So you have written a song or a number of songs. Maybe you are in a band that has spent months in the practice room crafting the perfect EP or album or you are a singer songwriter who has written a song in your bedroom that you would love to record as a single. Either way you need to start thinking about the production of your song.
So what do I mean by production? It is a term that it is often used synonymously to refer to recording, studio engineering, mixing and mastering. In this post when I refer to production I am referring to the specific decisions made by either you or a producer in the process of arranging and recording your song. I will not be using it to refer to the mixing and mastering of your track. So what can you do to get the best out of the production of your track. This week I am offering a few tips and ideas to help you make your track sound amazing.
Be aware of the genre you are working in
I know as artists we really hate to be put into boxes and we like to think that our music stands out from the crowd and by giving our music a specific genre we are ignoring all the quirks and individual touches we have put into our music and honestly I agree with that sentiment. However, placing your music within a genre can help a lot with the decision making process during production. Doing so does not mean that your music lacks what makes it sound unique, but ensures that you make the right production decisions to get the best out of your music. If you really want to, you can even pick a genre that is completely different to your music but has a sound you would love to emulate. This can help to add to the uniqueness of your music’s sound. A great example of this is the album Screamadelica by Primal Scream which is essentially a classic rock album with an approach in its production similar to that of 90s Dance Music.
Use Reference Tracks
Now that you are aware of what genre you would like to help inform your production, you can pick some references tracks. Sometimes one is enough, other times you may take inspiration from a few. Listen out for elements that you would like to emulate in your track: Maybe you want your instruments to sound a certain way, maybe you like the balance of a certain song, you might want to emulate some synthesiser sounds or maybe you love the reverb or delay found on a certain track. By looking out for the elements you would like to emulate you can pick out a number of reference tracks and use them to help inform your production decisions.
Do some Research
Research can be essential for helping you to make the right choices in your production. Find out what was used to record your reference tracks: what were pre-amps, microphones, microphone techniques, mixing desk, recording room size, drums, guitars, amps, and other instruments used. By knowing these you can make decisions on what you are going to use on your recording. Even if you cannot get the exact set up used in a track, knowing which elements were used can help you to work out how your going to emulate those sounds effectively. For example, you may not be able to get an original Roland TR-808, but you can certainly find a loop library containing all the 808 drum sounds without too much hassle. Be aware that you do not have to use the elements you have discovered in your research, you are more than welcome to use something else entirely, but it does not hurt to know what has gone into the production of your chosen reference tracks so you may pick and choose accordingly.
Be aware the the frequency space each instrument occupies
One of the biggest problems beginner producers and artists make when recording a track is not being aware what space each instrument occupies within the frequency spectrum. Too often we end up with instrumentation clashing with one another in a similar frequency range resulting in us being unable to hear the music clearly. Now this does not mean that different instruments cannot occupy the same space, sometimes you want some instrumentation to work together; For example, multiple horns may play around the same area in the frequency spectrum for a big sounding brass or you may have guitars, synths and piano playing similar chords, notes and rhythm in a verse. But if you want a single instrument to stand out on its own like a vocal or an instrumental solo then you will want to make sure that no other instrument is covering up that sound.
Plan in advance
Using the information mentioned previously you can now begin to put together a plan. This plan will include things like how you are going to schedule the recording, whether you are going to record track by track or live and what microphones and microphone techniques you are going use. The plan is not set in stone, sometimes during the recording process you may realise another decision is in fact the better one but having a plan can ensure what direction your want to take in recording and streamline your recording process.
Attempt to justify all your decisions
Do not make decisions blindly. By making sure that you can justify all your decisions you can be more certain that your track will come out the way you envisioned. If you make decisions arbitrarily this will not be the case for example, if you want a live improvised feel for some kind of jazz ensemble you would not want to record each individual musician track by track, you would want to record them live all within sight of one another so those musicians can react and vibe off one another.
Introduce new ideas throughout your track
It is something that we often do not even realise but as listeners we often require new elements to be introduced to the music throughout a track. Doing so helps to keep our ear interested. When you get a chance, listen to some of your favourite music and see if you can hear this happening. Now it does not always happen with all music so if you cannot hear it in the music you like go and listen to a few top 40 hits, even if you hate top 40 like me I will guarantee you will learn a lot. By adding extra melodies, harmony, percussion, instrumentation, samples and audio effects throughout your track you can help to keep life in your music from start to finish. This is not something you have to do as there are many great pieces of music that do not do this, but it is a really easy trick to really bolster the production of your songs.
Pitch Correction and Audio-warping are great tools and not be feared
Pitch-Correction (Sometimes called auto-tune) and Audio-Warping (Used to change the timing of audio) often get a bad wrap but they can be really useful tools in tidying up your recordings. I talked a little bit about this in a previous post in which I talk about auto-tune, auto-tune can be a great way to save the best take and make music production a hell of a lot easier. That being said I would advise people use it with caution and use your chosen genre and reference tracks to inform your decisions when it comes to the use of these tools. If you are creating a high-level production pop track, then using a lot of auto-tune and audio warping can be essential for getting that really perfect and polished sound, styles like Funk, Rock and Metal would require it to be used sparingly so as to keep the raw feel that informs these styles whilst correcting minor mistakes on the best takes. In styles like Folk or Punk you may want to avoid using these tools completely and allow the mistakes to shine through. Of course these are just guidelines but having these thoughts in mind can really help to inform you decision to use or not use these production tools.
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