If you’re a musical artist, there are a lot of advantages in having your own music production setup at home. For one, you can make demos easily and not have to rely on work tapes to pitch your work. You can also do a sort of beta version of your song and gather feedback from your followers, saving you a lot of money and allowing you to make sure you’re pouring in money for the right song. And it can all be so SIMPLE! Joining Bree Noble to talk about this is Kris Bradley, a singer-songwriter and creator of Produce Like a Boss. Eight years ago, Kris was a dinosaur in the digital world. An advocate of self-learning, she went from not knowing how to copy-paste from a Word document to being a highly-successful producer and mentor to artists who are looking to test the DIY route. Through her video series called Start Producing Your Song Today in Three SIMPLE steps, she teaches how you can set up your own home studio and create great music for a very minimal investment.
Listen to the podcast here
DIY Producing: Make Music From Home Like A Boss With Kris Bradley
I am excited to be talking to my friend, Kris Bradley. I was on her podcast, which was super fun, but I haven’t had her on this show yet. Kris, I would love for you to tell our audience about your journey, how you started out as a musician, your journey along that route and how you ended up doing what you’re doing now, which is this amazing brand called Produce Like A Boss.
I am a singer-songwriter first. I am from Los Angeles, California. I was doing the thing. I was writing songs, pitching songs and hoping to get film and TV placements, but also to get songs cut with other artists. You need professional recordings to do that. I was forking out cash over and over to producers to get my songs recorded. Sometimes they turn out good. Sometimes it would be like, “That’s not what I had in mind at all.” I found that there was always this communication barrier as well because I didn’t know how to say what I wanted either. When I would try to talk to the producer about what I wanted, either he didn’t want to hear me or I didn’t know how to talk about it in a way where I could get what I wanted. Whatever it was, I wasn’t getting it. Finally, one day I was like, “Not only am I writing faster than my bank account can keep up with, but I’d also like to have a bit more creative control over this entire process.” I decided I was going to learn how to do this. I jumped in. I hadn’t even owned a computer to be honest. It wasn’t a thing we had in the house. I got a used laptop and I’m like, “How does this thing work?” I’m clicking around on a laptop in my late 20s.
What year was this that you got your first computer?
It would be about eight years ago. It’s funny. I was doing the rock band thing. I wasn’t interested in computers or social media, marketing, brand. That’s not for me, I’m going to be a rockstar. When I finally entered into the technological age, I was a dinosaur. I didn’t even know how to copy-paste in a Word document. It was funny the transition, but I was determined. I kept banging my head against the wall. Thank God for some friends that I had that could do this because I was able to turn to them for some mentorship, but I also found stuff online. I studied and dove deep, and made lots of bad recordings. Eventually, I got to a point where my recordings were good enough to start pitching my songs. It got to the point where people started paying me to do their demos. All of a sudden, this demo I did for somebody, they’re going to release that or they’re going to get it placed in a film and TV. I’m like, “Wait a second. That’s not a demo.” I think I accidentally became a producer by necessity. I was like, “Okay.” An artist finally approached me and said, “I love what you’re doing. Can you produce my record?” It was that strange moment of this transition from I was cutting demos, to an artist wants to pay me, hire me and trust their project. It was a beautiful moment. That was a few years ago.
Fast forward to now, I am a full-time producer. I do full-time session work as a vocalist and a top liner. I have clients all across the globe. I’ve tapped into this wonderful online market where I can make money with my music and this all came about because I learned how to record myself and I stopped relying on other people. I also was able to get those sync placements I was chasing. I was also able to get some songs cut by other artists. It’s been wonderful. I then started teaching people how to do it, which also was an accident. I was teaching the artists I was working with and I was teaching my friends. I was like, “This would be more efficient instead of taking one-on-one time out of the day to make some YouTube videos and share them with people.” When I started to put it together, a friend was like, “Why don’t you do a course? Why don’t you make this a series and get it on a platform?” I was like, “I think I will,” and here I am.
I have even way more respect for you now that I know that you didn’t even know how to cut and paste eight years ago. Now you’re doing this. You’re marketing and you’re doing this full-time which is amazing. I wanted to point out something that it’s similar to my story too, but the idea of you started doing something out of necessity, then people started recognizing that you were good at it and they started asking you questions. It was this organic movement from like, “I do this for myself,” to “I help other people do it, they hire me to do it, then I teach them.” I’m always talking to artists about like, “You do have something that you can teach people. You might not realize what that is until you go through these questions in your mind of what people ask you for and things like that.” When you started, I’m sure you didn’t at all think you’d be doing this full-time now.
Not at all. I had no idea where it would go, let alone that I would go full time, then I would teach it. If you would’ve told me that when I started, I would have laughed.
You’re probably like me and never thought you’d be a teacher. My family is all teachers. My husband’s a professor, all these teachers in my family and I was always like, “I’m not going to be a teacher. I don’t want to be.” I thought of it as classroom teaching.
The way that we’re doing it now, I didn’t know how much I would love it. I’m honored to be part of a generation of teachers where people get to select what they want to learn instead of having to go through all the general education and all this stuff that most of it they’ll never apply. I love self-education, that’s how I learned everything I’m doing. I love being able to be a part of that. Hopefully, that’s where education is going.
I love that we can do that. I’m constantly learning all the time. If I had time, I would take your course because I want to learn all of that. I’ve record and everything myself, but I certainly don’t self-produce and don’t ever think that that’s a talent of mine, but I probably could learn it if I took your course. It would save so much money. Even now, doing demos for other people, the fact that I can record myself at home with a microphone and an interface and some software, it’s amazing to me.
It’s incredible how much money you can save. Also, you get closer to the results that you want. I even think about being in a studio with a producer. Not everyone is 100% comfortable with that. They feel bad if they need to grab another take. It’s the idea that I can sit here in jammy pants and get a vocal, keep taking it until I’m happy with it. That’s a freedom you don’t have when you’re on the dime on the hour of a commercial studio and another producer or engineer.We now live in the era of self-education. People get to select what they want to learn instead of absorbing stuff that they'll never apply. Click To Tweet
You are feeling under the weather that day, but you already paid for the studio and you have to do it. I wanted to bring out too what you said about producers. Sometimes you can’t get across what it is that you want to your producer, but sometimes they’re ignoring you and this is true. I’m sorry, but sometimes they have an idea in their head of what they want it to sound like, or they have these certain ways that they’ve always done things. They’re not either selectively or not selectively listening to you.
I know it because I’ve been in that moment, in that conversation where I’m trying to explain something. I know now when I think back in retrospect. If I said, for example, “I think I want it to sound like it’s a band of angels and it’s ethereal.” They’re looking at me like I’m crazy. It’s like, “You knew I wanted reverb, a long-haul reverb is what I needed on that. Why do you look at me like I was a crazy person?” That’s what’s been cool about the relationship I have with the artist. I never ever talked to an artist like that because I’m the artists that turned into the producers. When I am working with an artist and they’re getting shy, and they’re like, “I don’t mean to sound stupid but it’s like an angel.”
I’m like, “Yes, this is what you mean.” I get lit up teaching it because I know how shy and how uncomfortable and how they don’t feel intelligent when they’re describing it. I’m like, “No, why would you? Let me help you.” That’s part of what I do too. I’m not teaching people how to record, I’m teaching them the lingo so that whether they want to do it themselves or whether they want to be a bit more knowledgeable about it and be able to work with a producer, they can do that because I’m arming them with the proper tools and verbiage.
That is invaluable to know how to get what’s in your mind across to somebody else where you’re speaking the same language. When you first came out with your course, I was like, “My students are going to love this. I knew they would.” I was amazed at how many of them were flipping excited about it because they were where you were. Every time I write a song, I’m spending so much money to get it out into the world, even as a demo, it makes me feel I can’t write songs anymore because every time I do it’s like, “Cha-ching.” I was curious, is that the reason that people come and join your course and want to work with you or are there a multitude of reasons?
There’s a multitude of reasons. This is what I love about learning this skill. Whether you want to learn this so that you can communicate with your producer better is invaluable. If you want to be able to record your own songs so that you can be in control of it creatively and also in control of the release, we got it. If you want to pitch this to another artist, now you have the ability to do something more than just a work tape on your phone. There are many reasons to learn how to do this. I’ve got everyone from all walks of life coming into the course. There’s a huge chunk of people wanting to be able to release their own music.
Here’s another thing as well. If you’re going to pour the money into the promo and the record itself, there’s so much that goes into the release of a song. Wouldn’t you rather also know that that was the right song to invest in? Sometimes people after the fact are like, “I wished I had picked another song,” because they didn’t test it out. What I love about being able to get a rough recording is why not beta test your market? Why not do an acoustic vocal and maybe get a cool video and be like, “This is a song I’m working on.” Deliver it to them a bit more polished than just turning on your camera and go, “What do you think?” Get feedback before you move forward and start pouring all this money into producing your song. Why not test it out?
It’s hard to test out songs when you don’t have a good way to record them. If you record with your iPhone in the open room, it’s not going to sound as good. People are not going to be as open to listening to the lyrics and the structure of the song, and whether it’s singable because they’re distracted by the production. I know I get songs like this a lot on Women of Substance. I’m like, “I wish I could play the song,” but I can’t do it. It’s too distracting.
It also limits them to what they can bang out in a single performance because they don’t have the option to go, “You messed up there. Let me fix that part.” You craft together a solid demo of what the song sounds. We’re distracted by the fact that maybe they can’t play and sing well, and that’s fine. It doesn’t take away how great that song might be if you could get a good representation. Whenever someone says to me, “It doesn’t matter. I don’t need a demo. Work tape is fine.” That’s like walking into a job and saying, “I’m qualified for this job, but I’m going to hand you my resume on a crumbled-up napkin, but don’t worry all the information on there is valid.” Presentation matters.
I love that analogy because that is true. You had to figure out how to teach your method. I know you chose a specific software platform. How did you decide? Did you just like, “This is what I use,” or do you feel this is the best software to teach on?
I feel that it is the best software to teach on. I have played with other DAWs. I’ve jumped into Pro Tools. I’ve found that it’s useful for a couple of things but overall, Logic Pro X. The workflow that I’ve been able to come up with and even the testimonials I’ve gotten from the students, and the way that I’m teaching them how to use it. The arrangement features especially has been a game-changer, and also the accessibility of the sounds. In different DAWs, it can be tricky trying to access your library for external sounds. It’s like, “I want to program a drum part.” You should be able to select a new track, put a drummer on it and start playing. I love being able to plug in and play. That’s what Logic allows you to do. Not every DAWs is set up that way. There are a few more steps and hoops you got to jump through to make that happen. I’m like, “Why would you do that?”
There are a lot of people I work with that they’re like, “I can’t afford this. I can’t afford that. I use GarageBand, Audacity and the things that are free.” Even Cakewalk Sonar have a free version of that, which is great when you’re starting out. If you want to take this to the next level, you need to invest in something.
I don’t know how long they’re going to do this, but for the first time ever Logic is offering free 90-day trials. It began in the pandemic when they started offering this, but they’ve never done that before. It’s incredible. Also, Logic is only $200. When they update, they don’t keep charging you. For example, Pro Tools, you have to pay yearly to keep updating that. I haven’t paid to update Logic in years and years. They did an incredible update the other day, everyone’s raving about it. I haven’t had time to dive in and check it out. It’s almost like a brand-new product and it was part of my update.
That’s crazy. I think I paid $500 back in the day for Sonar, which is what I used to use in the mid-2000s. The whole barrier to entry to this has gone down so much. All you need is Logic, interface, microphone, and you can get all those things together for under $1,000. Everyone’s doing this. I love it. When students start out in the course, is there anything that you’re finding a common thing that they’re getting tripped up on? They came in with certain confusions or bad habits when it comes to recording.
I toggled that right away in the beginning of the course as well as in the free training that I do leading up to the course. I talk about how to cure that blank page syndrome and give them somewhere to start so that they don’t just jump in like a kid in the candy store like, “My gosh, there are sounds,” and they start recording. That’s where everyone gets tripped up. They get overwhelmed because it’s not that there’s not enough, it’s that there’s too much. They don’t know how to focus, number one. Number two, the biggest trip-up for most people in learning how to do this is they think they need to learn how the entire DAW works. They need to learn everything that Logic does in order to use it. That’s like saying, “I need to know every quarter, every scale before I can play a song.” It’s not true. In fact, you and I both know how many great songs were written with 3 or 4 chords. It’s the same thing with Logic where I’m simplifying. I am stripping away all the BS and being like, “This does so much more than even I will ever use and I’m a professional producer.”
If someone said in order to play anything on the guitar, you’d have to learn bar chords, no, you don’t. If you don’t make any progress at first, you’re going to get discouraged. I love that you’re teaching it that way. If you feel you had to know everything before you even started, you probably would never even start.
Another thing that I talk about often when I’m teaching is perfectionism is procrastination disguised as productivity. That’s all it is. All it does is freeze you because you’re like, “I’m not going to do it until I know it all or until it’s perfect.” You’re never going to do anything. Let’s get in there and get messy. Give them permission to be like, “The first few that you make are going to suck. It’s going to sound bad. It’s fine. I got you. It’s okay. You got to turn on the water and let the gunk come out first before the good stuff starts coming.” It’s the same thing with your demos. They’re going to get better and better. I’m letting the muse come in and play but I’m creating a structure for her to play within so that she can color inside the lines so it’s not a hot mess by the end.
I know that you do listening sessions to give them tips.
I do a listening party for three months. I show up once a month and everyone submits their songs. We go live on Zoom, we listen, and I get in there. The last listening party we did was over three hours long. I get in there and I want to give you that feedback and jump into the song. I get in the zone when I listen and my producer brain goes wild. I not only give feedback on how you can improve your mix and everything but I’ll give you ideas too and be like, “I could hear this happening here.” Give little nuggets that might help to launch them into the next steps of where that song needs to go.
It’s good too because they can learn not just from your feedback, but from listening to the other people and the feedback that you give them. Maybe that person is doing something that they haven’t started doing yet. They’ll be like, “Now I understand a bit more about how to do that and what would make that sound better”
I’m glad that you said that because I was surprised how many people were still on the call by the end of the call. If I was going to get my song to listen to, I don’t know that I’d stay for an entire three-hour call. When I looked down at the screen, most of the people and when I say most I want to say 90% were still there and several hit me up. They said, “I learned much watching you do this to every song.”
One of my Academy members even mentioned to me like, “We had this list call, I was bringing my song.” She’s like, “It was a three-hour call, but I stayed the whole time because it was cool.”
It would have been awkward if it was me and one person by the end anyway.Perfectionism is procrastination disguised as productivity. Click To Tweet
Do you find also that people tend to try to overproduce? They start to learn all the bells and whistles do that they start to try to create this masterpiece out of every song.
They want to but the way that I’ve structured the course is enough so that it doesn’t come across sounding like a vanilla demo. It’s not like, “Here’s a guitar and here’s a drum loop. There’s going to be no transitions or ear candy.” That’s not how I’m teaching the course. It’s not, but I’m also not like, “Here is the world. You’re going to be a pro by the end of this.” This is this perfect, getting started in middle ground. It’s a masterclass on how to produce and arrange. I’m giving them a template to follow that they can fill in. I haven’t found so far that people are going too wild with it. They’re following it step by step because it’s helping them when they follow it.
That’s good. I’m sure that the template is what’s keeping them from doing that. I know when I would record, I’d be like, “I want to have this solo. I want to add these backups.” It would spend much time on one song and all these things that they didn’t need.
Who is that artist that’s doing the sculpture? He’s like, “The sculpture was already there. I just took away the parts that weren’t the sculpture.”
I know you have a video series that you started releasing and it sounds amazing. Why don’t you tell them a bit about that?
It’s called Start Producing Your Song Today in Three SIMPLE steps. It stands for Structure, Instrumentation, Mood, Production style, the last two are Leave it all behind and Execute. The last two are like, “We’re learning all this. Leave all that behind.” What we’re doing in that process is reverse engineering another song to get ideas for our arrangement. It’s called Start Producing Your Song Today in Three SIMPLE Steps. The first step is how to easily build your home studio. It’s amazing. You can do it for under $1,000. The second step is assembling your tool belt so that you are walking up to the house, ready to build your house with your tool belt. The third step is the template, which is how to avoid the blank page syndrome, which freezes you with fear. It’s like, “How can we set this up in a way that we are assembling our tool belt and our template and we are ready to jump in because we know what we’re doing?” If you got in your car and you didn’t know where you were going, you would drive around aimlessly. It’s giving you a destination and a purpose.
I love templates.
I know you do.
You said you’re going to reverse engineer. Are you taking a song and reverse engineering it?
Is it one of your songs?
It is one of my songs.
Her songs are kickass. If you haven’t heard them, you need to go look her up on Spotify.
Thank you. I pulled a song in and I’m giving you a peek into the world of how a song is structured and the mind behind the producer, and where all the elements are falling in. What tools am I reaching for? What do I put in there before I even get started? I like to have a palette. It’s called pre-production in general. It’s like, “What instruments am I going to use for this? What sounds am I going to use for this?” There’s a lot of work I’m doing before I start “producing” before I start banging on keys and making stuff happen, I’m assembling a full-blown palette.
I can’t wait to see that reverse engineering of your song. I’m sure I’ll learn a ton by watching that. You can find it by going to Femusician.com/boss, and that will get you to her free video series and you’re going to love it. I know she had another free video series and it was awesome. I was watching the whole thing and everybody in my audience loved it. Why don’t you tell them where they can find you online? I know that after hearing all about this, they’re going to want to connect with you.
Thank you. This has been great to find out a bit about your journey, which I didn’t even know some of this stuff about how you got started. I want to encourage anyone that’s reading that if you think about her journey, it’s not just about the production piece, it’s about how she was looking for clues along the way of something that she enjoyed doing and turns out she was good at. People started asking her. She was following the clues and the breadcrumbs to something that is extremely fulfilling for her now and a full-on career.
I want you to keep your eyes open for things that in your world whether it’s teaching a particular thing, whether it’s doing demos online, you start doing them for somebody and other people start asking you. Keep your eyes open especially during this time where we’re doing fewer live gigs and stuff, and were looking for other streams of income. This started out for her as something she wanted to do to help her own career. It became a small stream of income and now it’s a big stream of income. I love how that story illustrates how that all works. Thank you, Kris. I appreciate talking to you.
Thanks for having me.
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About Kris Bradley
Kris Bradley is an award-winning Nashville/L.A-based producer, teacher and singer/songwriter. With extensive experience in the recording and music industry, Kris Bradley and her team can provide versatile services from producing high-quality records to custom songwriting.
Credits include Warner Chappell PM, Fox, Sony, Miramax, Samsung, Free Form, Rocket Songs, Song Placement Pros, and Gravel Pit Music.
Her personal style encompasses modern country and Americana, highlighted with blues and jazz-based melodic sensibilities: Through potent lyrical narratives and an edgy, authentic voice, singer-songwriter Kris Bradley inscribes a musical signature that is adventurous, authentic and audacious.