Sunday, February 28, 2016

DrScythe Recording Blog - Part II or Know Your Gear!

Let me begin with good news: my fifth song is out!

And this inspired today’s topic: Know Your Gear. D’Angelico and their European Distributor FACE lend me an EX-SS and I used it for this song. The difference between using this wonderful guitar vs. one of my guitar in the end? None. The difference on the way: large. 

It’s nice to own (or at least use) the best stuff available but it’s also quite expensive. To some my (regular) equipment might seem luxurious but if you take a closer look at it you might know why I could afford it (my AT2020 cost me 25 bucks as it is scratched and damaged but works fine). So if you’re not into looks – this can improve the audio quality vastly and you can keep your kidneys.

But besides that it’s all about knowing your stuff. Which flaws does it have and how to work around or with it. All the legendary EQs, channel strips and compressors are not legendary because of their perfect neutrality but because their flaws. You want those to add ‘character’ to a signal or mix. And as there is a lot of very good free stuff (plugins) out there, there is no excuse left to settle for something less than ‘decent’ except for style reasons.

The first step is to learn what compressors, gates, expanders and EQs actually do. While it is quite obvious for the EQ what it does the possible results are not always exactly what you expected at first. And compressors were completely unnatural to me so I had to learn everything about them until I could really use them. With that being said one can easily see why many first attempts on mixing fail. It’s much more than just randomly adding comps and EQs using factory presets. Especially with VSTs often offering many more controls than analog devices you easily end up messing things up more than improving it.

So after you learned how those things work in general you got to learn to differentiate between two aspects: controlling and coloring a signal. I will go into detail about that in a later blog so for now you just need to know that most DAWs offer enough tools for controlling the signal. Coloring is a whole different story that needs some sort of idea of where you’re going with your material (see:

Well, what to control and watch? Noise, (nasty) frequencies, dynamic range, correlation. The easiest way to get a clean base mix for later shaping is to know where the weaknesses of all your gear are. Certain frequencies that your acoustic guitar lacks or pronounces. The combination of your voice and your mic (my voice and the AT2020 are not friends…). After saying that: the easiest way is equipment that doesn’t have flaws but if we all could afford that stuff I wouldn’t write this blog…

And it doesn’t stop with your physical gear. Your workflow and plugins are also part of it. If you know the stuff that you use you will be way quicker than if you have to look for functions and think about which plugin works best for a specific task all the time. This applies to editing too – learn the shortcuts of your DAW and it will save you time and work.

The more knowledge you got the faster you get rid of the problems and the more time you can spend on actually sculpting the song and create something bigger than some instruments accidentally playing the same. Which leads to better results even if you’re going for a lo-fi sound. Ok, if you already recorded lo-fi for the sake of it that doesn’t apply but I don’t think you’d read stuff about recording if you always want a cassette recorder type of sound.

That’s it for this week and until next time


Saturday, February 20, 2016

DrScythe Thoughts - Part II: Tutorials about writing hits are nonsense

Last week I stated that every artist’s dream is to make a living by his art. There might be some exceptions but overall everyone wants to do things he/she/it loves and not being forced to do something annoying all the time (but most of us have lame jobs…).

That’s why I asked myself: why are there so many tutorials and books about ‘The hit formula’ or ‘101 reasons your photos aren’t selling’ or ‘The secret of Blablabla and how to make money with it’. Of course there are some basics you got to learn first for almost every hobby. Playing an instrument, know your camera and some stuff about exposure and apertures or which needles to use for knitting. And of course there are some principles and patterns that you can find in the successful songs, photos, pictures, etc. Be it some harmonic movements, arrangements, mainstream-stylistic stuff (guitars, amps, focal lengths…) – you get the picture.

But you got to ask yourself: aren’t you sacrificing self-expression for some sort of “success” using formulas? Using a specific sequence of chords for the sake of a higher chance to become famous? Framing a motif to comply with a set of rules but ignoring that you’d like it to look differently? There is an obvious difference between creating something and analyzing the reasons for its success later and forcing yourself to use a given framework.

It kind of contradicts the ‘make your dreams come true’-theme that’s behind the dream. There is always work involved in producing something. For my songs I had to learn the instruments, some knowledge about theory, vastly improve my language skills, mixing, mastering…video editing (and as you keep learning it’s a continuing process). But most of the time you enjoy that part as you just improve your ability to express yourself. Knowing how to get a result you can hear or see in your head before you begin is the ideal. It will save you a lot of time if you reached the point of ‘knowing what you’re doing’ and you can focus on the creativity.

And basic knowledge of the non-technical aspects might also be helpful just like music theory, typical elements of your favorite genre of photography, typical spices for your favorite cuisine. Depending on you, on your very own mind it’s more or less difficult to ignore all the rules sometimes to create something truly amazing, truly representing you or just find a path out of a dead end. But what those books about the “ways to success” do is reinforcing the borders. It will become more difficult for you to break through the walls of your knowledge. Your subconscious kicking in in the worst of moments: using this and that could make this a hit! It’s still up to you to decide against this then but the more facts you read and know the thicker the walls will be.

My way of writing music is pretty much impossible to be spoiled by this as I randomly play stuff and then improvise fragments of lyrics and work on from there. But I bought such a book years ago and it definitely would kill my relationship to a song if I’d go ahead and said: let’s write a I-V-vi-IV song. It wouldn’t even work for me if I had complete lyrics, used said chord progression and tried to sing as I always have a melody ‘in my head’ when I write lyrics. For photography I couldn’t resist looking for the perfect color contrasts, using the golden ratio and ‘correct’ exposure – although I never cared for “success” as a photographer. But for music it’s a completely different story.

Basically using such theories as the foundation of your creativity is like playing puzzle games with some blank areas for you to fill in on your own. It does not mean that you and others won’t like it. It’s not just the same level of being creative like coming up with it yourself (to me). Creating stuff is a quite personal matter so if you’re happy with something like that keep going. But to me it’s the completely wrong way. And I would feel really bad not creating ‘by accident’ but instead just try to force a hit song that has no meaning to me.

The question ‘why are there such books/tutorial?’ is easy to answer but why people believe that using formulas instead of just living their passion will help them is beyond me.
That’s it, I’ll release a new song this week, so long


Saturday, February 13, 2016

DrScythe Thoughts - Part I: The internet, final frontier between musicians and freedom

Theoretically the internet should’ve helped bands and musicians a lot. Direct contact between the essential ends of the ‘business’, cutting away the industry nonsense…

And while it is slowly crouching towards this utopic situation it’s actually a huge mess. A really huge labyrinth and no one knows where the exit is. And the entrance is long gone. Now we’ve got sites for bands to sell their music, streaming sites for industry, streaming sites for hobbyists, mixed streaming sites, networking sites for bands/bands, networking sites for bands/industry, live streaming sites, video sites, all the different social networks, blogs, vlogs,  forums and maybe even more stuff…

Promoting your band? How and where?

This leads to small and unknown artists (like me) struggling for any attention at all, slightly larger artiAdd captionsts (let’s say ‘known regional’) struggling for enough attention to make the next step, large artists struggling between making money and being hobbyists while the largest ones are still connected to the promotion machinery (I guess mostly because the ‘mainstream listener’ doesn’t bother with discovering new music and just jumping on the band wagon when the industry (or music enthusiasts) found something new to like).

So we’ve got dozens of places flooded with thousands of musicians who want the attention of the world which they can only get by convincing a few enthusiasts that their music is the next big thing or at least good enough to enjoy (the standard may vary). It would be chaotic on a single platform it is even worse now. On top of this it’s not even easy to promote yourself. Rules and restrictions on some pages, technical barriers on others are all in the way of saying ‘hello, I’m here’. It’s understandable that no one likes the typical promoting account: registering, posting once or twice and never logging in again. But if you would spend hours with posting and commenting in groups there’s not a lot of time left for making music. If you’re a band of five one member could easily be working full-time solely on the promotion nowadays just for a few likes and clicks on all the different sites.

I know that this is nothing new to many but I am experiencing the problems first-hand now so that I am actually involved in it instead of just being an observer. Especially since I am getting mostly positive feedback (everything else being mixing/mastering critique so far) from family to random people to some professionals I am really eager to reach more people. No matter what a musician you know tells you: secretly she/he is dreaming about making a living by making music. Even the trvest Black Metal band would love to spend most of their time with music. The reasons might differ: reaching a higher level of art, learn more instruments or be better at the one they’re playing, releasing more music, play live more often, just leaving the hated regular job…but in the end it’s the ideal of doing what you love and still being able to pay your bills. Not a large house and concerts in huge stadiums. That’s the gold flakes on the sprinkles on the whipped cream on the best icing ever on the best cake ever made. Or so.

What would be ideal: a site like a crash between bandcamp, OLD myspace and 500px. Bands could present themselves in their own chosen style, people could buy the stuff and a ranking system. And to keep the big ones from blocking the upcoming artists: a ‘hall of fame’ for those having a rank over 95% longer than 3 months straight. That’s just scribbling ideas but something like that would be great. Maybe YouTube is heading this way now after acquiring bandpage.

So long,