So, I was recently asked about recording some vocals for a song. And so I had the opportunity to describe the process of finishing a song and the various factors that determine how long the process takes.
1. Record vocals. – This might mean just running through the whole song a few times, or it might mean doing each section individually. It could be just a few takes, or it could be 20+ (usually if it’s taking more than about twenty, I tell the vocalist to go home and come back next week).
2. Edit the vocals. – This means choosing the best sections of each take. Again, this could be simply confirming that the last full-length take was the best, or it could mean going through the song word-by-word and auditioning every take to determine the best one. – Sometimes this also means adjusting the pitch (and occasionally timing) of the vocals. It could mean applying some gentle automatic correction across the whole song, or manually correcting a few words here and there, or forensically adjusting every single syllable in the whole song.
3. Mix the song. – This means adjusting the balance between all the instruments in the song. If your backing track is simply a stereo mixdown, then this stage will be very quick – just controlling the tone and dynamics of the vocals to blend with the rest of the instruments. However, if the backing track isn’t mixed well, there won’t be much I can do to blend the vocals in – it’ll sound like the vocals are separate to the rest of the track. If you have all the instruments as multitracks (one audio file per instrument), then I can make sure the whole balance of the song sounds great, but obviously we’re talking about a full mix, which will take a bit longer.
4. Master the song – This means making sure the mixdown (which sounds great in the studio), will sound great everywhere else. That means adjusting the overall level, dynamics and tonal balance so that it is comparable to other commercially released songs.