I have been blessed to get to do interviews all over the nation about my Spirit of Oya CD project and I often get asked questions related to making your own CD. The two I get most commonly are “How did you produce your own CD?” and “Are there any tips can you give artists about making their own CDs?”
I know there are a lot of artists that tune into this blog and are talented, but have no idea where to begin. I want to tell you all, I know the feeling! I have been there. But at some point, if you really want something, you have to figure out what you need to do to make it happen and educate yourself about the steps needed to create what you want. You also have to be prepared to reach out to people who can explain the necessary steps when you are unsure of how to proceed. Doing any project alone is a challenge, but aligning yourself with the best, most trustworthy and knowledgeable people will allow you to concentrate on what you know best and get solid insight about what you need in order to grow and really understand the nuts and bolts – the “ABC’s” – of creating a wonderful CD that will capture your special talent.
Are you ready to shine and make your own music? Here are some tips, from me to you, to help you understand the process. Hopefully they will help you as you move forward on the road to manifesting your dreams.
1. What is your budget? First things first. How much money do you have (or can you raise!) to put into your project? It takes money to make your CD, and people want to know how much you can pay them. If you are clear about how much money you have to spend, then you can figure out details like who you can hire, which studio you can use, how many songs you can record, etc. As you are thinking about this, you should of course also consider any favors or hook-ups you may be able to use. But ultimately, you have to know how much money you are able to spend on everything. And that “everything” can include anything that is part of the creative process, from possible pre-production costs, to mastering. When putting together a budget, take into account anything related to creating and producing the music for the CD.
2. Think about pre-production. If you are like most artists – even those on a label – you probably do not have an unlimited budget. Pre-production – the process of writing, rehearsing and choosing the songs you are going to produce and record – is incredibly important. You have to work in time to create music, lyrics and all ideas surrounding each song. If you spend quality time on pre-production, getting your project ready to go, you can also help cut down on unnecessary (and expensive!) work in the studio. Because studio time can be costly, it is best to walk in with great focus, ready to get the job done. Pre-production also includes choosing the proper studio and studio musicians and creating charts so laying down tracks is graceful.
Why are carefully-selected studio musicians important? I know from experience that having high-quality studio musicians that are a right fit for your project are a huge blessing. For example, just because an instrumentalist knows how to play live and rock out does not mean this person is a good fit for studio work. And just because you like a singer’s voice does not mean that person will be great at locking in on background vocals and laying down harmonies. Be very careful who you choose. And remember that you are on the clock, paying by the hour, so there will not be time to teach someone what to do. Make sure you choose musicians and other partners during the pre-production process with a positive, professional energy, who are on the same page that you are and want to see the CD be a high-quality success.
3. Consider what will happen in the studio. So, you’ve arrived in the studio. You need to think about how the process will work, from tracking, to overdubbing, etc. And you need to stay focused. It is easy to get wrapped up in the fun of being in the studio and let that excitement take away from your productivity. Once you’re in the studio, the clock starts ticking, and the hours will go by quickly. You need to be on point and ready to take charge. You chose to produce this yourself, so you need to be prepared to take responsibility in order to get the beautiful results you want.
First of all, you need to take the work you do in the studio very carefully. Don’t be shy about telling people what to do and how to do it … and make sure they are well aware of the schedule and your high expectations. You need to tell your musicians when studio work is starting and what time they need to be there in order to ensure everything gets set up. Account for all the time – not just recording time! For example, if you say, “Be there at 10 a.m.,” and they show up at 11 a.m. and spend two hours setting up, you have already lost three hours. In that time, you could’ve recorded an entire song! You need professional musicians who will show up promptly and be ready to work.
You also need to create an environment within the studio that will allow for enable a graceful recording process. My biggest tip for making this happen goes back to something I mentioned in the pre-production tip: Choose partners with a professional, positive energy that will help you get in there and record, record, record and fearlessly put your heart and soul into recording. Do not be afraid to let musicians and singers around you know what needs to be changed, enhanced, etc. It is your project that you are putting out into the world forever, so make sure everything is the way your heart wants it.
Also, remember that depending on how you record, you may or may not be playing all the instruments or doing all the vocal parts at the same time, so you need to make sure to set aside proper time for overdubbing. A lot of new producers and artists working on their own album for the first time may not think about these details, which can add a significant amount of studio time.
4. What about editing? Editing is not to be underestimated. My project was pretty on point from beginning to end, but there were definitely some details I thought would be minor that ended up somehow taking up many hours. There were elements that, after I listened to the initial recordings, I realized I wanted to change vocally, additions and even cuts I decided I wanted to make. The process of fine tuning, editing and polishing needs to be done slowly and with great care. You need to work in extra hours to sit down and listen to every single detail, from vocal and instrumental parts, to effects, balance, etc. and nitpick until you can listen to it all the way through without hearing anything you don’t love.
5. Mixing is critical. I learned just how important mixing is while I was putting together my own debut CD. I totally underestimated this part of the process when I put together my budget. I did not know how much time it would take, nor did I know the difference good mixing makes. Mixing was actually where the real work began for me. Everything was recorded, and I had to spend time to listen to how all the elements were coming together and if that fit with how I wanted the song to be experienced by listeners. There are so many technical components that happen during mixing, along with additional edits … and so many exciting things that happen creatively! This part of the process is when the song finally becomes a real and complete song. So, you must take your time with it.
Mixing affects not only how your fans listen to the music on your CD, but also how people in the professional world experience your project … and whether or not they will see it as “serious” or “amateur.” Mixing can also determine whether or not your song makes it on the radio, gets placed in film or television projects, etc., so you have to make sure everything sounds and feels right. There are a lot of mixers out there at many different price points, so you have to figure out who is the best person for you. I personally went with someone that understood me and my style of music. I spent time reviewing previous songs he mixed and decided I was pleased with his body of work, and that he was going to understand my music and me as an artist. You need to have a good relationship with your mixer, because you will be talking to him/her back and forth a lot. You need to feel comfortable communicating effectively and working out necessary changes for the good of your music.
6. Understand mastering. Mastering is how your songs will get polished, sequenced, equalized and made ready for the company you have chosen for distribution of your finished masterpiece. Make sure to do careful research on mastering companies that would be a good fit for the style of your project, as this, like mixing, can really make or break your project and deeply affect the way people experience it.
7. Make the physical CD. Replication of your actual CD will be your next step after mastering. Once your mastering company has worked its magic, the music will get sent to your replication company, so your CD can be replicated. At this point, you’re just WEEKS away from having an actual disc in your mighty little hand to distribute, sell on your website and sell at your shows!
8. Acknowledge yourself. (Whatever you do, do not neglect this step!) You need to acknowledge your major accomplishment and get ready to celebrate your hard work when your CDs arrive at your doorstep. There is nothing like opening that box and seeing your CD – actually holding it, touching it, opening it up and sliding it into your CD player. Take some time to appreciate that you have your own CD that you can proudly sell and use as another way to shine your light brightly in the world. Congratulate yourself. You did it!