Music Production Glossary
Once a song is written, recording is done in ‘layers’ - multi-tracks. Different instruments are usually recorded separately and layered on top of each other. For example drums and bass might be recorded first, then guitar, then keyboards, then vocals etc. Many artists record in their home studio, and then hire remote singers, or mixing and mastering engineers to make those recorded tracks shine. Some hire producers to take their song idea and create a track for it.
Mixing happens after all the elements are already recorded, and is a very important step in getting good sound. Mixing involves balancing the levels of all of the different recorded tracks, processing and enhancing each individual track's sonic character, and adding creative effects to make the song pop, feel big, cohesive, interesting, and polished. Mixing has huge effect on the final sound of your song.
Mastering adds the final sonic touch to an already mixed song, which is a stereo track. The goal of mastering is matching a song's sonic character to that of other songs on the same album, optimizing loudness, and adding the last 5% of sonic enhancement (bass, treble, clarity, wideness). Mastering is quicker than mixing and makes less of a difference on the overall sound of your song, but is nonetheless important as a finishing touch. Some artists prefer to have their song mastered by someone other than the mix engineer - a specialist, and who brings a fresh set of ears.
Production usually falls into one of 3 main categories:
- 'Beatmakers' who create backing tracks for your song - a complete playback you can sing to. You could pay for a track/beat that they already created and write a melody to it, or more often you might hire a beatmaker (sometimes called 'full track producers') to create a custom beat or track around a song you wrote. Beatmakers are more common in Electronic Music, Urban, Pop and Hip Hop.
- Traditional producers usually help with songwriting and arrangement, choosing a song key, finding and hiring the right session instrumentalists and mixing & mastering engineers for your song (some producers are mixers themselves), and helping you get the best performance in the studio. They also create a full track from your song, but their role is typically more involved, from writing, to the mixing process, to working with live instrumentation and working with you on your vocal performance. This type of producer is more common in non-electronic-based music such as singer-songwriter, rock, pop, folk, metal etc.
- 'Additional production' is what you ask for when your song is already recorded, but you want just a few additional elements added to make it more interesting, such as sound effects, sample-based percussion, synths etc.
Hiring a Singer
Hiring a singer is typically done one of the following arrangements:
- Background singer - will sing backgrounds to your existing vocals. For example oohs, aahs, or doubles.
- Demo singer - Will sing the lead vocal part for your song for the purpose of shopping your song to labels or artists. The recording with the demo singer's vocals isn't intended for commercial release.
- Featured Singer - Will sing the lead vocal part for your song for commercial release.
- Singer and Writer - Many singers are writers. If the song is not completely written and the singer writes all or some of the music or lyrics (as opposed to sing music that you wrote), they will typically expect to be recognized as a co-writer, unless you specifically agree the writing is 'work for hire' (aka a full buyout, which may cost more).
Editing refers to time-aligning instruments, comping vocals (choosing the best vocal phrases from different recorded takes), fixing pitch in vocals. 'Prep' before a mix. Some mixers will do this, but many expect the recorded tracks were already prepped and edited for mixing. You can edit yourself, hire someone to do it before the mix, or agree with the mixing engineer they will do it.
There are 'lyric writers' and 'music writers'. Some writers do both.
Unlike mixing or mastering engineers who's work is usually 'work for hire' (on SoundBetter hiring a mixing or mastering engineer is always work for hire), songwriters typically expect to receive a relative share of any future writers royalties, unless agreed otherwise in advance. One way to agree that you keep all rights, even if the person you hired contributed to the writing, is something called a 'work for hire' agreement.
'Work for hire' means that the upfront fee paid by the client is all the provider expects as compensation, and the provider should not expect to share in future songwriter (aka publishing) royalties. If you agree with a writer you hire on SoundBetter that the work they do is 'work for hire', that agreement between you is recorded in the workroom.
'Top line writers' are music writers who help write the vocal melody, and sometimes lyrics, on an already existing backing track. This is common in EDM - DJs will create a track, and find a top line writer to write a vocal line on top of it.