Thursday, September 12, 2013

Personnel Changes

As the seasons change, so does our band.  Our lead singer, Lisa, is in the process of moving from Rochester to the Twin Cities area, and we've decided to part ways.

This was a difficult decision for all of us, and we wish Lisa the best of luck in her future endeavors. 

We will be taking some time to adjust to this change, but our hope is that Before Chaos will keep on rocking.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Lessons Learned from Rochesterfest

I like to think that most bands discuss their performances after the fact to identify things that went well and things that can be improved next time.

Our Rochesterfest show on June 21, 2013 was our first outdoor gig, so we had a lot to learn, but before we dwell on the negative, I want to list a few things that went well.

  • Sound technicians - we arrived on time and were able to work with the sound techs to get the sound (mains and stage volume) set up nicely.  When one of the monitors died, we were able to work around that.
  • Great sound - I'm not trying to brag here, but we sounded pretty good on stage.  I received a lot of positive feedback on the overall sound of our music - part of that is picking fun, high-energy songs, but part of that is the result of practice and musicianship.
  • Ability to improvise - when I skipped a verse in one of my songs, and went straight to pre-chorus, the rest of the band picked up on the goof and just adapted.  Some folks in the audience noticed, but most were  oblivious (or too polite to mention it) to the last-second change of song structure.  While we definitely need to play the songs right (and dangit, but I did sing it right in sound check...), it is quite nice to know that we can adapt to unexpected changes.

Here are some things that we need to improve on:
  • Stage presence!   I saw a few videos from people in the audience and except for our lead guitarist, we looked fairly boring.  I don't think we want to choreograph movements like a Justin Beiber concert, but we should move around a little more - especially on a large stage like this one.  
  • Smile!  We had a lot of fun playing at Rochesterfest, but from some of the pictures I saw, you wouldn't know it.  Some songs are slow and have a darker energy (I'm not suggesting that we all crack smiles on Heart Shaped Box), but I think it is important for the audience to see that we are having fun on stage.  I can say that some of my parts are challenging for me, and I often focus a lot of my attention on the fret board to ensure I hit every note correctly.  More practice will allow me to engage with the audience better.  
  • Banter! We had some downtime in between songs.  The humidity of the day (~95%!!) made it hard to keep the guitars in tune.  As a result, we were tuning after every one or two songs.  We also had to tune after adding a capo for some songs or for alternate tunings (Heart Shaped Box is in Drop D tuning, while most of our songs are in standard tuning).  During this time, there was a lot of dead air, where the audience loses interest.
  • Band Promotion!  I'm not a huge fan of self-promotion, but multiple people asked me who we were.  After watching other bands perform in these settings, I have noticed the subtle (and modest) ways that we can promote our band - (1) hanging a banner or some kind of sign on the band shell behind us, (2) mention our band name a few times during the set and how to get a hold of us (i.e. "check us out on facebook at ...").  

Overall, this was a great show for us.  We had a lot of fun playing, and it was great to see so many people stopping to listen to us over their lunch break.  We also got to meet some great people who helped organize the event.

We would definitely be interested in hearing your feedback (positive and negative).   If you saw us play and have any thoughts that you would like to share, please let us know by adding a comment. 

Before Chaos

Monday, April 15, 2013

Posting Cover Songs

It's unfortunate, but we live in a litigious world.  Videos of your band playing cover songs on YouTube might get pulled down - or worse, you may find yourself in court...

I really like playing cover songs, but don't like being sued (to be perfectly honest, I've never been sued, but I've heard that it's not much fun).  So before posting cover songs online - or even playing cover songs live, I did a little research, and here is what I found:

But first, the disclaimer...  I'm not a lawyer, and while I'm hoping this article will help new and young bands, it might be a good idea to do your own research.

Performing Live
In general, bands do not need to pay royalties to perform cover songs.  Usually, this is the responsibility of the venue.  Usually, venues like bars, coffeehouses, etc. will need to pay royalties to music clearinghouses like BMI and ASCAP.  Virtually every song published is the last 100 years are registered with one of these clearinghouses.  Venues pay a fee for the rights to play that music, and the clearinghouses in turn pay the artists, after taking their cut.

Most venues that regularly have live music will have paid for the rights for most cover songs.  Occasionally, I have seen venues that will only pay for one clearinghouse (i.e. ASCAP) - this means that bands performing here may have to adjust their set list to songs in that clearinghouse's catalog.

Distributing Recordings
Making cover songs available on the internet or on CD is a different story.  The band is responsible for obtaining a license and paying royalties.  The type of license required is called a mechanical license.  This license allows you to distribute your band's audio recording of another artist's copyrighted song.  Fortunately, US copyright law makes this license compulsory - that is, the copyright holder (usually an agent or publisher for the original artist), cannot stop you from obtaining the license.

The law also specifies how much royalties you must pay to the copyright holder.  For basic internet streaming, the royalty rate is 1¢ per stream.  For downloads or physical copies, the royalty rate is 9.1¢ per song for songs under five minutes, or 1.75¢ per minute for songs over five minutes.

While it is possible for you to find the copyright holder by searching the internet - ASCAP and BMI make this information available on their websites - and then contacting the holders to inform them of your intent to cover their song(s) - and then send them a check every month...  it is probably a lot easier to go through a turnkey company like Limelight.

Limelight charges a $15 fee per song (less if you buy several songs at once), and allows you to pay the royalties upfront.  We used this service to buy rights to distribute five songs via internet streaming, and paid about $20 per song.  The whole process took a little over two weeks - during this time, I assume Limelight looks up the copyright holder, contacts them and sets up the payments to them. 
Once you have secured rights to distribute the cover song, then you can upload the recordings to sites like ReverbNation, Facebook, MySpace, SoundCloud, etc. 

Unfortunately, videos are not covered under the mechanical license.  If you want to post a video of your band playing a cover song - or even just a picture/text to go along with the music, that requires a synchronization license - i.e. you are synchronizing video to the audio. Synch licenses are not compulsory, so you would need to negotiate a royalty rate with the copyright holder.  You can contact the copyright holder to acquire synch license rights - again, BMI and ASCAP can help you find the copyright holder - or you can work through various agencies to acquire the license. 

I hope this helps - if you have any comments or questions, please let me know.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Crazy Week

Wow! What a crazy week!

We've all been working hard to put on a great show at U-Turn next week - March 22.  If you haven't heard about this show, you can check it out here:

We will also be playing a noontime set on June 24 at RochesterFest 2013 this summer! RochesterFest is one of my favorite events in town - I guess I'm a sucker for carnival food, but I've always liked listening to the bands playing over lunch time.  It is truly exciting to join this year's musical guests.  Hope to see you there!
(RochesterFest Tip: Stop by the Post Bulletin booth for your drink - its usually a little cheaper and you get a free newspaper too!)

Lastly, we received the license clearance to post the rest of the songs in our demo.  We had already posted Say It Ain't So (Weezer Cover) and Banditos (The Refreshments Cover).  And tonight we just posted Breathing Underwater (Metric Cover) - this is an awesome song by a more current artist.  We hope you like it - and be sure to check out more from these bands!

You can hear our cover of Breathing Underwater here:

Be sure to keep up with us at our ReverbNation site or on Facebook  (we like to be liked!) or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

DIY Recording

While we wait for the cover song licensing to clear (more on that later) before we can post our demo songs, I thought I would document the process we used to record and mix.

First off, we are a cover band that is really just getting started.  And while we work really hard in practice and really want to make a good impression, we don't have the time and money to have our music professionally recorded, mixed, and mastered. As a result, we decided to do it ourselves.

Before we got too serious about recording a demo, we recorded songs during practice using a hand held TASCAM stereo recorder that I bought from for about $50-60.  This worked well for creating MP3s for band members to take home and practice with.  This can be especially useful if not all band members have the original artist's MP3 and for songs where we play in a different key.  It can also be useful for recording live shows.

The downsides to this recording device are that (1) it requires the volume levels to be set before recording (loud drummer means all guitar amps and PA for vocals must be turned up to match it accordingly) and (2) mistakes cannot be corrected without completely re-recording.

These issues led me to purchase a Zoom R24.  This device can record 8 tracks simultaneously from XLR and 1/4-inch inputs.  Since our band members had a variety of microphones (dynamic and condenser, instrument and vocal), this seemed like the right approach.  We had one mic for the bass drum, one for the snare, and one ambient mic over top of the drum set.  Each guitar was mic'd and my bass amp has an XLR direct out that I could plug straight into the R24.

Vocals were a little tricky, since we wanted to record them directly, but still needed a monitor so the rest of the band could hear it.  To solve this, we used the stereo pan feature of the R24.  We panned all of the instruments to 100% left and all of the vocals to 100% right.  Then we hooked the right side output channel of the R24 to our PA's mixer board.  That allowed us to control the levels of the vocals without "polluting" the signal with all of the instruments that we can already hear in the room.

With every instrument on its own channel, we could be much more flexible with volume levels in the room.  Of course, there is always the issue of instruments bleeding into other mics.  For the most part, we just tolerated the "bleed" - the bass track was clean since it used a direct out, but if you listen to any other track, you can hear the drums and some guitar.  To be truly professional, this should not be tolerated, but as long as the tracks are in sync and you don't plan to overdub any of the instruments, this really isn't too serious of a problem.  Since the vocals and the bass guitar didn't bleed into other mics we were able to overdub those tracks fairly easily.

Once we had recorded everything, we had to mix down the songs.  The R24 works splendidly for this process too.  The device allowed us to listen to individual tracks or any combination of tracks.  I was able to add reverb and chorus effects to the recorded tracks.  I could also bounce the tracks (i.e. push one or more tracks into a different track) in various ways - like bouncing all of the drum tracks into one stereo track, guitars into another, and vocals into a third.  That made it easier to adjust levels for the master stereo mix.

Once the master mix was ready, I copied the project to a USB thumb drive (another handy feature of the R24) and then copied the stereo WAV files to my laptop PC.  Here is where I wish I had both more experience and better tools....  I then imported the WAV file into Audacity, a free open-source software tool for sound editing.  With Audacity, I could trim out the unwanted portions of the recording (i.e. the few seconds between when I hit the record button and when we actually started playing), and could enhance the recording with compression and EQ settings.  Once I was satisfied with how it sounded in Audacity, I exported it as an MP3.

There is a lot of repetition in this process too.  Sometimes the exported MP3 would sound a little too bass-y or the vocals would seem more drowned out.  So then I would have to pull the project back up in the R24 and re-mix it and/or make some changes in Audacity.

We ended up recording eight songs over three practices.  Some of them just didn't make the cut, but we are pretty happy with the five that we plan to post.  I'm not sure how much it would cost to do this professionally, but I would guess that it is a lot more expensive than the roughly $450 I spent on the R24.  Plus, I learned a lot about the whole process that I hope to use in future projects.  Overall, it was a great learning experience and one that will result in some great music!

We are Before Chaos

Hello World!  And welcome to our blog.

Let me introduce us - we are Before Chaos.  We're a five-piece  alternative rock band based in Rochester, Minnesota.  Right now we are mainly playing alt/rock cover songs from the 90s and today, but we hope to play some originals eventually.

We just finished recording a demo that we plan to post on our Reverb Nation site after we get legal approval (cover songs require a special license before they can be posted) - hopefully in a week or so.

We've been playing in our lead singer's basement for about six months now, and are getting ready to play some bigger venues in and around Rochester.  We'll be playing at UTurn Coffee House and Event Center on Friday, March 22.  If you're in the area, stop by and see us!

Anyhow, thanks for stopping by - we hope you check out our siteour Facebook page, and/or follow us on Twitter ( @B4Chaos ) - and of course, we'd love to see you in person at a show.

Take care!
Before Chaos