Do I need a demo, an EP or a full length recording?
It is very possible to put the completion of a full length album before yourself – as a huge mountain to climb.
If that mountain is so big it prevents you from touring (because you “need the whole album”) or somehow can be used as an easy excuse not to proceed with your career or project on other levels…then pick a smaller mountain to climb!
Think about it… if you spend 2 years on “forever tweaking” your album it might be VERY OUT OF DATE by the time you have finished it!
This especially applies to fast moving music trends. So if you are in a band that always has the latest hairstyle and fashions, spending forever on your album are suicide as by the time you are done the trend the music is part of will be ‘yesterdays’ music.
Watch out that your goals don’t end up holding you back or become an excuse, preventing you from progressing…
I think anyone that has a full length album on their to do list needs to think carefully about this. Are you using it as an excuse to not do other things? You would probably be better off to put out singles or a 4 song ep that you can give away. Cd’s will be all but obsolete in a year or two. If you concentrate on a getting a high quality recording instead of rushing a full length Cd, you will get a much better product. It you are an artist just starting out go for a strong demo home recording until you have the experience and funds to go into a professional studio.
Having a great sounding recording is a basic requirement for any serious musician. Music is a business and to make it in that business you have to have a killer product to sell. But do you really know the steps to take to make that happen…without breaking the bank? In this age of digital technology and computer software that you can learn to use at home, getting a great recording can be done a variety of ways. There are millions of recordings done on home computers every day. In the hands of skilled engineers they can be of Major Label quality. You can also step into a state of the art million dollar studio and come out with a less than stellar demo recording. The gear is only part of the picture; the skill of the person behind the board is the secret. So, where do I start and what do I need in order to make a high quality single or full length recording? One of the first questions to ask yourself is: Am I ready for a producer.
The role of the Producer…
The record Producer is the person who takes the concepts that an artist has in his/her songs and brings those ideas to life. They work closely with the artist and recording engineer to take the song to the highest possible level sonically and conceptually. Sometimes a producer will do the song arrangements, work out all the orchestration and even hire the musicians who are right for that session. It’s important to find a producer who loves your music and shares your vision for the songs. They take time to get to know you and work with you to get to the intent of the song lyrics and how you “Hear” the songs in your mind. A great producer will also have a pre-production meeting with an artist to plan every detail of the recordings. They typically have favorite engineers that they work with who understand their methods and set up the miking and instrument levels and effects to achieve the producers desired concept for the song.
Sometimes producers will actually ‘scout’ for unestablished artists that they feel have potential with the intention of developing their sound. Singer-songwriters type artists generally will provide the producer with little more than the song and its soul around which producers will craft a new, fully realized arrangement. A good example of this sort of thing would be Tori Amos, who writes songs as solo compositions on piano. A producer would be called upon to craft and guide the song into a complete arrangement, maximizing the feel and artistic intent of the original composition. To that end, the producer would hire musicians who would be adept at performing the style and character of the music.
In addition to being adept at the musical aspects of song craft, producers also need to be knowledgeable about the technical aspects of capturing and generating the recordings that represent the song. Engineers are technical types – they know the gear and are directly responsible for capturing and manipulating the sound of a recording. Sometimes producers themselves are also engineers. More often, however, producers select engineers who are experienced at achieving the sounds the producer has envisioned for the project. Many producers have ongoing relationships with engineers and collaborate across many projects.
A producer is responsible for understanding the creative needs of the artist and the song (are the vocals going to be wet – with reverb – or dry?) and how to technically achieve the desired result (tell the engineer to add reverb – maybe even what kind: a hall, a room, or a plate, etc.) Should the drums be really plush and hi-fi or should they sound like they’re being played by Oscar the Grouch in his trash can? The producer needs to be able to hear the needs of the material and understand what needs to be done to achieve the result. In this way the artist can focus on performing, the engineer can focus on running the equipment, and the producer keeps everything sounding as it should.
Producers work in different ways. Some like to take total control of the project, others prefer to collaborate with the artist, musicians and technicians as a creative partner to produce the best track possible and the invisible or documentary style producer records what has happened during a performance with as little influence as possible. The latter type is quite common in classical and jazz circles but less so in rock and pop music.
Choosing a producer who you can work well with is important to the success of the project. Listen to past projects, get a list of credits, talk to a few of their clients and spend some time getting to know the prospective producer to see if you are on the same wavelength.
Hiring someone who is enthusiastic about your music, knows the genre and is objective enough to offer constructive criticism is essential. You need someone who will provide an honest opinion whilst offering viable solutions that you both feel comfortable with.
How do you find a good record producer?
Great producers are known in music industry circles, have worked with seasoned artists and have a strong resume of past production credits. You can contact local professional recording studios or get a reference from a band that has worked with the producer and has gotten a fantastic product. Take some time and find the local recording studios in your area and set up times to meet with the owners and check out the studios. Pick a time to view the studio during or around recording sessions. This will give you the opportunity to possibly listen in on a recording session and check out a music producer in action. You can also observe how the music producer works in collaboration with the artist. A good music producer can produce just about anything that’s translated to them by the thoughts and ideas of the recording artist. This is the type of producer you’ll need to help you translate your vision to music.
Attend open mics in your area where producers go looking for talent that they want to produce. To attract a high level record producer you have to have great songs, a killer live show and be a confident professional who is open to creative input and ideas.
Are you ready for a producer?
If you have very strong opinions about how your music should be recorded and you don’t want any creative input, a producer is not for you. Hiring a producer and then micromanaging them in the studio is like hiring a great artist to paint your portrait and
then telling them exactly where to place the paint. It will never work. You have to be far enough along in your artistic development to be able to “let go” and give freedom to the producer to bring your vision to fruition. Wanting to make a recording that sounds exactly the way you have performed a song live is not a situation that requires a producer. In that case, what you need is a skilled engineer to get the sound right and you can direct the session yourself. The quickest way to waste your money, have a bad experience and possibly break up a band is to hire a producer without understanding their role.
A producer’s fees typically range from $1000.00 to $2500.00 a song. This varies depending on whether or not the producer is also doing the arrangements, hiring the engineer and musicians, and paying the studio directly for your session. Once you decide on a producer, it’s best to let them handle all the details including the budget that you have allowed. They can get the best rates from the studio and session musicians. Never step into a recording session without having a signed contract with the producer. Make sure that you have clearly spelled out exactly what their role is in your recording and all the fees are agreed upon in advance
Good vs. Bad producers…
So how do you really know if a producer can deliver on giving you a stellar recording? A great producer will always take time in advance of the session to make sure you understand everything that will happen in the studio. Your comfort level is important to them and making sure all details are in order is their primary concern. If a producer asks for lots of money upfront and isn’t willing to meet and talk with you about your music, run the other way as fast as possible. Hiring a producer solely because they have a big name in the Industry can also be a big mistake. If they aren’t invested in your music and your growth as an artist, you may end up with a very expensive disappointing record. There are plenty of people out there waiting to take your money who have no interest in giving you a great product. It’s your job to do your due diligence and research the producer and spend time with them before recording. If something doesn’t feel right, trust your instincts and look elsewhere.
Hiring someone who is enthusiastic about your music, knows the genre and is objective enough to offer constructive criticism is essential. You need someone who will provide an honest opinion whilst offering viable solutions that you both feel comfortable with.
Myths and Rumors – Top 5 myths about music producers • They will get you a Major Label Deal
- They will make your songs hits
- They will promote your record after it is completed
- The more money you give them the better the Project
- Producers “discover” you and make you famousOne myth that producers want you to know: You can’t fix it in the mix!
Well, OK, to some extent you can. A pitchy vocal can be corrected to a point, but this should be used on a very limited basis. You don’t want the vocal to sound unnatural, or maybe you do? You should spend time to get the right sound upfront for guitars, bass and drums, and then if you decide later that something isn’t working there are editing tools. Minor edits are doable, like if the drummer misses a snare hit or a cymbal crash, you can usually cut and paste that from another part of the song. Major tempo fixing is not recommended. It’s better to re track rather than waste hours trying to match tempos. Bottom line is, it’s better to track everything correctly the first time and spend your time mixing and not fixing.How to find a recording Engineer…
The best way to find a great engineer is to contact local recording studios and ask to meet with their engineers. Always ask for references from bands and colleagues before committing to work with any music Industry professional. Just like when searching for a producer, you can get referrals for engineers at open mics and in local clubs from booking agents, musicians, producers and promoters. The engineers need to Love your music and have an understanding an appreciation for your genre. Whether they are doing the recording on a home computer or in a state of the art studio what matters here is experience and skill.
Role of The Recording Engineer…
The recording engineer is responsible to the artist and the producer for the mix and overall sound of the album. This involves preparing the studio for a recording session, operating the mixing console, and maintaining all additional electronic studio equipment and instruments with the help of the recording assistant.
Individual components or tracks are recorded separately, and often repeatedly. Strings, drums, and vocals are isolated to perfect each one separately. The recording engineer manipulates each track and weaves them together while tweaking tone, intensity, and tempo, applying effects, and editing through the console. It is a process of constant revision until the desired result is reached.
Having an engineer as a sounding board for your ideas and opinions is a great help because you can rely on a good engineer being able to give you good advice, and they will probably have the psychological skills to know when to disagree with you openly, and when to give you the answer you are looking for, regardless of what they really think.
An established engineer may even suggest to you that something isn’t working well musically. You may regard this as an intrusion into your artistic vision, but you would be unwise not to pay attention to the advice of someone who has probably worked on literally thousands of sessions and is usually also a great musician, has almost certainly achieved an understanding of music knowledge – perhaps superior – to your own.
Depending on whether you are doing a home recording or going into a professional studio, an engineer’s fee will vary a great deal. Some charge by the hour depending on the rates of the studio they work for and others are freelance and just charge by the song. You can expect to pay an established engineer anywhere from $200.00 to $500.00 (or more) per day. If you are using a producer, it’s best to have him/her negotiate the engineer’s rate when you draw up the contract for the recording. You will get a much better rate that way and the project budget will stay on track.
Good vs. Bad Engineers…
The most important attribute of a good recording engineer is their experience and skill set. Never work with an engineer who doesn’t like your music, or who immediately wants to change your direction. Unless they are producing the session, their role is to make sure the best possible product is achieved sonically. They don’t arrange or change the instrumentation of your songs unless that was the agreement from the beginning of the project. A good engineer takes their cues from the producer and achieves a balanced mix based on the direction given.
The job of a recording engineer is not only to record audio, but to edit and mix it in such a way as to make the audio sound the best it possibly can. During a recording session, he must listen to audio from both a musical and a technical perspective, looking for ways to adjust the equipment, recording levels and even the performance of the artist in such a way that the recorded product sounds perfect. That is a mark of a great engineer.
Myths and Rumors…
One of the biggest myths about recording is that you have to spend an insane amount of money to get a good quality recording. If you have a skilled engineer and good gear, you can get a fantastic demo in a home studio. In the hands of an experienced engineer a $2,000 recording can sound like it came from a Major Label state of the art Studio. Some musicians are also skilled engineers and write, record and mix their own projects at home. This is more common in the digital age than ever before. A skilled engineer with a home Pro Tools rig (or comparable DAW) can make an amazing recording. You can also use an engineer without much experience and pay top dollar for a fancy studio and get a very poor product. Again, the skill of the engineer is what is most important. Don’t be fooled by thinking that the more expensive, the better the product.
Grey area and beats…
The definition of “producer” has changed and been watered down over the years. “Beat Makers” are now called producers, but producing isn’t necessarily their role. A beat maker can normally be found alone in their zone working on instrumentals either to sell or share with friends. A beat maker can also wear other hats, like a marketer or entrepreneur. The beat maker is responsible for getting instrumentals to rappers and artists, or someone is hired to get that job done for the beat maker. There are 1000′s of beat makers around the world, but only a small number of them choose to be a beat maker for a career. Some people say it’s due to the marketing aspect that keeps many beat makers afraid to start pursuing beat making as a career.
Someone that makes beats and instrumentals using their favorite method and sells those instrumentals to rappers and artists. The beat maker is primarily the one in charge of creating the groove of the instrumental and layering the sounds used in the beat. After those few steps have been applied from the beat maker, his job is pretty much done. Producers do the same thing, but with more work involved.
Producers can normally be found in the studio, with the artists. They have a voice in the finished track and also give ideas on where the song should go from the artist’s voice, lyrics and flow. Producers sometimes even put ideas for the main hook in the instrumental for the artist which eliminates work for the artist. The hook of the song is the main ingredient, so must be ear catching The producer inputs a lot more on the overall song and works one on one with the artist as opposed to the beat maker typically working alone.
The digital age changed everything to software and keyboards, almost. There is some people who stick to hardware for making instrumentals, majority have switched to software. Software like Reason, Fruity Loops, Cubase, and Pro Tools have become the main tool for a beat maker to lay down ideas very quickly. Software has made beat making really easy, efficient, fast and affordable allowing almost any new beat maker to jump in the industry.
Hip Hop has been a powerful force for empowerment and a beautiful art form in and of itself. It’s a form of music that grew out of necessity: you didn’t need a lot of equipment to make Hip Hop and, arguably, you didn’t need to know how to play any musical instruments. One’s musical intuition and raw talent can get you most of the way towards a compelling song and rapping can be practiced pretty much anywhere. As time progressed, the standard turntable setup grew into samplers, keyboards, and computers.
To this day, Hip Hop remains music that can be made in urban environments such as the apartment where you live. Electronic compositions can be made with headphones and require minimal miking capabilities beyond something can captures vocals adequately. Unlike Rock Music, where guitar amps sound best cranked and where live drums necessitate well-treated rooms, Hip Hop can be made in un-manicured environments with stray ambient noises, sensitive neighbors, and bad acoustics.
Nowadays in the Industry there are some famous beat makers who also produce. Kanye West is a perfect example of that. He helped create beats and also produced for Jay-Z on the Blueprint CD. He had a dual role and was very involved with Jay-Z on the overall tracks he helped produce.
When am I ready for a producer? Can I let go of the control?
If you are a musician just starting out or recording for the first time, you probably don’t need a producer. To get a great sounding demo, you can use home recording gear and find a skilled engineer to handle the tracks. It takes time, confidence and experience to be able to hand artistic control over to a producer. You have to be able to clearly define your vision and take direction well in a situation where the clock is ticking and efficiency is key. If you tie the hands of your producer by micromanaging the session in the studio, you will only create friction and confusion. The musicians and producer will become frustrated and the session may not yield great results. If you want a recording that does not deviate from what you are use to performing live, a producer will seldom be needed. Save yourself time, money and headaches by producing the session yourself.
If you hire a producer, trust their judgment and experience. Let go of the control and allow them to bring your vision to reality. Remember that the version of your song you have played a hundred times will take on new life in the studio and probably a new direction. Approach the project with an open mind and allow professionals more experienced than you in the studio to do what you hired them to do. If you aren’t comfortable with a change, you are probably not ready for a producer.
Does the Producer promote? Why did you choose her/him?
It is not the producer’s job to promote your record. That is a totally separate marketing issue. Occasionally, if a producer is really happy with a project or hears something very special they might send it to other professionals to give a listen. If you are choosing a producer because they have a big name in the industry and you think that will make your career, think again. Just having a named producer on your project will not guarantee success of the record. Many fans are unaware of even world famous producers, so names mean nothing to them. There are millions of records collecting dust on a shelf that were done by well-known producers. Choose a producer for their skill, talent, vision and their love of your music. That is a much better way to get a recording that elevates your music to another level.
Pet Peeves of Producers and Recording Engineers…
One surefire way of ruining your time in the studio is to make your producer’s and engineer’s jobs more difficult. Studio etiquette is a very important part of recording. Talking over your producer giving the engineer and musicians direction is a big no no. Stopping a session to give advice to your producer is also frowned upon. You will waste valuable time, money and wear people’s patience setting up a hostile environment not conducive to creating. Never talk in the control booth while the engineer is recording a track. Be patient, wait till you are asked for opinions and be professional and courteous. You will get much more out of everyone involved if you are a joy to work with and the studio team is happy to get to know you. Producers will go out of their way to help an artist who is really cool in the studio. Remember; you hired the Producer and Engineer to do a specific job…so let them do it.
From the International Review of Music: 24 Things Producers Don’t Want To Hear But Always Do 🙂
1. “I think we need a trombone”
2. “Did you know my wife sings?”
3. “I am doing my own, original music” 4. “This will sell. I am certain of that”
5. “It’s a cross between jazz and hip hop” 6. “I want to use my band”
7. “People will dig this”
8. “It’s not a tribute”
9. “It is a tribute”
10.”I think we need to add another trombone”
11. “Did you know my son’s a producer?”
12. “I know it’s an all-Gershwin project but I have this great original…”
13. “Can my girlfriend co-produce?”
14. “I just discovered this amazing high school drummer and I want to have him on this date”
15. “I don’t really need a producer”
16. “Can you produce my next project? What label would be interested? Do you know anyone there?”
17. “I want to rap on one track”
18. “I know the budget is 90K, but I still just want to make a trio recording”
19. “Yes we COULD have those well-known professionals on the session but my pianist, who is unknown, would feel hurt”
20. “I am into ‘ambient’ music” 21. “I am into ‘electronica’ music”
22. “Could you get that incredibly busy, expensive and famous musician you know to guest on this project as a favor to me?”
23. “Could you just call the legendary musician at home and bypass his manager, agent and lawyer as a favor to me and then we can use the name to ‘sell’ the project?”
24. “Could you listen to my last project? Do you know who would be interested in releasing this?”
Home recording vs. Studio…
There are many benefits to home recording for a DIY artist. Having the software available to you any time in a relaxed environment can be a God Send. Not having to worry about the time and expense of a studio, can be very liberating. When you record from home, most of the current recording equipment and software comes equipped with excellent mixing channels. This makes it easy to alter your sounds and dynamics to your specifications. To make it even easier, pre-sets allow for one-touch editing to themes such as rock, jazz, blues, grunge, metal, acoustic and so on. Some gear even lets you add audio effects such as delay, reverb, chorus, gain, distortion and more. You have the freedom to play around until you find the perfect sound for your recordings. There have been many ground breaking recordings done on home computers.
Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo and Louie Perez released their side project’s first album. Playing damaged, slanted roots rock shot through with unfinished ideas and technical trickery, the self-titled 1994 debut made for angular, unexpected listening — and offered moments of surprising beauty. Much of the Latin Playboys album was recorded in Hidalgo’s kitchen (at night, after the children had gone to bed) on a cheap, battered portastudio with badly-aligned heads and neither Dolby or dbx. Unsurprisingly, the CD sounds like nothing else: rough, unpolished, aggressive, chaotic, wild and exciting. An American reviewer was suitably impressed, remarking: “they may sound puny by the light of day, but after midnight the Latin Playboys are mighty men.”
Nebraska is the sixth studio album by Bruce Springsteen, released in 1982 on Columbia Records.
Sparsely-recorded on a cassette-tape Portastudio, the tracks on Nebraska were originally intended as demos of songs to be recorded with the E Street Band. However, Springsteen ultimately decided to release the demos themselves. Nebraska remains one of the most highly-regarded albums in his catalog.
There are many schools of thought on recording, and endless opinions. Dave Grohl has been very outspoken about the fact that he believes recordings should be done with live musicians and minimal processing.
The prevailing pattern of music -making today is overdubbing: the process of layering single tracks on top of each other to simulate simultaneous performances, real rooms, real mics, and real musicians. We’ve left behind a wild world of gear maintenance, social musicianship, and imperfection.
You simply cannot make music like the music of Steely Dan or Kate Bush (or The Roots for that matter) with a bedroom studio… Music Production and the creation of recordings is an art. A legitimate Art.
All that aside, when it comes to the technical aspects, skilled engineers will always have the upper hand. Fantastic gear in the hands of a great engineer and producer can result in a Major Label quality recording at a reasonable rate. There is also something to be said for the experience of being in the studio. It can help a musician become more polished, focused and teach them a great deal about song structure and elevating their tunes. When you can afford it and you are ready for the challenge, recording in a state of the art studio can be an amazing experience adding to a resume and increasing the marketability of an artist.
Finding a great recording Studio…
The best way to find a studio for recording is by getting referrals from musicians or producers who have worked in the studio and have gotten a great product. You can call the studio and request a tour and meeting with the recording engineers. All major studios have a website that includes gear lists, rates, staff and client lists. If you are working with a producer, it’s best to use a studio that he/she recommends to make sure they have a good rapport with the engineer and staff. You can negotiate day rates with the studio which can run anywhere from $300-$900.00 a day. Lock down rates mean you have the studio for a 12 hour period or late into the night. It is very wise to book using a day rate, rather than stressing out about paying per hour. You will be more relaxed about the time and the engineer and producer can give you a good estimate of how long your recording should take.
Mixing is the second stage in the recording process, which comes after the tracking has completed. In a basic sense, mixing isn’t that hard to understand. Mixing involves blending all of your separate tracks into one stereo pair suitable for listening to on any radio, Walkman, iPod, or car stereo. Mixing also involves adding effects to polish up the sound.
The art of blending disparate sounds is very difficult. When you hear an acoustic band, the blend is taken care of for you; the reverberation is natural from the room. As soon as you start close-miking instruments, reproducing the sound in a realistic fashion becomes a challenge. While you might not know how to make a good mix yet, you certainly know a bad one when you hear it.
Mixing is all about perception. Can you perceive that this group of instruments really sounded this way? The best mixes sound natural, and they try to replicate how those instruments should blend together. If the mixing engineer has done his or her job, nothing out of the ordinary should be noticeable. That is, nothing catches your ear as “unnatural” or out of place. As you know, it’s easy to spot a bad mix; there’s just something “not right.”
Many engineers talk about hearing in multiple dimensions. Understanding those dimensions can help you figure out what’s going on in a good mix. Here are the basic dimensions you’ll encounter in mixing and what it means to work with them:
- Foreground/background: Bringing sound forward and backward in a track using volume
- Depth: Using effects to create the feeling of closeness or distance
- Up and down: Using EQ to help tracks sit in their own distinct part of the frequency spectrum
- Side to side: Placing sounds from left to right using the pan controls
Without oversimplifying the process too much, these four dimensions give you an idea of what goes into a mix. Now let’s look at what goes into working with these dimensions so that you can start mixing like a pro.
As music technology and audio tools evolve, the innate understanding of audio both technically and artistically is quintessential to the art of mastering. The skills of a mastering engineer are learned, above all, through experience and exposure to the constantly evolving language of music. A mastering engineer can unify your album with skillful use of EQ, gain, and compression to give it a consistent sound from track to track. This process also allows the mastering engineer to pump up the volume of your overall album so it’s as hot as can be and make it sound unbelievable.
To improve your recording the mastering engineer can:
- Raise the overall level.
- Even out song levels and EQ individual tracks for cohesion.
- Correct minor mix deficiencies with equalization.
- Enhance flow by changing the space between tracks.
- Eliminate noises between tracks.
- Make your music sound great on any sound system.
- Add IRSC codes (required for digital distribution)
- Add CD-Text information (Artist, Title, and Track Names that can be displayed by some CD playerRecommended Reading: Behind the Glass, by Howard Massey
Behind the Glass, Volume II…
Behind the Glass, Volume II presents another prime collection of firsthand interviews with the world’s top record producers and engineers, sharing their creative secrets and hit-making techniques – from the practical to the artistic. In these pages you’ll find Daniel Lanois (U2, Bob Dylan) discussing the future of digital recording; T-Bone Burnett (Robert Plant and Alison Krauss) sharing his unique view of creating complex low end; and Hugh Padgham (Police, Genesis) analyzing the state of the business today.
For real-world advice on everything from home recording to mixing to coaching a nervous singer, check out author Howard Massey’s conversations with Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse), Tony Brown (Reba McEntire), Gus Dudgeon (Elton John), John Simon (The Band), Russ Titelman (Steve Winwood), Bruce Swedien (Michael Jackson), Rodney Jerkins (Mary J. Blige), Simon Climie (Eric Clapton), Matt Serletic (Matchbox Twenty), and more.