How to – Mixing and Mastering

Jef Joslin sits down with Rob Beaton in his home studio to offer insight into the mixing and mastering process.

I had recently done some mixing on a track that I produced for an artist named Willett (the track should be releasing this week) and have been in the market for a solid mastering engineer. I was introduced to Rob Beaton through a talented producer/drummer friend of mine, Christian Hand. He mastered the track in a matter of days, it sounded fantastic, and I plan to use Rob from here on out!

Naturally, when thinking of someone to give young mixing and mastering engineers a look at what these fields are like, Rob was the perfect candidate.

I tried to ask Rob some questions that I felt would provide myself and others in the same field insight into his struggles and story into this career, and some of the tricks he now uses to sustain it, as well as some valuable lessons he learned along the way. Thankfully Rob gave me more than I needed!

Rob Beaton begins by talking about his journey from studio janitor to mixing and mastering engineer. He then dives into his creative workflow and gives young mixers insight into the mixing and mastering process by explaining some of his methods, as well as recommending a few pieces of mixing and mastering hardware and software. He closes with some great words of wisdom for anyone who is an aspiring mixing or mastering engineer.

Check out Rob’s website and hear some of his work: http://meetbeaton.com

 

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Definition: Pocket

One of the most valuable things a musician can learn to do is play in time. I know, I know, self explanatory right? Not always.

You’d be surprised how many times you’ll hear musicians play and everything is extremely sloppy or extremely rushed, or just extremely extreme. You know the expression, “it’s better to learn to walk before you run?” I cannot emphasize this more than in music. When learning drums or any other instrument for that matter, what I’m talking about today is in your best interest to apply to the process.

Have you ever been to a concert and the beat the drummer is playing is SO groovy that you can’t help but nod your head? I’m not talking about groovy fills all over the place or fancy stick work. I’m talking about straight up groooooooove. There’s something really satisfying about it. A lot of times you don’t even know you’re hearing it, because everything is so in sync. On the other hand, you ALSO have been to a concert where, you’re not sure why, but you’re not nodding, tapping your foot, in fact, you’re not exactly sure what to do. Chances are there’s too much going on, or too much flash or too much flat-out mess. Allow me to introduce and define a musician’s best friend: POCKET.

Pocket: the act of playing directly ON and sometimes on the TAIL END of the beat.

Have you ever heard another musician or producer tell you, “lay it back?” This is referred to as playing “in the pocket.” This is an invaluable skill and more often than not can actually secure your spot in a band or on a gig, taking precedence over your ability to play more technically or flashy. There’s nothing better than a musician who can play in the pocket. I’ll take a drummer that can give me laid back simple 2’s and 4’s over someone that can play super fast fills but rushes the beat ALL DAY LONG.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with flash or technicality, but if EVERYTHING you play is flashy or fancy, then you leave no room for those moments where people go WOW!! Being able to play simply in the pocket opens up the window to really impress and excite people when those spotlight moments happen.

Do yourself a favor. Go grab a metronome or a run a solid loop and work on playing right on that groove or just a tad on the back end. See if it doesn’t satisfy your funky soul! I promise you that the guys you’re looking to play with, that are actually working musicians or session players want to hear you play in the pocket more than they want to hear you do really complex things out of time to try and impress them.

I don’t say all this cause I’m a pro at it. Growing up as a white guy playing soul music I heard my fair share of “whoa’s” and “eeeaaassyy’s” and “just lay it back Joslin!!” So from one former beat rusher to another, thank you for allowing me to impart these invaluable words. Play in that pocket and I guarantee you AND your bandmates will thank me later.

How to Succeed in Music Business – Part Two

Trying to succeed in music business is hard enough as it is, it can be even harder without this weeks subject matter: Originality.

The number one quote I’ve heard over and over again with regards to originality in music is a familiar verse in Ecclesiastes, written by the wise King Solomon, where he states, “there is nothing new under the sun…” Now, I agree with that on certain fronts. It is true that people have been writing songs about love, heartbreak, romance, troubles, and triumphs in many of the same ways for years and years. Even the famed Chris Martin of Coldplay described his band as “incredibly good plagiarists.” The revered painter Pablo Picasso was known to have said, “good artists copy but great artists steal.” Every great artist that has ever been has pulled influences from all those that came before him/her. While all this is true, and while all new music contains bits and pieces of the music that came before it, there is one thing that will forever remain unique, special and original: and that my friends, is YOU.

There has never been, and there will never be another YOU! You have a unique fingerprint that is unlike anyone else’s. You have an identity that is and will forever be the ‘x’ factor that makes you who you are. How do you apply this to music you ask? Well the beautiful thing is you don’t have to TRY to do ANYTHING. All you have to do is refrain from trying to be SOMEONE ELSE.

Two of my biggest influences growing up were John Mayer and Stevie Wonder. John Mayer came out a few years after I learned how to play guitar and between him and James Taylor, I pretty much taught myself a great deal of jazz, blues, and pop chord progression and musical theory from learning these guys songs. Stevie Wonder has always been my greatest vocal influence. If there’s anyone I could sing like, it would be him. Unfortunately, in my quest to become a better musician, I began to strive to play and sing JUST LIKE THEM. I’d often get comparisons (mostly contrasting opinions) of how I sounded like them, or fell short to sound like them. I remember playing a Stevie Wonder tune once at a Starbucks in Murfreesboro, TN and right in the middle of song I overheard someone standing right near me say, “yeah but he sings it WAY better than this guy!” I remember thinking, “that has to be the understatement of the century!” No one could ever do Stevie like Stevie does Stevie! Some years later I received some of the best advice in my career from a long time family friend. He told me, “the world doesn’t need another John Mayer. They already have one! What they need is YOU.” That was a profound thought to me and is something that has never left me.

The beautiful thing about being you is THERE IS NO COMPETITION. There is no other you. As long as you stay true to what you do and who you are, you’ll never go wrong and you’ll ALWAYS be original. Does that mean you don’t listen to other peoples music or have influences? Of course not. Look at Hendrix. You can hear traces of all those who came before him, but still in the midst of all that, he will always be Jimi Hendrix. Why? Because he didn’t try to be Robert Johnson or Buddy Holly or Muddy Waters. He soaked up all those influences and then just did Jimi.

I think the best way to sum this up with some practical advice is with this final thought: the WORST thing you can do is compare yourself to others. By comparing yourself to others you are then basing your path and your unique voice as an artist on someone else’s journey. There is nothing wrong with having a healthy ability to gauge your professionalism against the progress of your influences, but the moment you start envying or comparing, then you’ve lost YOU. The world doesn’t need another (insert well-known artist name). What it needs is YOU. And no one else can fill that space.

So perhaps that will help you rest a little easier and be a bit kinder to yourself wherever you are on your musical path. Feel free to fill your musical tool kit with all your favorite music and let that propel you into the artist you were meant to be, but at the end of the day don’t forget to just open up and allow those influences pour out of your God given ‘paint brush’ in whatever way you want. And by doing that, by just being YOU, you are doing something NO ONE has ever done.

How to Succeed in Music Business – Part One

Trying to succeed in music business can seem like a horrifyingly daunting task: so many mega labels, so many doors, hoops, gates, standing in between you and your dreams. It is true the music business is not for the faint of heart, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. In fact, nowadays it’s very do-able thanks to the multitude of resources available to you to get your music into the hands of people on all sides of the planet. In the next few articles, I hope to break down some of those walls and fears and open you up to the beautifully fulfilling world that is music creation and expression. Before I jump into all my recommendations, I think it’s important to lay the groundwork for what probably attracted you to this article in the first place: SUCCESS.

DEFINE YOUR SUCCESS

Webster’s dictionary defines ‘success’ as “the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one’s goals.” There are a few others listed, but this one is my favorite because it shows that YOU DEFINE YOUR SUCCESS. If your ‘success’ is being rich and famous, then you’re likely to do just about anything to get there, including things that may not actually be good for you or your career. In a world of ‘instafame’ and reality stars, this type of success is here today and gone tomorrow. If you define ‘success’ as being able to make a living and sustain yourself (and possibly your family) on the back of your musical endeavors, well then you’ve put yourself in a much better situation to make decisions that serve that purpose.

Ultimately it truly is up to you. There are various ways to succeed in music business. None of them is any better than the other, and most importantly, none of them carry increasing levels of happiness as the amount of ‘success’ increases. In other words, there’s a place for everyone. If you want to be a mega pop star, front and center on stage at Madison Square Garden, that is possible for you, but it is going to require a different set of skills and efforts to get there, and you’re probably going to have to compromise a bit. If you simply want to tour and put out records on your own terms, you’ll have a similar set of skills to master, but probably going to have to learn how to do other non-musical things in order to promote and distribute your music.

When I made the decision to enter the music business, I primarily wanted to be an artist. But because I know how competitive an industry this is, I decided to define my success, and diversify my skill set, in order to learn every aspect of this business that I could, thereby keeping me from putting all my eggs in one basket and being a one trick pony. Now at this stage in my career, I have made money as an artist, producer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, engineer, mixer, mastering engineer, etc. By defining YOUR success, you ensure you know where you’re going and how you’re gonna get there, rather than letting someone else tell you what that looks or sounds like. Which I can assure you, EVERYONE will try to do. As long as you know where you’re headed, you can smile and nod, grab advice that suits your mission and goals, and continue on your way.

A great book that I studied in college and still refer to today, is Donald Passman’s “All You Need to Know About the Music Business.” I HIGHLY recommend it to anyone within any part of this business. I guarantee it is worth the money and will increase your knowledge greatly.

This is an invaluable resource and has helped many people define their success and guide the rapids of this tumultuous and ever-changing industry.

Stay tuned for Part Two of “How to Succeed in the Music Business” when I talk about ‘originality’ and what an important part it plays in making your dent in the music business. Thanks for tuning in!