How To Really Make A Professional Record In Your Bedroom
There’s always a lot of discussion about bedroom-made hit records when they crop up (especially since Billy Eilish and her brother left the Grammy’s ceremony needing a wheelbarrow to carry all their awards). The first headlines are predictably the most sensational and the least accurate “made entirely in his/her bedroom” and so on. Slowly the picture comes more into focus as the professional mix engineer and/or mastering engineer finally get a mention, and often it turns out it was recorded in a bedroom and finished elsewhere. But this does beg the question – how do you make a genuinely professional record without leaving your bedroom?
Wait! Define ‘professional’.
Well first we need to decide what ‘professional’ means. We could talk subjectively about sound quality for days (internet forums are your friend if that’s something you actually enjoy) but I’m going to simplify things by saying a ‘professional’ record is one made by or with professionals – people who make their living doing the thing they have done on your record. At this point you’re probably wondering one of two things: either “How they are all going to physically fit in my bedroom?”, or “How much of a punishing can my bank account take?”. Thankfully, neither of these questions are relevant anymore, as a new paradigm in music making and professional collaboration is emerging.
Let’s start with the recording process.
If you’re looking for samples or synths then it’s now cheap and easy to get access to the tools that you need. Subscription services like Splice and Loopmasters allow you to just download the samples that you want to use (rather than buying a whole pack and discovering you only like 5% of it) and with rent-to-own options on software you can use the best software synths immediately and keep the purchase of them affordable. But what if you want real drums and guitars, for example, and not just samples? In an ideal world you’ll have professional players on your track without the huge cost of a quality studio for the day and the musicians’ daily rates. Well fortunately online session musicians have built that ideal world. There are lots of examples out there, but here are a couple I have dealt with and would recommend:
If you’re looking for drums you could work with Emily Dolan Davies (emilydrums.com) – a pro drummer who has toured with everyone from Bryan Ferry to Cher Lloyd. When she’s not on the road she is in her studio recording drums for artists all over the world. You send her your track, have a chat about what you want her to play, then she sends back her nicely recorded stems for you to slot into your session. Likewise for guitars, Damien Nolan runs the Online Session Guitarist when he’s not playing for artists like Pete Townsend or Jacob Banks (damiennolan.com/online-session-guitarist). He’ll play on your track in his studio surrounded by his great collection of guitars, pedals and amps. Damien sends you the files and they just slot into your track. You’ve still not left your bedroom. And you can get these players on your track for way, way less then cost of a studio and their normal daily rate.
Time to mix
Now your track is recorded with pros and it’s time to mix. This is where Billie and her brother Finneas handed the reins over to professional engineers and the tracks left the bedroom. If you have the budget to do that then that’s great, but a lot of us don’t, and a lot of us would also like to be able to do it all ourselves. Well there’s help here too. Some mix engineers will come to your studio and help you with a mix on your set-up. You’re paying for them for the day, but you’re saving money on a big studio, and you’re getting that professional quality from your bedroom. Alternatively, you could use The Mix Consultancy – the website that this blog is a part of. If you’ve not used us before, this service allows you to upload your tracks to one of our Grammy-winning engineers who will listen to your mix and send you detailed feedback on areas things can be improved and how to do it. You make the changes yourself, learn something in the process, and this is for a fraction of the cost of getting a professional mix engineer to do the work.
And now mastering
After mixing comes mastering, and it’s always best to get a fresh set of ears on your mix at this stage so in an ideal world we would find a great mastering engineer to work on our track. Again, this can be done online for much less than in person. Now you could go down the ultra-cheap route of the automated mastering websites, but in this exercise we want to work with real professional engineers so what are our options? Well fortunately, some of the best mastering houses in the world now offer low-cost online options (eg. Abbey Road and Metropolis in London). You don’t get to specify when your track is mastered and you don’t get to attend the session, but with some services you can pick the engineer you’d like to do the job. Often the cheapest option doesn’t allow you to choose the engineer, but from my experience of these facilities there isn’t an engineer amongst them who isn’t excellent at their job.
Getting it out into the world
So now you’ve had professional musicians play on your track and collaborated with professional engineers in the mixing and mastering process. And you still haven’t left your bedroom.
Let’s take this one step further and see how we can get an audience for this killer track we’ve made – while sticking to the golden rule of staying in our pyjamas for the whole process.
It’s not news that you don’t need a record company to have a hit record these days. With services like Tunecore, Distrokid and CDBaby it’s never been easier to get your music in front of a global audience. Your main decision is whether you want to pay for distribution by giving away a percentage of your income or by paying an annual fee. But simply having a track on Spotify is not enough to have a hit (roughly 40,000 tracks are uploaded to Spotify every day) – you need a strategy to reach your audience with a detailed social media plan and plenty of content to grab your potential audience’s attention. So, you need a manager! Or do you? Unless you’ve got an overwhelming amount of press and gigs to deal with, I’d say you don’t need a manager, but you probably do need help with strategy. Fortunately there is an online solution to that too, with The Virtual Manager from Anna Russell (thevirtualmanager.co.uk). For a monthly subscription you have access to Anna’s years of music management experience, including strategies for growing your social media profile, preparing for a single release, getting onto streaming playlists and everything else you need to know.
So, we’ve not left our bedrooms and we have a professionally made track distributed to a global audience with a sound strategy in place to grab that audience’s attention. It’s a brave new world out there, but if you don’t fancy going out in it, you can still make a professional track and release it to an engaged audience.
And if you’d like to try The Mix Consultancy on one of your tracks then now is a great time to do that!
Click here to get started.