In this article I will take you into more details about the creation process of the album from the production to the release.
I will be talking in more depth about every aspects of the production, such as the gear i used to create the sounds and how i used them, the recording, mixing and mastering stage, releasing the album and the difficulties i faced and continue to face and about having the right mindset and the motivation for such work.
Hopefully by the end of the article you will have a better idea of how to do it yourself ''if you are thinking about doing it'' and what to expect. And most importantly to draw some inspiration and motivation. It's tough for us artists and musicians out there, But as humans WE NEED art and music and the people who create it are the most beautiful on this planet.
Before we dive in, please allow me to say a few words about the idea behind the creation of the album.
"I love the guitar... Ever since i was born and I'm surrounded by music of all kinds and colors, at this point its just like eating and breathing. When i discovered the the guitar i knew that I've found a friend for life and the first time i held it i saw an endless possibilities to create music. I still remember those endless nights i spent practicing on an old acoustic i had, it was a bit damaged the neck was wrapped it caused it to have a really high action, it was uncomfortable and painful to play at times but i really didn't care plus i didn't knew any better at that time, i thought all guitars were this way and i couldn't afford better anyway, So i kept practicing i just wanted to become better . I was one of those people who most of the times would play a song only to listen to the solos, that's how i grew to be a fan of instrumental guitar music played by my guitar heroes such as David Gilmore, Joe Satriani, Santana, Jeff Beck, BB king, Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, Larry Carlton, Scott Henderson and Andrew Latimer among many many others.
I present to you this album as my small contribution to the guitar and the guitar community, And as a tribute to all my guitar heroes."
Since we are starting right from the very beginnings, we can not ignore the compositions, But for the purpose of this article which is to focus on the production aspect I decided to cover this section in another article.
But it's worth mentioning the duration of the production which took about two years. Once the writing process ended from there the ''learn how to professionally produce the music'' phase started (it's still on BTW!). So my choice of gear, instruments, plugins and all the technical aspects regarding producing music were and still constantly changing.
Talking about gear in general could literally take days. We often hear producers, engineers, musicians, guitarists,...etc using so many different words to describe tones and sounds, and many will have a specific piece of equipment or an instruments that they call as the secret ingredient for a great sounding production.
There absolutely nothing wrong with that, and in many cases that could be true, but that was not the case on my production.
in a nutshell it depends on the budget and the NEEDS!. if you can afford a piece of gear but you'll have no use for it, then there is no reason to get it. It will be a much better idea to invest the into buying something that you will actually use. And If you can't afford expensive gear don't worry, most inexpensive gear now days are more than capable of getting the job done, and i can guarantee you that you don't really need expensive gear to make good music.
Whether its a guitar, an amp or a plugin, I just went on a search for the most convenient and most practical and It also had to fit within my budget.
Building a home studio setup is one of the most fun things to do. It's you your own creative personalized space. In this space you can be the 100% you, You can be creative, adventurous and sometimes isolated for hours. So why not take the time to make this space your own. and stylizing it as much as possible to your own liking.
I started with Presonus AudioBox iTwo bundle. It came with an audio interface, a condenser mic and a headphone. It was a good option at the time considering the price. plus it was good enough to get me started. The interface is of a great quality, really sturdy, sounds good with little amount of latency, it has two inputs and 48v phantom power which is a must to power a condenser microphone.
I still have the interface and use it occasionally for different applications (It's the little blue box in the picture) and its sitting on top of my Focusrite Scarlett 18i20. This is an 8 channel interface and its a huge step up from the Presonus's. The main reason that drove to upgrade is the connectivity possibilities on the Focusrite, there aren't only 8 inputs but also outputs which means that in case we wanted to use it in conjunction with outboard gear such as compressors for example we can do that.
I also used a tube mic preamp the ART Pro MPA II, that i acquired later on to track some DI bass and acoustic guitar.
If you would like to add the warmth and depth we get from tubes to your vocals, guitar, bass DI tracks, without shedding a fortune, Then you should consider this preamp.
One thing worth checking if you are buying your first audio interface. the added softwares and the free plugins that comes with the unit. Focusrite will offer really sweet deals like the Red compressor plugin that i love and use a lot, Among many others.
The mic itself is made of cheap plastic and sounds average so it was soon replaced by a Shure SM57 which is the industry standard dynamic mic to use on miking the cabinet of any guitar amp, It's also very affordable, very versatile and a must have in any studio. And a Røde NT1-A condenser microphone, which is also considered to be the industry standard for recording vocals. I will not get too much into it since this is an instrumental album. However, i used them for tracking and recording my acoustic guitar and I highly recommend both of these mics.
The Headphone that came with the bundle were Presonus M7 and that sounded surprisingly accurate!!
It is also selling for cheap separated. however you should handle it with a lot of care. mine fell to it's death after a few month so it had to be replaced. And this time I got the AKG K712 so far I'm very happy them, those has flat response which means that they will not color the sound of you mix and that is a must when mixing. Also they are Open-Back headphones which means that the sound will slip out of them and not get trapped within your ears causing fatigue and headache after a long mixing session. So they will sit comfortably on your ears and still be comfortable after for long hours of use.
And since they are Open-back I wouldn't recommend them for tracking vocals or guitars, While tracking, the sound you are hearing in the headphones might slip out of the headphones and right into the microphones and get recorded and that is a no no. So for tracking you would want to use a Closed-Back headphones. You can use whatever headphones you like as long as they are Closed-back, and they don't have to have flat response either because we will only use them for tracking. I will personally use earplugs most of the times.
You can not believe how misunderstood the subject of headphones and monitors is especially on the internet. I often come across posts on forums or YouTube where some people are recommending something like Audio Technica ath-m50x for mixing ?! Which is a Closed-Back mic and it colors the sound, The headphones is clearly designed to give a very pleasurable listening experience but it's not for mixing. A good mixing headphones and monitors shouldn't give you a pleasurable sound, They should provide you with an accurate sound and that will help you make the right decisions while mixing your music.
Leading us to the monitors, When i started my journey on learning how mix and building my own home studio, I started in a very small space, so having huge monitors was out of the question especially that I didn't want to disturb the neighbors. I went with the Yamah HS5, I highly recommend them, simply great monitors and chances are if you get them you will spend many years using them. And again when listening to music on them they do not sound as pleasurable as a Hi-Fi speaker system neither should they for reasons i mentioned earlier. they sound accurate, they will give you an accurate representation of your mix and that is the only job of studio monitors.
If you have a bigger room then consider getting a bigger version of these monitors like the HS7 or the HS8. Or you can do as i did when i changed to a bigger room I just got the Yamaha hs8s dedicated subwoofer.
The bigger the room the more bass frequency will get lost in the space especially in an untreated environment so the HS5 on their own might sound tiny and bass lacking. That's why bigger set of speakers are recommended in this case or a sub.
A little room treatment will do wonders. You can buy them or you can build your own. They come low or high in prices depending on their type and quality, If you ask me you could never go wrong with any. A little room treatment is much better than no treatment at all. (See those orange panels on the wall in the picture) Those ones i built myself, There are plenty of videos and instructions online on how to build your own acoustic treatment panels. Also a huge misconception about these i should mention here. These aren't for sound proofing like many people believe. After the sound leave your speakers it will hit walls in your room before reaching your ears. some important frequencies might get lost in the process, and some harsh unwanted frequencies might reach your ears, causing you to hear wrong representation of the mix, therefore making wrong decisions. For example bass frequencies tend to gather in the corners of some rooms (not all rooms are the same) if you have this problem you will not hear the bass in you mix correctly, you will tend to increase the bass frequencies in the mix so you could hear it better, thinking that they were lacking, but you will probably add too much bass and eventually end up with bass-y mix (This is just one of many scenarios) So the job of these acoustic wall panels is to absorb all harsh unwanted frequencies before they reach you ears, and make your room sound more tighter, more natural sounding and thus a better environment for recording and mixing.
After owing and trying many different amps i decided to go with the Fractal AX8 for it's portability and convenience. The amp modelling is top notch, the effects are studio quality and the possibilities for tones and effects are endless. I can record at any volume easily and without getting noise complaint from any neighbor. The perfect deal for home recording.
Only one track (A Quiet Chaos) was tracked using a real physical tube amp. Marshall DSL 40c with Celection Creamback speaker.
The guitars are a Fender American Deluxe Stratocaster and an Ibanez RG Prestige 1550mz with Dimarzio D-Activators Pickups on the Ibanez.
Those two guitar were the only guitars used on this album. The bass is a Yamaha TRBX505 and this bass was used on few song and another Yamaha TRBX174 bass was used on the rest of the songs.
On this album as you may have heard I have two acoustic tunes, My Epiphone CJ200 CE is the acoustic guitar used on these tracks. The Gibson Les Paul didn't entirely make it to this album, I only used it to track some midi tracks using the Fishman Triple Play midi pickup that is hooked on it. I used the Fishman TP to track some electric synth bass and keys on different spots on the album.
And that's was it gear wise. most of the gear i acquired little by little through a lot of saving and searching.
I do recommend tracking guitars using several amps and at least a couple of guitars. that's were the Fractal AX8 unit shines with it's huge selections of amps and cabs.
Tracking and recording guitars as such will add a lot of depth and clarity between the layered guitar tracks. It will also make each guitar track very extinguished from the other in the mix and will ease up a lot of EQ work.
If you don't have access to different amps and guitars just yet. Try using the different pickup configuration on your guitar to track each part. also there is a lot vst plugins out there that will give you different variations of tones. you can try tracking the rhythmic parts using the vst while saving your main amp tone for the main event which is the lead parts. This is not a cheap work around, Now days many studio quality recordings are being done this way.
At this point it's totally up to the musician to whether they want to mix and produce their own music tracks, or to hire a producer or an engineer to do it for them.
(If you prefer to hire someone to mix or produce your music then please feel free to skip this section!)
For me personally, The composition and the production is one thing.
I've always imagined myself producing my own music. It's a big part of how I envision and hear the music in my head. I can imagine and hear for example the guitars panned left and right or perhaps a synth sound playing in a distance slightly panned to the left. All of these thing is what makes a piece of music a whole. The idea of hiring a producer or an engineer never once occurred to me, So spending time and effort to get better at producing music feels like the natural thing to do.
If you share my thoughts on this matter and you would like to get yourself into music production, then continue reading because I'm about to mention many points that could save you time and benefit you for the future.
You probably heard it by now DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) and to record music you will need to use one. There are plenty of options out there, my advice just pick one within your budget and learn it, and that's it. I've experimented with several and my DAW of choice is REAPER .This is a professional DAW that is being used by many professional audio engineers around the world and it cost only 60 bucks !! I wholeheartedly support and recommend this DAW.
Everything on this production was done completely ''In The Box'', a term is often used by music producers indicating that no outboard gear (such as compressors, limiters or modulations) has been used. All of these effects has been achieved using only plugins inside the DAW.
Next, we will need some good selection of plugins. The plugins that comes with Reaper are very usable and decent and you can achieve very good results using them, so my advice is to experiment with them first.
I will dedicate an article to talk specifically about plugins. what the pros use and what are the best bang for your buck plugins out there. I will get into much details about this subject in a future post so stick around if you are interested. But for now I recommend if possible getting everything from Fabfilters these are some of the best for sure.
Learning mixing and mastering is not easy. Those two are connected but entirely different, If I'm to write anything about these subjects, then chances are I'll be covering the entire article and we'll be in here forever. So I will briefly mention the most important things in my opinion and the A,ha moments that i got after tons of trials and errors, and hundreds of hours searching online trying to find answers for my questions.
(I made many mistakes while learning how to mix, hopefully with these tips you'll avoid going through the same mistakes i did)
First thing, Any sound is one or a group of frequencies, So learning about frequencies is essential. I started by learning the frequency range of each of my instruments and where do they sit on the chart or the frequency spectrum. Once i understood them, now I can mix them with each other.
Next, find a reliable source to learn from. There are many YouTube channels, forums and blogs that you can learn from. Sadly not all of them provide valuable information that you can rely on to get better at mixing. The people who will show you then explain the philosophy behind each mixing decision they made, Those are the ones that you should pay attention to. Not the ones who will tell you to follow these steps and magically you will get a professional sounding mix without even hearing the mix.
(In future posts i will get into the sources that i found and consider valuable and reliable)
Mix what you hear not what you see. If it sounds good to you then it's good, Move on!
You will not be able to fix lousy, noisy or mediocrely recorded performance. If you want a great sounding mix then right from the start record a great performance.
Get a good sounding, balanced mix before start using any plugins or applying any EQ. this step will save you a lot of time and effort. just use the volume faders to get a good balanced mix then listen if anything needs Eq-uing or compressing.
Don't over use plugins. Try to be minimal as much as you can with plugins. and try to achieve the desired sounds or effect using as little plugins as possible. It'll save you some CPU and you will learn to work and understand each plugin better this way.
Watch out for clipped or over-compressed tracks. those will give you headache at the mastering stage.
Last but not least, Get a great sounding mix before the mastering stage. don't rely on the mastering stage to fix the mix.
These are some of the things that i learned and think they are essential to understand before learning anything else. Hope they will be beneficial to you. let me know if that interests you and I will try to cover more about mixing in future posts.
Creating a complete artworks for the album is optional here. I just took advantage of some experience i have using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator to create the cover and the artworks for my release.
But of course it's absolutely necessary to create a cover art for the release. If you have zero Photoshop or drawing skills don't worry, you can always hire someone to do it, it won't cost much. Or you can do it by taking a picture using your phone then use one the many photo editing apps to create something cool, and your done!
Creating buzz and The Release:
Not much to cover here as this is the most simple stage of them all. still not easy though!.
After a couple of years of constantly working on the album, releasing a couple of tracks ''during'' as singles, to create some social media presence and to share my tracks with people who would be interested in hearing them, Then inviting these people to join me and creating some buzz about my album release.
Now it's just a matter of finding a distributor who will deliver my music to all music platforms such as: Spotify, Itunes, Google music and Amazon music, etc.
There are many distribution companies out there that can do that for you. such as CD Baby and TuneCore those are the big ones, then you have Distrokid which is a bit smaller but as effective. You can use google to search for comparisons between all of them. Basically all of them will deliver your music to digital stores and streaming services, so just pick the one that has the features that suit you best.
Personally, for this release I'm using Soundrop to distribute my music. Mainly because they charge nothing when they distribute the music. However, they will take 15% of your sales and streams revenue. meaning when you make money, they will make money.
I also recommend having your music on Bandcamp which an on-growing platforms to support independent musicians. It's also free to use their service and they also charge 15% of your sales.
If you reached this far, Thank you and i hope this article was of a benefit to you. Being an artist, a musician and a creator is a tough job. and sometimes some people can't help but wonder why are we doing it ? is it worth it going through all that just to make music ? is there anybody listening out there ?
Well, the answer is ''does it really matter ?!''
Don't get me wrong, having someone appreciating your music not to mention paying you for it, is really sweet. You can't believe how happy I am when people write to me, telling me how much they are enjoying the music and when they purchase my music... Oh ..man, all that is just surreal!! I can't even put words to my happy feelings. But it's not why i make music.
Let me put it for you this way:
"Music is that friend,when i met, I knew I just found the friend who understands me and will always be there for me no matter what. So I just want to give back to my friend, because my friend is giving me so much."
It really takes a special person to connect with music this way, to spend most of our time isolated in a room practicing an instrument or creating music. Many will not understand (and that's Okay) but there are many who will understand and will relate to us. We were music lover before we became music creators, and the ones who are doing it only for money and fame, are the ones who really missed the point IMO.