Introduction to Producing Pt 2

Guest post by Ryan Collingwood

Editing

This next process is not as large as the last and ideally shouldn’t take too long, but is still a necessary step of the song‘s production. Before the recordings can be mixed, they first need to be edited so that that the song has continuity with no distracting mistakes or imperfections. One important thing to remember when editing a song is to only fix what needs to be fixed. If there are any major issues with the recording then the song should be re-recorded. The first step to editing a song is to combine the best sections of each recording together to end up with one perfect take.

Next, the song should be listened through while noting any unwanted noise or sounds that occur throughout the song. These could include a vocalist smacking their lips together or any pops and clicks in the recordings. The final step of the editing stage is to correct certain timing or pitch issues (within reason).
The entire song should be listened to again and only important performance issues should be noted for editing. Because pitch and timing edits effect the feel of the song and give a slightly unnatural result, it is important to make these changes sparingly. Once the entire recording can be listened to without any distracting sounds jumping out, it is then ready to be mixed.

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Mixing

Mixing is another major step of a song’s production as it is a process where many creative decisions are made. These decisions involve the volume levels and panning of each track/instrument as well as the use of multiple effects such as equalisation (known as EQ), compression, reverb and delays. The art of mixing is all about finding the right balance between various effects and instruments, in order for the overall mix to sound coherent and full. This means adjusting volume levels, panning and EQ to give each sound their own space in the mix. When setting the right volume levels for the mix, it is important to only keep one sound in focus at a time. You should try to keep about 6dB of headroom on the master, which means the loudest part of the song peaks at -6dB. Once the track levels have been set, each sound needs to be panned to a certain position in the stereo field between the speakers or headphones. Sounds which are more crucial to the song such as kick, snare, vocals and bass should be centred (or close to the centre) while other sounds such as guitars, cymbals, backup vocals and strings are best placed further to the sides.

When adding any effects it is important to only use what you can hear a need for. Some tracks may not need any effects on them while others might require many. The first and most common effect to use while mixing is equalisation. This is useful for carving out certain frequencies from sounds in order to give more space in the mix for other sounds. EQ can also be used to increase certain frequencies to improve the tone of instruments or vocals. Compression is also a very useful effect which can be used to reduce the dynamic variation of a performance. Doing so will also allow the instrument to have a louder perceived volume without actually raising the output level of the track. The final two of the vital effects used while mixing are reverb and delays. These two effects can both be used to give a sense of room and space to the song, but have the potential to turn the entire mix into a wash of sounds. As a rule of thumb it is good to apply these effects to the point where they are only just noticeable. Once the mix is sounding perfect aside from a possible lack in overall volume, it is then ready for the final step in the production process, mastering.
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Mastering

As this is the last stage of the production, it is the final chance to fine-tune the song before it is released and distributed to the public. Mastering involves use of equalisation, compression and limiting effects applied to the entire song (as opposed to separate tracks as before). Compressors can be used to give a significant volume boost to the song but come at the cost of the dynamics. The amount used should depend on the genre and feel of the song. Soft ballads require very little compression while loud, dance music often uses compression very heavily.

 

Another tool used while mastering a song is equalisation. As this is being applied to the entire song, it is important to use only slight adjustments in order to boost frequencies lacking in the mix or to take out frequencies with too much presence. This again depends on the overall feel of the song as to which frequencies should be emphasised or not. Finally a limiter should be applied to give an extra volume boost while avoiding any clipping, and the song can then be rendered down into a smaller file size for distribution.

 

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