audio

AES 2017 - One Guy's Big Revelation

The famed Telefunken U47 on display at AES 143

The famed Telefunken U47 on display at AES 143

Just the other week I was lucky enough to attend the 2017 AES Convention at the Javits Center in New York. It just so happened to coincide with my cousin Adam's wedding, which brought me into the Empire State for the weekend so I figured what the hell? Maybe I'll meet some of "my people" and try out some expensive gear. 

For those of you who you don't know, AES is the Audio Engineering Society trade show where hundreds of audio companies come to showcase their products to thousands of industry professionals. It's pretty cool. 

The show was definitely a good time, even if I found it to be surprisingly as expected. I spent the day perusing the various booths feeling like a kid in a candy store. I particularly loved being able to pull up to an $8500 Telefunken U47 and try it out on my voice. Let's just say that while it may not be a wise financial decision for a budding music producer, it certainly does do magic to your voice. 

Maybe it was the way that Dave Pensado casually stepped into main hall with zero fanfare (turns out he's really tall!), but I was struck by how normal everybody there was. Okay, maybe "normal" is pushing it for people that are obsessed with audio. Still, even the big names at the Mix With the Masters and Waves booths seemed like the rest of the regular guys to me, happy to be there doing their thing. Despite our various backgrounds and where we might live, we all share that passion for sound and we struggle with similar obstacles. 

This led me to my big revelation: it's not just me! Everybody in this industry seems to be working on their own; handling their projects solo in a room by themselves. I think we all kind of get down about the work that we do because when you work by yourself, you don't have anybody else validating your process. I found this to be uplifting, really. What a sense of relief to find out that maybe I'm not that bad after all! 

I also think that many of us feel like everybody else is judging us from afar. The fact that some people are mean and judgmental (rather than supportive) on the internet forums heightens this insecurity that many of us feel that we're just not as good as the other people who are doing this. Why? Because we don't get to talk to anyone in person anymore and it's easier to troll than to give constructive criticism on the internet. 

Moreover, this trend of flying solo has a tendency to make us approach potential gigs with a sense of scarcity. We spread ourselves thin trying to take on any and all projects on our own - recording, producing mixing, mastering - doing all of it instead of collaborating. No specializing. Jack of all trades, master of none. We've grown to fear working with others lest they steal our nut.

Granted, there's a reason this has happened. The once multi-complex recording facility now fits on your laptop; artists don't stand a chance at generating direct revenue from the product we help them create. It's a tough world no doubt, but it's tougher on your own.

I think it's time as a community that we come together and support each other by meeting in person, talking shop and forging relationships. I think it's time to share our work with our peers so that we can validate the sounds that we hear. I think it's time to have each other's back and fill in the professional gaps that everybody has. We're only human after all. 

I think collaboration will lead to growth in our field and at the very least help us share this journey together. I'm planning on meeting up with other audio professionals in my city and I encourage you to do the same. Let's start a conversation. 

My Biggest Mistake

As you may have noticed, I recently rebranded my business. This time I simply used my name: Ben Wallick, Music Producer. At the time I wanted to sound more professional than "Sonic Itch" and I figured my name was a good place to start. Besides, every project I've worked on in any capacity could help solidify my place in the scene. I may not have realized to what extent this was true at the time but now I believe that this "minor" rebranding was one of the best business decisions I could have made.

For years I had been marketing an affordable recording studio in Jerusalem. I tried as hard as possible to bring people in and to make things sound great but I struggled. Big time. My client list staggered, growing slowly but never generating enough income to pay my bills (luckily the wedding band I was playing in was covering that). I had a business mentor who tried really hard to push me to find more clients and to think of my unique selling proposition (USP) but I just wasn't smart enough - or at least experienced enough - to see through it all. In fact I didn't realize what I was doing wrong until after I had already rebranded my business... 

Things were thankfully on the up and up when it finally did hit me one night while folding laundry (thanks in part to Seth Godin who's excellent work I had been devouring). The idea of marketing a recording studio in Jerusalem in 2017 was a terrible idea. The only studios that can remain open these days are the #1 studios. Even some of the great studios in LA - which has a way bigger and better market than Jerusalem - have shut their doors. They just weren't #1. The chances of being #1 are really slim and trying to make my studio affordable made those chances even smaller. Studios are closing because people can do almost everything a multi-room complex can from the comfort of their own bedroom. Nobody needs another recording studio. They're expensive and the few that still remain are struggling to keep their doors open. It was so obvious to me at that point why my business had been fledgling.

My small production room can accomplish what would have required a multi-room recording complex a decade ago...

My small production room can accomplish what would have required a multi-room recording complex a decade ago...

What I failed to see in all those meetings with my business mentor was that I was trying to market the "studio" when I should have been promoting myself. Jerusalem doesn't need another recording studio but, along with the rest of the world, it does need more innovative music producers and songwriters willing to take risks, go to great lengths for the sake of the song and who understand their clients' wishes and needs. So even if it's impossible to be #1 in the physical space game it's not impossible to be #1 in terms of blending your own mix of creativity, interpersonal skills and understanding of song-craft and musicians' needs.

I was my own unique selling proposition and so are you. The talent and knowledge you bring into the room is what makes you valuable in the music industry. Not the studio you work in or the gear you own or even the Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster you play. 2017 is not the year to open a recording studio but it is the year to be proud of the valuable work you do. So don't sell yourself short. 

The Mental Switch (Approaching the New Music Industry Head On)

I know it's sometimes hard to face the truth, but the facts are that we have more opportunities than ever before. Your mind is holding you back from achieving your dreams in music. The key is to realize this and overcome it! See below...

So you want to be a Music Producer or Audio Engineer? Read This! AKA Some suggestions and links to good resources to help you get started

So you want to be a music producer or an audio engineer, huh? Here's a bit about what I did to get started and hopefully you can apply some of what I did to you're own journey and with a bit of luck and lots of hard work, maybe you'll go somewhere in this crazy industry. 

My main point is you can do it! You just need to be willing to work really hard, be obsessed with audio and always learn. There's enough information on the internet these days and gear is cheap enough for you to go about starting off on your own. That's how I did it. I'm not saying going to sound school won't be helpful, it sure might be, I just don't have any experience with it and I've learned everything on my own at a fraction of the cost (although I've invested years of time, but it takes everyone a while). I've read every book I could find on the subject and have spent hours and hours tweaking mixes, learning my mics and where to place them on different instruments and mostly how to trust my own ears. Everybody has an opinion on how something should sound, but at the end of the day you have to trust yourself and create what you want to hear. 

Before I opened my studio, I had an internship at a studio in Jerusalem. It was definitely helpful and a positive experience, but it wasn't as busy as a studio should be (I guess like most big studios these days) and I found I learned a lot more from my own recordings of my songs at the time. My studio has gone through several changes over the past 5 years starting off in my bedroom, moving into a dedicated room with more microphones (but probably not so acoustically treated) for a couple of years and finally in its current form (mobile ready, dedicated mixing room which is acoustically treated). Throughout the whole time I've been playing bass and am a partner in a wedding band which keeps me in touch with other musicians on a regular basis and keeps my musicality as a musician on a high level.

After I realized how limited I was with Garageband the first thing I bought was a zoom H4n handy mic, Logic Pro academic 8 and a midi keyboard and got to work. The Zoom functioned as both an interface, a microphone and a preamp for all of my recordings - and it wasn't half bad. I learned my DAW ("Digital Audio Workstation" basically any program you use to record and edit audio - e.g. Logic, Pro Tools, Cubase etc.) as I went along getting better at every stage. Which DAW you use doesn't matter as long as you're comfortable with your tools. I've learned new things when the necessity arose - usually based on my clients demands/workflow or what I needed to edit etc. I started with Logic 8, upgraded to 9 when I was forced to. I'm still on 9 although I'd like to upgrade to x, but the truth is it doesn't really affect what I do so much and I don't think that upgrading would change the way my mixes sound especially since I use tools as I need them to build the sounds I'm after more than using tools to sound like the tools they are.

I personally used very few tutorials. I prefer to just mess around with the program till I figure out how to do what I want. That said, if I'm stuck I will watch a video tutorial on youtube that will more clearly demonstrate what I need to do, but usually it's just trial and error until I find what I want. I think trial and error helps you understand audio on a deeper level than if you were to just learn how do something as it's shown to you. That understanding makes you better in the long run.

I'm sure different people reading this have differing degrees of experience and gear. Let me say that probably whatever it is that you have is awesome! My advice would be for starters learn your interface if you have one, I'm sure it's more than good enough for what you need right now (your mic, too). If you don't have one get a starter interface and a basic microphone, nothing out of your price range, and learn that. Also play around with your DAW record stuff so you can tweak it (and remember that getting a good sound at the source - good instrument, right mic placement - is better than having to edit it in the mix). Better gear will come in due time when you have more experience so that you actually understand how it's helping you. I'm pretty utilitarian when it comes to gear and I think it will save you money and headache if you take a similar approach. For now, use what you've got!

I personally found the books by Mixerman to be the most helpful (Despite their silly names). I started with "Zen and the art of mixing," which completely blew and opened my mind to how audio works. However at the time that was his only tutorial book, now he has zen and the art of recording which is probably also a good place to start. Buy both! Buy all of his books! http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=mixerman If you're obsessed with audio they are a pleasure to read. There are other books by other people, but I think Mixerman's books are the easiest to read and pack the most punch. He's very opinionated (especially about things that don't matter yet for where you are in your career e.g. analog summing, outboard gear) but you can ignore his intense opinions (for now!) and listen to the core of what he's saying which are his recording and mixing concepts. I can't describe to you how much that first book opened my eyes. I re-read it a year later and understood way more and even more the 3rd time. Read Read Read!

In addition check out Pensado's Place! Dave Pensado is a pro mixer who's mixed some of the biggest hits of our day and he basically interviews top pros in the field and also does some mixing tutorials, which are pretty cool. Some of the episodes are slow paced but it's quite informative (my friend Hermie watches them at 1.5x speed). You can also check out "the pro audio files," "the recording revolution," "Home studio corner" as well as other online resources. I've even learned a lot from some of Wave's tutorial videos. If you use all these in tandem with your own experimentation you'll be fine and well on your way. 

Good luck!

Watch out! CD Baby has partnered up with Landr bringing instant mastering to the masses and this is bad news

For those of you who don't follow my blog, I already wrote an article about Landr and why it's a potentially dangerous addition to the audio industry. Well things got worse. Late last night I got an email from CD Baby telling me how they've partnered up with Landr to make mastering easier and more accessible/affordable than ever.


This means that anybody who's ever used CD Baby or signed up for their mailing list now know about this service. I've personally lost a lot of respect now for CD Baby. As if 16 bit audio upload requirements wasn't enough (read here), it seems as though the company is almost asking for albums to become a thing of the past by embracing unnecessarily bad sound to be the standard. However, maybe this whole post is moot. Albums are already a thing of the past - therefore making CD Baby mostly irrelevant at this point. Maybe all of this angst is over nothing. Who knows?