The Necessary Steps Before Music Production
In a nutshell, PRE production means BEFORE production. I know that sounds obvious but this important process is commonly missed by the majority of people that come and work with me and I'm sure that rings true to a lot of other Music Producers out there.
Pre production is the stage you take between writing your material and taking it to the music production and recording stage, may that be at your home recording studio or a professional one. The pre production stage is the place you take your song and make firm decisions in what you want the recording process to deliver to your material.
A Typical Example
Have you been a client at a studio and either the session did not go to plan or that you left unhappy with the results? Did you blame the studio and producer for the honkey session?... maybe, but my guess is that you did not provide your music with any pre production?
When a recording session does not run how you think it should it is always because of the latter, no pre production. Artists need to provide pre production options, thoughts, decisions, mind sets, moods, fundamental musicianship points, reference tracks, demo tracks...the list goes on. Pre Production provides you and whoever your working with a basic road map to the journey of your recorded material. The best bit about pre production is that it costs you, the client, NOTHING. However, if no pre production is done it can cost you in more studio time to work out these choices or to later fix in mix problems that can have easily been avoided.
Listed below is a basic break down of what should be considered in the pre production stage.
KEY, TEMPO AND METER
Deciding on the key signature for a song is one of the most important decisions to make. The song's key has to work for the range of whoever is going to be recording the vocals. The vocals are, in most cases, the last layers to be recorded. Discovering that you have not chosen the best key for the vocalist to work with is a difficult problem to rectify late into a production..
A pre production example: if your song is written in A major and the vocalist finds it either too high or low for their voice then you should transpose the song to a key that is more fitting to their range, ability and talent. This is important to implement within the pre production stage as you do not want to record the instrumental parts like guitar, bass, and piano in the wrong key only to find out when you start recording the vocals that it is in the wrong key. This is a nasty junction to arrive at when all parties involved realise that a decision has to be made in order to make do or go back a few stages to save the recording.
The decisions are either to re record all instruments in a key that has now been found to work with the vocals, change the vocalist for a singer with a range that can perform in the key you're stuck with, sing anyway and hope for the best, attempt to pitch shift everything digitally to a key that fits... the list goes on and I don't think it's going to be useful to explain each of the possible decisions as from my experience all of them don't work and will never fix a mistake that should have been made well before the recording process.
The tempo choice (speed and pace) of the song you wish to record is also vital. The simple way to explain this is with 'beats per minute' BPM, like your heart rate and pulse. How fast should your song travel at? Should it speed up and slow down in places? Is it at the right pace for the vocals and root instruments to perform and translate at? Is the song's meter in 4/4, 3/4, or are there sections that change to 7/8, 5/4? These are all general musicianship understandings and if you don't quite understand what's being said then don't worry. The best thing to do is demo your song. Record a few demos on your smart phone and listen back to them. If they all sound different then you need to seek some assistance in cementing the song(s) on paper so that each time you record it down as a demo it shouldn't change drastically
Session Musicians, Band Members And Other Creative Collaborators
If you know you are going to involve other individuals to perform on your recordings then it is best to discus and practice their musical parts together in the pre production stage. This is where you decide if you use that person to play on your recordings or weather you should find someone else who may be a better fit musically. Never pick somebody who may be your neighbour’s second cousin's dog walker who plays a bit of bass. Especially if you have never met them or even sat down with them to rehearse prior to a recording session. I find these events end with tracks been politely trashed and re recorded. Again, all wasting time and further more your patience with the recording process.
Know and write down the lyrics and chord progression on paper. Write down intros, verse, chorus, instrumentals, bridges etc. It does not have to be in formal manuscript but it should identify the chords and how many beats and bars each chord uses.
The example below shows how I write down a song for recording. Each letter and symbol represents a crochet beat with the '|' representing each bar of 4 crochet beats, which we can see next to the song name marked as 4/4. The rounds of each section are marked clearly for each section and a structure map is written at the bottom.
**Song Name** (4/4) roughly 120bpm
| A - - - | D - - - | E - D - | E - D - | x2 rounds
| E - D - | A - - - | E - - - | Em - - | x4 rounds
| D - C - | E - - - | D - C - | E - - - | x2 rounds
Structure: Intro - Verse - Chorus - Verse - Chorus - Chorus - Intro
This is for your reference as it is very easy to miss out chords, vital rhythmic sections and parts of a song while recording as your focus can be easily distracted by other elements of the music and recording process. This also works in conjunction with cementing your ideas before your record. Never keep the whole song in your head as the people working with you in the studio can not see in there.
Ideas To Work Towards
Find examples of music, bands and artists that inspire you or inspired the song you wrote. Bring examples of these tracks to the studio, as you may want to recreate certain sonic characteristics from them in your music. These examples will help both you and a producer create recordings that can be unique to you with inspiration taken from your tastes in music.
Rehearse, rehearse and rehearse some more before any recording session. Know your parts. Experiment with ideas like harmonies and other instrumental elements. Rehearsing is going to feed your creativity and will also sharpen your musical abilities ready to record. It will also strengthen your ears ready for critical listening in recording sessions. Treat your musicianship like a muscle; work it out well before you record.
The above points are basic I know but are the fundamental and necessary stages you must take before you record. Take these points in, as they WILL save you money, time and aggravation when recording and producing music, which is turn, will not distract your creativity.