Reframing the Recording Paradigm

Less than fifteen years ago, million dollar recording budgets were still common in the music industry. Today, only a handful of the most successful performers have access to such resources.

Modern recording budgets are generally smaller and hover in the low five figure range. Many are artist-financed or patron-financed productions and often, don’t even involve record labels.

Even if a recording has a small budget, the end result is still expected to be competitive with recordings that have million dollar budgets. Initially, this may seem impossible, but with careful planning, it is completely achievable.

Recent advances in digital recording technology have been extremely beneficial to projects with minimal budgets. DAW-based systems such as Pro Tools, Logic and even Garageband, provide musicians with previously unattainable access and professional quality results that far outstrip those of the humble multi-track cassette recorders of yore. Compared to the expense of large recording studios, these are affordable tools that offer musicians a workable, DIY solution to their immediate needs.

Remarkable as it is, the technology does not resolve all the issues of modern recording, nor does it provide any kind of feedback or strategic planning throughout a recording project.  As a consequence of lack of feedback and poor preparation, many talented artists wind up releasing music that is subpar. Lately, I find myself increasingly frustrated by a constant stream of new songs that have the elements of greatness and would have achieved their full potential with a few simple adjustments. Unfortunately, by the time they are released, there is nothing that can be done and these tracks fail to attract the attention they would otherwise have received.

All artists understand that fierce competition awaits them in the marketplace and that once they enter it, they will have no second chances. There is also a gradual awareness that music sales are no longer the obvious way to make money and consequently, even for well-established recording artists, resources are disappearing. All this makes it more difficult to witness the multitude of songs (and potentially great artists) that are falling by the wayside due to preventable missteps.

The good news is that these conditions affecting today’s artists are not entirely financially based and can therefore, be improved. When working with a limited budget, careful planning insures that money will be spent wisely.

With this in mind, I have developed a system that can dramatically and strategically boost the final quality level of a recording with respect to any size budget. The key is to allocate resources (time and money) appropriately into the following template. Investing resources, properly and proportionally in each step of this template will maximize results. This approach is kind of like a business plan where the recording project is the business being proposed, while the artist and songs are the assets being managed in order to achieve that business.

For example, in the case of very limited budgets, the pre-production process is absolutely vital. Without this, there is no guarantee that an artist’s songs, which are the undisputed key to his success- will be represented adequately. Pre-production- as well as subsequent quality control throughout the recording process- is a solid investment in building foundational aspects of an artist’s work- and his career.

While it is likely that having a budget to record and mix in a proper environment will result in a great sounding recording, without perfect songs and performances, the sound quality of a recording has little value. Today’s limited budgets require strategic planning and maximum efficiency in the use of time and money.

The template for this system is straightforward and illustrated in stages as follows-

1- Complete Project Flyover and Evaluation-

This stage involves an overview and evaluation of every aspect of the project. The artist’s songs, song arrangements, song orchestrations are all assessed, as is the artist- who the artist is, what expectations does the artist have regarding the recording project, etc. This stage will also touch on suggestions regarding what kind of recording configuration will be optimal given the genre of music being recorded, potential recording venues, potential guest performers, etc. This information is shared as data with relevant individuals on project, on request. Objective analysis of the project as a whole prior to recording is highly beneficial to planning it efficiently.

2- Pre-pre-production-

This stage involves working one on one with the artist to address and enhance every aspect of the recording project, including songs, song arrangements, song orchestrations and performance. It also addresses interpersonal aspects such as focus, band dynamics, etc. The material must be solid and ready to be rehearsed and the overall mission of the project must be established before pre-production can begin

3- Pre-production-

This stage integrates everything that has been established in the first two stages in a rehearsal setting with all the performers. It includes recap and implementation of the the pre-pre-production stage, extensive rehearsal of all the songs to be recorded and further modification to songs, arrangements, etc where needed. It also includes honing band performances (as well as individual players) and finalization of all material in preparation for recording. It is imperative that the material and the band are thoroughly prepared prior to recording.

4- Recording-

This stage focuses exclusively on recording and performing all the material that was developed, honed and rehearsed in the two previous stages. It also addresses getting optimal instrument sounds that reflect and represent the unique character of the artist and their recording, and insuring that only the best performances are used for the final product. When the material and performances are captured, the physical recording is completed

5- Mix-

This stage involves collating and combining all the material previously recorded into one integrated body of work, creating an overall sound for the project, and drawing the project to its close.

6- Mastering-

This stage involves finalizing levels and tones between songs so everything is in parity and the project is now an integrated body of work.

10 responses to “Reframing the Recording Paradigm”

  1. good and interesting article michael!

    my take is that i think it depends on the music he/she is making. there is more room for trashy/bad quality sounds with punk, rockabilly and most indie music. like for instance the cramps, or the libertines etc, but for more pop, alternative rock and metal stuff like coldplay or korn, you would expect an expensive sound – (any band releasing that stuff as their first album would have to be up to that standard). the nashville stuff kinda falls in between the 2.

    i always look for great songs that contain catchy melodies/hooks/good chords and good vocals, rather than a production sound (do you buy a pink floyd record for its vocals, or the ‘sound’) id buy an album of acoustic songs if they were brilliant. each to their own i guess!



  2. I have read your article carefully and I agree with you very much. This has provided a great help for my thesis writing, and I will seriously improve it. However, I don’t know much about a certain place. Can you help me?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *