Music production is the art of transforming a simple, rough recording of a piano and voice into a fully fleshed-out, professionally sounding record. The way a song sounds in its original form can be vastly different from its fully produced version. For newcomers to the process, the technical aspects of music production can be overwhelming. Here are our top 5 tips for what singers need to know about music production!
Demo, Rough Mix, Complete Mix, Master: What is the Difference?
For those new to the studio, understanding the various phases of a recording can be challenging. Think of this part of the process as akin to revising drafts of an essay. With each phase, the music is refined and polished.
A demo refers to a raw recording of the song, which can be a phone take of a guitar and vocal rendition in a bedroom or a sketched arrangement with computerized sounds that will be replaced by real instruments later. The purpose of the demo is to create a starting point and explore the song’s direction.
A rough mix includes the selected instruments, effects, and basic volume levels, serving as the blueprint for the track. Any dissatisfaction at this stage should be addressed before proceeding.
A complete mix is nearly radio-ready. Here, the track is cleaned up and polished, with minor tweaks still possible in individual sound elements, such as volume and effects.
The master is the final step in fully producing a track. During mastering, the song is brought to a consistent volume level with other songs in your genre, and some final refinements are made. Essentially, mastering adds that crucial 10% that elevates the track. Note that only subtle adjustments should be made during mastering, so ensure you’re completely satisfied with your final mix before proceeding to this stage.
Vocal Tuning and Effects: What Do They Do?
Achieving a professionally sounding vocal involves more than just recording a great take.
First, producers often create a “vocal comp,” where the best performances, sometimes even on a word-by-word basis, are selected from multiple takes.
Vocal tuning is the next step. In modern music, almost every vocal receives some level of tuning, so don’t take it personally if your producer suggests tuning. Vocal tuning is subtle and enhances the existing recording, similar to makeup enhancing your natural features.
After tuning, vocal processing effects, including compression, reverb, and delay, are applied. While you don’t need to be an expert in these, having a basic understanding of common effects can help you communicate your preferences more effectively.
Compression evens out the volume of the voice, preventing excessive volume fluctuations. However, too much compression can strip the recording of its dynamics and emotion.
Delay adds delayed versions of the sound source to the track, a technique frequently used on vocals.
Reverb creates a sense of space in the sound. For example, a small reverb gives the impression of singing in a car, while a large reverb simulates the acoustics of a church. Adjust reverb based on the song’s needs.
Producer, Recording Engineer, Mixing Engineer, Mastering Engineer: What is the Difference?
In the realm of music creation, numerous roles exist beyond just “musician” and “singer.” While in lower budget situations, these roles might overlap, it’s helpful to understand how they differ:
The producer is responsible for transforming a rough demo into a fully developed song, which can include creating a beat, arranging the song, and adding specific effects and sounds.
This role involves setting up microphones and recording equipment to capture the best results, selecting the ideal microphones and setups for each situation.
After all elements are recorded, the mixing engineer blends them together, ensuring each instrument has its place in the mix. A well-balanced mix prevents any element from dominating.
The mastering engineer takes the final mix and refines it, making slight balance adjustments and bringing it to an industry-standard volume for cohesion with other professional tracks.
Instrumentation and Using References
The instrumentation of a song can drastically alter its emotion and mood, as seen when comparing Adele’s “Someone Like You” with a piano to one with an accordion. Providing examples of songs you’d like yours to resemble before the production process begins can be immensely helpful. Different genres often share common instruments and sound characteristics that can guide your song’s direction.
Common Key Terms for Describing Sound
Describing sound can be challenging, as words like “soft” or “bright” can vary in interpretation. Here are some common sound terms to help bridge the gap:
- Warm: Analog with subtle distortion, giving it an old-school feel.
- Bright: Rich in high frequencies, such as the sound of cymbals.
- Dark: Contains fewer high frequencies, like a closed grand piano lid.
- Heavy: Abundant in low frequencies, like a bass guitar.
- Harsh: Features uncomfortable high frequencies.
- Muddy: Has a buildup of mid-frequencies, making it unclear.
- Thin: Lacks lower frequencies.
Navigating the world of music production can indeed be overwhelming, especially for artists new to the studio. However, embrace the learning process, and your confidence in expressing your artistic vision will grow with experience. If you’re seeking one-on-one coaching with one of Toronto’s premier artists to assist you on your journey, feel free to contact us today!