Thursday, October 24, 2013

Underground On Top Cypher Ep. 1 (Grotesque | Danny Thomas | KillaT | Deadly D | TK)

This is the first official Underground On Top cypher which is also a bonus track off of Danny Thomas's upcoming "No Commercials" album that is dropping on December 7th, 2013. Pre-order the album here:

Be sure to subscribe. Links to everyone in the cypher below.
Underground On Top

Danny Thomas

Deadly D

Killa T




Song mastered by P Blaze:

Thanks for watching! Look out for future UOT cyphers!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Picking a Place to Live (and Record)

This post focuses on things to look for when you want to live and record in the same space.

Not too many of us producer types actually have the benefit of a dedicated studio space, working in rented rooms, in rehearsal spaces, or *gasp* where we live. But what are some of the things that we can look out for in living spaces that make for great recording spaces?

Some things that make for exceptional living/recording spaces are:
Isolation from neighbors. A truly make-or-break quality, this can mean either distance or really solid walls. Concrete or brick is usually best for isolation – even better is if there are some air gaps or rubber in between. Similarly, floated ceilings and/or floors help reduce bass transmission, mechanical reverberation, and footstep noises.
  • Tall ceilings help reduce ‘boxiness’ and add to a robust bass response.
  • Non-parallel walls. If you can find a space that is somewhat irregular, it helps to cut down on reflections and standing waves.
  • Closets. Closets are great for isolating amps or for getting a dry sound. I use my walk-in closet as a vocal booth because the 13 foot ceiling, clothes, and boxes make for a really dry but non-boxy sound.
  • Separate rooms with line-of-sight to each other. Rooms with windows can make great control room / live room setups.
  • Ductwork can be useful for running cables cleanly from room to room (as long as it doesn’t get toohot in there).
  • No water problems. The worst thing you can have in a studio is water damage. Look out for signs of past water damage.
  • Quiet utilities. Radiators are way quieter than forced air, for instance.
  • Outlets and isolated, capable circuits. Amps can blow wimpy electrical systems and poorly isolated circuits can introduce annoying noise into your gear.
  • Security features such as deadbolts or alarm systems. Not having a land-level window helps.

These are just some thoughts based on my experiences with some of the great and not so great spaces in which I have lived and tracked. Leave your own experiences in the comments!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Mixing with Headphones: Avoiding Disaster

Talk to most engineers about mixing with headphones and you’ll hear a familiar refrain: “don’t”. That’s generally pretty good advice. You have to be really careful with headphones as they will “lie” to you about many aspects of your music. Sometimes, though, it can’t be helped. Maybe you’re on the road, maybe you can’t get into a studio, maybe you’re just making a rough mix for someone. If you absolutely must mix with headphones, here are some tips to help avoid the biggest mistakes people make.

Keep It Dry

Headphones don’t contribute much acoustic information to the sound you’re hearing because they’re so close to your ears. Everything sounds very close. You’ll be tempted to make things sound deeper, wider, and more lush than you should with headphones because of the flatness of the soundstage. The best advice is to keep it dry because you have no frame of reference. A dry mix is far more likely to sound good on speakers when mixed with headphones than one with a lot of delay and reverb. Otherwise you’ll run the risk of a washed out sound devoid of impact when you add the acoustics of an actual listening environment and distance from speakers.

Keep It Simple

Fancy effects such as flanging, phasing, and their ilk will sound very different with speakers because their positioning will contribute natural phase shifts. If you start messing with phase in your headphone mix you have no way of knowing what will happen when you add speaker distance into the equation. Again, play it safe and keep things simple.

Use the Whole Stereo Image

While this is true when mixing with speakers, it’s especially true with headphones. Headphones are two points of sound which typically generate three major lobes: left, center, and right. These lobes will be loudest and things will sound especially huge when panned into these positions. Remember that you have all the space in-between those lobes to use and that headphones will probably sound most impressive with things panned hard. Be aware of that and avoid the temptation to make everything live there.

Lean On Your Mastering Engineer

You are going to master this material, right? When in doubt, cut and boost less. Compress less. Headphones will seldom have flat frequency responses and generally have very different transient response than speakers. For one thing their drivers are generally smaller and lighter, meaning transients will snap more aggressively. Do yourself a favor and be conservative with EQ and compression. Any equalization will introduce phase shifts and will degrade the inherent quality of the source material. If you EQ too far the mastering engineer will have to EQ the other way, doubling the detrimental impact. It’s best if you don’t compress the stereo bus at all. A good mastering engineer will be able to turn a solid mix into a great mix if you give them room to do their work. Their familiarity with their monitors and room will help compensate for your lack of monitors and room in the mixing process.

Use Multiple References

The same rules that apply to mixing with speakers apply to headphones: the more references you have the better. In addition to your standard headphones (I use Sony MDR-7506) check on something very different (like I cross reference on Etymotic ER-4P canalphones). Don’t forget consumer-grade headphones like plain white iPod earbuds! If it sounds great on all of these, you’re more likely to have a solid mix.

If there’s any way you can mix on real studio monitors, do it. Otherwise follow these tips and you just might be able to pull of a slammin’ mix with your headphones.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Producers: How To Find Music Submission Opportunities On Twitter!

Have you ever wanted to know how to find people to send your music to on Twitter? Look no further. Through the power of the most powerful search engine in the world, aka Google, you can easily find the latest and greatest music submission opportunities on Twitter. Keep reading for the details…

First thing first, you need to understand a few simple Google search tricks that will help you refine your results…

#1 Searching within a specific site

This first tip will allow you to choose a particular site (in this case Twitter) and receive search results ONLY from that site. In order to do this you must type “site:” then the domain you want to search immediately after it…

#2 Phrase search

The next step is to add a “phrase search” to your search. When you add quotes to a group of words in Google, you are telling Google to consider the exact words in that exact order without any change. So in our case, we can add phrases like “send beats”, “send tracks”, “your best beats”, etc. Think of phrases nobody would use, unless they wanted some music…

#3 Refining your search with the *wildcard

This last step is very useful for broadening your search results. When you place a * in your search phrase, Google trades the star as a placeholder for any unknown term or terms and finds the best matches for them. So if you search for “send * beats”, you will get results like “send me beats”, “send your best beats”, “send more beats”, etc…

#4 Getting the most recent search results

This final tip will help you get the most up to date results. AFTER you search, you can click on “More search tools” , on the left side of the search results. This will open up options to show results which have popped up over the last 24 hours, week, month, year, or whichever time period you want to search through.

The power of Google Search

With these tips you are well on your way to finding the latest submission opportunities. The thing that is great about this, is that Google automatically sifts the results in order of importance. So pages that are links to higher profile (aka more famous) Twitter accounts usually come up first. On the opposite spectrum, artists such as “Lil Baby D” and “Juggalo Strangla”, will be towards the end of the results. Google can be a great ally for your e-grind. Try thinking outside of the box and maybe you can find some more opportunities outside of twitter… hmmmm……..

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

15 Ways You Can Instantly Improve Your Music

You want to take your music production to the NEXT level? Well I've put together a list of things you can and SHOULD do to improve the quality of your music NOW.

1.) Listen to more music.

Obvious? I don’t mean listen to the same music you’ve been listening to every other day. I mean find and source NEW music. The sound click charts don’t count. Listen to music and genres you wouldn’t normally listen to. Listen to music from the past.

Find the music that inspired the artists you love, and hear their influences. Delve into a broader range of tunes. Even if you don’t make that kind of music, widening your ‘musical peripheral vision’ will definitely have an influence on the music that you create. Remember to treat it as an art, and like all art inspiration is key. Be inspired by music you haven’t heard before.

I try to make it a goal of mine to search out new music and new genres that I haven’t heard before, rather that stick to the same artists. You may have to wade through some bad music in the process, but trust me the widened knowledge you gain will be worth it.

2.) Focused practice

More specifically, practice specific areas of your production. Take a few hours to improve your drum programming, with no intention of creating a full track. Spend some time exploring different EQ settings or mixing techniques you haven’t tried, or going through those plugins you have but never use.

A lot of people make beats regularly, but don’t improve (Or improve at a high rate) because they’re stuck in the same patterns over and over. Focus on improving specific areas of your production, whether it be drums, mixing, chord progressions, percussion, sound selection, sound creation, arrangement, and the list goes on… There’s always specific areas that need improvement, identify some of yours and get to work, NOW.

3.) Experiment

This means stop using those same tired drums, that same chord progression you used in the last 5 beats, the same sounds, etc. Act as if this is your first beat ever, and you’re trying new things. Try to step out of the self-imposed rules you’ve developed for your music, and push the boundaries a little.

This doesn’t mean go crazy and make everything sound spastic, but it does mean intentionally trying things you haven’t tried before, and making an effort to go outside the patterns that you usually follow.

4.) Learn synthesis (sound creation)

Stop relying on presets and learn how to create your own sounds! So what if you found a preset Danja or B. Cox used. If you truly want to be great you have to do things that other people aren’t willing to, and that includes learning how to craft your own sounds.

Once you get into it it’s not as hard as it looks, and having the ability to make your own sounds is great. In the long run it will save you the time of going through your presets looking for that ‘specific’ sound you hear in your head. This way you can just make it yourself.

5.) Learn your tools

This means stop looking for the next best thing. With the influx of technology advancing as fast as it does, it’s easy to get lost in all the options, and constantly be looking for the next ‘tool, gear or piece of software’ to bring your production to the next level. Now obviously as producers we rely heavily on technology, and I’m not saying that it’s not important to have good gear or software, but choose your tools carefully and stick with them, to get the most out of them.

If you keep looking for the next DAW, the next best VST or whatever, you’re only going to skim the surface on everything you use. Take the time to learn and master your tools, before you go looking for something better.

6.) Make your music for the right reasons

Don’t start producing as a way to make money. Do it for love and passion of creating. Just because you downloaded a copy of FL Studio doesn’t mean you’ll be making Timbaland money within a year. If your focus becomes money and not creating art then your craft will suffer.

That doesn’t mean DON’T make money off your craft if you can, but always remember that you’re doing this because you love it first, not because of money.

7.) Collaborate

Collab, collab, collab. Find rappers, singers, other producers, friends, WHOEVER to collaborate with.Collaboration inspires creativity. I guarantee you you’ll come up with ideas you never would of thought of by yourself by working with other creatives.

Other creative minds will see things from different perspectives, and in turn will open you up to new ideas. It might be a melody or chord progression, or even a whole new genre that you never would of tried. The greatest music was made through collaborative efforts. Think Quincy and Michael.

8.) Embrace critique

These days, critique of music or different opinions is quick to be labelled ‘hate’. If you really are committed to improving your craft, you will be open to critique and feedback. This doesn’t mean ‘YO LISTEN TO MY BEATZ THERE DOPE’.

This means seek out people to TELL you where your music is lacking. Stop looking for an ego boost and try find people who will tell you where you need to improve. Stay humble, and stay learning.

9.) Layer your drums

A lot of people say this, but even more people don’t do it. Layering your drums is a great way to give those sounds extra punch. For your kicks, find a ‘primary’ sound, this will be the main ‘hit’ or ‘punch’ for your kick and will provide the main lower end.

After that find a few more kicks to layer, with more mid-low punch to give your kicks that extra crispness. Also layering percussion sounds like such as toms, congo’s etc with your kicks can be used with great effect. Another tip, if you layer two kicks and they don’t seem to be hitting together right, pitching the ‘secondary’ kick up or down a few semitones until you find the sweet spot can often fix the problem.

Once you’ve done this a few times you’ll develop a sense on how to pitch your drums right to get them hitting well with each other.

10.) Learn an instrument

Piano helps a LOT, but it could be guitar, drums, the triangle, whatever. Learning an instrument will greatly improve your knowledge of writing and creating music. I was lucky enough to of been learning piano since a young age, and I can tell you having that skill has improved my production more than I can say.

You don’t have to be the next Mozart, but learn your chords and scales at the very minimum. The extra effort you put in now will be worth it when you’re improving crazy melodies on the fly, and coming up with chord progressions with ease.

Even if you don’t want to get lessons with the internet now, there are tonnes of way you can teach yourself, just do a you tube search or a Google search.

11.) Save your drum sounds

Easy, but not everyone does it. Up until a few months ago, I didn’t. If you’ve just layered and EQ and made yourself an amazing kick or snare, don’t just leave it in the current project. Export it as a .WAV so you can re-use it in future projects. Or so you can use it and layer it with more sounds to create even crazier drums.

The possibilities are endless. And eventually you’ll have a bank of custom made, EQ’d and layered drum sounds that you can access with ease.

12.) Studio monitors

Invest in some studio monitors! If you don’t have some already, you’ll be able to hear the difference straight away. You’ll hear things in your tracks that you didn’t notice before, flaws, EQ clashes etc. Most desktop speakers are designed to make music appear better than it actually is.

This is great if you’re a general listener, but if you’re someone who is creating music you want to be able to hear every detail, every flaw, and hear the music exactly how it sounds. Studio monitors will allow you to pick out errors in your mixing and fix them.

13.) Beat battles

A great way to push you to improve is by joining beat battles. This not only puts your music in the public eye and gives you valuable criticism and feedback, but the act of competing will push you to become more creative and put more effort into your tracks, because you know they’ll be going in the public view.

14.) Organize your drum sounds

This is one I’m guilty of not really doing, but I know I should. Organizing your drum sounds will improve your efficiency and workflow. There’s nothing worse than having a great idea and having to search through hundreds of drums to find the ones you’re looking for. Organize your drum sounds so when that great spark of inspiration hits you, you can lay it down STRAIGHT away. Who knows if the inspiration will still be there once you’ve spent half an hour looking for the perfect drum sounds.

15.) Share this blog post

Well this may not help your music, but it will help me! If this article was useful to you it would be much appreciated it you’d hit one of the ‘share’ buttons below!

Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed. If you need anything clarified feel free to leave a comment and ask! And feel free to add any more personal tips you have of your own, I’d love to hear them.

Friday, March 15, 2013

3 Tips For Creating A Successful Mixtape

Hip hop has become more and more competitive in recent years, and a single mixtape can now make the difference between a career of obscurity and skyrocketing into the Billboard Charts. The hard truth is that there are a number of mistakes and misconceptions about mixtapes that many fall victim to, and the aim of this blog is to help future rhymesayers avoid those traps. If you have anything to add to my advice, or perhaps have an idea for a future column, comment below and let me know your thoughts.

1. Mixtapes are more than just a collection of free songs
Not long ago, mixtapes were looked at more as a source for promotional singles buried in throwaway material than anything else, but ever since Drake released So Far Gone the new norm has been to present as much high quality material as possible. Mixtapes are no longer another word for demo, but rather a synonym for “free album.” Approaching your mixtape with this in mind is key to finding success in hip hop today. Labels, especially majors, want artists with proven track records for success, and nothing speaks louder to A&R than having an album completed without the assistance of big names and money.

2. Tell your story, not what’s popular
If you spend enough time listening to any one style of music you will eventually begin to figure out what “sells.” While understanding what people want to hear is very important, it’s equally important to remember that your music is meant to be a reflection of you. There are countless artists able to boast about lifestyles of luxury and nights filled with beautiful women, but they are an equally countless amount of people who see right through all those well-penned lies. Being honest with who you are as a person, including your history, dreams, fears, and memories, are what people will connect with when hearing your music. If all your lines are about a life you don’t live yourself, people will sense the deception (and likely call you out for it).

3. If you give your music away for free, know why you’re doing it
Many artists today are giving away free music because they feel that is the only way to attract fans. The truth is, more people are interested in good music than free music, and they’re willing to pay for it. If you have a few great tracks that you really believe in, ask yourself whether or not offering them for free will help your career. If you believe they will, make a list of the ways you can take forge relationships with listeners through giving your music away, such as requiring emails in exchange for downloads, and outline a plan to maximize the exposure your release receives.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Flippin March Madness Vol.3

Third year in a row! 31 Flips / 31 Days. Will Tek crack this year and not make it? Naw, quitting isn't in my nature. Thanks to everyone who's collaborated on these projects with me! Hopefully this year I can get some more drops before the tracks-- getting ahead of myself though.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Do I Need to Trademark My Label Name

If your record label is a registered business, then your label name is your "trade name". Trade names are not officially protected under copyright law, so technically speaking, someone could start a record label using the same name. That might sound a little scary, but most record labels will not meet the requirements for qualifying for a trademark. A trademark is a branding of a service or product that you can prove to be unique from what other companies are offering. There is very little room to do that as a record label.

Just because you probably won't be able to trademark your record label name doesn't mean that there aren't things you can do to keep your label branding strong. Get an internet domain name that matches (as closely as possible) your label name. Have a label logo and a distinct set of catalogue numbers. If you are an indie label, always promote your label along with your new releases. Make building your label identity a priority in case someone else does come along and think up the same name. The more established you are, the less likely someone is to run with the idea of ripping off your name. It may sound counter-intuitive - after all, your established label name may open some doors - but the jig would be up almost instantly. Anyone serious about establishing their own business will realize that they are much better off building their own label brand.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Music Industry Myths: You Can Do It All Yourself

There are tons of myths about how the music industry operates, and when you're trying to break into the business, these misconceptions can send you down the wrong path in a big way. This is part five in a series looking at common music business myths so you can avoid falling prey to them. Be sure to check the bottom of the article for more information.

Let's get one thing straight up front here - you can do A LOT yourself in the music industry. This is not an argument that you need some big major label behind you pulling the shots or that you need to give up a lot of control over your music career to make it in the business. No way. DIY ethos in the music industry often leads to the best of everything - the best music, the best labels, the best show - you name it. In fact, being able to do a lot of things yourself in your music career will pay off for you in a big way.

Here's the "but" - no matter how much you want to, you can't REALLY do it all yourself. On a small scale, you can, but when you want your music career to grow, you're going to need some helping hands. Here are a just a few reasons you might need help pulling off your music goals:

You May Not Know The Ropes

If you're new to the music industry (or even if you're not), you're bound to enter uncharted territory at some point. As you might recall, another music industry myth is that you shouldn't admit you don't know something - and when you're trying to take your career in a new direction, it's a good idea to find someone who can help you figure out how to make it happen. Help is good.

You Don't Have Time 

No one has time to do everything. If you take on too much, everything is bound to suffer. When you're trying to build a music career, the work is seemingly endless. Delegation is a skill, and so is knowing where you're strong and where you're weak and bringing in people who make up for your weak spots.

This issue is especially important for musicians. When you're running the business side of the band single handedly, you're distracted from the music itself. Although it's not always practical or possible, having someone take on some of these tasks for you is ideal.

You Don't Have The Connections

You need to be careful about who you work with in the industry, but if someone legitimate comes along that has been at this a little longer and has the ability to open some doors for you - go for it.

Outside Perspectives Help

When you're running things yourself, it's easy to get so wrapped in your small projects that you don't see the big picture. Having someone else around brings in fresh perspective and can help point out potential problem areas you have overlooked.

Here's another way to look at this notion. Taking a DIY approach doesn't absolve you from having to do all of the same work that the big companies do to promote an album, promote a show or any other music related task. The process is still the same, and since you have far less pull than a bigger company, if anything, you need to work harder. That is why DIY usually isn't so much "do-it-yourself" as it is "do-it-with-a-small-group-of-likeminded-people."

So, keep in mind, although you don't have to sacrifice your rights and your control of your music career, sharing some of the responsibility in a way that works for you can help you reach your goals faster.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Music Business Etiquette. Oh Yeah, That Matters!

Think music industry etiquette doesn't matter? Think again. There may be some things about the music business that make it less uptight than other industries, but word of mouth is a large part of what makes the business tick - and when an industry runs on word of mouth, how you treat the people you encounter counts. Now, I'm not saying that you need to bring a host(ess) gift to your next business meeting, but there are a few things you can do to avoid becoming THAT guy / girl. Here are a few music industry etiquette tips to help you stay on the right side of your fellow music biz types.

1. BCC Is Your Friend

When you send an email to a group of people, use the BCC (blind carbon copy) field. If you don't, everyone who is copied on your email list can grab the email addresses of everyone else - and not everyone is going to be cool with that. Using BCC says, hey, I appreciate having this line of contact for you, and I respect your right to decide who does and doesn't have this address. This is true of both industry email lists and fan email lists.

Of course, accidents happen. If you accidentally CC rather than BCC your email list, apologize. It still might not make you the most popular kid for a little while, but at least you have acknowledged that you understand that you have compromised the privacy of the people on your list.

2. Use Follow-Up Sense

You're waiting for some feedback on your song/business prop/etc. And you're waiting. And you're waiting. And it's just not coming.

Frustrating? Oh, absolutely. But there is a line between following up territory and restraining order territory. Don't cross it. Unless the entire world will collapse if you don't get an answer on something by 6 PM, if you're calling or emailing multiple times per day, you're probably going overboard. Likewise, don't track down home numbers, etc, and try to catch people out that way. If you make multiple follow-ups, a simple, "I know you're busy, but..." and a "please let me know if you need more info" make gentle reminders that you're waiting for news. Stay polite, annoying as it may be.

3. State Your Business

The first time you make contact with someone, give yourself a proper introduction. Don't assume they know who you are, and don't do things like (one of my personal faves) send an email that simply says something like, "let's work!"

Of course, don't start at birth, either -. "Hi, I'm so and so from such and such" plus a few details and maybe a website link work fine. Then, explain why you're reaching out, be it booking a show, soliciting advice or just because you like what they're doing and wanted to open a line of communicaton. If you're hoping to meet up or have a phone call to discuss something, say so and suggest a few times. Be clear and concise - you're more likely to get a response if people can actually understand what you're after.

4. Keep Your Appointments (And Buy The Coffee)

If you make an appointment with someone, keep it or reschedule it. Bonus points for being on time or calling if you are going to be late. It is just good manners, period. Plus, not showing up for a meeting makes you look irresponsible, unreliable and scatty.

Likewise, if you request a meeting with someone to ask for advice or pitch something to them, consider springing for their coffee/drink/meal if at all possible. It is a gracious thank-you for their time. Of course, money can get pretty tight in the music industry, but if you can do it - go for it.

5. Put It In The Vault

The music industry is a very small place. You may have the goods on a lot of music business deals gone wrong, not to mention the personal goods on what so and so did on tour or why so and so got booted from the band. Tempting as it may be to blab - zip it. This is doubly true of your own deals gone wrong. You may feel incredibly slighted by your band break-up or management collapse, but take the high road when pressed for details.

Two good reasons to button your lips? Well, one: gossip is a two way street - you probably have a few stories of your own you'd appreciate someone keeping close. Two: being a big mouth says, "if our working relationship doesn't work out, I will violate your trust, too." Doesn't exactly instill confidence.

6. Take Your Lumps

Not everyone is going to like everything you do. Whether their displeasure is expressed by declining to work with you or in review form for all to see, don't even think of sending an outraged email or getting them on the phone to confront them. Yes, maybe they DON'T get what you're doing, maybe they're the only ones to have ever complained - just let it ride. You can't bully someone into liking your music. There is no accounting for who likes what, and you can't predict it or change it. If there are "fair enough" points in a bad review, take them. Otherwise, your time is much better spent focusing on the people who are into what you're doing and making peace with the fact that there is no such thing as unanimous in the music biz.

7. Respect the Free Stuff

Free stuff, like guest list spots or promos, don't just fall from the sky. They may be free to you, but someone is paying for them. Getting to go to shows for free or getting free music are great perks of working in music, but try not to send your favorite band into bankruptcy by treating your 25 closest friends to a free night out at their show. Be reasonable when requesting guest list spots and other free things.

8. Thank You

Did someone take the time to respond to your request for advice, give you a recommendation or introduction or help you in some other way? For goodness sake, thank them.