When you're starting your studio recording career, the whole process can seem a little confusing. It can be hard to get your head around how the process works - and therefore how to get the most out of your time, effort, energy, and money. We’ve discussed this issue in a previous article here.
However, I want to add to that by giving you an alternative way to think about the recording process workflow. Here, I'm going to compare it to baking a cake. And not just any cake off the supermarket shelf for $3... we're talking about making your own incredible cake, from scratch. Let's get those aprons on...
Step 1: The Recipe - Song Writing and Pre-Production
The first thing you need to bake a nice cake is a good recipe. After all, how else will you know which ingredients to include, what quantities are required, and what steps you should follow to put it all together?
In music-making terms, we can think of this as first writing your songs, and then demoing them on your own computer. Pre-production work is your chance to settle on what instrumental parts you need to include in your recording, and how you'd like them to sound tonally. So, before you enter the studio (or kitchen) for real, you've got a nicely balanced recipe to work with and a pretty good idea of how it's going to end up tasting.
Step 2: The Ingredients - Recording
Following a recipe is one thing - but if you want your cake to taste truly delicious, you should start by making sure the ingredients themselves are top quality. You don't want dodgy old carrots in a carrot cake - you want fresh, organic ones, and maybe even home-grown ones at that.
Recording music is no different (although it is hard to grow guitars in your backyard). Great-sounding, well-maintained instruments are what you should be using, and even if you don't have access to top-shelf gear right now, a good studio will have a whole range of it ready for you. The same applies to studio recording gear - you should be using quality microphones, preamps, and converters, so that the instrument sounds are captured authentically.
The raw ingredients matter. A moldy old carrot is not going to somehow transform to be incredibly tasty throughout the baking process. Just like your $40 Cash Converters guitar won’t magically transform to sound like a top of the range American Fender Stratocaster in the mixing process.
Step 3: Ingredient Preparation - Editing
Even if you have the best ingredients, you can't just throw them all in the tin and expect a cake to appear. You need to take care in preparing them - like peeling those carrots just right, and sifting the flour properly.
The studio equivalent is the editing process. You've recorded your tracks, but before we go putting them all together into the mix, we need to make sure they're edited properly. This includes refining any timing issues so everything is sitting well on the beat, and cutting multiple takes together as required to make a complete passage. If you skip this step, your song - just like your cake - may struggle to blend together properly.
Step 4: Blending and Baking - Mixing
Mixing music starts off a lot like mixing the ingredients in a cake. In both cases, it's crucial to add the right amount of each ingredient. That recipe (or demo) from Step 1 will really help guide things here. Even though the carrots themselves might be delicious, if you put too much of them in, you'll just end up eating a bunch of carrots rather than a cake. Similarly, if the produced mix is drum-heavy, then people aren’t listening to a song - they’re listening to a drum solo.
Using just the right amount of each ingredient will help you to create a beautiful cake, just like it will help you to create a balanced, exciting mix. And remember not to overbake it - spending too long mixing can cause your ears to fatigue and your brain to burn out, resulting in poor mixing choices. Don’t burn the cake you’ve worked so hard on!
Step 5: Mastering - The Icing On The Cake
You may have heard that mastering a song is like putting the icing on the cake. Well, that’s exactly right. At this point, just like a cake that's come out of the oven, the song is now baked together, and there’s nothing you can do to fundamentally change it. There’s no point in showing your mastering engineer a picture of a finished and iced banana cake, then requesting that your carrot cake come out the same after mastering.
If the previous steps in this list have gone well, you'll have the equivalent of a delicious cake with great taste, depth, and texture. And, just like icing, the mastering process is a minor bit of enhancement at the end to make what's come out the oven that little bit sweeter and more palatable.
BUT - similarly to putting awful icing on a great cake, mastering can quickly ruin the days/weeks of hard work that has led to this point if not done well and skillfully.
Hopefully this blog has given you an appetite for more recording! And as always, get in touch with us if you'd like to discuss how to get the best out of your next music production.