5 Things Music Pros Accept

Think you’re ready to make a career out of your art? Then you’re ready to accept these five things professional artists deal with on the regular. Read on to see what today’s music world requires of you.

Even the greats look to one another in collaboration. (Pic is Rush)

1. Shared creative control

Unless you’re one of the very few artists going big on SoundCloud without any help from a label, an audio engineer or an expert music producer, you’re going to give up some creative control. If you sign to a label, you’ll probably give up more than just a little. But even if none of the above apply to you, you’ll still need to hire someone to master your music, and that’s going to be entirely out of your control, anyway.

That’s fine, though. Every one of these professionals spend their lives making everything that comes across their desk something people want to hear. Is that really a problem for you? Of course not.

2. Starting in poverty

Even if you’re able to play shows every night, sell merch, and get enough followers on YouTube to attract some advertisers, you’re still not going to be making as much money as you would at most full-time jobs.

The gasoline to haul your gear from venue to venue can be surprisingly expensive, as much as 1/4 or even half what you make performing. And about that — exactly how much do headlining performers make per show? As little as 50-150 USD when you’re not selling the place out, if you’re lucky, and that gets split between all your crew.

Keep your chin up, though. If you put on a great show, you’ll have more people come see you every time you return to a joint, and soon you’ll be able to pre-sell tix until the place is packed. Then venue owners will be really glad to pay you for your appearances.

7-piece alt-rock crew, Violet

3. Living on the road

Sounds pretty cool, right? Like an extended camping trip with friends. The reality is plenty fun sometimes, but after the first few weeks it’s just work. Your crew become coworkers.

Everyone is filthy. Clothes get worn to stained rags. The van stinks. Fast-food becomes your diet when you’re playing anywhere away from the coasts. You learn to sleep on almost anything, almost anywhere. You also learn to go without sleep when necessary.

Your personal life stops dead. Even long-distance relationships aren’t possible when you don’t have a data connection for FaceTime or Skype. Jealous lovers suspect musicians act like Axl Rose everywhere they go, too.

So, yeah. Sigh. The glamorous life on the road. Whee!

4. Treating your art like a business

Hobbyists have the liberty of idealism. They can insist their music sounds best one way even if nobody else agrees. (And who knows? Maybe they’re right. Plenty of people have told Tom Waits he sounds like a broken frog).

When you go pro, though, that goes right out the window. When your artistic merit gets tied to paying your rent, making music people like becomes your measure of greatness.

The right logo for your merchandise becomes the one most likely to sell, not the one which describes you best.

The right sound for your next EP becomes the sound your fans want, not the sound you want. Your lyrics, too, must also match what will bring in the profits.

Be prepared to make all this fiscal sense your top priority, or your drummer will quit to play in a cover band with a weekend gig at the local bar.

5. Missing important family engagements

When you’re a professional musician, you’re married to the calendar. Performances get scheduled weeks and months in advance. Tickets get sold without your knowledge. And if you miss a date, you get blackballed not just at that venue, but in that whole area. You can’t cancel shows.

But people have a hard time understanding this, and it’s sensible that they think a couple months’ notice should be more than enough. When you go pro, though, what they eventually — and regrettably — learn is that you’re just never around.

I don’t often speak of my own experience here, but in this case I’m a prime example: I missed my mother’s wedding.

“We’re getting married this summer!” she said, happily.

“What month?” I said.

“August!” said Mom.

And I had to look my mother in the face and explain that I would be in Illinois with four other guys and some support crew, not at her wedding to my step-dad.

Ah, the professional life!

 

 

 

How to get your music in video games

How to get your music in video games becomes more important all the time as games continue to overtake film and TV as the biggest entertainment venue. It provides one of the best ways to sell your music and get it out to listeners. Find some help to do so below.

The Binding of Isaac. Isaac has won awards for its original heavy-metal instrumental soundtrack.

Presuming you’ve already got solid recordings of great music, you want to get these tracks into the empty hands which need them most.

If you’re a hardcore gamer, yourself, you might know of some game projects in the works which might match the music you’ve made. Game devs can be very approachable, though they’re all extremely busy.

Go ahead and send your music to them directly, but be humble, friendly, professional, and brief. To them, time is worth more than gold. Make your email subject “Music for X-Project” where ‘x-project’ should be the title of their game.

Eric Versluis for DiscMakers.com suggests the following template: ““Hey, I know you’re slammed, but I’m a big fan of XYZ game and know that you have a new one coming out in six months. I would love for you to take this new song into consideration. I think it would be perfect for the game.”

Super Mario Bros. has the best-known music in video game history

If you aren’t a big gamer, you can join one of a few websites where game developers work together to get resources for their projects.

Catering specifically to musicians and game devs, IndieGameMusic.com is currently free to join and works to bring your sounds to the independent producers of video games all over the world.

Painting with a broader stroke is LikeMindedd.com, where artists of all sorts congregate to put their talents to work or to find talents with which to work.

These sites and others can find ears for your music in the video game world. Use them.

But how should you prepare your tracks before you send them out?

2017’s Cuphead exemplifies musical range in games with its 1930s-style dixieland jazz OST

We presumed earlier your fantastic track has a solid recording. To be clear, that means mixed, produced and mastered.

Tag the song with metadata. That’s the information that your media player shows you when you play a track: track title, artist name, album name (?), your contact information, who owns the master and publishing information. Don’t make anyone track that data down. Editing the metadata isn’t hard, but see next week for a how-to on that, too.

To send your music, don’t attach files to email, don’t use WeTransfer, and don’t use DropBox. Each can end up problematic. Box.com isn’t bad, and Soundcloud can work, too. You want to allow streaming and downloads without links which can expire over time.

Link to a maximum of three songs and include an instrumental version of each.

Lessons from the 2018 Grammy Awards

Music fans, music critics and independent musicians everywhere seem unimpressed with the 2018 Grammy Awards. Here’s what we can learn from them.


Lessons from the 2018 Grammy Awards include notes on blending genres and how seriously to take awards in general.

First, it’s important to consider that a great many people think the 2018 Grammys were a joke. Many others think they’ve been a joke for years. Artists who don’t seem to fit the general character of the Grammys probably don’t take the award very seriously, themselves, and depending on who you ask, this can mean millions of people.

Just look at USA Today’s recent article, in which they call the 2018 ceremonies an “out-of-touch embarrassment.” They stop just short of calling the awards racist, but correctly point out that hip hop has an awful history at the Grammys:

“Just a handful of rap records have won [a Grammy] award over their 60-year history. Outkast last did so last in 2004 with their dual-release of Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, and Lauryn Hill took the same crown in 1998, for The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.”

The Grammy Awards also leave out every music act only available via streaming. As Chance the Rapper has noted, that’s a ton of disregarded music.

So Lesson One, for many artists, will be that the Grammy Awards — and maybe awards in general — don’t measure greatness in music at all. After all, if awards can fail to respect so many well-regarded creative people, does it make sense to respect such awards?

While accolades and trophies can help musicians achieve their dreams, sometimes, ultimately musicians and their fans benefit from judging music on its own merits, not by how many blue ribbons it has won.

Moving on, though, we can still learn by looking at which artists do win Grammys by asking what they did differently to get them.

In the case of Outkast and Lauryn Hill, these hip hop heroes blended their music with elements from other genres. From one perspective, this is watering down pure hip hop, which can seem wrong because hip hop deserves recognition on its own merit. While that’s true, from another perspective, adding elements from other genres gives the Grammy judges more to, well, judge.

USA Today notes, “Both, you could argue, could be classified as different genres. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below soared off its monumental pop hits, ‘Hey Ya’ and ‘Roses,’ and Hill blended rap, neo-soul and R&B to create an almost entirely new sound of its era.”

So Lesson Two is this: judges like it when you cross genres with a song or two.

There’s much more instrumentation in “Hey Ya” by Outkast than there is in, say, “Rap God” by Eminem, which serves judges poetry on a back beat with a single synth for a melody line. That doesn’t mean Outkast’s award-winning single is the better track, of course. It just means it’s more likely to win awards (see Lesson One).

But hip hop isn’t the only genre to have difficulty getting awards. The only EDM artist to win a Grammy has been Daft Punk, and they did it by following Lesson Two.

And guess what they blended their music with, mainly? Hip hop styles from Pharrell Williams.

Music Trends in 2018, Vol. III

This is the third in a series of predictions for the new year — see previous two weeks for the rest of the list.

BTS; photo: https://www.soompi.com/2017/05/30/bts-shares-advice-learn-korean/

Music trends in 2018 include K-pop

Korean pop bands (or K-pop) like BTS, pictured above, continue to make headway in American culture. No music executives exclaim surprise, either, considering the scene’s impeccable branding, knack for grooming musicians as characters, and flair for dramatic, plot-driven music videos.

Affinity Magazine notes: “Based on the success of bands like BTS, Shinee, EXO, Seventeen, etc. it’s safe to say that K-Pop will still be influential and successful. Furthermore, the band BTS made their U.S. TV debut at the 2017 American Music Awards performing DNA and also became the first Korean act to crack Spotify’s Global Top 50. On Feb. 9, the Winter Olympics start in Pyeongchang, South Korea, which can be something to give more exposure to K-Pop, as well.”

A tidal surge of synthwave

Vangelis, Jean-Michel Jarre, Michael Oldfield… These aren’t the rising stars of 1980 — these are the major influences of the 21st century. (Just ask UK MondoTunes artist Vaughty, who’s been making waves with his own popular brand of synth since the year Mondo began).

PremiumBeat.com writes, “Epic orchestral music continues to grow in popularity, but the synthwave soundtrack to Stranger Things has seen an even greater boost, as synthwave sound has increased 494 percent … Synthwave continues to dominate — likely based on the incredible score to Blade Runner 2049.”

Music trends in 2018 point to reggaetón

As mentioned in last week’s list, Latin artists will spearhead this year’s pop sound. The five most-watched videos of 2017 on Vevo were all by Latin artists: Luis Fonsi, Shakira, J.Balvin, Maluma and CNCO, and Camila Cabello. However, the engine behind these artists is not so much el ritmo Latino as it is reggaetón.

The Independent UK says of this, “The underlying reggaetón beat has ingrained itself into modern pop music, so I’m sure there will be plenty more mammoth hits over the course of this year.”

Artists looking to get ahead of the curve might try blending rap and hip-hop with traditional roots or reggae music. This mix forms the sound which began in the early ’90s in Puerto Rico. No español required (but it helps!).

 

 

 

Music Trends in 2018, Vol. II

Music trends in 2018 are shifting somewhat dramatically from those in 2017. Read on below to see what music gurus expect. (This is the second in a series of predictions for the new year — see last week for the rest of the list).

Music trends in 2018 suggest that women will lead R&B.

According to Time.com, “R&B is finding a new direction, thanks to the visionary women pushing the genre forward. From SZA’s Grammy-nominated debut to the soulful, politically minded sound of Solange, there’s a whole new soundscape emerging from this mix of personalities with distinct musical—and emotional—perspectives. This alt-R&B is female-first, lyrically vulnerable and delivered with precision; it’s a fresh genre pioneered by artists settling into their new seats at the table.”

2018 is the Year of the Latin Artist.

If you happen to be making Latin music in virtually any genre or subgenre, you’re in a good spot this year.

Rolling Stone says of this: “Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s ‘Despacito’ dominated 2017, spending 16 weeks at Number One, teaching the industry a big lesson: ‘All-Spanish records can work,’ says Tom Poleman, chief programmer for iHeartMedia. As a result, major labels are investing heavily in Latin music. ‘The Latin population in the U.S. keeps growing,’ says Fonsi, who expects the genre will compete with hip-hop, rock and country. And just as Justin Bieber scored a hit by appearing on the ‘Despacito’ remix, more artists are gunning to work with Latin peers (Beyoncé and Logic already have). ‘Before, we would seek general-market artists,’ says Horacio Rodriguez, vice president of marketing at Universal Music Latino. ‘Now, we’re getting calls from them.'”

Music trends for 2018 say artists might want to bet on YouTube early.

Spotify reigns supreme, but nothing lasts forever. The innovative music-streaming giant still owns itself and hasn’t branched out much from its original vision.

YouTube, on the other hand, belongs to Google, one of the most important global technology leaders overall. In March, Google is expected to launch a YouTube music-streaming service.

The company, with 1 billion hours of daily streams, is planning a music-streaming service that could launch by March.

“If it does blend video and audio in one service, interchangeably, why would you use Spotify?” says music industry guru Jim McDermott.

Lyor Cohen, YouTube’s head of music, says, “I want to show the industry that we’re capable of finding those most likely to subscribe and [lead] them to a subscription model.”

Music Trends in 2018: What Artists Should Know

Music trends in 2018 will shift somewhat dramatically from those in 2017. Read on below to see what music gurus expect for coming months.

The return of the boy band!

Music trends in 2018 will include a cadre of new boy bands.

One Direction’s break-up in 2016 left a gap in the industry. That gap is about to be filled by Simon Cowell’s new assemblage, PrettyMuch.

Rolling Stone compares their singing and dancing to an “updated Boyz II Men.” This makes sense because Boyz II Men have been very active of late, even dropping a new full-length record in August of last year which was very well received.

Atlantic Records’ Why Dont’ We also join the boy bandwagon for 2018 with five official EPs over the last year and 2m Instagram followers.

Steve Greenberg, who discovered both the Jonas Brothers and Hanson, says, “There’s always space for a new boy band.”

And speaking of boy bands, expect a triumphant return from Justin Timberlake, too.

Big shifts in EDM.

In case you haven’t noticed, dubstep has left the building.

Commenting on music trends in 2018, Corey Burmeister of Discogs.com told EDMSauce.com, “Did the EDM bubble burst yet? I foresee a shift away from glow-sticks and light shows back to a real passion for music and culture. Artists won’t stop using the sync button but both analog and digital sales will continue to swell.”

Matt Fulkerson, also of Discogs, says “Dance music is always a bit cyclical, and there seems to be a shift happening at the current time. A hallmark of 90s dance music was melody, harmony, and rhythm, which are classic and fundamental pieces found in all forms of music. I think in 2018, electronic music will start to get more emotional and melodic, straying from the more minimal mainstreams that have been commonplace the past few years. Marrying old technologies with current methods is the centerpiece for engaging music, and electronic music in 2018 should be no different.”

IndieMono co-founder Carlos expects EDM to blend with other genres altogether: “Hip-Hop and EDM will converge in the most mainstream thing we have ever heard. And this would lead the charts together with new Asian (Chinese, Korean and Indian mainly) electronic vibes.”

Billboard stops charting free music.

Music trends in 2018 also lead to Billboard charting free and paid music differently.

When you hear a track has gone to No. 1 (yaaay!) you’re really hearing that Billboard has charted the track at No. 1.

Last year’s hip hop artists dominated the Billboard charts, leading some music masterminds to suggest a new Renaissance for the category. Many hip hop artists provide their music as free-to-stream.

However, some label executives complained to Billboard of unfairness because free-to-stream music gets listened to far more than paid music.

Starting in 2018, therefore, Billboard will chart free music separately, with bought-and-paid-for music forming their official chart.

This is expected to knock hip hop out of the limelight, and could mean good things for rock musicians because rock fans typically buy more music.

 

Four Surprising 2017 Releases and What We Can Learn from Them

In 2017, four big music releases surprised listeners around the world for a variety of reasons. Read on to hear some remarks about what they teach us about the art of music making.

18 March 2017, Drake drops “More Life” on the OVO-Sound label.

     Why it’s surprising: “More Life” plays out over nearly an hour and a half, bringing it closer to the length of an amateur EDM record than that of a typical mainstream hip-hop release.

     What we can learn from it: You can still make long records in the 21st century.

2016 spent a ton of time telling musicians to give up making albums and to stick to single releases. This continues to be standard advice, owing to the growing market of music streamed directly from the Internet.

Then along comes Drake with a collection of 22 tracks he doesn’t even call an album, but rather, a “playlist,” and how does the music community react? With plenty of well-deserved enthusiasm, that’s how.

Thrillist.com calls it “the best Drake project since ‘Take Care’ because it gives Aubrey Graham space to explore his obsessions. While the tough-guy paranoia of ‘If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late’ remains, the icy musical claustrophobia of Views is mostly gone, replaced with a nimble commitment to teasing out disparate global influences. Songs like ‘Passionfruit,’ ‘Madiba Riddim,’ and ‘Blem’ pulsate with real heat, while winning guest spots from artists like Sampha, Young Thug, 2 Chainz, and Kanye West make the long run-time feel earned. Sometimes more really is better.”

Rolling Stone calls “More Life” Drake’s “finest longform collection in years, cheerfully indulgent at 22 tracks and 82 minutes, a masterful tour of all the grooves in his head, from U.K. grime (‘No Long Talk’) to Caribbean dancehall (‘Blem’) to South African house (‘Get It Together’) to Earth, Wind & Fire (‘Glow’). Yet the more expansive he gets, the more himself he sounds – and the further he roams around the globe, the deeper he taps into the heart of Drakeness.”

Labor Day 2017, LCD Soundsystem releases “American Dream” on DFA/Columbia

     Why it’s surprising: It’s the first new LCD Soundsystem record in seven years. And oh, yeah — the band broke up after the last one.

     What we can learn from it: It’s good to reform your band if there’s still music in it.

LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy talked big in 2011 when the band broke up, even going so far as to urge fans to wear funeral attire to their farewell show.

Additionally, their breakup coincided with the release of their rock-umentary, “Shut Up and Play the Hits,” which now becomes less definitive with the introduction of “American Dream.”

These facts must have figured big in the group’s decision to reform for the recording of another full-length album.

So why did they feel compelled to do it? As music journalist Dan Jackson puts it, “The songs are very, very good. Like on the previous three LCD records, Murphy’s meticulous production means that each track, like the pleading ‘oh baby’ or the sprawling ‘how do you sleep?,’ hits like a carefully plated dish served up by a weary master chef called out of retirement. If you can deal with the middle-aged malaise and occasionally too self-aware couplet, this lengthy record is a rewarding feast. You’ll eat whatever this guy cooks up.”

April 28th, 2017, Mary J. Blige delivers “Strength of a Woman” on Island

     Why it’s surprising: Mary J. Blige returns to that undeniable ’90s groove which originally made her a star

     What we can learn from it: Don’t feel bad sticking to your winning formula, even if your style has antiquated roots

Mary J. Blige took plenty of risks while experimenting on her 2014 record, “The London Sessions.” The gambles paid off. Fans and critics alike loved the record.

But that album alienated some of her most avid, longtime listeners who wanted to hear more of what she’s delivered in the past. Maybe for that reason, but probably just because she felt like it, Blige went back to her old-school sound for SoaW.

Pitchfork says of this, “Strength of a Woman’s classicism is, in some ways, a relief despite the success of The London Sessions’ more modern tracks; in an era of young R&B acts that bury their vocals in hazy, gossamer production to the detriment of cohesion, it’s refreshing to hear Blige sticking with what she knows. Mary will never not be Mary, and through the deep-dive into self-empowerment and, as ever, self-discovery, that is this album, she understands her voice is her most effective tool—and her emotion its understudy.”

 

5 May 2017, Slowdive produce ‘Slowdive’ on the Dead Oceans label

     Why it’s surprising: Slowdive haven’t put out a record in 22 years, let alone a self-titled LP

     What we can learn from it: You may not have your style figured out for 30 years

The shoegazey sound of Slowdive began in 1989, a pretty darned long time ago in music terms. They pumped out three well-received, popular mainstream albums in the early nineties. Then they took a sleep akin to Rip Van Winkle’s.

When they woke up in 2016, they still felt warmth in their instruments. They picked them up and began recording their most recent material in 22 frickin’ years. When they’d done, they looked at the new body of work and apparently felt like the songs described the band so well that the collection deserved the honor of being a self-titled album — finally.

And does it deserve that honor?

Pitchfork noted, “The beauty of their crystalline sound is almost hard to believe, every note in its perfect place.”

Thrillist described it thus, “these eight new tracks are simultaneously expansive and the sonic pathfinders’ most direct material to date. Birthed at the band’s talismanic Oxfordshire haunt The Courtyard – ‘It felt like home,’ enthuses guitarist Christian Savill – their diamantine melodies were mixed to a suitably hypnotic sheen at Los Angeles’ famed Sunset Sound facility by Chris Coady (perhaps best known for his work with Beach House, one of countless contemporary acts to have followed in Slowdive’s wake). ‘It’s poppier than I thought it was going to be,’ notes Halstead, who was the primary architect of 1995‘s previous full-length transmission Pygmalion. This time out the group dynamic was all-important. ‘When you’re in a band and you do three records, there’s a continuous flow and a development. For us, that flow re-started with us playing live again and that has continued into the record.'”

 

That’s all for this week, but stay tuned for another great year at the MondoBlog! Happy New Year, creative music geniuses!

 

 

 

 

 

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.