Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How to be a Successful MC

There's no question that hip hop is as big as it ever has been right now and I've seen no shortage of young local MC's wanting to making a living off of it at my studio.  I wanted to write something to those people who are seriously trying to be successful and make a go of it.

MC, rapper, hip hopper, whatever you call yourself there's a number of things to consider when approaching your craft.  First and foremost, like any artist in the music industry you're going to need the right songs.  Next you're going to need a unique voice that will be recognized on the radio as being you.  Lastly you're going to need lots and lots of bling.  Just kidding, haha, what you're going to need is your own unique message.  Basically you need something unique to bring to what is an overly crowded market.  This of course applies to any artist in the music industry but applies to people in the hip hop world a little differently which I will explain below.

1. Hit Songs

A lot of guys come into my studio and lay down some nasty verses about having lots of cash (they don't) and some nasty things they did to their ex-girlfriends sister (they didn't).  While this can be fun to do and make your friends laugh you're generally not going to set the hip hop world on fire by doing it.  The main thing a hit song needs is a killer hook; both melodically and with a killer catch phrase.  If you can't write it or sing it get someone who can.  If you look at the credits of any big hip hop album you will always see a bunch of credits for the writer of the songs.  There's definitely no shame in co-writing!

Remember that any artist's first "break out" song is always the hardest one to do.  It has to be the one that convinces managers and labels to sign on with you, radio to play you and most importantly people to put down their Jay-Z album and pick yours up!  After that song it definitely becomes a little easier to open doors.  

2. Finding Your Voice

Finding your voice in the world of hip hop involves a few variables.  Things to consider are the tone of your voice, your cadence or flow of lyrics, and in today's world of digital effects, how your voice is processed.  The thing to consider with all these variables is that you have a distinct voice that sounds interesting to the listener.  Anyone looking for new artist's are going to have this as a big priority because they want to make sure their artist can get picked out of the crowd, especially with radio.  Your voice is your calling card and how you're identified, make sure it sounds original!

3. Your Own Unique Message

So in today's market this seems to be a little less important but I feel that this is the point which is most lacking and has caused hip hop to stagnant a bit.  What I mean by this is that too many artists today aren't being true to themselves and where they're coming from.  Hip hop doesn't need another artist talking about bling, guns and money, especially when they don't have any of those things!  I feel that hip hop is at it's best when the artist is rapping about something true to their heart.  If you can do that and find a way to fit it into what's happening now, people are going to listen and appreciate your message.

So there you have it, there's a few points to consider for the up and coming hip hop artist.  A lot of people come down to the studio and have great flows and wonder why they don't get anywhere.  It kind of reminds me of the guitar players in the 80's who could do all this impressive stuff on their instrument but couldn't seem to get farther than playing bar gigs.  The reason for that lack of success is the same.  It's not enough to be the best rapper or freestyler or guy who writes the best rhymes.  Without trying to incorporate some of the points I've just wrote about you're going to find it really hard to get noticed amongst your competition.

If you're looking for beats feel free to check out some of mine here:

Hip Hop/R&B/Pop Beats

I'm also available for mixing/recording and production gigs at my studio:


Morph Productions - Toronto Recording Studio

Morph Productions on Twitter
Morph Productions on Facebook


Music Industry Books

I've spent a lot of time reading books about the music industry and I've always found them helpful, especially years ago when I was just starting out.  Since I'm always telling people who are looking to get started to read these books anyway, I figured I'd do a quick blog post on some of the books that I think have some great info in them.

"How To Make and Sell Your Own Recording" - Diane Rapaport

I remember reading a version of this book when I was 16 in the early 90's and it really helped give me some ideas as to how an indie artist has to promote and build their own career.  The book has been updated since then of course but anyone who's recording their own music and plan to sell it should definitely pick this up and read carefully.

"Confessions of a Record Producer" - Moses Avalon

I read this book about 8 years ago when I was still in the thick of my Sony publishing deal and I remember continually thinking, "yep, that just happened, that happened to me last week..." etc...

The reality is the music business is unlike any other business out there and if you want to be in it in ANY capacity you should learn the ropes.  This book is coming from the record producers perspective but the information in it is good for anyone who's looking to get involved with the industry.  Here's a link to the latest version:

"Modern Recording Techniques" - David Miles Huber, Robert E. Runstein

An earlier version of this book was my text book when I went to Fanshawe College's "Music Industry Arts" program.  I know there's a bunch of other schools that use it as well so if you're interested in the more technical side of recording or music production you might as well buy this book and study up before you go to school!

"The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions" - Mark Lewisohn

I've had this book for a few years and it's a great trivia piece.  It's only worthwhile if you're a fan of the Beatles but if you are it gives you a breakdown of how every recording session went that they ever did at Abbey Road Studios.  Very informative and a good quick read!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Creating Harmony Tracks with Melodyne

There's a bunch of fake harmony plugins out there and if you've tried any out (or worse, shelled out cash on them like me) you've likely been pretty disappointed with the results. I've found a pretty good way to create harmonies using Melodyne.

The obvious way to make a harmony with melodyne is take your lead vocal, select the scale snap option (with the scale properly selected in Melodyne of course) and move all the notes up/down a 3rd, 5th or wherever you want it. Certain notes won't work being at that exact interval and will have to be moved up/down a semitone to fit with the melody and under the chords you have. This method does work ok but does sound a bit phony because while the pitch is different from the melody, the performance is exactly the same and this tends to make the harmony track sound robotic.

A way to make your harmonies sound a lot more realistic is to record an entirely different vocal singing the original melody and then using that to draw in your harmony track with Melodyne. You'll want to fix the pitch on it so it matches the original performance and is in tune but even after this is done it will still ultimately be a different vocal performance and will sound a lot less robotic combined with your original lead vocal.

Obviously it's better to record real harmonies but some vocalist just aren't capable of doing so and either don't want, or have the resources to get someone else to do them. This is definitely a great way to get the harmonies you want under these circumstances. I also like using the first method (without re-recording the voice) to get some harmony ideas. Sometimes some great mistakes happen that I'll then get the vocalist to sing in.

As always here's a link to my website for my production company, Morph Productions


If you don't have Melodyne you can get it here:

Morph Productions - Toronto Recording Studio

Morph Productions on Twitter
Morph Productions on Facebook