Get a Record Deal – Mix and Master to Manufacture
You do not have to have read the preceding five articles in this series, what is a Working Band to Do? In order to benefit from read this. It may be that you had your demo recorded already and did not need the other independent artist; it may simply be that you are interested in the process.
Somehow or another – in a process that combines mixing service love, luck, and a lot of hard work – you got some independent artist songs recorded for your band demo. Now, it will matter somewhat in the marketing of it, but not at all in these production steps, whether it was a recording of a live show or a set of tracks recorded in a studio.
At this point, the question to be answered, the decision to be made, is: Is the mix tape ready to master? Mastering is the last step before production, and it needs to be done professionally, at a cost (for three songs) of somewhere between $100-500. It is not a good idea for the recording/mixing engineer to master the CD, nor is it wise for any other amateur to do it. Since it may cost as much as all your studio time did, it is an important decision that you cannot afford to make incorrectly – or, for that matter, make correctly more than once.
The mixing phase, where the producer and mixing service the engineer balance all the recorded tracks in each song played, adjust EQ, apply reverb and other effects, choose the best guitar solo overdub or cut-and-paste one together from several different takes – in other words, get all the parts working together to make one, organic whole. Whole books are written about this one subject, mixing, so it is far, far beyond the scope of this kind of article. If the Muses are smiling on your project, you will have hooked up with a competent pro or a gifted amateur who excels at mixing.
Okay, so you have your finished mix. Actually, there is a great two-dollar word meaning next to the last that should be used in this situation, since no one else but the producer and engineer have heard the mix tape at this point and someone may point out something that needs to be fixed or tweaked. So, call it the penultimate mix. Really: Call it that when you get the group and a neutral observer or two together for a listen. Okay, guys, this is the penultimate mix here…
This is where the producer, whoever he or she is, really does need to get some feedback about the demo. If it is you, be prepared to hear my solos too short or your solos too long, or I can not hear my drum fills, lots of that sort of thing. You may even hear a compliment or two for all the blood, sweat, and tears that you and the engineer poured into the work – but mostly you will hear whining and complaints. You need to keep this feedback session short and focused, with everyone thinking of the greater, common good, the overall sound, the clarity and punch of the tunes, the integrity of the sound, and how well it represents what you do musically.
Another series of books, of course, could be written on all the things that could possibly be wrong with the tunes or the recording of them, but just aim for the sound quality and presence that you get from your favorite CDs, and if you attain 85-90% of those levels, you have done well. Do not let this mix review session drag on; get it done in one evening. You can tweak and micromanage and fiddle forever, especially with software and hardware tools that let you tweak and micromanage and fiddle in a million ways with you get a record deal. Resist the temptation to finesse the demo into a state of perfection. Yes, there is such a thing as perfection; no, it is not on Earth.