Whether you have a great voice, a lyrical masterpiece or a killer instrumental performance, your track will be dead in the water out there if the production sounds amateur. High quality production is a determining factor that makes or breaks your track. It either gives it the wings to fly anywhere, or insures it to be passed over in the music industry. If you release your own music, the bottom line is that you absolutely need to release tracks that sound up to professional standards.
What are professional standards for music today? It might not be what you think. It’s not necessarily perfect performances by the singer or musicians. I’ve heard plenty of tracks where I’ve noticed that famous singers are a little off pitch in places, or where the musicians aren’t playing in an exacting, precise way. Nuances in performance are part of artistry and are totally acceptable, and often embraced for their authenticity. This depends somewhat on genre, though. For example, Americana is more natural and forgiving in its execution than synth-based EDM.
However, where there is no room to slip beneath a radio standard is in the overall audio quality of the track. I’ll start at the end and go backward from there with a personal story of how good production gave me an edge in a competitive situation.
The final touch on a track that brings it to its sparkling brilliance is mastering. If a track isn’t mastered and you put it on your playlist next to any popular song, you’ll hear that your track is much quieter, and sounds more flat and unimpressive. Mastering is a special art that requires a lot of skill to do it well yourself. Luckily, there are many options for music mastering out there, including audio engineers and Internet bots (which aren’t quite as good, but they’ll do in a pinch.)
About volume, if you listen to classical music on your streaming app, you’ll hear that these tracks are usually quieter than pop songs. Over the last several decades, it became the standard in popular music to be loud – to max out the gain on music so it’s right there in your face. Dynamics? Not in pop tracks. They have a consistent volume throughout, unlike classical music, where changes in volume are important to a piece’s artistic expression.
In the process of audio mastering, tracks are brought to a consistent volume, EQed, and balanced for the best overall presentation on any speakers. With a mastered track, even if you turn the volume down, you can still hear all elements of the track as they’re meant to be heard. So, mastering is what makes your song finished and what makes it stand up with the rest.
To show the importance of quality production, let me tell you a story about how cutting no corners helped my music career. I released a song called “This Might Be Good” on one of my early albums. It’s a catchy little acoustic number about new love. I wrote the song on the acoustic guitar, and sometimes performed it live. Luckily, I humbly accept my own shortcomings, and I knew that my playing of the rhythmic bar chords was not as clean as it should be for a finished track that would live forever in cyberspace.
So, I reached out to a pro musician I knew, and we went into the studio to record the instruments with studio players. Next, I recorded the vocal in my home studio and sent it to the engineer, who mixed and mastered the track. It sounded great, and I felt like the song warranted my expense for the production.
I was so proud of my radio-ready track that I posted it wherever I could on the Internet where people find music to license for videos, TV or film. Not too long later, my song “This Might Be Good” got picked up for an independent film called “A Wedding Most Strange.” Since it was a small production and I was in contact with the filmmaker, I was invited to the film’s premiere at the Montreal Film Festival.
Montreal is one long day’s drive from where I live outside of Detroit. So, I hopped over the border and attended the film’s premiere in a movie theatre in downtown Montreal. Nobody knew who I was, and the film didn’t gain a lot of attention. But I can’t say it wasn’t an awesome experience. It was incredible!
To hear my song coming out of those theatre speakers drove something home for me. I realized that had the track been not been produced up to professional standards, it never would have made it that far.
Coming from those amazingly crisp theatre speakers, my song sounded good. In fact, it sounded great. I couldn’t believe I had recorded that vocal in my basement and the guitar part had been played on a relatively cheap guitar. You’d never know it.
What made my finished track of “This Might Be Good” stand up with the best was the quality of its production: the tight and clean instrumental performances, my good vocal mic and efforts to sing well over multiple takes stitched together, and finally, the professional mixing and mastering. Sure, the song itself has some appeal, but if the catchy melodic hook and unique lyrics were executed to a lower standard, I guarantee the song wouldn’t have stood a chance of being picked up for a film. No way.
This is the clearest example of making or breaking a track that I can come up with. You can have a great song and play or sing with incredible skill and passion. But if you put music out that’s not up to par, you’ll lose opportunities, and possibly taint your reputation. To think that the public will recognize your talent and love your music despite an amateurish recording is a stretch. Even if everything is good, but just the volume of your track is lower than other music on a playlist, it’s a big, big point against it.
Long story short, if you believe in your music, give it the love it deserves. If you believe in yourself, do everything in your power to do your music justice before you send it out to the world.
You don’t have to spend a fortune. Ask around, and explore your options. Most of all is leery of studios or producers that want to charge you too much. There are many creative ways to get a quality track on a budget. It’s better to keep it sparse and well done than have a fuller-sounding recording that’s a little weak.
Do what you can to present your music like a pro. You work hard at your music. Of course it deserves to sound great!
Singer-songwriter Angela Predhomme’s music has been heard by millions through television, film, radio and streaming. Her soulful songs have been featured in the popular Hallmark movie “Christmas on Honeysuckle Lane,” Lifetime’s hit show “Dance Moms,” commercials for ING Bank and Fiat, and more.
Apple Music: https://apple.co/2PMpZwT