Make a Great Cover Tune: Six Dos and Don’ts

How to make a great cover tune depends on the aim of the artist, but we can point out some simple dos and don’ts to aid the DIY musician of the 21st century. Let’s get to it.

How to make a great cover tune:

DO: Make a great cover tune by changing its genre

By far the easiest way to please an audience with a cover tune is by taking it out of its original music category and rendering it in another one.

Is it a country song? Play it metal. Is it a metal song? Rap it. Is it a rap song? Write it for blues. Look what Johnny Cash did to “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails. Unstoppable.

Everyone loves to hear an old favorite in a whole new way.

DON’T: Cover songs you can’t improve on in any appreciable way

Too many artists cover songs just because they love them.

An “homage” to one of your favorites is OK as a one-off at a live performance, but don’t make people sit through your five-minute treatment of “Hey, Jude” by the Beatles on your next EP.

You’re not going to make it better. You’re just going to make your audience wish they were listening to the Beatles.

DO: Make a great cover tune by changing its tempo

The next best thing to playing a song in a different genre is playing it uptempo or downtempo from its original time signature.

The mood of some songs can be entirely reversed this way, especially if the lyrics are highly symbolic rather than overt. Imagine “House of the Rising Sun” as a polka number. That could happen, ha ha.  Imagine the upbeat “Christmas at Ground Zero” by Weird Al Yankovic as a crawling gothic dirge.

But you don’t need to totally upend the song. Much goodness can be derived from just a little added pep or solemnity.

DON’T: Cover songs by playing as close to the original as you’re able

It’s a common misunderstanding among independent musicians that one goal of the cover tune is to prove to your audience that you can do it, too.

You can’t. You cannot do what another artist did the way they did it.

And even if you could, doing something someone has already done is pointless. It is not a goal of the cover tune.

Cover music to do it your way, or don’t do it at all.

(Unless you’re getting paid as a cover band at a bar or nightclub. That’s different.)

DO: Make a great cover tune by simplifying it

You know what nobody has the huevos to do onstage, anymore? Nobody gives the singer a song to sing a cappella while the group takes five. If you’ve got a front person with a fantastic set of pipes, give them three minutes approx. 75% into your set to belt out an amazing rendition of a popular song.

You wanna see a crowd pay utter attention? You give them a brave vocalist singing their heart out for the audience with no backing. That’s entertainment.

Barring this (because, let’s face it, a good singer is worth their weight in gold) consider covering a track acoustic, or clean-channel only, or without percussion.

Maybe you can play it using only piano. Or accompanied only by harmonica.

The point is, simplifying a great song can make a marvelous cover tune. Try it.

DON’T: Add a bunch of extra effects, instruments, and choir vocals to a good song and expect it to be better

The opposite of the above, many well-meaning creative musicians overthink songs by adding and adding and adding elements. The idea here seems akin to the American Christmas tree concept: chuck glitter, gold, lights and tinsel onto the poor evergreen until you can’t see any needles at all.

The problem with trying this in music is that every recorded take adds tiny little imperfections to the overall result (unless you’re godlike musicians, in which case you wouldn’t be reading this).

In the end, you get sonic soup. The hapless engineer has to bury tons of takes in the mix “to give a general impression of the sound” (but really because these tracks can’t be saved and I don’t think they’re worth going back to record again).

The result is a mishmash that sounds somewhere between an orchestra of players with the flu and a Pro Tools 12 installation possessed by the devil.

Follow the KISS rule. Keep It Simple…

 

That’s it for this week’s DIY MondoBlog! Stay tuned for next week’s episode for more tips, tricks, and general indie music blather. And HAPPY HOLIDAYS from all of us to all of you!

Studio recording tricks: three simple tips from veteran producers to you

Studio recording tricks are to audio engineers what secret ingredients are to chefs. They make the difference between a first-year rookie and a seasoned professional. Here are three simple tips every music producer should know.

Instant pop screen / pop filter

The trick everyone knows (you do know, don’t you?) is how to make a pop screen for recording vocals out of a nylon stocking and a wire hanger. A pop screen, or pop filter, diffuses all the impact from sharp consonant sounds like ‘puh,’ ‘kuh,’ ‘tuh‘ and ‘sss.’ Sounds like those cause mic inputs to peak, making sharp, loud pops emit from speakers if played back. Basically, they can’t happen and need to be edited out using audio manipulation software — unless you have a pop screen.

Pop screens are available at any pro music store, and they look like this:

But you don’t need to buy one. Just fashion a frame out of a wire clothes hanger and stretch a nylon stocking over it. Attach it to your microphone stand between your vocalist and the microphone. Viola! Instant pop screen.

Change the acoustics of any room

If you record music at home, you’ve noticed it’s hard to get recordings crisp and clear without echoes, feedback, and other sonic artifacts cluttering up your recordings. That’s because of acoustics.

Every room has different acoustics and treats sound waves differently. Acoustics are why every concrete parking structure echoes very well (especially without cars to buffer the sound waves) and why a trained ear can always tell when something was recorded in a bathroom (lots of tile).

Sound bounces off hard, flat surfaces very well, and this makes for messy, unmanageable recordings. The idea, then, is to alter rooms you’ll be recording in so sound that doesn’t go into the microphone dissipates when it hits a surface like walls, ceiling or floor.

You can do this lots of ways. One simple way is to tack up some carpet scraps. Don’t put it flush against the wall. Let it hang and be uneven on the surface. Or you can make dampening panels like the guys at AcousticsFREQ did, shown above. That’s a useful strategy because the frames can be taken down when you want your living room back and replaced when you want a music studio again.

Other sound-dampening weapons include pillows, cushions, mattresses, and any and all kinds of foam. Place these between the microphone and any surfaces which may reflect sound to turn virtually any room into a semi-legit sound studio.

Make a crowd sound like a crowd

Ever need to record what sounds like a group of people shouting or singing along to the music, but it still sounds like one or two people overlayed again and again and again across twenty tracks? That’s because even if your best vocalist records himself or herself performing the bit at the top of their vocal range, the bottom of their range, and maybe even with a few faked international accents, it’s still going to sound like your vocalist. Singing voices are like fingerprints and easily identifiable.

The trick here is dissonance. Noise. You need to fill in all the vocal ranges produced by a couple hundred people singing or shouting at once. But it’s not easy to grab ten strangers off the street and teach them a part you need them to perform in the studio.

The solution is to record the worst singer you know.

Tone-deaf persons have a remarkable talent that goes somewhat unappreciated: they sing with naturally randomized variance. All these haphazard micro-notes they accidentally hit (or miss, as it were) fill in the little gaps otherwise taken up with the kaleidoscope of different voices produced by a crowd. Often, the harder they try, the tighter their scattershot vocal attempts will focus around the melody of the song while still doing the job. In other words, they’ll be singing exactly the way you want them to. It’s their moment.

So call up that buddy who lip syncs “Happy Birthday” and the national anthem and tell him you need him in your studio right away.

 

 

Christmas Songs with No Copyright for Cover Artists

Christmas songs with no copyright are everywhere. This makes them excellent cover projects for artists while listeners create an exaggerated demand for them. We’ve done the research for you, so get cracking!

Christmas songs with no copyright abound because they are traditional, which means they’re very old. Play with their lyrics and melodies all you like, and you can still sell and distribute your versions online worldwide. (Traditional Hanukkah selections also provided below).

“Joy to the World,” 1719

“Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” 1739

“O Come All Ye Faithful,” 1751

“Silent Night,” 1818

“The First Noel,” 1823

“O Christmas Tree,” 1824

“We Three Kings of Orient Are,” 1857

“Deck the Halls,” 1862

“O Little Town of Bethlehem,” 1868

“Away in a Manger,” 1885

“It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” 1849

“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” 1833

“O Holy Night,” 1847

“Good Christian Men Rejoice,” 1328

“While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks,” circa 1700

“The Holly and the Ivy,” circa 1814

“Angels From the Realms of Glory,” 1815

“I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In,” 1833

“Once in Royal David’s City,” 1848

“Good King Wenceslas,” 1853

“Angels We Have Heard On High,” 1862

 

Hanukkah songs with no copyright may also be found in the public domain for the same reason: tradition! Musicians don’t have to be Jewish, themselves, to enjoy rendering their own versions of these classic sing-along selections.

“Maoz Tzur”

“Chanukah Chanukah”

“Oy Chanukah”

“Judas Maccabaeus”

“Mi Y’malel”

“Al Hanisim”

“Sevivon”

 

Audio Mastered’s Glen Parry on mobile DJ equipment: what to bring, what to do, and what not to do.

Glen Parry is an expert mobile DJ and editor-in-chief at Audio Mastered. I reached out to him for crucial pointers on how to make life easier when you’re a spin doctor on the go. Here’s what he had to say.

Besides simply renting DJ equipment, what’s the bare-bones minimum a paid DJ will need?

It’s actually not a lot of gear. I recommend new DJs to purchase following pieces of equipment:

  • Laptop/DJ Software
  • Controller
  • Headphones

The other gear you can rent. As your brand grows you can use the money earned at your gigs to slowly start accumulating the other gear. This includes the speakers, stands, cables, lights, FXs, etc.

Most people will already have access to a laptop, so the biggest start up expense is going to be the controller and headphones. It’s possible to get the gear you need for $200 (assuming you already have a laptop) — totally possible for a high school student.

Have you seen DJs perform with less?

Technically, yes. You’ll sometimes see DJs playing without a laptop. It’s quite possible for DJs to mix only with CDJs. However, I wouldn’t recommend beginner DJs going this route. For one thing, CDJs are far more expensive. They’re also most technically involved and require some chops to use.

Start with a controller/laptop setup and upgrade when you’re ready.

What useless gear do you often see brought onstage by DJs?

The most common piece of useless gear I see has to do with headphones. I’ll often see new DJs mixing with an old pair of headphones they bought for listening to music. While you can get away with it, you’re far better off investing in a pair of DJ headphones. The main characteristics you want to look for are:

  1. Noise isolation
  2. Pivoting ear cups
  3. Durability
  4. Replaceable parts

Everyday headphones aren’t going to have the level of sound isolation you need to hear your tracks over the noise. You’ll struggle to hear where to set your cue points or to sync your incoming track. DJing can be stressful when you’re just starting – don’t make it harder with cheap headphones.

Additionally, DJ headphones get beaten up very quickly. If you have a set of headphones with replaceable parts (such as cables, or the headband) it’s going to prevent you from buying an entirely new set when the cable snaps.

Headphones via Audio Mastered

Necessities aside, what’s your favorite add-on for making a DJ’s life easier?

I personally like the laptop stand. While it’s not absolutely necessary, it gets the laptop up and out of the way. You can position your laptop where you can easily see the screen and you’re not running the risk of bumping it or pulling any connections out during the gig.

Also, having the right gear bags will go a long way in terms of keeping you organized. There are times when you’ll be setting your gear up while another DJ is still performing. This involves crawling on the floor behind the DJ booth trying to get your gear ready to go.

If your gear is organized in cases and bags you’ll have a much easier time setting up under pressure. Not to mention the additional protection cases and bags provide.

Besides a light show, what bonus gear do audiences react to best?

I’d also pick up a smoke machine. While almost cliché, the smoke machine adds another dynamic to your set. They’re easy to use and relatively cheap.

Mobile DJs struggle with what factors most?

The struggles evolve over time. For those just starting out the hardest part is building your brand. It’s getting the first couple of gigs – If you don’t have any contacts in the industry or friends who already DJ, nailing your first gig is a struggle.

The solution is to develop basic marketing skills. Create an artist page on Facebook where you can point any interested customers. Have a few sets recorded from your practice sessions at home as well as a few quality pictures.

Louis the Child

Once you have an artist page you can start placing adds where you think people will be looking. A few easy places: Craigslist and community bulletin boards. It’s also a good idea to let your friends know via social media that you’re available. You’ll be surprised at how many of your gigs will be booked through word of mouth.

Getting the gear organized can also be a struggle for new DJs. There are logistical challenges you’ll need to work through when you’re renting the gear. What size/type of speaker will you need? Do you want a subwoofer? Will they interface with your gear? Where are the power outlets at the venue? Do they have a table for you to set your gear on?

Furthermore, setting your price can also be a struggle at the start. I highly recommend pricing everything out beforehand so you know what you’re getting into. This is also a great time to make sure your gear is compatible with what is available to rent. The staff where you’ll be renting from will be invaluable here. Let them know that you are just starting out so they can make sure you have everything you’ll need.

What’s the commonest mistake you see DJs making in 2017?

Not playing to the crowd. Every crowd is going to be unique. Just because you killed it with a song on your last set doesn’t mean you’ll get the same reaction for the next one. Being able to play for the crowd is one of the hidden skills DJs need to develop.

Unfortunately, I see way too many DJs only playing tracks they like while the energy in the crowd dive bombs.

Pay attention to how to crowd reacts for each song and use that to inform your track selection.

The people in the crowd are usually your next customers. Impress them and you’ll always have an endless supply of gigs.

Diplo

Do you see any changes in contemporary DJ-ing around the corner?

There is a growing trend of musical talent being blended into a DJ set. [See our August article, “Live instruments in EDM and why they make sense“].

This usually involves a physical instrument, or using STEMs in Ableton Live. It’s starting to become more and more of an expectation that you are a Producer as well as a DJ. While this isn’t as crucial for mobile DJs, if you have dreams of taking DJing to the next level having some musical talent is going to go a long way.

In terms of mobile DJs – the barrier to entry is getting lower and lower. Modern DJ equipment is very intuitive and user-friendly. It’s now easier than ever to get up and running. I expect as the equipment is further improved, the creative opportunities for skilled DJs will only increase.

How does a DJ stay fresh and relevant without playing the EDM top-40?

This is where your hard work outside of the set is going to pay off. Your limits to staying fresh are determined by your commitment to digging and searching for unique music. As I mentioned before, each crowd is going to be slightly different. It’s your job to push the boundaries and serve up interesting tracks that aren’t common but are still palatable for that particular crowd.

The best way is to be constantly absorbing as much music from as many genres as you can. It’s only by listening to different genres that you can have those creative moments of “this track will fit perfectly in that set!”

Listen to podcast shows from DJs, listen to other DJ sets on YouTube, immerse yourself as much as possible in new music sources.

You’re probably getting into DJing because you have great taste in music. Use your love of music to put together creative sets that will be fresh and relevant.

Turntables via Audio Mastered

Today, there’s a big push against the just-press-play mentality of the aughts. What can a DJ do onstage to entertain audiences?

Finding the balance between DJing and crowd interaction can be difficult. Additionally, Each DJ is also going to have their own personal preferences. I’ve been to shows where the DJ was interacting with the crowd for every track, while other DJs only speak once or twice.

I recommend not being shy of the mic. Use it to amp up the crowd before a big drop, or to let them know that something is coming. Let them know you’re there and paying attention.

I also recommend not always hiding behind your decks. Feel free to move around behind, or even in front, of the DJ booth. Show the crowd that you’re enjoying the music and let them feed off your energy. It’s your job to set the tone so if you feel the need to jump up on the booth, do it.

Do you think DJs have a hard time getting paid what they’re worth? What would you suggest as a fundamental guideline for what mobile DJs should charge?

I find that most people are willing to pay to have a great DJ. A DJ is usually the centerpiece of the party so people are fine with paying what they’re worth.

Don’t spend too much time worrying about what you’re charging for your first few gigs. Make sure you’ve priced out all the rental equipment you’ll need and then tag on between $100-200 when you’re first starting out. You may even consider lowering your fee for the first few shows and consider it an investment in your brand.

If you’re not getting any gigs, lower your fee.

Once you’re experienced you can crank up your fee. This usually happens when the gigs start rolling in and you have your marketing machined tuned and running. How much you can raise your fee is going to depend on the market in your area. If you’re in a larger market and you’ve built yourself a good brand, you can make a decent chunk of change for each gig.

Spectrum’s live-DJ gloves

Talk about some impressive moves or innovations you’ve seen from pros onstage or off. Anything stand out?

Anytime a DJ is able to play a musical instrument during their set I’m impressed. The crowd also always reacts positively.

It doesn’t really matter what the instrument is. I’ve seen Griz jump up on the booth and blast out the melodies on his sax and Odesza playing percussion on their drum pads. Each time the crowd goes nuts.

What annoys you most as a mobile DJ?

Showing up to a venue only to find out they are no-where close to being prepared for you. Talk through your requirements in detail with your client and make no assumptions.

  • If you don’t have your own table make sure they have one set up for you.
  • Make sure you’ll have somewhere to plug in your gear.
  • Make sure they have a space where you can fit everything.
  • Do they want a light show, smoke show?

It will only take one nightmare gig for you to appreciate asking all the questions before you arrive.

What excites you most in the modern scene?

I’m excited about the overall popularity of electronic music. There’s never been a better time to become a DJ. The sheer volume of different music makes the entire scene a playground for creativity. The number of genres keeps evolving and producers are always pushing boundaries. DJs have been headlining at huge festivals and the electronic music festivals are growing bigger each year. Everything about being a DJ is on the up-and-up.

Louis the Child

What advice can you offer DJs thinking they might not cut it as mobile pros?

It’s not as hard as you may think. While it may seem daunting when you first start, each aspect of becoming a mobile DJ is within reach. Start out small – buy the basic gear and start practicing at home.

Next, try DJing at a few of your friend’s parties. Rent a cheap PA system and set up in a room. You won’t need huge speakers in smaller rooms so it will be much more affordable.

Once you start feeling more confident start putting your name out there. Start slowly building a branch piece by piece. You may take a look at established DJs and think that it’s an impossible mountain to climb, but if you take it one step at a time you’ll eventually get there.

Just take it one step at a time.

Another word of advice: practice!

You must be practicing at home during your downtime. The more you practice, the more shows you will get in the long run. Your technical skills will increase and offer you more flexibility during your sets. Again, this is a time thing. Put in the time and you will be rewarded down the road.

What question do you wish amateur DJs asked you more?

I think a lot of amateur DJs could be benefiting from learning a little more marketing. Better marketing practices will lead to bigger clients. This is where you can start charging a higher fee.

Sometimes a simple website and a little social media marketing can go a long way. By increasing your engagement on social media (releasing recordings of your sets, releasing pictures, etc.) you can pull in much more clients and appear much more professional.

Glen Parry appears courtesy of AudioMastered.com.

That’s it for this week’s MondoBlog DIY post. Don’t miss last week’s interview on home-studio recording with Of Limbo from Long Beach, CA, and stay tuned for much more in 2017 and beyond.

Rock crew Of Limbo talk home-studio recording and their debut LP ‘Nicotine’

Long Beach, CA’s hard-rock crew Of Limbo decided to record at home rather than pay huge for a big-name studio. The sparkling production quality of the resulting debut LP album, “Nicotine,” stands as proof the DIY record can sound as titanic as any hit produced at West Beach. They told us how they made it happen.

Why did you decide to self-produce your record rather than going to a professional studio?

Well we did commission the help of a producer, Keith Sorrells [of Project K Studios in Tustin, CA] in the creation of “Nicotine,” so it wasn’t self-produced. However, we certainly didn’t go near a “professional studio,” with all the recordings being taken either at Keith’s house or ours (Jake and Luke).

The decision to avoid the studio really boiled down to how particular we are with our sound. We didn’t want to constantly be under the gun, from feeling pressure about nailing the takes immediately, to being unable to give the songs the attention and time they needed to really come together.

Unless you have your own studio, you’re always gonna be on someone else’s clock. That’s not the feeling we wanted to have whilst developing our first full-length record.

Did you allow friends/family in the studio during recording? Why/why not?

Absolutely not. No reason for them to be there. Imagine your friends having to sit through you diagnosing and agonizing over every 10 second clip of the music all day long. They’d hate it, you’d hate them resenting it. It’d all be bad. In general, we don’t like to show anyone anything until it’s a finished, polished product.

What rooms did you record in, and how did you set them up for good acoustics?

The drums were recorded in Keith’s studio room. It had nice wood floors and an open, spacious layout, so we were able to get some thick, beefy drums sound off the bat.

The vocals we recorded at our home studio. Honestly, we didn’t really do any acoustic treatment to the room at all. Just pressed record and let Jake rip.

Guitars and bass, ha ha, we recorded in Keith’s laundry room. I guess it was the closest thing we had to an isolated room sound, so we went for it. I remember one time, about halfway through recording, we were working on “The Devil You Know,” when we heard a weird low rumble coming through on some of the guitar takes. We thought it was some ground hum or house buzz from bad electricity. Ha ha ha, the washing machine had turned on.

What difficulties appeared first?

Man, there were difficulties all throughout. It took us a long time get it up to our standard. I’m not sure what was the first problem we encountered, but they never stopped coming. We just worked our way throughout the better part of a year until it finally sounded right.

Got any recording tricks you learned, or which worked out for you particularly well?

Laying down scratch tracks as close to the finished product as possible before you even start proper recording.

That was hugely helpful to us. Not only did it help us prepare for and limit the number of surprises throughout the recording process, but it also gave us confidence from day one that the record was gonna turn out the way we wanted and expected it to.

Not to say there won’t be changes, but it’s good to have a road map.

Did you use the overall feel and sound of any album as a benchmark? Do you feel you got it right?

Hmm, there wasn’t an overall vibe of another record that we were looking for, but there were certainly elements of many different records that we looked to incorporate. Marilyn Manson’s “Eat Me Drink Me” was hugely influential in our approach to the drums. We wanted to keep it simple and huge.

How did you decide on the songs to record, and how many of them to record?

The songs chosen were really just a combination of which were most ready and best sounding at the time.

As to the amount, six, that’s a separate question. Our songs are long, averaging around 6:30 on that record. By the time you’ve got six of them (including one at 12 minutes), that’s already a full-length album. We wanted it to be able to fit on a vinyl and for it to keep its quality, so we were kind of limited from the get-go in that regard.

But really, we prefer it that way. In an age of shortening attention spans, I feel like the place of the traditional 12-song rock album is diminishing. If I record a dozen songs, how many are going to fall on deaf hears? Four? Five? Now if you released each of those twelve as singles, giving each one its own specific release and support, that dramatically boosts the likelihood of them garnering more attention.

So six is our version of that, somewhere right in the middle. You’re still getting your money’s worth, just no filler.

Photo: Luciana Toledo

How has reception been?

Overwhelming. From being put inside the jukebox at our local bar, to getting play time on KLOS 95.5, this record has really helped put us on the map. Because of it, we’ve signed on with a large-scale booking agency that’s sending us on tour for a significant part of 2018.

What is the worst difficulty you’ve had to overcome?

The Long Beach music scene is almost exclusively made up of punk and reggae. It’s been an uphill battle being a rock band trying to get its name out in a city that doesn’t have a lot of love for your genre. Drawing in people who don’t normally gravitate to our style of music has probably been the biggest challenge for us.

What are you looking forward to most?

The next one. Making more and more and more and more, being f-cking prolific.

 

“NICOTINE” by OF LIMBO is available directly from the band at their official website here and at iTunes here.

 

 

-S. McCauley

 

2018  OF LIMBO  World Tour Dates

DATE VENUE CITY
5/1/18 The Drunk Horse Pub Fayetteville, NC
5/2/18 Mainstage Morgantown, WV
5/3/18 Smiling Moose Pittsburgh, PA
5/4/18 Whistler’s Watertown, NY
5/5/18 Rockpile West Toronto, ON
5/6/18 The Token Lounge Westland, MI
5/8/18 The Forge Joliet, IL
5/9/18 The Gas Lamp Des Moines, IA
5/10/18 Route 20 Outhouse Racine, WI
5/11/18 Phat Headz Greenbay, WI
5/12/18 Cheers Pub Southbend, IN
5/15/18 Spicoli’s Grill / The Reverb Rock Waterloo, IA
5/16/18 Shovelhead Saloon Danville, IL
5/17/18 Fubar St. Louis, MO
5/18/18 The Warehouse Clarksville, TN
5/19/18 Sidetracks Music Hall Huntsville, AL
5/20/18 Temple Live Fort Smith, AR
5/22/18 Gas Monkey Bar & Grill Dallas, TX
5/23/18 Jakes Backroom Lubbock, TX
5/24/18 Rock House Bar El Paso, TX
5/25/18 The Green Room Flagstaff, AZ
5/26/18 The Slidebar Fullerton, CA
5/27/18 Viper Room West Hollywood, CA
5/31/18 Knitting Factory Concert House Spokane, WA
6/1/18 3rd Wheel Lewiston, ID
6/2/18 Perham Hall Zillah, WA
6/3/18 Analog Theater & Cafe Portland, OR
6/4/18 El Corazon Seattle, WA
6/6/18 Diamondz Event Center Jerome, ID
6/7/18 The Gem Idaho Falls, ID
6/8/18 Knitting Factory Concert House Boise, ID
6/10/18 Metro Music Hall Salt Lake City, UT
6/12/18 The Black Sheep Colorado Springs, CO
6/13/18 Streets of London Denver, CO

 

EDM created live: Veserium showcase their innovative instrument, SoundSpace V.3

EDM created live? Veserium (previously Spectrum) made it possible

Ray and Mike are Veserium, an EDM duo of musical composers based in Las Vegas, NV. Today, they quietly published a video showcasing their original, live instrument for EDM, the SoundSpace V.3 interactive gloves.

The gloves incorporate 3D-printed components, LED lights, original programming and more to allow digital music composers to not only play their music at events, but to actually perform and improvise it live onstage.

“The human emotion which once inspired music has become out of focus, obscured by a curtain of transistors and circuits,” a narrator states in their new video, “A Journey Through Time.” The narrator notes that one side-effect of digital music has been to degrade musical performances from “displays of passion to DJs whose primary instrument is a play button.”

Veserium’s solution was to create what they call SoundSpace gloves (just a working name) to “re-inject the human spirit into an electronic world.”

Music before invention

Veserium emphasize that they’re interested in making music with their creation much more than making the invention available to the world. That means that, for now at least, interested parties will need to seek out Veserium performances live or online to get a taste of what SoundSpace can do.

It’s a good thing, too, because these composers work under artistic principles which compel them in ways that will intrigue even the most casual music fan.

“We weren’t so much inspired by the fact that DJs don’t play their music live onstage,” Veserium write. “These guys have spent hours refining and crafting sounds. It’s exactly because their sounds are so complex that it’s hard to actually perform them live onstage … We were inspired by our frustration that we couldn’t control sounds like we wanted to.”

Which begs the question, for precisely what kind of sonic control were they looking?

“We figured we needed an instrument designed from the ground up to play modulation, i.e. craft the timbre and sound quality of what we’re playing in addition to just playing the notes. Since there wasn’t an instrument available to do this, we made it ourselves, simple_smile.”

Physically performing EDM is a game-changer

With the addition of physically performed digital instrumentation (!) to Veserium’s music, public reception has been boiling hot.

“We’ve been performing a lot in Las Vegas where we’re based,” Veserium write. “Our performances have been received amazingly! People are coming up to us afterwards and telling us their minds were blown. We’re really excited by the reaction.”

But if you haven’t heard of Veserium yet, the Cornell-educated crew expect as much.

“We’re still such a young act,” they say. “We’ve only been at this as an official duo for a few months. We’re growing our fan base fast, but we need to keep growing it faster so we can start drawing in crowds at larger events.”

As the crowds deepen and widen, so do the questions. Was it hard to make? (Mike spends interminable hours just debugging the program). How much does it cost? (Somewhere between several hundreds and several thousands). Can you play air guitar?

Air guitar?

“I get pretty frustrated when people ask to see air piano and air guitar and air drums,” Ray says. “Why would we want to do that? Here we have the power to control sounds in ways that have never been done before, and people are asking to see air guitar? Our gloves can play sounds in ways you can’t on a piano, a guitar, or any controller out there. We can literally shape and mold a bass wobble in thin air — controlling every detail of the sound.”

His point hints at a common mistake made by amateur composers: writing parts for virtual instruments the same as they would for the analog versions.

“The question to me is like asking the Wright brothers how fast their airplane can drive down the highway. An airplane would make a sh-tty car. But it can fly.”

Indeed; so how do Veserium’s gloves change the way their music sounds?

“What’s been fun about creating SoundSpace is that we have literally been designing instruments,” write Veserium. “We design how those instruments sound and how they are played in the air. And we use those instruments in our music.”

Live, innovative EDM collaboration without pressing ‘play’

It’s important to note that Mike and Ray perform together with their gloves onstage, complimenting one another’s live performance moment-to-moment, a 21st-century take on “Dueling Banjos.”

“That’s one of the keys to our sound and our writing process: we’re able to compose through improvisation. Mike can be shaping the bass line on one side, and I’ll be right next to him playing a synth lead on top of it. It’s a blast and it’s expanded our creativity!”

See and hear Veserium play their original instruments here and here.

“Thank you. So much. For helping us create this vision and for believing in us.”

— Ray and Mike, Veserium

The first official release by Veserium composed through SoundSpace is expected to drop December 2017.

You can support them at their official Patreon here.

Official Veserium Website here.

Veserium developed their early prototypes of SoundSpace with a grant from the Cornell Council for the Arts, funding from their ECE Innovation Award win, and with a generous donation from Ascension Tech.

— Sean McCauley

Senior Editor

MondoTunes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 ways to make songs better: hip hop edition

To make a song better, a few simple changes can make all the difference. Five ways to make hip-hop songs better are:

I. Change up the back beat

Poetry can get you far in hip hop, but you have a much better chance at fame and fortune if you put your rhymes to a solid back beat.

Pretty much everybody knows that, but few amateur MCs change the beat once it’s laid down.

That straightforward tempo was OK back in the eighties, but if you look at the real geniuses, people like MF Doom, Kendrick Lamar and Eminem, they often change beats twice, even three or four times in a track.

That means more complex songwriting for you, but you’re the best, right? You can hack it.

II. Make songs better by making songs shorter

Some music genres seem built for repetition, like EDM and New Age music, but hip hop doesn’t benefit much from it.

In the ’80s lots of MCs let their songs trail off with beats from an 808 or scratches from their DJ’s turntables. That went out of style for a reason.

Too-short songs may leave listeners unsatisfied, but too-long songs bore them. And what’s wrong with leaving your fans wanting more, anyhow? If it’s really too short, tack on another verse or whatever. Just don’t make songs too long. That’s death, and pretty much everyone does it.

III. Make songs better by taking ideas from your crew

Make songs better by asking members of your crew how to make them better.

Your DJ, your beatboxer, your turntablist, your beat programmer and the other rappers in your crew, all these people have creative ideas. Every song will be better if everyone feels welcome to add their perspective.

Lots of crews have a tendency to let each member’s songs stand as-is. If it works, it’s pure chance. They’d probably benefit from some revision, anyhow.

IV. Embrace the space between the beats

Nothing can make hip hop obnoxious faster than beat crowding.

Beat crowding is when there are so many beats that the listener can’t hear any space between them. It can be easy to lose track of the space when you’re layering snares on top of bass and tom drums with a hi-hat keeping time, but when the space has all been used up, the effect is like listening to a machine-gun orchestra.

Then you’re going to lay your poetry down on top of that, which has its own rhythm. Not good.

Insert some silence between beats, instruments and lyrics, too. If you can clap your hands or snap your fingers in time without landing on anything, you’re on the right track.

V. Make songs better by recording your own samples

Today’s indie rappers have become excellent at using online resources to craft great original hip hop. With millions of samples and instrumentation available, the toolbox can’t usefully get larger.

You can automatically sound more original and have much, much more control over your sound, though, if you simply record your own raw samples.

It’s a simple — and ridiculously fun — skill that 99% of amateur hip hop artists never think to use.

 

That’s it for this week. See you next time!

 

 

 

5 ways to make songs better: rock edition

To make a song better, a few simple changes can make all the difference. Five ways to make rock songs better are:

I. Simplify chord progressions

Make songs better by taking progressions of six+ chords and boiling them down to their main parts. “Stairway to Heaven” may sound complex, but it’s really only five chords. Bands like the Ramones and Green Day have made an art of the three- and four-chord pop single, so we know success doesn’t depend on complexity.

Complex structures make players work harder, and music fans don’t necessarily respond any better than if the song had a simpler structure. Try taking some chords out of one of your math-ier favorites and see if it really makes a difference. It’s usually possible to keep the same mood without going through so many steps.

II. Make songs better by making songs shorter

Amateur rock bands might struggle with song length more than any other genre’s musicians do. Causes include (but are not limited to) showing off, slipping into “jam mode,” and writing hypnotic refrains that don’t successfully hypnotize listeners.

Too-short songs may leave listeners unsatisfied, but too-long songs bore them. And what’s wrong with leaving your fans wanting more, anyhow? If it’s really too short, tack on another verse or whatever. Just don’t make songs too long. That’s death, and pretty much everyone does it.

III. Make songs better by playing with tempo

Make a song better by slowing them down or speeding them up. Most songwriters pick tempos for their music by accident without thinking how tempo affects it at all. This is silly.

If you meant your song to go at breakneck speed, go ahead and experiment by playing it slowly. Often the best slow chuggers originally came out as ripping fireballs. Sometimes quiet, little ballads like “Brown-Eyed Girl” sound fantastic with a one-two beat. You never know until you try.

And speaking of not knowing…

IV. Let your band mates change your songs

Make songs better by asking your band members to make them better. They have creativity, and they have ideas. Every song will be better if everyone feels welcome to add their perspective to the material.

Lots of bands have a tendency to let each member’s songs stand as-is. If that works, it’s pure chance, and probably they’d benefit from some revision.

Don’t just keep an open mind, actively ask the drummer what he or she thinks — the bassist, the rhythm guitarist, the accordionist, and the mook playing triangle, too. That’s how to make songs better.

V. Add texture by letting instruments rest

Make a song better by letting just one or two instruments carry it occasionally.

Jazz figured out a long time ago that it’s obnoxious to have 100% of the crew playing 100% of the music 100% of the time. Rock bands often have a hard time with this.

It’s ridiculously easy to let everyone drop out but the bass player for a few measures. Or the drummer. Or the singer. Or whomever. The point is that your band doesn’t need to have all the lights on when the song’s fun lies in just a couple rooms. Let the others come in when they’re needed.

And if they’re not needed? Let them take five! The modern motif of “nobody gets to rest until after the set” is bizarre. Audiences respond very well to changes in band size during a set. Use that.

 

That’s all for this week’s MondoBlog! Happy Hallowe’en, and don’t miss last week’s piece on how to make music using just your phone!

Make Music on Your Phone!

Want to make music on your phone? Going away but don’t want to slow your roll? Here are some apps that help music artists take a mini studio everywhere they go.

Want to make music on your phone?

Apps for Instrumentation

Want to make music on your phone?

Caustic 3

Caustic 3 has synth sounds and audio effects artists can use to write melody lines and chord progressions. It’s simple to use but textured enough that a clever composer can consider it a legitimate instrument. (Android, iOS)

Want to make music on your phone?Animoog

Make music on your phone with Animoog, an application by the actual Moog company, makers of that inimitable 1960s keyboard sound. (By the way, it’s pronounced “Moag,” not “Mewg”).

The app has all sorts of sonic tweaks and shifts available to the discerning artist and doesn’t cost much. (iOS) only, though.

 

Apps for Recording

Want to make music on your phone?

Audio Evolution Mobile Studio

AEM Studio will record live instruments, vocals and other sounds and lets you modify the results with popular effects. It also has mixing and editing capabilities such as loop, cut/paste, and even crossfade. Get more functionality through in-app purchases. (Android only)

Want to make music on your phone?FourTrack

FourTrack mimics the old four-track recorders garage rockers used in the eighties and nineties to record practices and demo tapes. Unlike those dinosaurs, though, FourTrack records in CD audio quality. Recording, mixing and equalizing included. FourTrack comes standard with a virtual guitar amp, too. (iOS only)

 

 

Song Editors / Visual Composers

Want to make music on your phone?

Propellerhead

Make music on your phone with Propellerhead, which gives any music fan an excellent crash course in song composition. You pick an instrument or sound (guitar, percussion, synth, etc) and just tap to start composing. Lay tracks down one atop another until your creation starts to sound like a legit song. Propellerhead won’t let you screw much up, but don’t expect professional-grade functionality, either. (iOS) only, but it’s free.

Want to make music on your phone?

Yellofier

Yellofier records anything you like and makes little colored blocks out of each cut. You can move these blocks around into any arrangement you like. Create a back beat, then a bass line, then a melody, and lay down some vocals. Presto. (Android, iOS)

 

Bonus: Just for Vocalists

Want to make music on your phone?

WURRLY

Make music on your phone via virtual karaoke!

From DigitalTrends.com:

“Singers can choose a song, customize it by selecting a different key, tempo, or instrumentation, then record a cover and share it quickly and easily via various social channels. Wurrly notes that it is made for singers by singers, and the firm hopes to highlight individuality and empower self-expression and artist discovery. There’s no limit on how much time you spend on Wurrly or how many songs you share, and with features like acoustic piano and guitar backing tracks, a slew of mix filters, and full-band versions of your favorite songs, don’t be surprised if you end up spending hours on this app.”

 

That’s it for this week’s MondoBlog, but read more about free digital audio software here. Happy recording!

What strings should I use? Basic guitar stringing

What Strings Should I Use?

‘What strings should I use?’ is a question every guitarist should ask.

The answer depends on several factors, including the type of instrument, the style of play, and the sound you want in general.

Every category of music today uses guitar from time to time, so it’s useful to know how to string one even if you’re only going to record a couple notes. This basic tutorial teaches everything you need unless you’re an expert guitarist (in which case you know all these things, already).

 

A guitar string’s tone comes from:

1. String Gauge

string gauges

  • Extra Light
  • Light
  • Medium
  • Heavy

(Note that light strings on an electric guitar will have smaller gauges than light strings on an acoustic guitar).

Consider heavy strings for —

  • Heavy strumming – because they offer more durability, more sustain, and less breakage.
  • Slide playing/drop tunings – because they hold a tighter string tension.
  • Low-action guitars – because they have tighter vibrations, and are therefore more resistant to fret buzz.
  • Unamplified acoustic playing – because they’re louder.
  • Jazz – because that style of music doesn’t use much note bending.

And consider light strings for —

  • Beginner playing – because it’s easier if you haven’t yet developed hand strength and calluses.
  • Blues/Soloing – because it’s easier to bend notes.
  • Vintage guitars – because they put less stress on the neck.
  • Small-body guitars – because they just sound better.
  • Fingerpicking – because they’re more responsive to delicate finger-work.

 

2. Metals

guitar string metals

What strings should I use? depends also on the metal used to make the string.

Electric strings use:

  • Nickel-Plated Steel – which has a good combination of warmth and brightness, a strong picking attack, and is the most popular option.
  • Pure Nickel – which is warmer than nickel-plated steel, and has a classic old-school vintage sound.
  • Stainless Steel – which is most resistant to corrosion, least prone to finger squeaks, and has a good combination of both brightness and sustain.

Titanium, cobalt, chrome and copper may also figure in, rarely.

Acoustic strings use:

  • 80/20 Bronze (aka Bronze, Brass) – which is 80% copper/20% zinc, and is the most popular option.  It has a bright, clean sound, but can lose some of its brilliance after only a few hours of play, as the metal corrodes quickly.
  • Phosphor Bronze – which is similar to 80/20 bronze, but with phosphor added to prevent oxidation and increase the life of the strings.  The trade-off is that they’re a little less-bright in comparison.
  • Silk and Steel (aka “compound strings”) – which have greater flexibility and lower string tension, resulting in gentler, mellower sound.  They are commonly referred to as a hybrid between traditional metal strings, and the nylon strings of a classical guitar.

3. String Core

What strings you should use depends also on the core. String manufacturers wind metal around the core. The core comes in two shapes.

hex core round core comparison

 

4. Winding Method

Technically you can find strings wound with three different styles, but only two matter to 99% of the guitar-playing world:

 

 

roundwound vs flatwound sound

 

5. String Coating

Since 1997, you can get strings with a factory-applied coating which will make them last several times longer than un-coated strings. Coated strings have a smoother feel under your fingers and “squeak” less.

However, many players insist that coated strings have less “brightness” and decreased sustain. It may also concern the guitarist that coated strings cost considerably more than un-coated strings. Whether the benefit coating may give is worth the added cost remains up to the player.

Have fun choosing your new brand of strings! And don’t miss last week’s MondoDIY post on free software for your home recording studio.