Updated: Dec 30, 2019
Ok… So you came up on some beats, wrote some lyrics, and now you’re ready to start recording. Maybe you will be recording your music with a “Do It Yourself” approach using your own home set up.
It is important to understand that the quality of your music production can make or break how potential listeners react to it. Some artists have budgets, allowing them to invest into a professional that will give them a solid product. Other artists might not have any budget at all to invest into themselves, resorting to recording projects on their own even if they don’t have any knowledge or experience doing so.
A lot of artist with no recording experience don’t know the steps in which a professional record is made, leading to a poor quality project that can deter potential listeners from becoming fans. I can’t count how many times I've skipped music by random artists that pop up when I’m streaming music just because the quality of the product was hurting my ears.
If you’re just starting off as an artist with no budget and are recording yourself, this should help you feel a little more confident about it.
First Things First: "The Process"
There are three steps to music production before there is a finished product to send off for distribution to be released: Post Production, Mixing, and Mastering.
Being new to the recording process it’s easy to think that all you have to do is set up a microphone, turn up the pre-amp, record your vocals, adjust the fader, and then call it a good days work. Unfortunately, there is a lot more that goes into a professional quality project.
Lets break it down…
Post production is the recording process, making it the first step. This is where you make sure to capture all your best takes and any other layers, sounds, or effects you want in your music. You know, ”The Money Take”.
If you were to work with a producer during this phase, they would record the same parts over and over again until they feel they have gotten “The Money Take”. It can be frustrating if you’re the artist behind the microphone but it’s necessary to achieve quality so if you’re recording yourself, do the same thing!
Don’t sell yourself short by accepting a mediocre performance. If your recording demo’s as apart of the writing process of your music then it’s acceptable to run through recording quickly to get your ideas out. But if you’re recording a project to release and share, put in the time and effort to capture the best version of your music possible.
It is important that your happy with the end result. The last thing you want to do is work backwards by deciding you need to record new vocal takes during the mixing phase of the project because you don’t like the way they sound, setting the production of your music behind schedule.
Mixing is the process that follows post production where the engineer uses volume, panning, processing, and effects to create the perfect balance, evoking the emotion from your music.
Mixing is very subjective to us as individuals. Each genre of music has different focal points that are focused on when mixing a specific genre. For instance, rap and hip hop focuses on low end and drums with the vocals being placed up front as focal points. Rock music focuses on the energy of the guitars and vocals as focal points instead of low end and drums. Take that into consideration when you’re researching and learning mixing techniques to use on your projects.
More experienced artists most likely have a budget to hire an experienced mixing engineer. If you are inexperienced with mixing, and you are able to invest into yourself, then this is what I personally recommend. There will be a lot less headaches and you’ll get a product you can be proud to release. Even if you recorded the project yourself, send your music to a mixing engineer! Unless mixing is an ambition of yours then practice makes perfect.
There are a lot of engineers offering affordable services out there on fiverr with a wide range of prices. You can also always type “music mixing services” in a search engine and see what shows up. Just remember that if you do hire some one to mix your music, make sure they are capable of mixing your genre. You don’t want to hire an engineer with nothing but rock projects on their portfolio if you’re a rap artist.
When you have finally approved a final mix, the session gets bounced down to a stereo track (sometimes two stereo tracks) and then sent to a mastering engineer. He will be responsible for the finishing touches of the mix that will be sent off for distribution as the finished product.
The goal of this process is to glue the song(s) together using processing like compression, limiting, and EQ. These tools help add color, create space in the stereo field, tame problematic frequencies, adjust loudness levels, etc., etc., resulting in a professional quality sound.
This final stage in the production process is a whole different form of art so if you’re able to invest into getting your projects mastered by a professional do it!
Even if you don’t have money to invest for post and/or mixing, this is the step I would recommend you make an investment into, if you could invest into anything at all.
Once again, fiverr has a lot of engineers offering these services at affordable prices.
These two sites are very popular with independent artists and offer multiple plans to choose from based on what you are able to afford. You can get your first song mastered for free to sample their services.
I only recommend these sites if you are releasing music regularly because you will have to purchase a monthly or annual subscription.
BandLab is another online mastering service similar to LANDR and eMastered and the great thing about them is that it’s free to sign up! So if you can’t afford spending money on mastering use this site!
The site give’s you four styles of processing to choose from with the free version but I have mastered a few songs using this site and I was quite impressed. BandLab also has interactive features that allow you to easily share sessions so you can collaborate with other artists and producers instantly.
Basically, if your broke and can’t afford a mastering engineer, take advantage of this site to polish up your mixes before release. It’s free and will work wonders on the quality of your music!
Now that your music is mastered the finished product can now be prepared for distribution and release.
Post Production Tips for the “DIY” Artist: "Beginner"
Now that you have an understanding of the music production process, here are some tips to help you get better results during your projects post production.
1.) Microphone Input – Set your pre amp to a level that won’t distort your microphone. The last thing you want is your vocals peaking at a loudness that clips your meters. Once the distortion is recorded there is no getting it out so doing some practice runs to adjust pre amp levels will serve you well. I prefer my levels peaking no more than -15 to -10dB on my meters.
2.) Break your song down into sections – Record each section individually. It makes a big difference when you work on just the first verse till you get the “money take” then move onto the next verse, then the hook, and so on and so forth. Working this way allows you to focus on each section individually. Recording from beginning to end only exhausts your voice, causing you to perform poorly so break it down into sections.
3.) Level and pan your vocals – Use the faders to adjust the loudness of your vocals to create a good balance with your instrumentals (stems). It helps to listen to a reference track on the speakers or headphones your working on so you can compare your balance to a professionally released song. Don’t focus on getting your song to sound “exactly like theirs”. Just focus on the balance of the vocals and instruments so you can make adjustments to your mix knowing where each should be sitting. If you have background vocals, adlibs, or sound effects in your song, pan them out left or right to create space in your stereo field. Always leave your main vocals in the center.
There is no right or wrong way to level or pan so play around with mix until you are happy with how it sounds.
4.) Use effects – EQ (frequencies) and compression (dynamics) are used to tame the track(s), making them crisp and clear in the mix.
Using delays and reverbs helps create space and depth, giving your song some life.
I recommend utilizing the presets in your plug-ins if you’re a beginner. You will always find one that fits perfect with your song and you won't lose time messing with settings your not familiar with. Another benefit of using presets when your just starting to mix is that it helps train your ears and you’ll eventually start recognizing specific affects used on all your favorite music and be able to associate the same techniques with your own projects.
This isn’t a detailed formula for a professional quality release but hopefully this information helps you record and release music you can at least be proud of and share with confidence as a beginning artist. I know that this is very basic information for a more experienced artist but I wrote this article with the goal to help those that have no experience recording at all.
No matter what, as long as you are capturing the right energy for the song and it’s a good song, it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t sound of the same quality as your favorite artists. Even they were once beginners just getting started with out any experience, releasing their first recordings that sound nothing like their most recent release as an A-list artist.
I hope this article was insightful for you. Thanks for reading!
Please leave a comment below letting me know your thoughts on this article.