MAKING A RECORD FROM START TO FINISH

MUSIC

The Process– There are three major steps in creating a record from start to finish in the music world: Pre-production, Production and Post Production. Each has a significant dollar amount attached and often bands I’ve seen that skip part of this process end up with albums and EP’s that are disappointing. I highly recommend that each project follow a form of this process as they produce the best possible results at the lowest costs. Traditionally the oversight of this process is handled by a Producer. The breakdown of each stage is as follows:

Pre-production- Pre-production includes everything before a band/act goes into the studio. These include things like budgeting, songwriting, song revisions, band practice, demos and studio prep.On larger scales it can include things like travel and living expenses, transportation and even things like scheduling equipment rentals before going into the studio. As an Audio Engineer and Producer, I want to help you make the best record possible. Unfortunately the best albums produced nowadays cost thousands of dollars and tons of time and effort are often put in before a band ever steps into the studio. What I hope to address here are some skills and methods I advise all of my clients to do before ever considering booking studio time that will potentially save them thousands of dollars in time and wasted effort that are all part of the pre- production process. Some of these things are really simple but I guarantee these things will not only save you money, but help you get the best possible results in the studio as well.

          1. Cost/Budget/Specs- I can’t stress this enough. Planning out a budget and finding out exactly what things are going to cost are often the biggest deterrent in recording an album. Creating a budget is often the last thing considered before bands/artists go into the studio and realistically it should be the first. I recommend sitting down to a consultation with an Engineer (I do these for free) and discussing and planning out a budget. Recording studios are not cheap and sometimes the hardest thing I have conveying to a potential client is exactly what they are paying for. Every band/artist I’ve ever talked to wants their music to sound like the best record ever made. Unfortunately the best sounding records on the radio often have a million dollar price tag attached to them. And its at this point that the sticker shock of studio time, mixing and mastering fees start to crush the bands/artists dreams of becoming a recording artist. But there is still hope. Just talking to your Engineer is the first step in eliminating extra costs that would cost thousands of dollars in studio time. The reality of the situation is that you probably don’t have $500,000 to record an album. That’s okay. Your Engineer should be able to suggest some things that will save you time and money when you come into the studio and get you the biggest bang for your buck. Release specifications should also be considered at this time to include things like duplication/replication costs, artwork, ISRC codes, press release kits, formats and any other technical information that could potentially cost thousands of dollars to correct later down the road. For an example of a sample budget click here.
          2. Hire a Producer/Engineer- If you can afford it get one of each. If you can’t afford one find someone who can at least fill the roll of a Producer. Good producers are worth their weight in gold. Their essential function is to manage the process from start to finish while pushing the band/artist to be the best that they can be. Engineers are also helpful as they can help set up things like Pro Tools sessions that are essentially song maps that contain things like scratch tracks, tempo and song structures. In some cases this can be the same person. See my article on how to choose a good producer here.
          3. Write songs- I’m sure that this is overstating the simple for some of you but you’d be surprised at how many bands I’ve seen come into the studio that can’t remember where they are at in a song and we end up wasting half a day just trying to figure out where the song ends.
          4. Revise songs- Most songs need revisions. At this stage each song needs to be critically ripped down and restructured. Figure out what works and change what doesn’t. Most song writers I know have a hard time with this and having someone like a Producer or an Engineer on hand that can simultaneously rip your songs to shreds with brutal honesty while sill being your biggest fan is essential. This process can sometimes be painful but there are a few questions that I always ask my clients that seem to help the process along. The biggest one I have is would you pay money for your own music? If not things need to go back to the drawing board.
          5. Create Song Maps/Demos- After you’ve got your songs locked down I highly recommend sitting down with an Engineer and creating some kind of demo. It doesn’t have to be high grade and can be something as simple as a tape recorder placed in the room during band practice. If you can afford it go into the studio and do a live set in the studio. After each song is locked down I highly suggest creating song maps either on paper or as a Pro Tools session so that each band member is on the same page.
          6. Learn your songs/practice- This seems to go without saying but often this step gets skipped somehow. Each song should be played the same each time. At this point there shouldn’t be any discrepancies in anyone’s performance and each band member should also be practicing with a metronome or a click track at the appropriate BPM for the song. It sounds really stupid but the biggest thing that I tell people to work on before coming into the studio is to be able to play with a click track. Something as simple as having a demo version of a song that each band member can take home and practice to helps tremendously here as well.
          7. Know what you sound like- After getting a solid demo down sit down with your Engineer and talk to them about your sound. Often times bands I’ve worked with (ESPECIALLY GUITAR PLAYERS) are overly critical of the tone that comes through the speakers at the end of a recording session. I highly recommend going over demos with an Engineer and listening to what you as a band/artist sound like. Instruments are highly characteristic of what a finished record sounds like and your Engineer can make suggestions at this point to help you get the sound your looking for. This also gives your Engineer a chance to plan for mic selection and placement to get the best possible results in the studio. At the end of the day the end result of recording in the studio is going to sound like a cleaner, clearer version of what your demo sounds like. For a more in depth look see my article here.
          8. Know your limitations- Everyone has limitations both physically and mentally. The steps listed above are put in place to find out what those limitations might be and to give you the time and the opportunity to address any issues that might arise and to give you the opportunity to grow as an artist.

Production- Once you’re all practiced up and have everything locked down it’s time to move on to production. Production involves everything in the studio. This can include studio time, equipment rentals, food/catering, transportation and lodgings and whatever else may come up while you’re in the studio.

          1. Recording- At this point in the process most of the technicalities of recording should have been worked out in pre-production. Things like song maps and Pro Tools sessions should be taken care of as well as choices on whether to record the rhythm section together or separately should have already been made. You and you’re Engineer should also have a rough schedule and a call sheet for each day including meal times and breaks. If you have taken the time in pre-production to prepare for recording in advance, recording time in the studio should be minimal and yield good results. Part of practicing so much in pre-production is to build up the stamina it takes to be in the studio for ten or more hours at a time. The same goes for demos. They are there to make sure that you as an artist aren’t going to overstep your abilities. As an Engineer there isn’t anything quite as disappointing as when a band/artist comes in with good material and can’t play their own songs. I’ve stopped sessions and rescheduled them before just for that reason and each time I’ve done so it is embarrassing and costly on both sides of the glass. For more information on Song Maps and Pro Tools sessions see my article here.
          2. Take after take – This stage of the process is often skipped over but it’s important to understand as the talent that in the studio you need to be prepared to play the same part of a song over and over and over again. Some projects I’ve worked on have parts with over fifty takes of a particular song. It’s just part of the process.
          3. Studio Etiquette- Studios are small spaces and often have a lot of people crammed into them. I can’t stress how important it is to be clean and to follow good studio etiquette. For more information on studio etiquette see my article here.
          4. Have Fun-Heading into the studio can be a stressful time. But if you’re properly prepared it should be an exciting and fun experience.
          5. Deliverables- Before the raw files are released to go to post production, often the balance of the bill must be paid for in full.

Post Production– Post production is the final stage of the recording process and includes everything from mixing, mastering and encoding files to be delivered as master stereo files with song lengths, titles and production information.

          1. Mixing– After recording has been completed the raw files are sent to a Mix Engineer. Depending on the project the Mix Engineer may be a different person than the Recording Engineer. Mixing is an art all by itself and is done in a series of back and forth communications. Usually a Mix Engineer will release a mix to the band/artist and will receive notes on what needs changed. Most engineers I know will do this up to three times. Revisions after that are charged for by the hour. Mix Engineers then send off the Stereo Masters to a Mastering Engineer. Engineers DO NOT give out raw files as a general rule unless they are specifically requested as they can take some time to prepare. Engineers also don’t allow bands/artists to be present while they are mixing. Mixing is the culmination of often years of experience and schooling and each Engineer has methods that are considered trade secrets. Asking to be present during a mix session is considered to be quite rude in the sound world. Mixing is part of our lively hood and as such we ask that you treat it with the respect that any other craft, trade or artistry would deserve. As with a Recording Engineer, before stereo files are sent off to be mastered the balance of the studio bill usually needs to be paid for in full.
          2. Mastering- After the final mixes are approved, the stereo files are sent off to a Mastering Engineer. A Mastering Engineer provides the final steps before the final product for a given project are considered fully completed. A Mix Engineer handles and mixes each song as it’s own small project; and a Mastering Engineer mixes and handles all of the songs collectively as a project making sure that each song plays at a consistent volume and applies all of the information such as song title, artist and album information. Theses are know in the industry as Red Book Standards. As before, all balances need to be paid in full before the final product will be released.
          3. Duplication/Replication- This is the final stage of the process. Once the finished master files are completed they are sent off to be released via CD, iTunes, Google Play, or any other of number of ways.

 

-S. F. Shields

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Posted in Enigineer's Corner.

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