There are common mistakes a lot of bands make that end up sapping the enthusiasm out of being in a gigging band. By making simple shifts in behavior you can make your band more successful than it currently is.
Mistake 1: Failure To Make Sales
I see this happening all the time. A band makes great music yet doesn’t release anything for sale. It’s great that you want to play shows but if you aren’t selling your music the fans have no way to take that experience home with them and you’ll soon be forgotten. Related to this are bands that do release music but feel guilty or nervous about pushing sales. You need to get your music out there and charge something for it. Do you value your music? If you want your fans to value it then sell it.
Mistake 2: Playing Terrible Shows
By playing terrible shows, I don’t mean the band had a shitty performance. I mean taking every gig offered without thinking things through. Yes, it’s important to be working hard and getting out there but it’s pointless to play shows if no one shows up. Playing a lot of shows early on is important in order to get experience but once you are past that phase you need to be more selective. Playing to empty venues where you are not making money is not only a waste of time but it kills the band’s enthusiasm for their music career. Instead of playing a crap gig where no one is going to show up, spend that evening working on booking a better show. One really great show is worth a dozen bad ones.
Mistake 3: Not Marketing Consistently
Do one thing per day to push your music. It doesn’t have to be huge but do something. It’s not fun and you’d rather be doing something else but it’s important that you are out there reminding people of your existence. You may have the greatest songs in the world but if nobody knows about them what’s the point? If you focus on making an effort daily it will pay off.
Mistake 4: Jealousy
The little green monster. It’s natural and it happens to the best of us. You’re out there playing shows, working hard and you see another band get ahead because they have a connection you don’t. It’s easy to fall into the pattern of jealousy and anger but a simple shift in perspective can turn this negativity into something that can benefit your career. The next time you see another band becoming successful, just have the mindset of “Hey, if this band can get do [X] then so can I” and then work towards that goal. Competition is good and it breeds better music. If it’s a band in the same genre as you, set up a Google Alert to help track what they are doing. You can see where and how they are connecting with their fans and then come up with your own plan of attack for getting exposure.
Mistake 5: Being Boring
Don’t play the same set at every show. Seriously. If your hardcore fans are coming to all of your shows they are going to get bored as shit hearing the same exact songs in the same exact order every week. One good set is not enough. Write more songs. Working on writing every day.
When I’m working on mixing songs I always check my mix against a variety of setups to ensure that it’ll sound decent on as wide a variety of systems as possible. My workflow will usually proceed as follows:
Mix on studio monitors
Run through pre-lim mastering process
Check mix again on studio monitors
Check mix on car stereo 1
Check mix on car stereo 2
Check mix on laptop speakers
Check mix on ear-bud headphones
Check mix on over-ear headphones
Check mix on shitty boombox
Repeat steps until mix is refined to final state
In my opinion, the car mixes are the most important as that where the majority of people tend to listen to their music. With such a large number of listening environments things can get disorganized pretty quickly unless you have a process in place. I used to carry around a paper notebook specifically for mix notes but I noticed that it tends to get a bit messy. Sometimes I forget if I’ve already made a fix I took a note on, sometimes I don’t have my notebook with me, etc. While I still keep the notebook around for quick notes now I’ve switched over to using Evernote. I first heard of ever note when I went out to SXSW in 2011. I used it at the conference to take notes on my iPad while on the go. Evernote stores all of your notes in cloud storage so you have access to them from any computer, tablet or smartphone. This is much better than copying files back and forth from a USB drive, you never need to worry about if you have the most recent version if you are making changes on multiple computers. They have native applications available for desktop, iOS and Android in addition to the website interface. Since Evernote worked so well for me at the conference I decided to start using it for other things as well, such as taking notes down on mixes when listening in my car. I can just update the mixnotes notebook from my smartphone and then look it up later when I’m in the studio. As I make the changes I just take them off the list. Next round of mix listening I take more notes from my phone or desktop and repeat. The free version only limits the amount of data you can transfer per month, since most of mine is text I have yet to really run into going over my allotted bandwidth.
Once you’ve amassed a large collection of samples properly cataloging all of these sounds is critical for optimum workflow during a studio session. On Mac I’ve found a great program that handles this, AudioFinder. AudioFinder lets you catalog all of your sounds by genre, type, or project. You can then quickly search through for a particular sound, for example “hi-hats” and it will retrieve a listing of all the hi-hat sounds on your system. You can then right within the app preview the sound at any pitch or BPM and if you like it just drag and drop it right into Logic, ProTools or Ableton.
Hardware compressors such as the Universal Audio 2-1176 are a favorite among studios.
Mix-buss compression can be a confusing for those who are unfamiliar with how it works. Some producers throw it on every track to make it punchy, others prefer to keep the buss pure.
If you are going to use mix-buss compression don’t just throw it on at the end, start from the beginning of your mix process with compression on the stereo buss. Each fader change will affect the overall sound, if you throw on compression at the end of mixing the overall balance of your track can be thrown off.
Hardware or Software?
If you prefer to go the hardware route there are some great compression units out there. Just like how different mic pre-amps lend their own sonic character during recording, compressors also impart their own signature on a track. I’m a fan of Universal Audio’s hardware and software compression plugins. These aren’t “transparent” in color but for the type of music I usually work on they add a pleasant sonic quality.
A good way to find your initial compression settings is to watch the meters on your compressor, they should bounce nearly in time with the tempo of the track. If they are going faster you release time may be too short, if they are staying pinned the release time is probably too long. Attack time is a little more straightforward, the faster the attack the sooner the compression will kick in during the attack portion of the sound. Having a slower attack time will let more transients slip through but it may not work for the material you are mixing. Conversely, too fast of an attack can often leave a track dull and flat sounding. Once you are used to listening to how compression works you can trust your ears to tell you if there is too much. You’ll hear an audible pumping, if you hear this you’ve often gone too far unless it’s for a special effect.
For overall stereo buss compression you can usually leave the ration pretty low, 2:1 or 1.5:1 are a good place to start. Then adjust the threshold so you get a minimal amount of gain reduction. Less is more when compressing the mix buss.
A common mistake most inexperienced mixers make is just throwing on stereo compression to the mix to make their mixes louder to match commercial recordings. If you are going to get your finished tracks mastered I highly recommend against this. Mastering engineers usually add additional compression during mastering and if your mix is already brickwalled it makes it much more difficult to get a decent mastered track. Instead of having one massive stage with lots of compression, split it up. Put some slight compression on the individual tracks. Then some mix buss compression. Finally in mastering put on another level of compression. Three smaller stages of compression will always sound better than one massive stage. I would also avoid throwing on multi-band compression on the mix buss. If you find your track needs it, you’re probably better off going back and fixing the EQ and compression settings per individual track first.
I hope this gives a little insight into how compression on the stereo buss should be used. Happy mixing.