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! 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!

Why are my ears tired?

I was driving to a wedding the other day (a gig, not a friend's, or my own for that matter, which was recently ;)) and my friend (the drummer) decided to put on a new artist who has been getting a lot of hype. We plugged my phone into my car's stereo and loaded up the tracks on Google Play Music and we proceeded to listen. The musicianship was incredible and the sound was huge but somehow we both felt emotionally unmoved by the music. Also another thing happened, our ears hurt.

We live in an age of over-production. Everything sounds big because we have the tools to do so. It seems to me that when mixing in the past people tried to find a balance, whereas today it's all about having everything stand out loud and the amount of compression (aka dynamics processing or limiting) that goes in to doing this can be just downright painful to listen to.

Let me take a quick pause to explain to the layman reader what compression is. In order to control the relative volume of an instrument or a group of instruments, one can use signal processing to contain the output of the signal and lower the decibel level by a certain ratio once the incoming signal passes the threshold. Used properly, compression can help contain audio and even "glue" the music together and can also create a very cool sounding effect. This tool can also be used to make music appear louder to a listener by chopping off the transient peaks and basically squishing the audio. When used too much, we get what is called "hyper-compression" by the industry pros. This method, to many people's great distress, is used all too often these days and you get instances like the story I just relayed to you.

All this makes me think that nobody is going to be listening to the music coming out today in years to come because I find it physically difficult to listen to it now. Let's compare this current music with the open sounding music of 70s (for example). After listening to several tracks off of this artist's record, we put on some old-school Elton John (again using Google Play music streaming), and the sound felt like a warm bed you could sink into. Everything sounded open and round and full. Yes, we had to crank the volume knob a bit more, but who cares? Our ears were happy and so were we.

I think that digital audio can sound great, but I also think that we producers push the limits of what you can do with it too far. Don't get me wrong, I love what compression can do to bring out a vocal or make a snare drum crack, but at a certain point, slamming the tracks too hard makes it very difficult to listen to something for more than a snippet at a time. Who knows, maybe that's why people don't listen to records anymore and we've slipped back to the age of the single? The point is that my ears are tired and I'm tired of them being tired. How about you?