Before continuing on to part 3 in my series about getting your song on the radio, I want to reinforce the importantance of defining your audience. Recently, bassist Joey Vera of Anthrax said in an interview with Metal Zone when asked about the complexity of progressive music, and how it can confuse listeners, “The thing with all music is that it’s not for everybody. Some groups appeal to a person and some other groups appeal to another.” He goes on to say, “A group is trying to play and they’re making it so complicated that they are not connecting with their listener or they are not fulfilling what they should be doing. That doesn’t mean that someone else in the same room doesn’t get it.”
Now on to part 3- production. It’s your job to make the best possible recording of your music, within your budget. Especially if you want to compete with all the other songs and albums being shopped for radio play. One of the most frequent questions you will hear when shopping your album to radio, TV, movies, video games and record companies is, “is it broadcast-ready?” If you haven’t heard this term yet, you will soon. Broadcast-ready simply means that the recording is of good quality to be broadcast, and to achieve this it at least has to mastered professionally to meet standards. But that’s the last step in the production process. First you need to record your album.
It is entirely possible to make an album recorded on the cheap that can be played on broadcast radio, but you need to make sure that everything that you record is at the best possible quality. Remember, crap in, crap out. Beck’s Mellow Gold and Ween’s Chocolate and Cheese are good examples of very successful albums that were recorded on 4-track cassette and had really excellent sounds. Use Garageband, Logic, ProTools, Cubase whatever… if you are not capable of doing this yourself find someone that can. Hire an engineer to work in your home studio, or record in a studio with an engineer. Maybe even hire a producer.
Once you’ve got your album on tape (or disk) get it mixed. You can have it mixed at the place where you recorded, but I don’t recommend that. Sometimes it’s best to get someone that wasn’t involved in the recording process to mix because they weren’t exposed to the songs for hours on end. A new perspective is usually better. Wherever you get it mixed listen to samples of work the mixing engineer has done. You want to work with someone whose work sounds like it belongs on the radio, or compliments the songs. Maybe the person that mixed your favorite album is available. You may be surrised to know that you can actually hire some of the guys that mixed your favorite albums. A lot of them will do work for smaller bands between big projects and at reasonable rates. Look through your albums and see who you like and then do some research on the internet to get their contact info. If you are a punk rock band you don’t really want to sound slick and polished, unless you are going for the emo sound. If it doesn’t sound right fix it. But, make sure the final mix sounds like album you want to release.
Mastering, like mixing, is something I don’t think you should do where you recorded. Mastering can be the difference between making an album and a demo, getting your song on the radio or in the reject pile. There is a lot of little nuances and magic that goes into mastering, but at its simplest, in this phase of production your album levels are balanced so that the album isn’t too loud, and there is no clipping; some compression is added to further balance the mix; EQ is added to the program; and this is just some of the stuff. Mastering engineers are a special breed and make a lot of money to take a really good mix and turn it into radio gold. Don’t skimp out on this unless you really have no choice. Go with the manufacturer’s mastering as a last resort. You can get a really great mastering engineer in NYC or L.A. for indie rates around $100-200 per song. Sometimes less if they really like your music. And just like with mixing, listen to your favorite albums and see who did the mastering. If you like what you hear find out how to contact them.
If you’ve done your best in all these steps you should not only have yourself a broadcast-ready album, but an album you’ll be proud of.
In part 4 we’ll look at duplication and packaging.