Wednesday, October 27, 2010

On a shoestring project part 9

I can't seem to be able to navigate through the maze of music business with out finding behind every corner something new to learn. Stuff I thought I have done, and know how to do. But things change and in music business they change fast. So as I mentioned before, I am hoping to get a download single out for Christmas. This is one of my tracks that are on my MySpace page and on the Reverbnation player, Glory to the world. And instead of just using one of the album tracks, I recorded an acoustic version of the song. I did my research on who I would like to use as my digital distributor, and I settled for AWAL. They don't charge a setup fee as lots of other companies do, instead they charge 15%. This to me is reasonable, and I also got good reports on them actually pushing your tracks (sure as they only get money if you sell). So I have the track, have my artwork set up, Press release, bio, all the necessary track info. But I need an ISRC code... So what is it and where do I get one... And this is all fine, but the clock is ticking and time is running out...

Ok so let’s calm down. And what do we do when we are stuck? Turn to our dear friend Mr Google. ISRC stands for International Standard Recording Code. It is a number code used to identify a track so that if the track gets played in Radio, TV, background music in a Restaurant, shops etc. They know who the artist is and can distribute royalty payments. This is what it looks like:
ISRC FR - Z03 - 98 - 00212
The first part is to identify that it is an ISRC code, the FR is country code, the Z03 is registrant code (Record Company, producer...) the 98 stands for the year, and the rest is designation code.
I know it can look scary and daunting, but it is there to serve the artist. In Ireland this code is provided by PPI (Phonographic Performance Ireland) and their web site is
I have made a big effort in the past year and a bit to get to know the music business much better, but this was something that had been done by some one else in the past. This code is now compulsory for download tracks iTunes etc. So I emailed PPI and to my delight, they got back to me almost instantly. I gave them my track info and personal details, and I should have the code tomorrow. AWAL can do this for you as well, but I do believe you are better off being in charge of your own royalties. I know we all would love to be just the artist who creates the music and performs it, but times have changed. We need to be as much a business man (or a woman), as original and inventive artist. Also I personally find that time management has become very important issue. And keeping things organized is important, list your Social media sites on spread sheet, with pass words and so on. I use Open Office, very powerful free software. The work load at this stage is huge, and I can only imagine it getting bigger the further I get on with this project. But that’s why you need to love it, and that’s goes with everything in life. I often get inspiration and encouragement from completely outside music, from people who do what ever they do with love and passion.
Now I talked little bit about the social media sites, and I have started compiling the link list. But I still feel like I am only scratching the surface, so bare with me on this one.
Also on the recording front, I came across recording software that I must say; so far I am very impressed. This is called Reaper and you can get free 30 day full trial of the program, and if you like it, the licence for personal or small business use is only $40, roughly about €29. You can find this at (don’t worry, I am not on commission here)
Now I must warn you, the editing method is bit different, and it took me few days to get my head around it. But I can see the logic behind it and once you get speed this can really be fast way of working. Also the effect plugging that come with it, are pretty impressive.
So that’s this week info load. If there is any aspect you would like me to tackle here let me know. Also I do love comments and feedback :-) Hope you're all having a good autumn and keep your selves warm.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

On a shoestring project part 8

 This week I had a real musical revelation. Sometimes you take a song and you have an idea how it is going to work, play it with acoustic guitar and with a big content smile on your face pat your self in the back. Head for the rehearsals and try it out with the band, and it sounds like s**t! This is not bey get other people to help make this vision in to reality. I am different, I need that musical interaction, where different musicians bring their offerings and turn it in to one. And in this situation band forms its own identity, its own sound. Sometimes this can take long time, but in my case I was lucky enough to find a few good guys and in the third time we played together I could hear a sound, very definite sound, and a direction. The problem was that some of my innocent songs just did not work in their simple forms. But to me this was a great problem to have.
I was never a big fan of the virtual guitar amps and pods and so on, I like real valve amp, real feedback. But with the Line6 UX1 you get the Pod farm, and I found a brilliant use for this. I must say, before I go any further, the amp modelling has come light years since I last played with it. So what I did was dial in few amps and just started messing around. And soon enough I seemed to come up with sounds that inspired me to sing the songs that needed reworking, and presto! I had tracks that really pleased me and I could hear the rest of the band in them. So the next rehearsal will show if they will stand up to the rest of the tracks. I must say I am getting really exited the way the rehearsals have been going and how the music sounds. And I must warn you, the acoustic tracks I have posted so far are very different to the full band sound ;-)
I also had a real eye opening week on promotional front. Those of you, who know me, know that I do most of the promotional work and bookings for Sliotar, and have been doing this for quite some time. And it has been a learning curve, but I can safely say I know one or two things about promoting an act, booking tours and getting exposure online. But Sliotar still falls in to pretty small category of folk music, which is my expertise and as I have been looking in to much wider music market lately, the endless amount of resources and information has been flooding in. Outside of actually working on the music, I have been very busy reading most of my waking hours. And a thing I've come to realise; in music business and online marketing things change at a lightning speed. So don't bother to go to your local book shop to buy an online marketing book, most likely if it is printed on paper, it is already old information. You need to be online for the up to date stuff. So what did I come across this week? Few sites that I used in the past, but did not utilise to the best, so my own project is a perfect chance to see what I can get out of these sites. There are the usual ones that you must have as we talked about before: Myspace, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and Reverbnation. Lastfm was one that I have used in the past and will keep using in the future, also iLike is a good one. But had you heard about IndabaMusic, Flotones, Musocity, Midomi, Sellaband, Ping...? There are so many, and as an independent artist, you need to link your site to as many of these as possible and I have only scratched a surface! I am thinking of compiling a kind of ongoing list of sites to be posted on this blog, so if you know any, just email them to me, or leave here as a comment for every one to see. I'm sure I'm still missing loads.
But as you can see, with this big list of web sites, the work load keeps getting bigger. So we need to look in to how to find time for all this. Any artist, if they want to make a serious go of it, needs to have team to help them out, just like the bigger acts. But obviously this is not cheap if you hire professionals... So in the beginning you are relying on friends and family. And this is something I haven't put to practise yet. So it would be easy for me to just write about this, but that would not be the point of this blog. We need to test it out, see if it really can be done. Some of my friends will hear from me soon, as I'll be looking for a good group of people to help me on my quest. And if you want to be part of it, let me know :-)
One more thing; there is a little tip, kind of secret weapon if you like, that I do use all the time. And this is probably one of the most important tools I have used in the past, and you should too. In the music business, be nice! And I mean genuinely nice, no fake smiles. If people contact you, get back to them. If people want to talk to you, spare some of your precious time for them. Help out your fellow musicians in anyway you can. Reply to MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, twitter... wall posts. There are enough music lovers out there to be shared between all of us. You will always come across some resistance, not every one wants you to succeed. Don't let this discourage you, just smile and keep going :-)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

On a shoestring project part 7

I had a great weekend playing with Sliotar in the Porterhouse :-) I’m still recovering from it while writing this. Also last weeks rehearsal has kept a big smile on my face. I am bringing the video camera with me and hopefully soon I have enough material to put something together to give you a flavor of whats going on. I am also thinking of the first concert, but going a head of things here a bit...
  When I first thought of recording an album, I had a handful of songs that I had written over the years, most of them I have recorded before with other bands, but thought of making different versions of them. Since then there has just been a steady stream of songs pouring out of me, few of them I have posted on my website an on my YouTube channel. But there is a lot more to come ;-) And these songs have replaced almost all of the old songs.
But this week the songwriter in me has gone on strike... I tried to sit down and write something, and nothing comes out. It is frustrating, but nothing that hasn't happened before. This is something every songwriter goes through time to time and every one has their own way of dealing with it. Mine is persistence, push through it! Keep writing until something comes out. But also get some space, go for a walk, refresh your mind. And that is definitely my plan today :-) Dublin has always been very inspirational place for me, and something as simple as walking down an empty street, where you haven't been in a while can do wonders to your mind. Me and school were never really the best of friends... And pretty much everything I do is self thought. But I do believe in searching out for good information, and there is one resource that has been great for me in the past few years. I follow a blog on song writing . Lot of this stuff is something I do know already, but it is refreshing to hear it from some one else's perspective. And very often I find old tricks that I forgot about and time to time, just brand new stuff. The site has a also a paid resources, that I have no experience, but also lots of good free stuff, and that’s what we like ;-)
  I have been busy demoing songs, and let’s talk about this for a while. What I do is a rough version of the song, record the guitar and vocals. Then I play with it, I try different guitar sounds, different tempos, and most importantly, I work on the vocals. I would consider myself being pretty fluent guitar player, but human voice is a tricky thing. I like to sing through the songs several times, and listen back and work out the parts that work, what needs improving and so forth. Even with the best singers I've ever worked with, the vocals took the longest to record. Sure if you are very talented singer, you can capture the melody, but it is the emotion that takes time. Put the emotional meaning in to the words, and learn to do it again and again. This is why I find the demos very useful tool. By the time you go to record the final version, you know what works and what does not, this pre work at demo stage will save you lots of time and even money later on.
  This is also a good time to pay a little attention to your microphone technique. In the ideal surroundings, sound proofed and acoustically optimal room I would record vocals on a large diaphragm microphone, about 15 to 20cm distance and a pop shield between. But the way any microphone works, the louder you need to turn it, the more background noise it will also pick. So I have my own compromise. I position the microphone little bit on the side, like where your cheek meets your lips and about 5cm away and a pop shield between the singer and the microphone. This is just a simple gadget that stops the surge of air that some strong consonants produce, and when this surge hits the diaphragm, it produces big pop. You can get pop shields cheap enough, les than €15 in Thomann, but all it really is, is a piece of nylon fabric (Stockings) put on a frame (Metal coat hanger will do). And here is the health tip of the week, ask your girlfriends (or boyfriends) permission before you utilize their old stockings, might just keep you alive;-). There are also cheaper foam covers for dynamic and some condenser microphones, but I find you will loose a small bit of clarity with these. By recording this little bit closer, you can turn the gain down a bit, and the noise from the surroundings (neighbours dogs) won’t be as much of an issue. Also this should eliminate little bit of a bad sounding room acoustics, but if it still sounds like you are singing in box, hang few blankets behind the microphone and behind the singer. This should do the trick. Also as a singer, it is good to learn to pronounce letter S and K bit softer. Another good trick is to learn to open your jaw when you sing vowels. This will project the words better. It is easy to do on A, I, O. E and U are bit trickier, but with little bit of practice, you will notice nice improvement. This is by no means a comprehensive guide to recording vocals, but just few tips to get used to at this stage, and we will continue on more detail later on in the project.
  And let’s finish this week’s blog with some good news. I had a moment ;-) Not a big deal in the grander scheme of things, but for me this was a great little moment. My first YouTube video broke the magical 100 views! Yippee :-) So thank you all for checking it out, you made my day. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

On a shoestring project part 6

October is here and the winter is creeping in with determination, and I have bit of a story to go with this. I have no plans to bore you with my personal life, so even though I will take you on a shopping trip, just bare with me. For this project to be possible, I will need to acquire some recording equipment. Professional studios are great, but just well out of my budget at the moment. And as home recording equipment in the past ten years has dropped in price and the quality has gone through the roof, it seems like sensible way to go. For the price of handful of days in the studio, you can get some basic equipment, and with little bit of knowledge and good set of ears, you are good to go. Don't believe me? How could you record a studio quality album in your home? Well it has been done before: David Gray “White Ladder”. Part from one track this was recorded in his bedroom. Damien Rice “O” again most of the album was done in different locations on a portable set up. It can be done, has been done and continues to be done on daily basis. So I am doing some research at the moment on the kind of equipment that will suit my needs the best. But while I am doing this, I had an urgent little detail I needed to sort out and fast. My headphone situation was dreadful and when you record on computer, before you have some sort of studio reference monitors, you need a set of head phones. Here you could spend a small fortune, but in the vain of the project I am going to give an idea of what is the minimum you can get a way with. Headphones will never replace studio monitors, but there are things that studio monitors just can't do and you need the headphones for. And in the past I have learned to check my mixes on several different sources, Studio monitors, Hi Fi speakers, computer speakers, Quality head phones and your average in ear headphones. Always try to think what will your audience listen to your music with and make sure it sounds good not only in the optimal equipment, but also on the budget equipment. But going bit ahead of things here, haven't even started recording yet... But I needed headphones, and at the same time the winter is coming and I also needed a winter jacket. And I am sure it comes as no surprise that being an independent artist, I do need to be careful with any purchases bigger than your normal weekly shopping. So I had my eyes on a set of budget headphones, they were ok. But the Jacket had to come first. So again, I am not going to advertise a high street men’s clothing shop, until they sponsor me with a life time supply of flare jeans. But this shop in question was my first stop on one of my not so favourite quests of buying a winter jacket. And to my absolute delight the first one was the one I liked (the thought of dragging me through of shops is not my favourite way of spending a Saturday afternoon... Maybe a guitar shop...) so job done, good to go and I won't freeze when the winter gets here. And I spent les than I thought; the left over money would be enough for the headphones :-) But hold on! As I am paying, the staff member at the counter slips something in the bag. “What’s that?” It turns out the jacket comes with a set of half decent head phones, actually bit better than the ones I had in mind, and definitely much better than what you would expect to get as a complimentary extra with a jacket. So two birds on a one stone :-)
So what should you look for when buying headphones for home recording? I am talking about larger, cover your ears, hide form the world type headphones. Bigger is not always better, but in headphones for studio use, it very often is. Also look for comfort, you will spend endless hours using these, and you don't want your ears to feel like they're about to fall off. Also another test I usually do is to check the spill. Put the headphones on your leg (I know... sounds weird, but bare with me) press them gently and play some music through them. How much do you hear? What ever you do hear, your microphone will most likely pick up. You can invest in headphones that are built specifically for not spilling any noise (closed back or extreme isolation) but you will pay for this. Something carefully selected in the budget range will do for now.
What else have I been up to? Well, I redid the whole design on my website. The feedback from you guys was ok, not great. So I did listen :-) This time I went for the “web 2.0” model. This is actually pretty easy to achieve. It is like combining building blogs. And the beauty of it is that these building blogs will make it interactive and keep it up to date. If you have the time, click over to and let me know what you think. I'm used to working in bands, and when you do, there are always several opinions on how things like the website should look like. So when everyone is happy, the website usually is done. But when I am in charge of my own website, your feedback is actually very important to me, so keeps it coming. Rehearsals are going full steam a head and I am starting to get an idea, in arrangement wise what the album is going to sound like. It is very exiting to get to this point, but there is a still lot of work to be done. I am currently looking for a reputable digital distributor, to get music to iTunes and other download shops, and we will talk about this more when I get my research done. Also to my delight, friend of mine and Great musician Eamonn Dowd has agreed to take part in my video interviews that I will include on this blog. He is performing two concerts with his band the Racketeers in Dublin, 22nd of October in the Sweeney's on Dame Street and then on 24th in the IMOCA on Pembroke row.
But for now, keep the feedback and comments coming, good or bad; I'd love to hear it. Have a great week :-)