My musician’s digital tool box for music making and marketing – Part 1

For more information on creating your first song using Band-in-a-Box and RealBand check out my online video course First Song with Band-in-a-Box for Windows

1. Song Writing 

1.1 FAWM - February Album writing Month. .This is a wonderful online environment where songwriters and lyricists from all around the globe get together in a friendly collaborative environment and attempt to write and record an album of 15 songs in the (short) month of February. If your specialty is lyrics, you will find musicians that are willing to collaborate and set your lyrics to music, and vice versa. It really gets the creative juices flowing. As with most things in life, what you put into it (in terms of participating) is what you get out of it. I had a very successful first FAWM in 2016 (even if I say so myself!) which saw the release of my album February which was entirely written (with the help of five collaborators) and recorded in the month of February 2016.
1.2. 50 90 This is the marathon of songwriting. It is in a similar vein to FAWM, except that songwriters attempt to write 50 songs in 90 days. Many of the friendly collaborative folks on FAWM also participate in 50 90. The pace is not as frantic and in truth not many people will achieve all 50 songs. I attempted it this year but did not have the time to fully participate and only managed a handful of songs. 

1.3 Coursera Pat Patterson Song writing course. When I did this course back in 2013 it was free but I think you now have to pay for it. But even at $49.00 I think it will give you a very good kick start if you are new to songwriting and it is well worth the price. 

1.4 Rhymezone  This is the only online rhyming resource that I use. I find the section on “Lyrics and Poetry” especially useful if I am looking for inspiration. 

1.5 Band-in-a-Box. . This is the single most important songwriting tool in my arsenal. There are so many aids for the songwriter in this software that it would take an entire blog post just to write about how I use Band-in-a-Box for songwriting. Suffice it to say that I use the Audio Chord Wizard for inspiration to analyze the key, tempo and chord progressions of well-loved songs, I use the demo songs extensively, as well as the melody generator. The style picking wizard is also a great place to generate a basic outline if you know what sort of sound you are looking for. The User Showcase is a great place to share your creations and get feedback. 
This software has single-handedly changed my life as a musician and I cannot praise the software or the company enough. 

2. Recording 

2.1 Samson Meteor USB microphone. Some of you may know that I am a bit of a cheap skate when it comes to hardware (I am not too sure why that does not apply to software but anyway). Since I am only recording vocals I use a very simple recording setup. I have this Samson Meteor USB microphone that I plug directly into my work laptop (It is a Dell Latitude E7440). I mount the microphone on a stand and use a pop filter. It seems to record good clean tracks and that is all I really want. The rest of the processing is done inside the box

2.2 RealBand. Okay so I am also a bit of cheap skate when it comes to DAWs but I have not yet found a reason to switch from RealBand. The advantages of being able to generate harmonies and real tracks on the fly far outweigh the disadvantages. I do know that this is a contentious topic and many readers are literally married to their DAWs and will not hesitate to tell me I am wrong. Anyway, I record straight into Realband. I also use it to generate harmonies from my lead vocals. I then learn the harmonies and record those. I wrote a blog post about this process a while back.
3. Mixing 

3.1 RealBand All of my mixing is done inside RealBand. I use mainly standard PG Music plugins and switch between using my studio monitors and my headphones, depending on the situation. I sometimes mix while I am travelling and then I use my Apple ear buds (I know at least a few people are going to be horrified) for a first pass at the arrangement and mix. I tend to do the traditional “arrangement” and “mixing” steps concurrently, generating additional realtracks and harmonies on the fly. 

3.2 Melodyne. This is a piece of software that I defiantly was not a cheap skate about. I bought the full multi-track version of the software that you just about have to take out a second mortgage to pay for BUT it has been worth every penny spent, especially if you are bent on producing songs with multi-layered vocals. Not only can you fine tune the pitch but you can line all the various vocal tracks in a few simple steps. Okay, they are not so simple but once you have the knack it is infinitely easier that sitting for hours and hours in the studio trying to sing all the “esses” in perfect timing in true Bee Gees style.
Another thing that I use Melodyne for is to generate a MIDI file from a vocal. I have to admit that I am not great at programming MIDI and I am also not such a proficient musician that I can play and record MIDI. I can, however sing. So if I want an instrument or string swell to follow the melody line of a song, I simply export the vocal line to a MIDI file and import that back into the mix. 

3.3 Ozone. Yes yes, know Ozone is more of a mastering tool but I do occasionally use it for mixing too.  I figured they definitely know more about how to EQ drums than I do so I will often export a track and apply one of the Ozone presets and import it back into the mix. 

3.4 Dimension Pro.  I use Dimension Pro to generate the sounds for all my midi tracks. I was introduced to Dimension Pro by Mario DeLaura from the PG Music forum who is undoubtedly the MIDI Master in that community.

3.5 Dueling Mixes. If you are serious about getting your mixes to sound professional then you really should consider joining Dueling Mixes. Once a month Graham and Joe provide a set of raw tracks and you are encouraged to have a go at mixing them. They each produce their own mixes of the song and members vote for which one is better. They also produce a video on how they went about mixing the song and have live coaching call (in the middle of the night!). I was a member for a few months but cancelled my membership when found I was not getting to the monthly mixes. I would love to rejoin Dueling Mixes at some stage when I have more time (as if that is every going to happen!) 

4. Mastering 

I am the first to admit that I am not a mastering engineer. It would be wonderful to have another set of ears listen to my music and tweak it before it is released. The reality is that if I am releasing three albums a year, the mastering alone would cost in the region of $2000. It would take me a mighty long time to recoup that from the tuppence that Spotify pays in streaming royalties. It would definitely put me off ever releasing anything. So, I master my own albums and tracks. I have had one album professionally mastered so I can use that as a reference. I am constantly only the lookout for ways to improve my mastering process. I often master a track through LANDR and compare it to my own mastered tracks and believe I have come pretty close to what they produce. 

4.1 Audacity I use Audacity for mastering my tracks. It is free and I have not come across any reason to change. Enough said! 

4.2 Ozone  Floyd Jane from the PG Music forum put me onto Ozone. I usually use one of the presets as a first pass for mastering. The presets I like most are the Country Basic and the Country POP. 

4.3 TT DR Offline Meter. I was introduced to this tool by Kevin Emmrich from the PG Music forum. It is very basic but does the job of analyzing the levels inside your mastered tracks. I aim for a dynamic range of 10, a peak of -0.3 and RMS of -11.5 

4.4 Switch Sound File Converter. I sometimes use this tool for converting from wav files to MP3 files, in bulk. You just have to be a little careful as it can mess with your carefully constructed levels, especially if you use the “normalize” feature. 

4.4 MP3 Tag. . This is the final step in the process and is a step I so often see artists neglect. This is crazy because this step takes only a few seconds and with the speed that MP3s can travel around the web-is-phere it is a good idea to label your MP3s properly before they leave your computer. If somebody hears a track they like they can at least find out who sings it! Include all the information you can about the track and include the track artwork. You will thank me, I promise. 

That concludes the first part of this blog post. Next month I will be discussing all my digital tools for music marketing. Any comments, compliments or complaints are always appreciated.

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