The Music Production Process

A good understanding of music production process is perhaps the most common hangup of the novice producer, engineer or songwriter. Without the experience of watching professionals do their thing, the novice is left with either a trial and error approach, or will end up following production concepts they read in an industry magazine.

The music production process itself is always unique to the artist. There is no single method, one could use, that would work for every artist. Most of these situations require years of recording and production experience to fully understand. Working in a commercial recording studio is absolutely the best way to gain this experience. By watching many different producers and engineers work their craft you be filled with a tremendous number of ideas for approaching the day to day problems that arise when producing music. Let's begin!


Music Production Basics

The study of any art or discipline always starts with fundamental building blocks. These are typically considered tried and true methods or ways of working that yield positive results on a consistent basis. In music, these music production basics are the basis from which all other decisions are made. Once a stumbling block in the process comes up, intelligent decisions can usually be made to achieve the desired result.

Over the years I have found that the procedures and tools used by most professionals in the music production process are very similar in concept and design. The reason is simple, they work! Even though the personalities and the dialog may appear different on the surface, the underlying process is mostly the same.The following articles will outline many of the concepts and working methods of the music producer when approaching various production situations. How these methods are applied will vary from artist to artist.


Music Production Step by Step

Let's start by breaking down the music production process into it's most basic traditional formula. While many people will skip some steps outlined here, in my experience, when the steps are followed and completed individually, better results are typically achieved.

Step 1: Writing the Song
Step 2: Recording a Demo
Step 3: Rehearsals
Step 4: Basic Tracks
Step 5: Overdubbing
Step 6: Editing Music
Step 7: Music Mixing Part 1
Step 7: Music Mixing Part 2
Step 7: Music Mixing Part 3
Step 8: Mastering

Each step is critical and has a specific purpose in the music production process. Skipping steps or combining steps usually results in a less than desirable result. There is a myth that skipping steps in the process outlined here will somehow save time and money. The fact is that if you skip any of the steps outlined above, the process will take far longer and create far more work in the long run.

If you were building a house and paid little attention to the foundation and all your attention to the part of the house that you see, eventually you will start to have problems. To then go back and deal with the foundation properly will become extraordinarily more difficult and time consuming. Recording a song is no different if you ignore the early steps of creating a demo and rehearsing the song you will not have built a solid foundation to work from when laying the basic tracks. Every subsequent overdub will then be compromised, and fixing the recording will become an exercise like a dog chasing its tail.


We'll Fix it in the Mix!

There is an old joke in the recording industry that revolves around this idea of working too quickly to get things done. When anything in a music production is not addressed and completed fully, there is a residual effect on the rest of the production that brings the production as a whole down. As soon as you start piling issues on top of issues, you are doomed.

When these issues are left to be dealt with later, it will take hours of time to get back into the intricacies of the performance, enter the same mindset and make good decisions about how to correct the problems. Often these issues are better addressed by spending an extra five minutes to just do a better take, or taking the time to finish your comps or edits before moving on to the next task.

To complete the story here, when issues in the tracking session are not dealt with properly, the saying is: "We''ll fix it in the overdubs". When the overdubs fail to correct the issues of the tracking session: "We'll fix it in the mix". And when the mix does not have the luster of a finished production, "We'll fix it in the Mastering". I think it was Frank Zappa who famously said once in a Mastering session, "We'll fix it in the shrink wrap".

The bottom line here is that any compromise in the production process is one that will leave the overall product in a state that is less than its potential. For thousands of years music has been a live art form. It was an expression of ideas, feelings, insights and emotion that when well presented, leave the listener in a transformed state.

Relatively, the art of capturing that art in physical form has been going on for a very short period of time and the technology is changing faster than the artist can keep up with. As soon as one loses sight of this fundamental truth, the technology takes over the production process and what you are left with is something that may look shiny and powerful on the surface, but is really hollow and lifeless and soon forgotten.


The Music Production Process Begins

Every recording starts with an idea, an inspiration or an 'accidental' occurrence. Whatever jump starts the process, a song is written. It is inspiring and full of emotion and promise to the songwriter. Because the songwriter wrote the song, it makes perfect sense to them, but not necessarily to anyone else. The music production process has then begun...

It is in this spirit that I present to you a tried and true music production process that keeps the bigger picture in mind while attempting to make use of all the incredibly valuable tools that have been provided to us. This is not about making technology right or wrong, it's about putting it in its proper place. Any tool misused, will create a bad product. The same tool used for the right reasons and with respect to the best interests of the song can be incredible.

The following articles will break down each step in music production process while keeping this larger vision in mind. Remember, it's all about the song!


Step 1: Writing a Song

Step 2: Recording a Demo

Step 3: Rehearsals

Step 4: Recording Basic Tracks

Step 5: Overdubbing

Step 6: Editing Music

Step 7: Music Mixing Part 1

Step 7: Music Mixing Part 2

Step 7: Music Mixing Part 3

Step 8: Mastering


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