By Steve La Cerra

Sidechaining and keying

We often cover the basics of dynamics processing in these pages, focusing mainly on simple applications of compression, limiting, gating, and expansion, but advanced processing functions can be achieved using dynamics processors, through the use of techniques known as sidechaining and keying. This month we’ll explain the concepts behind key inputs and sidechains, and explore applications for their uses. Most of these ideas apply to hardware and software processing, though the execution varies somewhat. While you’re reading through this, please remember that the key input or sidechain to a dynamics processor is separate from the audio path.


Example of automated key operation, using MOTU Digital Performer.

Watching the Detectors All dynamics processors contain a control circuit, often referred to as a detector. This is the hardware circuit (or software emulation thereof ) that does the thinking for the device. The detector analyzes the audio signal and—based upon the way you configure controls—applies the requisite gain control. [Editor’s note: the sound of a compressor is all about the type of detector circuitry the designer has employed. Optical, Vari-Mu, and VCA compressors possess very different gain control characteristics, resulting in distinct sonic characters—all of which are eminently useful. That’s a discussion for another time.] 

Under most circumstances, the detector is listening to the same audio signal that is being processed. This sounds deceptively simple: After all, why wouldn’t the detector be controlled by the same audio that it’s processing? The answer is, a lot of advanced dynamic effects can be created when the detector reacts to a signal other than the audio signal it is processing. To accomplish this, a hardware compressor must have a separate key input or a sidechain path consisting of a dedicated input and output. You can route anything you want to this input and use it to take control over the detection process. For example, you can route a kick drum to the detector and let the kick drum govern gain reduction on a vocal; see the block diagrams shown in Figures 1A and 1B. Figure 1A (right) shows audio in the compressor being split and routed to the audio path and the detector. Figure 1B shows a vocal in the audio path, but a kick drum is routed to the detector’s key input. Every time the kick drum is hit, the compressor acts on the vocal.


Fig. 1A. Audio sent through the compressor is split and routed to the audio path and the detector.

The beauty of using plug-ins is that many of them feature a key input, even if that plug-in is emulating a hardware device that did not have a key input. For example, the original Universal Audio 1176 limiter did not have a key input, but the Bomb Factory BF76 1176 emulation does, letting you accomplish processing that was impossible with the original hardware unit. 


Many plug-ins feature a key input, even if that plug-in is emulating a hardware device that did not have a key input. For example, the original Universal Audio 1176 limiter did not have a key input, but the Bomb Factory BF76 1176 emulation does (see upper left corner), letting you accomplish processing that was impossible with the original hardware unit.

Key Control Enabling key operation simply requires feeding any signal you’d like into the key input. Let’s take as an example the commercial “donut”: Radio and TV commercials typically start with a few seconds of music, and then a voiceover comes in to deliver the sales pitch. In the olden days, an engineer would manually lower the music when the voiceover started so that the music would not compete with the message. When the voiceover ended, the music would briefly return to the original level before fading out. 

This process can be automated by using the voiceover to control the gain of a compressor inserted on the music track. The routing for this process is demonstrated in the screen shot of Digital Performer’s mixer window. In this window, the track on the left (highlighted red) is the voiceover. The track on the right (highlighted blue) is the music.

MOTU’s dynamics processor is inserted on the music track and is set to Compressor. The drop-down menu for the Control Signal is open. You’ll see Input at the top of the menu and a list of buses underneath. When the Control Signal is set to Input, the dynamics processor behaves as you’d expect: It acts based upon what the music is doing—i.e. when the music track gets louder, compression increases. However we have set the Control Signal to Bus 1.

The Voiceover track has a send on Bus 1; the send knob is turned up and the send is set Prefader so that the key signal is independent of the vocal fader. This routing enables the compression on the music track to be “triggered” or “keyed” from the voice track. When the voice starts, it feeds audio to the Control input of the dynamics plug-in, causing the music track to be compressed.

When the voiceover ends, the signal at the Control input ceases and the music track returns to normal volume. This process is known as a ducker. Note that once the Control Signal is set to Bus 1, the compressor will not function unless there is a signal present on Bus 1. A similar technique can be used in a karaoke situation or for a restaurant paging systems in which the announcer’s voice ducks the background music.


Fig. 1B. In this diagram, the kick drum is the control signal, keying compression on vocals.

There are other uses for a ducker, one of which is a compression trick from back in the metal days. If you have a song with distorted rhythm guitars and you want to keep them “in yer face,” use the lead vocal to key compression on the guitar tracks. Every time the vocal enters, the guitars are reduced in level. You’ll need to set the parameters of the compressor so that the effect is subtle: Try medium to fast attack and quick release times so that as soon as the voice starts, the guitars duck and as soon as the voice ends the guitars come back to normal. Start with a ratio of 2:1 or 3:1; you’ll need to play around with the threshold to achieve just a few dB of compression so that the effect is not obvious. The nice thing about doing this in a DAW (as opposed to the old analog days) is that you can easily route the vocal to key compressors on multiple guitar tracks without the hassle of physically splitting the signal and connecting a lot of patch cables etc. Simply set the key inputs of the compressors to the same bus as the vocal send. 

I use the same technique all the time with delay effects on lead vocal, live and in the studio. Ducking the delay while the vocalist is singing keeps the vocal in front and maintains clarity. When the vocal ends, the delay comes up, making it more audible.


Fig. 2. Here, the vocal is fed into the compressor, and an EQ is patched into the sidechain.

Filter Your Mouth Sidechaining is a similar concept, but involves sending the detector signal out to an external processor, altering it, and then returning it back to the detector input. Patching an EQ into the sidechain is very common, and can be used to create a de-esser. A de-esser is actually a compressor that has been made sensitive or “tuned” to sibilant frequencies. This process is achieved by applying an EQ to the signal before it returns back to the detector. In the block diagram shown in Figure 2, the vocal is fed into the compressor, and an EQ is patched into the sidechain. (Note that the compressor’s sidechain switch must be engaged or the EQ is not applied.) I usually dump out all of the frequencies below around 3 kHz and apply a severe boost in the upper mids (anywhere from 4 to 8 kHz, depending upon the singer. You’ll have to experiment), making the compressor very sensitive to sibilance. If you set the threshold, attack and ratio controls carefully, the compressor will act on “s” sounds but other sounds will not trigger compression. 

Sidechain filtering can also be used to avoid excessive compression due to a high content of low frequencies in a mix. Low frequency sounds carry a lot of energy in a mix and they can trigger compression that causes audible side effects. For example, you might notice that every time the kick drum hits, the lead vocal gets sucked down. The cure is to remove some of the low frequencies from the compressor’s sidechain (say, everything below 200 Hz). Filtering the bottom end stops the compressor from kicking in every time a kick drum is hit, but remember—you have not filtered the audio path.


“Smarter” hardware gates such as the Drawmer DS404 feature front panel controls for low- and high-frequency filters. Using both filters simultaneously allows you to build a bandpass filter that removes some of the sounds that you do not want opening the gate.

Keys to the Kingdom Similar concepts can be applied to expander/gates. As with their compression counterparts, hardware gates will feature a key or trigger input jack, usually with an associated switch on the front panel. Plug-ins will offer a key on/off button along with a drop-down menu that allows you to choose a key input. This could be a physical input on your audio interface but more likely will be a bus that will receive a signal from elsewhere in the session. 

Think of a gate as a door that opens or closes based on the strength of the signal at the doorway. If the signal is strong enough the door is pushed open, but the key or trigger input of a gate is like an electric door latch. That latch opens or closes based on a remote signal—regardless of the strength of the audio that is attempting to pass through the doorway. A gate that provides a key input allows you to use a secondary sound to open the “doorway.” Let’s say you insert a gate on a synth bass track but route the kick drum to the gate’s key input. The synth bass itself will not open and close the gate—the kick drum will control the gate, allowing the synth to be heard or not. This can be used for some interesting effects (usually in the studio) where the synth is musically tightened up to the kick drum hits. In fact such a technique could be used to change the rhythm of the synth bass so that it precisely matches that of the kick drum. Swap the synth bass for a test tone generator tuned between 50 and 80 Hz, and you’ll have a TR808 kick sound. A similar technique can be used to tighten up “gang” vocals by keying them from the lead vocal track.

Live engineers on major tours have been known to use contact pickups or triggers on each drum to key that drum’s gate instead of using the signal from the microphone to open the gate. Let’s say you have a mic on a snare drum and you are attempting to gate the mic. Depending upon placement of that microphone and the player’s touch on the kit, audio from other components of the kit such as toms, cymbals and kick drum may leak into the microphone, causing false triggers that open the gate even when the snare is not hit. If we add a contact pickup or trigger to the snare drum and route it to the gate’s key input, the gate opens and closes much more reliably because the trigger is in physical contact with the drum and is much less subject to leakage (though some contact pickups may be sensitive to vibration). This also means that softer hits on the snare can open the gate reliably so that grace note-style hits are not muted. As a bonus, we could split the signal from the trigger or contact pickup and send it to the trigger input of a drum module—allowing us to layer a sampled snare with the real snare or possibly record the performance as MIDI data.

Gates that have a sidechain (or a sidechain filter) can be especially useful because they let you filter unwanted sound from the sidechain—preventing them from opening the gate and effectively making the processor more sensitive to the sounds you do want opening the gate. A great application for a sidechain filter would be when you have significant kick drum leakage into a snare drum track, and the kick drum is causing the snare gate to open. By filtering the low frequencies from the sidechain, the gate will “hear” less of the kick drum and respond more to the snare. Remember that this filter applies to the sidechain and not to the main audio path. Most plug-in gates include a sidechain filter (Waves’ Renaissance Channel for example), so take advantage of it. “Smarter” hardware gates such as the Drawmer DS404 feature front panel controls for low- and high-frequency filters. Using both filters simultaneously allows you to build a bandpass filter that removes some of the sounds you do not want opening the gate. You’ll also typically find a sidechain “listen” switch that enables you to temporarily hear the filtered sidechain signal via the audio outputs. This is extremely useful in tuning the filters to pass only the signal you are trying to gate.

Take a Look Ahead One feature that is exclusive to software gates (and compressors) is the look-ahead function. Here’s how it works: A gate or compressor can only act upon a signal when it reaches the input of the processor. In some cases, a transient such as a snare hit might fly right past the gate before the gate can respond—so that hit will be muted. Look-ahead allows the gate’s sidechain to hear the signal before it hits the gate’s audio input (did someone say “cheating”?), allowing it to open just before the sound reaches the gate’s audio input. MOTU’s MasterWorks Gate is great for this because you can set the look-ahead in milliseconds from 0 to 20. I find that setting it to 1 or 2 milliseconds is just enough that the gate can be set tightly enough to cut leakage but not chop off the leading edge of a snare or tom hit. A similar function on a compressor plug-in can help catch transients that are faster than the comp’s attack time.

It’s worth mentioning that if you are using hardware compression or gating, be careful about processing during recording. If a gate inadvertently removes audio that you wanted (that grace note on a snare, for example), it cannot be recovered. This is much less of an issue in DAWs because plug-in effects are almost always non-destructive—in other words, they are applied in the monitor path and can be removed without harm to the original audio file.

Steve La Cerra is an independent audio engineer based in New York. In addition to being an Electronic Musician contributor, he mixes front-of-house for Blue Öyster Cult and teaches audio at Mercy College Dobbs Ferry campus.

- See more at:

In The Studio: Attracting New Clients To Your Studio | ProSound News

A marketing strategy that skyrocketed my engagement with artists and bands…

recordingHave you ever felt that if you could just get your talent in front of enough people, you could really create a sustainable income doing what you love? Well, I might be able to help.

Last year I implemented a marketing strategy that skyrocketed my engagement with artists and bands for my mixing services. By following some pretty simple instructions outlined below, my hope is to help you find similar success for your own business.

Music Websites
Think about all of the websites designed to help artists and bands get their music out and gain exposure: Reverbnation, Noisetrade, Bandcamp, etc.

All of these have something in common: they link to social media extremely well and filled with bands and artists.

How often have you been given the advice to “get out to more shows or concerts” or to “walk up to people and start a conversation.”

I don’t disagree with any of those things, but gas prices are high and I really can’t go to shows every week (I have a wife and 6 kids), let alone every day.

But, what I may do is spend a few minutes each day scrolling through say,Reverbnation, to find talented bands and artists that I could help take to the next level in their music career by offering my services.

Browse & Audition
Say you pull open Reverbnation:

1) Click browse at the top.

2) Fill out the info you’d like to search for. I’d recommend at least picking a country and a genre. Once you begin typing it should offer some options.

3) Pick a genre and sort by Popular or Relevance (keep in mind that the more popular the artist, the better the chance of them having an understanding of how making a record works).

4) Hit search!

Multiple Tabs
If you’re on a Mac, hold Command (cmd) on your keyboard and click the artist names in the list to open them in their own tab. PC users hold Control (ctrl).

On the first artist’s page, have a listen to their music! Dig their sound? The songs? Are they talented? Good!

If you like them and think you can help (produce/record/mix/master/whatever), look for their social media links. I had the best results reaching out on Facebook.

Connect On Facebook
Click their Facebook icon and it should open their Facebook page in a new window. Show some support by liking their page!

Then, message them with something along these lines:
Feel free to take my general theme and use it for yourself. It will come across as more genuine if you use your own words.

Share Your Work
Don’t forget to attach an mp3 of your latest and greatest work! Keep it short.

I took a handful of my latest mixes and faded them in and out to create a 45-second sample reel.

Attach this to your Facebook message and you’ll give yourself a much better chance for success.

Follow Up
If you only send this one message you will see some responses. But nothing like the responses you’ll see from a follow up message.

Give it a week or so and for anyone who has yet to respond to your initial message, put together a follow up message like this:
And that’s it!

Just be you and make it about them and their music as much as possible!

David Glenn is a producer/engineer/musician based out of Orlando, FL. Credits include: Pablo Villatoro, Blanca Callahan (Group 1 Crew), Aimee Allen, and more. Learn more and get in touch at

Be sure to visit The Pro Audio Files for more great recording content. To comment or ask questions about this article, go here.


The one thing you have to understand to get more gigs | Disc Makers


mic2 The one thing you have to understand to get more gigsNot all gigs are created equal: how to get the right gig for you

So you want to play more gigs.

It seems like other artists you know are performing all the time, so surely there must be a secret formula to getting gigs. That, or all the other musicians up on stage are friends with the venue owner or have a manager getting the gigs for them, right?

Maybe. But nine times out of ten the singer up there on stage has no insider information, no manager, and no friendship with the venue owner whatsoever.

So the burning question is….what is the Secret Formula to booking gigs?

I could reel off a few quick bullet points to whet your appetite, but to be honest that wouldn’t help you very much and here’s why: if you came up to me tomorrow and asked me how to get gigs, the first thing I’d say is, “What type of gig do you want?”

You see, not all gigs are created equal. Some gigs will pay well but won’t help you build a following; some gigs will pay next to nothing but will be massive fan builders; and some gigs… well they don’t get you fans or money but can still be valuable if used properly.

Confused?  I don’t blame you.

You see, before you can get gigs you need to understand the type of gigs that are out there and what each one can do for you. Once you understand this, it makes going after gigs a whole lot easier because you can look for a gig that is going to help you with your business (yes, you are a business) and is suitable for where you’re at in this phase of your career.

Have a look at the Gig Matrix below. These are examples of just some of the types of gigs, placed into a matrix that works on a scale of high versus low pay and high versus low fan building.

Gig Matrix 620x650 The one thing you have to understand to get more gigs

Note: This works for any musical genre; you just have to rename the gig slightly. For example, the musical theatre  equivalent of an ‘Open Mic Night’ is doing a community theatre show for free.

Bear in mind that this is not an exact science. The music industry is highly unregulated and I know that some musicians have done very well with ‘low pay/low fans’ gigs like busking if they go on a regular basis, however this is not always the case. To make things even clearer, let’s take a look at each of the areas of the Gig Matrix and find out what the benefits of each category can be for you.

Low Pay/ Low Fan Gigs

If after looking at the Matrix you thought that you would scratch Low Pay/ Low Fan gigs off your list straight away… well, think again. Every gig in the Matrix has its purpose and each is more accessible to you depending on what stage you are at in your music career.

For example, busking and open mic nights are a great way to test out new material or to gain performance practice when you are just starting out, and they are the easiest gigs to obtain; you can busk in most places by obtaining a simple busking licence and open mic nights take pretty much anyone.

In fact, I personally use both of these types of  gigs for this very purpose.  I’m currently working on some new folk material and am playing guitar for the first time (I’m usually a jazz performer and play piano and sing) so when I’ve got my material ready, I’ll hit up an open mic night to take my new songs and skills for a test drive.

Similarly, if you are in musical theatre, the best way to grow your resume is by doing free community shows. You’ll meet people in the industry and can work on your performance skills while you hunt around for new opportunities.

High Pay/ Low Fan Gigs

On the flip side of the Matrix  there are High Pay/ Low Fan gigs. These are what I call ‘Bread and Butter’ gigs because basically, they pay the rent. For contemporary singers, these might be bar/ club cover gigs where the venue pays you to play music their clientele will like, which usually means well known covers.

For me as a jazz musician, these are corporate gigs at some stuffy legal firm’s cocktail client night and I’m there to provide background music and look pretty. Yep seriously. Why else would they hire a band if they just want background music? It’s all for show. This is definitely not the place to pull out my massive ‘Nicola Milan’ banner, set up my merch stand complete with flashing lights and plug my CDs at the end of every set. You’ll be lucky if you get to hand out a few business cards during the break and get a quick thank you from the head honcho.

Use these gigs to fund the Low Pay/High Fan building gigs that we’ll have a look at next… and make the most of the free canapés while you’re there. icon wink The one thing you have to understand to get more gigs

Note: Some musos only want these types of gigs. This is when it’s not so much about building a name for themselves than it is making money as a musician without having to leave their local area (Which is totally fine by the way. I know plenty of very good musicians who make their living this way) — but for those of you who want to make a mark, raise your profile, and reach for what can happen when you do start becoming known (i.e. a higher charge rate, better gigs, a deeper connection with fans, getting your message out there, and all the possibilities that come with being a person of interest) then read on.

Low Pay/ High Fan Gigs

I love/ hate these gigs. I know they are going to be good for my profile but I also know I’m going to run at a loss and as someone who relies solely on income derived from music, the costs involved can bite.

Many support gigs with better known artists will fall under this category (initially at least.) As anything in the music industry, there will be exceptions but when you have no fans apart from your rent-a-crowd mates then you don’t really have much value (in terms of business dollars) to add to a gig and the opportunity to perform with a band that does pull a crowd is a good opportunity for you, because it means you get to play for fans of a similar sounding band. If they like that band, then they may become your fan too. However, it’s not such a good deal for the venue or the band with the bigger name.

The reason is because these type of gigs usually operate on a pay by door sales basis. If you have no fans then your ability to help with the door sales intake is going to be minimal and therefore you shouldn’t expect to be paid for something you didn’t provide. The catch here however, is this: if you are a singer who uses an accompanist or session musicians in your band, then you still have to pay your musicians and you will have to fork out of your own pocket to pay them. It is easier if you have a band dedicated to doing any gig they can to ‘break in’ but for singers, this is frequently not the case.

The good news is that if you make the most of these gigs, you should start building fans from the first gig and it does get easier. That, or you can do a heap of advertising to get people through the door… but that is a topic for another blog post.

The bad news is that every time you want to break into a new market (location) you will have to repeat the support gig process, unless of course you have a major radio hit and venues are clambering over each other to book you… and we all know this is definitely not the norm.

However, playing support gigs is the fastest way to go from zero to fans and get you one step closer to the juicy gigs we’ll have a look at next.

High Fans/ High Pay Gigs

Ah yes, now we reach the realm of the Rich and Somewhat Famous and I can hear you thinking ‘Now we’re talking. Ok Nicola, just tell me how to get heaps of these gigs, really well paying and in front of heaps of fans.’

My answer? “Patience, Grasshopper. They are not YOUR fans… yet.”

I’m not saying this to hold you back by any means because on average, festivals and promoted shows with advertising dollars behind them are hands-down the best way to get your name out there as an artist. The gig in itself would be enough, however most Festivals are accompanied by advertising dollars to spread your name further and have media salivating over the opportunity to get you on their interview list. Yes these are the best gigs to get, but they are also by far the most competitive.

Festivals are expensive to put on and so the Festival Promoter needs to ensure they will attract an excellent turnout each year. They do this by booking artists that they know will draw a crowd, which means that you need to be doing pretty well and have a solid following  to get one of these gigs (that, or be good friends with whoever is in charge.)

Don’t worry, there’s a catch to Festivals which is your secret way in. Create a list of the Festivals that support your type of music in your local area (and beyond if you can afford the travel costs). Most bigger Festivals don’t even accept artist applications so scratch those off initially. Your best bet is to target smaller festivals and then build up from there.

Keep an eye out for contests to play at bigger Festivals but realise the competition is going to be fierce. Some Festivals do offer busking opportunities which you can snap up if you perform solo and acoustic, then make the most of it; get your banner out, play loud and promote, promote, promote!

The other type of show that can sit either under this category in the Gig Matrix or under the Low Pay/Low Fans category is a show that you put on yourself. You hire a venue or agree to a split of the door sales and then it’s your job to book the support acts and get people through the door (this is where that rent-a-crowd friend base comes in handy).

These gigs are great for a reason to promote yourself in the local media and can be decent earners if your door numbers are solid. Do a good job and your rent-a-crowd might actually become true fans and bring more friends along next time.

So let’s go back to the start and revisit our original question: how to get gigs. Now that you can have a think about the type of gig that you want, doesn’t that make it easier to know where to start looking?

My advice is to pick the gig according to what your needs are as an artist. If you are just starting out, go for the Low Pay/Low Fan gigs where you can get some performance practice singing in front of a crowd. That way, if you stuff up, it’s not going to be such a big deal. If you’re past this stage, then have a look at the bands gigging in your local area that sound similar to you and reach out for a support gig.

Whatever the stage you are at in your music career, go for the gig that will benefit you the most… and once you have it, make the most of it.


Author bio: Nicola Milan is a professional singer, songwriter, recording artist and vocal coach. On her website Singer’s Secret, she shares tips on how to improve your singing, gain confidence, and get gigs when you’re just starting out.

Trend Or Fad? When Should You Invest In New Technology? | ProSound Web

Remember that the decision you make today will affect your business for the next five years or more…
audio businessI define a trend as a lasting change in the direction of a technology or market. Webster’s dictionary says, among other things, that it’s defined as “ a line of development.” A fad, on the other hand, is defined by Webster as “a practice or interest followed for a time with exaggerated zeal.”

This led me to consider a “trend or fad” example in our industry: the line array. It’s true that these improved tools have taken the market by storm. But if you make all of your purchasing decisions by listening to hype alone, you’d replace all of your gear on a yearly basis. And how can you possibly afford that?

Clearly, not all new products warrant the investment necessary to join your inventory. Before jumping on any new technology or product, you need to make sure it will deliver on its claims, and further, will deliver a positive return for your dollar.

Loudspeaker systems, consoles, amplifiers, signal processing and wireless systems are all just as prone to dramatic shifts in technology, creating pressure for rental company owners to make new equipment investments to “keep up”.

The Drive To Profit
So how does the average rental company decide which products are the right ones to add to inventory? Tough decisions, indeed. Make the right choices, and you possess the gear the clients want to rent at a price that will be profitable.

But make the wrong choices, and you end up with equipment that is difficult to rent. More energy will be required to get someone to use this gear, and at a lower price (and therefore margin).

You might even be forced to “sweeten the deal” to the point that any hint of profitability goes right out the door. Thus making the right long-term equipment investments is key—perhaps the biggest key—to solid, long-term profitability.

A vital factor in play is the alliances that are built with manufacturers as a sound company grows and matures. We all know that having the right equipment is one thing, but making sure that the company who made it is around for the long haul is equally important.

Fad products that come from fad companies can be attractive in the early stages; but if the manufacturer is not around to support it, it can become expensive and even impossible to keep the equipment in service.

Who You Gonna Call? 
What to do? You need “cutting edge” gear that customers want, but also need to make sure that the investment will pay off in the long run. Here are some guidelines to consider when evaluating new products and vendors.

First, carefully gauge the demand for the product. Make a lot of calls to a lot of colleagues. Is the product listed on tour contract riders? This is critical. Also, who are the principal “name” designers, sound companies and mixers who are “endorsing” a product? These folks help drive interest in a product and, ultimately, get it on riders.

Second, meet with your accountant or financial adviser and calculate the return on investment (ROI) based on your anticipated rental rate for the product. I would further suggest deducting an additional 20 percent from the anticipated rental rate and see if it will still yield a reasonable return. This simple step is frequently bypassed with sometimes-tragic results.

Third, do research on the vendor of the equipment. In the investment community, this step is called “due diligence” and is crucial. Without a strong company behind the product, you’re setting yourself up for some nasty surprises. Don’t be shy on this step.

If the company is publicly held, ask its investor relations department for 10Q and 10K statements (quarterly and annual reports). Go over these with your accountant and make sure the company is profitable and has strong cash flow and cash reserves.

If a company is privately held, spend a couple hundred dollars and run a credit report on them. You can do this over the Internet through companies like Dunn & Bradstreet, Equifax and Experian.

While credit reports don’t provide the same wealth of information as financial statements, they can indicate critical issues that will “red flag” impending problems. Look for issues with vendor payments; while all companies will have a few disputed vendor issues, companies should not have a significant number of them.

Don’t Get Caught Up
So many rental companies get excited about price, not value, when investing in new equipment. Remember that the decision you make today will affect your business for the next five years or more. Take your time; try not to get caught up in the moment.

Often, at the end of the year or a quarter, a manufacturer will be working hard to close equipment sales. Make sure this is a correct investment for you before acting on the temptation to jump on the discount. After all, what does it say about a manufacturer who is desperate to close a deal a few days early?

In the final analysis, making big investments in equipment represents a fork in the road for any rental company. Make the right choice and you get on the right path for long-term success. Make the wrong choice and you’re storing elephants in your warehouse while hampered by cash-flow issues.

Take your time and make sure that you buy the right products from companies that act as partners you can trust. It’s the best way to win in the “trend versus fad” wars.

Michael MacDonald is the president of leading production company ATK Audiotek in Valencia, CA, and has been involved in the professional audio industry for more than 35 years. Beginning as a freelance mixer/engineer in the 1970s, he transitioned to working for manufacturers and has been employed by, developed products for, and consulted with major companies such as Yamaha and JBL Professional.

Build a superfan base one video at a time | DiscMakers


Engaging with your fans involves “check moves” – opportunities for positive interaction – and online videos are one way to build an audience on YouTube and beyond

build an audience on YouTube

This lesson comes from Ben Sword, founder of Music Marketing Classroom, with an excerpt from the “Superfan Building” module of their training. Click here for the whole shebang.

If you’ve done any research about music marketing, you’ve probably heard a lot of people telling you you need to be on social media “engaging” with your fans. Sounds good, but what does that mean? Good question! The mission of this lesson is explain what engaging means, give you practical steps you can do each day, and help you build an audience on YouTube and beyond in the ultimate quest to take your music promotion to new heights.

The “check move” theory

I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure why I needed to bother engaging with fans until I discovered the “check move” theory. This concept tells us that the more positive interactions (or check moves) fans take with an artist, the closer the connection will be, and that will ultimately lead to more support – whether that be financial or with promotion bringing in new fans by word of mouth.

I think this is an especially powerful idea for musicians because it means we don’t have to hammer the fan base with slightly cheesy sales messages all the time, and can just focus on putting out super-duper stuff that they WANT to interact with.

It all starts with “capture”

In other words, get a smart phone and press record a lot, because often you can entertain your gang by just bringing them into your world and making content based around what you’re already doing.

The way this might look for a band on the road is that each member would be documenting the wild ride from their own point of view and posting it to Dropbox, and then your social media dude edits all the best bits for posting. (Of course, if you’re on a budget, the “social media dude” could simply be Bob the crazy drummer who likes playing with the computers).

But for some even that might seem like a little bit too much like hard work, so why not run a competition to have one of your die-hard fans come on the road with you to capture all the cool behind-the-scenes happenings? For an amazing example of this check out Ozzy Osbourne’s Facebook Page.

Seeing your journey from a fan’s point of view will mean they’re in a great position to know what’s going to be interesting and relevant. BOOYARR! You’ve just created a world class digital content strategy and it did not hurt one bit.

So how on earth do you set up a check move?

The mission here is to remove all the head-scratching from your social media marketing by giving you a set of tried and tested posts ready to go, and video is a great way to tell a story through more than just words. And you don’t need to just make a music video every week, there are dozens of ways to create video content that can help you engage with your fans. Don’t believe me? Here are 23 ideas to start with.

    1. Behind the music
      Let people in on your wild ride in the biz. Your first band, first song, first guitar, first love (or maybe not), challenges and setbacks, magic moments, and plans for the future. To do this, get a piece of paper and draw a picture of yourself as a just born baby on the left hand side, then draw a picture of yourself last week on the right. Now fill up the space in the middle with all the epic stuff that’s happened to you during that time. BTW, you don’t have to make a whole movie in one go. Bite-sized pieces will actually work better for holding interest.


    1. Interviews
      Interview every cool person you meet along the way – producers, managers, your crazy bassist, other bands, family, friends, fans, the sound man, tour manager and the driver who never seems to sleep. Here’s a good example to get you started. WARNING: There is a 93% chance this video will make you laugh, so if you’re at work maybe watch it later!

      how to build an audience on YouTube ex. 1

    2. Cribs
      Make a video to show folks around your home town and even your house if that doesn’t feel weird. Travel to important landmarks in your career like where the band got together, or where you performed your first successful stage dive. If you can’t be bothered to actually leave your house, you could do this using Google street view.


    1. Backstage
      Post dressing room shenanigans, the after-show party, and even that particularly tasty treat you got on the rider. And if Jimmy Page shows up and wants to play with you, film yourself getting ready for the gig!how to build an audience on YouTube ex. 2
    2. In the studio
      Video yourself during recording sessions. This is an awesome method of keeping fans in touch while you would normally be off the radar.


    1. Live footage from your latest gig
      There is a cool tool called Switch Cam which will turn your whole crowd into one big massive film crew and then you can come back later and make a wicked movie using all those different viewpoints. It’s the future baby!how to build an audience on YouTube ex. 3
    2. Tour diary
      Video diary updates when you’re on tour that include where you’re playing, how the shows are going, which band member is starting to make you crazy, what it’s like inside the van, and reviews of the accommodations.


    1. Sound check videos
      You might think this seems a little boring (and honestly I would agree), but folks outside of the biz love learning how things work from your perspective, and these kinds of music videos seem to get a ton of views. There could be interested people who will appreciate the look inside.


    1. Rehearsal footage
      Give your fans a sneak peek of brand new tracks from the practice to build an audience on YouTube ex. 4
    2. Gear heads
      Show people around your gear and how you get your EPIC sounds. “This one goes to 11.”


    1. Music from your past
      Dust off those demos you made when you were a kid or in an early band. I think it’s cool to show people how you got to where you are now musically. Don’t be bashful about it!how to build an audience on YouTube ex. 5
    2. Merch!
      Live from the merch booth meeting the fans and the people who run your table.


    1. Song-meanings and inspirations
      Share what you were thinking and feeling when you wrote a song, if that doesn’t feel too to build an audience on YouTube ex. 6
    2. Alternate versions
      Record yourself playing acoustic versions of your more popular songs.


    1. Covers
      Record yourself playing interesting arrangements of music you love. (Don’t forget to get a sync license if you’re doing this!)


    1. Covers by fans
      Post a little “guitar lesson” for one of your most popular songs and then challenge fans to come up with the best cover version on video and post it.


    1. Say thanks
      Make a real personal video to thank fans when you reach important milestones in your career. Jackie Chan did this when he got 50 million Facebook fans. Just look at the way he pops up. Classic!how to build an audience on YouTube ex. 7
    2. Making of
      The “making of” your video with director’s commentary, like the extras on a DVD. This would basically be a couple of key players talking about how the whole thing came together.


    1. Answer questions
      Host an “ask me anything event,” online open mic session, or do what Noah Guthrie did and answer Twitter questions on video. It’s a multi-media bonanza!how to build an audience on YouTube ex. 8
    2. Outtakes
      Compile outtakes and bloopers from your recording sessions and video shoots.


    1. Chat with a superfan
      Make someone’s day and make a video out of to build an audience on YouTube ex. 9
    2. Shopping
      Go thrift shopping for stage clothes or props and document the whole adventure on video.


  1. Make a music video
    Every cool tune should have some kind of music video, even if it’s real simple. Here’s something I made with no budget in just a few hours. Moving forward, I’ll be making mostly “fans create the footage” music videos because then the check move factor goes through the roof!how to build an audience on YouTube ex. 10

Here is your action step

OK so now we’re at the end of this lesson you’ve got two options.

1. Close this page and think, “Hmmm, ain’t that Ben Sword a cool and sexy mofo, he gave me a ton of ideas that I really should use one day and I must buy him lots of beer next time he’s in town. But then, ha ha ha! Look at those funny talking cats dancing on YouTube … what was I doing again?”

Apart from the thing about buying me beers, that ain’t going to do anyone any good, so the only option you should really consider is:

2. Pick one thing from this list, do it right now, and give yourself an hour to complete it. Often work will swell to the amount of time you allocate, so setting a short deadline means you’ll be really action focused and proactive.

Then if you’re feeling brave, do the same thing tomorrow, and the next day, and for the next 30 days, until you got the habit locked in for the rest of your career. Being that consistent will pretty much guarantee you’ll find an audience at some point. It’s like a law of nature or something.

Sure, what you produce at first might be crappy, and that’s totally cool – in fact that’s what’s supposed to happen. But after a while, making great stuff will be just like eating maple syrup and bacon pancakes with a thick Oreo cookie milkshake (i.e. EASY!)

Good luck, I’m rootin for ya’ and please contact me if you got questions because I’ll be making follow-up lessons.

Ben Sword is the founder of the Music Marketing Classroom, on a mission to help musicians create sustainable careers with a simple four level marketing philosophy. Learn more at

Read more: Build a superfan base one video at a time – Disc Makers

State of the Industry: 18 Ways Musicians Can Make Money | Bandzoogle

Dave Cool

One of the biggest challenges facing musicians is generating income. Gone are the days when a band could rely solely on music sales and touring to earn a living.

Part of the reality of being a working musician today is the need to diversify your revenue streams. Although sales of recorded music have gone down significantly in recent years, there are new sources of income available to musicians.

A mix of traditional and more modern income streams can help today’s musicians earn a living. Here’s a list of 18 ways to generate revenue for your music career:

18 Ways Musicians Can Make Money

1. CD Sales: If you’re going to be playing live shows, having CDs on hand is still a good idea. They make great takeaway souvenirs that can easily be signed by band members.

2. Vinyl Sales: Vinyl sales surged 30% in 2013. Again, if you’ll be playing live shows, printing a small batch to have at your merch table can help generate extra income.

3. Digital Sales: You should be selling digital music through your own website to make the most money, but also through online retailers. Keep in mind that online retailers take a percentage of sales (ex. iTunes takes 30%, Bandcamp takes 15%). Some digital distributors that place your music in stores like iTunes and Amazon will take a cut on top of that.

4. Streaming: Although per-stream payouts from streaming services tend to be small, they can add up over time. Keep in mind that these services also help new fans discover your music, and shouldn’t be seen solely as an income generator.

5. Live Shows: Money made from live shows can vary greatly, but it’s still one of the best ways to earn income. Not only can you make money from selling tickets, but it’s also one of the best ways to sell merch. Be sure to read our blog series “The 4 P’s of Playing Live” to make sure you’re getting the most out of your gigs.

6. Physical Merch: Income from physical merch can depend heavily on the amount of live shows you play. If you go out on tour, be sure that you have some t-shirts, as well as smaller items like buttons and stickers that you can sell to fans after the show. For more tips about merch, read: Get Your Merch On: Generating Revenue from Merchandise

7. Digital Merch: You can also sell digital merch items like PDFs, videos, and images to your fans. Things like lyric books, live concerts, sheet music, exclusive photos, artwork and more. Check out this post for ideas of digital items you can sell through your website: Using the new File Download feature: 20 Items you can now sell

8. Crowdfunding: Crowdfunding can be a great way to generate income for your music career. A well-executed crowdfunding campaign can help you raise enough money to offset the cost of producing and marketing your album. Read this excellent post by Dave Kusek (New Artist Model) about how to approach crowdfunding: Crowdfunding the Right Way

9. Publishing Royalties: You should be signed up to a performing rights organization so you can collect royalties on your music. This includes public performance royalties (radio, TV, live venues), mechanical royalties (sales through retailers, streaming, etc.), and sync royalties (commercials, film, TV).

10. Digital Royalties: Whenever your music is played on services like SiriusXM radio, Pandora, and webcasters, they must pay royalties. Sign up for a free SoundExchange account to make sure you’re collecting those royalties.

11. Live Performance Royalties: When performing original material, you can earn royalties from live performances. Whether you perform at a bar, restaurant, club, or other music venue, Performance Rights Organizations (PROs) will pay royalties from those live performances.

12. Licensing: If you get your song placed in a film, commercial, or TV show, chances are they’re going to pay you a licensing fee. These fees vary greatly, depending on the budget for the project, and how badly they want your particular song.

13. YouTube: On YouTube, whenever your music is used in videos that are running ads, YouTube pays a portion of that advertising money to the rights holders of the song. Digital distributors like TuneCore and CD Baby can help you collect that money, as well as Audiam.

14. Sponsorships: If you’ve built up a fan base, some companies are willing to sponsor musicians to reach those fans. Sponsorships can range from cash, to free products, services, and gear. Read this excellent guest post from Dave Huffman about sponsorships: Musicians: How to Get Sponsored

15. Session Work: Another way to make some extra money is to put yourself out there as a session musician. As a singer or instrumentalist, you could do session work for other musical projects, or even in advertising.

16. Songwriting/Composing: If you’re a songwriter, you could write songs for other musicians, or compose music specifically for film and television.

17. Cover Gigs: Playing cover gigs at bars, restaurants, weddings and other private events is frowned upon by some musicians. But those shows can pay really well, and allow you to get paid to play your instrument. There’s no shame in that.

18. Music Lessons: Many musicians teach their instrument to others to help generate revenue towards their own career. This can be a nice way to supplement your income, and allows you to hone your craft at the same time.

Tracking Your Income

With all of these different income streams, it will be important to track your progress. This will allow you to gauge which ones are working best for your career, and where you should focus your attention.

To help keep track of your income, you can download our sample music marketing budget here.

Why indies should still care about radio | Disc Makers

shutterstock 1941665841 Why indies should still care about radio[This article was written by Erica Sinkovic, CD Baby’s Web Product Manager and general music enthusiast.]

Whether you’re an independent artist or signed to an independent label, you’re sure to have a lot on your plate already. Between booking shows, debating merch, planning your next big marketing move, juggling social media-insanity, oh yeah, and writing new material, the last thing you want to add to your plate is a radio campaign. Indies have all but abandoned this once-career-establishing source. Some say it’s because their audience isn’t listening to radio anymore, some say it’s because radio is only for Top 40 major label artists, and others simply don’t have time or resources to even consider it in their marketing mix. I’m here to tell you: don’t abandon radio.

Even though many people, particularly teens, are listening to music via YouTube and other on-demand platforms, discovery tends to happen through other channels. Just two years ago, in 2012, Nielsen reported that 48% of people surveyed discovered music most often through the radio (compared to YouTube’s 7%). Today, in 2014, Nielsen reports that radio listenership is on the rise from 243.7 million in 2013 to 244.4 million weekly listeners in 2014. They cite the localization of stations and their curated content as a key factor to becoming so easily interwoven in peoples’ lives…something to keep in mind come tour time.

I’m not here to tell you “drop everything and focus all of your time and money on radio.” I’m here to tell you that radio is not dead, DJs are still the tastemakers in every town, and radio still has the power to bring artists of all genres to the next level in their careers, at every level.

In my experience of working with incredible artists, labels and distribution companies, I’ve seen the difference that radio can make – taking unknowns to globally recognized names (yes, there are many more millions of people listening internationally). Mumford & Sons, Phoenix, Childish Gambino, Robert DeLong, these are artists that Glassnote Records took way up the charts in both airplay and sales by focusing much of their efforts on radio in every single market (touring also being a major factor). You can’t turn on a college radio station or satellite radio channel without hearing Arcade Fire (#1 on Billboard), Grizzly Bear (#7 on Billboard), First Aid Kit (#12 on Billboard Independent), Passion Pit (#4 on Billboard) and so on.

Don’t give up on radio because there are millions of people still listening, still trusting and still anxiously awaiting the next “new thing.”

How do you get your music on the radio?

Depends on your resources.

1. Radio marketing services such as Pirate! or The Syndicate. Some publicists offer this service in varying degrees as well, but relationships are key here.

2. Radio mailing services offered through boutique distribution companies for an additional fee (single or album-based).

3. Print out a one-sheet, get a box of promos, and start looking up key stations (Will you be touring there? Do you have sales there? Is there an influential tastemaker station there?) to mail or digitally deliver your music to.

* Helpful hint #1: your one-sheet should tell readers immediately why they should care to listen to your music.

* Helpful hint #2: if you want to confirm that someone has listened to your music, pick up the phone and call them.

Have you gotten your music on the radio as an independent artist? Did you hire a promoter, or handle the radio promotion yourself? Let us know in the comments section below.