Introduction to Producing Pt 1

Guest post by Ryan Collingwood



There are many different steps and processes used when creating music, starting with song writing and finishing with distribution. The steps in-between are what take the original song idea and transform it into a completed piece of art ready for sale. There are many different audio professionals involved in the production of a song, including studio, recording, mixing and mastering engineers. They use computers, digital audio workstations (music software), external audio interfaces, studio monitors, mixers, effects processors, microphones and work in acoustically treated studios. When producing a song there are five essential steps professionals follow: recording, editing, mixing and mastering. These steps are used to plan, capture, fix, balance and prepare a musical performance so that it is ready to be released. Within each of these production steps, there are various techniques used in order to achieve the best sound for the song. Each song is unique and so certain procedures are applied differently depending on the style of the music. However there are still many principles which remain constant regardless of the style, such as the production steps and the general purpose of each one.


When a song has been written and is ready to be produced, the first process it goes through is called pre-production. This step in the production is used to plan out most details of the song before it is recorded. When a song is in the pre-production process, it first needs to be recorded as a rough demo, which includes the initial idea of the song with the chords and melody. The demo could be an entire band recording or simply a guitar part with vocals. After listening to the demo for some time, certain details are decided such as the best key and tempo to use, as well as the song’s arrangement. The overall feel of the song should be decided upon and taken into consideration when making any other decisions for the song. A very important aspect of pre-production is band rehearsals. Making sure the song is properly rehearsed ensures the best results possible when recording. Rehearsals are also an opportunity to make changes to the arrangement and to determine any other aspects of the song. These aspects involve finding the best instruments, performers and tone or sound for each part, resolving any issues, and adding in any final ideas to the song before recording. The final step of pre-production is to write out tracking sheets (a recording checklist), line lists (allocation of microphones channels) and to work out any budget requirements.



Once all planning is completed at pre-production and the song is at its best, it is then ready to move on to the recording stage. This is one of the most important stages of the music production process and so special care should be taken to capture a performance well at the source, rather than needing to fix multiple problems afterwards. The first step in recording is to find a suitable recording studio which suits any acoustical or spatial requirements of the song. The room must have enough space for the instruments being recorded and be acoustically treated to suit the intended feel of the song. When setting up the instruments to be recorded, there are three things to consider; acoustic positioning of the instrument, isolation from other instruments using barriers and most importantly, the tone of the instrument. This involves locating a place in the room which gives the preferred acoustic response for each instrument, decreasing the amount of sound that spills into other microphones, and selecting the best sounding instruments for the song which have been properly tuned and maintained.

The next step in the recording process is microphone selection and placement. When selecting microphones for recording, there are two main types to choose from: dynamic and condenser microphones. Most instruments with loud, sharp transients such as drums or distorted guitar, require dynamic microphones, while more frequency-rich sounds like vocals or acoustic guitar are best recorded with the more sensitive, condenser microphones. There are many techniques to consider when positioning microphones which can significantly affect the sound. The angle of the microphone can be adjusted to emphasise different frequencies of the sound and the closer the microphone is to the sound source the more bass response there will be. Also, the back of the microphone can be used to reject unwanted sounds or reverberation. This is important when placing microphones on drums to limit sound spilling in from the cymbals. Once the microphone/s have been placed, it is important to then re-adjust them and compare each position in order to achieve the best results for the recording. This will either help to find a better microphone position or at least give more confidence in the first choice.

After the instruments and microphones have been set-up, a sound check is required to set the recording levels of each microphone as well as to make any adjustments to the instruments’ tone before recording. For vocalists it is important to keep them a certain distance away from the microphone so that their volume level doesn’t change too drastically throughout their performance as their head moves. When setting recording levels it is important to ask each performer to play as loud as they intend to for the song and then turn the volume up on each channel’s pre-amp until the level peaks at around -6dB. Usually the performers require a headphone mix to listen to while they play, especially if they are recording on their own (which is usually the case for vocalists). If fold-back is required, you simply ask each performer what they’d like to hear more or less of and make adjustments accordingly. Once all of these steps have been completed, it is finally time to start recording takes. Anywhere between two or fifty takes may be needed to capture a perfect performance depending on the skill of the performers. Once a perfect take or multiple perfect sections have been recorded, the song can then move on to editing.

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