Aston Microphones – Toe Goes In… Hits Come out!

Aston Microphones

The world wasn’t really expecting, wanting or needing yet another microphone, let alone another microphone brand, to appear in 2016.

Most would’ve said, “Okay, there’re enough kids in the pool at this point. Let’s stop the propagation before one of ’em breaks the ‘no pee‘ rule!”

But despite our jaded-gearhound cynicism, a resounding SPLASH was heard ’round the pro audio pool last year, the waves of which are still gently bobbing us towards superlative sound here in 2017.

The debut line of Aston microphones has arrived, people, and quality sound is more attainable than ever!

We Love Critics! Let’s Go Find a Bunch!!

Aston Microphones

It’s not every day that a product is made by a group of USERS, instead of just profit shakers and specs-focused engineers. Aston decided before they opened that they would demand of themselves as a microphone company the highest audio outcomes for their products.

The biggest way they chose to do that and keep themselves accountable to their goal is by bringing together a “Development Panel” of pro audio experts who work daily in the field as their ears for testing. The sheer breadth of knowledge and number of collaborators in this panel is daunting; I’ve never seen so many amassed to bring their competence to bear upon a singular product. Here’s the full list of panel auditors: http://www.astonmics.com/the-a…

But they didn’t just ask these folks to use the mics and then help ’em endorse them: they conducted double-blind listening tests to prove that these mics could stand up against the big boys. Finally, after months of tweaking, Aston chose to deliver the mics that consistently impressed their pro audio consultants to the point where they all wanted one of their own. Now that’s what I call a job well done.

Obviously these guys and gals are into the details. Their focus is on making products that audio professionals can use, day in, day out, and actually want to use. No small feat considering the dizzying array of mics that are available in this day and age. I first was told about these mics by a fellow musician and G.A.S.-er who said was using one over a Neumann (more on that to come). That got my attention pretty quick. And so, dear readers, this is why we’re here. Let’s take a peek into the products of this rare ensemble of audio nerds…

The Starlight: A G.A.S.-y Wish Come True!

Okay, I’m just going to put this out there: putting a pointing laser on a pencil mic?? Brilliant move!

Aston Microphones

Not only is that extremely usable feature that I would use every time for drum overheads, but, can we just talk about the cool factor a minute? What client is not going to mention something about those lasers being the bomb when they see the engineers setting the mics up and using ’em? They’re like mini Star Wars light sabers making that “Hhruoom” sound over the drum kit! You know the one. “Hhruoom.Hhruooooom!!”

Help me, Aston Kenobi, you’re my only hope for an engineer that knows what they’re doing.

Your clients will also know by the mock laser battles that you, along with your closet of classic ‘older mics’, are staying on the cutting edge of things for their recordings, with new, fancy-schmancy gizmos, and since they’re our bread and butter, that’s what matters.

For the Starlight mic, Aston expanded their Development Panel from 33 to 50. They knew this mic would be used on many different sound sources, so they opted for more diversity in the auditing – a brave and vulnerable move on their part. But this is what separates the Poe’s from the posers, folks…and it worked.

In testing this mic actually caused a ‘listeners rift’ between our friendly auditing panel. Aston discovered as they put the starlight through its paces that half the pro audio guys liked the “old school sound” of small diaphragm condenser mics: those that exhibited a warm, “vintage” tone. The other half had a penchant for brighter, ‘airy-er’ sounding mics for their small condenser uses. With a pretty dead-even split, they did what any great compromiser does – they gave us both! What this means for the industry is we now have the first small diaphragm condenser mic that offers voicing options built in. Touché, Aston!

If you want specs and pics, check ’em out here. My personal take? Get two of these before the price is raised. They’re currently at $349 retail. But I can’t see the prices staying as low as they are now on any of these three mics. They’re that good. Oh, and the guy that sold me these (you rock, David at G.C. Southfield!!) thinks so too.

The Origin of Bees-Knees

Aston Microphones

Now we’re in the land of large condensers. It’s getting bigger in here! The Origin is designed to excel on acoustic guitars and vocals according to Aston and its secret weapon is the 1″ gold evaporated capsule that captures your sound source.

Aston went through hundreds of these types of capsules before they settled on three that were consistently awesome enough to put their name on.

There’s a gentle slope boost from about 3 to 20k on this mic, giving it some nice “air”, a definite must for acoustic guitars and vocals. Otherwise, it’s pretty flat from around 100 and up. I’m used to seeing mic frequency charts look pretty wavy and hilly. Not this contender! And with the rave reviews I’m hearing and reading it seems pretty clear: if you make something well you won’t have to EQ it up the wazoo.

Quiet. Smooth. Direct. I’d put it in the category of WYSIWYG. Not a whole lot of colorization going on here. It just transparently bears your soul clean, so… make sure you’re ready for a vocal session with this puppy. There’s no hiding! It will find you!!

Currently under $300 retail, if you’re just getting into audio, don’t have much cash but want a quality mic, especially for vocals, this has to be your first choice. For the price, I don’t see anything beating it out right now. Compare its specs here and you’ll see what I mean.

And the Spirit of the Waters Doth Call Thee…

The Spirit mic is the Aston option that I immediately was most interested in, because one of my engineer comrades told me he tried it out and since then is consistently using this mic instead of his Neumann U-87.

Impossible, you say?? Pas de tout, mon ami!

I myself had a similar experience, not choosing the esteemed U-87, years ago while testing mics for my first album. Check out that story here. But that just goes to show what a shocker this mic is with regard to quality per price point.

Aston Microphones

The Spirit is Aston’s better choice for acoustic guitar and/or vocals, as compared to the Origin, due to its lower noise floor.

If you’re doing a stripped-down number that needs a reeeeeally quiet mic, you’ve found it. Not to mention it’s extremely flattering EQ, which has only two slight hills at 4K and around 10K and is otherwise flat above 90 Hz.

It’s also tremendous that, at this price, we also get three polar patterns that all sound so good! If you need cardioid, omni or a figure-of-eight pattern, just dial it up on the mic and voilà… you’re in the zone.

I am more than happy about purchasing this mic. If you want to hear the recordings I made with it, showcasing the acoustic guitar and vocals, check out my SPIRIT MIC REVIEW HERE. Suffice it to say for now that I really think that, like me, you’ll appreciate what this baby brings to the studio, no matter what you want to use it for.

It’s hard to believe this mic is selling at a $449 retail price. These specs bespeak of a much more expensive microphone. When it first came out in 2016 it retailed for $299 (told ya it’s gonna go up!) but the sound it provides, trust me, is worth way more than either of those numbers.

Like I mentioned, it’s being compared to Neumann mics frequently. That says it all.

They Pooled Their Talent, Now Pool YOURS!

Aston Microphones

Aston pulls no punches. Because of the lengthy development, testing and auditing by pro audio purists of their microphones, they boldly state that these are the best-sounding mics available, not only at their price point, but well beyond it.

I, for one, think they’re onto something. The only area where I see these mics having any lack at all is in their self-noise numbers: they each rank in the “good” range at 15, 18, and 14 respectively. But the fact is that few condensers go below 10 dB. The Neumann TLM103 is one of them, but that mic retails for over $1,000!!

Aston Microphones

Unless you’re doing an extremely quiet song with, say, only a vocal and one soft instrument, you’re not even going to notice any noise at all. I didn’t, and my hearing is still very good thanks to vigilance against extreme sound levels. Just ask my son; he’ll tell ya: “Dad’s always saying to watch dB levels and wear earplugs if needed!!”

Aston Microphones

So, having dipped my foot into Aston’s private mic party pool for my own recordings, I heartily endorse their findings – these things really are as versatile and useful as they say they are. And I’ll go out on a very strong limb and say that I choose the Spirit as the best new, mid-priced condenser mic of the year for vocals. I’m lovin’ mine!!

Stay tuned for specific recordings from each mic. I’ll be A-B-ing them against other mics in my arsenal and will share the results, with you, soon.

Until then, definitely check these out. Make some music with them and let me know your results. These windows through which our talent shines can be murky or heavenly, but Aston is consistently making the angels sing.

Whether you have two or eighty-two mics in your closet, their products are almost a steal at current pricing, and will hold their own long into your production future.

For SeriousGAS.com, this is Teaj, sayin’…

… go… make… sounds!

Teaj in the storm fields!

Music For a Career – “I Am the Great Port-FOLIOooooo!”

There are some to whom the thought of being an accountant, a lab technician, an I.T. worker or even a helpful cop just can’t rub them the right way. Those who hear a different call; those who must stoke the inside fires and be true to the elusive Music For a Careermuse that is shy but ever-present. Those to whom the dreaded words, “You need to get a real job” shall ever be blasphemous. I’m talking about, of course,… the professional elephant dressers of Sri Lanka.

No, wait; sorry. That’s not right. Heh. Silly me. I meant to say the creatives: the artists of all cut and cloth, disciplines and districts, those who reveal life through the filters of their own understanding and experiences, and then display their discoveries to us for entertainment, enlightenment or emotional impact. Of that unique breed, those who choose music for a career are certainly among the most brave.

There’s a reason why those of us who are parents tend to suggest, as insightfully as we can, that if our kids are interested in a career involving art in any way, that they should have something else to empower them through the down times. Notice I did not say “fall back on”. Having lived as a “starving artist” not only across our fine country but also throughout Europe, I have learned a thing or two about what is the best way to push art forward. And stay alive. And smell nice. And be able to afford… Top Ramen.

If you’re considering the musician life, let’s take a look at the realities of what it entails in this day and age. Why? Not to dissuade you, let me say first. If art is calling you, then you should by all means work hard at it full steam ahead. But I also believe in knowing what you’re up against so you minimize unpleasant surprises. Face the facts head-on, and hold your art head high. That way, not even a richly-dressed elephant will stop you.

Look back

So, how’d you like this gig: you must learn a few set lists worth of music; perform daily for crowds who take your work seriously and value your talent; your food and housing will be provided, you get to wear cool clothes designed just for you and composing new material is not only appreciated, it’s encouraged. Anybody interested?? I know I would be!

Well, this is exactly how things worked in the Old Testament Bible days for the musicians who worked the Jewish religious ceremonies court events, feasts. They were well taken-care-of for sure. In fact, the longest section in that book is….their song book, Psalms!

Excavations have uncovered musician instruments in the Mesopotamia region that date back to 3,000 B.C. Looks like this bug’s been around a loooooong time. No wonder its bite is so transformational. I wonder though: instead of the long rectangular beards braided with leather laces at that time…did musicians even then sport soul patches??

Music For a Career
Musician’s gotta eat!

The Middle Ages saw the Western churches become the place to gig. You could get a steady paycheck, be known by patrons much more affluent (i.e. RICHER) than you, see your renown grow beyond your local geography, and often compose instead of just regurgitating other people’s compositions.

With Mozart and Beethovan we see the church as a gig still present, but, especially with good ol’ Ludwig, secular venues began to proliferate, as well as the opportunities to play in them.

All this led up to the 20th century, where television, radio and film pushed musicians more to the forefront of everyone’s mind than ever before. And with that came serious riches. Which, for the musician, always leads to serious G.A.S. No matter tho’; money was like water for any that ‘made it’ in the 1900’s. Unless of course you were one of the unlucky few who signed ridiculously bad contracts with the record execs. I’m eye-in’ you, Mr. Joel.

The banquet, we now see, couldn’t last forever. Enter the new millennium with me…

Look now

We’re in the last quarter of 2017, and the changes keep right on comin’. But REO was right: If we’ve “felt the tables turnin” then we gotta “roll with the changes”. Let’s take a look at what’s rolling at us right now, like that giant rock at Indiana Jones….

As of July of this year, overall music consumption actually did rise 9.9% over last year’s statistics. The reason is audio streaming: it’s up, again, rising 58.5% over last year. That’s huge.

Record Store Day has had a slightly mitigating effect on plummeting CD and vinyl sales. Last year, for the first time in about a decade, they stopped dropping. The trouble is, of course, their percentage is a tiny drop in the income bucket for those trying to make a living at music.

Another plus that doesn’t help us pay the rent, but does contribute to the goal of music dispersion, is that streaming sites are causing people (myself included) to listen to albums I’ve never heard before. Because the artists on most streaming sites have all their albums there, is now a click away to hop from Rod Stewart’s recent “Time” (GREAT album) to Bob Dylan’s first album (SO Guthrie) to the just-released new album from Styx “The Mission” (if you like old Styx, you’ll love this!)… all without buying a thing.

But obviously, those positives don’t really help musicians garner income. Current music stats show other serious blows to that goal as well: Physical album sales have been plummeting for years, and they continued to drop this past year 2.1%. You may not have heard this, but digital download sales have also fallen, at an even steeper rate than physical sales. For example, digital single sales fell by 23.9%!

What does this mean for composing musicians? It means if you thought putting your CD (which no one’s been buying) up on iTunes to sell was gonna pay for your groceries… sorry to have to tell you, but…they’re not buying it there either anymore. People have just stopped buying.

Instead, streaming is the latest thing. Even though it’s still the best venue for showcasing your artist videos, even YouTube is being affected: it grew by only 6.1% over last year, a deep drop compared to streaming’s 58.5% overall growth.

There are some cool things about streaming sites for sure, but income is definitely not one of them. The current per-stream payout to rights holders (get ready to shake your head and purse your lips) is somewhere between .006 cents and .0084 cents. That’s right. It’s that low. You can see now why Pharrell only made $2,700 total in royalties from Pandora playing his awesome tune “Happy” 43 million times! I gotta say, folks… that just ain’t right.

Music For a Career
the TEAJ T!

The bands and artists that I know personally are all feeling it, and saying the only way they’re making dollars at this point is by taking a cut of live concert tickets (which usually isn’t much unless you’re famous) and selling their merch (the only cut actually bringing in a good percentage of profit).

So, in a nutshell: don’t expect your album sales to do much for you. If you want to grow an audience you have to make videos, tour, tour, tour… and sell shirts.

Aaaaaand…..GO!

Look ahead

Just as the music industry has been turned on its head by Internet music availability, so musician’s lives have been stretched and challenged and changed by these turning tides. Because of this, two choices are now becoming more ubiquitous than ever: Portfolio Careers, and Side Hustles.

Portfolio Careers” are what the work-a-day world has turned to of late, regardless of the field, and we’ll probably continue to see this approach burgeon to bursting. Instead of a tradition job, a Portfolio Careerist is one who, instead of choosing one type of job and career interest, diversifies and chooses deliberately to work several jobs in different areas. We’re talking self-employment, temporary jobs, free-lancing, part-time positions, or any combination of the above. The combination of these income streams pays the bills. The diversity of the work keeps things interesting, and if one job is lost, it’s much easier to carry on since you still have income from the others.

The hardest part of this approach is probably the absence of company health-care care, since it usually is only given to full-time employees. Since the Obama presidency, the severity of those consequences has lessened, in America at least, but even so, if you’re making enough from several jobs you can always purchase individual care packages that solve the problem and keep you protected.

Side Hustles” are also becoming more prevalant to the modern working class, though we musicians have been doing these for decades (if not millennia!). A side hustle is work that one does in addition to a normal job, or jobs, that gives you some extra cash but is not expected to pay the bills. You just do it ‘cuz you love it. This is what musicians have always done, and we’ll keep doing it, while everyone else tries out this ‘latest fad’.

In Detroit, near where I live, many of those who are retired tell of days in the Automotive Industry where you had worked one job all week long and you worked it until you retired. End of story. Well, those days are looooong gone.

Can we expect any change on the front of album sales? I wouldn’t count on it, but I think with the continued backing of the Performing Rights organizations across the globe and strategic, unending campaigns for better recompense for our work I believe we’ll see at least a rise in streaming revenue. When we finally make it to one cent per stream I say we all hold a big party together.

But don’t invite the streaming business people. They’ll take that as a sign we’re “happy”.  lol

How to do it & still afford G.A.S.

Okay, now that we know what we’re up against, is it too daunting for you?  Does it make you want to throw in the towel? Hang up your dreams? Put your instruments in their cases and rely on Engineering books?? In short… are you up for the challenge??!!

Yea, I am too. Nothing takes away our passions. Nothing! Don’t let the bastards grind you down, as Bono so eloquently sings.

Be inspired… by the Great Port-FOLIO!!

Never lose sight of your heroes. They inspired us here in the first place. We may have to climb the mountain a little differently. We’ve lost some ropes that were there in the past, but we’ve gained some bright spotlights showcasing our music from nations away, there on the summit. And, with new career methods, we can still join them in the great rockin’ Pantheon of Groove.

And also there, right there… can you see him?! A beacon for the struggling; a vision for the contender; power cell for those who aspire upwards! Beckoning us onward and upwards… it’s… Port-FOLIO!!

 

Music For a Career
Port-FOLIO!

 

 

Now, go… make… sounds!

Teaj

 

Cool Stuff to Buy – a ‘Sax In the Hands’ Metaphysical Meandering

Today, I purchased a new mic pre. Yep. I’ve been G.A.S.-ing for it for the last month (at least!) and after carefully cross-examining it with other options online, I pushed the button this morning, which just proves, for the hundredth time, that in any given month, week, day, hour, minute, second…..there’s a lot of cool stuff to buy! But my question for you today (and me….and the caged monkey) is this: is it more exciting to order our gear? Or are we truly happier actually owning it?

Cool Stuff to Buy

If John Ray Like to JAM

In his book “A Handbook of Proverbs” from 1670, John Ray, an English author, writes, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” This maxim has so made its way into our everyday English speech probably because it contains some very wise, practical advice about daily living…and investing.

Cool Stuff to BuyIf good ol’ Johnny boy had played saxophone (which would be a truly miraculous anachronism since saxes weren’t invented until 1846!) he might have said, “A sax in the hand is worth two in the shop!”, to which I’d probably whole-heartedly agree, especially if I had NO sax at all. I currently have a tenor, an alto and, my favorite, a soprano, so I’m not particularly G.A.S.-ing about another reed instrument at the moment. But, boy, if I didn’t have those….owhhh…I shudder to think!

But what if we’re happier when we don’t have something? In three separate studies by the University of Missouri, the data showed that people who were strong ‘materialists’ (those always looking for cool stuff to buy!!) went into a strong “hedonic decline” after they actually received their purchased product. This seems to at least indicate that Acquisition Syndrome of any kind provides only short-lived happiness, at best.

We’re All Hands-free…Eventually

If you’re in business as a musician, especially if anyone else is involved with you, you may be familiar with compiling TBO charts before making major purchases. When writing a “Total Benefits of Ownership” calculation, you summarize all the positive effects the purchase will have on your business to verify that it’s a good investment. Sounds wise, right?

But what is ownership? In this new age of songs and music being created and, in most cases, freely or way-too-cheaply given to the masses, regardless of how much it cost to record, the definition of ‘ownership’ is more elusive than ever. Most would concur that if you gave money to someone, and they gave you back something, then you own it.

Cool Stuff to Buy
Pippin meets Pluto

Well, I got my dog that way, but it feels weird to say I ‘own’ Pippin. It feels more like I share our home with him. He’s a living being; I would no more own him than I could own you. And even from non-living things that I spend time with daily, for years, it’s more like a friendship than a possession of their gifts.

This probably comes, more than anything, from one simple insight: we all leave this planet just the way we came – with nothing. As the movie Cool Stuff to Buysays, “You Can’t Take It With You”. Seems pretty obvious, really. So we don’t really own anything. We’re just care-takers. We’re renting, and not even ‘renting-to-own’!

Interestingly, I feel the same way about my gear: when I check out of here one day, I will not own it. My children will. Who knows if they’ll keep it or send it on to others who can use it as I did? Either way, my lease is expired.

So when I play an instrument, or send my sounds through effects units, or plugins, I am grateful and excited to have this time and experience with them, mostly because I know I don’t own them, and that makes each moment special.

Say It With Me: An-thro-po-morph-ize!!

Cool Stuff to Buy
“The Messiah”!

Why do musicians name their instruments? Stevie Ray Vaughan did it with his “first wife”. B.B. King and “Lucille”. Luigi Tarisio and his 1716 Stradivarius violin called “the Messiah”! What’s up with this? Could it be because these instruments become so much more than tools? More than ‘owned commodities’?

I found someone online today who went so far as to say that their instrument was so personal, so important to them, that it was like an “anchor when they needed something to hang onto”. Wow. Hyperbole? I don’t think so.

Perhaps this goes even farther back, hundreds of years, when to name something like a sword, an axe, a wand, horse, gave it more supernatural power. I mean, hey, anyone who’s ever played D&D knows you get serious additional hit points when your weapon is named!.

D&D love? Anyone?   lol

Which Layer is Pharrell ‘Happy’ in exactly??

There seems to be a further-developed type of joy that occurs after we have met our fated friends and become part of their life and they part of ours. It’s strange. But I find it to be true. Which seems to indicate that happiness has levels. Layers. Different guises to show up in.

Cool Stuff to BuyThe happiness I felt when I graduated is no more real than the happiness I feel when an album is finally complete, but it is different. When I got my new EVH amp, I was euphoric! Does it match my wedding day? Well, no, it doesn’t match it, but both are certainly valid as moments of joy.

The review I did on my PRS guitar told you the story of how I got it, and how happy I was to finally have a dependable axe for my gigs. But am I no longer that happy with it? Yes, I am! Just in a different way. It may sound hard to believe, but it’s very much like marriage: your husband or wife brings you joy in some very different ways before you’re married versus afterwards. That doesn’t mean that any relationship milestone is better than the rest. Just positively different.

When I tell my wife “I love you” now, it has soooo much more meaning than it did years ago. Why? Because of all we’ve been through, the good and the bad. It lends a patina of greater worth to what we are together, and what we’ve grown to be as individuals because of each other’s input, and mere presence.

The Quandary in YOUR Cage

As I sit here, thinking about my new Warm Audio TB-12 mic pre winging its way to me door (I just got an email – it’s shipped!) I am genuinely excited. This is the most expensive mic pre I’ve ever purchased, so the thought of my vocals sounding better than they ever have before is a serious adrenaline rush (Yes, I’ll do a review for you once I lay some tracks down!).

For me though, know I’ll be just as happy, but in a different way, when it’s shining at me from my rack. No question.

Cool Stuff to BuyOkay, so enough for now of this esoteric wind here on SeriousGAS. Ha! I’m sure there’ll be more metaphysical peeks through dimensional doorways in days to come. Occasionally I find tripping down esoteric alleys and musing through mysterious mindfields to be good for the creative juices. Know what I mean, jelly bean?

So now I hand it off to you, my dear G.A.S.-aholics. What do you think? Examine your thoughts; examine your feelings. Meditate on this, the pressing question: does the decision to buy and the subsequent anticipation of a piece of gear actually being IN your studio bring you more joy than the actual owning of it and use of it after its purchase and delivery? When you’ve come to a decision, comment below and I’ll do a tally of how we in the music community roll.

Now, go…make…sounds!

Teaj

 

 

 

How to Learn to Sing – Unleash the Siren Within!

How to Learn to SingIn ancient Greek mythology, Sirens were feminine temptresses, half-bird, half-seductive women, that sailors would encounter on rocky shorelines and cliffs.

These Sirens would sing beautifully and beckon the sailors to come closer. It’s said that their song was so magical, so beguiling, so utterly irresistible that the sailors would throw caution to the waves and sail their ships right towards these aquatic Venus Flytraps.

Unfortunately, their ships would then quickly shipwreck amidst the boulders and crags, and they would either drown (the better fate) or see these beauties, who so alluringly hypnotized them earlier, fly down and, um… tear them to pieces for lunch.

Hey, a girl’s gotta eat, ya know? It probably came pretty natural to them, but to some of us, well…we need a little more guidance in how to learn to sing. Which is why I’m here. Fear not the rock-dwellers, oh musical soul – we shall best them yet!

Singing was my earliest ‘instrument’. It captured me quite early in life. Perhaps it was my mother’s soft songs as she put me to bed…

… or her humming during my naps…

… or the Elvis TV special (tho’ he was dead at the time) that made me ask dad for his greatest hits…

… or the Boston album my brother Larry played constantly…

… or the incessant, after-school reruns of the Monkees that I just couldn’t get enough of…

… or my first Beatles album, or….

You get the idea. I’m sure it was all of those and more that kept me singing through the years.

Speaking of more, maybe it was the How to Learn to Singattention? High school, after all, did bring Men’s Choir, a barbershop quartet, leads in various musicals, and quite tough solos at church.

But it also brought some looks from some pretty fine girls to skinny, fro-headed me, and that was…ehhhh, let’s just say, that was nice!

With the popularity of Pentatonix over the last few years, “Pitch Perfect” and the good ol’ “High School Musical” movies, and before that the TV show “Glee” hitting such heights, singing is hotter than ever – a skill wanted not only for its effect on the listener, but for its social magic for the one singing.

Let’s take a closer look at this empowering, mesmerizing Siren’s gift, and see if we can catch it…without dying on the rocks!

The Siren’s Allure – It’s All in the… Folds!

How to Learn to SingSinging is simple at first glance. Air passes through the folds of our vocal cords and, as they tighten or lengthen, we make sounds that are higher or lower, called pitches, or notes.

One of the cool things about the human voice is how singular it is – almost like an individual’s fingerprint. Why do we all sound so unique? Well, we all have variances. We differ in:

  • lung strength
  • larynx shape & size
  • vibrato
  • tone (or timbre as its called in college!)
  • exertion history
  • climate
  • range
  • body health
  • accent
  • sinus construction
  • vowel shaping
  • age
  • hormonal measure
  • emotional levels

All these elements will influence, sometimes heavily, the sound of your speaking and singing voice. Inner and outer context is everything.

Take the blue whale for example: because his vocal cords are, um…shall we say significantly bigger than ours, its voice measures at 188 dB (most rock concerts are at 110 dB).

That, combined with him being in the water which carries sound better than air, is the reason you can hear him (ready for this?) 188 miles away!!

So, we must work with what we’ve been given. If we put the effort in, there is much to be gained…

The Perks of Being A Siren Now, er……

There are so many uplifting things about singing. You may have heard of people who can’t speak because of an illness, but they can sing to communicate.

There’s the old story of How to Learn to SingDavid, playing and singing to King Saul to calm him – we all can relate to music that makes us feel better!

People who suffer from stuttering often find that they can sing with no trace of the affliction, like Kylie Minogue…and even ELVIS!

Healthwise, the good singing does for your heart, respiratory system, posture, psyche and emotional stability is well-documented.

Singing acumen is mostly muscle development. Like working out. And just like in the gym, if you don’t use it you’ll lose it, with the exception of those who’ve put significant time and training into its development – they tend to be able to jump back on the horse with most of their skills intact (tho’ range does suffer).

Think about it: if more than one hundred muscles interact whenever you sing a note or even speak a phrase, doesn’t it stand to follow that the more you work out those muscles the stronger and more useful they’ll be?

It’s worth the effort, and you, and your future audiences, will reap the rewards!

The Cliffs Had Better Reverb

To make progress, consider deliberately where and when you’ll practice. As for where, believe it or not, bathrooms are great places for singing.

Know why? There’s so many solid surfaces. The shower, for instance, is nothing but solid surfaces. That’s why it sounds so good.

When sound has a lot to bounce off of it creates what we call reverb, or reverberation. It’s a type of very fast echo. You hear it on many hit songs all the time.

How to Learn to Sing

Which is why when you hear your voice with reverb in the shower…you sound like a star.

So get in there; open your mouth and sing, “Aaaaaaaaaahh!” Being a shower singer is better than not being a singer at all!

Your Voice in the Machine

These days, tho’, there’s another great option: at your computer.

With free recording software available with the click of your mouse, there’s no reason not to try recording yourself. It’s very inspiring & educational to hear yourself outside yourself, as everyone else hears you. That’s what recording reveals.

And there’s usually built-in reverb with recording software that you can click on that will make you sound like you’re in a concert hall…or somewhere bigger!How to Learn to Sing

Try it. The only thing you’ll need is a cheap microphone that plugs into your computer. These you can get for under $20, like this one, so what are ya waiting for?

One caveat about the whole recording thing, thought: don’t be alarmed if you record yourself, hear it and don’t like it. That’s typical.

The reason? Our voice as we hear it is not only filtered through our ears but also through the bone of our skull, which modifies it significantly, typically giving it more resonance and bass.

In a word, it sounds better. So, when we hear a recording, without our “cranium filter”, it sounds very different, and to most people, especially at first hearing, it’s just not as pleasant.

So you’re not alone. But with regular recording sessions you can and should get used to how your voice sounds and what it can do.Girl & a mic

And as we say in the studio, “the tape don’t lie”, meaning if you want to investigate how good (or bad) you are, recording yourself will show you warts and all.

But what about when? How much should you practice? I tell my students they can make substantial progress if they just put in 20 minutes a day. But if you can only do ten, you’ll still see improvement.

You will find the discipline if it’s important enough. So ask yourself…is it?

Then find a time (maybe in your daily shower? You do take those, right??) that will be your consistent practice time, and go for it.

Nothing beats the feeling of working hard towards a goal and seeing progress. I wish that for you and your voice!

How to Earn A Cliff-side Lunch

mic in hand for the singerIf you think you can’t sing (or others do), it’s probably because you fall short in one or more of these things:

  • Pitch – being able to keep a single note going without drifting higher or lower.
  • Timing – being able to come in at the right time with notes, and hold them for the right duration
  • Memory – being able to remember the right words, or melody, of a song

I’d like to point out here that these are really three different skills, not one, and there are many exercises that can do to improve your skill level in each, or in only some, or one. You might be fine at the first two, but terrible at the third, or any other combination.

If you think you can’t sing your first task is to figure out if you’re good at any of those three. Then you can concentrate on the ones that you need work on instead of trying to study everything.

You Already Can!!

Here’s the good news about singing: you already kind of do – when you’re talking! The average normal speaking voice tone in women is the G note, below middle C on a piano.

For guys, it’s the C an octave below middle C.

This means that, as you talk, you actually are producing specific pitches, although obviously they rise and fall because of emotional and story-telling inflections you put in.

How to Learn to SingIn light of that information, your first important goal is to prove to yourself (and others) that you can sing. How? Take a simple word and repeat it. I like to use the word “yes”. Just say it.

Now slowly start lengthening the vowel, the “e” sound in the word. See how long you can keep that “e” going. If you can go 2 seconds you’ve just sung a typical half-note in music!

You probably are “falling off” the end of the word “yes”, meaning you can hear your voice going down in pitch. Most people do. See if you now can hold that “e” sound but then just stop, without letting the pitch change. Then you have truly sung a single note, not just sloshed sounds around.

If you find your note getting sloppy, start over with the short word “yes”, and re-apply the same, slow elongating of the word until you can hold that note as long as possible. You might even use a stopwatch to make it fun.

The Super-Sirens!!

Here’s what I don’t want you do though: demand yourself to be an instant star. Be patient; realize that singing skills take long periods of study and investment. There are short-term gains, but the long-term progress has the greatest pay-offs.

How to Learn to SingThe longest sustained note by a human was by Richard Fink IV in 2009. He was able to hold a tone for one minute 43 seconds! Wow. Super Siren indeed.

Think you’re gonna be anywhere near him to start? Not a chance. But take little steps forward and you’ll soon see he’s a whole lot closer than you thought possible.

Also, don’t fret about your range (your lowest note to highest note). Range comes with time. So does good tone.

Just practice. Practice your good long notes. Make progress and celebrate your efforts’ pay-off.

For inspiration, though, feel free to look up Tim Storms, who clocked in his range at TEN octaves! Do you know how incredible that is?? To give you some idea, go look at a full grand piano – it only has SEVEN full octaves!!

A Siren’s Work is Never Done

Obviously, there are SOOOOoooooo many things you can do to learn to sing. We just scratched the vocal surface today.

If you’re in Michigan, lemme know and you can learn at my studio; or we can Skype.

If not, find a teacher near you that can help you achieve your dream.

Remember you don’t have to take lessons every week either; some of my students are bi-weekly, and a couple over the years have even done monthly. Whatever you can afford is better than going it alone.

I first took singing lessons in high school. Decades later I’m still trying new vocal exercises and techniques. I never have stopped learning and growing as a singer. You shouldn’t either.

How to Learn to SingSo work those singing muscles! Work ’em well, and you too can become the greatest siren of them all!

The world’s strongest singer!

The most alluring star!

But be careful: it only takes one sound source at 1,100 dB to create a black hole that will summarily destroy our galaxy.

That’s…what I’d call a Siren song.

Now, go…make….sounds!

Teaj

How to Record at Home – Spinning Sound Into Gold!

You may not have noticed if you haven’t been following pro audio for long, but the ways that electronics have improved and proliferated have provided us today with limitless ways to produce music quickly and inexpensively. Never before have we had so many accessible and simple ways to make music, get it to the people and find our audience.

Which is why you’re here, right? You want to know how to record at home, with your own music studio. I feel your dream, because once I was itchin’ to get started just like you – to let people hear the artist inside, and pour out the music that starts from within.

So, since I’ve been there, done that, and brought home the T-shirt… I can tell you: you’re in for an awesome ride!!

Rumpelstiltskin Really Played the Harp, ya see…

How to Set Up a Home Music Studio

Imagine with me, if you would, the little imp from the Brother’s Grimm tale today, playing the part of a modern would-be musician: he arrives at Guitar Center one day on his hybrid-woods-hare, pushes the door open and (not even being noticed by the door guard ‘cuz he’s so short) heads right to the “Harps” section.

Yes, there would have to be a Harp section, after all, if gnomes were more prevalent in our culture. Perhaps one day this prejudice shall wane, and we shall stand strong and in the open with our pointy-hat brothers. But I digress….

Little Rump finds the latest 30-stringer that for weeks he’s been G.A.S.-ing for, and starts to play an old Black Forest folk melody with Chicago Blues chords that gets everybody in the store coming over to hear.

The response when he’s done is hugely positive – everybody loves this tune. The hooks! The catchy chorus! The freshly anachronistic melodic lilt! This is the hit every A&R guy is looking for right now since “Uptown Funk” left the charts. They’re goin’ more gaga than for GaGa!!

So what does Rump do? He can’t just stay in Guitar Center all the time and play the song over and over. His fingers are strong, but his voice is a little gravelly. Think Tom Waits meets the Albino from the Pit of Despair.

Before he cleared his throat.

You do know who the Albino is, right??

How to Set Up a Home Music Studio

Anyway, the answer is clear: he must record the song. Record it, upload it to Facebook, SoundCloud, Instagram, YouTube, FairyTaleMinstrelBook.com….the works!

But how? HOW can he do it? He doesn’t have enough gold for the professional studio downtown.

But that’s when he remembers – the iPad and desktop computer he’s got back in his remote mountain cottage has all the power and potential he needs.

Time to hoof it back to shack, Jack!

You Can ‘Rump’ It Too!

The same is valid for you, my friend. If you have a goblin’s inkling that there’s music in you going untapped, by any and all means go get something to record it. If you don’t you’ll always regret not following your muse, and we out here in ‘listener-land’ will be denied an entertaining interest in your material. There’s an audience for everyone, so send us your stuff.

How to Set Up a Home Music Studio

The easiest way to do this is to get a desk that you can use just for music purposes in whatever domicile you live in. My first desk was only about four feet wide, but size doesn’t matter here; rather, intent lays the golden egg. Only put in this space music-related materials and machinery.

This will be your go-to place for creating, and because you kept it special, uncluttered and compositionally ‘sacred’, it’ll help you quickly and instinctually get in ‘the zone’!

Another good idea is to have things always ready to record. If you don’t, you may have an extra half hour to compose but you’ll think, “Oh, it’ll take too long just to set up”. Have your mics, stands, instruments and machinery left prepped so that all you have to do is turn it on and press record to capture your latest hit.

I tell my students the same about practicing their instruments: if they are not handy and easy to pick up, they will tend to not practice as much.

To get started, you really don’t need much. Here’s what you must have on your “I Write the Songs” desk”:

  • a microphone
  • a microphone cable
  • an instrument
  • an instrument and /or a MIDI cable
  • a recording device

See how small that list is? Not much to it, tho’ as you get more and more into pro audio, you will find Gear Acquisition Syndrome, or “G.A.S.”, coming down hard on you like a lead zeppelin (do you hear those wooden recorders?). If you’re only doing instrumental keyboard music, you actually could get away with just a keyboard, a MIDI cable and a recorder.

How’s that for cost-effective?!

Where Ya Gonna Store All That Gold, Rump’??

How to Set Up a Home Music Studio

In the Grimm tale, the king stored all Rumpelstiltskin’s gold in bigger and bigger rooms.

Cut to today, where we do the same thing, only the rooms are called…hard drives!

Except for rare individuals who have old reel-to-reel recorders (I’m one), almost everything you hear today in music was produced digitally, meaning the sounds were transmogrified into little digital bits and stored on some type of drive. These drives and their accompanying machinery are as legion as hidden Mickeys at Disney World these days, so let’s simplify it by looking at the two basic categories we find in today’s thriving recording market:

  • Hardward-based units
  • Software-based units

The benefits of using hardware units are:

  • They are self-contained, all-in-one machines. They come with everything you need all in one “box” except a microphone & cables, and headphones or speakers to monitor with.
  • They rarely, if ever, crash like computers can
  • They are extremely portable for recording anywhere you can find power; and 3) they tend to be a little simpler to operate than audio software.
  • They don’t change. Even when upgraded, the menu architectures remain totally familiar and don’t ‘lose you’ because the manufacturer decided they could do it better.
How to Set Up a Home Music Studio
The VS2480 in its heyday!

Before Pro Tools, I worked for over ten years on a hardware unit by Roland called the VS-2480. I recorded two albums on the Roland platform and got to know it inside and out to the extreme.

Did it deliver? Absolutely, and I learned all I needed to about producing, composing, engineering and mixing my music.

Unfortunately, Roland stopped making the VS line. This is the first of several drawbacks to this option, that when it’s gone it’s gone; you won’t find copies of it on the Internet!

Other hardware cons are:

  • No more updates or upgrades to keep up with industry progress
  • No more parts for repairs
  • No more tech support by people still using the product

Still, if you want to wade a bit in the water to test your mettle in this fairy tale world of summoning up the musical spirits, it’s a fun way to investigate. Current available options for low-cost hardware recording include, but are not limited to:

  • the Tascam OD-03SD 8-track Portastudio
  • the Boss MICRO BR BR-80 8-Track
  • the Zoom R16 16-Track 
  • the Tascam DP-32SD 32-Track Portastudio

There will probably always be a few hardware units around, but by far today there are more and cheaper options available if you simply own….a computer.

The Recording Genies in Computer Bottles

Whether you’re an iPad gal or desktop dude, you have lots of available apps and software options for recording your music. The benefits of using software for recording are:

  • How to Set Up a Home Music Studio
    It can usually go on your desktop and other tablets you may have, so you can work anywhere.
  • Most recording softwares stay viable for decades so there are ample upgrades available that improve it even more.
  • The menu options in software, which equates to the ways you can capture and then manipulate your audio, tend to be more numerous. This enables you to do really anything you can possibly think of to shape your audio efforts, so it helps you keep your options open.
  • More programs to choose from. I just did a quick check and were thirty-six different audio recording softwares available right now, and that was without even really digging. There’s certainly more, but…you see my point.

Software cons are:

  • It can crash. It’s usually quick and easy tho’ to just reboot and keep going….if you saved your work!
  • Latency issues. This means your computer might not be fast enough, or strong enough, to handle all the audio you’re trying to cram into it. You know you’re having latency problems when you’re listening in headphones and trying to record new tracks over parts you already recorded, but the timing of what you’re playing sounds off, usually late compared to the already-recorded tracks. This typically means you need more RAM in your computer and/or a bigger hard drive.
  • The menu options. Yes, I said that in ‘pros’, but the fact of the matter is that many artists find the myriad of choices popping up in professional software really confusing to navigate through, and would much prefer a simpler, more stream-lined set of selections that use simple terms they can understand, rather than twenty-million complex commands.
  • They change. I’ve known several artists who totally abandoned the recording software they worked years on because the manufacturer ‘upgraded’ (read that ‘changed’!) the software so much and made it so different that they were too frustrated to stay with it, so they switched to another software program. Hopefully your choice of software won’t do that, but you just never know…
How to Set Up a Home Music Studio

Because there are so many audio recording software choices for us, I’m going to tell you about a few good ones rather than overwhelm you with them all. I can personally vouch for and recommend:

  • Audacity
  • Garage Band
  • Cubase Pro
  • Pro Tools
  • Reaper

I personally use Pro Tools HD and Reaper currently, but if you’re reading this you’re probably just starting out and that might be a little much for you to bite off and chew. If you want something easy, Audacity and Garage Band are both very intuitive and don’t get you lost in ‘menu hell’ like the others can.

As for cost, three of them are free, at least up front: Audacity is free forever, Pro Tools First is free for up to 3 ‘projects’ or songs, and Reaper is free for the first 60 days.

Pro Tools has probably been the recording platform on most of the successful songs of the last 20 years if they were digitally recorded.

As always, when looking into software or apps, you must keep in mind what platform and operating system you have. Are you on a Mac? Some of these only work on that. Do you prefer PC? Then you’ll be limited to the PC options. Some are compatible with both. Just be sure to look at that first, before you fall in love with something that doesn’t even work on the computer you have!

Any of the programs above will get the job done well for someone just building their first home studio. Each of them will feel different and have things laid out in different ways, and each of them will have different levels of audio quality, tho’, because they’re all digital, you’ll have pretty clean, clear audio on all of ’em. I suggest you download the free ones AND download trials of the ones that cost and check ’em out.

The Big Bad Wolf-rum!

One personal anecdote I’d like to share with you: because I live near Detroit, MI, the birthplace of Motown, I have been lucky enough to spend some time with a very uniquely-skilled and talented man who has influenced my pursuit of quality audio greatly. His name? Dr. Edward Wolfrum.

How to Set Up a Home Music Studio
Dr. Ed and Fred Bridges in the studio

A short bio of him is available on his website, but it hardly scratches the surface of the true audio sage that he is and has been for many of us in this community. Ever heard of a Direct Box, something you’ll find on every stage across the globe, pretty much? Ed invented it.

Want to know how Motown got that ‘Motown sound’? Ed was one of the engineers. I could sit around him for hours just to hear him drop stories of Marvin, Smokey, Kendricks, Stevie….it’s a looooong list, my friends.

How to Set Up a Home Music Studio
Dr. Ed in the ol’ Motown “snake pit”!

Suffice it to say that in a world where the term usually stands for ‘someone who can twiddle the knobs on audio hardware’, Dr. Wolfrum is a true audio engineer: he could build whatever he uses…a rare unicorn in these fairy tale forests.

I mention him here because his skill and hearing in the world of audio is so tested, advanced and experienced, I trust his opinion implicitly, and ya know what he told me? Out of all the software programs he tested with his PhD tools and gear (i.e. the major software players) he has concluded that by far the best audio quality comes out of one choice: Reaper.

So, if this titan of music history has recommended it…by Rumple, I think we should boldly consider that path.

The Final Take

How to Set Up a Home Music Studio

Regardless of which path you take through the woods of merry audio, just remember that what’s really important is that you set your desk up, choose your tools, and get recording.

Many get so caught up in HOW to spin sounds into gold that they fail to actually DO it.

Don’t be that guy, or girl. Sit down, and get down to business, like good ol’ Rumple. Who knows, you might even move on from gold…to platinum!

Now, go…make…sounds.

Teaj in the storm fields

Teaj