Category: Ekow B.

Week 8: Audio and Visuals

Week 8: Gaining more experience on my own, I’ve noticed the best artists and producers usually have attractive aesthetics and imagery to draw in their consumers. Daniel has reminded me that music is as much as business as it is an art, and to effectively reach an audience, it should communicate quality in all ways possible. Contemplating this, I decided to spend some time during this project working on visuals and images to accompany the music I’ll release in the future.

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Production Visuals in Adobe After Effects

Most of the visuals for my beat production are usually relatively simple and consistent from video to video:

  • An image or video of a popular artist that the beat’s style may resemble (in this case Q),
  • A colorful filter over the image (in this case purple)
  • My personal logo (‘BM’ for ‘BlackMajick Beats’ the name of my production company)
  • Sample of the beat itself as the background music
  • Audio spectrum (Lines around the logo that move with the ‘bump’ of the song)

All of these are artistic choices that can vary for different producers, but I’ve gradually made improvements and changes to my beats/videos over time, most of which can be found for now on my youtube channel at: http://www.youtube.com/user/blackmajickbeats

I plan to continue adding improvements and eventually create a website and market some of my instrumentals to artists themselves with the advice and input I’ve received from my internship advisor. However, graphics and design in general are areas that have continued to peak my interest, as I hope to delve deeper and expand my range of musical and artistic skills. Below is some additional sample album art I’ve worked on for some of my own songs.

 

Art made on Illustrator and various other apps

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Week 7: Follow-Ups

After some more listening over, Daniel suggested I focus on polishing up my sound, so I spent some time reading up and figuring out ways to improve my mixes. I have a few songs in progress I’ve been looking over that I’m planning to release soon, but I also think it’s very important to experiment and try different things in the early stages of one’s artistic development. Books and videos can teach us a lot, but as Daniel told me that voice and style are very unique from person to person, and it’s a lot better to figure out what works best for you than just follow a formula that other people use. Keeping this in mind, I’ve been doing both research and trial and error methods with a lot of different elements in my computer program to try and get a cleaner sound. Hopefully, my engineering skills will keep improving and I’ll develop an ear as skilled as his one day.

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Books on Mastering and Engineering Sound

Week 6: U of A Choir Recording

Week 6: On Friday, Daniel and I went to record a live session of U of A’s graduate choir in one of it’s music halls. We had to get there early to set everything up, and while I thought my second time doing live recording would be more simple, I still ran into some struggles…

Set-up in any music recording setting is extremely important, and since Daniel often takes his equipment on the go, he likes to quickly get the materials laid out and the set prepared. After being left alone and taking  nearly 10 minutes to get the table legs up, he helped me out and let me practice un- and re-coiling the mic cables. He always stresses the important of maintaining and reusing equipment because it saves him a lot of money on buying new materials. I finally got the hang of it (literally), and left the spare hung coil in the supplies box as he got the session ready. I moved the organ into place and waited for things to start.

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Auditorium Space

The graduate students walked in one-by one and warmed up. The lady we met there was accompanying their singing with both piano and organ playing, and we had to make sure we got clean takes with no outside interruptions. I helped close the doors and communicate from the curtain when the recording was ready to start. The sound was amazing, even from behind the stage, and I was able to listen through two different pairs headphones and compare the tonalities of sound. The older pair of headphones had a softer, warmer quality that picked up a balance of the choir and instruments, while the newer pair had a more bright, detailed sound. The end result was a recording received from the condenser mics we had positioned on the stage and the pianist/organ player met with Daniel after to find the take she liked best for him to send over.

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U of A Graduate Student Choir

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VIP Access Recording

I learned a lot about the importance of procedure and professionalism from this experience. Daniel is a laid-back guy, but takes his clients work very seriously and always makes sure his set-up and clean-up is efficient and the product is top-quality. If I ever enter the music business in the future, his methods are definitely examples I will keep in mind.

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Table with the legs I couldn’t fully get up for 10 min

Week 5: Links and Connections

Week 5: I started working on features (guest verses) in further attempts to connect and collaborate and hashed out a few songs after talking with different people about my ideas and intentions, and got some contact regarding my online work.

My other friend Daniel (Woodro) who makes music as well had a show downtown, and he talked to me about his plans for his next project afterwards. He introduced me to a group called Adobe House, an independent group that does their own music locally in Tucson.

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Adobe House

Meeting some of these people has made it easier to be connected to the larger Tucson Hip-Hop community, and we remain in online contact as well as occasional song collaborations. I’ve continued working at my internship, observing and helping with studio support, and am eager to see what my advisor has next in store for me.

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Woodro’s Concert

Week 4: Moving Forward

These past weeks I’ve been working with Daniel, but also on more of my own music as well.

Week 4: I worked with Daniel a bit on a few of my projects and then connected with some fellow producers and writers at the studio as we workshopped our ideas. I learned a lot about song-making, layering vocals, and the value of outside input in improving my own style.

In Tucson, a lot of artists work through connections and events, and you can find a number of people who do what you do when you start to reach out. Without the advantages of collaboration and media, it would be a lot harder for talented people to get recognition. That being said, these days musicians can work heavily through online fanbases as well. Releasing albums, singles, EPs, and music videos, and then promoting through friends and social media are essential strategies to marketing yourself and your content.

Through this output, you can start to build your own “brand” and stylistic identity, which is why many of the most popular musicians we see today, in addition to having catchy songs and enjoyable music, usually have a unique element to their style or personality that makes them stand out. With artists like Kendrick, it’s a lyrical poignancy drawn through storytelling juxtaposed with a simplified, youthful perspective in many of his projects (good kid). With people like Drake, it can often be a mix of bouncy club-friendly songs relaxed, half-asleep sounding flow, and light R&B jams with many emotional, relatable lyrics that draw people to his music. Overall, without also having unique style and approach in addition to high quality music, an artist of any genre may have more trouble gaining support.

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Beatmaking

Keeping all this in mind, I do my best to make my steps gradually but carefully, and be open to outside input.

 

Week 3- Finding a Voice

 

Lately, Daniel has been busy with tech work at the Arizona Theatre Company I haven’t yet gotten clearance to sit in on, but in the meantime he’s encouraged me to work on my own songs. We went over some tracks on Monday, and he pointed out some issues I had in the control of the color and dynamic vocals over my song. He suggested working on making my rap delivery more stable and consistent throughout and possibly trying a different mic as well. He lent me two kinds: one dynamic and one condenser to try out before I went home, but during the time we focused on a song I had written called “Potion” that was going to be part of a set for an upcoming showcase my friends and I were putting together.

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Dynamic (Left) and Condenser (Right) Microphones
The main ways he had me edit the sound were equalizing (or EQ’ing), and compressing the sound in a digital program called FL Studio where I usually produce and record my music. The goal was to make the sound more balanced with the while letting the vocals lay on top of the beat rather the being muffled under or interfering with them. With the equalizer tool, you can adjust certain components of frequency within an audio signal, sort of like molding different parts of wet clay to shape the overall sculpture better. The compressor on the other hand, pushes low and high frequencies together, making the sound thicker in a sense while still keeping it controlled and moderated in amplitude. I had a digital plugin versions of these in my software, but Daniel also showed me how to use a real-life EQ and compressor that he had in his studio for an interesting effect.

 

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Digital vs. Real-Life Compressor and EQ

He handed me a mic and a pair of headphones and I crouched down near the dials. As he turned on the compression the sound of my own voice changed. Even when I tried yelling loud, I saw that the peaks wouldn’t reach past the given threshold on the monitor. As I went back to my own song, I gained a better understanding of what these functions did and while my results weren’t perfect, Daniel guided me through the process of fixing certain elements and let me work on the rest on my own.

Later in the week I tested out the mics he gave me and one more mic Mr. Winkelman lent me (if you’re reading this thanks, btw). I wrapped up the finishing touches of my song and released it a few days later. The finished song is now on Soundcloud:

 

 

Week 2: Out in The Field

The second week of my internship was different than usual because I was able to see aspects of music not only just in a generic studio space but also live in other areas firsthand. My adviser, Daniel, always stresses the importance of being broad-minded and getting out there both from a practical standpoint and an artistic one to gain new types of experience and inspiration. So, on a Tuesday afternoon, we packed the car, got dressed up, and went to church…

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The Cathedral

But this wasn’t just any church. This cathedral was hosting a concert for Jorge Luis Prats, a world-famous Cuban pianist with a passion for music, cigars, and culture. Daniel had been hired by the host to live record the performance, so we had to arrive 2 hours before to set up and test the equipment. He brought two special microphones called condenser mics, which are made specially to pick up detailed sound in instruments while recording, and paired them right above the opening of the piano to get a live pick-up of the music. Then, he had me guide the cables from the stand back to the table where we had the rest of the equipment set up. He brought a special device to control the levels of sound coming in from the mic and out to the recording on his computer, and we were able to hear everything through headsets.

On the Job

When the performance finally started, the music sounded great. Although it was coming out to the audience as a live performance, through the headphones it sounded like a studio-recorded song, I wasn’t exactly sure how he did it, but he said eventually he could teach me how to get a similar polished sound. I mostly observed and listened as Daniel made sure the levels stayed balanced and marked different parts in the recording by looking at the program and the pauses in the songs. It required a lot of patience, and steady attention, but in a way it was also very interesting to how live music was recorded as well.

The rest of the week was pretty chill. I had time to work on a few songs on my own, and then I went to see one of my friends perform at an annual showcase known as the Tucson Hip-Hop Festival. This was another opportunity for me to see music in a live setting, and also relevant to the music I was trying to make myself. The place was packed with artists, producers, DJs, entrepreneurs, and hip-hop fans of all ages, colors, and backgrounds. I stuck around for a couple hours and walked between a few of the events going on, and met some talented rappers in the Tucson music scene I hadn’t even known about. Everybody brought their own style and with it their own story. It also got me inspired for my own music and taught me some things about stage presence and live performance as I watched artist after artist dominate the stages.

Tucson Hip-Hop Festival

Week 1: The Art of Detail

This past week was my first week at my internship. I spent Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday working with producer and engineer Daniel Naiman during his home sessions.

On Tuesday when I first came in, he was putting the final touches on a track an artist had sent him and asked him to polish up. When doing this, sound engineers go through a process called mixing and mastering, which involves taking an artist’s vocals and the music and adjusting different parts of the sound to make it more listenable on the radio and such. While this may sound relatively simple, it is one of the most important parts of producing a song for professional musicians. It also requires a highly skilled ear and a knowledge and understanding of how sounds are constructed on a fundamental level. To do this, we had to listen through the track repeatedly, and spent at least an hour going between the studio room and his outdoor shed, testing the mix on different speakers to see what it would sound like in a real life setting, and then going back to re-adjust any flaws we heard. Finally he decided the mix was satisfactory and saved the final cut on his computer. It had already been a busy day.

Daniel then gave me an overview of the music process and what his job was as an engineer. His house was filled with old tech, monitors, and systems. He told me how the growth of commercial music originated all with the introduction of a simple tool: the amplifier. Because amplifiers made it possible for music to be heard by a greater number of people, music gradually transitioned from being a small-scale, intimate practice to a large-scale, performance-oriented entertainment form.

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Old School Amplifier

As tech advanced further and digital recording came along, people were soon able to capture an artist’s voice and mass-produce it for millions of eager listeners. This is how the music business began. Daniel told me he had started as an independent artist himself, and had expanded his areas of profession as he got older to accommodate his changing lifestyle. He now works from his home, chooses his own hours, and still makes enough to support a family and live relatively comfortably. He told me that as a musician I’d have to choose my own path and figure out what works best for me, but having knowledge about different aspects of music would only give me a better understanding of the detail of the craft, so I sat down and watched as he continued to set up and explain the systems.

At the end of the day, he had to get equipment ready for an artist named Chris coming in the next day. Since he was getting paid by this guy, everything had to be prepared in advance to not waste time. He had me go over to the booth area and help test the mic. Once he had the levels set and the session set up, we called it a day, and I headed off.

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Testing the Mic

The rest of the week he was working with Chris, a tall curly-haired guy with dozens of sheets of songs in hand. Daniel pulled up some of the recordings they had worked on on his computer. They talked for awhile and exchanged ideas about potential production styles on each track. Then Daniel went down to his shed and got a live synthesizer where they started experimenting with sounds over Chris’ vocals and guitar.

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Working with Chris

They tried some thick grungy sounds and some spacey sounds that vaguely reminded Chris of David Bowie. I chimed in and suggested a lighter sound to balance out the existing bass in the song like a flute or string. They discussed this idea too, and tried some things with that, until Chris got an idea and decided to put harmonizing vocals in the background of the chorus with a slow, faint drum kick underneath. Daniel made him a new draft and they went through some other songs until the day was over.

The next day before Chris came in, I was also able to show Daniel some of my own tracks. He said my stuff was pretty good but suggested a dynamic mic instead of the compressor I currently use for a warmer sound with less detail. He gave me a few other technical suggestions but encouraged me to keep working and making new songs overall. During the week, even as a producer I was introduced a lot of things I wasn’t too familiar with, but I’m hoping with this internship I can learn more about these things and become more educated about the music process in general too. Pretty sure I’ll be doing some reading on all this stuff soon.

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Daniel’s Record Player and Vinyl Collection

 

 

 

Day 0: Pre-Internship Progress

This week was somewhat disjointed since my internship hasn’t officially started yet, but in the meantime I’ve been working on my music in my makeshift home studio day and night. My onsite advisor contacted me on Wednesday, and we had a brief discussion about what my background in music was and what he had planned for the internship overall, and  then he talked about himself a bit too.

He told me that over the years he had done everything from music production and engineering for local artists to sound tech and monitoring for groups like TSO and the Arizona Theatre Company, and how he had developed his career from multiple aspects of the music business. As someone interested in taking a similar approach to production, I went back to some of my old projects to look at the steps involved in creating a single song: writing, instrumentation, mixing, recording, editing, etc., and started thinking about how each step could be explored on a deeper level.

While before I’ve had an idea of what can make music sound good, I’ve become more and more interested in learning what makes songs sound better. Even though I’m still not exactly sure what I’ll be doing specifically during this internship, from the way he was talking I’m pretty sure this guy could have some secrets or ancient Jedi wisdom that will help me make some top quality stuff, but we’ll see…

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(Home Studio)

I currently use:

  1. Behringer Sound Interface: $30
  2. Shure SM81 Condenser Mic: $300 (borrowed from a friend)
  3. Bose MM-1 Speakers (borrowed from male guardian)
  4. Dell Laptop (borrowed from female guardian)
  5. AudioTechnica ATH-M40x Headphones: $80
  6. FL Studio Producer Edition
  7. Couch Cushions (professional sound-insulation equipment)
  8. Apple Earbuds (break every 3 months)
  9. Brain

Songs from Scratch: The Process of Independent Music Production

In my project, I plan to explore how aspects such as technology and instrumentation have affected the process of modern music-making. I will do this by working and observing the methods and equipment used by a professional audio designer in comparison to that of a home studio where more artists are beginning to produce beats and songs independently in the modern age. The internship will allow me to see the process of recording and mixing, as well as commercial and live sound design. My goal is to produce several of my own songs as a final product.