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Entries in production (36)
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There is a perceived value both musically for the artist and in terms of marketing to everyone else in the inclusion of a music producer in the creation process. Having a producer essentially represents a vested interest in an artist’s work by an external body, and signals a certain added value to the work they have and plan to create. Whether they state it or not, artists nowadays work with producers because they are perceived as a legitimate and effective way of bringing their careers to the next level, which includes a significant step towards getting signed.
So what does this mean for a producer? It means that
Everyday producers, engineers, songwriters and artists all around the world engage with each other in studios, rehearsal rooms and online in the pursuit of the creation of music.
For many people, the performance of music is for the self and not necessarily for the purposes of earning an income. Their music is more of an innocent exploration of the creative arts, and a chance to do something different for a period of time. However, for a smaller number of songwriters, composers and artists the pursuit of a viable career in music is the ultimate career goal and a full time commitment.
Artists that endeavor to succeed in the music industry inevitably come across the figure of a
This is a continuation of my article on defining your unique position as a modern music producer. Here is some more food for thought:
Like any other global industry, the music industry is essentially its own functioning micro economy. Affected by supply, demand, costs, laws and regulation, the music industry changes its face constantly, based on cultural, financial and societal trends. In recent decades the proliferation of the Internet and mass access to technologies like virtual instruments, sound libraries, and budget recording gear has enabled a much larger number of musically minded people to participate in the music industry.
There is split opinion as to whether this easy access is a positive or negative development, but regardless of this debate, numerically speaking the industry is now hugely saturated. So in a situation like this how do we, not as artists, but as producers go about marketing ourselves in a meaningful and memorable fashion? Here are a few important points to consider:
This is part 2 of a two-part feature on pre-production with new clients. Click here to read part 1.
An important preparatory step that is often overlooked is the practical sequence of tracking on a production. For example, nine times out of ten in commercial music, the vocals are the most important element of the music. If this is the case in your production, then everything needs to work around the vocals. Finding out what the vocalist is most comfortable singing over in studio is a valuable piece of knowledge. Knowing which of your clients is the strongest and most competent performer out of their comfort zone is also important. Take for example
Pre-production in the music world is a massively underused and underestimated process. Music records have been made and broken off of the back of good and bad production sessions. Some might argue that pre-production decides whether a production is going to succeed or not before it has even started. In the same way that tracking content properly at source is always preferable to ‘fixing it later’, planning the content of that very recording is of even more importance and consequence. So how do we as practitioners prepare for the perfect session? Here are some tips that will help you produce efficient and comprehensive productions from start to finish.
Welcome back to part two of string production. This article is a follow on article from part one, so if you haven’t read that, I would suggest reading that first here.
This article will be addressing the low end of the string family, cello and the double bass, as well as taking a look at the psychology of string players, and some considerations for overall string arrangement & production.
Strings are one of the most prevalent families of instruments used in modern commercial music, film game and TV production. Be it their unique tone, their capacity to capture almost any mood or the sonic footprint they leave on any arrangement, strings are a key instrument group that every producer should know how to handle.
This article is the first of two, designed as a overview on how to produce a string recording. What this isn’t is an in depth look at every nuance of stringed instruments. For this, I recommend Samuel Adler’s “The Study of Orchestration.” This first article will share an overview of the higher register string instruments: the violin and the viola, and the characteristics that are most pertinent to be aware of for general recording and mixing purposes. The next article will address the cello and the double bass, and talk about dealing with string players on a social and psychological level in the studio, finishing with some useful production techniques.
The modern music industry is very much modular in nature. We often find ourselves in dynamic, short-term work environments, and for the most part, the nature of what we do radically shifts week in and week out.
While working in a dynamic and constantly evolving environment is part and parcel to the reason a lot of us choose to work in the music industry, it is important for us to figure out the best practice for many of the processes we undertake. When I refer to workflow, however, I am not only referring to the literal Pro Tools / Logic session templates we establish for speed, but also and perhaps more importantly, the mental processes we apply to handle the industry as an individual. Having your sessions clean and concise is useless to you if you are over stretched, over worked and incompetent as a result of dealing with too many projects.
Below are a selection of tips on how to address some of the biggest issues we as producers come up against when trying to manage our affairs:
Writing a song, in many respects, is one of the most honest, raw and inspiring mediums of human expression. Rarely would you find another situation wherein something you create has the potential to not only engage complete strangers, but to affect them on an emotional and psychological level in so many different ways.
The ability to create music is a unique and incredible skill. The ability however, to step back and scrutinize your own artistic expression is something that is lost on many musicians, especially those in the early stages of developing their unique sonic and musical identity. And so we discuss…
Audio practitioners in the music industry can appreciate when I say that half the battle in the production of good records and music is handling the relationship you have with the artist, and the relationship they have within their own ranks.
Making records is never a straightforward, formulaic process. Although there are undoubtedly basic parameters etc. that apply in most contexts, to treat each artist with the same approach from project to project is not really a viable solution. We may find that our approach to handling the motivated, eager and fast paced personality of one artist will intimidate and damage your rapport with an artist of a calmer, more reserved demeanor.
With this in mind, here are some points to consider in handling the dynamic producer-client relationship, especially when starting a new project with someone:
Songwriting is a skill that is born out of the immeasurable and the unquantifiable.
Just like poets and authors, musical content comes from creativity, intuition and inspiration. While this is second nature to many professional writers, to the majority of amateur song writers, songwriting is something that requires practice and focus to hone into a useable skill set.
It is a skill that improves over time, and is certainly not exclusive. While top tier proficiency in songwriting will largely remain with those of natural born musical talent, there are still many tricks someone from a less musically-intuitive background can employ in their production processes to improve and hone their craft.
It is undeniable that working in the music industry now is not only increasingly competitive, but fundamentally different in its structure and workflows.
We might not say it out loud, but this has undoubtedly ruffled the feathers of more audio professionals than we care to count. As much as we deny it, people don’t like change, especially when it threatens the very fabric of our business model. The industry is very much an ‘Adapt or Die’ environment, populated with constantly changing workflows that require not just evolution, but revolution to continue to operate at ‘industry standard’. The recent PTE article about Phils Book and the decline of iconic UK studios is a prime example of this reality.
So, the industry has dramatically evolved, and even though nearly anything is now possible from the confines of a laptop, we often still find ourselves asking the question: “Why is it so hard to find good work?”
Here are a few points to consider about your presentation while managing and sourcing work:
Russ shows another cool trick for getting better sounding drums - the drum buss crush trick.
The evolution of popular culture in the last 10 years has pushed the majority of the music affiliated to it into a realm of creativity that largely stems from the digital and electronic synthesis of sounds.
The sad fact is that due to money constraints, time constraints, the limitations of the home studio environment, and in some ways the influence of popular music trends, more often than not, a producer or songwriter is going to reach for a digital emulation of an instrument, rather than hunt down the real thing, figure out how it works and record it.
It is at this point in time we have to address the elephant in the room: Most people currently making music via their laptop or computer, have probably never recorded or really played the majority of the instruments they are using to make music. Have you personally ever tried ot play a cello? Or a flute? Or an exotic African percussion instrument that Native Instruments gave you for $99? Now what I am not saying is that you are musically ignorant, if you haven’t opened up a piano and looked at the technical design of it and where the sound actually derives from. It is indisputable that knowing the optimal sweet spot to capture the stereo image, if it is correctly tuned, or the tonal difference between an upright, baby grand, grand or concert grand piano is tremendously beneficial information.
This article isn’t about making home studio composers feel inadequate for their choice of tools. (I personally work on a rig on a Mac about 14 hours a day, and utilise sample libraries constantly in conjunction with real instruments.) This article is about challenging what we think we know about the instruments we work with on a daily basis, so that we become better at our trade.
The most prominent example that comes to mind for me is strings. Probably the most widely used orchestral instrument in modern music, strings rear their head in everything from dance music to motown to cinematic cues, yet we constantly hear strings being misused and mixed in a way that is obviously misinformed. Even fairly experienced mixers I’ve listened to, myself included, have made silly mistakes with instruments that we are not that familiar with, and the simple solution is this:
As producers, and recording engineers, we have all most likely experienced that precarious moment in a recording session where a vocalist is simply unable to perform the take you need for a record. We sit there, silently tearing our hair out trying to comprehend why the singer doesn’t realise they are out of time, under-performing their delivery, or suffering from a severe lack of pitch control.
More often than not, the engineer ends up doing dozens of takes, in the hope that something can be cobbled together in a comp, and ultimately the exercise is a waste of time. “But they were amazing in rehearsal… why can’t they do it in the studio?” I hear you cry.
In contrast to other physical instruments, the voice is arguably the most intimate and personal demonstrations of music that human beings can deliver. As those who concentrate on the technical craft of recording, it is easy to forget the fact that 90% of singers have little or no experience of the clinical environment of a studio, and placing them in front of a microphone is more often than not an incredibly alien experience.
What few simple things can we do to counter the unfounded anxiety of a novice singer in the studio? Here are 7 small social/technical tips that might make your sessions a bit easier:
This post is inspired by a number of recent events. The first one is having to go through mixes sent by those new to mixing and finding the most common error is the overuse of parameters. It’s almost as if a compressor is not really working unless it’s squashing the mix to within one inch of its life, or an eq can’t possibly be working on a vocal unless the top end is as harsh as nails. Secondly it was also inspired by my reading a somewhat bizarre post about the dissatisfaction of user testing a plug-in, which seemed to the poster to not be as good as they had hoped. Although to read the post you would have thought the plug-in manufacture had just set fire to his house and thrown puppies into the flames, not simply missed the mark in their ‘humble’opinion.
Spend any time around top producers and engineers and there’s one thing that is a common trait, that is the understatement in much of their work. Our friend, mix guru and all around nice guy Dave Pensado uses a lovely phrase “kissing the needle” which really sums up this philosophy.
Now there are of course exceptions to the rule, for example the Phil Collins drum sound or the crushed synth part in a dance track, this isn’t a treatise against excess and imagination, sometimes the amp on 11 is what is needed.
However, your mixes may not be suffering from a lack of anything, they may be suffering from an overuse of everything. Plug-ins in the wrong mixers hands are like clip-art in the wrong graphic design hands, often used in the absence of substance or experience. My first piece of advice is if in doubt then leave it out.
I want to give you two excellent and very different examples of great production one very loud and one not so loud. Take a listen to AC/DC “Back In Black” - a big album in every way, but listen to how little processing that is apparent on the many tracks, there’s some great use of effects but never to the point of stealing the show, be that the drums, bass, guitar or vocals. Then take a listen to Shawn Colvin “A Few Small Repairs” and again the use of effects and compression is so well executed it’s a lesson in production. Listen to the track ‘Facts About Jimmy” the electric piano, vocals, drums, in fact the entire track. Remember it’s the song and the performance that are the stars of the show not the gear you use, if that’s all that’s apparent in the final mix then I think we have somewhat missed the point.
Sometimes a song needs a big statement, but in my ‘humble’ opinion there are far too many mixes that could do with less NOT more. Discuss…
SynchroArts have a reputation across the industry for creating the best vocal alignment tools - many people have depended on VocAlign for years and more recently Revoice Pro 2 is like VocAlign on steroids. At Messe it featured as part of the Alicia Keys remix session on the Pro Tools 11 demo.
Now Synchroarts have given us a copy of the software for one lucky winner.
Simply complete the form below - you will need to visit their new community site to find the answer to the question ‘When Did Billy Jay Stein First Use VocAlign?’.
It is available in all plug-in formats including AAX and we understand they are currently working on a PC version.
Russ catches up with producer Fab Dupont and talks about his philosophies of music making.
Red light fever is that condition that seems to grip even the most seasoned performer. They can knock a song, guitar part or even interview out of the park without even thinking, then the minute you hit record they go to pieces. Here are my top 5 tips for helping to beat the fever.
- Help Them Relax
The aim of a good record Producer or Video director is to harness the natural talent of the person they are trying to capture. The first cause for red light fever can often be traced back to a Producer or Director ramping up the tension. I know we all have a lot of work to do in a finite amount of time, but often a time set aside at the start of each day just to chat things through and talk about expectations can save hours later on.
- Don’t Tell Them You’re Recording
You’ve seen me say this before, but if you have a red light in your studio disconnect it, or a camera with a red light to show record, cover it up. In my experience some of my best takes were the ‘rehearsals and sound checks. Which leads me to my next one…
- Record Everything
Leave your DAW in record, your camera rolling and you’ll often capture the happy accident in a moment you least expected. It takes time to go through the stuff afterwards to review, but you’ll be surprised what you find on the cutting room floor.
- Be Prepared And Make Sure Your Artist Is Too
If you have to keep retaking because the bass player keeps forgetting the chords to the middle eight, or the vocalist is reading the words that will just ramp up the tension for everyone involved. That goes for the Producer or Director too, the army are right ‘prior preparation prevents piss poor performance’ - make sure you know exactly what you are doing before starting Production, which leads me to the final and most important tip…
- Stay Out Of The Way
I recently shot what was for everyone involved a complex project with a band. I sat down with them after the shoot and they paid the biggest compliment possible ‘we forgot your team were even there’ was their response to our presence. As Producers and Directors our job is to capture great performances from great performers, this is often achieved by staying out of the way, letting them be themselves and simply doing our job of making sure we get it.
So, there are 5 tips, are there any you would like to add?