Hi, Doctor Nick! - Releasing Music, What Makes a Good Record Label, and How to Get That Big Club Sound

Publish date:

The holiday season is upon us and winter is right around the corner, but there's no deterring XLR8R's resident street shaman, Nick Hook. Every Thursday morning, Doctor Nick takes on questions from the XLR8R audience, and lends his thoughs about music, travel, recording, mastering, love, romance, and more. Those looking for help should drop him a note in at doctornick@xlr8r.com.

Yo. What's good? My roommate is writing this emo song on his Rhodes right now. I'm feeling all sappy, so forgive me if I shed a tear while writing this week's column.

First though, I must give eternal shout outs to Hudson Mo, Lunice, Dom LuckyMe, Oneohtrixxxxx, Kanye for running out and air rapping, and Shabadu for one of the greatest 9 a.m. YouTube sessions I've ever been a part of. I'm so happy my crew is my crew.

Hi Doctor Nick,
How can I self-release my tunes and get people to listen? Me and a friend are about to start our own label so we can release our own music, but I'm curious as to what should we be thinking about as we start this venture. What makes a record label a record label and what makes a good record label a good record label?

There are mad ways to release your music. The easiest is that TuneCore thing, but there are a bunch of boutique digital distribution services out there. My favorite is called Seed. They basically become another teammate of yours with contacts at all the places you wanna be (Beatport/iTunes/Juno/Boomkat/etc.) and secure you coverage on the front pages of the appropriate sections when your music comes out. This is really important—again, TuneCore just puts it up there... if a tree falls in the forest...

As for what makes a good record label... I've had the good fortune of watching three amazing groups of people start labels and really turn them into something special: Fool's Gold, LuckyMe, and Night Slugs. If you look at the things they have in common, there's an aesthetic in the art, a cohesiveness in the music, and a general sense of trying to do something new. I know it's hard to do something new, but I can say from knowing these guys that their labels are all reflections of their personalities and it's coming from an extremely genuine place. Fool's Gold and LuckyMe saw light years ahead with Danny Brown and HudMo. It's the same with Night Slugs for really the whole roster. It might not be as commercial, but it's pushed so many boundaries that people have had to water it down so it could be processed by a wider audience.

Also, I feel like investing in making a release makes it feel like a release is extremely important. I want to feel like someone made a body of work they want to give me. Artwork, curation of the remixes, tangible stuff—it all makes me take notice. It's so fucking easy to make music now and put it out, but does it feel special? If it doesn't, don't bother. Make sure there is some sort of quality control. Just cuz you finished something, is it really ready to go out? Could you make 20 more tunes and beat that one? It's all important, because your first impression is everything.

The good thing is that people have short attention spans, so put things out and keep growing. Hope that helps.

Hi Doctor Nick,
How do you make your tracks sound so big for the club? Is it essential to pay someone for mastering or can I just crank up the limiter in my DAW? Do you mix all of your tracks yourself? I'm just trying to get my material up to industry standard.

Hey Ferd, thanks for writing. I feel like I am still an infant with the whole mixing thing and I don't know if I'll ever perfect it. I think that is why I enjoy it so much. Most of my stuff I mix myself, but recently, I've partnered with Joey Raia to mix some of the more key outside projects. We complement each other in a lot of ways and it's been exciting cuz of the thing I always preach about in my column: teamwork. We can talk about things, both of our ears respond to different things and usually we work fast cuz we can both work towards the end goal.

I just did acoustic treatment in my studio and it has helped so much. It's allowed me to listen at much quieter levels and to get more accurate every time. They say 85 dB is where you hear all levels the best, but I can't help making my ears bleed sometimes when shit's ill. It's called the Fletcher-Munson curve if you feel like learning more about it.

As far as cranking up the limiter, you can do that, but I've found that one of the best assets for me is the relationship I've built with the people that master my stuff. I generally use The Lodge in New York, and also Precise in the UK. Also, I always send Joe my mixes beforehand so he can critique them. Sometimes, he will ask me for stems so he can make them better. You have to think that mastering dudes ONLY master for a living and their room is set up to be the perfect listening environment. Think how many "studios" you've been to where you have no idea how it's going to translate the second you leave. To me, it's worth the investment. But I do have to say that the iZotope stuff is amazing, as well as the Waves stuff. Just remember that there aren't any rules. I've heard about how Gesaffelstein masters off 320 MP3s with some laptop speakers and I think all his stuff sounds incredible. A lot of the cats that are using Fruity Loops are going straight out of the box and it sounds good too.

I showed this in an earlier column, but if you are new or don't feel like going back, I highly recommend this book. Put it in your bathroom and read a few pages whenever you go. The dude is a maniac. Here is the book as a movie.

Hi, Doctor Nick! appears every Thursday on XLR8R. Do you have a question for Doctor Nick? Please submit your inquires to doctornick@xlr8r.com. Nick Hook can help you.