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...

Use Your Limitations to be Creative!

I was giving some young students a lesson on music production (more specifically using Logic Pro), and given the studio space's limitations, I had to show them how they can record things with only one microphone. At first upset about the lack of equipment, I thought about how I first started out. All I had was a Zoom H4n portable mic and a student version of Logic and I was able to be creative and craft my own songs, which is what it's all about.

Of course over time I've slowly accumulated gear and it gives me more options - which is good - but it doesn't take away from what I did with less gear. Now that I own a dozen microphones I could be upset that I don't have a 64 channel mixing console or any vintage Neumanns, but I don't worry about it, I use what I have to create the best product I can. Heck, Sufjan Stevens supposedly recorded his (arguably) best albums Michigan and Illinois with a Shure SM 57 and a couple of AKG C1000s (dirt cheap workhorses). They don't sound like the Steely Dan records, but they also doesn't have to because it's Sufjan and it's a different sort of magic. Not better or worse, just different. That's Art!

They say that it's not about what you have, it's how you use it - and this is especially true in the arts. With today's technology, you can do so much with so little. So use what you have to make great stuff. No complaining, just create!

24 Bit and the age of Awesome

When I hear the way music sounds coming out of smartphones, I can't help but ask myself how can it be that in a world with technology has come so far is it possible for developers to allow for such poor results in the audio world?  I was talking to a well known music publishing lawyer the other day and we started talking about some of the issues in the business industry. One thing that I brought up is that I really feel that even Mp3s that are sourced out of 24 bit files sound significantly better to my ears than even WAV files at 16 bit. In Bob Katz's book "Mastering Audio" he briefly mentions the fact that if someone has to convert files to Mp3, she's much better off doing so from 24 bit audio source than 16 bit. The obvious reasoning here is lack of floor noise, which is pretty audible to my ears in 16 bit files even after dithering.

In my mind, there's really no excuse to cut corners anymore, especially considering how affordable hard-drive space is these days. With Neil Young's new Hi-Fi digital music system PONO out and about, let's hope that people start making use of the technology we have for music to sound great. This will improve the value of music in the long run and maybe keep the doors of the industry open.

What do you listen to these days?

A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook: "What do you listen to these days when you have history's discography at your fingertips?" I thought about it for a second and replied: "Good question, existentially speaking." I don't know about the rest of you, but I have been listening to everything these days but at the same time I've been listening to nothing. 

It wasn't that long ago that I would take some of my hard-earned/saved cash to walk into a CD store and purchase an album - of course after many minutes of deliberation over which one to buy. That CD would then spin (or play in my mp3 player) non-stop until I had the record down cold in my brain - all the subtle guitar phrases; the exact drum fills; everything. Those days, of course, are over. Even as a record producer, I myself have basically stopped listening to albums. People listen to singles and even if they're listening to singles, chances are they're watching a music video on YouTube while listening and if not that, then it's blaring off in the background while they work, hardly even noticed. On the one hand, we have access to everything. On the other hand, nothing penetrates. I feel like I'm swimming in an endless sea of music and not a single drop clings to my body for more than an instant. 

I understand that the music industry is evolving and I understand the need for change, but I'm missing that primordial emotional response to music that I once had. I wonder who else is missing this and wants it back. I wonder, how can we shape the music industry together so that people still involve themselves in the music they listen to. If that happened, people would value music again and maybe even be willing to pay for it.