Are You Ready For A Record?

Posted by David Lee on 19 June 2015

So, you’ve got a few songs that you like, and you’re ready to share them with the world. Where do you start? Well, recording a record is very hard, but it doesn’t have to be a grind. There are a few things to think about though.

Putting a great album together takes a lot more than getting your songs on a CD or MP3 and sharing them. Making a great record is like building a well; you’re creating something that you want people to come back to and draw from time and time again. The great records are the ones that draw different emotions every time you listen to them. “The Sound of Silence” from Simon and Garfunkel was the soundtrack to my childhood. Every time my father would play it on vinyl it was like I was getting a new glimpse into Paul Simon. The way he plays his guitar supports the arc of his storytelling. It’s absolutely intoxicating to me as a listener. It does what great records do, and that takes great focus.

My goal with this blog is to lay out the process of making a record, to help you achieve that focus. Whether you have a major budget or are recording to a cassette, the process is all about living in the right mindset to create and execute something beautiful. Let’s begin. 

Pre-Production: A Scientific Method

Pre-pro is an inexact science, with an emphasis on Science. What I mean is that it’s healthy to try different things until you settle on ideas that you like. Rehearsals should be an open atmosphere where good ideas breed more ideas. While you shouldn’t be afraid to scrap things that don’t work, don’t get discouraged when the wheels aren’t spinning; you’re not trying to set things in stone.

Have a recorder within arm’s reach. Don’t worry about tones so much that it slows the process and kills your creative momentum. Smartphones, Tablets and Laptops are perfect for this. Having an on board mic to quickly hit record is a huge advantage for capturing ideas.

The end goal is to create an arrangement that supports the song, and to capture it on a demo. Once you’re done with that arrangement take a break, cleanse the palette, and move on to the next song with a fresh mind. 

Production: Time to Write the Story

Once you’re happy with your demos, it’s time switch gears. Give your demo to a good producer that can work all the details into the bigger picture. A good producer will not only create a good atmosphere that inspires great performances from your musicians, but also creates a good recording setup to capture good tone. 

It’s critical that everyone be focused on a great performance. My music teacher always told me “David, if you haven’t memorized 150% of the song, you’re not ready to perform.” When you start recording everyone involved should know their parts so well that those parts become second nature. When this happens everyone can focus on all the emotional subtleties, like how the lyrics make them feel. When a musician’s emotions are in tune with their performance that’s when the performance supports the song.

Sometimes a good performance doesn’t line up with what the album is trying to do. This is a good time to work backwards and re-record those parts until they serve the song well. We call it overdubbing, and it happens all the time. It’s always good to keep working at it until the song is ready.

Post-Production: Putting the Pieces Together

The final touches. You’ve built a house, now it’s time to paint it. You start with mixing. Taking every part and making them fit together is important to capturing the right feel. Mixing isn’t just adjusting the volumes, there is processing that’s involved with each track as well: EQ’ing, Compression, Effects... and lot more Star Wars stuff that we can’t get into in one blog. All of those processes are different paint brushes and colors that eventually come together to create one glorious work of art. 

After the mix is done, there’s one more thing: Mastering. Typically, the goal of Mastering is to take the mix, and do everything necessary to prepare it for the public. That means leveling it to be loud enough for untuned ears, preparing a track order, marking the start and stop points, and preparing it for the right medium (CD, Digital, Vinyl, etc.). All these steps are necessary in order finish the project. 

Wow, that’s a lot. From my experience in producing records, the best advice I can give is this: make the most of every minute of it. There are so many challenges to overcome. They only become impossible if you’re not enjoying the process. 

When I’m producing a record, I find myself smiling in the face of adversity, and persevering time and time again. Overcoming those challenges makes putting a great record that much sweeter. Like I said before, it’s like digging a well. It’s difficult, but at the end of the day, you’re creating something that people can come back too over and over again. 

Happy Recording!

David Lee works as a studio engineer at Integrity Music in Colorado Springs.

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