There is nothing much better than listening back to final masters and being blown away by how they sound. It's an indescribable feeling and makes all the hard work and dedication with the writing and recording feel totally worth it.
We all want to obtain polished-sounding mixes that exceed our expectations and fulfill the creative vision we have in our heads. But for most DIY unsigned artists, it's easier said than done, especially when operating on a limited budget.
Yet, thanks to the marvel of modern technology, aspiring bands and musicians can explore an enormous range of sound possibilities when it comes to producing new music. Pro-level equipment is becoming increasingly more powerful, affordable, and accessible.
Unless your music is complemented with a high-quality and balanced mix it'll likely fall on deaf ears. In this article, I'll share some tips on how you can navigate the process of creating professional sounding recordings without needing to break the bank.
It's easier now than ever before to achieve great sounding recordings
In the past, signed artists would be offered generous advances to work in expensive recording studios for months at a time while using prestigious gear, including legendary console boards and analog outboard equipment.
Nowadays, many musicians (both signed and DIY) prefer to opt for a more flexible and cost-effective alternative to recording an album. As a result, we see many singles and records topping the billboard charts that have been recorded in bedrooms and home recording studios.
How is this possible? The power of technology. Whether it's utilizing convincing virtual instruments that sound almost identical to real instruments, or plugins and effects that emulate authentic analog outboard gear with accuracy, you can create compelling music all from a computer.
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Technology and connectivity allow people nowadays to create music with virtually zero limitations. All that's really needed to get started is a modest recording setup with a laptop with recording software installed, an audio interface, a microphone, and a pair of good headphones!
Now, if you're looking to bring your creative vision to life and want to record studio-quality music that's ready for release on digital platforms, read on to discover some of my top tips to help you achieve professional-quality recordings on a budget!
1. You don't need to hire an expensive studio to record great sounds
Unless you've got serious dollar bills to splash, there's really no need to pay for a fancy live room to record your instruments or vocals in. The going day rate hire cost of a decent live room is sky-high already, let alone an esteemed world-class recording facility.
Let's say you were planning to record drums for an album over five or six days; that studio taxi-meter will add up big time. That's even before you account for the cost of an engineer joining you for the session.
Truthfully, you can achieve exceptional quality recordings in a home studio. Drums are widely considered the most challenging part of creating an album. I recently worked with a talented producer in his well-equipped home recording studio to lay down drums for my upcoming EP. The result was some of the best drum sounds either of us had ever captured.
We shared the sentiment that the recipe for killer drum sounds is the following:
A great-sounding professional drum set that is tuned well.
A selection of well-placed drum microphones.
A solid drummer who can play his or her parts.
A good engineer with a good approach to recording.
At the end of the day, the room that the performance was captured in has a pretty negligible influence on the sound compared to these other sonic factors, not forgetting the songwriting too!
Furthermore, you can treat a room to kill reflections by adding duvets, blankets, or foam tiles to absorb the sound and create artificial room sounds with reverb plugins.
2. Record as much yourself as you can
It's a good idea for modern musicians to try to be as self-sufficient as possible. By doing so, you'll be able to take the full creative reins of your project, save a lot of time and money, plus not have to rely on outsourcing other freelancers for large portions of work.
Try and push yourself to learn new skills, such as music production or graphic design, because it will help you execute and fulfill your creative vision without breaking the bank. In addition, I would highly suggest investing in a basic recording setup and recording as much as you feel confident.
In today's day and age, popular bands and musicians are consistently proving to us that we can all achieve great sounding records on a budget and in flexible home recording studio setups. The equipment you need is affordable and totally sufficient for producing releasable music.
If you don't feel quite ready, spend some time learning and practicing new techniques to build confidence. You can learn practically anything with YouTube, and there's a ton of great educational online music resources.
With this being said, be conscious of cutting corners with your technique and approach because this will likely become present in the finished product. Great recordings begin at the source. So maintain quality control when it comes to your performances, tuning, levels, and microphone placement.
The more you can record yourself to a high standard, the better. Also, don't be afraid to tap into your network if you need some help along the way.
3. Search for the right engineers or producers to work with
Unless you are very experienced and confident with music production, it's probably not the smartest idea to undertake the complete recording process alone. At the very least, you'll want to outsource the mixing and mastering to someone with more experience in your stylistic genre.
The ideal person to choose will be someone who has previously worked on creating music that you really like the sound of. In addition to finding someone who can also work within your budget, you'll want to find someone excited about your project.
Thanks to advancements in technology and connectivity, we can now collaborate together with other creative individuals from anywhere in the world! That means you can hire an engineer to edit, or mix and master your songs remotely.
There are many ways you can find talented individuals to work with—research some up-and-coming producers in similar genres to the music you're making. Or you might know some students studying audio engineering courses at university looking to expand their network.
There are also lots of producer and audio engineer-related groups on Facebook where aspiring engineers post songs and mixes for critique. It could definitely be worth reaching out to some of these individuals!
Once you know what you would like to achieve sonically with your music, you can discuss the project and get an idea for your chemistry before making a decision. This way you can be sure you're both excited about the music and can hopefully bring about great results.
Gideon Waxman is a London based drummer and music educator, who holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Westminster. You can find more of his advice over at Drum Helper - one of the web's most popular free online drumming resources.
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