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A Little Free Advise for Independent CD

musicmick 23 Sep 12 - 01:15 PM
GUEST,matt milton 23 Sep 12 - 01:20 PM
GUEST,matt milton 23 Sep 12 - 01:26 PM
musicmick 23 Sep 12 - 01:39 PM
GUEST,sturgeon 23 Sep 12 - 01:53 PM
musicmick 23 Sep 12 - 02:15 PM
GUEST,999 23 Sep 12 - 02:52 PM
GUEST,sturgeon 23 Sep 12 - 02:57 PM
GUEST,999 23 Sep 12 - 03:15 PM
GUEST,matt milton 23 Sep 12 - 03:32 PM
musicmick 23 Sep 12 - 03:32 PM
GUEST 23 Sep 12 - 04:12 PM
Acorn4 23 Sep 12 - 04:21 PM
musicmick 23 Sep 12 - 06:33 PM
Tootler 23 Sep 12 - 07:48 PM
musicmick 23 Sep 12 - 08:28 PM
GUEST,matt milton 24 Sep 12 - 03:27 AM
Will Fly 24 Sep 12 - 04:28 AM
GUEST,Blandiver / Sedayne 24 Sep 12 - 05:50 AM
GUEST,matt milton 24 Sep 12 - 09:12 AM
Will Fly 24 Sep 12 - 09:22 AM
musicmick 24 Sep 12 - 09:50 AM
GUEST,matt milton 24 Sep 12 - 10:01 AM
GUEST,matt milton 24 Sep 12 - 10:02 AM
GUEST,Blandiver 24 Sep 12 - 10:13 AM
Acorn4 24 Sep 12 - 11:48 AM
Howard Jones 24 Sep 12 - 12:07 PM
Acorn4 24 Sep 12 - 12:25 PM
GUEST,punkfolkrocker 24 Sep 12 - 12:55 PM
DebC 24 Sep 12 - 01:39 PM
Phil Cooper 24 Sep 12 - 04:07 PM
musicmick 24 Sep 12 - 04:36 PM
Spleen Cringe 25 Sep 12 - 06:39 AM
Will Fly 25 Sep 12 - 07:26 AM
Spleen Cringe 25 Sep 12 - 07:41 AM
GUEST,Chris B (Born Again Scouser) 25 Sep 12 - 08:29 AM
Charley Noble 25 Sep 12 - 08:31 AM
Will Fly 25 Sep 12 - 08:39 AM
Judy Dyble 25 Sep 12 - 08:49 AM
treewind 25 Sep 12 - 09:30 AM
GUEST,Chris B (Born Again Scouser) 25 Sep 12 - 09:34 AM
Will Fly 25 Sep 12 - 09:48 AM
Spleen Cringe 25 Sep 12 - 09:53 AM
Will Fly 25 Sep 12 - 09:56 AM
musicmick 25 Sep 12 - 10:42 AM
Spleen Cringe 25 Sep 12 - 11:05 AM
musicmick 25 Sep 12 - 11:10 AM
Spleen Cringe 25 Sep 12 - 11:24 AM
GUEST,Blandiver 25 Sep 12 - 11:28 AM
treewind 26 Sep 12 - 04:43 AM
greg stephens 26 Sep 12 - 05:01 AM
GUEST,Chris B (Born Again Scouser) 26 Sep 12 - 06:55 AM
musicmick 26 Sep 12 - 09:21 AM
GUEST,Blandiver 26 Sep 12 - 10:22 AM
treewind 26 Sep 12 - 02:12 PM
GloriaJ 26 Sep 12 - 06:30 PM
GUEST,matt milton 27 Sep 12 - 04:28 AM
GUEST,Phil B 27 Sep 12 - 10:01 AM
musicmick 27 Sep 12 - 10:28 AM
treewind 27 Sep 12 - 12:40 PM
GUEST,Blandiver 27 Sep 12 - 12:51 PM
GUEST,matt milton 27 Sep 12 - 01:09 PM
GloriaJ 27 Sep 12 - 05:00 PM
GUEST,punkfolkrocker 27 Sep 12 - 05:15 PM
GUEST,Blandiver 27 Sep 12 - 05:26 PM
Seamus Kennedy 27 Sep 12 - 10:05 PM
musicmick 28 Sep 12 - 12:22 AM
GUEST,999 28 Sep 12 - 02:27 AM
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Subject: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: musicmick
Date: 23 Sep 12 - 01:15 PM

I have been reviewing Folk CDs for twenty years and I am appaled at the lack of quality production that turns potentially good product into unlistenable pap. I suppose the ease, and relatively low cost, of independant production is the main cause of this epidemic of misguided ego projection. In the old days, record labels provided jurying and oversight, free from the subjective blindness of the artist. No label would have released some of the CDs I have heard. Half of them would never have been made and half would never have been released in their slipshod state. I can't help those whose recordings are beyond help but, for the rest of you, here are some ideas to consider before you invest your time, your dreams and your hard earned cash.
1. If you possably can, use a professional engineer in a real studio and let him do do the voodoo that he do so well. Think of it as taking out insurance.
2. Get a producer and make sure that he is objective. Friends and relatives are grand for celebration or solace but not so good for detatched judgement.
3. Never, and I mean NEVER be the final vote. If you can't find a real producer, ask a stranger and do what he says. He may be wrong but, at least, he will be brutally honest and, if you can't impress a stranger, how do you expect to impress a buying market?
4. Avoid "live performance" recording. Good recordings have been made outside the studio but they are expensive and tricky. It is true that a live performance has a verve and magic that can't be captured in a studio but, without expert engineering and costly eqipment, you are unlikely to reproduce that magic.
5. Understand that there is a world of difference between a performance and a recording. Without the intimacy and immediacy of performance, a recording must rely on a level of technical excellence that will withstand the rigors of repitition. Even Pete Seeger's recordings are shallow versions of his concerts and, if it's true for Pete, it's true for the rest of us.

If you guys have any specific questions, I will be glad to offer tips.
Good luck to everyone.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: GUEST,matt milton
Date: 23 Sep 12 - 01:20 PM

To play devil's advocate, I've been listening to the album by Stephanie Hladowski and C. Joynes rather a lot recently. In terms of production it's pretty lo-fi. I'd be very surprised if it were a studio recording. But it hasn't stopped it getting (so far) rave reviews.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: GUEST,matt milton
Date: 23 Sep 12 - 01:26 PM

...and, in contrast, I've heard home-recorded folk albums recently by The Raven and by this board's very own Rapunzel & Sedayne which sounded like recording-studio audio fidelity to my ears.

If you take the trouble of sound-treating your recording room, then it's a moot point whether you're in a studio or at home.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: musicmick
Date: 23 Sep 12 - 01:39 PM

Matt,

If wishes were horses than beggars would never leave show biz. The differences between a professionally produced product and home brew are stark. Improvement in the field of recording equipment and the availability of home based studios have widened the gap, not narrowed it. It is true that the dirth of retail outlets has changed the market and obliterated the advantage that labels had, in regard to distribution and marketing. With most sales resulting from personal appearence and downloads, CD sales are more a result of touring, concertising and packaging and less of publicity, play and payola.
But, to a reviewer, who must base his opinion on what he hears, not what he sees, sound and crispness are coins of the realm.
Can a quality recording be made by an artist in his basement? Sure, but I wouldn't bet the ranch on his chances and betting the ranch is just what he is doing.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: GUEST,sturgeon
Date: 23 Sep 12 - 01:53 PM

Clearly, musicmick's never heard of Aphex Twin!


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: musicmick
Date: 23 Sep 12 - 02:15 PM

No, I have not heard of the Aphex twin. For all I know, it is another kind of Siamese twin, fraternal twin or, for the baseball minded, Minnesota Twin. What I have heard is a slew of poorly recorded efforts that cost their investers time and money. It is to those unfortunate souls, that I address my suggestions.
There is a hell of a lot more to recording than the eqipment used. There is the ear, the experience and the expertise of a professional engineer and vetted producer. Reviewers have the advantage (or disadvantage, if you will) of having heard thousands of recordings, some "pro" and some "am" and, to a man, they will tell you that the "pro" usually has the better product.
I understand that many artists release CDs for reasons other than hoped for stardom. Often the releases are mid-life birthday presents to themselves and the sight of a jacket with their names emblazened is reward enough. But even the least ambitious would enjoy a encouraging review and, dare I say, some sales to defray their costs.
I started my column to give publicity to independant products that don't have the juice or bucks to publicise their efforts. That is still my aim.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: GUEST,999
Date: 23 Sep 12 - 02:52 PM

It's a good aim, Mick.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: GUEST,sturgeon
Date: 23 Sep 12 - 02:57 PM

I wouldn't trust the reviews of anyone who's incapable of spelling 'independent', 'equipment', 'emblazoned' or 'dearth' correctly.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: GUEST,999
Date: 23 Sep 12 - 03:15 PM

Mick pointed out the need for a good engineer and producer.

The engineer will hear mistakes that cannot be corrected in the final mix and make a call on the spot of whether to start again, keep going and then redo the offending stanza or know it is correctable in the final mix and let it go until later.

Part of a producer's job is to ensure that the mixture of songs is good and then decide the order of songs/pieces on the CD. The recording artist should be in on both mixing and mastering sessions. With no offense meant to anyone, it's your decision as a recording artist to yea or nay a given track or tracks. If your producer is not on board with your wishes, get another producer. Opinions are free as is advice. But at the end of the day the product will have your name on it in big letters, and the producer and engineer's will be on it in small letters. It's your reputation on the line, and because it is, you will have some hard decisions to make. Make 'em.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: GUEST,matt milton
Date: 23 Sep 12 - 03:32 PM

last time I was in a recording studio though, the engineer simply wasn't up to the job: nice enough bloke, but I got the distinct impression he was just placing mics in default places, and, well, I ended up with results that didn't sound hugely different to my horrible boxy-sounding home recordings.

I would agree with you about the importance of a producer, only I can think of plenty of albums that everyone else seems to absolutely love and give rave reviews to which I think are really over-produced. Or under produced.

I mean, really, how many independant folk releases today have a producer these days? 9 times out of 10 it's down to the musician. Whether they're good or bad seems to have very little to do with whether or not they had a producer, or whether or not they were recorded in a studio.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: musicmick
Date: 23 Sep 12 - 03:32 PM

I guess I won't be getting any CDs from Sturgeon soon. My spelling is not as bad as my punctuation. Fortunately, my editor is more skilled in those areas.
I have been in the recording business for almost fifty years. I worked at Associated Studios, in NYC, as everything from gofer to gaffer to sideman to "artist". In Tel Aviv, I worked for Martef Productions and the Habima. In Philadelphia, I played on hundreds of sessions, at the Kennedy studio, and spent far too many hours as a producer. I admit that I was payed for all my efforts, so I do not share the financial burdons that so many others must bear but that doesn't stop me from sympathy and empathy. My own CD, "Legacy" on the Range label, was favorably received enough for the label to invite a second album.
I, sincerely, hope that Sturgeon has had similar success.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: GUEST
Date: 23 Sep 12 - 04:12 PM

'paid'


but we are mudcatters and we do it our way

and because the purse dictates

and we are not all ego seekers

but thanks for your observations

now

soff


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: Acorn4
Date: 23 Sep 12 - 04:21 PM

I take the halfway house of recording at home then getting the mixing and mastering done by a pro. Cuts the cost quite a bit in terms of time but you end up with something reasonable if not top notch.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: musicmick
Date: 23 Sep 12 - 06:33 PM

I don't mind bleats from the cheap seats. There is nothing more pathetic than a loser rationalizing his "bad luck". My column is for those, looking to succede and, until they do, eager for tips to swuccess. May I request that those of you, who are cynical and resentful of outside advise, haunt some thread that more meets with their approval.
I have been a folksinger all my life and I have enjoyed it, immensely.
I hope to encourage others to continue spreading the songs of cultures that live, today, only in the songs. My message is that a decent living can be made in trad. Lord knows, there aare many who have earned their bread in the field. Here, in Philadelphia, I know a dozen full time folksingers and that doesn't even include the many who serve the Irish community.
I have shared my information and contacts with anyone who requests them. It is an attitude I picked up when I lived in Dublin in the late 60s. Everyone at O'Donaghue's was so supportive to an American interloper and I have never forgotten that.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: Tootler
Date: 23 Sep 12 - 07:48 PM

I can see from your posts that you seem quite genuine in offering advice and help to enable people produce better CDs. However I do think that the tone of your first post was such as to put peoples' backs up and clearly it did which is a pity as you clearly have a lot of experience and are attempting to pass it on.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: musicmick
Date: 23 Sep 12 - 08:28 PM

I took a look at that first post. If I pontificated, shame on me.
As I never pan a CD, in print, and as I was careful not to identify poorly produced recordings, I felt Ok about my comments. If I put some folks backs up, I am sorry.
But the message remains clear. Just because one can do something doesn't mean that one should. The field of songwriting is a good example of the bad driving out the good. Songwriting is easy but good songwriting, like every other art, takes special talent and time to develop. Not every songwriter is a W.S. Gilbert or a Cyril Tawney. The really good ones are few and far between but, because self recording is so easy and inexpensive, anyone can claim genius and muddy the waters for those truly gifted souls. Art is unfair and incredibly undemocratic. The most undeserving curs may be blessed with talent and the very finest folks may be cursed with mediocrity.
It is left to the critic, burdoned as he is with bias and intellectual limitation, to glean the wheat from the chaff. My fear is that inferior production may be clouding the picture painted by the really talented. Under the old system, the best of the writers and artists were signed by labels and professionally produced and presented. Now, with labels in decline, we have lost their jurying function and support and, as a resault, we have asthetic chaos.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: GUEST,matt milton
Date: 24 Sep 12 - 03:27 AM

"Under the old system, the best of the writers and artists were signed by labels and professionally produced and presented. Now, with labels in decline, we have lost their jurying function and support and, as a resault, we have asthetic chaos."

well if that's how you found it to be, then I would conclude your taste is very different to mine.

I've never been particularly hung up on sound quality. And, as far as folk in the UK goes, I've generally found that the music put out by record labels was never a guarantee that I'd like their music.

You're forgetting that record labels are not motivated by the desire to put out good music, but by the desire to put out a product that sells. This tends to be more true the bigger the label (i.e. smaller independent labels, and indeed self-releases, tend to be less concerned with locating potential big-selling acts than putting out music they love.)

Actually Mick, I'd be genuinely interested to hear what you think of this music here:
http://www.boweavilrecordings.com/weavil_49.html

You can listen to 4 tracks from it on that link. I cite it as an example, because I don't think anyone could claim it's not a lo-fi recording. It hasn't had any input into its music bar the two musicians concerned. Do you think it's a good album? (I do, and I know I'm not alone in that.)


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: Will Fly
Date: 24 Sep 12 - 04:28 AM

Mick, I would say "thanks" for the advice - it was obviously sincerely written as a useful guide from the heart, by someone who has been in the business a long time, and I recognise that.

I would only add, from my own perspective of someone who's been in several recording studios over the past 45 years, and also done my own serious home recording for around 12 years, that the experience has been very mixed (no pun intended!). I've had some lousy experiences with the finished product in some professional and quite expensive studios - and, unfortunately, I was 'just' one of the musicians in the band so didn't have much say in the process other than playing when told to. Other experiences were better.

All recording I do now I have complete control over - for better or for worse - and, yes, I do test the work in progress on other musicians for their opinions. Some of the things I've recorded I look back on and think, "Mmm... could've done better there... and there." Others I'm proud of and think the sound is just what I wanted.

I think there's a difference in attitude these days, one where manufactured 'product', with all the production values and processes you talk about is perhaps not now what some musicians want. They might prefer directness, simplicity, their own expression and, of course, cheapness! Given the comparatively low sale numbers that even the most respectable folk performers can achieve these days, the outlay for professional production can mean that the outlay is not recovered. Given that environment, you can't blame people on a limited budget doing their own thing.

Anyway, I'll put my money where my mouth is and ask you to listen to the double-tracked guitar duet (tenor and 6-string) on my website's front page. I don't think it's too bad (and the CD has sold quite well), but you'll obviously bring a different ear to it!

The New Century Hornpipe


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: GUEST,Blandiver / Sedayne
Date: 24 Sep 12 - 05:50 AM

this board's very own Rapunzel & Sedayne which sounded like recording-studio audio fidelity to my ears.

We record everything live - no dubs or multitracking - which keeps the resonance buoyant. The ideal would be to use one microphone too, like they used to in old country / bluegrass (and several groups still do today) but, after a lot of trial & error, we now use 4 Behringer B1 large diaphragm condensers for both voices and instruments. Inexpensive, but excellent. We record using a Zoom R24 which is one of the best 24 track recording machines money can buy at very affordable price. I suppose the philosophy here is one of kitting out a home-studio for the same price as a couple of days in a professional one - and by keeping things simple & following basic rules then the results can be okay.

But note: Nothing can ever match a proper studio. But then I've heard pro-studio recordings in which you're painfully aware of the degree of intimidation placed on the performers by the studio itself - which can be a little daunting, especially if they're paying with their hard earned cash. I used to play percussion with a medieval band where we really blew in sessions & gigs, but once we got in a studio the playing became so muted & introspective I couldn't get into it at all.

I'm a huge Bill Leader fan - if I could ever get the sort of sound he got on (say) Roger Nicholson's Times & Traditions for Dulcimer I'd be one happy bunny. Bright Phoebus is one of the most perfect sound folk albums of all time - certainly folk rock. The stuff of rare genius. But then my favourite folk record is Percy Grainger's recording of William Taylor singing Brigg Fair back in 1903. I think a lot of Louis Armstrong's Hot 5s / 7s were done using wax cylinders too.

*

So much for recording: Mixing / editing / production and mastering are crucial too, of course.

I always mix from the R24 onto a Zoom H4 - this is my own quirk I suppose. The only digital medium I trust implicitly is the humble SD card - or the less humble SDHC. I like to mix onto SD, then import onto my working drives (Seagates) for mastering. People talk a lot about Audacity here, but my beast of choice has always been Soundcloud, even in its most basic format which costs around £30 or so, and I'll even use the very unfolky Ableton Live for mastering / compression as well.

Remember lap-top users, even PC users, to get your kit up to speed soundwise you need an audio interface / sound-card. I do all our editing on a very old & basic laptop (so old the keyboard packed in years ago necessitating an external one!) using a very basic audio interface indeed - the ever dependable Behinger UCA222, which costs around £30. You can pay more - a lot more - but this does the job beautifully. I often use this for recording directly onto the lap top & the results are beautiful.

*

Whilst it's very rare I'll add anything to a Rapunzel & Sedayne song, we did do this a while back - an old song of Rachel's from 1989n or so revisited in 2011, on which I dubbed an electric fuzz bass and a few vinyl pops and crackles to give it that authentic wistful 1969 7" bedsit feel...

http://soundcloud.com/rapunzel-and-sedayne/rapunzel-2011-1969-7-mix


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: GUEST,matt milton
Date: 24 Sep 12 - 09:12 AM

Thanks for the info! I always think your recordings sound very clear and clean and natural (but not antiseptically so; still a good amount of warmth in there too).

Do you have a treated room, by the way? (foam blocks, sheets, duvets etc)

The thing that most depresses me about recordings I've made at home is that they just sound murky and boxy, no matter whether I've used a £20 microphone or a £1500 microphone. It's just the room I have (low ceiling etc). Nothing you can really do about that, I'm reliably informed, other than strategically treat it with anti-reflection foam and stuff. Which my other half wouldn't countenance, and I can't say I blame her...


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: Will Fly
Date: 24 Sep 12 - 09:22 AM

Matt, I would say that, if you're recording acoustic instruments, the first thing to think about - other than the quality of the gear, of course - is mic placement. It's worth spending some time testing out various distances and directions before committing to a recording. I record in different ways, depending on the end result required. Quite often I'll record 1 acoustic guitar with 3 mics simultaneously, - all placed in particular positions dependent on the instrument being used - and then mix down to the sound I want.

I used to use reverb quite a bit in my first experimentations - now I don't use it at all for anything. EQ, on the other hand, can be a very useful tool to give some contour to the finished sound. Just my experience over the years...


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: musicmick
Date: 24 Sep 12 - 09:50 AM

With the exeption of a recent Oscar winner, silent movies tend to be less acceptable, to the buying public, than talkies. True cinema lovers may still revere them but even classics like "Birth of a Nation" and "The Gold Rush" have lost their popular appeal.
Classic recordings are reissued with enhanced sound and fidelity because, without those "improvements", 2012 sales would be disappointing.
Until I retired, I did not have the luxury of recording, or performing, for art's sake. Thus, my views are skewed by experience.
I assume, that an artist makes a recording to make money or, at least, to not lose money. Those performers, who sing for their suppers, soon learn the hard facts of what can be a hard life. Recording for purely artistic reasons is not unlike performing for "exposure". (The late blues singer, Dave Van Ronk, said, "Exposure is what a folksinger dies from while sleeping in doorways.")
I do not deny that many, if not most, CDs are released for reasons that are not commercially based. I salute them but I can't serve them.
My column serves the needs of artists who measure their success in units sold. This does not mean that they have gone the way of all Rock. Trad has a limited audience, for sure, but that doean't justify further limiting by less than the best recording process, possible.
The CDs I reccomend must pass the gauntlet of my ear and my point of view. As a review is a dandy introduction to a new market, I would think that an artist, with a product to sell, would keep that in mind.
I listen to every submission and, fortunately, I receive enough good ones to never have to print a negative review. This thread is my only mention of the less than satisfactory ones I hear. I offer it to serve the admirable artists who put their money where their mouths are.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: GUEST,matt milton
Date: 24 Sep 12 - 10:01 AM

I've placed mics everywhere. Different types of mic in every possible position. Yes, it does make an appreciable difference to the sound of, say, a guitar (eg a mic placed directly in front of the soundhole sounds very boomy, to the right near the bridge sounds a bit more mid-rangey, to the left pointing at the 12th fret generally sounds the most balanced).

But the overall insurmountable sound remains the same, a kind of boxy muddiness. It might not sound too terrible on its own, but the second you compare it to any CD in your collection (or even the majority of home-recordings on soundcloud/bandcamp etc) it sounds pretty terrible.

In fact (for a limited time only folks!) you can actually hear me trying a microphone in different places, both strumming and fingerpicking, on my Maccaferri guitar.
And also different vocal mic'ing positions too (above head, directly on, slightly below chin facing up). This is cos it's an obscure mic and I'm trying to sell it, figured I'd give any potential punters a (very, very, very rough) approximation of what it could sound like in a decent room.

can be heard here: KVG Aardvark microphone test on guitar & vocal (Let the Mermaids Flirt With Me)


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: GUEST,matt milton
Date: 24 Sep 12 - 10:02 AM

interesting you mention Dave Van Ronk - quite a few recordings of his wouldn't cut your mustard. Lo-fi and live.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: GUEST,Blandiver
Date: 24 Sep 12 - 10:13 AM

Do you have a treated room, by the way? (foam blocks, sheets, duvets etc)

It's a tall room (I can't touch the ceiling & I'm over 6') - no treatments as such but there's lots of bookshelves, curtains, hangings & rugs.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: Acorn4
Date: 24 Sep 12 - 11:48 AM

This is a review of one of my CDs in "Music Maker:-

"Whatever this guy is on, I want some! Dave
Taylor's album(his third) is about as manic as it
gets and extremely funny, to boot. Forget the
less than perfect sound quality, this guy is up
there with giants like Peter Sellars, Spike
Milligan, Tommy Cooper and, on the other side
of the coin, Derek Brimstone and a few other
off-the-wall creative talents from the folk club
days of the late 1960s and '70s . This certainly won't appeal to all
tastes but I, for one, love what he does and
give this a genuine thumbs up. Loonytunes are
alive and well. Thanks, Dave, for making me
laugh."

Point being, it's the content that's the most important thing. However, the point was brought home to me when one of the tracks was issued on a compilation, and it seemed a lot quieter and not to project as well as the other tracks which presumably were professionally done. Hence the decision to go for pro mixing/mastering - especially on tracks involving a lot of instruments.

Sorry if this seems a bit like self promo but just to illustrate the point - I think there's evidence for both defence and prosecution here.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: Howard Jones
Date: 24 Sep 12 - 12:07 PM

If you're having to listen to a large number of CDs critically then it's unsurprising that the quality of the sound production is important to you. I wonder whether it is so important to the majority of those who buy CDs. Just as a trained palate will pick out the nuances in a fine wine which the average drinker misses, trained ears will hear things which the average listener doesn't notice.

From the days when Hi-fi was the thing to strive for, most people today seem to be content to listen to MP3s on poor-quality earbuds, often in noisy environments such as trains. Of course there is the argument that the original recording needs to be even higher quality to survive in such an environment, but I am talking about the listener's experience. Furthermore, I suspect that the folk audience is more interested in the quality of the music and is prepared to tolerate imperfections in the sound if the music itself is worthwhile.

If you are considering only those artists who measure themselves by the number of units sold this is only the tip of a very large iceberg. The folk music scene, certainly here in the UK, is now very different. Low-cost recording has allowed people to listen to a much greater range of music, including many very competent musicians who are not sufficiently widely known to get a record deal and who would never be heard outside their local area if we were still reliant on labels. It's true that it also allows a lot of dross to be released, but that's a small price to pay. The audio quality is sometimes poor but is usually good enough to satisfy all but the most demanding listener.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: Acorn4
Date: 24 Sep 12 - 12:25 PM

In the late seventies, when hi-fi was developing to a high degree of sophistication, a colleague I worked with was telling me about his new stereo system. He'd gone out and bought a recording of steam trains so he could listen to his system over its full dynamic range.

To most of us, I think, the music is the important thing.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: GUEST,punkfolkrocker
Date: 24 Sep 12 - 12:55 PM

Last time I was with a band in a local 'budget' recording studio,
the songs was recorded live plus overdubs through a vintage mixer onto 16 track tape.

At the end of the sessions I was horrified to witness the analog multitracks
being mixed down to a 2 track 'state of the art modern' Mini Disc master
from which all CDs would be reproduced !!!!

Technologically clueless Band leader/singer saw no problem as it was his money paying for the recording,
and the studio owner had convinced him Mini Disc was the most marvelous 21st Century digital media.....

I gave up trying to argue...

Later that night a promo CD was premiered at a party on a massive loud home Hi Fi;
and to be perfectly honest, it didn't sound that bad considering the lossy mastering ???


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: DebC
Date: 24 Sep 12 - 01:39 PM

I admit that I have quickly read and skimmed this thread so I may be repeating something others have said.

But as I have stated in other threads (I think it was one on mastering) so much depends on what your goals are as an artist. If this is your career and you depend on this recording to help you further it, then MusicMick's advice should be followed, no matter how awkwardly he put it.

It really does all boil down to your goals as to which path you follow when doing recording project. For myself, music is my career and I will hire the professionals to do the things I am not equipped to do.

BTW-I did hire a producer for my 3rd CD and it was the best decision I ever made for my career and was worth every single cent that was spent on the project.

Deb Cowan


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: Phil Cooper
Date: 24 Sep 12 - 04:07 PM

I agree with MusicMick and Deb Cowan. It pays to have a set of good ears concentrating on recording.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: musicmick
Date: 24 Sep 12 - 04:36 PM

Thanks for the sane respomses, even those in disagreement.
Dave Van Ronk recorded for Ken Goldstein at Prestige, using the best equipment available at the time. He was a savvy businessman, when it came to his career, even though his politics were so radical, he got tossed from a Trotskyite splinter group. (I kid because he waas a friend)
The whole record buying scene has changed dramaticly. With the death of outlets, like Tower Records, most sales, today, are at performances, where CDs are sold to a market, predisposed to like the product. Thus, the natural advantage that labels had, in distribution, is no longer in place. The function of reviews, in the eyes of the artist, are publicity and introduction into unfamiliar markets. If the reviewer is unimpressed, their will be no introduction and, as a result, no sales. It doesn't much matter what you mat think of the qualifications of the reviewer. To the artist, the reviewer is free advertising and free entree. I, for one, am glad to provide both.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: Spleen Cringe
Date: 25 Sep 12 - 06:39 AM

Some of the releases on my label have been recorded in studios, some have been recorded at home, some have been recorded in random interesting acoustic spaces. The key, regardless of the environment, seems to be the use of quality mikes, good mike placement, someone involved in the process who has magic ears and who knows how to use the equipment (whether it is a band member with these skills or a sound engineer). Great care at the mixing and mastering stages also help.

I'm not convinced most people would be able to identify the circumstances of the recording of the albums I've put out on my label with a massive degree of accuracy. But I do think without the intervention of someone with decent ears and recording/mixing skills things won't be as good as they could be.

I also know there are plenty of albums out there that have been professionally recorded and produced that I can't listen to more than a few minutes of without reaching for the off switch. I'm talking about the sound not the content - they probably tick all Mick's boxes, but they sound horrible and overproduced and soulless. Give me a lo-fi recording like the C Joynes & Stephanie Hladowski album Matt cites any day. Or the early Bert Jansch albums that Bill Leader recorded in his home - Bill's ears played a far more important role than all the state of the art studio wizardry in the world. Or Bright Phoebus - again cited above - which was recorded in a temporary studio space set up in the bowels of Cecil Sharp House. The list goes on.

I also think that we live in the beginning of the post-music-industry era, where:

1) access to decent mikes and recording equipment and the opportunity to learn how to use them effectively is not beyond the reach of ordinary people;

2) there is an all out assault on the old models of how the biz works at least in part fuelled by the explosion of piracy and the massive shift in assumptions about how music is consumed and what it is worth;

3) many talented people are making excellent music that is not all about pandering to commercial considerations, record industry priorities or the primacy of hitmaking (or whatever the equivalent is in minority genres) - combining music making with the day job is increasingly the norm. Amateur does not necessarily mean inferior anymore.

The world of the big business model of creating music and the expectation that those working in minority genres emulate that model is increasingly looking like the dinosaur in the room. I don't entirely know what the answer is, but I think self-releases, cottage industry labels, fan-funded releases, low-level, widespread co-operation and the end of showbiz assumptions has to be part of it.

In my humble opinion as the honcho of a part-time, spare-room record, cottage industry record label (with a slew of critically acclaimed releases) of course.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: Will Fly
Date: 25 Sep 12 - 07:26 AM

Well said, Nigel. I'm not doubting the efficacy of a good production man as outlined in Mick's original post, but I would say that the tone of the post implies that there is a distinctive gap between the 'professionals' and the 'amateurs' which can't be bridged. It's as though, being amateurs, we can't hope to compete - but the world of the 'amateur' in many artistic and scientific fields, is filled with an amazing range of talents and abilities from poor to brilliant.

I have several of Bill Leader's recordings and they're a joy to listen to. Furthermore, one of my all-time favourite albums is of a young Snooks Eaglin, recorded on the back porch of the house of a New Orleans doctor, on a simple reel-to-reel recorder - birds tweeting in the background - wonderful stuff! And another favourite is "Billy Pigg, the Border Minstrel" - which consists entirely of amateur and very simple live recordings in various venues at various times. I appreciate that, if these were to be recorded today, the sound would probably be far superior, but they're still marvels.

Anyway, as Phil Spector's lapel badge once said - "Back to mono!" (I jest, of course).


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: Spleen Cringe
Date: 25 Sep 12 - 07:41 AM

This is for you, Will...


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: GUEST,Chris B (Born Again Scouser)
Date: 25 Sep 12 - 08:29 AM

Interesting discussion. I'm pretty much with musicmick on most of the salient points.

A couple of years ago a friend invited me to accompany me on a CD he was planning of (mainly) music he had composed over a period of 20 years or so. He'd done his homework and found a studio and engineer in Scotland he was happy with. We did most of the recording in the space of a week and then went back to do a few overdubs and mastering.

We simply couldn't have gotten such good results in our own houses on a laptop. The engineer, besides knowing his kit, had a terrific musical sensibility and was - and this was a huge bonus - a brilliant sound editor. He didn't try and 'produce' the album but we both listened very carefully to his views and learnt very quickly to trust his judgement. The upshot was an album we were both proud of and which got universally favourable reviews.

This is what you pay for - musicians have enough to do with their own performances without trying to be George Martin as well. I've done some home recording (which I'm not very good at) on a Boss Micro BR and it never sounds that good because I can't just relax and focus on the performance. Why put yourself under that pressure unnecessarily?

The accessibility of cheap kit means that vanity publishing (with regard to CDs) is probably easier to do than ever. Most folk artists sell CDs at gigs and if you have a good gig you'll probably sell a few CDs. However if the CD is a crap home-produced mess the poor punter isn't going to know till they get home by which time the artist who's sold it to them is away with their money. Folkies being folkies, it's not hard to get away with but do you want to be that sort of artist?

Mick's right about the past role of labels. When a label was paying for studio time, an engineer, pressing, artwork and so on you had hurdles to jump before they would make that sort of investment. Now those hurdles aren't there and almost anyone can enter the market. Which means that there's lot of shit out there.

I was, until recently, a member of a band that had a few clips on Youtube that someone had recorded at a club gig. Some of the clips came to the attention of a very well-known and well-respected Irish musician and producer. He contacted me through Facebook and said he's be interested in talking about producing us. No pressure, no obligation, but I was delighted and excited that someone who clearly knew his own stuff was at least interested in ours. If nothing else, it's flattering.

I was very disappointed, then, that when I told the band we'd had that message most of them were very negative about it and one person in particular was determined that if we did a recording we should produce it ourselves. I made many of the same point Mick makes but nothing doing. Needless to say, 18 months on they're no nearer to getting a CD out than they were then and I have to wonder what it'll sound like when they do. It might not be terrible but it certainly won't be as good as it could be.

Later, we had an opportunity to record with a professional engineer who gave us a good price and even had a couple of spare dates in his diary as he was in between jobs. He'd done live sound for us on the Youtube clips so we knew he had a good ear. Again, nothing doing and another wasted opportunity.

It's a pity when that happens because so many bands, particularly, only ever get round to making one or two CDs. This is true especially if they're semi-pro, because they need to balance building up and rehearsing repertoire with jobs and families and because they probably aren't doing enough gigs (for the same reason) to save up the money to pay for recording easily. So when you do record you need to make it count and not waste time and money in the studio arguing about arrangements or whether a part needs doing again. Much better to pay someone to make those decisions happen.

What eventually tends to happen, of course, if you say 'we don't need a producer' is that you tend to end up with one anyway - usually the person in the band with the loudest voice, the biggest stubborn streak, or the greatest propensity to sulk if they don't get their own way. And invariably that's the last person who should be doing it.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: Charley Noble
Date: 25 Sep 12 - 08:31 AM

"A Little Free Advise for Independent CD" or "A Little Free Advice for Independent CD"?

No charge for proofing thread titles.

Charley Noble


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: Will Fly
Date: 25 Sep 12 - 08:39 AM

Thanks Nigel!


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: Judy Dyble
Date: 25 Sep 12 - 08:49 AM

Well said, Chris B (Born again Scouser) You absolutely need a pair of independent ears to listen and suggest. Most musicians can't hear beyond their own performance on a track, even though they might think they are being detached and that definitely colours whether they think the track is good, bad or indifferent. And you're right in that it is very hard to concentrate on playing well if you are also trying to make sure levels, volume and etc are all as they should be.

There is nothing worse than listening to a piece of music further on down the line and hearing forever the bit that makes you wince..:-)


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: treewind
Date: 25 Sep 12 - 09:30 AM

Hmmm...
Mary and I recorded A Baker's Dozen at home, and while I was initially nervous about releasing a self produced CD (fears of reviews saying stuff like "recorded at home and sounds like it!") I've been very relieved to get some favourable comments (1) on a forum where the focus was not on traditional (or any other kind of) folk music but on the production software for anything (hip hop/punk/rock/classical/ambient, you name it) and (2) a regional folk magazine review that called it "well produced" as well as several other reviews that have had nothing bad to say about the sound quality or production.

I know there are things wrong with it (there always are) but either I've been very lucky or most people don't judge recordings by such high technical standards as Mike does.

I do sympathise with the view that cheap equipment has made the production of recordings accessible to people who really haven't a clue how to do it properly. The same thing happened with DTP 15 years ago.

I guess I've learned a lot from others; I read everything on the rec.audio.pro newsgroup for many years, and we recorded 4 albums at WildGoose studios during which time I learned a huge amount from Doug Bailey. I'd done a few other home recording projects before.

The most important items of equipment in my studio are:
- a well treated room - though as it's really a conservatory it does sometimes suffer from external noise and serious recordings can't be done if it's raining hard, but there's a lot of bass trapping and general sound absorption to get the room sound right (not completely dead, but reasonably unresonant)
- some proper mics. A pair of Schoeps MK41's means if it doesn't sound right I know it's my fault and not the mic, and the others include KM184s, an EV RE20, a couple of AKG bluelines and a Rode NT2A.
- A pair of HHB Circle 5 speakers. Their clean midrange is perfect for mixing our kind of music.
- A 24 bit digital recording workstation. Doesn't make so much difference: what goes in is what comes out. If you must know it's AV Linux with some plugins from LinuxDSP

A copy of our album is already on its way to Mike. I'll be interested to see if he has anything good to say about it...


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: GUEST,Chris B (Born Again Scouser)
Date: 25 Sep 12 - 09:34 AM

Thanks for that, Judy. Always a pleasure, madam.

I don't want to dismiss what Spleen Cringe or Will Fly are saying, either. There have been some classic recordings made in the most informal, rough-and-ready circumstances. We all know that.

However, one important element here is the role of the label - all those old field recordings came out on labels that made a conscious editorial choice as to what was worth releasing and what wasn't. Nowadays, with box sets and anthologies, it's possible for everything a musician ever recorded to be made available for release. That doesn't always mean it's a good idea.

There's also a difference, I think, between a CD an artist wants to sell at gigs and, for instance, a field recording such as the 'Cape Breton Tradtion Volume 1' fiddle album that John Shaw and Tony Engle produced for Topic in the 70s. One is a part of a particular artist's business, the other is, if you like, source material and a resource for study as much a piece of entertainment. The two aren't mutually exclusive, of course, but to some extent different criteria apply.

Michelle Shocked's 'Texas Campfire Tapes' is a good example of a great album recorded very informally - but apparently she was only vaguely aware she was being taped and wasn't best pleased when Pete Lawrence released the album!


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: Will Fly
Date: 25 Sep 12 - 09:48 AM

I suppose my personal experiences have coloured the way I think about recording my music. With perhaps one or two exceptions, for most of the times I've worked in a studio the results were never what I wanted. I never really got the sound I wanted - and a part of that was down to my own inexperience at being in a studio and relying very much on the men behind the desks. Ultimately, I was nearly always dissatisfied. Which was why, about 12 years or so ago, I decided to start doing my own recording. And, yes, it was a steep learning curve, with lots of experimentation, trial and error and plenty of false starts and mistakes but - other than the initial outlay for equipment - the only cost was to my time.

I take Judy's point - and it's a good one: Most musicians can't hear beyond their own performance on a track, even though they might think they are being detached and that definitely colours whether they think the track is good, bad or indifferent.

My initial paragraph perhaps suggests that I'm a single-minded megalomaniac who's impervious to criticism and deaf to suggestions - not so! I am, however, fairly single-minded in some respects in that I knew the particular sound that I wanted, which took me a long time to get to. And, therefore, whether my recordings are "good, bad or indifferent" to other people, they're the sounds I want, for better or worse. They're still not always perfect to my ears - but then neither were all the efforts in the recording studios.

The experience of playing for over 45 years, solo and with other people in duos, trios and bigger bands, and being involved in a fair number of recording sessions - has helped me to know what I don't want. I would just add that finding a studio producer who can be guaranteed to give the results required, in a reasonably accessible location, at the right cost and with the right availability, can be an extremely difficult task for an impoverished musician. Sometimes another route has to be sought.

In my early days as a musician (in the 1960s), the road to 'success' was lined with interesting people such as talent scouts, A&R men, producers, engineers, record company executives, marketing men, lawyers with interesting contracts and others. The end result, for many people that I knew was a lot of playing and recording for very little profit when the cake was cut so many ways. Being an awkward sod, I got off that road as soon as I was able. Many of my friends didn't, and most of those - some of them outstanding musicians - ended no further along that road many years later.

These days, there are ways and opportunities for everyone to do their own thing without such paraphernalia. And Mick and Chris B and Judy are absolutely right in that many, many people doing just that will make mistakes and be crap! But some won't,


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: Spleen Cringe
Date: 25 Sep 12 - 09:53 AM

"If you guys have any specific questions, I will be glad to offer tips."

Thank you for that, Mick. It occurs to me that it would be useful to have some context though, to see where you're coming from. Would you mind posting a short list of recent folk albums you think cut the mustard in terms of the standards you are looking for?

I'd also be interested in what you think of this recording.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: Will Fly
Date: 25 Sep 12 - 09:56 AM

I was also about to ask Mick to give us a list of tracks he thinks particularly fine - perhaps with his criteria. If you can spare the time, Mick, I'd also be very interested.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: musicmick
Date: 25 Sep 12 - 10:42 AM

Treewind's album will be welcomed in my bin.

Whether one's recording sounds great to the artist, his friends or his audience is not the topic under discussion. When one submits a CD for review, the only thing that matters is the opinion of the reviewer, unfair asthat may be. No reviewer is all knowing, certainly not this one. But my ear and my experience in the business are my tools, so I calls 'em as I hears 'em.
The main reason for using a professional engineer and producer is having decisions made by someone other than the artist. Even if the artist is a successful producer, obectivity is clouded by ego. The silliest thing, to me, is submitting a CD and wanting constructive criticism in return. The time t seek constructive criticism is before the final mix, not after the release. If I could offer just one suggestion, it would be to have the recording prereviewed by someone with no need to consider the feelings of the artist (a professional recording engineer or producer comes to mind)and listen to what he has to say. Believe me, it will save money and time and your chances of releasing a gem will be enhanced. Their is no magic path to recording success but objective decision making is the best first step. Sure, studios tend to have the best equipment but it is their ears that are their most important assets.
I am glad that so many Mudcatters have sent me CDs and I am gladder that I have been able to introduce the best of them to my readers.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: Spleen Cringe
Date: 25 Sep 12 - 11:05 AM

"ears"

That's the key point. Not the location or the record label or anything else...


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: musicmick
Date: 25 Sep 12 - 11:10 AM

Ears and objectivity.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: Spleen Cringe
Date: 25 Sep 12 - 11:24 AM

Agreed.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: GUEST,Blandiver
Date: 25 Sep 12 - 11:28 AM

Oh I don't know - a little subjectivity goes a long way. That's another reason I prefer to record in my own space - because I've seldom met soundmen & producers whose work or musical understanding I actually respect. I've known dozens who I do respect and they're the guys I've listened to & watched very carefully over the years and thanked the heavens our paths have crossed.

Here's an old session I was involved in back in 1985. You can hear my out of tune stoned viola. But man what a sound. What a studio - as I recall it was in a freezing squat in Fenham...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yEyscI9qqP4&feature=relmfu


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: treewind
Date: 26 Sep 12 - 04:43 AM

"The silliest thing, to me, is submitting a CD and wanting constructive criticism in return. The time t seek constructive criticism is before the final mix, not after the release."

Next time I'd like to find a good mastering engineer to do exactly this, mostly for what I could learn from the experience. Not one that just feeds it through a Waves L2 and hands me the bill, but one who listens and gives advice, and who I can watch and hear at work.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: greg stephens
Date: 26 Sep 12 - 05:01 AM

musicmick's advice is I am sure well-meant, friendly and supportive, and worth listening to. Having said that, I've cast my mind back to the last few albums I have actually listened to with enjoyment. Listening is something I tend to do in the kitchen when on my own, cooking or washing up. And the stuff I have put on in the last week was mostly recorded in New Oreleans and other parts of the USA in the 1920's, and also field recordings of British Isles musicians mostly made in the 50's. The equipment, and the production values, would score about 1 on a scale of 1-100 by modern standards. But the records suit me fine, I listen to performers, not product.
In fairness to muswicmick's advice though, the stuff I listen to sells in hundreds. The records that sell in millions have very high production values!


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: GUEST,Chris B (Born Again Scouser)
Date: 26 Sep 12 - 06:55 AM

That's a perfectly good point, Greg. All I would say, though, is that with the recordings you're talking about someone other than the artist would have been taking care of the actual recording process, whether with a hand-held mic into a portable tape machine or some other sort of equipment.

Alan Lomax didn't turn up with a tape recorder and expect the people he was recording to operate it themselves. He did the technical stuff and let them pay attention to the performance.

Plus one of the reasons why those old recordings have stood the test of time is that the person making the recording made a decision to record that artist (and then publish the results) rather than the artist deciding to make their own CD in the shed. These guys knew what they were doing.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: musicmick
Date: 26 Sep 12 - 09:21 AM

For whatever reasons a recording is made (commercial, historical, academic, personal), it is submitted for review in hopes of increasing sales. For all the reverence we give critics like Agee, Shaw and Kerr, independant recording projects need encouragement, not disection. A favorable review may not assure success but, like chicken soup, it couldn't hurt.
Of course, field recordings are judged by a laxer standard of sound fidelity and performence. Any folk music writer with an ounce of awareness treats John Lomax differently from Moe Asch.
The travails of the independant artist/producer are travailish enough without being denied an avenue of public praise and everyone enjoys recognition. If I can help people attain that recognition, hooray for me and hooray for you, too.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: GUEST,Blandiver
Date: 26 Sep 12 - 10:22 AM

Betting the ranch, eh? As long as he's not buying the farm then I guess things is cool.

I know hundreds of musicians for whom recording is an integral part of the process of making music. This has been the case for the past 35 years in the realms of electronica & experimental musics, where the Concrète Ethos is central to the Caper. In folk things is a little different, where performance remains the ideal & recordings are secondary to that. We seldom of hear of the reclusive folk singer who is only heard via his / her Soundcloud page & limited edition CD-R releases. Folk Concrète? We live in hope.

As a reviewer myself my parameters of what is acceptable in terms of sound & product are set pretty wide. The only thing that irks me is when Folkies are eager to sell you their CD which is, in fact, a CD-R. Don't get me wrong, I love CD-Rs & they've been an essential part of the music scene this past 15 years or so, but they're not CDs. It was better in the old days when the CD-R had that lovely Toilet Duck Blue colour to them.

Yeah things is confusing, but things is just the way they are. Once again I fear the tendancy here is towards over prescription when it comes to what ought to be as oppose to what is. What is is always better, I find. Whatever works for you is always best. Grab your Zoom H2s and go find yourselves a nice resonant space - be it country church or city underpass. Delight in the Joy of Sound and the Sound of Joy.

Whatever, it's always the EARS that hear it. Maybe it's time certain reviewers got the cotton buds out and faced basic realities?

Here's Kevin Conneff singing The Green Fields of America in Frank Zappa's concrete echo chamber. The recording was a favourite of Zappa's and was played at his funeral.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BD89a9xkMGk


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: treewind
Date: 26 Sep 12 - 02:12 PM

"It was better in the old days when the CD-R had that lovely Toilet Duck Blue colour to them"
The only reliably good CDRs are made by Taiyo Yuden and are still that colour.

"Here's Kevin Conneff singing The Green Fields of America in Frank Zappa's concrete echo chamber"

There's nothing like a good acoustic reverberant space for making a nice recording like that, but it has to be a big space. If all you have is a typical house room, the sound's boxy - all you can do is cut the natural reverb to a minimum and add it back (if needed) artificially, accepting that it's a compromise.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: GloriaJ
Date: 26 Sep 12 - 06:30 PM

It's a thought-provoking thread - if a little arrogant,which of course gets people's backs up.But it got me thinking about this, as I'm planning a new album. I've recorded an album with the famous Bill Leader,and lots of other people, and also done some self-recorded projects.Usually I have no interest whatsoever in my past recordings, but for the sake of this argument, I listened and compared professionally-made recordings with ones I'd done myself.
It seems to me that the difference lies in the quality of vocal recording and reverbs mainly.Professional tube vocal mikes,like Neumanns,cost serious money, as do good reverb units.Home recordists cant usually justify forking out for them - why would you? Rode and so on are nearly as good, and are a tenth of the price.
Another factor, maybe the main one,is experience.It takes AGES to get your head round music production software, as well as engineering techniques.People do apprenticeships in this kind of thing - watching and learning over months and years.
Finally, in my experience - most reviewers of cds havent a clue about all this stuff.They dont know the first thing about recording, let alone playing an instrument, or singing.They merely relate what they hear to preconceived ideas about what is good or bad.I did an album of traditional music with an electronic basis some years ago - sent it out deliberately without letting on how it had been done.Not one reviewer (though I had good reviews) ventured to say how the sound had been created.The reason being - they hadnt the foggiest idea.Anyway, as we all know - reviews are irrelevant for the most part - they dont affect your sales or success very much at all.Probably a really bad one would be more helpful than most of the " this is nice, buy it" kind of thing.I love a really bad review - it makes me want to check the artist out.
I agree with some here who say that the material,the music itself,is what counts.I'm sure Oasis have had the best of every recording technique lavished on them - compressed to buggery so the sound pins you to the wall, but its still mindless pap. Give me Joseph Taylor, or Robert Johnson over them any day, for all the lack of studio trickery.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: GUEST,matt milton
Date: 27 Sep 12 - 04:28 AM

"It seems to me that the difference lies in the quality of vocal recording and reverbs mainly.Professional tube vocal mikes,like Neumanns,cost serious money, as do good reverb units."

This is the thing though - in the 2-3 years I've more or less wasted trying to make home recordings I've found that the quality/price of microphones is immaterial if the room you're recording in isn't properly treated.

In fact, this was writ large the last time I went, ironically enough, into a recording studio. We used two Neumann mics. But it still sounded boxy and awful, and I can only put this down to the fact that the studio had only recently expanded its live room (but hadn't got their room treatment right). Also, despite it being a big room, the engineer set me up in a corner - something that struck me as fundamentally wrong but which I didn't question at the time.

I really think that difference between expensive microphones and cheap ones is massively overstated. Going from a budget condenser mic to a Neumann or Schoeps is the icing on the cake, but going from an average-sized living room to a decent acoustic space is the cake itself in my experience thus far.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: GUEST,Phil B
Date: 27 Sep 12 - 10:01 AM

www.youtube.com/watch?v=99ZoTiJwQsM
www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5xAd_uMpHM
www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_0q_0FayMw
www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sue_c9ZcwXA

For anyone at all interested, these are the first few days of the new Show of Hands album in progress. There's a section on some of the mics here. They are a mixture of the studios and mine.
The environment depicted is not soundproof or treated in any way. It was chosen for its ambience and being a nice place to work. We did a week there. We analysed and sampled the natural acoustic to reproduce it when we moved on to the actual studio subsequently. It is very much in eveidence on many tracks on the album.
The 4th clip is in my attic studio which is only semi soundproof and not treated in any way.

All of this stuff is far too subjective to get into any argument. As far as I'm concerned, there are no rules I'm afraid. Its horses for courses. I just must make a couple of observations though.

£1000 will buy anyone a bundle of software/computer/mic and audio interface which is more than good enough to make a studio quality album. I mentored a young artist two years ago who did that. Her new album is excellent by any yardstick. Self recorded and self produced.

As far as I'm concerned, being able to have lovely expensive mics is great but I couldn't afford them for the first 25 years of my career. I used Paul Whites (Sound on Sound) ancient and well tried technique of an SM58 with a Tandy PZM behind it. It still works and sometimes I do it to re-prove it to myself.

Three very physically similar large diaphram mics in my personal posession are

Neiman TL102. Was about £900 but has now come down radically in price. Can be found for as little as £500 now.

A&T 4040. £350 ish

SE-X1. Can be found for £160/70.

At the moment, I'm loving the SE mic and am reaching for it for guitars and mandolines before either of the other two. It doesn't have the bottom end response of the other two but is utterly transparent and crystal clear at the top end. Good value methinks. Ce'st la Vie!!


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: musicmick
Date: 27 Sep 12 - 10:28 AM

GloriaJ's message was cogent but missed the mark on two points.
While some brave souls may buy a panned product, they are not the norm and how do you imagine an artist feels, receiving a bashing for a project he put his heart and cash into?
Also, a review may have little effect on saales in the artist's home market, where most sales are at performances, but reviews are very important for breaking int new markets. I have introduced, to the Philadelphia audience, dozens of wonderful musicians who had been, previously, unknown here. That's what I'm here for. That's why people send me their CDs.
You know that, even if an artist is well known in his own land, he may be "who's that?" here. That was the case with the great Cyril Tawney, whose work I have been championing for years and, as a result, enjoyed a nice sale in my neck of the woods. (I am not taking credit for his success. I was privelaged to be the bearer of his tidings.)
Still, maybe GloriaJ shouldn't send me a CD for review. I never pan or carp so my reviews would bore her to tears.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: treewind
Date: 27 Sep 12 - 12:40 PM

"Professional tube vocal mikes,like Neumanns,cost serious money, as do good reverb units.Home recordists cant usually justify forking out for them. Rode and so on are nearly as good, and are a tenth of the price."

I think Mike's point, though, is that the availability of cheap equipment has made it possible for people who don't have a clue (nor good ears, nor any knowledge of the subject) to get into recording, with the result that the market is flooded with badly made recordings.
Give a beginner a Stradivarius violin and what do you think they will sound like?

"Another factor, maybe the main one,is experience"
Yup. And knowledge, however acquired, and good ears.

"the quality/price of microphones is immaterial if the room you're recording in isn't properly treated."

This is the biggest secret of the recording industry. Those with a commercial interest are trying to sell you flashy new microphones, amplifiers, preamps, processing plugins, 192kHz 24 bit A/D converters etc. because they look exciting. Room treatment is terribly unglamorous but it's what actually makes the most difference.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: GUEST,Blandiver
Date: 27 Sep 12 - 12:51 PM

Room treatment? Like THIS you mean? Bare brick & egg cartons...

When in doubt, the closer the mic the better.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: GUEST,matt milton
Date: 27 Sep 12 - 01:09 PM

looks to me like Ralf & Florian (is it?) have got bass traps in the bottom right-hand corner of that room, under and to the right of the speaker. And possibly something under the speaker in the left hand corner. Looks like it probably has a decent-height ceiling too.

The person I know of that gets the most impressively "professional" sounding acoustic recordings is Ben Walker, who plays with Josienne Clarke. His "studio" is his bedroom, he has OK mics, but nothing extravagant. Yet it sounds terrific.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: GloriaJ
Date: 27 Sep 12 - 05:00 PM

"Still, maybe GloriaJ shouldn't send me a CD for review. I never pan or carp so my reviews would bore her to tears. "

   Well,obviously the one exception to enjoying a real stinker of a review is if it was of my own work!I'm quite happy to send you a cd - and you can be as bland as you like.
As Phil says, it's all very subjective.And can you ever separate the content from the process? I, like most people, focus on the content.Sometimes a really bad recording would deny me enjoying that - but even then,its not usually to do with mikes and rooms etc.I get lots of cds given to me - some for review,some in exchange.I dont hear many that are spoilt by bad recording - its the singing and musicianship - and most important of all, the material itself, that stops me playing them more than once.
When I did my first recordings,in proper studios, I found it hard to play well because they were always so acoustically dead.Engineers prefer this, because they can add reverb but cant take it away.Maybe times have changed.I have also recorded in church spaces etc where it is very reverberant - but perhaps the bedroom is the best place really.The drawback,as I said before, is that software reverbs arent always very good, and I think reverb is difficult to use well, if you dont have the experience.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: GUEST,punkfolkrocker
Date: 27 Sep 12 - 05:15 PM

Doesn't matter how good a recording is..

it can still be f@cked up by an insensitive mastering engineer
going mental with aural exciters & ice pick treble frequencies....


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: GUEST,Blandiver
Date: 27 Sep 12 - 05:26 PM

looks to me like Ralf & Florian (is it?)

Oh yes. Kling Klang studio. Read about it HERE.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: Seamus Kennedy
Date: 27 Sep 12 - 10:05 PM

Attaboy, Musicmick. Thanks for trying to help. Some may take your advice for what it's worth, and others won't. But you tried to help, and that's fine in my book.


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: musicmick
Date: 28 Sep 12 - 12:22 AM

Mr. Kennedy is too kind. Well, maybe not, I am one hell of a swell guy. He is, in fact, the kind of performer I had in mind. He is well known in the Irish-American community of Philadelphia but, to the "folkies" his name might as well have been John Doe. I was privilaged to tout his recordings to my readers. I had no need to flack his personal appearences as I never saw a show of his that wasn't SRO. (He is, surely, one of the most entertaining acts in our business).


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Subject: RE: A Little Free Advise for Independent CD
From: GUEST,999
Date: 28 Sep 12 - 02:27 AM

Seamus, we all gotta call you Mr Kennedy now? Like, this is really gonna confuse me, man.

Trust things are well.

I ditto Mr Kennedy's remark to musicmick.

Ciao


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