In the last article, I shared with you the first three tips for finishing your album. Today, let’s look at the last four.

4. Get it right at the source.

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again many more times I’m sure, but no matter how good your editing and mixing skills are, your mixes will only be as good as the tracks you record. It’s imperative that you place a high level of importance on making your recorded tracks sound as good as possible.

Speaking from experience, I’m really proud of my album, and I’m excited for you to hear it soon. However, I could have done a better job of getting things right at the source. Those of you who joined Mix With Us have heard the raw audio tracks from the album. The acoustic guitars, in particular, could’ve been recorded a little better. The mics were too close to the guitar, so there’s a lot of unnecessary bass in the raw tracks.

I was able to wield some EQ magic to make them sound okay, but all in all I could have done a better job of getting it right at the source.

5. Don’t insist on perfection.

This may seem contradictory to #4 above, but let me explain.

While the guitar parts I recorded weren’t perfect, they still worked. I could have re-recorded everything, but that would’ve taken more time, and would have likely delayed my album by months.

Ask any recording/mix engineer, and he’ll tell you that he never feels finished with a project. There comes a point where you just have to turn it in.

There are plenty of things I could’ve tweaked and changed on my album. There are places where I played out of time. There are a few notes where I sang out of tune, but all in all, I love the feel of the album, and the imperfections are almost endearing to me.

Besides, if I insisted on perfection, and it took me 5 years to finish my album, there’s no guarantee that it would really sound any better, and I could finish 3 albums in that time (which, to me, sounds like more fun).

6. Step Away

This is a really important step. After I had finished mixing the album, I stepped away. I took a few weeks off and didn’t listen to the songs. Then I came back and did a final listen-thru before handing the mixes in to my mastering engineer.

This allowed me to approach the songs with a relatively “fresh” set of ears. It let me make some final obvious tweaks. AND it got me excited about the songs again. If you never step away from the music, you sometimes loose sight of what you’re doing. Stepping away lets you listen to the album as if you’re a new listener for the first time. Pretty fun stuff.

7. Have someone else master it.

I’ve talked about mastering before, and I know some people tend to think mastering is a scam. I disagree.

I disagreed before, and now that I’ve listened to my finished, mastered album, I wholeheartedly disagree. My mixes sound balanced. The bass is consistent from one mix to the other. The songs are louder, punchier, but they still have dynamic range.

In short, they just sound polished, finished, professional. I’m thrilled with it. If you have the means, spend a few hundred bucks on a good mastering engineer. You’ll be glad you did.

What about YOU?

What do you think? Do you have extra tips for us? Leave a comment below.

  • what is a step by step method do you use to mix say 10 songs of a given album ? do you record asong at time do the mix , or record all ten songs and mix song after song per time?

  • There is an old saying “You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken sh**”.
    Yes I know its crude but it does sum up the arguement for recording it right the first time.

  • christopher [chrisw92]

    getting it right at the source is extremely important, I cannot stress it enough to my friends. as the saying goes; you can’t polish a ****.

  • Marc

    What I enjoyed about all of these suggestions is that most seem to be obvious; however, I tend to follow none.

    Perfection: I can assure you I have yet to ever and I mean ever achieve a level of perfection I like. I tinker with it and still not right. Could not agree more: You need to call it at some point and turn it in.

    My comment about mastering: I am a hobbyist for the most part and therefore, I record friends or myself. I have to rely on software (like Ozone4) to assist in the mastering process. Is it perfect – NOPE but it is within budget and works for the hobbyist.

    Thanks for the great article…

    • Gerry

      Marc, you make a great point. On the projects I do strictly for myself, I listen to the mixes on as many different kinds of systems as I can. I use near-field reference monitors in my studio, make a copy of the mix-down and listen to it on a system with big speakers, through headphones, the car stereo, my wife’s boom box, but most importantly, for me, I send it out to one or two friends who I trust to give me a brutually honest criticism. In the end, if you think it sounds good, then it is good.

  • Thanks, Joe. You really hit the nail on the head with some of your points, and I have to say a lot of those things have been hanging me up. It’s good to know someone else goes through the same stuff. Keep it comin’! Maybe you’ll get some of the rest of us out of our ruts. Appreciate your work. Gelon

  • Gerry

    #7. Have someone else master it. There are a myriad of reasons why this rule should be followed. For one, the mastering (aka transfer) engineer has access to expensive equipment most people cannot afford, and as such can take the mixes of your work and turn them into records. An experienced mastering engineer has ability to influence the final sound and turn a good song into a great one that sounds better and hopefully sells better. At the same time, can blend the songs together into a cohesive unit. You really need a fresh set of ears that will pick up things that have gone unnoticed throughout the recording and mixing process.

    The extra expense is actually an investment. But make sure you know who you are working with, hire someone who specializes in projects similar to yours, and listen to some of their work for other artists.

  • Wow…that is all I can say. I really appreciate you Joe for putting number 5 on the list. That is my biggest PROBLEM!!! Being a perfectionist has become my stumbling block!!! I want everything to be just right! And at the end of the day (or project) there is always something you could have done better or different. Thank you for sharing that because that is something I really need to work on. Oh…and I finally got the Baby Bottle microphone like you suggested. I really like it! Thanks!

    Clifton L. Boyd

  • Ricky

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I will also take it one step further, If you can, have someone produce you or at least co-produce you. I feel that an artist can reach higher levels of excellence when an objective ear is handy.

    After 20+ years in the music industry, I know intimately that there is a reason the biggest music stars always have someone else produce them. It’s certainly not because they can not produce themselves. Do any of us think that Rod Stewart or Billy Joe Armstrong (Green Day) don’t know enough about the studio and production to produce themselves? No, it’s because the collaboration, contribution of ideas, the synergy more often leads to something bigger and better.

    In today’s music industry, Joe Gilder would have to pay a second teir producer $10, $20. $30,000.00 up front to produce him plus points. The independent artist working on a shoestring budget can barely afford the mastering fee, no way a name producers fee. That said, my suggestion is that if you can get someone involved that has experience in production, it really could pay dividends. Not to say self produced product can’t be great. I took the mix-with-us course and I adore Joe’s new album. I absolutely love each lyric, each melody and the performances. I think it stands on it’s own. I just wonder what it would sound like if he had someone co-produce it with him???

  • Alex

    Excellent advice Joe! I’d like to add one that stops me up all the time. Stop making excuses. I do it all the time, “I’m not feeling inspired”, “I don’t have much time, so I don’t want to get into it”, all sorts of stuff that just keeps getting in the way (or I keep putting in the way) of actually getting a finished product out there. If you want to check out some current projects you can search for us on Myspace Music, we are the Beardsmen! (I hope you can find it, I can’t put the link in right now, sorry!)