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.”