ArchiveCategory Archives for "Blog"
A blog dedicated to teaching you how to license your music online.
A blog dedicated to teaching you how to license your music online.
Despite everything you may hear about the death of the music industry, there's still a huge need to pay taxes for musicians. Most people with day jobs receive a W2 tax form from their employers, and their taxes are pretty straight forward. But working musicians like us also get our income reported through a Form 1099.
Basically, you pay independent contractor taxes for the music work you do.
This article will focus on the three major areas of taxes for musicians: basic background information, bookkeeping for musicians, and the top musician tax deductions. And all of this is only for American musicians. I literally have no idea about any other country, so if you're not from the U.S., you may want to find help elsewhere.
All tax payers are required to pay three different taxes to the IRS - FICA Social Security, FICA Medicare, and Income tax. The two FICA taxes are non-negotiable - all tax payers everywhere pay 15.3% of their income into FICA.
If you're an employee, your employer covers half of that 15.3% as a benefit to you, and you pay the other half out of your paycheck.
But if you're self-employed - or in other words, a freelancer or a contractor - you are responsible for paying the entire 15.3% yourself.
This is separate from income tax, and it gets added onto your 1040 as "Self-Employment Tax."
But first, two big disclaimers. Now before we go any further, I need to state that I AM NOT AN ACCOUNTANT and I'm not in anyway qualified to give tax advice. You'd be an idiot to trust me (a musician!) with your tax tips and you should independently confirm things. Second, this article may include affiliate links which generate a commission for clicking through them. However, this does not bias my opinion.
A Form 1099 for musicians is basically the way all independent contractor taxes are reported. This is how the IRS knows that you need to pay taxes for musicians...
Theoretically, before working with a client, you fill out a W-9 form with your tax information. For example, if you're playing a legit gig. Or if you're licensing your music through Pond 5, they make you fill out some info.
The form 1099 is how all income for contractors is recorded. If a company pays you more than $600, they are required to issue you a 1099 to reflect that income. They'll ask you to fill out a form called a W-9 - this form collects all the contact information needed to issue your 1099 at tax time. The W-9 can be downloaded from the IRS's website (link) and the information includes name, address, and tax ID number (social security number or EIN). When you go into business, it's a best practice to fill out and sign a W-9 and keep it readily available for anyone who asks.
According to the IRS, a 1099 is used to:
... payments made in the course of a trade or business to a person who's not an employee or to an unincorporated business. Report payments of $10 or more in gross royalties or $600 or more in rents or compensation. Report payment information to the IRS and the person or business that received the payment.
After the end of the year, you'll start to receive copies of the 1099 forms from the folks you've worked for the previous year. You'll then use these to enter your 1099 income when filing your taxes.
However, I should note that even if you don't receive a 1099, you're supposed to report all of your income (and pay taxes on it). I know plenty of times where people think they don't need to pay taxes as musicians, but if you're getting paid under the table for a gig, you should still be tracking and reporting that income.
And yea, that means you need to pay taxes on merch sold at gigs (and this probably also sales tax implications, but that's beyond the scope of today's post).
Update: I've actually switched to using an experienced business accountant, Stephanie, who is ALSO a musician. She gets it, is really easy to work with, and charges comparable rates to TurboTax. You can find her firm, Tax Co Solutions, here.
In the past, I've used TurboTax , and it worked well for me, especially when I just had a little bit of side income coming in. I found it really straightforward. It asks all the right questions and helps you through all the various deductions you can take. TurboTax will automatically calculate things like depreciation, and it will carry them over from year to year.
If you've got taxes to pay, you need to keep track of your income and expenses. Bookkeeping for musicians is essential to make sure you don't miss anything along the way, and will save you countless hours of time during tax season.
I use Mint.com (totally free) to keep my books and to track all of my expenses and income. Every weekend I go through the transactions for the past week.
The main thing to worry about when keeping books as a musician is to make sure you use clear, consistent tags and descriptions for your transactions. That way, at the end of the year you'll quickly be able to find your relevant transactions. You'll also no what they were. So if you bought gear on Amazon, you don't want just a $30 charge to Amazon, you want to add a description, like "A 5 Pack of New Strings."
But honestly, bookkeeping for musicians isn't too much more complicated than your regular day-to-day budgeting. Just be consistent about categorizing expenses, and let Mint's free automation track and record everything.
And save your receipts!
This isn't an exhaustive list of all tax deductible items, by any means, but these are the top five tax deductions for musicians. As a performer or recording artist, you can use each of these tax deductions to reduce your taxable income. You can use these deductions to offset your 1099 income, so that you have to pay little to no taxes on your side hustle income!
The important thing is to become aware of all of the possible tax deductible items as soon as possible so you that you keep track of them all year long. That's why bookkeeping is so important for musicians.
Here's a big, smelly caveat: you're only eligible for these deductions if you're trying to run a business.
If music is just a hobby and you only get the occasional cheque, you may not be eligible for it.
The basic rule is this: if you're honestly TRYING to make a profit, even if you're failing, you probably can make take these deductions.
For example, in 2014, the United States Tax Court issued its decision in favor of artist Susan Crile, and found that she had indeed “met her burden of proving that in carrying on her activity as an artist, she had an actual and a honest objective of making a profit."
CD Baby has a great in-depth discussion about what it means to be a professional musician here.
You're probably wondering, can I deduct musical equipment from my income.
You can deduct all of your musical gear, your plugins, software, all that good stuff. There is almost no limit to the type of tax deductible items that you can use - basically, if Guitar Center sells it, you're probably good. Not only is it great that you can deduct your musical equipment (which can save tons of money), but it also makes you feel ever so slightly less guilty about being a gear slut.
You can also deduct the cost of servicing your equipment, so if you get something repaired, or if you get your guitar setup, then boom. Deduction.
Educational expenses that help you advance your career are all valid deduction with taxes for musicians. So whether you're buying a book like How to Make it in the New Music Industry, joining a course on how to license your music like mine, or subscribing to a music magazine, these are all valid educational expenses.
On top of that, you can also deduct that cost of concert tickets - you're keeping up with industry trends after all!
Working musicians can deduct gear, Spotify subscriptions, and even concert tickets from their taxes! #musician #sidehustle #taxes
One of the biggest perks to the deductions you can take on your taxes as a musician is the space your studio takes up in your home. Or your rehearsal room. Plus you can also deduct that utilities, insurance, etc. associated with the space.
The main rule is that the space needs to be used exclusively for a business purpose (so no man caves). But if 25% of home is taken up by your studio, then you can deduct 25% of your water bill, for example
Within reason, musicians can also deduct transportation and mileage from their taxes when they are traveling for a business purpose. So let's say your driving to a gig that's 10 miles away. Well you look up the mileage deduction and boom.
Or if you're flying to a conference or a gig or a recording session. Just, as always, be sure to maintain all documents.
If you're getting all of your money through 1099s, whether because you're a full time self-employed musician or a musician/freelancer as a lot of creative folks are, if you save for retirement in a qualified account, you can deduct those savings.
It's not my place to say whether a SEP IRA, a solo 401K, or Roth IRA might be best for you - it will depend on your personal situation. I use Betterment to invest my money, though. It's got low fees, broad exposure to diverse funds, and is super simple to use.
Would you believe that one of my worst written, worst produced, worst mixed songs - one that uses mainly loops - has generated over $200 and continues to sell?
I'm as shocked as you.
Update 5/22/18: I just earned $1,800 from this song on back end licensing!!
But it turns out there are at least 3 secret reasons why this song has done so well, which I'll share in a minute.
First, though, you really ought to take a listen to this little gem.
Originally, I never intended this song for licensing. I was just making a demo song to experiment with mid/side processing. As the song shows, that experiment failed.
However, I accidentally exported the song and uploaded it to some licensing sites with a batch of other files.
When it came time to start tagging the song with keywords and descriptions, I thought, what the hell.
Now, to begin with I recommend writing and recording high quality songs!
The point of this example is just to show that if you know what you're doing when it comes to key wording songs, and make songs that are a good fit for music licensing, you can be successful at music licensing even if you're not the greatest musician or producer.
- The mix is terrible, instruments are all the wrong volume
- That wah guitar (loop) is jarring
- The song doesn't sound glued together
- I could go on...
The main point is that the quality is pretty average, and the song is kind of boring. Although songs that are good background music are great for music licensing, you don't want to overdue it.
- It's written in the format that fits stock music
- The song has a consistent, clear vibe
- It's got a clear ending, not just a fade out
- I did a great job using evocative keywords (see bullet point #4!) so buyers could actually find the song
- There's horns (buyers like horns! (I get my samples from here)
All of these are skills that can be learned and improved on. All you need is some direction and a commitment to work on your craft. In the two or three years since I made this song, my recordings (and success) have continued to grow.
You need to stop making excuses that you're not good enough, or you're not ready. You will fail, but as long as each song is a little better than the last in some way, eventually your progress will start to snowball.
Stop making excuses that your music isn't good enough, or you're not ready. You may fail, but as long as each song is a little better, eventually your progress will start to snowball. #sidehustle #hustle #musicproducer #producerlife
So cheer up, even if you're still working on your production skills, you really can start licensing your music online today. If you want to learn how to do it, my Stock Music Alliance program really gets into these details (through hours of videos and song critiques so you don't make my mistakes)!
A year ago I had no idea how to get a record deal. I was a bedroom producer making a few hundred dollars a month selling stock music. But unbeknownst to me, powerful forces were at work that would lead me to getting a publishing deal.
Here's how it went down.
To be honest, I was happy just making my music for myself and selling it directly as stock music. But occasionally, a beat that I made would be fire.
So when that happened, I'd invite my friend Ryn over. Ryn has been a rapper for a long time, and he would come over and spit some lines. It was fun, but we weren't really thinking about how to get a record deal.
It was really just an excuse to drink. And occasionally it would lead to a great track. Over time, it got better. So yea, practice is important. Then Ryn invited his friend Vince over. And Vince is a great rapper to.
Together, they started making some awesome music.
Here's the main tip from this story: start learning how to make good beats (stock music licensing was a great way of learning to produce professional tracks while getting paid.)
Also note that it's important to connect with people in the real world. You could call it networking, but it's really just being a person. You'll be amazed at the opportunities that will arise.
Ryn sometimes worked with another producer who had a publishing deal. When he heard some of our demos. He decided to pass it along to his publisher.
Once the publisher heard our tracks he reached out and offered us a record deal. So while this seems like a magical thing (and it really did come down to luck), let's break down what's going on behind the scene so we can actual deconstruct how to get a record deal.
First, I put in the hard work of making good beats. The songs were ready. How did I get there? Well I've been doing this for years, but I've also written hundreds of songs. Having a big library of tracks to chose from means that some were going to be way better. Not only that, but it meant that I could pick songs that were a god fit for the MCs.
But I'm not the best. I'm pretty average, especially considering how long I've been doing this. If you work hard on your craft, you'll get there.
The second part of how to get a record deal is to work with good people. Ryn & Vince are good. They've put in their hard work at their skills, too. So when we hit record, we would get great results.
Here's a really in depth tutorial on how to record rap vocals.
The next part that was essential to getting our record deal was being professional. These record publishers are busy people with lots on their plate - the easier your are to work with, the more likely they are to get an offer.
In fact, by delivering exactly what they wanted, in a timely, professional manner, we received an open invitation to submit tracks in the future.
So there, you have it, the basic steps for how to get a record deal. Hone your craft, write lots of songs, work with good people, network, and be a profession.
I recently did a wonderful interview on how to sell stock music with Jesse from Sync My Music. In this 30+ minute video on how to sell stock music, Jesse and I discuss how stock music libraries are different from other types of production music libraries, how anyone can get started selling stock music, and also what I have planned for the future.
Even though Jesse has been making a fulltime living licensing his production music through libraries, he is now seriously considering putting his "rejects" on to a site like Pond 5.
It's really not that hard to do get started licensing your stock music. I had no idea what I was doing three years ago when I started trying to license my music. Also, I made TONS of mistakes. But I've muddled through with some hard work (the key to success at anything) and a commitment to investing in my growing knowledge.
It's really not that hard to do get started licensing your stock music. I had no idea what I was doing three years ago when I started trying to license my music. Now I make hundreds a month. #musicproduction
Basically, any musician with some decent production chops can go and learn how to sell stock music by spending some time putting songs on Pond 5 and seeing which songs are successful. In my opinion, Pond 5 is probably the best stock music for beginners. There is a big marketplace of buyers and sellers, the editorial standards are fair, and the company is easy to work with.
If you want to know more about the best stock music site, I've made a more complete review of the best stock music sites.
First you should definitely watch the video with Jesse - it will teach you how to sell stock music.
But when you write songs for stock music, try to think of an emotion or mood. You want your song to have a very clear emotional hook, and you want it to keep moving forward.
Your production doesn't need to be phenomenal, but it doesn't need to be clean, clear, and free of distractions.
Then you can grow your practice around that by getting better at keyword tagging, songwriting, and production.
That's the path I've taken, anyway. And I'm earning hundreds of dollars a month passively doing it.
Now, if you're interested learning how to license stock music by getting off to a running start, I also offer a course that teaches you exactly how to hit the ground running on Pond 5. You can watch it here.
Anyone can learn how to record rap vocals in a home studio with great results.
But don't buy into the hype of needing super expensive gear. If you focus on learning how to record rap vocals, then you can get really nice sounding vocals for cheap, and it does not require crazy skills or a fortune.
Now that sounds pretty damn good for a $100 dollar mic, right? So this guide will teach you how to get that sound.
In fact, here's how I basically used a cheap ass mic to record an entire hip hop EP which got a publishing deal that earned us a nice chunk of change.
If you want to skip around, it includes the following sections:
You can record great rap vocals with a cheap mic. I've had great results with the MXL 990, so if you're on a budget, I'd say it's the best mic for recording rap hip hop vocals. I like it because it has a wonderful presence that allows vocals to cut through the mix with minimal eq. If you can afford a pre-amp (like the warm audio TB 12 mic pre amp), it will really make the vocals sound warm and alive.
To record great rap vocals, you need to make sure you have a mic stand and pop filter and an XLR cable. This package includes everything you need.
Do not skip this step.
You will struggle endlessly learning how to record rap vocals if you don't have a pop filter and a mic stand to get the mic in to position.
Tips for recording rap vocals: The secret to recording good hip hop vocals all comes down to having a well positioned microphone to get good results! And a pop filter is a must to get minimize certain plosive sounds.
If you don't already have an audio interface, you'll need one like the Focusrite Scarlett to get your microphone signal into your computer (please don't by a USB microphone - you will literally outgrow it in a minute and then have wasted all your money on it).
You'll also need some recording software, if you don't already have any.
Most professionals call recording software a DAW (digital audio workstation). If you've already got one, you're golden. If you've got a Mac, you can get started with Garageband.
And if you're on a PC, I'd recommend starting with Reason Essentials by Propllerhead Software. It's under a $100, it's powerful, and it lets you upgrade to my favorite DAW, Reason, when you're read.
If you have the budget for it, I'd recommend a warm audio Tone Beast mic pre amp, but this isn't that necessary.
Recording great hip hop vocals for cheap starts with your room. You need to spend some time figuring out where to record vocals. The deader the space, the better. So find a room that has lots of carpets and soft things. Tile and wood are bad.
How do you determine deadness?
You can test how reflective your room is by clapping as you walk around. The more echo you hear, the worse. Try to find the spot with the least echo. Nothing will be perfect, though.
Tips for recording rap vocals: You can test how reflective your room is by clapping as you walk around. The more echo you hear, the worse. Try to find the spot with the least echo. Nothing will be perfect, though.
Next, you want to figure out where the loudest ambient noises in your room are. Do you have windows next to a busy street? Aloud computer? A refrigerator that keeps turning on.
Well, point your microphone AWAY from the loudest noise. If it’s a window, then the rapper should face the window and the microphone toward the rapper.The reason for this is because cardioid microphones, like the one I recommend (the MXL 990), are really good at rejecting the sounds behind it. So use this to your advantage.
You ever wonder why every time you see pictures of a recording studio there's all of these panels and Persian rugs? It's because they're trying to further deaden the space.
So if you’ve got soft stuff like blankets, towels, sleeping bags, pillows, whatever, you can bring them into the room now and try to cover the most reflective surfaces.
Next, before the session, you’ll want to be blasting the air conditioning or heater.
Why? Because you’ll need to turn them off once you start recording (they will make to much noise if they're on while you're recording). So be prepared - it will get hot/cold.
Make sure you’ve got some water on hand for vocalist, or maybe some tea. And maybe some other substances if that’s your/their thing.
Also, the vibe of the room is going to be a huge part of it, so set up some mood lighting. I use the Phillips Hue to get a good vibe going on. You know, to paint with lights.
If the room stinks, light a candle or some incense. Or take a shower. Come on dude.
Also, clean up things beforehand. It shows that you’re a professional and trustworthy.
Before the artist sets foot in your studio to record rap vocals, you should have already talked about what you’re aiming to achieve this session.
One song with multiple takes? Trying to push through multiple songs?
You need to figure that out in advance so you can set expectations and manage the time in the studio. It’s really helpful knowing how many takes you can do and whether you need to record doubles/harmonies and ad/libs, or whether you’re just focusing on getting the basic take.
Second, you need a copy of the lyrics so you can follow along and make sure that they’re hitting the marks.
Third, you need to stress that the recording will only be as good as their performance, so they should be practicing and they should be sure to have the lyrics memorized. They should also have done some thinking about where they want harmonies and doubles.
Fourth, you need to know if they’re coming by with a crew or not. Sometimes more people is better, but sometimes it can really mess things up, especially if you don’t have a separate, sound-isolated space for recording vocals. All the random noises people make can ruin a take, so don’t be afraid to push back.
Fifth, when it comes to drinking, try to get them to do a few takes sober. You want to make sure you capture a passible take before things get off the rails. The same goes double for smoking. If the rapper’s throat/lungs are burned up, their flow is going to be impacted, so ask them to hold off for a while.
Sixth, once they get to the studio, everyone needs to turn off their phones (you don’t want the vibration interfering with the electronics or a phone buzzing in the middle of the take). They also need to remove their keys, coins, and any thing else that they may be carrying that could make noise when they shuffle. If you've got wooden or tile floors, they may need to take off their shoes too.
Finally, you just need to try to get in their heads and give them the encouragement they need to swing for the fences.
As I said before, you need to get two pieces of equipment, non-negotiable. A mic stand and a pop shield. They don’t cost more than $50,but they are absolutely essential.
This package includes everything you need. They’re affordable, reliable, and get the job done.
If you don’t have a mic stand, you’ll pick up all sorts of extra noise from the rapper handling the microphone. If you don’t have a pop shield, then the recording will have all sorts of unwanted noise andpops in the recording.
Next, you’ll want to place the mic stand in the position you’ve determined earlier (you know, the deadest space, with the mic pointed away from the loudest noise).
To record great rap vocals, you want the microphone to be slightly higher than the rapper’s mouth, maybe 2-3”inches (this forces them to stand up tall and open up their throats to sing into the mic). Then you want to tilt the center of the microphone down toward the rapper’s mouth. By making the microphone higher, the rapper is forced to open their throat fully and breath better, creating a much better sound.
Now you want the rapper to spit a few lines into the mic, starting about one foot away, but you need to experiment with the distance. Experiment with the sound between about a foot and two and a half feet. The closer you get, the bassier the sound will be, so put some forethought into the sound you’re going for. This bassiness thing is called the proximity effect, and can be a great tool if you understand how to use it. Or it can ruin all your takes.
At the same time, the closer they get to the mic, the more that small movements from the rapper will result in larger volume fluctuations, which will make mixing the rap vocals much more difficult.
Once you’ve found the distance that is best for each rapper (it will be different based on their voice and delivery style), you want to place the pop filter between the rapper and the mic at that distance.
Then tell the rapper to sing directly into the pop filter.
Tips for recording rap vocals: Once you’ve found the distance that is best for each rapper, you want to place the pop filter between the rapper and the mic at that distance. Then tell the rapper to sing directly into the pop filter. #musicproduction
This is a huge tip to recording great hip hop vocals.
Basically, The pop filter makes it so that the rapper doesn’t have to thinking about where to put their mouth, and it will also help minimize volume fluctuations if their mouth is always in the same place. Now they can just focus on doing their thing.
This video kind of shows you how it's done.
Although the mic is a bit lower here then recommended.
Do not skip this step if you want to learn how to record rap vocals. You need to take the time to get the right levels, or your track will be full of clipping. In other words, it will be ruined by the ugliest distortion. No amount of post-production will fix it.
Generally speaking, you don’t need to worry about recording too quietly, because you can easily turn up the volume in your DAW with little distortion.
But, if you’re recording with a preamp, there is definitely something to be said for sending a hot signal into an outboard pre-amp like the Warm Audio Tonebeast, getting some of that analog warmth, and then using the “pad” function on your audio input to reduce the volume.
To check the levels, have the rapper say “September” repeatedly as loud as they think they'll be rapping at the loudest part. It’s a great word because it has lots of sibilant and plosive sounds. You want to keep your levels at around 50% of a full signal. Then turn it down a tad from there. If you see any yellow light, turn it down (rapper’s tend to record louder than they mic check because they get excited).
At the same time, don't get bogged down in this. At some point the rapper is going to be chomping at the bit to start recording, and you need to harness that energy.
Now it’s time to get the headphone mix going. Every DAW is going to be different, but what you need to do is get a great mix for the MC. They need to feel confident in their voice, so you may want to do a little bit of reverb or compression or EQ.
Ask them what they’d like more or less of, and check in with them about what they need between takes.
So that's basically how to record rap vocals.
But before you start recording, take a deep breath. Make sure everything is in place and ready to record. Listen one more time for ambient sounds that might wreck the recording. Go to the bathroom.
Then get to it!
Once you hit the record button, it’s time to consider yourself less of an engineer and more of a motivational coach.
You see, the key thing you need to understand about how to record rap vocals is that you can't polish a turd. So you need record good performances. Which means you need to keep the performer excited, feeling confident about what’s happening. This means that you need give them positive directions instead of negative directions.
Tips for recording rap vocals: The key thing you need to understand recording is that you can't polish a turd. So you need record good performances. Which means you need to keep the performer excited, feeling confident about what’s happening. You need give them positive directions instead of negative directions. #musicproduction
Instead of saying: “You need to do that verse better, you were behind the beat.” Try giving them something positive and specific to focus on, saying “That was solid, but I wanna try it again with you putting more emphasis on the downbeat.”
It also doesn’t hurt to tell them that the first take doesn’t count and that you’re just trying to get levels. They’ll relax and may give their best performance. Similarly, toward the end you may want to say that you just want to get some weird stuff for filler, so they should just relax and do the weirdest version of the song they can imagine. Sometimes you get some interesting performances or weird bits you can sample.
Shoot for 4-6 takes of each song. This will give you a good chance of making sure that you get the takes you need to piece together a great song, but it will also keep the session from bogging down. Usually the first few takes are the best.
It’s important for the artist to feel like you’removing forward, because once the spirit of inspiration leaves the session, it’s gone.
The number one secret to getting a good sounding vocal mix is not sexy. It's time consuming. Boring. But if you want to learn how to mix rap vocals professionally, you need to be willing to sit down and edit out all the bad stuff.
After the recording is done, it’s time to get editing. When you edit the vocals you’re going to be doing a few things: putting together the best performances, getting rid of unwanted noise, and using clip gain to get the performance to be at a consistent volume.
First, and most importantly you’re going to want to piece together the best takes. I often find that one take will be 80% there, and then you just need to drop in a line or word from the other takes.
Sometimes, though, you need to be much more aggressive with your “comping.” You may need to edit together different verses and choruses, or in extreme examples you may even need to combine words from multiple takes to create one verse.
Cross-fading the takes is going to be your best friend here. What I like to do is create an entirely new lane/track in my DAW and paste in the best bits. This way you don’t destroy any of the original material.
After you’ve gone ahead and assembled your compilation of the best takes into a final performance, you want to listen to the vocals in solo mode and take out any unnecessary noise. Listen for coughs, lyric sheets being shuffled, throat clearing, etc.
Equally important, you probably want to edit out any breaths. So listen to the track, and every time the rapper breaths, you want to use your DAW’s razor tool and mute it (don’t delete it). But don’t do these by rote – use your artistic sensibilities. Sometimes a breath can actually add a lot of drama or rhythm to a performance.
Finally, we want to work on the levels to ensure a nice, even performance. First look for any really loud or quiet words or passages. Use your DAW’s clip gain to lower or raise the volume of those sections. This will allow you to get better results from your compressor and volume automation in the next step.
You also want to use this opportunity to drastically reduce the volume of any sibilance or plosives. This video will show you what I mean. But the main thing is that you’re looking for sounds like “p” or strong final consonants of words like “think.” You want to go in and make them a little less extreme. This, again, will create a more even performance, which lets you turn up the volume of the vocals relative to the instruments without clipping.
At this point the main thing is to get a clear even sounding tone. As Rob Mayzes demonstrates in this video, you can break it down into a few steps.
First, you’ll want to boost narrow EQ bands and remove a few really resonant sections. You’ll also want to use a high pass filter and remove everything below 80hz – 150hz (depending on the amount of mud and the singer).
Next, you may want to apply a de-esser to help with both the tone and the dynamics. This will remove a lot of the most sibilant sounds, which will make the vocals sound slightly less harsh, it will also allow the compressors to work easier.
Next you’ll want to try adding two different compressors, if possible. An LA-2A style compressor first, which should betaking off a few decibels, followed by an 1176 style compressor with a slow attack and fast release time. These two compressors working together will get you a smoother sound then dialing in one compressor alone and having it do all the work. Just be sure to listen and make sure that you’re not strangling the dynamics of the track.
Next, you may want to add a little bit of EQ to enhance the tone of the vocals, whether it’s bringing out the body or adding a little air. The Maag style EQs are great for this. At this stage you may also want to consider adding a saturation plugin, like the free one from Softube, to dirty up the voice ever so slightly.
Finally, you may want to consider a short delay (10-20ms) panned hard to one side to create just a little more depth and fullness with the voice. Be careful you down drown it out, though. You want to be sure that the articulation and pronunciation are still clear.
Finally, you’ll want to automate the volume of your track to make sure that the vocals are always at the top of the mix. These are the steps you've got to take if you want to learn how to record rap vocals.
You may want to consider the occasional "creative" effect on rap vocals. Maybe a really pronounced delay for a word at the end of a phrase. Or maybe some distortion on an aggressive passage. This is your time to shine. Just don't outshine the artist.
You might also want to try to get creative with editing. It's amazing the cool effects and transitions you can get by chopping up certain vocal phrases or by using pitch shifting. Just check out this video for some inspiration.
It's a common misconception among people learning how to record rap vocals that you want to master individual tracks. In fact, you will never want to be mastering rap vocals in isolation. This is not how to mix rap vocals professionally.
Instead, you master the entire final song, including the vocals, all together. If you master elements in isolation, you're going to end up with a smashed recording with totally whack dynamics. I use iZotope Ozone for all of my mastering needs (but, again, never for mastering rap vocals in isolation).
If you follow these steps, you've basically learned how to record rap vocals.
So there you have it – follow these simple steps and you'll learn how to record rap vocals cheap.
Now, I'll admit, there’s no silver bullet in learning how to record rap vocals. It takes a lot of practice using the gear, a lot of skill from the performer (plus a touch of inspiration), and an experienced ear in the mixing stage.
Nonetheless, if you keep practicing these skills, you will be able to produce professional quality mixes with really affordable gear.
Have any questions? Just let me know in the comments!
For years I had no idea how to release an album online, so I let the songs clog up my hard drive. After lots of research (and frustration), I finally put it all together. Here's how.
Note: Many thanks to the incredible Ari Herstand for laying much of this out in his book, How to Make it in the New Music Business. It’s full of brilliant information on all aspects of being a musician these days.
This guide on how to release an album applies a lot of the lessons from that book, as well as my own experiences.
I've tried to make it a practical, FUN case study about how I released my first album for my synthwave project, “Portents.” (you can stream it while reading this very lengthy article - it's great instrumental background music!)
As I’ll relate below, I had a deadline I wanted to hit for release and didn’t plan well for just how long things would take. Moreover, I didn’t build in enough extra time. This guide for how to release album is going to cover everything from how to release an album on iTunes to how much does it cost to put out an album.
So download the worksheet, give yourself realistic expectations for deadlines, and build in extra time.
Also, some of these links are affiliate links (which means if you click on them, I get a commission). Regardless these are my honest, unbiased opinions and are really the services I used.
Once you’ve recorded your album, it’s important to master it. Mastering involves making sure that all the songs have a nice tonal balance, are loud, and they’re in the right format. So whether that means .Wav or .mp3, mastering is when you convert it. It's also where you get it to a commercial volume level.
If you’ve got a production studio at home, you may want to consider mastering the tracks yourself. However, if you produced your own tracks, you probably shouldn’t master them as well. That’s because you’re so used to the tracks that you might not be able to hear them with fresh ears. Plus the idiosyncrasies of your ears, your monitors, and your room will already be baked into the final mix, so you don’t want to double down on it.
Initially I self-mastered the tracks using iZotope Ozone, but I just didn’t hit the mark (for many of the reasons described above).
Instead, you can have a friend master your tracks. Or you could hire a pro from a site like AirGigs.com. Alternately, you can use an online automated service. After experimenting with a review copy, I ended up choosing eMastered. The quality was perfect for this album (especially the eq curves and the amount of compression) and the turn-around time was instant. Because I wanted to get the album out by October 1st, online mastering ended up being a no brainer.
You can’t release an album without art. In fact, these days I’d argue that the album art may even be more important than the underlying music at first capturing the listener's’ attention.
Now, I don’t have much of an eye for design, so initially I went to Fiverr and hired someone to produce the album art. While I’ve had great experiences with Fiverr in the past, the particular artist I hired missed the deadline and would not commit to meeting a subsequent. Bummer!
Like I said I was under a tight deadline and timing mattered (which is why you should download the album timeline).
So I then went to Pond 5 and purchased some royalty free art for less than $5. From there, I went to Canva, a free online graphic design site where I literally do everything, and started with one of their album templates. After about a half hour of tinkering, I ended up with some album art that I really enjoyed (below) and that fit the vibe of the album. This was probably the best way to do album art on the cheap for your first record release.
What do you think?
Copyrighting an album is way easier than you’d think (at least for a US copyright for your record release)! Now, when I was first researching how to release an album, I had no idea where to start with this.
Go to Copyright.gov and register the album. It costs $55, and you have to upload all of your songs. In fact, you could use the opportunity to copyright all of your songs as part of an unreleased compilation album. Note that this only works if you own the composition rights and the sound recording rights to do this.
It’s important to recognize that there is a difference between registering your copyright with the government, and registering your song with Performing Rights Organizations (PROS) like BMI & ASCAP. And how they're different from digital rights administrators like CD Baby Pro, Song Trust ($10 off through my link), and Sound Exchange.
This stuff is VERY confusing, and I’d encourage you to do a lot more independent research. If you really want to dig into all the registrations you need to earn all the money possible from your music, please check out Ari's book, How to Make it in the New Music Business. I’m just trying to provide a very basic guide of what you need to do for your record release.
And if you find this confusing and don’t want to deal with it, you should just publish your music through CD Baby Pro (this is not an affiliate link (not that that would influence my suggestions)).
They will register your songs with all the relevant societies around the world and make sure that you get the mechanical royalties for sales + streams as the owner of the recording and the performance royalties as the songwriter. It’s fast, easy, and costs like an extra $20.
However, if you’re like me, and you’ve had to figure this out all back asswards. I have a bunch of different accounts scattered all over, so it just makes more sense to do it the long way, which I’ll explain.
First, you need to create an account with a PRO - BMI or ASCAP in the US (it doesn’t really matter which - but you must pick ONLY one). The PROs will collect the portion of the revenue stream that belongs to you as the songwriter/composer for public performances within the US.
Second, you’ll want to register with Song Trust ($10 off through my link). Song Trust will end up being the tool you use to register your publishing royalties from around the world, and they will collect for a broader range of plays within the US. You can also have them collect royalties for Youtube performances (unlike PROs). A lifetime membership costs something like $100.
Both are reputable, have great software, professional and easy to work with. The big difference is the pricing model they use. Ari put together this amazing, in depth report for free.
CD Baby charges a one time fee per album or single. As of October 2017, they were charging $29 per album. Distrokid, in contrast, charges $19.99 per year for unlimited albums, released under one name.
Depending on what your plans are, both provide great options.
I ended up choosing CD Baby to distribute my album for the following reasons. First, I like the idea of paying a one time fee and having my music out there forever. Second, I plan on releasing multiple albums under different names (i.e. doing a lo-fi hip hop album, an indie rock album, a bosa nova album, etc).
For me, DistroKid’s unlimited albums per year just wouldn’t work. That's because even though I have a lot of music I want to distribute, I’d end up paying way more to do it under multiple names (which costs extra).
But if I was a fairly prolific musician writing in one genre, I think I would have gone with DistroKid instead.
These days, it goes without saying that you need to be everywhere online. Here's the major things you should prepare - consider it your releasing an album checklist. Or at least a starting point.
You might think that having a website has nothing to do with how to release an album, but you're probably living in 1992.
These days, having a website is a must. It’s the only platform you can trust to never change the rules and to never force you to pay extra to interact with your fans. It’s a steady light in the darkness.
On your website you’ll want to include at least one photo, your bio, links to your music, any upcoming shows, and, most importantly, a way to sign up for your mailing list so you can directly talk to your fans.
If you’re not particularly tech savvy, I’d recommend setting up a website with Wix. It’s super easy, looks great, and is affordable. Again, this is probably the best option if you’re just releasing music as a single artist on a semi-regular basis.
If you’re more tech savvy, then you can build a site from scratch, which might ultimately be more affordable. I already had the tech knowhow, the domain hosting, and the software licenses I need to launch a band site.
So for me it was better to just register a new domain for the record release and host it on my existing account.
I use Bluehost for all of my internet hosting and domain registration needs. Right now they have special where it only costs $3.95 a month. Then I used Thrive Themes to build a responsive website designed to capture user email addresses.
Let me tell you, ask any “internet marketer” or band or anyone - having an email list is really where it’s at. The list allows you to announce new releases, tour dates, and share silly anecdotes with your fans for free. Other marketing tools (like Facebook) cost WAY WAY more per interaction.
Now that you’ve got your website up and running, at a minimum you’ll also need a Facebook page. You’ll want to include most of the same info on your Facebook page as your website. But you’ll also need to commit to making a couple of posts every week to keep people engaged.
You’ll also want to create a Youtube channel (did you know that Youtube is one of the biggest music discovery sites around?) so that you can eventually upload your music videos.
Instagram is really hot right now, and is a great way to communicate with fans, if you’ve got visually compelling content. Twitter can be great for interacting with folks, but I find it hard to gain much traction without being on it constantly. Still, you should create an account.
Now you’re going to need to get some press! You need to have an EP Release Strategy to get publicity. I didn't. So next you want to submit your music to blogs and Spotify playlists. If there’s already blogs that you follow in your genre, then those are great places to start.
But if not, there’s plenty of ways to find new opportunities. Go to Hype Machine and check out which blogs are bumping music similar to yours. Then visit the blog and send the editors a quick email laying out what you’re about and why you think your music would be a good fit, and include a streamable link to your song (DON’T ATTACH FILES). Dropbox.com or Box.com are the best - Soundcloud can be unreliable (and may not be in business by the time you read this.)
You should also check out SubmitHub, a service where you can search for blogs that match your genre, and submit your songs (for a fee you’ll get more attention). Because Spotify pulls information from blogs to a certain extent, this is really helpful tool for kickstarting some buzz for your record release.
Wondering how to get your songs included in playlists? Here's some tips from a friend on submitting to playlists, which is now an essential skill you need to know as part of how to release an album, from Gerry.
Ok here is the lowdown for contacting the playlist curators(always drives me batty when people say contact the curators but don’t tell you even where to start…..so this is where you start)
now keep in mind if you wanna triple and quadruple your efforts,you could always hire an intern or assistant on fiverr for cheap,to hunt down the profiles for the curators.
That is another option of course.
Step one: Cruise on to spotify and do a search for the genre,moods,feelings, artists names etc you want.
Ignore the official playlists.
Make a list of all the user-generated playlists that your songs would fit on Spotify.
Step two: Click on the user the person that created the playlist.
What your looking for is the the persons name(not a screen name,90 percent of the time a user links up there facebook profile with there spotify account.)
Click on their profile,and look at the photo
Step three: Now search the name on Facebook. 90 percent of the time the photo will be the same as the facebook profile because they are linked up.
Next once you find the person you send them a message.
Really enjoyed your music for”insert playlist name” its how I discovered”insert name of artist and relevant into from the playlist”.
I have this new song that came out that I think would really fit well on this playlist.
Here it is”insert spotify link”.
Id be honored to be included on it.
Thanks have an awesome day.”
The method works awesome.
Ive seen 6 different plug companys doing the exact same thing.
Additional bonus ideas and outside the box stuff:
You can also go deeper on your research and look on linkedin,Google,look for there emails etc.
Facebook is the easiest way to do this.
You can use the same approach with twitter as well.
Now if you are uber crafty and savy with this working Deezer with this method works amazing,with the linked in info,twitter etc you can actually find their office address ,you could actually reach out with postcards etc
Maybe a cute little merch sticker etc.
With deezer most of the stuff international so sending out the postcards etc is a unique way to really get in touch with the curators.
(same idea ive seen used from the 303 infinity guys back in the day……he used to send out tons of flyers etc its pretty awesome)
Running ads on Deezzer format:
You can use Feature fm ads to get onto playlists on deezer.
Its fairly in expensive.
Lastly keep in mind any user-created playlist on most of these services usually have curators on facebook,so you can search it out on tidal as well.
By doing this,you ll be able to create long term connections and relationships with spotify curators etc.
On Spotify and Youtube, search for playlists that include songs in a style similar to yours. Then try to track down the curators and send them a link to your tracks. You can also try using Soundplate to submit directly to Spotify blogs.
Facebook advertising is becoming huge, and as a musician you desperately need to learn how to use it. My band relies on it heavily to promote our shows, but it’s also a great way to target potential new fans for your music.
I’d start out by watching a few Youtube tutorials (I recommend Miles Beckler’s channel unequivocally). Once you’ve mastered the fundamentals from, I’ll tell you how to apply them as a musician.
You’ll need to start out by figuring out what your goal is. Are you trying to get people to like your Facebook page? Do you want to drive traffic to your website so you can convert people into newsletter subscribers? Do you want people to watch a music video?
Once you’ve got that figured out, you’ll need to set your budget. Facebook requires a minimum budget of $1 per day. To see meaningful results, you should probably be spending $5.
From there, you need to find your audience.
This is where it gets cool.
If you sound like another famous artist, then you can (and should) directly target their fans, by showing your ads only to people who have that artist as an interest.
When you design your ad, you’ll need a nice image or video, and some text that says something like: “Fans of XXXX are loving the new album by YYYY. Find out why.”
Did you know that Youtube is the second largest search engine?
These days, everyone should have a music video up on Youtube. Having music videos ready is a super important step in learning how to release an album. You can do something really simple in iMovie or Cyberlink, where you just put the music behind a static image of your album art (like this).
Or you can hire someone on Fiverr to make a lyric music video for you.
Or, if you’re feeling creative and adventurous, you can make a music video on your own by downloading free clips on sites like Pexels and buying stock video on sites like Pond 5. I went down this route for some of my music videos (like this) and was really happy with the results.
So there you have it, you've learned how to release an album! Releasing your first album isn’t too daunting, you just have to go through the steps. And if you mess up - remember, it’s not the end of the world. Most of these things can be undone, and you’ll be releasing more music in the future, anyway, right?
Cheers and good luck!
If you're interested in music licensing, there are three main types of rights: Mechanical, Synchronization, and Broadcast. There's also a fourth type of right, print rights, but those aren't as common unless you have a big hit.
Now music licensing is super complicated, but I'm hoping to explain it in simple terms. These types of rights are all a little different, and all require different organizations to collect the money for you. Also note, this is not legal advice, just one musician talking to another about the types of rights we're entitled to with our music.
Now, each type of right leads to a corresponding royalty. Basically, as musicians we trade away part of our right, let's say to synchronize our song with a video, in exchange for money and publicity.
The first type of right is to mechanical royalties. This is basically your right to get paid every time a "copy" of your song is "sold." So this can mean if you sell a physical CD at through Amazon. Or if someone buys an MP3 from iTunes. Or even if someone streams your song on Spotify. Mechanical royalties can add up quickly, but they require a distributor like CD Baby or Distro Kid to actually collect your earnings.
The second type of right is a synchronization right, or synch right. Basically, no one is allowed to use your music in the background of their video without your permission. And you (or your agent) can negotiate whatever rate you want to give up that right.
This is basically how I make hundreds of dollars a month licensing royalty free music. With royalty free music, the "royalty" that is being licensed is the synch royalty, allowing the purchaser the right to synchronize your song wit their videos or audio.
The third type of right is the broadcast or public performance right. Whenever a song is performed publicly, the songwriter is entitled to a payment.
So if your song is broadcast on TV, the TV Network has to pay you. If it's played in a large store, it's still a public performance, and you are entitled to a royalty from the shop. Hell, if a cover band plays your song, theoretically you get paid for that too.
If you're interested in learning how to get started selling royalty free music, check out this video.
When it comes to selling stock music (what is stock music?), there are 2 easy song licensing business models that have been successful for countless musicians. The first involves directly pitching your songs to music supervisors. The second, and even easier, way to license your songs involves uploading them directly to websites that serve as the middleman between you and the buyers.
The first method is great for established musicians. But if you're like me (and still learning the ropes), you should start at the second method as you cut your teeth in the music industry.
In the first method of song licensing, you develop a network of contacts (or purchase a directory) of music supervisors and publishing companies that are looking for music.
Music supervisors are the end users on projects (let's someone working on a TV show looking for a specific type of song for a scene).
Publishing Companies act as intermediaries between music supervisors and musicians. They develop a catalog of songs. So then, when a music supervisor comes to them and says "Hey, I need to license a song that sounds like Buddy Holly over a dubstep beat, but with a didgeridoo," the Publishing Company already has an idea where to start.
The Publishing Company will then submit a shortlist of songs to the music supervisor, who will make the final call.
In exchange for performing this service, the Publishing Company will take a share of the synch license revenue. They will also take a share (often 50%) of the broadcast license revenue, each time the song is played on TV.
This method of music licensing will be the easiest song licensing business model for certain musicians, if:
I'll be honest, I don't use this business model. In large part because I still don't think I make music that is of a high enough quality. Also, because I don't make vocal music often. And also, because I don't have any contacts.
For me, this second business model is really an easy song licensing system.
I simply write and record the songs I want to make, upload them to a few websites, and sit back and way for buyers to purchase a license. And I make hundreds of dollars a month doing this.
Now the big advantage of this for me is that I don't have to be a "professional" musician. I just have to be a good musician with decent recordings. This has allowed me to really grow my skills over the years while still getting paid to make music I love.
Now of course there's a big downside - these sites pay significantly less than you would get from going with a Publishing Company. Maybe 20-30% of what you'd earn.
But if you're not ready for a Publishing Company yet, this is an amazing way to get started in music licensing.
Not only will you start making some money, but when you are good enough to move up the value chain, you can point to your successes when pitching publishing companies ("I sold hundreds of songs and was featured on...")
Have you tried either of these methods of music licensing? How is it working for you? Is there another major business model that you can think of? Let me know!
I’d divide the best books for musicians into two categories: great stories about musicians, and those that teach musicians how to be better.
Both types of books are important for musicians to read, not only because it’s important to invest in yourself, but also because it can provide a lot of extra knowledge and inspiration!
In fact, these are the books the have made me better at licensing music.
Over my 20+ years of playing music, I’ve read a lot of each. Below are some of my favorite. These books make great Christmas gifts for musicians and also make great birthday presents.
The Beatles were simply the best songwriters of the 20th century.
End of story.
This incredibly usable book includes all of their songs, arranged for all the major instruments on each song. It includes guitar tab and notation, lyrics, etc.
I can’t tell you how many cool chord inversions, riffs, licks, and chord changes I learned just by playing around with this book. If I only had one music book, this one be it.
Fretboard logic is probably the best book for guitar players. It clearly explains complex theory in everyday layman’s terms. Plus, it full of useful charts, exercises, riffs, and chord shapes.
I’ve recommended this to tons of friends, and they all agree: Fretboard Logic is amazing.
Almost any bass player would agree that James Jamerson, who played on countless gold albums, was the greatest bass player ever. He was the house bassist at Motown records. So of course, he pretty much defined soul bass.
And this book not only includes an incredible look into Motown Records and James Jamerson (and the “claw”), but transcriptions of his best bass lines and lots of useful insight into how to improve as a bassist.
Now, not every musician is interested in learning to record and mix their own recordings. But trust me when I say that learning to record, even a little, opened a whole new world to me.
When I started recording, I wanted to write more interesting, complex songs, experiment with arrangements, and share my music with the world!
Most of all, this book offers loads of practical tips, advice, fundamentals and a discussion of the theory behind mixing and mastering.
So are there any books I missed? What would you recommend?
Since I’m always looking to learn more, please let me know in the comments!