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Music production

What is a music production? How does it work?

Table of contents

Music production is the process of creating a musical work that is usually intended for (commercial) publication. The sound carriers and the level of quality can vary greatly. In technical jargon, the project or the result is often simply referred to as “production”. The

recording studio

where all processes come together, is the linchpin of modern music production. A recording studio can be a home studio in a hobby room, but it can also be a highly professional facility in which entire choirs and orchestras can be recorded using high-quality technology. Nowadays, productions are mainly made directly in the studio on

digital audio workstations (DAW)

but there are also recordings that are made outside the studio (live or field recordings) and then post-processed in the studio.

As a rule, the

music producer

whose role in the production is very individual, takes on the artistic and technical direction. For demanding productions, the artistic direction is the responsibility of the sound engineer. Modern technical developments have had a strong leveling effect, i.e. with hardware and software worth a few thousand euros, professional results can be achieved at home – provided you have the know-how and talent. In the past, you had to book an expensive professional studio for this. Since many professional musicians now also do at least the pre-production in their own home studio, the utilization and number of large studios as well as the quality have declined.

Step 1: Songwriting (draft)

It all starts with the idea. Be it a melody, a passage of text or a rough theme. Even a stylistic idea. Whatever your inspiration is, you can’t do without it. Tip: Never lose sight of this “original impulse”. Otherwise you could end up with a “patchwork song” that consists of many great elements but lacks a common thread. Once a good idea is born, we have to concretize it, build up the song.

Elements are written or composed, variations are tried out and tweaked until the rough framework is in place. This also includes the approximate length of the song. You can find out what a song structure can look like in this article on delamar: Song structure in the charts. Once the scaffolding is in place, the finishing touches are applied. In this phase, chords can be refined, the vocal melody adapted or individual text passages revised.

Step 2: Pre-production

In the case of music productions, pre-production usually involves an arrangement at the draft stage, which is intended to give the client a first impression and, for reasons of time and cost, is usually created using software instruments and samples based on the MIDI standard. The standardized General MIDI sounds (GM) no longer play a role due to their lower quality. If the draft is accepted, the actual production begins with studio musicians (or also with high-quality software samplers), in the case of film music often with an orchestra.

Step 3: Recording - Recording studio recording & process (Recording)

Once everyone has mastered their parts, it’s off to the recording studio. This is where the actual recording of the song begins. The desired direction should be clarified in a (preliminary) discussion with the sound engineer. Perhaps the sound engineer has some ideas or tricks up his sleeve to give the song a special touch. If you can afford it or want to, you can involve a producer in the development of the song. Ideally, this person should already have been involved in pre-production. In the studio, he ensures that the band and the song develop their full potential.

The instruments should all be working and restringed, the singer should be healthy and all uninvolved people should be sent home. This enables stress-free, creative recording. If everything goes well, there may even be some budget left over for experiments in the end.

Step 4: Editing

Sound editing (audio processing) is usually the task of the sound engineer. It selects the best recordings and takes, removes background noise and unwanted breathing in the vocals and, if necessary, cuts several recordings into a perfect track. The timing and groove are also optimized in this step. Some bands prefer to do this time-consuming work themselves in their home studio. Either way: Only those who are actually involved in the editing and later the mixdown remain in the studio. These are usually the sound engineer, the producer and perhaps another band member.

Step 5: Mixing

Mixing is about combining the many tracks and instruments of a song in such a way that the song becomes greater than the sum of its individual parts. The sound engineer makes sure that the instruments don’t get in each other’s way, that the important elements come to the front and can assert themselves. Particularly important: the singing must be easy to understand at all times, because it is the lyrics that appeal to people emotionally. In this step, additional effects can also be applied to individual tracks to get closer to the sound of the original or to enhance the mood. You should have chosen a reference song for this step. It doesn’t matter whether you do it yourself or hire a professional in a recording studio: the reference should set the bar high.

Step 6: Mastering

Even if some sound engineers may disagree, mastering is no longer about creativity. This is the final intervention in the audio material to bring it to the correct volume and make any small changes with the equalizer.

It gets more creative when it’s not just a single song, but an entire album that goes into mastering. Here, the person responsible makes sure that the songs are all almost equally loud or develop over the entire length of the album in such a way that the listener is taken on a journey. During mastering, the song or album is prepared according to all conventions (e.g. Red Book CD standard) so that the so-called

glass master

can be produced.

Step 7: Export - The final step of the music production process

Finally, a master file of the song or album is exported, from which the copies are created on CD, vinyl or as MP3. Depending on the planned publication, different versions of the master can also be created in the previous step. The CD production process only differs from song production in the last few meters.

What happens after the music production?

Now all the music production steps have been completed and the finished song can be released. There are also some important questions to clarify here. How do you get your music onto the usual platforms such as Spotify, Apple etc.? – This can be done via a label or via a distributor as a self-release. In any case, special streaming mastering is recommended. But that is usually not enough. To make the song successful, the next step was to produce a music video, pitch the song on playlists and promote it via various platforms such as magazines, blogs and radio. All of this is initially the responsibility of the artist – but as a producer who wants to push his artist and his music, these tasks can ultimately contribute to the success of audio music production.

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