The audio production process involves several steps that must be executed with precision to ensure you produce high-quality music. Therefore, it’s vital that you get a lay of the audio creation landscape. That way, your music will be streamed and downloaded without hitches.
Sound production encompasses songwriting, arranging, editing, mixing, and mastering tracks. It’s used in various industries, including television, music, and video games. When embarking on this journey with your music, it’s crucial that you write a strong song. That will establish your foundation for the other steps of audio engineering. Next, you’ll assemble, record, and tweak the track to achieve the desired sound.
This post will walk you through all you need to know about audio production. We’ll explore the necessary gear to undertake the process and walk you through the steps to create a polished track.
What Is Audio Production?
Audio production entails assembling, recording, editing, mixing, and mastering a sound or collection of sounds. Now, this isn’t to be confused with music production, which deals with a song’s flow, instrumentals, and emotional qualities.
Although audio and music creation overlap in certain areas, they are distinct processes. The former involves all tasks related to sound production. And it has multiple use cases in various industries, including music, video games, TV shows, and podcasts.
Furthermore, producing audio involves a variety of tasks performed by different people, including the following:
- Audio engineers: They handle the technical parts of recording, mixing, and mastering audio. This includes choosing and positioning microphones, ensuring a high-quality recording, and adequately capturing sound.
- Audio producers: They lend the creative touch to making music, handling everything from composing, arranging, and producing a track. Their role sometimes entails managing musicians, artists, and engineers.
- Musicians: They perform the song being recorded and work with the audio engineer to ensure the recording captures the desired sound.
- Vocalists: They’re responsible for singing or speaking the words that are being recorded. Much like musicians, they work closely with the audio engineer to ensure they record the desired sound.
- Sound designers: They develop and engineer sounds for film, television, video games, and other media.
- Mixing engineers: They blend individual tracks and sounds to create a consistent finished product.
- Mastering engineer: They make final tweaks to the mix to ensure a high-quality sound on all playback systems.
Overall, audio production involves several duties to bring a piece of music to life. Therefore, as a musician, you must ensure you give your all in every step.
Essential Equipment for Audio Engineering
Given the wide variety of tasks involved in audio engineering, you’ll need the following equipment to ensure you produce a track that blows listeners away:
- Audio production hardware: This includes a computer you can run a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) on, an audio interface, headphones, mixing consoles, and studio microphones. MIDI controllers, pre-amplifiers, and monitoring speakers may also be handy.
- Audio engineering software: After recording, the rest of your audio production tasks will be conducted on a computer. Therefore, you’ll need a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) to process and export the final track.
- Sound production software plug-ins: These pieces of software are integrated inside your DAW to aid in mixing, mastering, and adding creative effects to tracks.
- A sample service subscription: This gives you access to a library of pre-recorded sounds and loops, or song samples, to enhance your songs.
Key Phases of Audio Creation
1. Composing (a.k.a. Songwriting)
Every song has a foundation formed by lyrics and an initial melody. It’s this foundation that kick-starts the sound engineering process.
There’s no right or wrong way to compose a song. Writing the chorus first or choosing a Verse-Verse-Chorus structure over ABAB won’t make your song more or less of a hit.
Therefore, your process might differ from that of an artist who makes music in the same genre. However, a structured approach ensures smooth sailing through the rest of the audio production process.
After all, there’s little audio engineering can do for a sub-par song. Take it from me - no number of cool samples or autotune can save a track created with a poor foundation.
I often recommend that artists figure out what they want to say to begin the songwriting process. Depending on your genre and musical style, this will differ.
For instance, if you’re a techno DJ, you might start from the point of evoking a specific emotion in a listener. Still, whether your track has lyrics or not, it should paint a picture for listeners and induce an emotional response.
You can brainstorm ideas from someone else’s song or use song prompts. If you’ve been tinkering with a melody or beat in your mind, play it on your guitar or beat-making machine. See what ideas this approach inspires.
Besides having a guiding idea, it’s also vital to nail the song’s structure and create a flawless tempo and catchy melody at this stage. Additionally, ensure you add different and unique elements to keep listeners engaged. For example, include suitable repetition.
At this point, your song is a disjointed collection of sounds and instrumentals. And your lyrics are divided into an intro, chorus, verse, and bridge. But how do you make all these pieces sound like a song?
Enter arranging. This is where you organize and assemble the chord progression, instrumentals, and parts of a song to create a cohesive sound. You’ll make several decisions, including the following:
- How to begin the song
- How long the intro, verses, and chorus should be
- When the song should reach a crescendo
- Where to add instrumental breaks
- How to end the song
Arranging often begins during the songwriting process. However, it’s best to dedicate additional time after songwriting to ensure your track will get listeners moving instead of turning them away.
You may ask yourself how you’ll know if you have the right arrangement for your song. This is where you’ll have to trust your intuition. That muscle will become stronger as you write more songs and gain more experience in audio production.
While trusting your intuition is best, it doesn’t hurt to get feedback from others. In this case, musicians often work with audio and music producers to determine how to strengthen a song.
If you’re taking a solo approach, keep these tips in mind while arranging your track:
- Avoid constant repetition
- Avoid excessive open space
- Keep your song at an acceptable duration, i.e., not too long or short
- Ensure sections transition smoothly from one to another
- Create a build-up by adding instruments to each new verse
Remember to listen to your song continuously to determine if it needs more work. It also helps to take a break for a few days and return to it with a fresh mind.
Now that you know how you want your song to transition from start to finish, it’s time to record it in a studio. If you book studio time, you’ll work with a recording engineer who’ll help you choose the right equipment.
However, with technological advancements, many artists prefer to create a home recording studio. Still, whether you rent a studio or have one in your bedroom, you can do justice to your song.
At this stage, you’ll record the bed tracks and vocals one at a time. Afterward, you can layer them to produce the desired sound.
The great thing about recording each instrument and sound individually, is that you can listen to them. This lets you see which parts need to be redone for a better performance.
While it may be tempting to tweak the tracks as you record them, resist the urge. Excessive editing could erode the quality and make the sound unnatural. Instead, focus on knocking the ball out of the park during the recording process.
This stage of the audio production process is all about polishing the track. It’s crucial that you don’t combine it with recording. Although these steps can overlap, editing while recording can lead to over-editing and a choppy-sounding song.
Before diving into this stage, bear in mind that less is more. If your song sounds great, chances are it won’t need that much editing.
What you’ll mainly do is clean up the sound. This entails the following:
- Removing sharp intakes of air, amp noise, and fret squeaks
- Eliminating pops from words with the letter 'p' or 't.'
- Cutting out unwanted background noises
- Tweaking the song’s timings and instrument pitch
You can leverage various tools and software to make the editing process seamless, such as iZotope’s RX 10. Remember, the goal is to make the track sound incredible and prepare it for mixing.
As you’re listening to your track, you may find that some areas fall flat and could benefit from enhancement. That’s where mixing comes in.
Mixing ensures that your song sounds vibrant and professional. Typically, this is the job of a mixing engineer. They will use a DAW and various plug-ins, including:
- EQ (Equalizer)
- Vocal tuning
- Expansion or noise gates
Those effects make a track sound more high-quality and mastered. And it casts a significant difference between the original, unmixed, and final recording.
Therefore, a good mix accentuates the instruments to sound clear to the listener. It should enable anyone listening to your song to zero in on one instrument and enjoy the track as a whole.
Mixing can take a lot of skill and years to master. But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a try. Yet, if you don’t get the desired result, consider hiring a professional.
Several artists often confuse mastering and mixing. However, these are two different processes undertaken separately.
Mastering refers to giving a track a final polish. It involves ensuring that the instruments maintain their original recorded and mixed quality. And it brings the sound to the loudness level dictated by industry standards.
In addition, mastering entails performing balancing tones for optimal sound conversion. In the case where you’re mastering an album, you’ll ensure all the songs are cohesive with each other.
While hiring a mastering engineer to handle this part of the audio production process is best, you can do it yourself using mastering services. These include LANDR, eMastered, and iZotope 8.
Tips & Tricks to Improve Your Audio Production Skills
These are some tips and tricks you can employ during the audio production process to go from beginner to expert:
- Avoid stacking presets: Adding too many presets can make your mix sound clunky and unprofessional.
- Master the basics: Cultivate a solid understanding of the basics of sound engineering, especially mixing and mastering.
- Be light on the reverb: Reverb adds depth and space to a mix. However, if you overdo it, it can wash out the sound. So, use it sparingly and adjust it to fit the track.
- Invest in quality equipment: While basic equipment can do the job of producing a song, higher-quality gear can significantly impact the quality of your finished track.
- Seek feedback: Whether a producer or non-producer listens to your track, they can help you identify areas to improve and refine your skills.
- Listen to different music genres: Sampling a wide range of music can help you hone your style and sound.
- Use EQ to reduce unclear sound: EQ can remove unwanted frequencies and boost your mix’s clarity and definition.
Understanding the ins and outs of sound engineering is crucial in every artist’s career. This is because it ensures you have more creative control over your music and opens up possibilities for unique and innovative music production.
Audio production is a six-step process that takes a song from an idea to a polished performance. It entails composing, arranging, editing, mixing, and mastering a track.
Once your song is ready, it’s time to get it heard. Working with a music distributor like Sugo Music Group ensures that your tracks are effectively distributed and published. Plus, their seasoned team has over 35 years of industry experience and unique insights that can help you gain momentum in your career.