solo album, ‘Eating the Cannibal’, released in 2000. The song was written in the mid 90s after I watched an interview on TV with serial killer Jeffery Dahmer.

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IMAGE: ‘The Judge’ by Kenny Schick (the Mannequin Series shot in NYC – no photoshop is used in these images SEE MORE KENNY SCHICK PHOTOGRAPHY HERE).

Given his actions and crimes, I was expecting to witness a total nut job blabber incoherently, something like Charles Manson, but what I saw was a very articulate and well spoken man who fully comprehended the questions being asked and was very aware and forthright about what he had done.

He took full responsibility and seemed to have a great deal of insight (or perhaps hindsight) about how things progressed and went wrong. Listening to his explanation of his ‘process,’ as demented and wrong as his actions were, there was a logic and progression that is not unlike how an artist or scientist would move forward with an idea or concept.

It felt very strange to be able to ‘understand’ what was truly not ‘understandable’ — to think that someone who spoke so rationally about something so irrational was just another human being who somehow just slowly slipped into such an unimaginable space.

People find many ways to find thrills in the world — mountain climbing, skydiving, snake handling, heroin, and so many things others would call crazy. People do so many things they know they shouldn’t — cheat on spouses, steal, embezzle money, torture other humans — the sky is the limit.

It struck me that the most saintly human may just be one odd thought process away from becoming the most hideous human — that a series of experiences and/or choices could change one’s direction forever.

Because I don’t really like to write songs that are immediately obvious, and perhaps because the subject matter is so uncomfortable, I stuck to my usual obtuse method of lyric writing. Even using the ‘incorrect’ spelling ‘Cereal’ (which sort of reminded me of kid’s sweet cereal that is so yummy and attractive but so bad for you) instead of Serial was sort of way of putting a mask on a song that written too literally could be too confronting.

I like to allow room for listeners to make up their own meanings to songs so they can relate them to their own personal life experiences rather than to just shove my thoughts and experiences down their throats.

The song was originally recorded to an old black face ADAT, and for the re-release, I imported the files off the ADAT into Pro Tools so I could remix the song with more control and re-sing the lead vocal.

HEAR THE SONG HERE and let me know what you think, of the song, of the music of the thought process anything.

Kenny

Open Mics – Proper Etiquette and Acoustic Performances

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My life of musical performance started with the volume up to 11. Etiquette included outrageous behavior, shouting, dancing, smoking, drinking, dancing – general 70’s rock debauchery – as much as 13 year olds could get away with anyway.
Through the years came many more bands – the 80’s shows opening up for Red Hot Chili Peppers and Fishbone, complete with stage diving, slam dancing, and more crazy, drunken behavior. Aside from my more refined jazz years and a bit of classical performance in college, I often found myself in the most outrageous(and loud) bands, so when I stumbled into the realm of singer-songwriters and acoustic musicians in the mid 2000’s – a world I barely knew existed – I was surprised on many levels how different this world of performance and this mindset was.

 

“You may ask yourself, ‘How did I get here’? Though so much of my time was occupied playing with various bands, I had my own recording studio at home where i could work alone on my own artsy music, unhindered by the collaborative band experience. This process led to 3 solo albums of complex, layered music – very much a full band sound. I had hoped to sell these albums online, but without a live act to go out and promote them, my intent of keeping things a ‘recorded material only’ project started to slip away, as online promotion only seemed to go so far. The whole reason for this project was to avoid a band dynamic – i didn’t want to compromise, nor was I interested in the often difficult personal dealings that come with a band, so I toyed with the concept of playing this music solo. Could I possibly strip it down to just acoustic guitar(an instrument I had not played much) and vocal(a skill I had not really mastered yet–thank god for multiple takes)? I had started down a road that would be the most challenging musical experience of my life, both musically and emotionally.
OPEN MICS – THE WORLD OF THE SINGER-SONGWRITER – BE RESPECTFUL OF OTHERS AND THEY WILL BE RESPECTFUL OF YOU – SHUT UP AND LISTEN!!
Late in 2004 I began to strip down my songs and the amount of work I would need to do for this format to be viable became staggeringly evident. The acoustic guitar was so quiet and dynamically limited, and singing constantly while playing took some time to get used to. Voice lessons happened promptly – I had to re-learn to sing, as years of shouting over loud instruments had no relevance in this format. Another question arose: where would I play music like this, and how would I get the skills I needed before I could justify doing a ‘real’ performance? And that is how I found the world of open mics, and discovered the world of the singer-songwriter.
I found many open mics throughout the bay area, and they were all quite different. Some were respectful and nurturing, others were loud and demeaning. There were great performers, and there were mediocre and weak performers, but in all cases, I found that I respected anyone who would get out there alone and put it on the line. I learned a ton from all of them – what worked as well as what didn’t. For me, the open mic was a means to an end and not a way of life as it seemed to be for so many.
I did move on to play shows, but still go to open mics to find recording clients and to try out new material. One thing that is common to both acoustic shows and open mics – something that was never an issue with bands – is that environment is highly influential on the performance and can make or break the music. It is a delicate music that needs to be treated more like a classical performance than anything else, yet so often, the ‘club music’ mentality prevails and proper respect is not given to performers. And sadly, fellow performers more often than not also perpetuate this dynamic. It is songwriter oriented cities like Nashville that understand this, and venues like the Bluebird Cafe, which I was fortunate to perform at on a US tour, that have strict ‘no talking’ rules.
PROPER ETIQUETTE FOR OPEN MICS AND ACOUSTIC PERFORMANCES
Perhaps a bit of a long lead up to the main point of this writing, but hey, I’m a song writer and words/communication of ideas is my business : )
This is for audiences in general, but mostly for the songwriters themselves, as I am always surprised how neglectful of proper etiquette they/we can be given we are well aware of how it all works (yes, i even find myself throwing up my arms and joining in with bad behavior from time to time).
1) Be quiet – it is difficult to perform solo and it requires a lot of concentration, and it is difficult to hear oneself. Open mics are social situations too, so a little whispering is ok–or go outside if an important conversation needs to happen(though also note rule 2 coming up). If we songwriters don’t perpetuate a dynamic of respect toward the fine art of acoustic music, then how will others know to respect it?
2) Don’t leave immediately after your performance – this is a big issue for me, and I know it is for others too. It is so utterly selfish and disrespectful, it really makes me want to punch people who do it, and more often than not, the ones that do it are the ones who could most benefit from watching other performers. It brings up a big aspect of music business, and life in general: you have to give in order to receive. Don’t think other’s don’t notice they do… and they will be less respectful of you next time they see you.
If you want people (ie: fans!) to care about what you do, you need to reciprocate and care about what they do – and I’m talking about fellow musicians and plain ol’ non-musician fans alike. This is an important lesson for all of life, not just open mics. To really appreciate music, and to really have a meaningful life, listening is probably the number one most important thing you can do. Ideas and creativity are inspired by what you experience, and that means attention needs to be paid to the world around you. I have learned so much about music listening to both good and bad performers. I’ve been inspired by very small aspects of the most rookie open mic’ers at times, not just the experienced ones.
3) Listen – obviously, this is addressed heavily above. Out of respect for fellow performers and for the benefit of your own career, take in the offerings of others. Appreciate, learn.
4) Kindly help demonstrate proper etiquette – remind others to whisper, or as I sometimes do, motion them to another room if a conversation starts. Actively listen to others and serve as an example of attentive behavior.
Just these small, simple things can make for a better community of songwriters, and can help perpetuate proper etiquette to a world of acoustic music that seems to be growing. So many people love music and can’t live without it, but far too often, we don’t give it the respect it deserves.
I’d be very interested to know your experiences in open mics.

MY WEBPAGE – where you can see what we do at Basement 3 Productions  – we do recording, mixing, orchestration, work with singer songwriters, do photography and graphic design – http://www.basement3productions.com

My Past and Present in the Music Industry – Dot 3 & Kenny Schick

 
I am a proponent of ‘living in the moment’ for sure. Though it is interesting to go back in time and important to look ahead to the future, it is easy to go beyond simple reflection or intelligent forethought into the unproductive realm(s) of ‘dwelling in the past’ or ‘worrying about the future’–both very paralyzing states of mind. Yet often we get so wound up in the moment–the whirlwind of our complicated lives–that we forget to see where we are going or enjoy the accomplishments of our past. The other day I received a flashback moment in an email–something that made me realize just how long and successful a career I have had in the music industry. It was one of those very reaffirming moments we all need from time to time. 
 
In all the running around getting ready for the CD release party for my 5th solo CD, I went to an open mic at the venue where my CD party would be held the next day to perform and do some final promotion. As I threw my guitar and cable in the trunk(a specialized cable for the Trance Audio pickup system  http://tranceaudio.com/  I have in my acoustic guitar), I didn’t realize that the cable was not all the way in the trunk. It was hanging out, which would have been no big deal, except that it was hanging out just far enough for it’s specialized jack to come in contact with the road. I wound my way up the mountain road to our home/studio in Boulder Creek, and noticed it hanging out of the trunk when I went to pull my guitar out, and then noticed the cable end had been worn down to a nub, obviously dragging behind me all the way home. The system is durable and has been ‘road tested’, but this was a bit too literal interpretation of that concept. In the morning, I contacted Trance Audio to see how I could get one of their cables for the show that night—they are a Santa Cruz company, so they are fairly local. They offered to deliver one directly to me that day! Awesome customer service, I must say. Because of their helpfulness, I gave them a copy of my new CD.
 
Well a few days later, they wrote back and told me my old cable was repaired, and said that my new album was on heavy rotation in their office, but even more amazing was that Laurel(from Trance) sent along a photo of an album(meaning vinyl) in her collection–it was a copy of the self-titled Dot 3 record–my old band from the 80’s! http://www.myspace.com/dot3music ImageShe had been a fan of ours back in the day. Released in 1987, it dawned on me that this album was now over a quarter century old! This was one of those well needed reflective moments–one of those moments that put my life’s work into perspective–that reminded me how much energy, passion, and dedication I have given to my career in music, and further, that all the effort and struggle is, and has been recognized for three decades. 
 
It was 30 years ago I did my first real recording session(the first Dot 3 release in 1984), and that session had an everlasting impact on my life–I was so enamored with the recording process that I learned everything I could about it, and today, recording/production is one of the key focuses of my wife’s and my business, Basement 3 Productions(the ‘3’ in part being a shout out to Dot 3). This simple look back in time reminds me that when I am able to give clients great mixes, orchestration, performances, etc., and it seems relatively easy, that years of learning and painstaking experimentation, countless ‘failures’, and a boundless amount of passion for what I do are the elements responsible for the success, not luck or magic. 
 
This simple little look back in time reminded me how lucky I am to have found a passion like music, and how cool it is to be able to make others so happy fulfilling their dreams in the form of helping them make make a great recording, or by using all the years of musical experience to give them a memorable live performance. Now….back to the present!