In today’s blog, we catch up with HowToLicenseYourMusic.com’s resident producer, Gary Gray, for Part One of a much-requested Four-Part music production blog and video course, called “How to Get a Killer Vocal Sound.” This course contains detailed video capture footage of an actual vocal production session, with each step clearly and concisely explained by Gary.
In conjunction with the new course, Gary and I will be hosting a live webinar, exclusively for members of How To License Your Music Premium this Friday, June 30th at 11 AM PST. If you’re a premium member you’ll get access to both the course and the webinar, as well as dozens of more courses, music licensing leads and much more.
Check out this amazing, 15 minute excerpt of the course that Gary put together, to get a taste for what the course will be like:
Though you haven’t heard from Gary for a few weeks, he’s been busy behind the scenes helping me with webinars, putting together content for the new HowToLicenseYourMusicPREMIUM website (http://HTLYMPremium.com), and working night and day in the studio on several deadlines for 20th Century Fox (his latest project for 20th Century Fox garnered this response from the Director of Licensing for Fox Music, “Wow! This sounds fantastic Gary! Very Well Done!”). Gary has also been busy at work on my new upcoming EP, as well as mentoring students around the world on music production, music theory and sound design.
Coming off a series of music licensing placements with my own music produced by Gary (including a virtual reality video game placement), I’m proud to also announce that Gary recently won a Telly Award as Sound Engineer, Mixer and Mastering Engineer for the soundtrack of “Path of Totality,” composed by award-winning AI Scientist David Fogel!
Over to you, Gary…
Thank you Aaron! To those of you who know me, and to those of you who are brand new to HowToLicenseYourMusic.com and HTLYMPremium.com, I’m honored and humbled to be able to share my experience and expertise with you, and to help you succeed, just as my mentors helped me succeed.
I’m especially excited about the new course Aaron & I are releasing called “How to Get a Killer Vocal Sound.” The course will be available to members of the new HTLYMPremium.com website. The course will also be available to purchase as a stand alone course in the near future, if you’re not yet a member of the Premium website.
There is such a vast amount of information that goes into creating a killer vocal sound in the studio, that I ended up creating a four-part series, with each part a full course in its own right.
Part One covers the Philosophy, Priorities & Initial Steps To Take right now in order to achieve a killer vocal sound in the studio. Parts Two, Three and Four cover additional steps to take, such as basic fundamental workflow steps, the vital practice of A/B’ing as applied to vocal production, reverbs, delays, compression, advanced vocal production techniques that can be heard on commercial recordings, such as “3D Reverb,” side-chaining compression of reverbs and other vocal effects.
There are two basic hats that every person with a home studio wears (or should be wearing) while recording and/or mixing music. This is especially true of vocal production.
The first hat is “producer.” The second hat is “engineer.”
In my 30 plus years as a producer, engineer, and mentor, it has become painfully clear that, in most cases, only one of these hats “shows up for work” in the home studio (or pro studio for that matter!). Which hat shows up? The engineer. The engineer seems to be the exclusive hat worn by most home studio owners while they toil away on their tracks.
The Difference Between Engineer & Producer
The engineer is the person with their nose stuck to the computer screen, continually diving down rabbit holes to solve this, solve that, create this effect, trying to find that brand new sound, etc. The engineer pays attention to the immediate task(s) at hand, and eagerly (or not so eagerly) attacks each one.
The producer, on the other hand, is the person who has the “big picture” always in mind. The producer steps back, away from the computer screen, away from any rabbit holes, and makes broad, big decisions regarding the project at hand.
When it comes to mixing vocals, the engineer, when hearing a vocal track, is already deciding what needs to be done in order to make that vocal track sound the best it can be, which is the correct viewpoint for an engineer to assume, for sure.
However, as stated earlier, the engineer is usually the only hat being worn in the studio, and so, the quality of the final vocal production suffers accordingly.
If, on the other hand, you were to wear the hat of producer as well, then you would tap the engineer on the shoulder and say, “Chill. We’re not going to necessarily finish mixing this track just yet. Let me hear this rough mix from beginning to end first.”
Mind you, these two “individuals” inside of you – the producer and the engineer, do not listen to tracks with the same purpose in mind. While the engineer is constantly figuring out ways to improve what is there, the producer may put everything on pause and say something like, “This singer is not the right person for this track, let’s find a voice that aligns more with the emotional flow and musical statement of this song.” Or, “Instruments sound great. However, this song is in the wrong key for this singer, it’s out of his range. Get the instruments transposed down two half-steps into the key of B Flat and then let’s re-record these vocals. Chop-chop, let’s do it.”
Or, even more boldly, the producer might state something as radical as, “You know what? This song is not cutting it. We’re not going to work on this song anymore, it’s a mess. It doesn’t really live up to the quality of the rest of this album. Let’s hit stop on this track and reconvene and go over the full list of potential songs for this project.”
You see the pattern here?
Producer = Big picture. Engineer = Small details. And even more importantly:
Producer = He or she is in charge. Engineer = Listens to the producer.
And so it goes as the project moves forward. The producer is in charge making the big calls. He’s there to facilitate the vision of the artist. The engineer is there to facilitate the vision of the producer. The engineer rolls up his sleeves and gets his hands dirty, puts his nose on the computer screen, and dives feet first into various rabbit holes of technical challenges and sonic puzzles.
To get an idea of how in-depth this course goes, I invite you to watch a short excerpt video of the course right now. This course gives you extremely important tools, workflow ideas and techniques that result in you getting a “Killer Vocal Sound” in the studio, every single time.
Do you want to make money with your music? Then you need to start thinking and acting like a business person.
I recently did a great podcast with the CEO of DeWolfe Music, Joel Feinberg. It was a great conversation and one of the things Joel really focused on, was how musicians tend to not be good at business and that this is holding them back. Making music is a very right brained, creative act, that doesn’t tend to lend itself to thinking like a business person, which tends to require more left brain thinking.
Joel’s point strongly resonated with me, as it did with a lot of you who checked out the podcast. I think as musicians we can all relate to this truth. We’re attracted to making music because of our love for being creative and tapping into this part of ourselves. All too often, we sort of look at the money-making part of the music business as more of a nuisance and an afterthought. Like something we have to do, because, well, we all need money.
This point that Joel made was such a good point that I want to expand on this topic a bit more. Let’s think about how this applies to something like licensing your music, which let’s face it, is not really a very creative endeavor. Sure, there are creative elements at play, like the vision of a music supervisor for a specific scene, the creative choices music editors make when cutting music to a scene, and of course the music itself. All these creative elements exist and are a part of licensing music.
But, the pursuit of trying to license your music. Well, it’s a much more analytical, left brained endeavor. The problem that many musicians face, and I’ve heard this over and over, from multiple people I’ve interviewed and have worked with, is that most musicians simply don’t put themselves in the shoes of those they are trying to do business with. Most musicians are simply making music they feel like making and then randomly throwing it out into the marketplace, just hoping that it will magically fit somewhere and make them some money.
It’s easy to see why this problem exists. As artists, most of us want to make music we feel is inspired and “from the heart”. We don’t want to “sell out” and just make music for the masses. We want to maintain our “artistic integrity” and do something that is “pure” and not simply something that is a product to be bought and sold. That’s a great attitude, if you’re not concerned with making money from your music. And perhaps, for some artists, this attitude actually does lead to unintended commercial success. I’m sure it does in fact. But you want to know where this attitude also sometimes leads? Nowhere. Obscurity. Frustration.
Now please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you should simply focus on money and trying to write only music that will sell, regardless of whether or not it’s artistically satisfying. You could do that if you want. But what I think is a more rewarding path, for most musicians, is to try and integrate the two sides of being a musician, the right brained creative act of making music and the left brained, analytical act of marketing and selling music, into one holistic thing. Instead of looking at business as something you have to do, look at it as something that is part and parcel of being a professional musician. Don’t look it as a drag, just accept it for what it is.
All aspects of our lives are like this if you think about it. Let me give you an analogy. I’m single. Again. I actually love the growth that comes during periods of my life when I’m single. I love the process of putting myself out there, meeting women, getting rejected, having success, getting rejected again and so on. I feel like I’ve grown as much during these periods of my life as I have during relationships I’ve been in, albeit in a different way.
When you’re single, and here comes the analogy, there are things you can do that will almost universally make you more attractive and more “marketable” to members of the opposite sex. Things like dressing better, working out, being motivated, being confident and so on, will all increase the odds of attracting and connecting with someone. I know, because I’m going through this right now! Things like going out and meeting people, is sort of like submitting your music and making connections. You have to be in it to win it. You can’t just expect opportunities to fall in your lap.
Now, as a single person, it’s easy to take the attitude of, “screw it, I don’t need to do any of that. If someone doesn’t see my innate value as a human being, they don’t deserve me! I don’t have to dress well, go out and risk rejection and try to better myself. “ This is a pretty understandable attitude to take on the surface. It almost makes sense. But, if you know certain actions are going to get you closer to your goal, why not take them? Now, if you’re doing something that actually goes against your values, that’s a different story. But most things that make you more attractive in the dating market, are actually positive things that will improve your life overall. Working out, dressing well, interacting confidently with members of the opposite sex and so on, are things that make you more attractive because they are things we all, collectively, value.
Let’s get back to music. I see more successfully “marketing” your music in a very similar way. It’s easy to take the attitude of I don’t need to change my music for anyone. You can take it or leave it! But, what if there were changes you could make in either your music, or your approach to marketing your music, that would actually get you closer to your goals? What if there were a few subtle things you could tweak that would open up more doors and more opportunities, without conflicting with your values and sense of integrity? I think for most musicians, there are ways to improve your music and the marketing of your music, that would simply be a net positive and bring you closer to your goals, without compromising your values.
Ok, let’s get into specifics. Here’s the thing that Joel mentioned during our podcast, and I’ve heard variations of this same idea, repeatedly. Most musicians, when it comes to trying to license their music are simply taking a shotgun approach to music licensing. They’re sending the same tracks, to multiple places, with very little thought or consideration, to the needs of who they’re sending it to. It’s like being single, and walking into a bar or nightclub after being at the gym, without taking a shower or getting dressed up and shouting “I’m single, who’s interested. Anyone?”.
What Joel and others have said, is that instead of taking such a random approach to the business, spend some time studying it. Study what kind of music is being licensed. Get a sense of where you fit into the business. Study the specific needs of those you’re pitching to. Get to know their taste and the types of music they tend to work with. Then, when you approach them, send them a message that demonstrates you’ve put a little thought into your submission and interaction. Taking these steps will empower you and will make you immensely more attractive in the eyes of those you’re trying to start business relationships with.
In both business relationships and personal relationships, there are always two people involved, you and the person you’re in a relationship with, or trying to enter into a relationship with. To go blindly into these situations, without reflecting on, or considering the other person’s needs and desires is a bit naïve and foolish. You might have a certain amount of success taking this approach, if you try enough. We all get lucky every once in awhile. But doesn’t it make more sense to put more thought into your interactions and make yourself as attractive as possible to those you’re interacting with?
We all have things we want and desire in life. Most of these things involve other people. Whether it’s a relationship, getting your music licensed, selling your music and getting more fans, there are other people involved. Figure out what those people want, and it give it to them!
I'm humbled and proud to be teaming up with Aaron Davison on his launch of How To License Your Music.com premium, a new member’s only, premium site featuring exclusive content about the music licensing business -- and beyond -- for musicians.
As you may have heard, Aaron has been working hard for close to two years in creating, as he perfectly describes it, “A Netflix or Amazon Prime for professional musicians.” I’ve been there for Aaron as a sounding board and creating content, but this is his baby all the way. And I must say, it’s brilliant!
So, with this, my first blog of 2018, I thought I’d give you a taste of some of the content and services I’ll be providing you as you take full advantage of the many features of HTLYM.comPremium.
The Holiday Season that just finished, has typically been a slow time for income. Most of the industry seems to leave Los Angeles and head home. Lots of “automatic vacation emails,” cell phone voicemail messages, and empty desks.
So, it was with surprise and relief that I picked up the phone to hear what I first thought was a prank phone call.
“Is this Gary Gray?”
“I’m calling from 20th Century Fox. I’ve been referred to you by one of your clients, the head of licensing at The Disney Music Group. Can you come to our offices in Burbank to discuss working for us as well?”
Thank God I didn’t laugh, or hang up, or say, “C’mon. Who is this?”
“Yes. Absolutely. . .“ So, off I went to the 20th Century Fox Backlot in Burbank, California.
Gary Gary at the 20th Century Fox Backlot
Among several other sources of income, all from doing music full time, I’ve been able to forge one particularly interesting niche in the music industry: Re-Records.
The definition of a Re-Record (pronounced like “record my guitar,” not like “listen to this vinyl record”) is: a Brand-New recording, produced from scratch, which sounds just like an original master recording. Quite a challenge.
There are certain laws and regulations governing the publication and licensing of major motion picture soundtracks. To make a long story short, suffice it to say that, in many cases, it can be extremely cost prohibitive for record labels or major film studios who own the master recordings of a music soundtrack, to license those musical recordings. It can be crazy expensive for everyone involved. So, labels and large movie corporations sometimes have a master recording re-recorded. The resulting re-record can then be licensed much more easily. When they own the master and own/control the copyrights, this is something they have every right to do and can do legally.
The niche I created, without even knowing it at the time, is being able to take any recording needing a re-record and, without the use of a score or lead sheet or stem files or any other elements - just the original MP3 or WAV file (and my ears) - quickly produce an exact replica of that recording from scratch. The specialized niche within the niche is that I can do it well, do it fast, and do it with extremely low maintenance. (I don’t ask for additional resources, and I turn in my recordings on schedule, without the need for changes).
This requires one to be on their A-game consistently, in every single aspect of recording, mixing and mastering. What I realized after producing my first few re-records for major companies such as The Disney Music Group and 20th Century Fox, is that I’m getting paid to thoroughly study the best composers, writers, producers and engineers in the business - hands on, note for note.
For my first job, I was given a six-minute full-blown epic orchestral piece to create. They mentioned a quick turn-around was needed. I told them 4 days. They said, “what?”
I thought by their reaction that 4 days was going to be too long. “You can do it that fast?”
They made funny faces and said, “Ok, wow.”
That was November 3rd. I delivered a six minute Master Recording and 30 Stem Files on November 7th.
To make the Holiday’s even brighter, I was immediately asked to produce a second job for 20th Century Fox, a 4:13 Heavy Rock/Orchestral track. Now, I know not everyone’s dream or goal is to create re-records. I love doing them when needed because they keep my production chops very sharp, they help me continually streamline my workflow, and they pay well.
And most importantly, they allow me to develop new approaches to teaching high quality music production techniques. I’ve been sharing these techniques with my private students. 1-for-1, each student is doing extremely well with music licensing. Many of these techniques involve music production ear-training exercises that I have developed.
Here are some great success stories that occurred in the last week alone:
Liz Cirelli, from Italy, is now scoring her first major film. Paul Armendariz, from San Diego, just landed his first major placement for a designer clothing line television commercial. CJ DeLeo, from Los Angeles, just signed a one-album licensing contract with a major player in the licensing world, Alcon Sleeping Giant, for his band Kicking Sunrise.
Getting back to Aaron Davison’s new Premium website; I’ll be there with Aaron, giving quarterly coaching sessions (annual members), and continually supplying you with updated content to help you increase your confidence and make more money. Speaking of which, here’s what came in for that second job:
So, that was $5,000 income in two weeks for 10 minutes of music! I guess Santa found out I was nice last year.
Aaron and I are looking forward to working closely with every member on the new How To License Your Music.Com Premium website! See you there!
Gary Gray, Los Angeles, Jan 31, 2018
p.s. Here’s a sneak preview regarding some of the latest content that will soon be available on the premium website:
I spent a full day with the entire post-production sound & music editing team at CBS for NCIS. Interviews, video footage and more! Amazing content.