How to Get a Pro Sounding Record – Without a Pro Budget!

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NOT SO SECRET

It’s no secret that making a record these days looks entirely different than it did 20 – hell even 10 years ago. The internet and modern technology have made amazing sounds and musicians within reach of every home studio owner out there. The big question most have is – How do I get my record to sound pro, without a pro budget? Well I am excited to inform you that a pro sounding record is right around the corner!! You’re still going to need to drop some cash, but the days of having to spend 20k for an EP are long gone! 

 

 

LET’S GET REAL

Now I realize that you might not actually need to record every element in the song, and lot’s of parts can be programmed via virtual instruments (especially if you are in the pop or electronic genres). But for the sake of being thorough, I’m going to walk through this process as if you want everything tracked live with REAL people playing REAL instruments – I know, it sounds crazy right? But this is still my favorite way to make a record. When you have real people playing real instruments every player brings their own flavour to the record and it can really make it come to life!

 

So what expensive gear do you need to buy? Not so fast! Unless you are an expert at playing all instruments, audio engineering, and mixing –  you don’t actually need much! If you want to self produce your record all you need is a decent computer, an audio interface (this will depend on what you want to track yourself, if anything), some studio monitors or headphones, and a decent mic for vocals (assuming that you’re singing yourself). If you want more detail on how to get this the right gear together, read this. Note that this way of doing things will require some basic knowledge of how to use a D.A.W. so you can get your tracks back and put a rough mix together for the next musician you are sending the song off to. It will also help you save some cash if you have some good recording knowledge and know a bit about editing, programming virtual instruments, and tuning.

UNDERSTANDING SIGNAL FLOW?

So, this might not be what you expect it to be. I’m not talking about what fancy mic to put through a Neve, into an 1176, then through your HD rig with 10k worth of plugins. The first and the most important part of any recording chain is the musician. You can have the fanciest gear in the world, but if you can’t play the part you won’t get the results you are looking for. This is 100% why professional records sound professional – they use great musicians. 

Now you might be thinking “ But I don’t know any session players!” That’s okay! I outline this entire process in another blog HERE. I go over how to find your players, and how to put the session together so it makes sense for everyone along the way.

I’m not saying don’t do things yourself! If you have a bit of a home studio setup and some recording skills, this can be a huge money saver. If you take the time to get the tones and parts right – go for it!

THE FINISH LINE

So now that you have ALL of those parts sent back, you can put the final product together. This will take a few different steps. Depending how competent and confident you are doing things yourself will determine what you need to hire out.

  • Editing/Comping/Tuning – Once you have all of your tracks put together in your DAW and have a rough mix going, it’s time to edit. Make sure all of your timing is right with your instrumentation, tune your vocals and anything else that might need some tweaking. I also like to decide what parts of each track I’m keeping at this stage – especially when I’m hiring someone to mix. This gives me more control over how the final product sounds when I just send over what parts of the song I want in rather than leaving it up to the mix engineer to decide.
  • Mixing – If you aren’t a pro, hire one. But! This is a great opportunity to practice! There are tons of options for mix engineers out there! A quick google search or a post to the right Facebook group is all it will take. You don’t need to hire someone who mixes for the big names. There are plenty of mix engineers for hire online who do an amazing job for literally fractions of the price Even if you are hiring a mixer I still recommend doing a mix yourself (if you want to learn how to mix). You can compare your mix to the mix you get back from the pro. This will help you see where you need improvement, and can also provide validation that you are in fact good enough to mix your own music (sometimes it takes awhile to gain confidence!) It can also highlight things you like or dislike about the mix and provide better mix notes for alteration.
  • Mastering – This is another controversial step. Some people will say to just hire the same person to do your mixing and mastering. Others will opt for an online mastering service. Some might say just set levels yourself using presets and it’s good to go… Hire a Mastering Engineer. Most mastering engineers only do mastering – so they are great at it! When you have the same person mixing and mastering, they might not hear things with the perspective of someone who is only mastering. Having a mastering engineer also gets another set of professional ears on your material and can provide some valuable mix feedback! I have tried a few different ways but always end up hiring mastering out separately. I have been incredibly happy with my decision to do so EVERY TIME!
 
 

SO HOW MUCH IS THIS GONNA COST ME?

Well, that depends on who you hire, and how much you can do yourself. I have put records together where I have recorded nothing at my home studio except for my vocal. I hired out mixing and did the editing/comping/tuning myself. Per song my total has been around $700. And the track is radio ready. I’d say that’s a pretty great price seeing as I’ve been in a pro studio before and paid 3k per track!! It can be as inexpensive as you want it to be, but don’t be afraid to spend some money hiring someone. You will be happy you did in the end!

 

WRAP IT UP!

So there you have it! If you’re looking to put a professional sounding record together, as long as you have some basic DAW knowledge and skills you can have success doing this yourself – for a fraction of the cost at hiring a pro studio!

Do you have any other awesome tips on how to do things on a budget? Let us know in the comments!

Have any thoughts on this topic? Let me know below!

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