What is record production? Surely, there are many thoughts on this concept. There are many record producers, some more famous than others. However, this article will attempt to address some of the basic elements of record production and how to effectively approach the overall task of producing a record.First let’s take a look at the 5 Steps of the creative process:
STEP 1: THE IDEA
Think about the song you’re going to write. It can be just some lyrics written down on a piece of paper, a melody recorded on your cell phone voice memo or mini recorder, or a home demo. Ultimately, it will need to be produced into a full song.
During pre-production (which we will discuss later), the producer creates the arrangement – vocal or instrumental, decides how it will be recorded, and who will be the players. This process includes songwriting, song selection, song adjustment (key and tempo), style determination, instrumentation decisions, creating a working demo, and rehearsing.
STEP 2: RECORDING
During this step, the performances are recorded to any one of the many recording hardware or software on separate tracks or direct-to-stereo which is used to record some jazz ensembles and many live performances. When you record direct-to-stereo, the recording becomes the final version and you are unable to change any of the characteristics of the instruments. Most professional recording is done using multi-track recording, where individual musical performances and vocal performances are recorded on separate tracks. This gives us the flexibility to edit and process the tracks, and to mix them into a final stereo version well after the original performance. It also allows for us to add to an original recording, as well. This process is called overdubbing.
STEP 3: EDITING
In post-production, the song is ready to be edited changing individual performances or the entire arrangement. In midi editing, you can change single notes or even the specific instrument that plays those notes. You can also change the complete arrangement of the song by copying and pasting entire sections of the song.
STEP 4: MIXING
It is during the mixing stage that the individual tracks that make up our multi-track recording are combined/blended and processed using effects to create a final stereo recording. We have the ability to control each track separately. In this stage we want to document and organize the various elements for the intended mix. We are able to control such elements as volume, panning, equalization, and effects.
STEP 5: MASTERING
Mastering is the preparation of our final stereo mix for distribution making final adjustments to the overall sound – (incl. editing out unwanted sound, EQ overall song, compression, if needed, for final format).
The Master Tape
1. What is the Master Tape?
the completed mix with added equalization and the signal processing effects. Some times called the “mix master”.
2. How is it Done?
Utilizing high-end mastering equipment, the producer or/and the engineer are involved in the final mastering, creating balances in volume, time between songs and equalization issues.
3. What you Do With It…
For CD duplication the master is sent to a duplication plant and CDs are creating in accordance with prescribe technical specifications.
Even if the ultimate format for the use of the recording is other than a CD, the mastering process is implemented to insure a professional consistency with regards to the recorded music. Once mastering is complete, the song is ready for its final format (ie. AIFF, MP3, Wave, Liquid Audio, Real Audio, Web Streaming, CD, etc.). The producer has now done his job.
The Impact of Technology in Producing Recorded Music:
An integral part of record production is understanding the technology that supports the science. Technological advances in recording equipment and computer platforms have dramatically changed the landscape of record production.
In desktop production, the self-produced artist often wears more than one hat, in many cases taking on the roles of composer, arranger, and performer. When we use multi-track recording techniques, composition and arranging can be part of an interactive process where one musical idea suggests another.
Just as composers have traditionally used the piano to work out fully formed compositions from fragments of musical ideas, desktop producers can start with a skeletal idea for a song – perhaps just a drum pattern and bass line — and develop it into a complete musical arrangement. The most powerful capability of computer-based desktop
production is the ability to rearrange and edit both audio and MIDI performances after they’ve been recorded.
How to Produce a Song/Understanding the song
Once you have a grasp on the creative process and understand current trends in recording technology and there applicability to our project, you can now attempt to produce a song.
a. Describe the artist’s identity.
b. Identify the song’s style and intended audience. Is it similar to other records?
c. Describe the budget constraints?
d. Describe the record’s purpose, in terms of an artist’s career. Is it a catchy first single to establish the artist? To get a deal? A demo to get a gig as a cover band? A different direction, used to learn something new?
Knowing about the artist’s qualities and motivations creates a context and shapes
an overview for how to approach a production. It will help you answer the main
question, “Why take this particular production approach for this particular artist and
this particular song?”
Decide what the song is saying. In other words, how does the song itself influence the approach to the production? Knowing the identity of the song is as important as knowing the identity of the artist. Indeed, “production” is the melding of song and artist onto record.
a. What is the lyric’s story, and what individual sections, phrases, or even words direct or affect the production at all scales?
b. How does the melody interact with the lyric?
c. Does the melody emphasize lyrics or direct the flow of the song, or just create a musical element and draw attention in its own right?
d. How do these invite production elements?
e. How do harmonic elements affect all of this, and again, invite production attention?
f. How does the overall structure of the song dictate the production approach and/or flow of the record?
These may seem like “songwriting elements,” because they are! The first job of the producer is A&R (“artist & repertoire”). Choose the best song and then oversee touching up or rewriting and restructuring the song, if necessary, until it is the best it can be.
That is what much of pre-production is, and it is often the most important element of the entire production process. A great song for a great artist makes the producer’s job easier, and the song often points the way to approach the production.
Another characteristic of a good producer is one who is cable of identifying what specific elements are being heard sonically and musically and adjusting those elements so that the song is audibly appealing the listener?
a. Name each element you are hearing (instrument, voice, sound, combination).
b. What are each element’s sonic qualities, and what is its part in the arrangement?
For example, “I might describe a part I’m hearing as a 12-string
electric guitar (the type of instrument) with a clear but
idiosyncratic sound (color/timbre) playing a IV chord (the music)
with the third on the top, open voicing(arrangement), with a slow
but aggressive, anticipated strum (performance)”.
c. At what point does an element appear in the production/song? I find it best to analyze a production by going section-by-section, and then bar by bar, down to the beat. It helps to define the general, overall production feel of each song section.
d. Where does a specific musical element appear?
As producers or engineers, we often think in technical terms-panning, reverb, delay, volume, etc. The listeners, however, just hear things located in 3-dimensional space. So, define spatial placement as they do. Then you can figure out the possible
technical ways to achieve that.
For example, “a muted trumpet drenched in reverb, panned off to the right, with a lot of a reverb and low in the mix, is heard by the listener as a soft trumpet off in the distance, perhaps on a misty night”.
How is it played? What is the emotional approach, attitude?
This overlaps with much of the above. “How” may include equipment, effects, and so forth. A specific instrument through a specific processor helps define the sound and is used to support the attitude.
Know what the purpose of each musical element is? Above all, this is the most important question for good production. For each and every element in a record, a choice was made to have it.
a. Why was it included?
b. Why that specific instrument at that specific location in this specific song, located in that specific space, played with that specific approach?
There is a purpose for each choice, even if it’s just to “keeps the groove,” or some other simple musical purpose.
Record production is akin to directing a movie. Like a director is responsible for managing all of the elements of making a movie so is the record producer of a great record. Record production takes thought, skill, knowledge, and wherewithal. There’s no better way to understand it that to go through the process if you’re interested in record production. It’s a great experience to hear a finished project for which you were primarily responsible. There’s nothing better than your first time because now you know how to do it, and how to make it better the next time around. Like anything, you will get better with experience. Read this article. Reread this article. Then read it one more time and take the leap…produce a record or if nothing else get involved in a record production!
Charles C. Williams is a freelance writer and music educator living in Chicago and has written content for various websites on topics such as how to become debt free and how to become a music producer
Charles C. Williams holds post-graduate degrees in both writing and arts management. Additional interests include art & culture, songwriting/music production, entertainment, and real estate investing.
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