Wednesday, January 27, 2010

No Excuses

The only thing that matters is what comes out of the speakers.

Excuses don’t matter. The only thing that matters is what comes out of the speakers. You will not have a chance to explain to anyone why the mix, vocals, production, whatever doesn’t sound as good as it should. It doesn't matter that the drums were recorded badly, the singer's timing was bad or something was messed up with the Protools files that were delivered to you. No one cares. No excuses will matter later when they hear your work coming out of the speakers. If you have to go in and work a little harder by replacing drum sounds, editing the singer or fixing the crap that was sent to you, then you need to do it. Your reputation is on the line and your reputation is what comes out of the speakers.

If you are producing an act and the guitarist can’t play or the drummer has bad timing, it does you no good to complain and do a lame job producing them because THEY suck. No! You were hired to make a professional recording and if that means replaying the guitars yourself or getting someone else to do it then that's what you do. If it means getting another drummer to play the parts or spending the time editing the drums then you do it. Because no one who hears your work later will be able to hear you tell your story about how slack the band was. They’ll just hear the music and read the credits with your name in them.

I learned this lesson the hard way. Many years ago I was producing a band with a singer who was... a bit challenged, shall we say. She was kind of lazy too. She might come in and not be having a good night and just want to call it quits instead of moving on to other parts or seeing if she'll get warmed up. I started to get frustrated and impatient with the whole project and began rushing through the whole thing just to get it out the door. I figured that as mediocre as it was, and as lazy as the singer was, no one would ever hear it anyway.

After I got it done this singer suddenly seemed to get some fire under her butt and began hitting the local scene pretty hard. She also got some money together and opened a rehearsal facility which brought her into contact with a lot of bands in the scene. It wasn't long till word got back to me how she was bad mouthing me for the half-assed job I did. I wasn't able to go around and explain to everyone how bad of a singer she was, what a pain she was to work with, how she was lazy and how she seemed to be satisfied with the way the project sounded. Just because the client is satisfied doesn't always mean it's done! Well, word got around and it hurt me. I lost gigs and it damaged my reputation in that scene. But frankly I deserved it. When someone hires you you are obligated to do your best work. And besides, you never know who is going to hear it.

You will live and die by the quality of your work.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Rockstar Success Myth VS Hip Hop Star Success Myth

I used to think that there was a conspiracy to keep good music off the radio.

Of course since my music wasn’t getting on the radio at that time, that meant my music was good. Right? Certainly it was better than the junk I kept hearing. But this simple, and in retrospect funny, belief was based on 2 fundamental misunderstandings.

#1 - That radio and record labels were actually interested in good music and that the ongoing quest of music, much like science and education, was to improve. It took me years to accept the fact that to most people, music is just entertainment. Music is my lifeblood. Back then I thought everyone felt this way, but in fact for many people entertainment is their blood. Like blood it must be cleansed and filtered, thus they must have fresh blood (content, music, entertainment) continuously. The masterpiece you might have created will only keep their attention and interest till the next youtube sensation overtakes it. I got into record production because of the album
Dark Side of The Moon by Pink Floyd. That was my inspiration. It is a masterpiece. It is also an album that stayed on the charts longer than any other album in history (741 weeks - 14 years) and sold 45 million copies. But I think those days are gone on both the artistic side and the business side. We are now making candy for listeners to rapidly consume.

#2 - That the key to success was good music. Period. I thought if you had great music it would be recognized and valued on its quality alone. All I, and my peers at the time, concentrated on was our skills as writers and artists. But later when I got into producing and doing work with artists that were signed to major labels, especially hip hop artists, I started to see things from a different angle. What I saw was a different creed, a different attitude about how they believed they were going to become successful verses the attitude of my peers from the rock bands I’d been in. I think it is very instructive as to why (at least one reason why) Hip Hop has done so well over the past decade.

I call this the Success Myth. These are the stories you hear from kids in bands or young rappers when talking about the rock and hip hop stars and how they got where they are now. There are 2 kinds of myths I’ve heard.

The Rock & Roll Success Myth
There are these young guys, all good friends, who form a band and rehearse in their parents' basements. They write some songs and start gigging at local clubs. At one of the gigs they get discovered by an A&R guy or a well-connected manager. They quickly get signed, put with a famous producer and BAM! They’re rockstars!

It’s a Cinderella story. And though it is very unlikely to happen, it has happened just enough times for the legend to have spread and to cause bands to really think that this is how it is going to happen. Contrast this with the other myth I’ve heard- it goes something like this:

The Hip-Hop Success Myth
There are these two kids from the hood. One raps and the other makes beats. They need to buy some equipment to record their songs. They do this by selling weed, crack, hustling, whatever. They make their cd / mix tape and go out and promote the hell out of it. They sell their cds ‘out of the trunk of the car’. They raise a little money from this which they re-invest in their business to buy better gear, finance touring and promotion. They do another record. They go out and promote and sell their cds like they did last time, but this time with more success. They keep repeating this process till they have built a small empire that includes their own distribution system to mom and pop type shops, a small staff and a touring circuit. They also create partnership/alliances with DJs, radio programmers, concert promoters, etc. At this point they are being approached by major labels. They are in a position to negotiate very favorable terms and get not only a huge advance, but continue to own their own label as an imprint on a major. From there they are bound for the stars.

I like this story. It is based on a business plan and a recognition that hard work is required. It’s not based on luck, but proactive actions. It puts the power in the artists hands.

I could go on about this, but I think you see my point.

And it is what made me realize that there was no conspiracy. I realized that most people are in some way equal in the end. One person might be a genius at math or business but not be able to maintain his marriage. One person might be a great dad to his kids but can’t hold a job. And in music... usually the great singer has no head for business. Whereas the guitar player in that band that just got signed might be a crap player in a crap band, but they got some hustle and catchy songs. I lament the artists I’ve worked with who had ALL the talent, but zero social skills and no stage presence.

It’s about the hustle my friend. Provided you’ve got a slightly above average amount of talent, it is really just plain old hard work and organization that makes the difference.

Friday, January 22, 2010

That 1 Guy and His Magic Pipe - EPK

I did an album with That 1 Guy last fall. Really cool stuff, great album. Here is a video that Johnny St. Ours did about him. A lot of it was shot in my studio:

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A List of things to consider when mixing.

Here is a list of things to do when mixing:

1. Before you start soloing tracks and tweaking, get a decent mix with what you have. Then when you want to start tweaking individual tracks, start with the worst sounding, most troublesome element.

2. Don't get too caught up in details. Look at the big picture. Keep going back to your highs and your lows. Are they balanced? Can you hear the lead vocal? If it makes you want to tap your foot and sing along then you're half way there.

3. Cleaner and clearer aren't the ultimate goals. You can tweak the vibe right out of a song. The overall purpose of the record is to evoke and emotional response from the listener. Not to impress them. Keep that in mind.

4. Take frequent breaks and leave the room.
Maybe pop into another room and listen to the TV for a minute. It re-tunes your ears and when you walk back in that room you'll hear what you've been missing.

5. Listen to your mix from the hall.
This is good because it takes the stereo aspect right out of it. All the sounds get smashed up together before it gets out to the hallway. And frankly I think this is more how your average listener hears music anyway.

6. Compare your mix with songs you think sound great.
You can do this by running a cd at the same time as your mix and A/Bing them. I have a post in the archives that gets more detailed into this.

7. Mix at low volumes 75% of the time.
I mean LOW volume. You should be able to carry on a conversation over it. If you can make the mix sound balanced and exciting at a low volume it'll sound good at any volume. It doesn't seem to work the other way around.

8. If the mix sounds messed up and you can't figure out what is the problem, start taking out elements. Start with all the drums. Then try the guitars. Then try keys and so on.

9. Listen without looking at the computer screen. Listen in the dark.

10. If something sounds really bad, and everything you do to make it sound better doesn't work, then flip it and try to make it sound worse. You might be surprised where it'll take you.

11. When tweaking, be bold. If the vocals are too quiet, instead of turning them up in tiny increments and spending hours pondering if it is right, try turning them up too loud and move backwards instead.

12. Don't be afraid to pan far left or right. It makes things interesting and can be easier to fit other sounds into the mix. People used to pan whole drum kits to one side and we all thought it sounded fine. However, I advise to keep lower frequency sounds more centered.

13. Use 2 sets of speakers and alternate between them. Even if one pair is your home stereo speakers. It gives you something to compare to.

14. Use distortion. A little bit can really help on vocals and drums. A LOT can help bass, especially on rock stuff.

15. Please please don't use auto tune. Dear God please. If you need to tune any vocals try Melodyne instead.

I'll probably think of a few more things to add later, so check back.....

Monday, January 18, 2010

Keys & Beats Interviews Billy Hume

Check out my interview by Keys & Beats!

--> Keys & Beats interviews Billy Hume

Re-posted from Keys and Beats:


  • Billy Hume is the owner of The Zone studios in Atlanta, where the biggest hits from the South are created
  • The Zone studios was originally a home that was later converted into a studio
  • Billy Hume mixes both Rock and Hip Hop tracks, and gives tips on both in this interview

billy_hume_aKEYS: We are talking to Billy Hume, owner of The Zone studios in Atlanta. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. How are you today?

Billy Hume: Thanks. Doing great! Working a lot on a bunch of really good projects.

KEYS: Now you’re the owner of one of the more popular studios in Atlanta. How did you get started up?

Billy Hume: Long story really, here’s the short version. I’ve had that studio forever it seems. I used to live there (it’s in a house) and I had the main studio in the basement while I lived upstairs. The studio had functioned for years as my private studio for my bands, my wife's band and local rock and country bands that I knew. 15 or so years ago this air conditioner repair man, who saw my studio when he was working there, convinced me of 2 things (he is a very convincing dude and a friend to this day):

a) That I should fix the studio up and expand to the upstairs with a B Room.
b) That I should get into mixing and producing rap music. I had done only rock and country up to that point. I thought , “what the hell? Might be fun!” And from the first session, with Bone Crusher, it was! The air conditioner repairman, Chris Vermillion, then talked me into doing a compilation of local rap artists and producers. We called it Full Contact Sports. It had Bone Crusher, Lil' Jon, Mina Mina Goodsong, L Roc (now producer for Jermaine Dupri) and a bunch more up and coming artists on it. We had Polow Da Don from Jim Crow and all the BME crew hanging out. We never made much money from the CD, but everybody in urban music in Atlanta heard it and heard my work. Lil' Jon and Smurf/Mr. Collipark ended up booking me constantly and bringing all sorts of people through. I worked so hard I don’t even remember some of those sessions. But at some point I suddenly had several songs shoot up the charts that I had either recorded or mixed or played guitar on and man.... the rest is history.

KEYS: So what are some of the day to day activities of running the studio?

Billy Hume: First we’ve got to clean up from the night before. Backing up data is now a major task. We do it pretty regularly. Staying in touch with clients is very important. Maintaining the gear. But mostly it’s about coming in and working and making sure that everything I do sounds amazing, no matter what it takes. You live and die by the quality of your work.

billy_hume_abKEYS: I know you’ve got wide variety of musical influences. What do you think you’ve been able to extract from your eclectic taste in music and put into your own projects.

Billy Hume: Mainly an understanding of music and the realization that there are more things in common between different music genres than most people realize. All music is about the communication of an emotion. You are trying to convey to the listener what you felt at some point and to see the world or a certain situation through your eyes. Yes, I’ve had to learn the different engineering and mixing styles for a wide range of music, but it is the vibe that counts more than anything. Now on a more technical level my eclecticism manifests itself in my putting 808 kicks and snares in rock and country songs, using mandolins and banjos in Hip Hop tracks, not using samples and being hired to replay or re-create samples.

KEYS: As a producer, how does your approach differ from working with Rock bands and Hip Hop artists?

Billy Hume: Now that is a good question that is worthy of a whole article. But here are a few things: With a Hip Hop artist you just set up the time and they come in and we work. With a rock band you really need to meet with them, get to know them and discuss what we are going to do in the studio. A Hip Hop artist tends to view his art as his job, his career. He doesn’t really care what I think about him or what anyone else does for that matter and he is on a mission to dominate the world. He is ready to accept criticism because the bottom line is making a hit song. No fooling around with ego when it comes to this which is strange considering how much ego is projected publicly by Hip Hop artists. Because of this background he never takes anything for granted and wants to get things done quickly and move on the next thing.

A rock band on the other hand takes their music very seriously. Sometimes too seriously. It is truly viewed as their art and thus tied directly to their souls. And their ego is wrapped up in every detail of their music from the melody to the amount of echo on the guitar to the type of drum head we’re using on the toms to whether we are going to cut the intro in order to get to the hook quicker. The typical band is also like a club you might have had as a kid with your friends in a tree-house with a sign by the door saying “No Girls Allowed”. They are suspicious of outsiders. And where my role working with a rap artist is more like a partner because I am helping create the music or if I’m mixing I am actively enhancing the mix to take it to another level (which IS expected in Hip Hop and Pop), in rock I am taking music that has already been created and performed and is viewed by the band as something akin to their child, and changing that. A bands first assumption about a producer is fear and suspicion that he will mess it up and change the bands identity much the same way many guys are fearful that their girlfriend is going to try to change them. Now this sounds pretty negative, but it is actually something I love about bands because through that tension arises great timeless music. I wish that bands could adopt a little of the practical business attitude of rap artists and Hip Hop artists would take their music a little more seriously as a true art form which it is.

billy_hume_adKEYS: Which artist is more difficult to work with?

Billy Hume: Well, I guess that kinda ties in with the last question. Both can be difficult, but in different ways. Hip Hop artists are usually late for sessions. Rock guys often don’t want to put in the hours that a Hip Hop artist will. Over all it’s about the same to me.

KEYS: Speaking from a technical point of view, how does the mixing of a Rock track differ from Hip Hop?

Billy Hume: Drums man... drums. You might spend a lot of time getting the low end and kick drum right on a Hip-Hop record, but on a rock record it is the whole kit you have to address, which may have 20 tracks just for drums alone. You might have 4, 6 or more guitar tracks as well. And since they’re live and not sample they are not static, so one setting on EQ may not work for the whole song on an individual track. The focus on mixing Hip-Hop tends to be on the beat and the vocals. With rock it is about the music, mainly guitars and then vocals. The band tends to get really involved in the mix with each member putting in his 2 cents. In Hip-Hop the artist rarely has much to say about the mix. Over all I’d say mixing rock is definitely more of a challenge.

KEYS: As an engineer, you’ve had the opportunity to use both methods (digital vs non-digital) of working on a track. What is one thing that you enjoy about each method?

Billy Hume: I dig digital because what you record in is pretty much what comes back out. I can edit easier. Analog did some of the work for you with tape compression. You were also forced to make decisions and commitments about your music.

KEYS: What is one thing that you dislike about each method?

Billy Hume: With DAW’s you can have too many choices and take too long to get things done. With analog you would actually lose your high end the more you ran it over the play back heads. The tracks would sound different (and each track had it’s own characteristic to some degree) weeks after you initially recorded it.

billy_hume_acKEYS: Personally, I know that I struggle a lot with getting a good overall mix on a track. What tips would you be able to give to people for getting better mixes?

Billy Hume: I think the most common mistake people make when getting into mixing is that they start looking at every detail in the mix and lose sight of the overall sound. Your average listener hears music as one big sound. Most people want to tap their foot and sing along, so address the rhythm and the melody. Don’t get me wrong, I love to tweak details and I’ll do it for hours sometimes. But you have to stand back and address the over all sound. Go stand in the hallway and listen to your mix for instance. Also, mix at a low volume. I spend most of my time mixing at a very low volume. We could have a conversation with out hardly raising our voices at the volume I mix. I do put it up on big speakers periodically to see how it’s going to pump, but 90% of the time it’s low. Almost anything sounds good really loud. Make it sound exciting at a low volume and you will sound good about anywhere.

KEYS: What would you say is the best/most affordable way to sonically prepare the room that you are going to be mixing in?

Billy Hume: Make sure your speakers are at least 2 feet from a wall. You sitting position should be the same distance from each speaker as they are from each other... the 2 speakers and your head should form an equilateral triangle. Put a diffusor behind you. You can check these site out to get info on that: or . At the very least you can put a bookshelf behind you and put randomly sized books on it. My friend Rodney Mills who does a lot of mastering in Atlanta did this in his studio.

KEYS: With the rise of the “digital method”, we’ve seen a lot of people having the ability to make music and put it out there. What do you feel about this?

Billy Hume:
It’s killing the major labels. Kinda sucks in some ways for me as I got a lot of work from them in the past, but I always kinda saw them as the enemy, so I say R.I.P. My only reservation is that I have seen the quality of recording and mixing go down, which is why I started my Workshops and consulting business.

KEYS: It’s probably fair to say that the song “I Ain’t Never Scared” was your introduction to the urban world. What was the process like for making that track?

Billy Hume: Well, I don’t make the track. It was done by Avery Johnson, however I did replace some drum sounds. I did mix that track and it changed my life.

KEYS: You’re probably one of few people who can say that they truly helped to create a style of music – Crunk - what do you think is the next “sound” that’s gonna’ be dominating the airwaves?

Billy Hume: Ha! If knew that I could control the music industry! I do think there are 2 things moving right now. One is this European thing, the new techno/rave sound evidenced on the new Lady GaGa songs. Also, live music or music that can be performed live is important. Much of the income in music will be connected with live performances. And I think people are ready for something more ‘real’.

KEYS: What was your most memorable moment working with a Hip Hop artist?

Billy Hume: I’ve got a bunch of them.... David Banner carrying an Uzi into one of his first sessions with me. Laughing so hard at Kaine from Ying Yang Twins that I almost passed out.. he is such a clown. 3-day mixes with Polow Da Don and thinking were about to wrap it up when he jumps up out of a dead sleep and starts reprogramming the drums. Getting in a Ying Yang Twins video (I Yi Yi). Working on a mix with Will Smith (he really gets it).

KEYS: What projects are you currently working on?

Billy Hume: I’m working with the Vistoso Bosses. They are signed to Collipark / Interscope. Awesome artists, great album. The single drops this July. Working with my writing team Marv and Cash. Also working with Demun Jones from Rehab on his solo album.

billy_hume_aeKEYS: Before ending off, I’m going to throw out some phrases, let us know what your first thoughts are.

Best affordable microphone

- Audio Technica AT 4033

Best affordable monitors

- Not sure if this is the best, but for the price... Event 20/20.

Favorite song out

- I’m completely biased of course but the Vistoso Bosses “Delirious” produced by St. James, which has started getting some early plays. I also like this song called “The Climb”. I was suprised when I found out it was Miley Cyrus! Well, I gotta give it to her... she’s really doing it.

Up coming rock band to look out for

- Rehab, Jesse Harper.

Dream project to work on

- Getting paid to work on my own music! Ha Ha! But if not that it would be U2.


My blog -
Vistoso Bosses -
Demun Jones -
St. James -