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« Top 5 Rules To Making Money Doing Music | Main | Book Your Own Tour (Introduction) »
Wednesday
Sep152010

How to Record an Album in 7 Days

This guest post is by Chris Blundell, he is an artist, writer and also directing a comedy movie (about the music industry, naturally)

We, as modern musicians, are spoilt. We can have anything we want in a snap. Instruments from Abbey Road, snap. Ultra high resolution Pro-Tools recording, snap. Performing an entire set using only a mobile phone, snap.

So, when anyone can record a song, why are so few people recording quality albums?

Because they require focus.

When you have 50 unfinished tracks floating around, how can you pick 10 to fit together into an album? A good album isn’t simply a collection of songs thrown together, often they are written and recorded during the same sessions. Unlike single songs, albums require a focus on the bigger picture. How will the songs sound next to each other? What order would they work best in? Do all the tracks belong on there?

Why are we so unfocused?

I have around 40 – 50 unfinished tracks lying around, they’ve been unfinished for months.  Occasionally, I check back in with one, change it around to sound a little like some of the music I’m currently listening to, think of it as 90% finished and then leave it on the shelf for another few months where I repeat the same steps all over again. Sound familiar?

Musicians live in a world where logic and planning is second to creativity and artistry. However, with a little discipline, spontaneity and planning can mix. And I’ll show you how.

Making it happen

The first thing you need to do is commit yourself. Choose a start day and prepare yourself for working 9:00am to 5:00pm  for the next seven days. You probably work a week like this for someone else (give or take an hour for lunch!), why not do it for yourself?

The second thing you need to do is to test your equipment to make sure everything works, have spare strings/batteries/cables ready and have a pen and pad of paper to take notes.

Finally, take 30 minutes to set yourself up a template in your audio workstation of choice (Pro-Tools, Logic, Ableton Live etc…). Try and pre-plan what instrument tracks your most likely to use (e.g. Drums, bass, 2 x guitars, 2 x vocals, keyboard a reverb and delay send/return track usually work for me). Add them all and save the project. When you come to start recording your tracks, this enables you to start quickly and keep your creative groove.

Using the following structure, you’ll learn to work efficiently and commit to decisions without losing any precious creativity.

Day 1: Writing

Today’s aim is to simply get as many ideas down as possible. So lets start:
1.    Take a blank project in your DAW (not your template project just yet!). Plug in your instrument, press record on your DAW/tape recorder and do what you’re best at: create!
2.    Every time you have a great idea, write down the time on the DAW clock and give it a working name (e.g. ‘Heavy Metal chugging riff’).
3.    Move onto the next idea.
4.    Repeat.
   
Working in this way keeps ideas fresh and stops the infinite loop of tweaking a great idea for hours until you eventually finish with the original. You want to keep ideas fresh and then move on to the next one, we’ll start refining them tomorrow. Recording them all is simply for reference for tomorrow.

Day 2: Refining

Today we’re adding flesh to the bare bones of our original ideas.
1.    Choose one of your favourite ideas.
2.    Play around with your idea trying extra melodies with it, lyrics, harmonies and generally fleshing out the idea.
3.    Spend around 30 minutes for each idea until you have between 12 and 14 fleshed out ideas.
   
Once again, keeping moving is the key. Don’t think too much, don’t worry about making everything perfect. Feel free to join two or more ideas together or even throw away ideas that simply don’t work. Make sure you write down/roughly record all ideas and lyrics!

Day 3: Recording

The fun part begins today, recording rough versions of your songs!

1.    Open a fresh DAW template.
2.    Set your metronome and arm a track to record.
3.    Record one take of that instrument.
4.    Arm the next track and record the next instrument, again in one take.
5.    Repeat the steps until you have a draft of your song.

Start a new DAW template for all of your ideas. Spend around 30 minutes on the song (just enough time for about 6 instruments to be recorded once each).

You will be able to go back a rerecord certain sections of the song, so don’t worry that you didn’t get everything in the first go. However, do concentrate and try to record everything to the best of your ability. Playing guitar with a cigarette in your mouth may look cool, but you’ll be kicking yourself when the smoke in your eyes make you mess up that wicked solo.

Day 4: Editing

We’re simply replacing all of the bad parts of yesterday’s recordings with the good parts!

1.    In your DAW, open one of yesterday’s recorded songs.
2.    Choose the first instrument track in the song.
3.    Solo the track so that you can hear just the track and the metronome.
4.    Listen to the track, split it and mark the sections that sound best.
5.    Take the best chorus, copy it and then paste it over the other choruses, do the same with the verses, bridges, etc…
6.    Move onto the next instrument track and repeat steps 3-6 until you have tidied all of your tracks.

Do this for all of your songs. Spend around 30 minutes on each song.

Today you will see some tracks really progress. This tidying technique can take a sloppy track and turn it into a good track, very quickly. As long as you have one good take of each section, then they’ll come together quickly. If not, then we have tomorrow to look forward to!

Day 5: Rerecording / Arranging

Some songs may still not be sounding to your liking, so today we rerecord those parts.

1.    Open one of your songs in your DAW.
2.    Listen to it once through and make a note of things that need changing/fixing. This could be moving a section, muting an instrument, adding intro/outro’s, plugin/instrument choices, timing, out of tune notes or incorrect chords.
3.    Make the changes.
4.    Rerecord only the sections that you feel need rerecording.

Do this for all of your songs. Spend around 30 minutes on each song.

Do not take this time to rerecord everything that you have. This is the point where self-doubt can creep in, don’t listen to it! Just re-record the small sections that you feel need to be changed. Your tracks at this stage should nearing completion. If you do have any niggles by the end of today, don’t worry, you will still have the chance to perform final tweaks.

Day 6: Mixing

Now your tracks are almost complete, we will start to polish them.

1.    Fire up your DAW and pick a song.
2.    Pull the volume faders down for all of your tracks.
3.    Press play on your DAW.
4.    Raise the volume of your drums so that the volume is peaking at around -3db.
5.    Bring up the volume of your bass track so that the level sounds right with the drums.
6.    EQ the drums and the bass so that they gel together.
7.    If you have any vocal tracks, now is the time to bring up the levels and tweak the EQ and compression so that they fit with the drums and bass.
8.    Bring up the volume of the rest of the instruments one by one tweaking EQ and compression as you go.

Do this for all of your songs. Spend around 30 minutes on each song.

The above technique is a very efficient way of mixing because you gradually build the track instrument by instrument. It also helps you to arrange the track as often, you can find some sections of tracks aren’t needed. You have a little homework for this evening: burn all of your tracks onto a CD. Listen to your CD on multiple systems. Car CD players, small CD players, on headphones and through Hi-Fi speakers. Any mixing problems will start to show themselves. Make notes on what needs to be tweaked on your songs. e.g. too much bass on guitar, lower vocals, more reverb on keyboard etc..

Day 7: Tweaking & Mastering

Today, the final sheen is added to make the album sound good as a whole.

1.    Open up your songs in your DAW.
2.    Using your notes as a reference, make the final tweaks to your songs.
3.    Render all your songs to .wavs/.aiffs.
4.    Create a blank project on your DAW.
5.    Create as many audio tracks as you have songs.
6.    Add EQ to each track and a multi-band compressor (bypassed for the moment) on the master track.
7.    Import your audio files into the project in the order you want them in, one on each track, stagger the timing of each so that they follow each other sequentially.
8.    Listen through to your tracks. Choose the track that’s mixed most pleasingly to you and tweak the EQ for the other tracks so that they sound good played next to that track. Bear in mind that your not trying to EQ to make it sound exactly the same as your ‘best mixed’ track, just enough so that there isn’t a big difference in tone when it jumps from one track to the next.
9.    Turn on your master compressor and tweak the settings so that it adds a small amount of compression to catch any stray volume peaks in your tracks
10.    Render your album as it’s individual tracks and burn to CD
11.    Pat yourself on the back, you’ve just recorded an album in 7 days!

Congratulations! Not only should you see this as a personal achievement, but you have learned techniques that will help you write, record and produce music faster and more efficiently than before. Now you just need to find a gap in your diary for your second masterpiece!

Reader Comments (7)

Great post, Chris - very inspiring! I personally don't have the luxury of 7 consecutive days to devote to it, but it's a great blueprint for working on an album in 7 days, regardless of gaps in between.

I've been despairing over lack of time available for working on my music, but this idea certainly gives a ray of hope that I'll actually be able to record that album. Thanks.

September 20 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine Hol

good try pal!

no one records anything decent in 7 days!

HERE ARE SOME REAL STEPS:

1. spend a week listening to albums of a specific genre that you're aiming for. Try to avoid outside sounds or live shows, unless that sound is your aim. even if you listen to these albums everyday...put on head phones and start taking notes! take notes on how each song is structured and how long the solos are, where the vocal harmonies sit etc....

2. tweak and re tweak and work on your old songs and write a few new ones. look at the notes you took and start thinking about those classic album you heard. ie if the Beatles sold over 100 million albums there's a very specific method to the song structures, lyrical content and musicianship that had to do with it. And it was very intentional and well thought out. same with Nirvana, and Garth brooks....and whoever....

3. HIre the best engineer in town! STOP WASTING MONEY for a month. I mean stay at home and Literally eat nothing but kraft dinner... you always heard stories about poor musicians eating crap food ....and being poor....this is one of the reasons why. You will find this person at the biggest Rock club in town behind a sound board on the busiest night of the week, or down the road drinking coffee next to the biggest recording studio in town. be persistent and tell him your ideas and budget....nothing less than $1000 for three songs.
He will know where the good equipment is to rent, where the good producers are and how it all works...the guys at the music store will not.

4. Find a way to work out a budget with him and a timeline...a set deadline!
Hire musicians or friends and begin rehearsals. 2 months of hard core rehearsals and you'll begin to hear the songs properly. Hard core means, early mornings late nights and sober! make this happen this is your dream man!!!! drink after....

5. Get into that studio and record....your songs will change again. Now you will start to see where your weaknesses lay. you will begin thinking about your songs in a different way.
and you will start practicing harder as a musician to get them right.

6. Find the best mastering studio in town and master your best song between $200-500 these are in the yellow pages...also ask your engineer.

7. Now take that mastered song and send it out to radio and every record producer you can find. You can find lists in books that you must BUY! such as the INDIE BIBLE and MUSICIANS Directory.

8. Eventually you will meet someone who likes it. and by then you will have enough experience to start working on recording your own songs at home. And then bring them to the big boys to polish and re record properly.

ANYONE who thinks that they can write, track, engineer and master on their own and do it well is a fool!

Most greats...had a team behind them who were also GREATS with lifetimes of experience. Be humble and focus on what YOU do best! WRITE and PERFORM music.

Never give up! This will cost money! and be prepared to lose ALOT of it before anyone notices!

CHEERS!

September 28 | Unregistered CommenterDee

@Dee:

Good music does not revolve around money spent on making it. More so, I think you're missing the point. Creating a quality album is more about the writing and arrangement than it is the production values, and this approach reflects that: it focuses primarily on writing and actually MAKING MUSIC quickly and efficiently, and a lot less on making that music sound professional and well-produced.

December 12 | Unregistered CommenterSean

I am a musician and I'm poor. I don't know what world you grew up in, but In my world I can't simply have whatever I want in a snap. How am I supposed to get to your seemingly heavenly world when I have nothing but my guitar and my music?

July 25 | Unregistered CommenterAriana Rifkin

Are you kidding me? the cost of making an album has never been lower. a $200 pc and a $50 recording interface will give you cd quality, 16 bit, 44.1k audio. Software like audacity is free, garageband comes with every mac (you can get a 2/3 year old macbook pro for like $500) and any m-powered box will give you a basic version of the industry standard pro tools so you can take your mix to any studio in the world to get it mixed and mastered. Even the knowledge is free, there's a mountain of free tutorials on youtube covering every topic on music production.

September 13 | Unregistered CommenterGerry

@Dee
Obviously you cant produce great songs on shitty software because it'd just sound, well, shit! but you do not have to go and spend £100's (or $100's) on paying people to do it for you, because everyone mix's and masters songs differently, everyone has their own opinion in what should be louder, what should be quieter etc. I agree with Gerry, a macbook is a great way of recording music because of the free software package of 'garage band', even though I havent got a mac myslef, i have used the software and for people who want to record for the first time, its a great option!

November 29 | Unregistered CommenterJack

The cost of production is nill wjen you have the gear already!

June 8 | Unregistered Commenterrob greco

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