How to Produce a Full-Length Album (Without Going Crazy)
Recording a full-length album can be a huge undertaking. It takes a ton of preparation, organization, and determination. But if you do it right, it can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your career. In this blog, we’ll show you how to streamline each part of the process and produce a full-length album without going crazy.
Nobody is going to buy your record for the cover art. That’s why your first step is to decide which songs you want to include on your album.
Start by identifying which songs resonate the most with your fans. Try performing a new song at your next live show or sharing a demo with a few close friends to gauge their reactions.
Recording a song can take a lot of time, effort, and money. So why bother recording a song that people aren’t that interested in? There’s no magic rule that says your album has to be 10 or 12 tracks long, either. If you have 6 or 8 amazing tracks, just record those!
To save time (and potentially money) in the studio, you need to map out every detail of each song before you start recording. First, make sure you’ve written and rehearsed all of the parts for every song.
Then finalize all of the technical details, like song titles, as well as the key and tempo of each song. It’s also a good idea to write down the kind of sound you’re going for with each instrument, like “wide, distorted rhythm guitar” or “clean bass with lots of subs.”
The more thorough you are during pre-production, the simpler the rest of the process will be. Start by creating a spreadsheet or even a chart on a whiteboard to help you keep track of what still needs to be done in the recording, editing, mixing, and mastering stages.
On the left, write down the name of each song. Then create columns for different tasks, grouped by which stage they occur in. For instance, in the recording stage, you would include columns for drums, bass, guitars, lead vocals, background vocals, overdubs, and anything else you plan on recording.
In the editing stage, you would include columns for different tasks like comping, quantizing, and tuning. The mixing and mastering stages would have checkboxes for the first draft, revisions, and final mix.
There are several different ways to approach recording an album. With the traditional method, you write and rehearse all of the music to a click track at home, then block out the studio for a few days and record everything at once.
When working with live musicians, one common mistake is trying to record all of the drum parts for every song, then all of the bass parts and so on. This inevitably causes two problems; the recordings get worse over time because the musician gets burnt out, and the rest of the band becomes disinterested in the session.
Instead, try recording one song at a time, then moving on to the next track. This will help keep everyone feeling fresh and motivated as you complete songs.
This approach can also be useful for those who are just starting out. Unlike full-time musicians, most artists releasing their first record are also working day jobs or in school, which makes it harder to find time to record. This method allows you to release songs as you go, building your audience as you complete your record.
In some cases, you may need to book some time in a commercial facility to ensure the best sound. With some instruments, like drums, a well-treated space and an array of high-quality mics are rather essential to attaining a professional sound. To help reduce studio expenses, you can record some of the tracks at home—especially soft synths and direct inputs.
When recording a song, it’s typically best to build the track from the bottom up, meaning you begin with the drums, then add the bass and the core rhythm instrument like guitar before recording lead and background vocals. Then you can circle back and overdub additional parts or punch in to re-record anything that needs cleaning up.
While some tracks will sound better when recorded organically, recording to a click track will make the editing and mixing stages much easier and help you achieve a more professional sound. Some artists prefer to perform along with a demo recording or scratch track for a less rigid feel, which is fine as long as the demo was recorded with a click as well.
It’s important to finish pre-production on every track before moving to the recording stage. There is a little more flexibility between the recording and editing stages. However, it’s important to stay organized.
After you’re finished recording the first track, you can begin the editing process as you continue recording the rest of your tracks. That way, you can finish editing a few songs by the time you wrap up recording!
During the editing stage, it’s best to follow a checklist to make sure you don’t miss anything, but a few areas that require special attention are; removing silence, applying fades, comping, correcting timing issues, applying pitch correction and listening for technical errors.
For some projects, mixing and mastering will both be done in-house. For others, you may work with a mastering engineer to finalize tracks and prepare them for distribution.
If you take the “all at once” approach, it’s typically best to wait until all of the songs are mixed before moving to mastering so you can make all of the tracks sound cohesive. Alternatively, if you record one song at a time, you can use the final mix and master of the first track as a template for the tracks that follow.
When working with multiple tracks recorded at the same studio, you can typically use the same signal chain as a starting point on the next mix.
For instance, if you dial in a killer vocal sound on the first track, there’s no need to start from scratch on the next track unless you’re going for a completely different sound. Instead, create a template in your DAW and import the files for each mix.
Of course, you’ll need to tweak the settings a bit to find the perfect sound for each track, but this approach can significantly speed up your workflow.
Another useful tip for staying on track while mixing is to use reference mixes. Plug-ins like REFERENCE make it easy to quickly compare your mix to your favorite tracks to make sure you’re in the right ballpark.
After dialing in the first mix, spend some time away from the track to refresh your ears. When you listen back the next day, check your mix on a few different systems to test the translation and take note of any problems you hear. After a round of revisions, repeat the process until you’re happy with the mix.
Before moving to the mastering stage, it’s important that you listen closely to your final mix for technical issues and make sure you love the way it sounds. Mastering shouldn’t make your track sound much different than it already is—it should only enhance what you’ve already done with the mix.
Before submitting your final master, it’s important to listen closely and make sure there are no technical issues with your track—especially when it comes to volume levels. Use LEVELS to check your mix and make sure it’s the proper level for your desired distribution method.
It’s also important to make sure you have all of your administrative work in order before moving to mastering. I know it’s not exactly the sexiest part of music production, but misspelling the name of your album in the metadata is something you can never undo.
That’s why it’s so vital to prepare (and double-check) all of your metadata before moving to mastering. Each distribution platform requires different metadata, so check with your provider to see exactly what you’ll need, but it’s safe to assume you’ll need the basics like artist name, album name and track title.
If you’ve chosen to release the whole album all at once, as opposed to releasing singles over time, there’s one more thing you need to take care of—sequencing.
The order your songs go in has a huge impact on how your audience perceives them, so take some time to carefully sequence your tracks. Listen closely to the transitions between each song and make sure everything flows together seamlessly.
Once you’re happy with the way each individual song sounds, as well as the record as a whole, it’s finally time to pick a release date and start promoting your new full-length album!