Many people wonder why they need a producer and I wanted to share what I do as a producer to bring your project to the next level.
First things first, lets talk about Pre Production. The final stage after all the songs are written and you feel ready to make a record is Audio Pre Production. In my opinion this may be the most important phase of the whole record making process. I can work with you to make sure your music is the best it can be.
First we determine if the song is in the right Key Signature or in another words, how high or low the song is played. Most people write songs in whatever key they were inspired in when the grabbed there instrument. But is it the right key? There are many factors involved here with instrument ranges, playability, timbre, but most importantly the vocal quality. A producer can help you find the key that suits a singers voice the best. If its too low in may not sound exciting or the voice may sound muddy on the lower notes. Often if its too high singers just cannot hit the notes easily and this can waste a lot of time in the studio and even with all our studio magic usually it sounds like the singer is struggling.
Then we determine if the song is at the correct tempo. If the song has vocals i generally listen to the pacing and phrasing to hear if the vocals sound dragging and stretched out, or rushed and jumbled together. We usually spend time going up or down a few BPM on a metronome to find what is perfect. Then often programming a tempo map so the choruses go up 2bpm can really help make the choruses sound more exciting and move.
At this point we attempt to determine the basic instrumentation needed to record the song, as well as some layer overdub ideas, this can imagined, but its very helpful to record demos and try things out.Once we have Demos, it is easy to chart out the songs, and listen for song arrangement, flow and length, if any bars needs to be cut, or repeated or If any chords or lyrics need to be changed.
Once the songs are ready for recording we work out the logistics like studio and musician schedules, budgets, technical needs, dietary concerns etc.
Recording phase one, for band oriented records this means Recording Drums, Bass, Guitar, Keys, and Vocals live together. Generally we are just focused on getting great drum tracks, often we are also able to keep Bass, but Guitar, Keys and Vocals are usually scratch tracks just as a guide for the Drummer to play to. Some people will just track Drums to the Demos if everything is locked to the grid, but i prefer to get a live feel with everyone following the drummer, as opposed to a drummer trying to follow Demo tracks.
I generally use a Click track whenever possible, it opens up a lot of editing opportunities and work flow enhancements. For example lets say we want to stack 8-16 tracks of BGV Ahh ooh Harmonies, over the end chorus of a song. If we are on click, we can record one set of the Harmonies, and then repeat them. This can save hours in the studio. To keep a live feel we will often automate the click track tempo up and down for certain sections, do Rubato (free time) Intros and Outros, and add beats when needed for a longer breaks. Once we have a few drum takes that we like, we will listen through and choose the best overall take. Then listen with just Drums and Click and if we hear any issues we will grab it from another take, or punch it in if necessary.
Once all the meat (Drums) and potatoes (Bass) are done, we start layering all the other stuff. Usually Keys or Guitars depending on whats most crucial to the song. This is where its important to have a comfy control room, as we will spend many days in there layering up the songs. I usually set up the Guitar Amps, and Pedals in the control room, and have just the speaker in the live room. This way we can dial in tones exactly how they are going to be recorded and in real time. Ask any of my past clients and they will tell you how much knob twirling is done live during tracking. Especially if you are trying to get interesting Guitar and Synth sounds. I try and get all the instrument overdubs done before vocals, so that we have a really nice exciting sounding track to sing to that helps to inspire the best vocal performances. I always lead singers in vocal warm ups so that when they step up to the mic it sounds good right away, I have two vocal recording methods depending on the singer. One method is to record 3-6 takes all the way through, and then compile line by line choosing the best parts and punching anything thats not good enough. This process takes extreme focus so usually i kick everyone out except the singer and myself. The Other method if a song is really challenging to sing, and theres no good spots to breath, we will just record line by line, moving on once we are happy with each line.
Once you think you have everything recorded, i think its best to listen through all the tunes to see if your done, possibly for a few days if you have time. You will often hear some small editing that needs to be done, and if theres any dead spots in any song that need song additional instrumentation to keep the song flowing.
These days i prefer to mix in Pro Tools, analog sounds great but the digital workflow i find gives the best results in the end. If i had no time or budgetary restrictions, and a very good assistant engineer and studio tech, i would gladly camp out in an SSL room for a month and mix an album. But to get great mixes on a budget i find my Pro tools workflow works best. I will spend a day mixing each song at my own Pro Tools studio and then email off for comments. We will go back and forth fixing anything that needs adjustments until we are done. The Majority of the songs on the SoundCloud were mixed in this fashion if your curious of the results.
I can do mastering for lower budget projects, but if theres budget left, i think its time to get a fresh set of ears to finish off the album. Plus the great mastering engineers i use have amazing ears. I can help with album order, keeping in mind Keys, Tempos, and Styles but i often leave this to the song writers vision. Once we get it back from mastering we will listen to the album as a whole and possibly have a few minor comments, and then the record is done!
I hope this guide sheds some light on my production process, thank you for reading and feel free to email any questions. I can offer music production online as well as in person.