Graphic Design Resources for Musicians - These 4 Websites Help Musicians Craft the Unique Images they NEED

I created this pretty quickly on Canva

I created this pretty quickly on Canva

The drummer at the gig I played at last night was lamenting to me that he has to make all these Facebook images for his band. It takes him a disproportionate amount of time to do the work and then it doesn't even look good. I feel for my friend because I was once in his shoes and it really is taxing to work on these images all day if you're a musician. Maybe we wouldn't mind so much if we were graphic designers, but alas, we are not.

It's mind-boggling how much musicians need to do today besides for playing music. As Graham Cochrane says, musicians need to realize that they are a brand, and by being a brand, they have to promote their brand by marketing themselves, paying for their own recordings, booking their own shows, getting people to their concerts etc. etc. I happen to think Graham is on the money. A large part of being your own brand is that you are a content creator. For better or worse, this is the state of the music industry. The colossal music-business infrastructure that many of us grew up with in the 90's has utterly collapsed. Nobody is going to make the graphic for your concert flyers but you.

When I first got started I would make these terrible images with my old Macbook's freeware cartoon maker. Don't ask, that was literally all I had access to that could overlay words above an image. It was super archaic and looked horrible. Luckily there are much better resources available to you online right now. It took me a while to discover them but I sure am happy now that I did because I use them all the time. They are fast, easy to use and my images look awesome (I think so anyways). Here are my 4 key resources - and the best part, you can use all of them totally for free.

  • - This website can do it all. The problem is that it's a bit clunky and difficult for laying over the fonts, especially readjusting their position after you've moved on. I recommend PIXLR for filtering the background image before overlaying the words because you can really go deep on this and craft amazing unique images.
  • - This site is amazing for finding stock images that you can download and use for free. That's pretty much all there is to it. If you already have great images of yourself as an artist or band you might not look here, but it's a great place to find things before getting creative.
  • - This website is great for putting words over images. If you're making a poster or flyer this is probably your best bet. They even have business card templates! I go to Canva a lot when I want to filter the image and write words over it. It's very flexible and you can go deep on your design ideas, however with many options people tend to over-design and then the images start to look amateur. So beware! 
  • ADOBE SPARK - This site is the easiest place to overlay words over images beautifully. You simply plug the words you want to say in and they create a stunning template to work with. You can add your own background image (even search for stock images) and tweak the fonts of what you write, the size and the style. They have this handy wheel that you turn with your mouse that shows you different fonts and styles as you move in either direction. Super intuitive! Because of the way you type things in, it's harder to get distracted and over-do the graphic like in Canva. I hear they even have an iPhone app (I can't personally attest to how good that works since I'm an Android guy)! The only downside with Adobe Spark is that the filtering on the background image is very limited. So If I'm looking for something more complex I can edit the image first on PIXLR or Canva and them import it into Adobe Spark for the words. Thanks to my buddy Rafi for letting me know about this awesome website!

As you can see, all these resources are very powerful. Each have their strengths and weakness but used together in tandem, you can pretty much get wherever you're looking to go within a reasonable amount of time. They might not be strong enough for my sister-in-law the graphic designer but they're strong enough for me. Check 'em out!

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!