Getting Started: Your First Peek Behind the Curtain

Welcome to my blog! I've created this blog to help you and your group save money while also creating the amazing recorded a cappella product you desire. The explanations, tips, and tricks that I give you in this blog apply to natural sounding recordings as well as the hyper-produced is-anyone-actually-singing-on-this-track? recordings that you hear coming from all levels of a cappella groups these days.

So lets get started with an overview of the whole production process of making a recording. I'll go into more detail in future posts and videos so this will be a summary of the process.

Step #0 - Pre-production

Before you ever step foot in front of a microphone, you have to do the most important step. Pre-production. To me, this actually starts with the audition process for your group. The sound of your album depends on the singers who are adding their voices to the recording. If your goal is to have an energetic musical album with lots of personality then you need to have singers that can give you that. Along those lines, when you choose songs to arrange, you need to make sure you have singers and soloists who can sing those songs. If you don't have the singers, don't choose those songs.

Pre-production also includes stating an overall goal and vision for the recording, creating a schedule for the recording (start with the desired release date and work back from there... you do not want to be rushed), selecting songs, tweaking arrangements for the studio, preparing guide tracks, rehearsing with recording in mind (it's a different experience than singing live), and choosing a producer for the recording whether it be a member of the group or someone outside the group.

See what I mean?

Step #1 - Tracking - the actual recording of the material

On most a cappella tracks today, the vast majority of recording is done individually. Each singer sings by themselves into a microphone. There is usually some type of guide track playing while they sing so that they have a pitch and time reference. At the end of this process, you have a bunch of raw tracks that fit together but might have tuning and timing issues here and there. These are fixed in editing.

Step #2
Editing - the recorded material is tuned and time corrected to varying degrees to make your material more pristine

An editor (sometimes the producer who tracked you, a separate editor, or perhaps someone from your group who wants to learn how), imports your tracks into editing software like Melodyne and spends 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or more hours cleaning everything up so that it all fits together and is in tune.

Step #3
Mixing - all of the recorded elements are balanced, processed, and arranged in the sound-stage to create a clear and finished version of your performance

The editor sends your tracks to a mix engineer (sometimes the producer who tracked you or a separate producer who specializes in mixing). The mix engineer uses compression, reverb, delays, and other processing to fit everything together so that everything is heard at the right amount. They create an atmosphere for the track that fits the style of the song or your performance. The mix engineer will also enhance the most important elements of the mix (the drums, bass, and lead vocal) so that they are easily heard.

Step #4
Mastering - the mixed material is processed so that it sounds great in as many different listening environments as possible

The mastering engineer tempers or eliminates any issues the mix engineer may have created that would be detrimental to the final version of the track. They can also creatively enhance elements in the mix. They maximize loudness to help your track in competitive noise environments and also make sure that the different songs on an album are all brought up to similar levels. Once complete, they create the media (CD, DDP, WAV file, etc) that will be used for replication, duplication, and/or digital distribution.