Music Studies: The Basics of Analogue Recording

 If you, as a producer or artist, want to record something with several musicians at the same time, you will sooner or later have to deal with a music studio. A music studio is especially equipped to provide optimal acoustics for an audio recording. Unlike a home studio, no expense has been spared to record the sound of instruments or singers as properly and consistently as possible. 

A good recording starts at the source. 

It sounds like an open door, but the saying exists for a reason. Singers or instrumentalists need to be warmed up and relaxed in order to perform at their peak level. Instruments, from grand pianos to guitars, must be tuned. Even a drum kit has to be tuned to match the kit with the track. 

Acoustics 

Many studios have asymmetrical walls and ceilings. This is to avoid reflections and build-up of low frequencies. 90 degree angles are often filled with bass traps. The walls also often have special acoustic panels or acoustic treatment to reduce reflections and to get the purest possible sound delivery. Some larger studios have different spots in their studio for either a more lively sound with more reflections, or a dead end, where the sound will be as dry as possible for a clean recording. The placement of the instrument is important for the final sound. 

Microphone Selection and placement 

A good studio has a collection of high-end microphones that the home producer or studio will never have. Large diaphragm microphones, tube mics, ribbon mics. All microphones with their own sound and characters. It’s important to have a good idea of how the track will eventually sound. With the microphone selection you can already steer the instrument in a certain direction. 

Perhaps even more important than the microphone choice is how they are placed. It often helps to stand next to the instrument when the musician is playing on it. Where it sounds best to you, it will also be the same for a microphone. 

Do you move closer for a close mic’d sound, or do you back further away so you can better hear the studio acoustics. 

Patching and signal flow 

Larger studios generally use patch panels. Via these panels you can determine where the recorded signal goes. You can send the signal directly to the console, but you can also choose to use external preamps or outboard gear such as compressors. 

Console 

Before the sound ends up on the studio computer, it has to run through the console. The console has its own effects and control section, from preamps, to gates, compressors and EQs. With the preamp you determine how loud the signal will go into the console in. You can use high quality preamps to color the signal. You do this by turning up the gain so that the preamps will saturate the signal slightly. With the gates, compressors and EQs you can edit the sound before you record it. Often you try to keep the choices subtle, because there is no possibility of going back once recorded. 

And then 

When the track is finally recorded, the actual work on the track has yet to start. You have ensured that the source sound has been transferred to the DAW in the best possible way. It is now up to the producer or mixing engineer to turn it into a track. 

Songwriting – Arranging a pop song

 Good pop songs are easy to listen to and sometimes seem very simple, but nothing could be further from the truth. Writing a good pop song is not that easy. It really is an art to make a song sound ‘easy’. It’s the right combination of lyrics, hooks, and production. 

Text 

Needless to say, well written lyrics are needed to come up with a good pop song, everyone understands that. But how do you write it? First of all, it is important to write in a language that you feel comfortable with. Not knowing what to say is extremely annoying. For example, if you really want to write a French song, but you don’t have a good command of the language yet, you might consider writing the lyrics in your native language first. Once the basics are in place, you can try translating it back to French. 

In addition, it is not a superfluous luxury to avoid clichés. They are things that you have heard too often in songs, if you also start using them, people can quickly get tired of them. So, make sure you are original. Do you have trouble with that? Then read the tips and tricks in the article about ‘Lyrics’. 

Hooks 

Hooks are specific parts of a song that keep haunting the listener’s mind and make them not easily forget the song. Hooks can be different things, lyrical tricks, melodic delights, recognizable rhythms or innovative productions. 

A lyrical hook is sometimes called a ‘tagline’. This is a word or phrase in the chorus that often stands out. It can be repeated throughout the chorus, or just close the chorus at the end. You regularly find that ‘tagline’ as the title of the song. 

Other types of hooks include Phil Collins’ drum solo in ‘In The Air Tonight’ or the piano in Robbie Williams’ ‘Angels’. Hooks don’t necessarily have to be hidden in the lyrics or vocals. 

Production and arrangement 

When writing a (pop) song you must think carefully about the structure. The most used structure is “Verse – Pre – Chorus – Verse 2 – Pre 2 – Chorus 2”, possibly followed by a bridge and a closing chorus. 

Nowadays you don’t hear many intros, and if there is one, it is very short. Experience shows that today’s consumer no longer has the patience to listen to the intro and often skips to the next song if it takes too long. So, make your point quickly. Also often said: ‘don’t bore us, get to the chorus’. 

Music Studies: Your Rights

Once you start working more professionally as a songwriter or producer, it is useful to know what rights there are within the music industry. Much attention is also paid to this at the Wisseloord Academy. It is important to know what you are entitled to and how to register this.

Simply put, music rights can be divided into two types of rights. Copyright and master rights.

Copyright belongs to the author(s) of an original composition. So, if you write a new song on your own, you have 100% right to the copyright of that song. You register this right with a copyright organization, in the Netherlands for example Buma/Stemra or SACEM in France..

Master right belongs to the performing artist(s) and the producer of the song. Performing artist(s) include the main artist of the song and the musicians who have recorded (parts of) the song, such as a guitarist, a drummer, or a pianist. The producer is the party that ensures that the production can be made. In the Netherlands, for example, you register this right at Sena.

Please note that you can have both copyright and master right for a song. This can be the case, for example, if you are the artist and writer of a song yourself.

Music rights can be quite complicated, for example with ‘sampling’. This is using a piece of audio from a previously released song. If you incorporate this into a new song, you can’t just release it without consultation. Always check who the rightful owners of this piece of audio are and contact the relevant parties. They must first give permission before you can use it. This is often accompanied by the (partial) relinquishment of copyright, but this differs per deal. This also applies to ‘remixes’.

If you are offered a publishing or record deal, always check the contract carefully before signing it. That sounds very logical, but many people sign too quickly out of enthusiasm without realizing what they have signed. There are lawyers and independent parties that are specialized in music law. Always be well informed and don’t be afraid to talk to the parties involved about your contract. A collaboration should feel good for both parties.

To read more about Music Studies and how to improve the process of developing, creating and refining recorded music visit our knowledge base page about Music Studies Education.

Music Studies: The Basis of Music Theory

Music theory tells you why music works the way it does. It exposes the structure under your favourite tracks and explains why it does what it does.

Musicians use music theory to communicate with each other about their music so that they can speak the same language with the same words.

To master the basics of music theory, you do not need to have an academic or conservatory degree. You can easily master this yourself by applying the theory to your own practice.

Music theory can be roughly divided into three blocks:

  • Melody: this can be a vocal, but also a guitar solo, or a synth hook
  • Harmony: chords and chord progressions
  • Rhythm: that which makes you dance

The first two are closely intertwined and both have to do with scales:

Scales are fixed sequences of whole and half steps, say the building blocks of a melody. A scale determines the character of a song. You often use them intuitively without realising that they are a scale.

The two most well known scales are the major and minor scales, but there are many others each with their own characteristics.

If you play two notes from a scale at the same time, you will essentially already have a chord. The scale determines the chords you use. Each scale has its own collection of chords.

Rhythm determines the pulse of a track. Without rhythm it is impossible to write a good melody. Like your DAW, music is often broken down into bars. The length of your size is determined by the time signature. This doesn’t say anything about tempo, your BPM does that. It does say something about how the rhythm is divided in your measure. Four-four time (or 4/4) is the most commonly used time signature. But did you know that there is also plenty of music in other time signatures? Even in pop music that happens.

Music theory explains how music is built, but it is never going to create anything new. Music theory determines the rules that you, the artist, can deviate from.

To read more about Music Studies and how to improve the process of developing, creating and refining recorded music visit our knowledge base page about Music Studies Education.

Music Studies: Rhythm

If you want to write memorable melodies, it’s good to know how rhythm works and how to use it in your tracks.

Rhythms can get complicated quickly, but knowing a few basic concepts will get you a long way.

Most music is systematically divided into units of time: measures. These measures follow each other at a predetermined tempo. At least, that’s the theory.

In practice, rhythm is a groove, playing together. It’s how the music moves through time.

Rhythm notation is used to notate the duration of notes and rhythms.

A whole note represents the longest value. It can be divided into half notes, fourths, eighths, sixteenths and so on.

A half note is half the duration of a whole note. A quarter note is half the duration of a half note, an eighth is half of a quarter, and so on and so forth.

These notes can follow each other in any given order to create different rhythms.

Most music has an underlying pulse that indicates the tempo. This pulse can be divided into measures. In Western music, we use a time signature to indicate how this subdivision is made.

The pulse is represented as a fraction. That fraction indicates the number of notes per measure, and in which note the beat count is.

The most common time signature is a 4/4 bar. A 4/4 bar has 4 pulses in a measure, and those pulses are written as quarter notes. A 4/4 bar has 4 quarter notes.

There are of course many more time signatures possible. Think of Taylor Swift’s track Tolerate it: it is written in 5/4, where there are 5 accents in a measure. Or Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters: in 6/8. A 6/8 measure has 6 pulses the length of an eighth note in each measure.

To write contrasting rhythms, it is important to know the difference between weak and strong beats. A 4/4 bar usually has the strong beat on the first and third quarter note. Think about where on a simple beat the kick and snare will be. KICK – hat – SNARE – hat, or ONE – two – THREE – four.

A 3/4 measure has the strong beat only on the first quarter note: ONE – two – three – ONE – two – three.

Every rhythm can be divided into groups of two or three.

By playing with accents before or after strong beats, you create rhythmic contrast and emphasise the backbeat.

It can help enormously to understand how rhythmic structures work. If you don’t understand a rhythm right away, don’t be afraid to grab your hands and simply clap it. Rhythm is physical, just like dancing. You have to feel it, and the more you feel it, the better you get at it.

Music Studies: Publishers

If you want to make a career in music as a songwriter and/or producer, do a lot of sessions and possibly want to write for and with other artists, you may eventually end up working with a publisher. At the Wisseloord Academy Business Classes you will meet many publishers; they will tell you who they are, what their work entails and maybe you can show them some of your music. In this article we will take you briefly into the world of publishers so that you are well prepared for business class!

What does a publisher do?

A music publisher manages the rights of the signed songwriters and producers. This concerns the copyrights and not the master rights. You can read about these rights in the article about ‘Your Rights’.

In short: a publisher arranges sessions and briefings for the songwriter with and for artists who are looking for new music. In addition, this can also concern film or advertising music, for example. As soon as a release comes out of this and it starts to generate royalties, it is up to the publisher to ensure that this is all properly administered. In exchange for this work, the Publisher receives a contractually agreed fixed percentage of the royalty income.

Why sign with a publisher?

Signing with a publisher has several advantages. Publishers often have important connections and capabilities that you don’t. Think of contacts with major labels and artists. If they are looking for new music, they often knock on the door of a publisher, because they have a large network of the best writers. This gives you opportunities to work on new music from big artists.

In addition, another important advantage: the publisher takes over the administrative tasks regarding royalties. Suppose one of your songs has been played a lot on the radio somewhere abroad, then the publisher will ensure that all the money is neatly collected and ends up with the rights holders.

When do you send your music to a publisher?

If your goal is to eventually sign a publishing deal, you need to think carefully about a few points. The most important thing is the first impression you make. Publishers receive tens to hundreds of emails a day from songwriters who want to present their music. Make sure you stand out. Don’t send your music in until you’re sure you’re good enough to compete with the top of the industry. If you send your music too early, you won’t make your best impression. The next time you send an email with new music, you run the risk that they will skip you right away. So be patient and use your chances sparingly.

Before you just send your music to all kinds of publishers, do research. Check carefully whether the type of music you make really suits a certain publisher. If you, as a country artist, send your music to a hip-hop oriented publisher, it comes across as very unprofessional. Firstly, you probably won’t sign there anyway and secondly; there is a lot of talking in this industry. And that’s not good for your image. So be careful here with which publishers you approach.

To read more about Music Studies and how to improve the process of developing, creating and refining recorded music visit our knowledge base page about Music Studies Education.

Music Studies: Making a Record

It all seems so simple when you turn on the new ‘New Music Friday’ playlist on Spotify. Every week and everyday tens, hundreds, thousands of new songs. “That must be easy to do then”, is often thought. That is still somewhat disappointing in practice. There is still a lot of work to do before a new song can hit the airwaves.

Songwriting

It may sound a bit redundant, but of course it starts with songwriting. And while a lot still needs to be done before a song is released, this is the most important step. You can do as much editing and promotion as you want, but if the song isn’t hit quality it won’t work. So, take your time for this. Many artists also write several songs before releasing them so that they can choose the best song.

Production

This isn’t something you necessarily have to do yourself unless you’re a good producer. Think carefully about what you have in mind for the song; what kind of sound should it get? It is important that you approach the right producer to produce your song, you will also hear his own sound.

Will the song be recorded with live band or live elements? Think carefully about this before you choose the musicians.

Mixing and Mastering

Once the production is done and you’re happy with it, the song needs to be mixed and mastered. Mixing is done to ensure that certain annoying frequencies do not take over and you can hear all elements of a production well and clearly. This is done per track of the production, so each element separately, so that it sounds good together.

Mastering is finishing the mix as a whole and ensures that the track gets a constant overall sound. After mastering, a track is ready to be broadcast on radio, TV and streaming services.

Promotion

As soon as your track is ready to be released, the ‘promotion’ part will come in. Today streaming is a very important part of bringing the track to the attention of the public. Make sure you’ve submitted your track to Spotify a few weeks before the release date, so you have time to pitch to the playlist curators.

In addition, you can consider hiring a radio-promotor to pitch your song to the various radio stations.

And of course; make sure you have a good live show ready. Nothing is more annoying than suddenly getting a hit, but not being able to play a show. Be prepared for that!

To read more about Music Studies and how to improve the process of developing, creating and refining recorded music visit our knowledge base page about Music Studies Education.

Music Studies: Labels

Labels will also visit the Wisseloord Academy to talk about their work, an ideal opportunity for you as an artist to put yourself in the spotlight. But what is and does a label actually do?

Labels, also known as record companies, can be divided into two groups. The ‘3 Majors’ and the ‘independent’ labels. The majors are Sony, Universal and Warner. These three parties are the largest record companies in the world and together represent the vast majority of the market share. Independent labels are all other, smaller, labels.

A record company is always looking for new undiscovered talent with which they hope to storm the charts. They offer these talents record deals and then help them release music. They do this, for example, by financing the recording, taking care of the marketing, or managing the distribution of a song.

The advantage of signing with such a record company is that they have a network that you do not have within reach. It is a simple task for them to bring your new single to the attention of the biggest radio DJs in the country, something that an unsigned artist must arrange all by himself. In addition, recording and producing a single, EP or album is very expensive if you want to do it right. A record company can fund that for you, or in part, depending on the deal that was struck.

You will also be assigned an A&R (artist & repertoire) manager when drawing. They help you in every step of the musical developments. They give you feedback on your latest creations, ensure that you can work with the right writers and producers and see which of all the songs is the best to promote to a single.

But if you would like to sign a deal with such a record company, good music alone is not enough. The labels receive countless emails and letters every day from budding artists who are only too eager to become known.

Do not push, if you have not received a response to your submission then you are probably not (yet) interesting enough. Check with yourself, what can I improve? Provide a tight live show, many performances, and releases so that you build up a regular fan base. Acts that already have some traction among a (large) audience are more interesting for a label than throwing themselves into a completely unknown talent. So, take your time, build on your music and your act first. There’s no reason to rush.

To read more about Music Studies and how to improve the process of developing, creating and refining recorded music visit our knowledge base page about Music Studies Education.

Music Studies: Keys and Chords

How do I find the right chords for my melody? Every melody is created in a key, but how do I find that key?

A lot of pop music starts and ends on the tonic. The tonic is the chord that gives you the feeling of ‘home’. It’s a steady chord that immediately tells you: This sounds good and I’m not going anywhere.

In addition to the tonic, sometimes written also written with the Roman numeral I, you also have the dominant and the sub-dominant.

The dominant, written with the number V, can be seen as the opposite of the tonic. The chord is built from the fifth note of the scale (in the scale of A, that would be E: A-B-C-D-E). If you listen carefully to the dominant you will hear that it wants to dissolve to the tonic. This tension between the tonic and the dominant is the basis for harmonic progressions in most music.

The sub dominant, written as the number IV (or sometimes II), is often used to bridge the gap between the tonic and the dominant.

The next step is to determine whether you are in a minor or major key. To put it simply: a minor key sounds sad, a major key sounds happy. However, there are many examples where this is not the case.

A minor key consists of the following tonal distances: whole – half – whole – whole – half – whole – whole

A major key is consists of the following tonal distances: whole – whole – half – whole – whole – whole – half

You immediately notice that both scales have five whole tones and two half tones. That is because they are in essence the same scale, only they start at a different place.

This becomes clear when you play the key of C major on a piano. You use only the white keys. When you play the key of A minor on a piano you will also only use the white keys, but in stead of starting on a C, you will start on the A.

Writing a good melody and a good chord progression has to do with tension and release. A track doesn’t only want to linger on the tonic. It wants to go somewhere to create contrast. A good song varies between the tonic, the dominant and the subdominant and everything in between.

In addition to the well-known minor and major scales, there are many more types of scales. The most well known are:

Pentatonic: From the Greek word penta, meaning five. This ladder has only five notes. Many solos in blues are in a pentatonic scale. An easy-to-play pentatonic scale is all the black keys of the piano.

Musical modes: a mode, just like a minor and major scale, has seven tones and also five whole and two half notes. There are seven modes, each with their own distinct color and sound.

Gypsy scale: common in Eastern European music, has a melancholic and pleading character.

In the end you will usually write a melody intuitively, but having a broader knowledge from scales and harmony might give you that extra push if you’re stuck in a loop!

To read more about Music Studies and how to improve the process of developing, creating and refining recorded music visit our knowledge base page about Music Studies Education.

Music Studies: Intervals

Intervals are an essential part of music theory. They are the building blocks of melodies, harmonies, and chord progressions.

Intervals in music are the distance between two notes. An interval can be played simultaneously, as in a chord, or sequentially, forming a melody.

Intervals can be overwhelming at the beginning. Nevertheless, it is useful to learn them, because they give you a lot of support in the music you make. You will be able to sing melodies faster, you recognise and create chord patterns faster, and it will be easier to come up with harmonies on a vocal.

Each interval tells you how big the distance is between the two notes. The name, or number, comes from how many tonal distances they are apart.

Like chords, intervals have their own characters and sounds. For example, the major third of a major chord sounds happier than the minor third that occurs in a minor chord. Some intervals have no minor or major properties. These intervals (the fourth and the fifth) are then called perfect.

The intervals of a scale in C major are as follows:

 

C                      D                     E                      F                      G                     A                     B                             unison              major second           major third            perfect fourth         perfect fifth major sixth              major seventh

 

The intervals of a scale in A minor are as follows:

 

A                     B                     C                      D                     E                      F                      G                             unison               major second           minor third            perfect fourth         perfect fifth            major sixth                major seventh

 

These tonal distances are diatonic tonal distances – the intervals you in the major of minor scales.
All twelve tonal distances in an octave are called as follows:

Semitone amount  Interval

0                                  Unison

1                                  Minor second

2                                  Major second

3                                  Minor third

4                                  Major third

5                                  Perfect fourth

6                                  Augmented fourth / diminished fifth

7                                  Perfect fifth

8                                  Minor sixth

9                                  Major sixth

10                               Minor seventh

11                               Major seventh

12                               Octave

 

Knowing the intervals can give you a big head start. You can do this simply on the piano, or with online tests.

A well-known, easier trick is to associate the intervals with the first two notes of familiar melodies:

  1. Small second: Jaw’s theme https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lV8i-pSVMaQ
  2. Big second: Happy Birthday
  3. Minor Third: Seven Nation Army – The White Stripes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0J2QdDbelmY
  4. Major Third: When the Saints Go Marching In https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wyLjbMBpGDA
  5. Pure Quarter: Star Wars – The Force Theme https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HcZ9kQ1h-ZY
  6. Augmented fourth/diminished fifth: The Simpson’s Theme https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfVBrpIhH60
  7. Perfect Quint: Can’t Help Falling in Love – Elvis Presley https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vGJTaP6anOU
  8. Minor Sixt: Nothing Compares 2 U – Sinead O’Connor https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NAOKzvL8dgk#t=165s
  9. Major sixth: My Way – Frank Sinatra https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6E2hYDIFDIU#t=6s
  • Small seventh: The Winner takes it all – ABBA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92cwKCU8Z5c#t=127s
  • Major seventh: Take on me – A-Ha https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=djV11Xbc914
  • Octave: Somewhere Over the Rainbow – Wizard of Oz https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSZxmZmBfnU

Intervals are so important in music theory that it might be difficult to progress without any knowledge of them. But once you’ve heard all the examples above, you’re almost halfway there!

To read more about Music Studies and how to improve the process of developing, creating and refining recorded music visit our knowledge base page about Music Studies Education.

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