We all faced a stage when we enthusiastically recorded a song that we created, and for one, or maybe a number of reasons, it just does not reach our expectations in terms of overall production quality. Let’s have a look at some ways and concepts that can make your music productions step up tremendously.
1 – Have a Plan
From a basic song idea to a fully produced song there are many stages and phases in the middle that if they are not respected or treated with consideration, they may harm your end product or make you waste time in the process.
I assume that by the time you decided to start recording the song you already completed it, right? By this I mean that the composition stages are done. I’m not going to describe all the possible issues that may arise if it’s not, but, as an example; imagine if you already recorded some instruments and then later on the key is too high for the person singing it…this would make you re-record the parts to suit the singer…no thanks…
Once your song is fully written, establish what will be the steps to record all the instruments. Although there is no set rule on what instruments should be recorded first, bass and drums are a good start, guitars and keys after and lastly the vocals.
Having a rough mix of your song previously of recording the real parts is a good practice to feel how the song behaves and analyze possible changes before the actual recording sessions.
Try to identify the timeframe it will take you and organize your agenda with the other people involved. Schedule all that you can.
Provide ahead of time all the materials that other musicians will need (music sheets, lyrics…whatever it is…)
Communicate well and clearly so everybody understands well and with no doubts what you expect from them. Example, if you are hiring a singer or a secessionist, they need to know a lot more than just the notes to play. Whatever you don’t tell them, it may turn against you.
Do on each phase what corresponds to that very stage. Try not to be in more than one stage at a time.
Phases of Music Production
Plan these phases in this order for the best results;
- Composition or creation stages (writing the song)
- Recording Sessions
- Editing Parts
- Mixing Stages
I will not describe the meaning of each of these phases, as we assume that you are already familiar with these terms.
Try to stay within the phases of music production in an organized way! Avoid as much as possible to alter their natural order!
2 – Recording Healthy Practices
Prepare Everything Ahead of Time
Here is short example list of things that you shouldn’t do while in a recording session:
- Print out music sheets (or find out that there are errors on them).
- Change guitar or bass strings.
- Find bad cables or noisy ones.
- Try all the mics you own to see which one you like best for the song.
- Learn instrument parts that you didn’t practice ahead of time.
- Figure out how your pedals work, what sound to use or creating tones.
Big changes can be achieved just by selecting different kinds of microphones and playing around with their placement in relation to the audio source.
It’s true that some mics can be very expensive, but always try to spend as much as you can within your budget. Audio that is not captured with good quality right from the start, can’t be changed after. No matter how good you are.
If you are not familiar with the different kinds of mics out there, take some time to read some articles about the topic before you record anything. Mics matter!
This is actually rocket science! Well, I exaggerated a bit, but it really is very important. Before recording your instrument or vocal run some tests to see how the mic responds to your recording room,
Hear the differences as you change the mic distance to the source and the angle to the audio source. Each instrument will require different mic placement. In the end, a lot will also be determined by what you intend…know what you intend.
Tip: don’t place the mic too close to the source as the vibrations can asphyxiate the mic and create a harsh feeling. Find the right distance aiming for clarity and fullness of sound.
Since you want to level up your recording, why not try to record some instruments in stereo? Acoustic Guitars can be improved tremendously when recorded in stereo, panning each track to opposite sides of the audio space makes it super tasty.
Pay attention to the acoustics of the room, if you are in a home studio, consider buying acoustic panels for your walls and using everything you can to minimize audio waves bouncing all over. Issues with this can’t be fixed later.
Record it Only When you are Ready
Either you or other musicians, just be prepared before pushing the rec button. If you have timing issues playing a part or even if you play insecure, believe me, you will hear it after. Aim for the perfect take!
Just because you have editing tools does not mean you should record mediocre takes because you think you may fix them later. In fact, it’s faster to record a better take than to edit it for hours.
3 – Midi Quality
We are aiming for sound improvement and Audio quality, right? Then let’s not use cheap midi instruments that sound like crap, I know that some midi libraries cost thousands of dollars and they may be out of your league, but be honest with yourself and filter the instruments or sounds that may not be the best ones for your song.
Sometimes some midi orchestral instruments can sound very artificial or fake, same thing with some percussion ones, so unless you are trying to mimic that particular retro or cheap sound intentionally, keep them away from your song.
If you are on a budget, my recommendation is; buy midi instruments that are within your composing style or writing zone only. Example; instead of trying to get a $1500 library with tons of sounds that will end up overwhelming you, buy a specific instrument library that is top quality and it’s 100% aligned to your writing needs. You don’t need laser raisers if you record 80s rock, right? But you do need a good acoustic drum sound… Otherwise, you can use some free recording softwares.
4 – Editing Healthy Practices
Keep it organized, try to have your own codes to organize your tracks in your DAW. You can use colors or whatever you need to do so. I like to use specific colors to help me identify instrument sections.
Imagine you will need to open the session in the future when you don’t remember as today where everything is. Keep tracks grouped by sections and with a proper naming.
Erase all unused tracks or instruments that fill out unnecessary space or make things confusing.
Make sure every audio track is checked for unwanted noises or errors, if you are handling a great number of audio tracks, this can be a little annoying, but it’s worth the time. Make sure there are no clips on them.
Audio tracks can create a noise at the beginning and end of the event if the sound starts or ends abruptly. To avoid this, you want to create a fade in at the start and a fade out at the end. (just a bit is enough) make sure you don’t damage the attack of the recorded instrument. DAWs nowadays have the option to do automatic fade in and fade outs on each audio event to save you time with this. This is a great solution! saves you a lot of time!
Remember, the rule is, simplify everything you can!
Whether it is midi or an actual audio recording, sometimes our recordings are not that precise or tight in terms of timing. Quantize is a great tool to make all those parts that are not in perfect sync with the tempo.
Don’t over simplify the quantize tool… always check that the part is not weird or unnatural to the flow of the song… remember that some attacks are not intended to be 100% on the grid. It’s a basic music expression thing, and you don’t want to kill it with quantization.
In Most DAWs, quantization can be applied in a variety of different ways. Identify the one that is best for that instrument and part. You can do this by;
- Selecting the note value as reference (quarter notes, eight notes, sixteenth notes, etc…)
- The percentage (how much should Quantize affect the recording, from 0 to 100%)
- Manual changes – sometimes you may want to correct some hits that are out of time just by manually grabbing them and moving them to the right place.
Today we can correct these time issues both in midi and audio events. Believe it or not they affect in a great way to level up your song production.
5 – Be Critical to Yourself
As music writers sometimes it is really easy to be attached to the stuff that we do, and that position can sometimes blind us a little to how we perceive what we have created.
Try to identify what areas in the whole production process can be improved or need adjustments to achieve better results.
Compare your production with the work of others, just as a reference, nothing more. Keep in mind that others may have other resources, skills or time doing what they do.
Take from your conclusions what will help you do it better the next time.
6 – Move On
Don’t dwell forever in just one song trying to make it perfect, going back and forth and making desperate changes to make it reach a desired state. Know that the learning process of improvement requires different experiences.
The goal is to do it better each time. Being stuck in one song can produce you to feel frustrated, and then get stuck in that frustration, while in reality, the improvement curve takes time, right? Heck Yeah!
Summary – Ways up your DAW Recording and editing
There are so many factors that have such a big influence in the outcome when it comes to music recording and editing, because of that we need to reduce the improvising elements of these phases. Have a plan, organize everything, use the best gear you can afford, keep it as simple as you can, and don’t let yourself be stuck in any situation!