We’ve been very busy here at SendMusic towers. From launching our new Security Plan a few weeks back to being shortlisted as one of the ‘Companies 2 Watch’ at ADE, things have been steadily ramping up for us, which is really exciting and inspiring. The great feedback we’ve been receiving from across the industry and from our user base has been keeping the wind in our sails and we’re very pumped for the year ahead. We have a raft of amazing features waiting to be released, which will continue to keep us at the front of the pack when it comes to sending music files in the easiest, securest and most intuitive way possible.
In today’s blog post I wanted to first highlight a sometimes overlooked SendMusic facility that you can utilise as part of your creative arsenal to really streamline, promote and push you and your brand. Used properly you can align everything you’re involved with and build attention. From music release graphics to logos to website colour schemes, you can curate a consistent design style across all your channels. This is achieved with the ability to customise the colours and images on your SendMusic Profile Page by upgrading to our Personal Plan.
For just the cost of a coffee you get access to great customisation features bundled with this plan. You can either change the background colours and animation colours of your Profile Page or add a background image of your choice. Additionally you can remove any SendMusic branding to make your Profile Page look like it’s completely your own with no association to SendMusic and you can additionally remove the ‘Send Music to me’ button, if you choose to not receive any music. You can always edit any of these settings via the ‘Settings’ panel and you can also preview any colour changes also, to make sure they look good before setting them live to the world.
Check out Kemal’s Profile Page to see what you can do with changing the page and animation colours:
Check out my Profile Page and also Fletch’s Profile Page (he’s one of our loyal user base), to see a background image in use:
Here’s what my customised Profile Page actually looks like, as you can see I’ve added my own background image. If you are a record label, engineer, producer, or anyone else for that matter, you can change the background image or the colours to match any desired style:
With the Personal Plan you can also send files that are up to 5Gb in size, store your files for up to 60 days and send files to up to 10 people at once. Below is a complete list of the features you get access to:
- Change your background image or page colours
- Remove SendMusic branding
- Hide the “Send Music to me” button
- Send files up to 5Gb in size
- Store your files for up to 60 days
- Send files to up to 10 contacts
We continue to build SendMusic to satisfy the ever evolving requirements of our user base, keeping up with technological advancements and always trying to be as innovative as possible. We get lots of feedback and suggestions daily and there was a common thread that kept popping up from many of you – the security of your music files. We get it, you’ve spent hours on your creative endeavours and don’t want them leaked, ripped or shared without your permission. So we set about building a Security Plan that would make your files as secure as possible.
We only launched our Security Plan a few weeks back now and the uptake has already been really good. So what is the Security Plan and what do you get exactly with this it? Well two great features of this plan are the ability to limit the number of times a file is downloaded and also how many times a file can be played. These two features alone really increase file security by setting a boundary to the time a file can be accessed, shared and played. We also added audio watermarking as a feature. This basically overlays a ‘SendMusic’ audio sting that repeats at regular intervals over your audio file making it practically useless if it was ripped by a third party. To access your inbox (files you have received) and sent items, you need to log into your SendMusic account. This again enhances the security of the music files you manage daily. Lastly, you can also now send private messages to other SendMusic users with the Security plan. Not an outright security feature, but nevertheless a great one and worth mentioning as it gives you the ability to really connect with other SendMusic users!
The complete list of Security Plan features are:
- Limit downloads and plays of each file
- Send private messages to other SendMusic users
- Listen to music sent to your profile for 30 days
- Send files up to 10Gb in size
- Store your files for up to 90 days
- Send files to up to 20 contacts
- Customise your public SendMusic Profile Page
- Remove SendMusic branding
- Hide the “Send Music to me” button
- Change your background design and colours
As you can hopefully see, the SendMusic Customisation and Security plans are extremely useful for a wide array of people and unique uses. From Mastering Engineers to A + R’s, to Record labels the features included with the plans can really benefit pretty much anyone involved in music. Why not give one of them a try today and see how beneficial they are first hand? Please do drop me a line if you have any questions and keep creating!
Today I have the pleasure of interviewing one of the key players from n-Track, Matt Thurtell. n-Track is a Digital Audio Workstation built to provide users studio quality recording, editing and mixing capabilities on Windows and Mac as well as on mobile – iOS and Android. It has millions of downloads and continues to grow in popularity, especially in the mobile market. So, let’s dive in with the questions….
1) Matt, please tell me about yourself
After graduating from the Film Scoring Masters course at the Royal College of Music, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, with music recorded at Abbey Road Studio One, screened at BAFTA & Cannes Film Festival, for the BBC, Sky, Audi R8, Island Records & Beverley Knight. In 2019 I moved from London to Rome.
2) You work for n-Track, who are they and what do you do there?
We’re a DAW company based out of Rome that makes software to inspire people to create music and collaborate. n-Track has been around & evolving since 1996. My role is Head of Marketing & Sound – which means building attention for the brand, and working on sound selection & creation to build the most inspiring product for users to create music.
3) What do you think sets n-Track apart from its competitors?
Two things: First, our emphasis is as a mobile-first music maker, geared towards creating the most frictionless experience for users to create and share their music. We’re also cross-platform, meaning you can start & record an idea from just about anywhere and then move that project onto the desktop version of n-Track to mix and refine in the studio. Recently I was talking with a NYC-based rapper, T.O.N.E-z, that used this approach, recording the idea for his vocals for theme song to the Emmy-award winning Justified on n-Track Studio for iOS on a plane, and finalising in n-Track Studio for Desktop back in his studio. I use this capability a lot – turning an idea, which could arrive at any time, into the final product, is an important part of the process in getting your sound & music out into the world!
4) There’s a fast growing market for DAWs on mobile:
– What do you see happening in this space and over what timeframe?
I’d love to see an integration with voice-led technology and DAWs over the next 3-5 years. Music is sound and emotion – using voice technology to create and refine music, like ‘Capture this melody’, then singing a line, ‘audition drum loops at 120bpm over this guitar line’, I think would create a different sensory experience in music creation.
– How are n-Track positioned to compete in this growing market?
We’re lucky to have an outrageously talented team that love technology and develop quick. Above everything we’re looking to provide users with the most efficient way to create and share music so I’m looking forward to seeing where that takes us.
5) Are there any exciting developments at n-Track that you’d like to share?
We’re releasing a powerful loop browser, for all versions of n-Track, packed with sounds to inspire instant music creation. As part of the release we’re introducing a new mobile-subscription called Suite Edition, which gives rappers, artists and producers access to royalty-free beats, loops & one-shots, hand-selected from around the globe. We’re going to supply the individual parts to the beats and even allow users to edit the n-Track Studio session used to create the beats, the idea being that if you’re a first time vocalist, or an experienced producer you can remix, amend and play with the tracks according to your skill level, always knowing that the raw material is already release-level.
6) I know you were a Logic user but you’ve switched to n-Track full time now, how has that been?
I’ve actually just released an album written using n-Track and the engine just gives the music a certain ‘sound’. I used Logic for 8 years, through my time at the Royal College and working on ads – I found it to be a steep learning curve. I think that after having years of experience with one DAW, the basics of another can be grasped almost instantly, but I love to work with audio and n-Track, with the integration of the loop browser, allows you to chop, pitch and tempo shift audio directly on the arrange window, without using third party programs. It removes an extra step that gets in the way of creation and I feel that the layout allows me to record and finish music quicker.
7) If you could have any feature on a DAW, what would that be?
Inspiration. Every DAW should be striving to inspire music creation. One of the reasons I use a DAW is to use the technology to create a better version of the idea I have in my head! Also knowing that the DAW is regularly being updated to stay relevant and provide the most frictionless experience to create and release tracks.
8) Where do you see music going to in the future, especially in this era of subscription based streaming?
Quantity. Tech is facilitating opportunities like end-to-end music creation tools, in which music can be created, marketed, distributed through a platform. And, of course, there are companies using AI to create an almost unimaginable amount of music.Ironically, through the quantity of releases, I feel that music quality will be as important as ever and I’d also add how important I think branding will continue to be… Creating attention in a crowded (but incredibly inspiring) marketplace to get your new hot track heard, streamed, placed on games, film, and TV, or played live.
9) Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
A more evolved version of myself. Excited, still building, finding ways to give users the most frictionless & inspiring ways to create within the music space – likely integrating voice and AI as the technology becomes more accessible. Tech and culture will continue to evolve & for sure I’ll be creating content for whatever platforms are around in a decade. And.. still putting out music releases too, of course!
10) Tell me absolutely anything you want to say, climate change to the universe to frogs, whatever…
As you probably don’t know (very sadly for your ears!), I make music and have been making music for a long time now. I’ve had my music published and synchronised to some cool things, an Audi ad, Disney channel bits, Sky tv etc. Now it’s by no means my full time job, but it’s nice to get a bit of change, (money), every so often from doing something I really enjoy. In today’s episode I thought I’d share a few of the plugins I love and why they are so good. There is a bewildering array of plugins to choose from these days and I must mention that the stock plugins that come with most DAWs are brilliant. But I am going to focus on third party plug-ins today.
Now, let me share some hard learned knowledge before I even get into the actual plugins. After a stupidly long time i’ve come to a basic realisation, and that is before you get obsessed by using third party plugins or even stock plugs – start actually FINISHING SONGS. Get into the habit of finishing whole songs, even if they sound crap. I can’t reiterate that enough. So many of us music types are twiddlers and ‘loop masters’. We sit there having made a loop and listen to it endlessly, imagining the hordes going wild for it, but it’s not a song, it’s just a 4 bar or 8 bar loop. Look, I said it right there, it’s not a song, it’s just a loop. Once upon a time my computer quickly became a loop graveyard! Some brilliant, some average, but all unfinished and just clogging up disk space. After listening to anything 1000 times you get bored of it, regardless of how good it sounds.
When I sit down to make music these days I’m very clear about what I want to do. Some days are playing about days where I experiment and have fun, I program synths, try effects tricks etc. and yes I do create loops. But most of the other days I sit down solely with the focus of finishing a song. Creating a song finishing habit is essential if you want to be successful in music.
So to a few of the plugsin I love and use every session at the moment:
Serum by Xfer Records – Software Synthesizer
Serum is a wavetable software synthesizer that has quickly risen to the top of the pile. It sounds brilliant, there are a ton of tutorials and also sound patches out there for it, and it’s got a huge fan base. It was 3 years in the making and was created to have inaudible levels of aliasing (those harsh artifacts you can hear when playing high pitched sounds, typical on most other soft synths).
As a result Serum sounds amazing. It’s also got a superb, visually pleasing user interface. In terms of pick and play it is relatively easy to learn and also program. Even if you don’t want to program it, the sounds included are fab and there are loads of free sounds and banks out there for you to use.
The one downside of Serum is that it is really processor hungry. I often find that if I have more than one instance of it open it kills my CPU and makes my laptop lag. In some ways this is actually a positive as I have to commit to sounds and bounce them down to audio. Sometimes constraints like this are actually beneficial, I guess it’s how you look at it! I would definitely give it a try, I doubt you’ll look back.
Soundtoys 5 – Multi effects bundle
Ok so this isn’t a plug in per se, but a bundle of plug ins, including the following:
- Little AlterBoy
- EchoBoy Jr.
- Little Plate
- Devil-Loc Deluxe
- Little MicroShift
- Little PrimalTap
- Little Radiator
The centrepiece of this great bundle is the Effects Rack. In this you can build your own effect chains using any of the included plugins. Once you create your own chain you then have a global control that lets you treat the Rack as a single plug in. Trust me, Soundtoys 5 is a real joy to use and it’s not really a shock that it’s a staple of many of your favourite producer’s studio set ups. The way you can craft, emphasise and mangle sounds can be spectacular and you can end up playing around with the effects for hours on end.
A couple of my favourites from this bundle are Decapitator and Crystallizer. Decapitator is an emulation of analogue saturation. There are 5 different style buttons that are modelled after legendary hardware studio preamps and input channels, including the Neve 1057 and Ampex 350 tape drive. If you want to make a sound pop out in your mix this is a great first port of call. Hear it in action yourself here: Decapitator Tutorial
Crystallizer is a granular echo effect. It delays a portion of audio that you feed into it and this is called the Splice. You can then create lots of weird and wonderful delay type effects with this Splice function. It can also be synced to your session tempo. Have a listen to it in action here: Crystallizer in action
Fabfilter Pro Q 3 – Equaliser
Last but not least is my favourite Equaliser plugin. An equaliser is one of the most important tools that an engineer or producer uses. It lets you balance the frequencies of an individual sound, vocal or whole mix. How do you balance these frequencies? Well an equaliser allows you to boost some frequencies and cut others.
As you can see above the interface that the Pro Q 3 has is beautiful, it shows the frequency spectrum of the audio source you are treating and you can drag the yellow line up to boost a frequency or down to cut a frequency. It is so easy and intuitive to use and innovative that there have been lots of copies. None seem to match this, the original, however.
You can refine your boosts and cuts using the Q setting and you can also split the signal between the mono and stereo channels and treat each separately. I literally use this plug in on everything and would really suggest giving it a go.
So that’s a little breakdown of some of the things I use. I’d love to hear what you guys rate or use, comment below or drop me an email – [email protected]
At the end of the day less is more when it comes to plug ins I believe. I used to have so many at one point and could hardly use any well. Now though I have a few and know them really well. This approach has really raised my production level and get the sounds out from my head and out through my speakers.
So you’re there, that magical moment, you’ve finished a track and it actually feels like it’s finished, (well if you’re like me a track never feels finished). Anyways I digress, what I’ve found out the hard way is that making music and finishing tracks is actually the easy part. The harder part for many musicians and producers is getting their music out into the world through the correct channels, where it gets the exposure it deserves.
Unsurprisingly it’s quite confusing what you should be doing with so many blogs, labels and streaming platforms out there now. It’s so easy to waste hours on futile efforts that don’t really lead anywhere. So the purpose of this weeks blog post is to hopefully point you towards some channels that can get your tracks the exposure they deserve. Before I dive in I would suggest one bit of admin that will save you a headache down the line. Set up a spreadsheet, at a minimum have a column with the track name, another column with the person / channel / blog that you’ve sent your track too and another column with any response or action they’ve taken. It’s very easy to lose track of what you’ve sent out and to whom. Finally remember to keep any communication with any entity you reach out to well written (no mistakes) and to the point (no waffle).
Blogs are a brilliant place for discovering new artists. Getting your tracks onto a decent blog can get you significant traction. Listed below are a few good ones to ignite your search:
So how do you get onto these blogs? Most have some kind of demo upload method where you can post a streaming link to your track, your artist details etc. However from personal experience I wouldn’t solely rely on this method. Here’s where some ingenuity on your part comes in, actually dig into the blog and articles / posts thoroughly. Usually there is an author associated with the content. Find their social media pages, contact them, build rapport and try to get them into your music too. Don’t be pushy, instead seek feedback, use your imagination and build a connection, remember neediness is never attractive!
- Spotify Playlists
The biggest playlists on Spotify all have demo submission forms through which to submit your music. However don’t get greedy here with the allure of success ad and trying in vain to get your music onto the biggest Spotify playlist possible. There’s many great smaller Spotify playlists out there that are easier to get your music onto. It’s extremely difficult to get your music onto a big Spotify Playlist as an unknown producer, singer or songwriter. I’d suggest trying to get onto a smaller playlist first and working your way up the Spotify playlist ladder hierarchy. If your track is good enough and people are listening to it in decent numbers there is no reason why your track won’t get onto bigger playlists. Some Spotify playlists for your consideration are:
There are a ton of amazing labels out there. Like playlists the bigger ones are very hard to get onto, i’m talking about labels like Spinnin, Defected, Monstercat etc. These big labels operate very professionally as business enterprises. As such, not only do you have to have amazing music, but they are usually also looking for a big fan base – it helps them sell more records / get more streams and generate more hype with less effort.
So it’s better to initially think about getting your music onto smaller independent labels. You’ve got a much better chance of getting your track signed, you’ll hopefully get exposure by a hungry team and you will also learn the ins and outs of signing a record.
There’s a few ways to contact these labels, some are:
Find their general submission email
A submission form on their website
Contact an A + R at the label (do some digging around their site, find names etc. and reach out as necessary!)
Don’t worry if you don’t get a response, these labels get hundreds of tracks sent to them everyday. There’s a million and one reasons why you didn’t get a response, even though your head might well be telling you that the music you make and submitted is crap. Don’t listen to your head in such a scenario and keep sending your music out there.
- YouTube channels
YouTube channels have the same power and reach as Spotify playlists in our current era, as such they are really important when it comes to reaching (potentially) millions of fans.
Just check out the numbers on these famous YouTube channels:
- NCS (13M subscribers)
- Trap City (8.6M subscribers)
- Mr. Suicide Sheep (7.6M subscribers)
- UKF Dubstep (6.1M subscribers)
- Proximity (5.3M subscribers)
- The Sound You Need (4.2M subscribers)
- Majestic Casual (3.6M subscribers)
- CloudKid (1.6M subscribers)
If you go to the ‘About’ page you can normally find details of the channel and contact details. Otherwise work back and try to find an associated website or social media account linked and dig to get a contact. There is an excellent Google Chrome extension called Hunter that lets you find email addresses associated with a web page. Check it out below and happy hunting with that one!
All of these things come down to how hard you hustle. Obviously you need good music first and foremost. There are some who get lucky, those anomalies that get discovered as barely pubescent teens uploading their first track randomly onto Soundcloud and it getting discovered and going viral. I have to point out this is kind of like winning the lottery, most artists who ‘make’ it have to have a strategy to get their music into the hands of the right people and have had to push and take knock backs multiple times. You really need to develop a thick skin in this industry and take rejection as just a part of the process and nothing personal. In the end I hope you get the success you seek, keep on pushing and go get what you deserve!
In today’s world Spotify playlists have a huge influence on monthly song listens. They are especially important for smaller artists who might not yet have large followings. Getting onto one of the top playlists out there, like “Today’s top hits”, “Rap Caviar”, “United Kingdom Top 50” etc. enables an artist to reach huge audiences and hit massive streaming figures. Take KREAM as an example, they have only 4000 followers on Spotify, yet they are reaching almost 5 million monthly listeners thanks to 3 million of their listeners coming from 5 key playlists that they appear on. The term used to describe this phenomenon is ‘playlist leverage’. In KREAM’s case they are getting over 800 times more monthly listeners than they have followers.
It’s no surprise then that the push by record labels, music promotion companies etc. is to get songs into curated playlists hosted by streaming services such as Spotify and Apple. According to the EU’s Joint Research Centre, getting a placement on Spotify’s New Music Friday playlist can generate $117,000 (£90,500) in revenue. Getting added to Today’s Top Hits, a playlist with over 23 million followers raises streams by 20 million and is worth between $116,000 and $163,000. These playlists have become the tools used by labels and managers to measure success. A playlist now can break an artist, the playlist really is now king!
So we then come to THE question, “how can I get my music onto a top playlist”? Below is some useful knowledge if you are trying to get your music onto Spotify playlists.
Not all Playlists are created equal
The in demand playlists are extremely competitive and difficult to get a placement on. They are usually owned and curated by either Spotify or a major label. Companies or indie labels own some playlists and individuals like you and me own the rest. Generally speaking one has to work their way up the ladder, from the bottom of the playlist pyramid to the top.
Spotify curated playlists are top of the pyramid and can have well over a million followers. Songs that get onto these have usually been road tested on the smaller Playlists. Spotify look at data such as plays, skips and finishes to decide how well a song is performing. If your song performs well it has a better chance of getting onto a Spotify Playlist.
It should be noted that some Spotify Playlists are curated, while others use an algorithm to choose songs in line with a listener’s tastes.
Major Label Curated Playlists
Major Label owned playlists get decent numbers of listens. They’re often used to plug label artists to get plays and hopefully land a spot on a Spotify Playlist.
Individual Curated Playlists
These are curated by people like me and you, indie labels, radio stations, music bloggers etc. If you’re an artist breaking out, it’s a good idea to start hustling your music by landing it on one of these smaller playlists. There’s more chance of landing your music on one of these playlists and getting it out there to actual listeners.
How to get your music on Spotify Playlists
- Sign up for Spotify for Artists
Creating a Spotify for Artists account gets you verified and makes you credible. You also get access to features such as analytics and notifications when your music is added to playlists.
- If you already have fans direct them to Spotify
Get some activity going. Get your friends, grandmother, uncle and any other fans (if you have them) to start listening to your song on Spotify. Share links to your Spotify page on your social media channels, include a link in your email signature, use any means necessary to promote your music! Spotify playlists look at data like plays, finishes, skips and listen duration. Curators are looking for those tracks that are getting love already. It’s a numbers game.
Releasing new music with a regular cadence is another good strategy, it gets fans excited about following you, so keep creating and releasing.
- Promote your own music by creating your own Spotify Playlist
Start creating your own playlists to promote your music. Include tracks you love from artists you love. Perhaps try to collaborate with other upcoming artists on your own playlist, have fun with it, be creative in curating the tracks you add. You can again share this Spotify playlist link out into the world.
- Start pitching your songs to Independent Spotify Playlist Owners
First find playlists that represent the genre of music you make and make a list of them. Then do some digging to find contacts at these playlists. They often have a Social Media channel linked to them such as Facebook, Youtube or Instagram with contact details on these. Otherwise there are Music Industry Directories, essentially Spotify or Apple playlist directories with contacts to reach out to. These cost to access but are worth it if you are serious about pushing your music. An excellent one is The Music Industry Connection – https://www.themicco.com/
- Pitch your music to blogs
Lots of bloggers have their own Spotify playlists and are always on the lookout for the next big track so consider this as a potential channel to hit up also.
- Submit directly to Spotify Playlists
If you have a Spotify for Artists account you can submit directly to Spotify for consideration in playlists. The track needs to be unsigned and submitted at least 7 days prior to the scheduled release date. You can only submit one track at a time, you can submit a new one after your first track is officially released. When submitting you need to include metadata such as genre, mood, instrumentation etc. Spotify use this information along with the existing information that they have on you to find potential playlist placements.
It takes hard work and dedication to get onto the bigger Spotify playlists. Aim low initially, learn how the system works and get your music placed on a smaller playlist that matches the genre and mood of the music that you are making. Playlists are definitely the power channel when it comes to getting your music hype and plays in today’s world. Ultimately people are always looking for new music that’s good so get yours out there and hopefully watch it spread virally. It might even get on a few of the cool playlists I’ve listed below. My fingers are crossed for you.
We’re very lucky to have lots of great Mastering Engineers and Mastering Companies that use SendMusic.
Check some of them out below:
Compound Audio https://send.mu/compoundaudio
Revolution Mastering https://send.mu/revolutionmastering
(Note – There are lots of others, sorry if I missed you)!
So what is mastering exactly and do you need it? In this blog episode I attempt to answer some of these kinds of questions and others that pop up about the dark art most of us have heard of called Mastering!
What is Mastering?
It’s basically the end process in the audio production cycle where a piece of audio, (i.e. a song or stem), is prepared for the formats that are used for replication and distribution. In normal english this basically means that you finish a song, you mix it and then you get it mastered to give it that final sparkle in terms of it sounding as crisp, clean and as loud as other tracks that you hear on the radio. (*NOTE* when I do a mix I leave at least 6dB to 10dB of headroom on the master channel giving the Mastering Engineer at least 6dB to 10dB of headroom to really push your mix. So your mixdown must be hitting somewhere between -6dB & -10dB on your master channel and never hitting the red. So in my case I make a track, I do a mixdown and then I get it mastered. After this I can release the track out to the wider world and share it.
Mastering also unifies the sound of a number of tracks that comprise an album or EP. A mastering engineer makes every track on an album or EP sound cohesive with others, making them sound balanced in terms of volume and EQ. Mastering is super important to do when you are finalising a number of tracks for release as an album or EP and tricky, so i’d always engage a mastering engineer for this.
How mastering impacts the sound of a record?
Mastering corrects mix balance issues and enhances particular sonic characteristics, taking a good mix (usually in the form of a stereo file) and putting the final touches on it. This can be done by adjusting levels and general “sweetening” of the mix through use of EQ. Mastering should take a good-sounding mix and give you a professional-sounding, finished master. You need a good sounding mix pre-mastering as any mistakes or errors in your mix will just be exposed in the mastering process.
In general mastering can involve adding broad equalization, applying compression, limiting, etc. My mastering engineer uses lots of outboard analogue gear which I feel adds some nice warmth to my tracks but many mastering engineers are now ‘in the box’ completely, using only plug-ins to enhance a mix.
Is mastering always necessary?
Yes, mastering is always necessary to finish a track. I would say that if you are producing individual tracks for release, with the plug-ins available today like Ozone for example, it is definitely possible to master yourself at home. You just need patience, practice, lots of breaks (no tired ears) and references to measure your work against. There are tons of youtube tutorials on this subject also, so give it a try. Personally I prefer to go to a professional at this stage for a fresh pair of ears and my mastering engineer also has lots of amazing analogue outboard equipment to run my mix through. I feel running my mix through this outboard gear really adds something to my tracks harmonically, some refer to this as warmth.
If however you are making an album or an EP comprised of two or more tracks I would definitely err towards going to a mastering engineer as balancing out more than one track takes time, skill and expertise. Again it’s not impossible but would need a high level of patience and dedication to learning how to do it and executing the process properly.
What kind of improvements does mastering make to my music?
Mastering helps you get the right balance, volume and depth for any style of music. It can add punch and clarity to your mix giving it real life and vitality. The general idea behind mastering is after you have mixed down your track, you get it mastered and it will sound better! But how much better depends on you and in particular how good your mix is.
Mastering engineers are magicians when it comes to hiding low level mistakes, like over EQ’ing certain elements or fixing instrument levels that aren’t balanced properly. But If your mix contains distortion it really makes it difficult for a mastering engineer to hide, as fixing distortion is very difficult. So to make sure your mix is good for submitting to a mastering engineer – never hit the ‘red’ on the meters of any channels in your mix, make sure you leave headroom on every channel. It’s important that when you send across a mixdown you give a cushion of between -6dB and -10dB below zero on your master channel allowing room for processing.
What should I send the mastering engineer?
You can either send them a stereo out file of your whole mix, bounced down as a 24bit/48KHz wav file. Or you can send them the main grouped stems from your mix (this is what I do). So in my case i’d send separate 24bit/48KHz wavs of ‘drums’, ‘bass’, ‘synths’, ‘vocals’ etc. This gives the mastering engineer more scope to tweak levels and add processing if required on seperate groups that comprise your mix.
The other thing that i’d say is perhaps send across a reference or two of tracks you’d like your track to sound like. This can help the mastering engineer gauge the sound and level you are aiming for. Once again though, a mastering engineer can only work with what you’ve provided, so if your mix isn’t polished in the first place the mastering process is not a magic bullet that will fix it.
Different mastering engineers have different styles so experiment with different ones to get one you are comfortable working with. It’s definitely possible to master tracks on your own these days, but in my opinion you need to study the art of mastering to get to an adequate level to do this. Mastering is quite distinct in style and approach to mixing. I would say do give mastering at home a go as you will then understand the process more which is a good thing. Remember, always get a great sounding mix first and always enjoy the whole audio production process.
We’ve all been there, we start a song, everything is great but after awhile you get stuck or bored with progress and it becomes part of the ever expanding ‘unfinished song graveyard’ on your hard drive. From a personal point of view, my Achilles heel when it comes to finishing songs is creating amazing loops that i’m initially really into, listening to them repeatedly but not structuring them into songs quickly enough. In the end I just get bored of the loop just as you would by listening to any song on repeat and then I start on something else. It’s so easy to become a serial starter!
I reckon everyone has something that holds them back when making music, so to improve as producers we need a level of self analysis in terms of what hinders our music making, to get better at actually finishing whole songs. Essentially it boils down to creating the right habit(s) as we as humans are creatures of habit. Through repetition of tasks, in this case the practice of finishing a whole song, we get better and quicker at it. On that note, excuse the musical pun, I thought for today’s tenth episode of the blog I’d list 10 music making tips that you might consider to help you finish more songs, try different things and create a better song finishing habit. Here we go:
- Use your smartphone correctly
What I mean here is don’t surf the internet, use social media or play Pokemon Go when you’re making music. Put your phone in Airplane mode! Smartphones are such a distraction and really make us lose focus on what we are doing. You need to focus on the task at hand here which is making music and not faffing about on your phone while trying to make music at the same time.
(But, do use your phone on the go to record musical ideas, vocals and melodies. I do this all the time using the voice memo app and it’s great for getting down inspiration quickly. See also point 8. below)
- Keep your workplace tidy
Sound silly but a really useful thing to maintain is a clean and tidy studio space that is organised and efficient. A clutter free zone is so much better for your musical zen.
- Know how to make a song in your genre of choice
You’re most probably making music in a specific genre. Therefore you really need to understand the general structure that most songs, well at least the ‘big’ ones, follow within this genre. Study how long the intro is in bars, the pre chorus, the drop etc. Then recreate this structure with a song of your own.
- Let the main actors in your movie star as they should
Your song is like a movie, there are lead roles, there are supporting roles and there are extras. The most important instruments are like the lead roles in a movie and should be treated that way, getting a lot of focus. One of these lead roles is almost always the vocal and needs the maximum screen time! Learn to respect the roles of the different voices and instruments in your song, they all carry different weight and need to be shown correctly. I didn’t used to think about the parts of my song in this way before but since I have my productions have gotten a lot better.
Try some subtractive composition. It’s so easy in this era to have too many tracks and layers, limited only by the processing power of your computer. Try muting tracks and stripping the track right back to the vocals and drums and adding elements in from there. Simplicity is beauty!
- Keep your partner (non-musical!) happy
“When will you be finished?”, “You spend so much time making music”, “It’s me or the music!”, ok so I haven’t had the final statement thrown at me by the wife just yet but the other question and statement or similar are common in my producer friend circles. Keeping your partner happy and being in the music game is tough and tricky. You definitely need to allocate time for your better half and make them feel valued – date nights, day trips, flowers…work your magic, it’s worth it for the music!
- Break the rules
You probably use the same chords or progressions a lot. Or maybe the same synth patches or plug in presets. It’s time to try something new, break away from what you usually do and try something new. It’s so easy to do the same process repeatedly or use the same thing again and again. This new method to creation needs some focus and you need to set out on trying a new approach for creating your next song.
- The magic is all around you
Listen to the world around you, inspiration in sound is everywhere. A mechanical tone here, a door closing there, an alarm going off. With phones and other modern recording devices sampling the world around us has gotten easier and easier. Try getting some inspiration from the world around you and incorporating it into a track. It means you need to practice active listening and really start to use your hearing consciously more, which is a good thing. You also get to add unique sounds and textures to your productions, sounds that no one else using Splice or sample libraries has!
- “Take a break, have a Kit Kat”
For my Worldwide friends a Kit Kat is a chocolate bar in the Uk and they used to have a commercial that had the phrase “Take a break, have a Kit Kat” in it. You guys get cultural knowledge on this blog also! Ok so you don’t need to have a Kit Kat but it’s very important to have breaks when making music. Hardware / Software issues, getting a great take, giving a good performance, even 5 mins of ‘away’ time can work wonders in helping us to relax and refocus.
- See you later
When you have finished a song don’t listen to it till the next day with fresh ears. If it sounds good, play it through different systems, my favourite for this is the car as that’s where I listen to lots of music and my ears are trained really well to how the car speakers work. Also play your song through your phone and elsewhere. Does it sound good across all playback systems? You need to make sure the song will sound great where most people will hear it.
That’s it folks, get into the habit of creating songs quickly and trying new things, oh and listening for inspiration around you. Hope some of those points might help you think about things in a new light. It’s all so simple isn’t it! 🙂
My production partner, Matt Thurtell and I just released our latest single! “AiEW” (short for All I Ever Wanted) under our production guise – ‘pirateblood’ via Spotify, happy days! Check it out here: https://open.spotify.com/track/53s4tbe5er9xoHpCMPaNuq
As part of my life outside of co-founding SendMusic I am also a music producer. SendMusic comes into its own during the music production process (yes I would say that but it actually does!). For our workflow Matt and I bounce down versions of the tracks / edits we are making or have made and send them to one another using SendMusic (he’s based in Italy near Rome, i’m in London). We can then listen to the tracks on the go via the inbuilt audio player – SendMusic was created to be a ‘mobile first’ tool. One of the most useful features is that when either of us listen to the file we receive the sender gets an email telling them that the file they sent has been listened to. That’s so useful when I need to know Matt has listened to the music I’ve sent him and it gives me the opportunity to harass him until he has! Everything that I receive goes into my SendMusic ‘Inbox’ and the files I send go into the “Sent’ folder which makes it really easy to get access to all the music files I receive and send quickly. As well as this I’ve also added my SendMusic profile link to my socials, (i.e. my Instagram and Twitter) – https://send.mu/pal – so anyone can click on this and send me music directly really quickly. Finally i’ve customised my SendMusic page by adding a background image related to the work I do. You can now customise your own SendMusic page by changing the page colours or by adding a background image of your choice and you can remove all SendMusic branding which makes the page look completely your own. This is a really neat feature for producers, labels, A and R’s, Mastering Engineers, well anyone really, who wants to have a unique looking page through which to receive music in a beautiful way, that looks like your own and essentially aligns your brand with how you want it conveyed to the wider world. Why not give it a go 🙂
Anyways, I’ve made music for a long time now and as mentioned in older posts it’s gotten a lot easier to make music and release it these days. I really do believe this is a great thing as it means more people can make and release music, meaning we should be getting lots more better music. However in reality and from speaking to record label A + R’s and other music industry people it also means there’s a ton more poor quality music out there, making it in turn a real slog to listen and sift through to find that next gem. So if you are making music how do you stand out these days, well i’m sure there are quite a few ways but i’ll share some of those with you below and how SendMusic really helps in the process. I’m not going to lie, it isn’t easy but with hard work and dedication it is possible. Here are 4 quick tips to try and stand out from the crowd:
1.Focus on making great music, the art. Regardless of anything else, if you haven’t got great authentic music there’s not much point in moving to any of my suggestions below. This essentially means hard work in the studio, practice practice practice, A/B testing against big tracks in the genre you are making to check the mix you’ve done etc.
2. Once your music is good enough – GET IT OUT THERE. You’ll soon know if it is any good. Send it to tastemakers in the scene, to blogs, Spotify playlists etc. This is the hustle part and as much as it’s a known thing to do we music / artistic types are generally really crap at this. We procrastinate, we do it half heartedly or worse still we send it to one label and don’t hear back and give up. The music business is about learning to accept rejection, not giving a damn and continuing to push. It’s not easy, you need to be focussed and keep on keeping on. This is where some infrastructure can also help, e.g. being signed to an independent label or having a manager who will push the business hustle on your behalf.
3. Learn the Music Business – read “All you need to know about the music business”: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Need-Know-About-Music-Business/dp/0241001633/ref=sr_1_2?keywords=music+business&qid=1561925083&s=gateway&sr=8-2
4. Have some sort of social media presence (and a SendMusic page lol). People need to know you and see what you are doing. You need to build a fan base and engage the people interested in you by interacting with them. Again this can be a slog and needs discipline.
In conclusion, to make music is easier than ever now, but to stand out and get heard is harder than it’s ever been, especially as making is so accessible to the masses. However if you’re disciplined and focussed and work hard there is every opportunity out there for you to have a career in music. Ultimately it comes down to you and your mindset and setting up the correct infrastructure to make your dream a reality. Keep pushing and best of luck!