[In his first guest post for Human Writes, guest writer Vishal J Singh wrote about how meditation changed his life and vision. Today, he lists from his own industry experience, 10 things every musician needs to know. The guest writer is a respected record producer and sound mixing engineer, founder of critically acclaimed crossover band, Amogh Symphony and one of the best human beings I’ve come across.]
BEST ADVICE FOR MUSICIANS… FROM A MUSICIAN
Mutual trust and agreement on paper
“Whether the project is low-budget or high-budget, always have it on paper before making a final commitment. Many newcomers are afraid to do this because they think they will lose the project. Well, they won’t. A formal agreement shows how serious and professional you are when it comes to bestowing trust and value to a project. On completion of the agreement, both parties have a clear understanding and nobody really wants to mess things up in such a situation. Ensure the agreement states that if the client wants to terminate the project before completion, you do not owe anything as it’s his/ her own decision and not yours.
2. Half payment in advance (…. and edit limit)
A 50% advance payment is your birthright. Again, many young artists and music producers are shy to ask for an advance. Remember, the maximum number of edits or changes as per law is 3. You must include this point to be clear. Anything beyond the third edit/ change in a song, and you have the right to add 20% to 30% to your quotation in the invoice. If the client refuses to work, as per law, you are not supposed to return any amount from your advance.
3. Don’t take collabs personally
When you work on a collaboration (as an artist, music producer or sound engineer), it’s not your ‘personal art’. It’s a joint trip. More than 1 or 2 minds are gathering to create something. If you start getting personal and too close to the composition or the arrangement, your mind automatically starts rejecting ideas coming from an-other. Many musicians don’t really like to “collaborate” because of:
a) Fear of rejection of their ideas; and
b) A locked “personal” creative vision that doesn’t want to be changed.
If you have a tendency to consider the collaboration as your own “baby”, either you need to open your mind and consider the word “teamwork” or you need to walk away.
4. Don’t ‘budget’ creativity
Art doesn’t feed an artist but the knowledge about the fundamentals of music business does. Your mind will automatically start creating a box around your creative ideas when you know the budget isn’t good. This is a bad habit.
You never know who will become what in the future because as we speak, everybody is working really hard to reach their goals in music industry. A $10 project could bring you a $1000 deal; chances are it may be the same client/ collaborator. In fact, some low-budget projects have high potential value due to their unique vision which the world hasn’t seen yet and hence does not have financial backing.
5. Avoid clients who argue… a lot
Once in a blue moon, you may have to encounter a rookie or a celebrity with a bad attitude. If you have already ticked Points 1 and 2, it’s better to let him/ her terminate the project. He/ she may reconsider if you remind him/ her about the agreement, but don’t entertain such artists. You are here to build friendships with great artists, not rockstars. A good artist and a producer/ sound engineer are like best friends who chide each other just so each one can learn and evolve.
6. Don’t expect technical expertise
Whenever I meet other record producers at a party, I often hear things like, ‘Dude, she couldn’t sing at all. She sounds like Kurt Cobain. I could save her by using Melodyne but she rejected that idea… what a stupid b@#$h’ (one of the reasons I stopped hanging out with them actually, lol). The singer/ band reached out to you because they do not have the technical knowledge of music production, and sometimes music theory as well.
Songwriting/ melody composition shapes up with personality and varies from person to person. It is also a learning process for both, the producer and the band when they work on a single together. Usually, producers can’t play the instruments themselves (different in my case because I am a multi-instrumentalist and a songwriter myself so my ears and eyes are always locked on the band’s every movement) but the band can.
For example, telling a heavy metal guitarist to reduce his distortion gain just because it won’t “fit” in the mix and sounds too harsh is not a solution. The guitarist may have a certain way to hit and play with his patch that allows him to sound the way he always imagined it. Same with drummers; if the drummer is too loud and brutal on drums, it’s my challenge to find a better way to record him. “You must hit the drums softly” is not a solution.
You can’t force the band’s musical perspective to sound like your “personal” imagination. Where is the identity of the band in this? Before you record the band, all you need to do is to sit with all the members in a jam room and watch them play the entire album. Note down your remarks in a notebook. For instance, ‘Kick drum needs to be open,’ ‘no double tracking of guitars,’ ‘the interlude is too long, needs to be shortened by 2 bars,’ ‘Jason can play a 1 minute drum solo here while Mick can continue with his guitar feedback…’
This isn’t a corporate job. This is a collaboration and you get paid for that. Once this stage is complete, you have a clearer vision about your involvement as a producer/ arranger/ engineer of the band. Somewhere during this process, the band might display an interest in learning from you. That’s when you teach them about the requisite technicalities.
7. Learn to say “no” to yourself
I often hear music directors and songwriters saying, ‘I was planning to release my album but it’s been six years and yet I am not happy with these versions. They need more work.’ Stop. Just stop there. Writing music is a state when you capture a particular moment into your brain and decide to turn it into a song. Artists are born with uncontrollable mood swings. But there is one thing that can be controlled… the vision that comes after songwriting. This isn’t perfection. A perfectionist doesn’t stop until he/ she has achieved a particular vision.
Remember, this isn’t your last song. Ideas keep growing every day and after every listen but you need to stop somewhere. When the time is right, tell yourself “I will use this idea and arrangement in the next song.” No matter what, it’s better to put a deadline on it.
8. Always play your indie music
… depending on the kind of people you are approaching. If you are connecting with creative people who like to invest in something unique and refreshing, you must play them your indie stuff. Why? Your dedication towards promoting your own music reflects your own value, self confidence and your honest artistic vision. The connection is smoother with people who share a similar vision. Now, this is again related to Point 4.
9. Gear is a tool, not a crutch
Gear is important but buying new gear every month is the same as buying new shoes on every shopping spree. Owning hundreds of pairs of shoes doesn’t make any difference to your life (bank balance is a different matter) but buying a load of expensive gear and not being able to create “something that doesn’t sound like some other artist’s music” is a problem. I am not saying buying new gear is bad but depending on gear is a bad habit for an innovator.
Every time you see a new product launching, it is also visible to everyone else. You aren’t the only one who will try to make something new with these gadgets. So what difference will it make if you are using the same Axe Fx preset? You cannot tell the difference between your song and the other artist’s track. Not because of the songwriting, because of the same gear and same preset.
The key to finding your own sound is to fool around with limited gear and try various options. You won’t believe that sometimes super cheap gear can innovate a sound to your playing/ composition.
10. Discipline makes perfect
Gone are the days when a grumpy jingle composer and a nerdy music producer lived the life of cavemen; disconnected from the world. No sleep, exercise or set meal-times. This kind of lifestyle not only destroys the immune system but also leads to depression and self-doubt. It also makes you lazy. Today, it’s really hard to survive on music alone, so you need to be active and fully aware all the time. Reserve at least 1 hour every day to practise your main musical instrument. Have real world interactions. If you cannot meet your friends, at least call them and stay in touch. You aren’t a vampire!
There is art, ideas, concepts and rhythm in every little thing in this universe. Explore and observe. Meditation, nature walks and exercise are important. You can always find ways to save time. For example, I listen to my mixes and arrangements on earphones during my morning walk. It’s easy to memorise when you walk in the same tempo (or half-tempo if the song is very fast) of the song. Oh, and don’t miss the chance to have good sex!