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Cheap Advice On Live Sound
48 Tips To Make Your Band Sound Better
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Making Your CD’s Song Titles Appear In iTunes

Home Recording No Comments

So you finally finished recording enough songs for a CD of your music. Or maybe your band has accumulated enough decent live recordings to collect onto a “Promo CD” to show off the band. You’ve burned the CD and made a few copies, you’ve even printed up some cover art. Wow! You’re ready to roll. Or are you?

If this were 1997, hey, you would be good to go. But as they say, that was then, this is now. Now, the very fact that you are putting your music on a CD is considered somewhat retro! Most people will either play your CD on a laptop or other computer or, more likely, they will import it into iTunes, where your songs will get mixed in with all the songs by Arcade Fire or Jefferson Airplane or whatever they have on there.

Here’s the problem. When you first pop your home-burned CD into your MacBook, iTunes comes up, ready to import. But what are these song titles it’s showing? Instead of “Dreams Of Saskatchewan”, the first song seems to be called “Track 01″. The second song is “Track 02″, that’s not right either. They’re all like that!

What’s more, if you put your CD into a regular CD player, perhaps in your car or home theater system (remember, DVD players will play CDs), it will not display the song titles like it does when you put in the latest Jack White CD. How could it? You haven’t told it what they are!

The fact is, if you don’t do something about this, the appeal of your CD could be greatly reduced, especially for habitual downloaders. So, you’re saying, how can I get the correct song titles to appear when I import my CD under iTunes or play it in a player?

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Make A Cheap Music Video Of Your Band

Home Recording No Comments

This is the story of how a really cool music video got made on a very low budget. It all began with the first CD of original songs by Rusty Strings, the band I run sound for, called Please Stay Tuned. The band asked me to do the cover art for the CD, and the design concept I came up with involved having the band photographed striking the same onstage pose repeatedly, but in five different outfits: formal wear, winter coats, Hawaiian gear, super-casual, and bathrobes. For some reason they went along with this idea!

Since the band would be posing on a stage for the CD art anyway, we decided to take advantage of the situation and shoot video of them lip-syncing to one of their songs in the various outfits. Luckily, we had access to a local coffeehouse with an actual stage from 8 AM to 1 PM on one August Sunday, time enough to go through the song twice in each outfit, with two video cameras running continuously during each pass. The band hammed it up, lip-syncing to the version of the song that would be on the video, while the camera operators shot a variety of long shots and closeups of the various band members. It was fun!

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Use Your DAW Software To “Assemble” A Song

Home Recording, Songwriting 1 Comment

In the Ancient Days, the only way to record a song was to get your guitar (or whatever) ready, hit the “Record” button and simply play the entire song straight through. If you wanted additional instruments or vocals, you listened to the existing tracks as you recorded those new parts, playing straight through the whole song each time.

The capability of “punching in” new material to fix weak passages in an otherwise great part began to break this pattern, but you were still basically playing (or singing) the song all the way through every time you put on a new instrument or vocal.

With the current-day DAW software that so many of us use (GarageBand, Logic, Cubase, etc.), you can still record a song this way if you want to. But, the amazing editing capabilities of even the simplest of these software packages allow you to take your creativity down paths that simply never existed before.

As an example, let me lead you through the process I followed to create a song that was never played all the way through by anybody, but rather was “assembled” from selected bits of previously recorded musical parts.

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Q&A: Achieving Stereo “Fullness”

Home Recording 2 Comments

Dear Cheap Advice Guy,
I’m trying to do a simple pan. I laid out 3 tracks with the entire song on each track. I put one track to the left, one to the right, and one in the center. When I listened to it on my home receiver it sounded no different than before. I first listened to the song with it only in the center. Then I mixed the 3 tracks with one in the center, one 100% left and one 100% right. There was barely a difference! I heard more sounds coming out of my left and right speaker when I rendered it with it in the center only. Why is there barely any difference?
I just want to make my music sound a little more full. I’m finding out this is not as simple as I hoped it would be.
Puzzled Songwriter

Dear Puzzled,

Thanks for getting in touch. And don’t despair! Your idea for expanding your single-track song by panning copies left and right is spot-on. All you are missing is one concept and some techniques. (It’s not that common to have a song on a single track, but everything I will discuss applies to individual tracks as well.)

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Use Velcro To Keep Your Gear In Place

Home Recording 1 Comment

OK, I admit it: I tend to be compulsively neat. Not to the point of mania, mind you, but I do like to tie up my cables in a harness, arrange my gear neatly, and replace my guitar strings in alphabetical order. (OK, I was kidding about that last one.)

Just as duct tape is a key tool for repairing all manner of things, for me those little Velcro squares you see in office supply departments are a “magic” solution to keeping small items in place that otherwise tend to go astray and become part of what recording engineers call “a big tangle of cables and stuff.”

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It’s a Recorder! It’s an Interface! It’s the Zoom R16!

Home Recording 3 Comments

I got into computerized recording fairly recently, finally scrapping my trusty (or more accurately, dying) Yamaha MD8 (an 8-track MiniDisc recorder) and substituting a MacBook laptop running GarageBand, Logic Express, and Cubase. A quick rainy weekend spent rewiring the whole studio and I was ready to go!

To get audio in and out of the laptop, I bought an Audio Genie Pro two-channel interface from American Audio. (See my article A Simple Audio Interface For Your Computer for more info about this device.) The Audio Genie Pro’s two-channel limitation was not really a problem, since I usually only record one thing at a time anyway, even if there is another musician with me, which there usually isn’t.

A problem arose, though, when I went to transfer dozens of unfinished 8-track songs from the MD8 to the laptop before bagging the old gear. The MD8 lacks a digital output, and with only a 2-lane “audio highway” leading into the laptop via the Audio Genie Pro it would take four passes to transfer each song. Plus, the resulting tracks would have to be painstakingly realigned on the computer to bring them back into time sync. There had to be a better way!

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Use an “Anchor Fader” When Mixing Sound

Home Recording, Live Sound 2 Comments

Here’s a mixing tip that applies to both home recording and live sound. With both types of mixing, your mission is to establish and maintain a balance of levels for the various instruments and vocals, while keeping the mixer controls set somewhere close to their “normal” positions. Specifically, the volume faders should never end up all toward the bottom or all toward the top of their range, as this indicates a problem with gain structure, which can result in noise and/or distortion in your final output.

Why would this happen? In a typical scenario, you start out with all the mixer faders at the default “0″ point, i.e. about 3/4 of the way up. (This is accomplished by adjusting the mixer’s Input Trim controls for each channel so that each input produces a “0″ peak reading on the output meter with its channel fader set to the “0″ point.) Then you set the mixer’s Master Volume control to produce a suitable sound level through the onstage speakers (or through your home-studio monitors). Everything looks great. Then the music starts.

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Analyze Your Spectrum For A Better Mix

Home Recording 1 Comment

When we mix a song, one of the things we are always listening for is tonal balance - that’s right, the old bass & treble bit. Too much bass and it’s boomy or bottom-heavy. Too much midrange and it’s squawky or boxy. Not enough treble and it’s muffled or dull.

Of course, problems like this are relatively easy to hear, diagnose, and fix with a bit of EQ. Drop that bass, boost that treble! But what about subtler problems? What about cases where you know there’s something wrong with the EQ but you aren’t sure just what? No problem! Riding to the rescue is the spectrum analyzer, which allows you to see what’s going on with your EQ, so that you can fix the sound.

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