So many artists that have found success with a signature style are content to stick with a formula.
The enormous effort it takes to break into the industry leaves many at the top unwilling to take risks.
But there are certain pop visionaries who can’t help but reinvent themselves—and their craft.
In this article I’ll look at some of the most creative artists currently rewriting the rules of mainstream pop.
For pop music to chart these days it pretty much has to go viral on TikTok.
It’s a key platform for reaching new audiences on social media.
For me, it started with Lil Nas X’s breakout single “Old Town Road”.
Ever since he proved that tapping into meme culture is the key to modern success, the mainstream music industry has followed suit.
Today, we still see Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP” trending on the app’s “For You” pages weeks after its release.
K-pop stars Blackpink are also dominating the platform right now with “How You Like That”.
There’s no doubt about it. TikTok is a critical marketing strategy for today’s biggest stars.
In the first part of the series, I offered some pointers about how you can get started with your demo-making process in the comfort of your home.
In this article, I’m going to break down how you should approach arranging your songs and editing your productions.
While there is much debate about the future of TikTok in the U.S., the app continues to attract pop stars and indie artists alike. As social media platforms are increasingly saturated, TikTok offers a wellspring of opportunity. For now, anyone has the chance to go viral on the app without spending a dime. All it takes is attention-grabbing content, strategic hashtags, and a little luck.
We’ve gotten used to seeing viral videos pouring from TikTok these days. Even if you’re not on the app, you can’t escape them. From the outside, it seems like an enigma. Isn’t this a platform where users post funny videos with their adorable pets? How do so many independent musicians go viral on there?
Electronic music producer Christopher Kah highlights Roland instruments in ECHO, his new immersive 3D audio performances.
Christopher Kah started out like any other self-taught producer 15 years ago. Today, he is a respected performer known for his intricate take on techno. With his latest installation, ECHO, Kah is raising the bar for 3D audio. Christopher explains how he found new meaning in sound through the process of playing Roland instruments through 32 speakers.
With remote positions on the rise, so many people are considering working and living abroad these days.
Some people are in need for a change of pace and scenery, while others consider the financial and cultural advantages that might come with such an experience.
Since I’m an international artist working in the US with an artist visa, I got curious: how do other music centric countries handle cases like mine?
A lot of music producers are very excited about the new Step Sequencer in Logic Pro X. And for good reason. The way it’s laid out right next to the Piano Roll makes it so easy to incorporate to anyone’s workflow.
With dedicated, automatable parameters assigned to each note division, Logic’s Step Sequencer pushes the boundaries of a traditional but monumental creative tool that’s usually found built into synthesizers.
Before this update, I often refrained from using sequencers in my arrangements, since I generally found them a bit rigid. So here’s why the Step Sequencer has changed my point of view as a producer, and nine ways you can integrate it into your creative process from the beginning.
One of the positive impacts of this surreal time we’re living in is the surge of artists and songwriters who are drawn to home producing their demos and records.
Some songwriters flocked to Zoom to co-write during quarantine and many musicians have recently started making music in the same room again.
But let’s face it – collaborations are not for everyone. Translating your vision into reality can prove to be a struggle especially if you lack the ability to give your producers a solid starting point with a rough demo.
Whether you’re interested in learning everything you can about music production, or simply want to know enough about it to make your own demos at home, the beginning stages are the same for everyone.
Several US work visas have been put on hold due to the pandemic. But O-1b, which is more commonly known as the "Artist Visa”, is not one of them.
The immigration office classifies the O-1 visa beneficiaries as, "Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement”. As such, this particular visa does not only apply to musicians, but also athletes, scientists, visual artists, directors and even educators.
Especially the O-1b visa, which is the best suited option for international musicians, is quite competitive. However, it comes with unique advantages and for many, the application process is worth the perks in the end.
Remember how blown away the industry was by the success of Lorde’s “Royals”?
Back in 2012, no one thought such a modestly produced record could land on the radio.
Then, Billie Eilish walked in and took that minimalist approach to a whole new level.
With trap taking the lead now, we’re used to hearing music producers strip-down tracks to their bare bones.
But why are tracks with minimal production so powerful?
When done right, a minimal arrangement demands the listener’s utmost attention.
Singing is an intuitive activity for most artists. Every vocalist starts out as self-taught, because their vocal cords are built-in, waiting for an excuse to vibrate. And thus begin bad habits and techniques which most singers spend years to correct.
A lot of that correction process takes place during vocal warm ups, but if you force your voice to project in a way it’s not equipped to do so, you might end up doing more harm than good. Attempting to belt out a high pitch out of the blue, or focusing on vocal range expansion exercises right off the bat, are some of the most common beginner mistakes.
Instead, you should pay attention to the order in which you practice vocalese exercises. Think about it this way: if you were an athlete warming up to train, wouldn’t it make sense to ease your body into it?
If your voice gets tired after a warm up routine, or you feel a strain in your neck, you might be missing a step somewhere.
With the swift advancement of technology, rise of digital platforms and music distribution services like TuneCore supporting independent artists around the world, it’s easier than it’s ever been to make your music accessible to the masses.
Nowadays it’s becoming more and more common to come across artists who not only produce, but also mix and master their own material.
On the other hand, there are still many artists who write and perform, but don’t produce their music. Singer-songwriters who don’t enjoy working on the technical side of the creative process generally depend on sound engineers and producers to get that part of the job done.
Because of the case-by-case circumstances in today’s independent music industry, the lines between each creative role can get a little blurry.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you’re creating new music.
There’s been so many times I got distracted by browsing preset libraries that I’ve lost count!
That’s why I’ve been paying attention to pitfalls in my creative process lately.
It’s great to have so many tools to play with and all–but at the end of the day, the best music comes out when you fully immerse yourself in the process of making it.
Toplining is a popular songwriting technique. It’s common practice especially in the world of pop, hip hop and electronic dance music.
But a topliner is slightly different from a traditional songwriter.
In topline songwriting, the creation of the melody and lyrics is based on beats. In fact, sometimes it’s based on fully fleshed out productions.
In this article I’ll explain everything you need to know about toplining, how it works and why you should consider it as a songwriter.
There are tons of free plugins out there. In fact, there are so many that it can be downright overwhelming to find the true gems while looking through hundreds of options.
That being said, some free audio effects are so invaluable that they’ll make great additions to any producer’s library. In this guide, I’ve listed some of my favorites that no paid software can replace for me. I use them all the time- and so should you!
Online marketers and social media strategists are familiar with search engine optimization (SEO), but the term rarely comes up in the music world.
The idea is that in order to increase your visibility as a brand in search engines such as Google or Bing, you need to not only strategize to increase the quantity of the traffic, but also the quality.
Companies that have the budget to place ads in search engines can appear on the first page in related searches for a limited time. However, organic results play a much bigger role in the long run.
When you hit a writers block, shifting your creative focus can be immensely helpful.
Can’t seem to find the words? Play around with some chord progressions.
Struggling to put your melodies in context? Perhaps some loops can help you get in the mood.
Even if you’re a traditional songwriter who prefers composing with an acoustic instrument, you can benefit from learning basic arranging skills in a user friendly Digital Audio Workstation (DAW).
There are many options to choose from. The most important thing is to find the right fit for your creative process and dive in.
If you’re a Logic Pro X user, you probably know about this already, but if not, drop what you’re doing: Apple has just released the latest version of our beloved DAW!
But this is not like the other updates we have seen since the release of Logic Pro X. The 10.5 Edition is packed with new features we’ve all been waiting for and a wide selection of kits, loops, and samples to boot! Let’s unpack all of my favorite updates, shall we?
A vocal chain is essentially a chain of effects you process your vocals with. Some of these are inserted directly on the audio channel strip while others are placed on return channels which you send the vocals to.
Therefore, a vocal chain usually implies a combination of direct and parallel processing.
While many DAWs come with templates and presets designed for vocals, finding the right combination of effects takes some trial and error.
For one thing, most singers prefer a vocal chain that makes them feel confident in the booth. But more of then than not, one that works perfectly at a recording session will not be sufficient to get the job done at the mixing stage.
It looks like this is going to take a while.
Sure, there will come a time when we’ll better adapt to this new normal. The real question is, how can we stay in tune with our own lives as we wait for the rest of the world to catch up?
The music industry is now coming to terms with a version of 2020 they probably couldn’t have imagined in their wildest dreams. With no live concerts or music festivals in sight, some clubs have already announced that they would not be re-opening.
This is all grim without a doubt, but unlike those who rely solely on live entertainment for their livelihood, we, as artists, can still find new ways to sustain our projects.
As part of our “Life During Quarantine” series, we have already covered a lot of ground on this subject.
But then I got curious: how are my fellow artists actually coping with this new reality?
Inspiration isn’t always there when you need it.
Sometimes you sit in front of a piano and stare at a blank piece of paper for hours. Other times you might try to make a beat from scratch and struggle to come up with a concrete idea.
Hip-hop producers have been making sample-based beats for decades.
But if you’re a songwriter first and a producer second, you might have your doubts about incorporating samples into your music.
How can you make samples sound authentic? Can you become a great songwriter if all your songs are not created out of thin air?
Until recently, I had the same doubts too.
Everyone is on Zoom nowadays. From webinars to happy hours, Zoom has become the hot spot for not just business meetings, but also collaborations and social calls.
But did you know that Zoom is one of the best options out there for music lessons, co-write sessions and live shows as well?
While the sound quality of a live stream will never be lossless in the foreseeable future, Zoom’s computer audio share feature stands out among its competitors. If you want to continue your musical activities remotely, you might want to explore what this program has to offer.
As soon as it became clear that it might be awhile before we all go back to normalcy, many artists rushed to their social media accounts to host live stream sessions. At first, we got used to seeing more live concerts and DJ sets from our favorite artists’ homes and studios, but soon enough, the live stream trend became all about “Anything goes.” Now, even friends seem to go live on Instagram, just because.
Don’t get me wrong- I’m all for it. I admire anyone who’s making an effort to stay connected and active at a time like this. But what do you do if the idea of streaming is enough to raise your anxiety levels to an all-time high? How do you motivate yourself to connect with your fans if you’re getting a little sick of seeing so many people appearing on your feed all the time?
If you’re a songwriter or artist who depends on co-write sessions, this period we’re all going through together might be particularly difficult to manage for you. Sure, you can still write on your own, but how do you write when you don’t even go out and live like you used to?
It feels like we have all the time in the world now, but staying productive and motivated is easier said than done. Lots of artists are shifting their focus to staying active online, which might make you feel like you should do the same. They make it look so easy, right? How do they get excited about the future of their projects when everything is more unpredictable than ever?
New York had a surprisingly mild winter this year, but the dry cold weather outside combined with the heater running in my apartment all the time led to some of the worst sinus issues I’ve ever experienced.
In the past few months, I spent many mornings trying to quench my thirst with several glasses of water, and waking up with a stiff neck became an ordinary occurrence.
As a vocalist, I try to keep my vocal cords flexible and hydrated around the year. Even if I’m not getting ready for a recording session or a live performance, I’m a big believer in warming up my voice almost every day for maintenance.
If my body doesn’t feel relaxed and healthy, I feel it in the way I sing immediately.
I had the opportunity to host a vocal production workshop at this year’s Sónar Istanbul festival.
In the workshop, I was asked to discuss and demonstrate the strategies I’ve developed over the years to process my vocals.
As part of my workshop, I did five 15-minute-long, one-on-one mentorship sessions with the first five people who signed up.
Something special caught my attention during the mentorship sessions.
A few months ago, independent alternative pop artist HANA came out of her shell with a revolutionary experiment: an album fully written, recorded and produced by her, live on Twitch, within four weeks.
There have been similar attempts in the recent past: most notably, Esperanza Spalding live streamed the recording process of her album three years ago. Artists who are aware that fan engagement is more important than it’s ever been take over platforms like YouTube, Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat to share bits and pieces of their creative process all the time nowadays.
So then, you might be wondering, what was so revolutionary about HANA’s project?
Collaborations can be a lot of fun, but they can also be quite tricky. At the beginning of our careers, we may be willing to take any and every opportunity in order to grow, but as we move up, determining which projects are worth our time gets harder.
If you’re not just a songwriter who prefers to stay out of the spotlight, making toplining a side hustle can be a bit of a balancing act. Do you collaborate with producers as a featured artist, or do you co-write and then hand the song over to another singer? Do you make important decisions like royalty splits and advance payments right off the bat, or do you figure it out along the way?
These are just two of the several important questions you should answer honestly for your own good. Even though you may be emotionally attached to your work, you still should view your career for what it is: a business.
NAMM 2020 is finally behind us and the latest technology at the industry’s biggest trade show is creating a ton of excitement.
If you follow a lot of music producers on social media, you’ve probably seen a lot of flashy new gear on your feed lately.
If you’re an instrumentalist or a sound engineer yourself, maybe you even got a little envious. You pictured how far you could get in your career if you just had all the equipment you’ve ever wanted.
Today, being a self-managed artist can mean a variety of things. If you have a day job or are involved in other musical projects, chances are you only go as far as putting your music out and playing a few shows every now and then. Maybe you have a team of people around you who help you along the way and altogether, you’re making strides.
Still, regardless of budget, level of progress and status, there’s no denying that we can all do more to aid our careers as self-managed artists, especially in this age of social media and streaming.
If you’re a musical artist who runs their career without a team, you probably feel a little stressed every time a new release cycle comes around. With social media rapidly taking over our lives, the visual representation of our work as musicians has never been more important than it is today. From elaborate preview videos for each release to flyers for show announcements, we have to create consistently alluring content for our fans.
Lyric writing is often romanticized by songwriters.
Some believe that unless you live your life, collect memories and let the words come to you in moments of bursting inspiration, your songs won’t come out true.
Experienced songwriters don’t sit around and wait for those moments, because they know better: learning how to play a musical instrument requires plenty of practice. The same is true for the skill of lyric writing.
In my years of writing, co-writing and teaching songwriting to others, I’ve compiled a list of strategies that seem to stand the test of time, regardless of skill-level and genre.
Turns out, there is a way to prevent writer’s block, after all!
In the recent years, playlists have taken the lead in new music discovery. Today, a placement in an editorial Spotify playlist with millions of followers is so coveted because it can be a career-defining moment for some newcomers.
While there are some pretty diversely curated playlists in most major streaming platforms at this point, it’s obvious that just like the rest of the music industry, editors flock towards genres that are well-received by the general public. Perhaps this is why almost every Indie Jazz artist or band I know personally seem to prioritize strategies that are geared towards building a loyal fanbase, instead of putting all their energy and funds into PR and social media marketing. As an Alternative Electronic Pop artist myself, I was curious to find out how some of those friends of mine view the music industry we all live in today.
When you’ve been in the music industry long enough, you get used to hearing certain terms after a while. And I’m not talking about the kind of timeless terms that have been determined by musicologists, but the ones that have been coined only recently by musicians who felt the need to do so in order to communicate better with each other.
For example, the whole concept of “toplining” may still be foreign to most non-musicians, but if you’re a songwriter who frequents co-writing sessions, there’s no way you haven’t heard of it before. Likewise, the term “scratch vocal” might confuse some, but almost every singer or songwriting producer you meet will know that one intimately.
Chorus impact accentuators, often abbreviated to “CIAs,” is a term that’s still fairly new in this category — whether people know about it at all yet — but it keeps popping up more and more nowadays.
These days, it’s as common to hear human voices in electronic music productions as it is to see an artist on stage playing a synth. And while the vocoder and talk box have been around for quite a while, they’ve started appearing more and more frequently on chart-toping mainstream tracks — think the vocoder on Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek,” and the talk box in Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic.”
And it’s not just in pop tracks. Chopped up and morphed vocals appear in songs in so many different genres, like EDM, electro-pop, and alternative R&B. It’s almost become a recipe — cut and select a few different vowels from your singer’s take, load them into your sampler, and there you go: the ultimate music trend of our generation!
We all have different skill sets, and we all battle different obstacles. Some musicians find it difficult to deal with technology; it hinders their ability to be creative in the recording process. Others are capable of producing radio-ready instrumental tracks because working in a DAW, like Logic Pro, is a completely native experience to them, but struggle to fit vocals in.
The DAW presents an environment of infinite possibilities — but all the options can create serious writer’s block. Singers and instrumentalists can feel overwhelmed at having so many options in front of them, and producers can find themselves focused more on creating specific sounds than on the needed melodic, harmonic, and lyrical elements.
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where the final mix of your track or album sounded perfect to you before, but now, something’s just off?
Perhaps the mix lacks clarity and balance all of a sudden, or perhaps it sounds just totally off on your home speakers, but great on headphones or in your monitors. As you sit here, doubting your own opinion about your own music, even though you’re the one who’s supposed to make the final call, it can be frustrating not knowing how to proceed.
How do you decide if and when a mix sounds “right”?
If you’re set up to produce your own music, but not necessarily mix engineer it, the road to that “final mix” can be a rocky one. People you work with can influence the way you hear any mix, and if you’re listening through expensive monitors in an acoustically treated room, your track may sound misleadingly grand and flawless.
As a singer who records and produces her own vocals, I’ve been through that lengthy process of “learning by doing.” After years of hitting record without a plan for my session, the mistakes I’ve made over time have led me to develop some systematic techniques that allow me to dive in more quickly and confidently every time. These solutions often save me time and headaches when I enter the mixing process, as well.
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