2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

It’s interesting to me that for all the industry insider perspective I post, it’s the gear reviews that seem to get the most traction.  Comments anyone?

Happy, successful 2014 everyone!

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,400 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Top 7 reasons the media did not cover your last album | CDBaby.com

shutterstock 106973525 300x240 Top 7 reasons the media did not cover your last album

Music PR mistakes you can avoid next time you approach the media

[This article was written by guest contributor Dmitri Vietze, CEO/founder of StoryAmp.com, and publicist of 16 years.]

You spent a big investment of dollars and time, took all of your learnings from rehearsals and performing on stage, absorbed everything you could from your mentors and inspirations and produced the best recording of your career. Maybe you even borrowed money from friends and friends, or maxed out your credit card to master and manufacture albums. All of your hopes and dreams were wrapped up in your last record. But for the life of you — you couldn’t get it reviewed by the press or blogs, couldn’t get it on the radio.

What happened?

As more and more artists take their careers into their own hands—skipping the old method of getting a record label deal to launch their careers—the scenario above is becoming more and more common. You’ve heard that you can now D.I.Y. your way through your career, from recording to production to release…  but in reality there are certain pieces (like publicity and touring and marketing) that require more than just yourself, if you want to be successful. You have to rely on other decision-makers, and it’s tough to know how to influence them to take action on your behalf.

Here are the top 7 reasons why the media may have not covered your release.

1. You did not have enough of a runway.

This is by far the biggest reason why musicians do not get press coverage for an album release. Most independent musicians produce a record or put it up in iTunes through a service like CD Baby and call that the release date. “I got my CDs from Discmakers on Monday, so Monday is my release date,” they think to themselves. “Now I have to market it!” or “I gotta turn on this money source and make back my debt or investment.”

They email their fan list (if they have one), they post it on their Facebook and Tumblr band page, on their website blog, and maybe their personal Facebook page as well, and they tweet about it: “Today is our release date! Please download or buy it now!” they tweet or post. Only after that they think, “OK, how do I get more fans, more people to buy? I know: the media!”

So another few days or weeks go by and they come up with a plan to get their album out to some media or blogs. They might enlist a PR person or do some research on local newspaper contacts or blogs with generic email addresses to send a pitch letter to.  But they are doomed before they even start. Why?

Media outlets generally want to cover an album release very close to the release date. Not days or weeks or months after it has come out. There is a reason the word “news” contains the word “new” in it. They do not want to be thought of as “The Olds.”

Pilots have a saying, “The runway behind you cannot help you.” When you are flying a plane, it is not a good idea to start your acceleration at the middle of the runway before take off. If you use the full length of the runway, you have more options if you have to make a last minute pivot. Give yourself enough runway. Maybe the first batch of media targets are not responding or not interested. You could use some extra time to research and target some other media outlets.

Generally speaking, it is best to start pitching (convincing) the media more than six weeks before the official release date. That means you need to plan when the music will be fully recorded, mastered, sent to manufacturing, and scheduled for release through your distributor. The best way to handle scheduling a release date and publicity campaign start date is to have finished manufactured CDs in hand before you set the release date and to ensure that you have at least six or more weeks before that release date for PR and marketing. But if you have more confidence and control in your production process, you can schedule these dates in advance. Make sure to leave two weeks for writing up your “pitch,” the convincing story you will use to try to engage the interest of journalists, editors, and producers. (You can download StoryAmp’s free 60-page e-book on how to write a good pitchhere.)

If you have a six-month-old release right now and were thinking of starting a PR campaign… don’t. You missed your chance. Spend that energy booking a tour. You might be able to score some album reviews in conjunction with some live performances in a city you’ve never performed in. If the record was recorded six months ago, but does not have a release date on iTunes or Amazon, you can still treat it as a new release, so give yourself and eight-week runway and go for it.

2. Your music doesn’t speak to your press targets.

This is a very touchy one. Most bands do not get coverage because few journalists like their music. While the barriers to entry in making a record have been removed almost completely, musicians now must nakedly face that they may make music with no validation from the outside at all. In the old model, if a record label executive believed in you, you could point to many reasons other than your music why you might not have built the fan following you had hoped for. Because at least some record label believed in you. They validated the music you made. Even worse than the fact that journalists do not like your record is that music fans do not like your music. Even if you hire the best, most experienced, hottest, most expensive publicist on the planet, you might not get any media coverage.

But even if your music is not going to be the pop hit of the year, or even come close, you might get more media coverage if you target outlets suitable for your musical genre, cultural style, or market saturation. If you work in an eclectic genre, you might be a good candidate for National Public Radio or the New York Times, but probably not for USA Today. If you are a classical artist, do not expect to be the very rare classical artist reviewed in Rolling Stone. If you appear to “crossover” within your genre of jazz or country or Latin, try to put yourself into the shoes of a total pop fan before pitching a total pop outlet. You probably are not crossover from their perspective. There is one sure way to tell: read the media’s coverage. And keep in mind that more adventurous niche outlets are generally more likely to cover adventurous niche recordings.

If you target outlets that cover music in your genre, your popularity ranking, etc., you increase your chances of getting covered. Yes, shoot for the stars. But shoot for the stars in the same galaxy as you. And have a back up plan for getting realistic media coverage for your music.

3. Your album cover was ugly.

This one is very simple: If your album cover is ugly or does not fit the style that a press outlet covers, you probably never made it into the journalists’ ears. If you are the type of person who grabs the closest pair of jeans (or Dockers) for that matter every morning for your wardrobe, you probably shouldn’t be your album cover designer. Either hire a professional who knows your genre or think about who is the coolest looking person you know and have them do it. DO not underestimate the power of your visual brand in getting attention. It is the first thing an album reviewer will see.

4. Your story is non-existent or full of clichés and hyperbole.

Journalists are storytellers. If there is no good story to tell, it’s that much harder to write about your music. A story bound to increase your readership: “Here’s another band you’ve never heard of with music that is filled with tired lyrics and stale guitar riffs. Their life as a suburban child was so rough because their parents just didn’t understand them.” Not really. If you can articulate what is compelling about you or your music, it increases your chances of coverage. Music is one of the most crowded marketplaces. You have to stand out from the crowd: musically, visually, and anecdotally.

There are many techniques you can use to get to your story: musical inspirations, lyrical origins, technical innovations, personal revelations, war stories from touring, fan interactions, and more. Read about them in detail in StoryAmp’s free e-book here.

5. You do not play live.

It may seem counterintuitive that in order to get album reviews, you need to perform on stage. However, live performance can double your chances of press coverage. In traditional press, there are more column inches dedicated to live music than to record reviews. Any concert coverage will likely mention a new album if not go into further detail. Sometimes concert coverage is paired with an album review. Or the coverage is the album review with a spotlight on the concert details. Local media outlets are more likely to cover you at all if you are playing in their town.

Furthermore, one of the biggest reasons media outlets cover an artist is because of buzz building around them. One of the biggest builders of buzz is when someone sees you play live. Touring other cities helps you build that buzz as well as gives you a reason to target many more media outlets in each concert city. You might not have gotten covered in the past because you didn’t tour.

6. You sound just like someone else; someone bigger.

Nobody likes a copy cat. If you have become super frustrated that an artist that sounds just like you always gets media coverage and you never do, you need to realize they now “own” that sound. You have to do something that makes you different; not complain about how you are the same.

There is a balance within each musical genre to demonstrate that you are a part of the genre, but that you have an individual voice within that genre. When you hear people say “I hate country music” or “I hate rap music,” generally those people do not understand which characteristics define the genre and which characteristics define the individual. You must be a master at this with your genres of choice. You must be the best at defining the genre and connecting with the tribe of people who like that sound and you must be even better at crystallizing and expressing your individual musical contribution to that scene.

Characteristics that may define your genres or individual voice include lyrics, melodies, harmonies, rhythms, timbres, instrumentation, embellishments, technical mastery, or fashion. Tweak the right variables to express your individuality within your scene. In other words, press coverage only comes after musical mastery within your scene or the larger society.

7. You didn’t follow up.

Sending your music by mail or email with no follow up is unlikely to get you coverage. There is so much “white noise” and members of the press have a narrow bottleneck of time with lots of music getting shoved through it every single day. Many journalists get hundreds of submissions per week. They cannot possibly review it all, and certainly cannot listen to it all. Which ones shall they listen to: The ones with a warm body following up, or the ones haphazardly slapped into an envelope with no return address? The ones with the shy or rude or entitled voice on the other end of the line, or the persistent, creative, clever, diplomatic one?

Review: Solid State Logic (SSL) XLogic 5.1 Buss Compressor

You can hear sound clips of this and other reviewed pieces of gear here: https://jordantishler.wordpress.com/gear-review-clips/

SSL 5.1 Buss Compressor

SSL 5.1 Buss Compressor

The SSL (Solid State Logic) consoles became legendary for many reasons, among them the stereo buss compressor that lived in the heart of the center section. This compressor is renowned for gluing a mix together in a way unlike any other bus compressor, sounding larger than life and delivering the distinctive and highly sought after SSL sound the world has come to love.

In the early 1990s, when SSL retired the venerable 4000 series, and introduced the more modern 9000 series, they reinvented their electronic pathways for a more pristine sound they dubbed SuperAnalogue ™.  Then in the late 90s, SSL brought forth the XLogic series of 19” rack processor and adapted the SA compressor to a rack unit.  Their first entry was a 5.1 surround unit that could be split into dual stereo processors.  This product is now discontinued, but a stereo unit is sold presently, making legendary SSL console compression available to studios without an SSL console.

At Digital Bear Entertainment, we’re lucky enough to have one of the vintage 5.1 SA compressors!  It lives in a 2U housing (the stereo only version is 1U) with a black-on-silver color scheme with backlit buttons on the bypass, stereo split, and auto-fade buttons. But does it do more than look pretty?

Sonically, this compressor just sounds right. It’s clean and transparent, yet when pushed hard, the compressor behaves somewhere between forgiving and powerful; retaining clarity while gripping the audio harder.

An interesting and unique feature of the buss compressor is the auto-fade feature.  You set the fade time with a rotary knob from one to sixty seconds. Then, when you hit the fade button, it fades the audio, in or out, over that length of time. The internal fade circuit is built like a console fader, losing voltage and amplitude nonlinearly to synthesize a classic analog feel. Sonically, the VCA design retains all of your tone all the way down to silence.

It’s hard to go wrong with something that’s been part of hundreds of your favorite songs, and has been going strong for decades. I think every serious studio needs one of these in its arsenal. SSL really did it right, as they have always seemed to do, once again.

Review: Summit MPC-100A Tube Pre-Amp and Compressor

Written by DBE intern, Elena Klinova.

You can hear sound clips of this and other reviewed pieces of gear here: https://jordantishler.wordpress.com/gear-review-clips/

Of all our analog gear there is one piece that we use in every session, the Summit MPC-100A Mic Preamp and Compressor. This piece has a unique character and adds harmonics to the sound which makes the instrument seem more live and pushes it “out of the box”.
Summit MPC100A

Summit MPC100A

Starting with the signal flow, there are two sections, as implying by its name, a mic preamp and a compressor. To get the signal inside we use preamp section with DI input on the front panel and line or mic inputs on the back panel. There is a front panel 48 volt switch for a condenser microphone. If you use the DI you can adjust the impedance as might be appropriate for a guitar or keyboard. Once inside, signal goes through the gain amplifier which can change the sound entirely. Even at moderate gain, the MPC-100A will add some warm tube saturation to the sound. If you push the signal level it starts to sound more convex and gritty. In fact, it adds certain amount of distortion to the sound which can be pleasant for some instruments and not very good for others.

By the way, there is a bypass switch on the front panel but it works only for compressor so the sound will go through the pre-amp gain anyway. But if you didn’t want this amplifier to work then you wouldn’t have inserted it into the chain, would you?  Also this section has a LED indicator showing when the tubes saturate, and phase and pad switches that can be handy in some situations.

The next section is the compressor/limiter with it’s own gain and LED indicator. Along with output switch, this stage becomes a powerful tool to control the level and saturation of the sound. There are also the usual parameters that you can adjust: threshold, slope (ratio), attack and release time. In addition the link switch allows you to use two MPC-100A in a pair.

For me, if you want to use this piece of gear properly you should drive the tubes. I would prefer to chose a signal which would love saturation or distortion. It could be bass or electric guitar or anything that needs more grit in the sound. Probably I wouldn’t use it for smooth sounds and vocals since you’ll end up with a too soft or too distorted sound.

JT adds:  The MPC-100A is a beast on bass, kick, snare, guitar, and occasionally keys.  Its function ranges from moderate warmth to full on distortion.  It’s just not a subtle piece.  That’s why I love it. Elena is right, we use it on every session.

JT’s Picks: Good Night, States – Country/Static

What would you get if Bruce Springsteen used a bunch of mangled digital synths embedded in all his ballads?  If you add deeply understated vocals coupled with female backing and the occasional duet part, you get Good Night, States.  GN,S is a band from the Mid-Atlantic region with members from Pittsburgh, Philly, and NJ, so the Bruce connection is real.  Their new album, Country/Static is aptly named.  A collection of deep ballads delivered with quiet intimate vocals, traditional rock arrangements, and odd twisted synth sounds.

Play: Good Night, States – Inside

Stand out tracks include Inside for its sheer beauty; Fog In The Valley for its basic normality; and Head In My Direction for being as upbeat and rockin’ as Good Night, States gets.  Some of the synth parts seem quite at odds with the basic tracks.  I’m not sure whether this entirely works, but it is very intriguing.  Check out Everybody Is Sound for a particular example.  Tired of Making Sense channels U2 for a mild change of pace.

If I had to levy any criticism, and you know I do, it’s just that GN,S is a bit mopey.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate a good song that makes me want to contemplate suicide, but a whole album of that just seems overwhelming.   I think each song is very successful individually, so you be the judge of the compendium.   Good Night, States’ Country/Static is available April 5, 2012.  Go get it!



Review: API 7600 Channel Strip – Counterpoint

You can hear sound clips of this and other reviewed pieces of gear here: https://jordantishler.wordpress.com/gear-review-clips/

API 7600 Channel Strip

API 7600 Channel Strip

As you well know, dear blog reader, we’ve been publishing reviews of the lovely gear we have experienced here in the Digital Bear studio.  I’ve been having our wonderful studio interns do the reviews so they get more time on the gear.  Earlier this week Josh Nachbar published (with my supervisior) a review of the API 7600 channel strip.  What interested me about his review was that he had a close look at this piece of gear, and came to exactly the opposite feeling about it than I.  Rather than interfere with his review (too much), I decided simply to write a response.  You can ultimately be the judge.

Factually, of course, Josh was right on.  The API 7600 is a now discontinued channel strip comprised of the 212 microphone pre-amp, the 550A 3 band semi-parametric EQ with filters, and the 225 compressor.  For those of you who don’t immediately recognize the 200 series, they are the API parts from their esteemed Legacy console.  This is the sound of every American record from the 1970s and early 80s.  The 500 series was designed later to fit the “lunchbox” format; providing simple, transportable, interchangeable modules.

The 7600 was designed to provide access to these three amazing modules in astonishing ways.  Of course, it can be used as a channel strip, going from the mic pre into either the compressor or the EQ and then the other.  However, it was really designed to be part of the DSM series, which was a fully modular Legacy console in a rack.  You could buy the full console in various configurations, or you could buy the 7600 with the 8200 and 7800 and build a custom board!  As a consequence, every section of the 7600 has inputs and outputs.  Not only can you use the 7600 as a channel strip but you can use each piece of it individually; costing less and taking less space than the sum of its parts.  Want a Neve pre amp followed by a 225 compressor?  No problem (assuming you have a Neve pre).  Want to patch an SSL compressor between the 550A and the 225?  No problem!

API Legacy Console

API Legacy Console

On the left hand side of the 7600 are a series of Aux sends, pan, mute, solo controls, as you would expect on the channel strip of a real console.  These are intended to be used in the DSM configurations I mentioned above.  They aren’t much use without the center section pieces.  At first glance, it does seem to be a waste to have these functions.  However, when you consider that a 7600 is significantly less expensive than The Channel Strip (with which API replaced the 7600), the 7600 has more extensive I/O, and the 7600 is built around the sonically more coveted 212 and 225, the 7600 is really a bargain.

Now one of the things that has bothered me about both Josh’s review and mine so far, is that we’ve talked mostly about the functionality of the box.  So I want to rectify that, and talk about the sound.  You know that I NEVER buy a box based on what it does, but rather on how it SOUNDS.  There are many great boxes out there, but there is only ONE API.  The API sound is muscular and forward. It has a pronounced mid-forward character than brings out the balls in male singers and distorted electric guitars.  It is killer on snare and rock kick.  It rounds high frequencies subtly, so it’s great on overheads. It makes a J-bass through an Ampeg SVT really growl.  If you’re looking for warm, thick, friendly, low end-y: get a Neve.  If you want transparent and chime-y: use an SSL.  API does what it does, and nobody can touch it.  That’s why I buy gear.

Review: API 7600

You can hear sound clips of this and other reviewed pieces of gear here: https://jordantishler.wordpress.com/gear-review-clips/

Designed as a cost-effective means of achieving vintage sound, the API 7600 contains a 212L mic pre, a 225L compressor, and a reissue of the original 550A EQ module.

Best used as a rack mounted mixing module, the 7600 features four aux sends, pre or post fader assignable, four buss sends, compressor link, external fader extensions, 7 segment LED meters as well as the usual channel controls including pan, solo, mute, Phantom power, polarity reverse and an automatic or manual selectable output section.

As with all API gear the 7600 has a signature sound.  The 7600 delivers aggressive low-mids forward tone. First in the signal chain comes the 212 preamp, a legend for recording guitars.

Second, the VCA (Voltage Controlled Amplifier) driven 225L compressor section is highly versatile. VCA driven circuits are very predictable and usable, i.e. what you ask it to do is what it does. The release time by design is always linear, and has a certain sound to it. With two ‘type’ controls changing the compressor from feed forward to the older style feed backward circuits, as well as being selectable pre or post EQ. Each mode is appropriate for different signals. When in feed forward, the attack, release and threshold characteristics are very consistent and repeatable, as the detection circuit listens and reacts to the input signal. In feedback mode, the detection circuit is reacting to an already processed signal, resulting in a sometimes less accurate (knob value wise) but more gentle but less predictable compression. Also, it is important to note that the first transient of a signal may slip though uncompressed in feed back mode. A link control on the rear of the unit allows stereo operation of two 7600 compressor modules.

Although a sonic powerhouse, the API 7600 seems to suffer from an identity crisis, not knowing exactly who to appeal to. To make the most out of all features, linking several 7600s together would be the most sensible choice, however the drawbacks may outweigh the benefits. Several 7600 modules together would lack a center section, and the lack of a mix control on the insert returns makes the insert feature almost irrelevant. To truly make the most out of the API 7600, one would also need to invest in an API 7800 and an API 8200, functionally creating an API Legacy Console mounted into 19″ rack spaces.

Although not the most practical piece of gear all on its own, the uncompromising sonic qualities make it a go-to workhorse for those who have it.