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An Introduction to Equalization - A free download from Audio Masterclass

An Introduction to Compression: Basic Compression - A free download from Audio Masterclass

Equipping Your Home Recording Studio - A free download from Audio Masterclass

What is production? Part 2: Arrangement

Can you hear the difference between a square wave and a sine wave?

When using a drum virtual instrument, should you record each drum to its own individual track?

What level of background noise is acceptable in a recording?

What is production? Part 4: Mixing

Recordings of speech by newly-starting Audio Masterclass students

Setting the recording level control in GarageBand

Two microphone preamplifiers compared at Abbey Road Studio 2 - tube and transistor

What is production? Part 5: Mastering

The importance of managing configurations and preferences in professional work

The best place to make your production decisions

Where do you make your production decisions? In the studio? No, there's a better place than that, somewhere you can get some peace and quiet...

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Music production consists of two main processes - generating and recording musical ideas, and then choosing which ideas and recordings are the best.

Although there's a certain truth in the saying that first thoughts are often best thoughts, it is nearly always good to generate many musical ideas for a song or arrangement, and then weed them out leaving only the best.

Likewise, when you have worked out the best notes to play, it won't be the first take that is the best. It's good practice to make several takes, then choose the one that benefits the song most.

So when you have generated lots of ideas and lots of recordings, what's the best way to sift through them and decide which should be used and which should be discarded?

You could sit in the studio and listen to everything. Clearly that's the most obvious thing to do. But if you are paying for studio time, then it's an expensive way of working.

Also, in the studio you are too 'close' to the recordings. You can't get an overall view of a painting by looking at it from six inches, and that is effectively what you are doing if you judge your ideas and recordings in the studio.

But there is a place that is entirely suitable for musical decision making. It's a place you probably spend a lot of time, or waste a lot of time I might have said. And that place...?

Your car.

I spend about ten hours a week getting from one place to another by car. That could be ten hours wasted.

Or some of that time could be used productively by listening to material generated in the studio.

Driving is an ideal activity while listening to music. Driving takes concentration of course, but the brain has plenty of CPU cycles to spare for critical listening.

Because you have nothing better to do while getting from Point A to Point B, you can listen to a track over and over, to see whether it stands up to repeated listening, and to home in on its weak areas.

A skilled producer would of course be able to listen to a track a couple of times and make decisions. But even so, repeated listening will tell you whether a certain take was 'on the edge', or just over the edge.

In professional studio recording, the producer can ask the assistant engineer to make up a CD with track IDs for starts, verses, choruses. To make a CD for yourself in this way might be excessively time-consuming, but the time it takes to make at least a rough copy will be well spent.

And of course many cars now have sockets for connecting an MP3 player to the stereo. Best not to listen on headphones or earbuds in a car I feel.

One unexpected bonus of in-car listening is the background noise. Anything on your recording that can't be heard and appreciated above the background noise is a detail that was too subtly recorded.

If you thought something was important in the studio, but you can't hear it in the car, clearly you need to do something about it.

Conclusion? Don't let the time you spend driving be wasted time. Use it as decision time and make your recordings better.

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By David Mellor Sunday April 11, 2010
Learn music production