Complete song production can be split into 2 main parts - music production and audio production. Music production is focused on the music (the song) while audio production is focused on final sound recordings of the song and final sound aesthetics of the song.
Both parts have their optimal phases and they should be done in optimal order. From the song concept/theme and songwriting all the way up to the finalizing audio mastering and master-file authoring.
Here is the structure and optimal order of both parts and their phases:
Song concept and lyrics theme (what the song will be about), references & moodboard
Songwriting (music & lyrics, in any order)
Music arranging (complete song instrumentation, stylization and general song fine-tuning)
Final instruments recording (if needed)
Final vocals recording
Vocals (and instruments) editing
Whole song mixing
MUSIC PRODUCTION - THE DEMO
Song concept / theme
If the customer doesn't have the lyrics finished or even not started writing at all, it's a good thing to get in touch with me and create the concept / theme for the song.
I like to create an Epic Story for the song before the lyrics writing as well as if the lyrics are already written.
Epic Story can help not only for the lyrics writing but also for marketing content creation and music writing and arrangements.
Once we know what is the mission for the song, we will execute the tasks and ideas throughout the the whole song production better and faster.
I also like to create an inspirational playlist of customer's favorite songs that are relevant to actual song production.
If it makes sense, I like to create some kind of moodboard before actual music production. The moodboard can consist of some short audio clips from commercial songs, loops, guitar tones audio examples, drum tone audio examples, or some quick mobile phone recordings the customer collected over time for the song.
The goal here is to collect some pre-demo audio files that represent the vibe, emotions and tones that are relevant for the song.
This stage is crucial for being 100% sure that me and a customer both know what we want to get.
Songwriting & arranging
I gradually build or refine the given song. It mostly works on the basis of my strong independent work, when I continuously send demos to the customer and we discuss everything regarding the given song.
We can also do some in-person revisions or even sessions together for sure, if we are not located far away from each other.
At this stage, the demos I am sending to the customer don't have the final sound aesthetics since they are not properly mixed nor mastered.
The overall sound is still the "demo" sound, using raw/economic tones.
This means that the demo sound is not final, while I am doing my best to send the demos that sound nice and clear. But the demos usually cannot be compared to the commercial references, such like official music videos on YouTube.
Here you can hear how the demo sounds like:
This is how the final master sounds like after the proper final audio production (after mixing & mastering):
The customer is still in control of the song throughout revisions and controls the overall direction of the song.
This is how a complete song demo (music production) is gradually created.
I usually record my voice into the demo as a vocal guide track.
The customer learns the song based on my demos and I can also prepare some demo-stems.
Once the full demo is created and the customer is 100% satisfied with the music we can move forward to the audio production.
AUDIO PRODUCTION - THE FINAL PRODUCT
The first step after the song is written and arranged is the final tracks recordings.
In most cases there is no need to re-record the instruments since I have recorded them professionally during the arranging phase.
We choose together a suitable studio for final vocal/instrument tracks recordings.
The customer can record the final vocal/instrument tracks in any studio in the world and then send recorded tracks back to me for final audio production.
There is also an option to come to Brno (Czech Republic) and to record the final tracks with me personally in one of my network studios (see STUDIOS).
The benefit of recording with me is that the customer gets my in-person coaching during the vocals recording session.
This is how the vocals recording session with me could look like:
Once the final tracks are recorded I close myself in my small home studio again and do the complete audio post-production.
From editing, through mixing to mastering the song.
Audio editing is all about correcting the timing and intonation of recorded tracks.
In 99% of the recordings there are some corrections needed.
Even best singers in the world are using editing techniques in the studio (and sometimes even in real-time on live performances).
To get the proof of this claim you can search for some live performances of top artists and you will notice some minor (and sometimes major) imperfections in their vocal performances.
Yes, there are some exceptions such like Sting, Stevie Wonder or Devin Townsend and some other ones who are absolutely extraordinary singers that I believe doesn't need much editing.
For timing corrections I use the technology called audio quantization, audio stretching as well as manual editing. Sometimes I rely on manual editing because the technologies are not effective and not sounding natural enough yet.
For intonation corrections I use VariAudio feature from Steinberg Cubase. I am not a big fan of automatic real-time intonation corrections such like Auto-tune or Pitch-Correct.
I like to do intonation corrections of the tracks manually, especially vocals.
You can see that I still do a lot of manual editing, but for audio analyzing I like to use the latest audio technologies to save the time and to have the visual control too.
Audio mixing is the next step.
And it's one of the most under-rated steps in audio production along with audio editing.
There can be re-amping, MIDI triggering and re-sampling works before the actual mixing.
These tasks are helping to get better source tones to work with during mixing.
The better the source tones are the better results are.
Re-amping is usually used for electric guitar and bass tones.
But DI (direct-input) signals are needed to be recorded.
MIDI triggering and re-sampling are usually used for drums and percussion replacement or enhancement by another layer(s) of sound.
And if any MIDI files are recorded during recording sessions or during music production, then even keyboard tones can be re-placed or enhanced by another layer of sound(s). This applies to pianos, strings and orchestras, synths etc.
Once the source tones are refined, then actual audio mixing can begin.
Audio mixing is not only about the leveling the individual recorded tracks.
There are much more tasks that affect the song's sound tonal qualities.
Some of the basic audio mixing processing tasks are:
Dynamic processing (Expanding, compression, limiting, de-essing etc.)
Modulation (Chorus, Phaser, Flanger etc.)
Delay & Reverberation
Some of those processing tasks are often applied in several rounds.
And there are some other additional types of processing including multi-band processing or even some special ML / AI processing etc.
So the mixing really is way more than audio leveling.
Audio mixing also is a piece of art.
The art of sound design.
I do mixing 100% ITB (in-the-box) which means that I do mixing completely digital, completely in the DAW on a computer. I don't use any outboard gear.
This is how audio mixing affects the sound of symphonic metal drums:
Once the song is properly mixed, then the finalizing stage comes.
This finalizing stage is called audio mastering.
There are several types and approaches for audio mastering.
But what do they have in common is to make already great mix even better.
To make it translate well across several end-user listening environments and to make it competition-ready with other commercial recordings.
During mastering phase there could be used similar processing tasks to the mixing phase, but also some special ones dedicated for audio mastering.
Mastering should not be corrective. Or at least not too much. If there is something wrong with the mix, then it should be sent back fixed by the mixing engineer. Mastering should be enhancing, polishing and optimizing final phase of audio production. The final touch.
This is an example on how audio mastering can affect the overall sound of a song:
I usually deliver 3 versions of final master files that are different in overall dynamics and loudness:
REDBOOK MASTER - small dynamic range and the loudest possible master, also known as CD-master. Keeping the loudness at up to -6 LUFS or even louder. This is the most compressed, limited or squashed master with some significant distortion. There are still lots of bands and artists asking for that super-loud masters although the Loudness Wars are already gone thanks to the online streaming media algorithms where loud masters have no benefits anymore.
ONLINE MASTER - big dynamic range and the least loud master optimized for online streaming media. Keeping the loudness between -14 LUFS and -12 LUFS. No compression nor limitation on the master bus at all. This master is suitable for all online streaming media as well as for Vinyl.
DYNAMIC MASTER - this is something between the REDBOOK and ONLINE masters, keeping the loudness at around -9 LUFS. This is the perfect master for the most use-cases. It works perfectly for online streaming services such like YouTube too. But in comparison with some of the commercial CD-masters (REDBOOK) it's significantly lower in subjective volume. More and more bands and artists are using this loudness and dynamic range, which is great!
The best practice for choosing the right master version is to simply upload all 3 different files to the streaming media as Not-Public, let the algorithms do their things and then audition all 3 versions and decide which one sounds the best.
There is an example of the same song, but 3 different masters uploaded on YouTube:
Master files authoring
Once the audio mixing and mastering is done, then there could be authoring stage.
Authoring means encoding some meta-data into the master files.
Here are some of the most common and basic meta-data that can be encoded:
If you don't have ISRC code yet, it's not a problem, there are no rules about what meta-data need to be encoded if you are independent artist.
Read more about ISRC here.
HOW TO START THE COLLABORATION WITH ME?
You can contact me via email or you can fill the contact form on my website.
It's great to send me:
The demo of the song we could work on together (if you have one - if not we can create one from scratch)
Some commercial references (YouTube links of the music you like, feel free to send me a lot of music you like)
Epic Story and lyrics for the song (if you already have them)
DO YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS?
Feel free to contact me and ask me anything!
We can discuss for 1 hour, for free.