Today’s blog is the third in a three-part series written by Gary Gray, HowToLicenseYourMusic.com’s Los Angeles based resident producer/engineer. This new blog series was inspired by a recent string of publishing and licensing deals, including a track Gary produced for me which was just accepted for a popular television show. Several of our students and clients, including Eddie Grey, who has studied every course on HowToLicenseYourMusic.com, have seen excellent results. By studying and by applying discipline to his craft based on his studies, Eddie placed over 500 tracks of his own and others for publishing and licensing deals in 2015, and is already on his way to surpassing that for 2016. I had the pleasure of interviewing Eddie for the latest installment of my podcast series, Music, Money & Life, earlier this week. Eddie’s mentor for music production is Gary Gray. Gary personally helped Eddie secure his latest job – Composer of the television show “Born This Way” Season 2, on A&E, which premieres this Tuesday, July 26th, with a viewership of over one million people.
For the last 14 months, Gary has been beta-testing a new curriculum for teaching the basics of Music Production for Licensing with his students from around the world, and the results have been even bigger than expected.
For the first time ever, I will be hosting a LIVE WEBINAR featuring Gary on the subject of Music Production Fundamentals as it relates to licensing. To my knowledge, this is the first time a live webinar has tackled the subject of music production for licensing. We’ve been planning this live webinar for quite some time. Over and over we interact with independent musicians who are trying to overcome barriers to one of the most important aspects of music licensing: PRODUCTION QUALITY. Whether you are new to this scene, or want to up your game, if you are interested in increasing your income through licensing your music, this live webinar is perfect for you. The webinar starts at 10AM Pacific Standard Time (1PM Eastern Standard Time) this coming Monday, the 25th of July. Get your Music Production questions answered directly! In order to secure your spot for the webinar, click on this link: RSVP NOW!
In today’s blog, Gary tackles the number one question he has been asked, and continues to be asked by musicians, producers and engineers as they seek their dream to make a good living by getting their music on TV, in films, in commercials, on video games, and on the radio:
“What Should I Be Listening For While I’m Mixing?”
Over to you Gary. . .
Before I get into the blog, I wanted to share some GOOD NEWS with anyone wanting to succeed in music licensing. I teach a technical subject and it does require persistence and dedication. However - and here’s the GOOD NEWS for anyone involved in music licensing: You don’t have to know much at all to get started. If you can produce a track that sounds good and catches the ear of a publisher or music supervisor, you’re on your way. You can study as you go. You can learn as you earn. Take advantage of Aaron Davison’s incredible website HowToLicenseYourMusic.com. When it comes to your music production, find a teacher, a mentor. It can save you months, even years of rejections and frustration.
Also, you can delegate yourself while you educate yourself. If you have the resources, you can hire a producer or engineer while you learn how to do it yourself. There is no reason to wait until you “know everything” in order to get started. If that were the case, I would still be waiting!! In fact, that was one of the successful strategies employed by Eddie Grey. At the beginning of his studies, he hired me to arrange and produce his tracks. Now, he no longer needs to hire me as a producer, but uses me as a mentor and a teacher to get him up to more advanced stages of composing, arranging, recording, mixing and mastering.
As you read today’s blog which covers several technical points, remember, you don’t have to be a “certified pro” to get going and see some success. Stay hooked up to Aaron (email@example.com). Email me if you have any questions along the way (gary@LearnAudioEngineering.net). We’re a community and our success has been the result of working together to pull each other up.
Ok, now for today’s blog: In the first blog of this series, I covered a technical area of mixing, and dismantled the lie, “Pay extremely close attention and keep your eyes on individual meters and fader levels and ‘headroom’ while mixing or quality will suffer,” and stressed LISTENING to your mix instead of watching your mix so much.
I also pointed out the importance of improving one’s knowledge of music theory as a vital tool in order to create recordings that can compete and win in the marketplace. In case any readers didn’t see part 1, I also included three brilliant resources for improving one’s knowledge of music theory, especially for anyone wanting to crack the lucrative end of music licensing.
Here are those links again for anyone who wants to immediately start improving the quality of their productions:
The Mugglinworks ChordMapMidi App
In the second blog of the series I covered a simple but very important question: “What’s more important when it comes to producing music tracks for licensing – Quantity or Quality?”
I went on to uncover the fact that the question above itself is flawed, and the key to getting at the right answers in any field is to ask the right question -- which led to this question, “How many tracks minimum do I need that are fully produced to industry standards in order to open doors and create momentum for my career?”
The surprising answer was revealed as the result of a recent real life story whereby I personally watched one of the most powerful publishers in Los Angeles, Joe Rangel, CEO of Hitcher Music, audition 12 independent singer/songwriter/producers in his office.
In fact, that’s exactly how Aaron Davison started his career in licensing. And how I did as well.
(Hint: Be able to follow up with at least five or six more within the next several months!)
In today’s blog, we tackle a question I get asked more than any other question while teaching and mentoring songwriters, producers and engineers when it comes to creating music for licensing opportunities:
What Should I Be Listening For While I’m Mixing?”
This subject as well as other key components to producing music for licensing are taken up in great detail in the upcoming course Music Production FundaMENTALs, which will be released on August 1st. In addition to the course itself, a one-on-one private 30 Day Music Production Workshop will be available. Aaron is putting together the details so stay tuned.
This blog is actually an excerpt from that 8-part course, with 10 videos, lots of photos, screenshots, pdf’s, and sample recordings – including mixes, masters and stems for you to mix per the instructions on the course, and reference mixes, masters and stem files of tracks that are license-ready – so that you’ll never again need to ask “What does ‘radio-ready’ quality mean?” Or “How do I get my tracks to sound like they should sound to get licensed?” Or, the subject of today’s blog:
“What Should I Be Listening For While I’m Mixing?”
The course also includes the basics of how to put together a proper home studio from which you can crank out quality productions that increase your chances for landing licensing deals.
Alright, let’s get right into it. “What Should I Be Listening For While I’m Mixing?”
First of all, let’s work backwards from the final product. When submitting music for licensing opportunities that pay well, you will be asked for stem files of your full mix [Definition of Stem Files: Stereo wav files, usually 48kHz Sample Rate and 24 Bit Depth, broken down into various groups of instruments and vocals which, when played together at one time, sound (or should sound) exactly like the full mix.], as well as various “cues” (exact length versions of your mix) such as 2 Minutes, 60 Seconds, 30 Seconds, 15 Seconds and 7 Seconds. NOTE: There are plenty of music licensing opportunities that DON’T require stems or shortened cues, but knowing about them from the beginning helps you develop good mixing habits, as you will see.
Companies that DO require stem files determine their own specifications on what constitutes a full set of Stem Files. Here is an actual list of stem files requested by Megatrax, a company that asked me to produce a 12 song exclusive album for their “Distillery” Series:
The example above is at the upper end of stem file breakdowns – these types of jobs tend to pay quite well. Many jobs which also pay well, won’t necessarily require so many stems. Here is another real-life example from a different company that I’m currently supplying music for, A&E:
The Megatrax licensing deal asked for 11 Stem Files. The A&E licensing deal asked for 4 Stem Files. Quite a difference.
The point is this: When setting up your sessions, be sure to organize your mix in such a way that you can export any needed Stem File easily – including the effects for that Stem File.
So, the first thing to listen for while you’re mixing when it comes to licensing is this: Listen for any send-return effects (such as reverb, delay, parallel compression, etc), that are shared “across stem categories” (something you don’t want). The simple formula to follow is:
Vocal send-return effects should be used only by vocal tracks.
Guitar send-return effects should be used only by guitar tracks.
Drum send-return effects should be used only by drum tracks.
Synth send-return effects should be used only by synth tracks.
Etc, etc, etc.
If you were mixing for your album or EP or single, there would be nothing wrong with having, let’s say, a reverb set up as a send-return effect, and having the vocals, the drums, the guitars and the synths sharing that one reverb effect. But not when it comes to licensing.
Since part of professional sounding mixes often requires one to go in and EQ and/or automate effects, such as the reverb itself, the beautiful thing about setting up your mixes for licensing is that you’ll have even more control on the overall sound of your mix this way. In fact, since I learned how to correctly create stems, I now always mix this way – even for non-licensing related recordings – and the quality of my work has gone way up as a result.
Believe me, if someone wrote a blog like this when I first started out, I would have saved months of rejections (actually at least one year)! That’s why I am so excited to get this information into your hands.
Even though creating 11 Stem Files is more work than creating 4 Stem Files, it’s actually harder sometimes to create 4 Stem Files. Why? Since the industry has no set standard when it comes to Stem Files, there are decisions you’ll have to make that sometimes are so nebulous, you can’t really say that things are black & white. There’s a grey area in there. Example: I had a track that had “special effects” on it – it was automated white noise as part of an EDM texture. But the effect was rhythmic. It almost sounded like percussion. It was for A&E. So I looked at the 4 categories of Stem Files for A&E and thought, “should I include this track in the Perc/Drums Stem File or in the Piano/Synth Stem File? It sounds like a synth sound, yes. But it’s also very rhythmic and sounds a bit like a percussion instrument as well.” I made the decision to place it in the Perc/Drums Stem File because to me, that’s where it fit the best. So don’t feel bad if you are faced with similar decisions to make. Use your best judgement and decide away.
Now, once you’re certain that no stem files are sharing send-return effects between them (such as a Lead Vocal Stem File, where you can hear the drum reverb!) – now it’s time to focus on the next thing to listen for while your mixing: The emotional and musical impact of your tracks as a whole mix, and one element at a time – as compared to reference tracks that were hopefully supplied to you or that you have found on your own from that company’s website.
Comparing your tracks to reference tracks is called A/B’ing (comparing “A” to “B”). There are many details on this subject covered in the upcoming course, but suffice it to say that if you don’t A/B with pertinent reference tracks, you’re pretty much flying blind and your chances of landing consistent licensing deals are quite slim.
Along with A/B’ing your mix to the reference track, you’ll need to go in and listen to the emotional and musical impact of single elements of your track. Every person is different, but I find for myself that if I concentrate on one element at a time while mixing, rather than jumping around in an unorganized fashion, the quality turns out great and I save a lot of time. Example: The EQ and automation of reverb. This is a great example of a very important thing to listen for while you’re mixing.
As an experiment, you can do this immediately to improve your mixes: Go to the aux track or effects track (depending on your DAW) where you have a send-return reverb plug-in set up. Experiment with the EQ of that reverb track itself. Though this isn’t a hard-bound rule, it often works out nicely to cut out the muddy lows and highest frequencies on the reverb send-return tracks. Try to make the adjustments while the entire track is playing back, rather than making the adjustments while solo’ing that track. Otherwise, the solo’d track might sound “awesome” and when you bring the entire mix back in, it could sound “un-awesome” for sure. And for the icing on the cake – try automating the EQ of the reverb, and/or the volume of the reverb, and/or the muting of the reverb, etc. Now you’re using the tools and techniques that can take your mix over the top and increase your chances for success.
By the way, this technique of EQing effects applies also to Insert plug-ins, not just send-return. Some reverb plug-ins have the option to adjust EQ from within the plug-in. I tend to use plug-ins that have that ability. The more you can control your mix, the better you can make it sound. The more you know your tools, the FASTER and more CONSISTENTLY you can control your mix.
Again, the upcoming course Music Production FundaMENTALs covers many details of what to listen for while you’re mixing when it comes to licensing, but the above is an excellent place to start.
And finally, though this might be advanced for some, here’s a sneak peak at one of several efficient ways to create stem files followed by a list of the actual items that should be included in a submission package (this one for A&E). When you are asked for stem files by a company, they will specify exactly what they need. And if not, speak up and ask. Better to ask lots of questions at the beginning (be positive and polite and professional) than to lose the job in the end.
One great thing about knowing about stem files and how to organize your mixes is this: Even if some of this information goes over your head right now, if you review this blog, and if you can, take the course Music Production FundaMENTALs, as you gain more and more experience by mixing on your own, you will be able to establish good habits that will absolutely help you consistently increase your chances for music licensing success!
Hope to see you during Monday’s Webinar. RSVP NOW!
Here’s to Masterpiece Mixes!
21 July 2016
p.s. I have a brand new student from Russia, who signed up for Aaron’s 90 Day Music Licensing Challenge, who just learned how to make stem files. I suggested he put a link to his stem files on his emails going out to music supervisors and publishers, letting them know his stems are available if needed. He did so starting last week. This week he was offered an exclusive 8 song deal from a publisher. Here’s what I told him: “If you show music supervisors and publishers that you are professional, even if they’ve never heard your name before, you are more likely to get a licensing deal. They want to work with positive, professional people.”
Today’s blog is written by HowToLicenseYourMusic.com’s resident producer/engineer Gary Gray from Los Angeles. Gary’s recent successes include 14 of his last 14 submissions being accepted by publishers and supervisors, including an exclusive paid publishing deal with Megatrax, one of the largest and most respected licensing corporations in the U.S. 12 of the 14 tracks have resulted in checks-in-hand already.
In addition, the Music Supervisor for A&E used Gary’s latest submission as an example of music production standards for other composers working for A&E.
Gary and I have also been busy on two projects recently, one, a revolutionary new course on music production which will be released on the 21st of July called Music Production FundaMENTALs, and the other, a collaboration in the studio on several songs which has resulted in our first track already being accepted by the Music Supervisor for A&E. Stay tuned on that front. More good news on the way.
Check out the trailer for our new course below:
Gary took time out of his busy schedule to write the following blog to help anyone starting out with music production -- or anyone wanting to increase their chances for landing licensing deals – by laying out simple, effective actions you can take right now to make your mixes sound better.
Over to you Gary. . .
Thanks Aaron! There are three misleading “facts” (lies) that I run into over and over while teaching, while collaborating with other composers and while shopping music for licensing deals. All three lies deal with music production. These three topics, along with 6 others, are taken up in great detail in the upcoming course Music Production FundaMENTALs, which will be released on the 22nd of July.
It’s an 8-part course, with 10 videos, lots of photos, screenshots, pdf’s, and sample recordings – including mixes, masters and stems for you to mix per the instructions on the course, and reference mixes, masters and stem files of tracks that are license-ready – so that you’ll never again need to ask “What does ‘radio-ready’ quality mean?” Or “what should I listen for when I’m mixing?” Or “How do I get my tracks to sound like they should sound to get licensed?”
Unacceptable music production is the number one reason tracks get rejected and great music production is the number one reason tracks get accepted, so I’ve gone over this curriculum with a fine-toothed comb. Where did I get this information? From music supervisors that I collaborate with in my studio.
This course is the result of 8 years of work and 30 years of research. After watching over 400 tutorials myself during the course of my research, and after spending the last year beta-testing the curriculum on my students, I am very excited about the upcoming release. Anyway, more on that later.
(You can find out more about the course by watching the Trailer Video for the course above)
For now, let’s get into three areas that can help you improve your mixes right now. This blog will deal with number one, and the next two blogs will cover points two and three.
The Truth: Mixing is an Art. An extremely emotional and passionate art which is facilitated by scientific tools. Art by its very nature is exploratory and its procedures are not always predictable or “cookie cutter.” And one gauges the art of Music not with his or her eyes, but with the ears. Watching meters once in a while to side-check things is ok, but mixing by the eye and by numbers can suck the emotion and passion out of a track. Especially when someone has convinced you that it IS important to “keep your eyes on the meters.” If you believe that advice, then anytime you take your eyes off the meters, your confidence will go down. Especially if the advice is from someone you consider an “authority.” You’ll make bad choices with your mix. You won’t be able to hear your mix objectively. You’ll go further and further down the rabbit hole of no sweet spot possible and the point of no return long gone. Your confidence will be transferred from you to a meter, when it belongs 100% inside of you – not in objects and procedures.
The best way to mix is with your eyes off the computer screen or closed!
This is one small example of how mixing is a MENTAL sport – how bad advice can cause a mental block to hearing your mix accurately – hence the title of the course: Music Production FundaMENTALs.
Yes, you should know the Science well. Very well. Those are your tools. The better you know your tools, the harder it is to fool you and suck away your confidence with misleading “facts” (lies) and bad advice.
For example: Did you know that all modern DAWs use a special technology on the individual faders in your mix (floating point technology) which allows you to hit the “red” as much as you want on any individual track WITHOUT any audible distortion? The clipping light on individual tracks does not mean audible clipping. Pretty weird, right? Yes, it’s pretty weird. But totally true.
Now, the best way to manage your mix is to have all of your levels averaging roughly half way up your meters.
But not doing so on your individual tracks won’t necessarily ruin your mix. The one thing you’ve got to listen for (LISTEN – not watch) on individual tracks is this: certain plug-ins, if you hit them too hard with too much volume, or turn up the input volume too high on the plug-in, the plug-in itself might distort. However, when dealing with guitars, certain synths, bass and even vocals, that type of distortion sometimes sounds GREAT in a mix. It’s how many analog recordings in the ‘70s and ‘80’s sounded so good. So, trying to follow advice of paying close attention with your eyes to levels just sabotages the art of mixing. And it’s not even good Science!
The Stereo Buss out is a different animal all together. Red means clipping means audible distortion on that channel. There is no floating point technology on that fader. You can learn more about that by researching the subject, but there’s really no need to if you follow these two simple rules.
Following these simple rules will give you excellent sounding mixes that can be mastered to radio-ready quality:
Trying to get your levels as close to red on the stereo buss out without clipping is a stressful way to mix in the digital domain. That was exactly how you had to mix with analog tape because the tape and machines and outboard gear were so noisy, but, without getting too technical, there was a lot of headroom available above clipping in case anything went into the red back then, so stress levels were low. Now, with digital recording technology, if anything goes into the red on the Stereo Buss Out – chances are it WILL audibly clip (distort) and you don’t want that.
If you follow the simple rule of keeping your Stereo Buss Fader riding an average of half way up the meter (notice I’m not worried about any numbers – there’s no need to get all exact and precise with this) you’ll never be stressed out and therefore you’ll be able to hear your mixes more objectively.
High Confidence, Good Organization and Low Stress equals masterpiece mixes.
Again, mixing is a MENTAL sport. Bad advice or incomplete research can cause you to mix with a lot of stress and confusion. When that happens, it’s hard to get out of the “amateur sounding mixes” mode. I learned this the hard way. I had to research and experiment my way out of it. I discovered that the best “meter” you can pay attention to while mixing, is when you get chills. Now that’s a reliable meter.
Your tools also include music theory (that’s right – it’s a vital tool for mixing – after all you’re mixing MUSIC not just sound). There are two great music theory sites and an app that can help anyone increase the quality of their mixes right now.
NOTE: When you hear someone say that they don’t want to “limit” themselves by learning music theory, tell them this: Music theory is a step by step education on what gives people chills and how to create those chills on a consistent basis. Maybe they’ll change their mind.
Here’s to Masterpiece Mixes!
13 July 2016
Every day we're alive, is the first day of the rest our lives. It’s also one day closer to our inevitable death. I don't meant to alarm you or cause you to panic, but as I'm sure you're already aware, we all have a finite amount of time to do what we want and need to do with our lives. It's all too easy to let days, months, even years fly by without ever really getting a handle on how to "manage time". If we’re not careful, literally, our whole lives can fly by, before we’ve even had a chance to start going after our dreams.
Of course, we can't really manage time. We can't slow it down. We can't change it. All we can really manage is ourselves and how we move through time. If you're content passing through life being a passive observer of the things and events that happen in your life, you probably don't need to worry about "managing time". But if you have goals above and beyond just getting a job, paying bills and surviving, learning to manage your time and yourself more effectively can make a really big difference in how effective you are in life.
In fact, I would go as far as saying that “time management” is the single most important skill to develop in terms of moving forward and reaching your goals as a musician. If you’re disorganized and not managing your time properly, it’s likely that you’re simply not getting enough done in order to achieve the success you truly desire.
If you're pursuing something like a career in music, it's critical that you learn to manage your time more effectively, because chances are a large part of your time, at least in the beginning of your career, is going to be spent doing something not directly related to your career goals (ie. day job, family responsibilities, etc). So it's that much more important that you use whatever free time you have effectively. The better use you make of your time and how you spend it, the quicker you'll move in the direction of your desired goals.
Here are a few methods I've implemented over the last few years that have helped me move forward in business, music and life in general:
1) Define Your Goals - If you're going to get to where you want to be, you need to know where you want to go. This step is critical. The better you can define your long term goals, the easier it will be to break down your goals into more manageable, bite size action steps. Most big goals have a subset of smaller goals and steps that you need to take in order to accomplish your ultimate goal.
It's important to define as precisely as possible what you're trying to accomplish and then break that goal down into smaller steps you can act on, every day. What can you do today and this week that will move you towards your goals? There is almost always something you can do to move in the direction of your goals, but you have to know what your goals are and be very clear in order to get started.
I break my goals down into weekly and daily lists. At the beginning of each week, I write a list of things I want to get done during the week. Then each night, I break down I write a list of things to do the following day.
Here’s what my actual list looks like this week:
Finish “Our Love” – Send Gary Stem Files
Record Jam Videos at Studio on Friday
Start Planning “Home Again” recording session
Write Two new blog posts
Launch New Mentorship Program (Sunday)
Book Dentist apt.
Place Ads In Big City Papers
Update artists on progress
Pay Tax Pmt
Pay Student Loan Payment
Make welcome to 90 day challenge video
Submit music to one new lead a day
Finish scheduling calls for 90 day challenge
Make new licensing contacts
Here’s what my “To Do” list looked like today
Check ascap statement
Calls at 1, 2 & 4
call dentist (3 pm)
Call dance lessons
Touch base with Dave
work on new course
Post new blog
Email dave kusek
Make new music sampler
work on new website
Pm- work on tracks for friday
By breaking my goals down to weekly and daily tasks I can see the big picture of what I’m trying to accomplish each week, as well as the day to day tasks I need to get done to reach my goals. I’m a huge believer in making lists, especially if you’re trying to get done as much as I am. It’s way too easy to get sidetracked and distracted if your time isn’t focused and managed. If I don’t write down specifically what I need to do each day, there’s a good chance I’ll simply forget to do some of the things I need to do.
2) Organize And Track Your Time - Something I've started doing recently that has helped me become much more productive and efficient, is tracking how I spend my time on a daily basis. It's so easy to get sidetracked and de-railed in life and end up spending way too much time on things that aren't really a priority. Sometimes this is just a result of habit. Sometimes it's a lack of awareness. Either way, if you track how you spend your time you'll gain a much clearer picture into why you're getting the results (or lack of results) in your life. You’ll also determine where you need to focus more time and where you need to put less attention.
To a large extent, the life you lead is a result of how you choose to spend your time. Make sure that you're spending your time wisely and investing an adequate amount of time on things that you truly prioritize and bring you results. Don't do this by default. Do this consciously and with intention and you'll get much better results.
3) Have “Creative” Days – Something I’ve started doing recently is setting aside whole days, or large chunks of days, for strictly creative pursuits like songwriting, guitar playing, etc. This has been really helpful for me as I tend to have so much going on business wise, that unless I deliberately force myself to focus on creative endeavors they inevitably get pushed to the back burner. I caught myself unintentionally letting my own songwriting output slide over the last year or so and have forced myself to get back on track. The idea of “creative days” came to me via an interview with Jack Conti, from the band Pomplamoose and the creator of Patreon.
Before implementing this idea, I would normally work during the day and focus on things like music and more creative pursuits at night. This approach works to a certain extent. The only problem is that sometimes by the end of my work day, I’m so burnt out and exhausted that it’s hard to switch gears and get into a truly creative head space. By setting aside specific days to focus only on music, it makes it much easier to get that place, creatively, that I need to get to.
4) Keep Tweaking! - Time management is an ongoing process. You will not master yourself and how you spend your time overnight. The things you want and the things you prioritize will change over time. The more aware you are of what you want and truly desire, the more you can modify how you're spending your time in a way that's aligned with your goals. In my experience, you'll never truly master this process, but with practice you'll gain a greater and greater sense of alignment and clarity and you'll know intuitively when you're on the right track.