How to Record a Song
There is no right or wrong answer to how you should record a song. How you go about doing it will come down to a few variables. The first is the genre of music you want to record. The second is the song’s personnel. The third is the end use of the recording. The fourth is your budget. Let’s break this down.
The Song’s Genre
The genre of music you want to record will influence how you proceed. Recording your rock band doing a song is a lot more involved than creating an electronic music track. Recording a singer doing a cover version of a classic song is probably the simplest of them all.
Available Talent or Personnel
The number of people required to create the song plays into the equation, and is often defined by the genre. A rock band invariably has drums, bass guitar, lead guitar and rhythm guitar plus vocalists. An electronic music track is usually a one man band, proficient in sampling, beats and loops. A lead vocalist can also do the harmonies, and Karaoke or mix-minus versions of the song are usually available for downloading—although this can be problematic from a copyright standpoint.
How you plan on using your recording is another variable that influences how you should go about recording your song. If you just want to share your song with a few things, that’s one thing. If you want to sell downloads and hopefully attract a major music label, that’s an entirely different proposition.
Outlay – How much are you willing to spend?
Finally, you need to consider how much money you are willing to spend recording your song. Any song will require hardware, software, time and possibly space (it’s tough to squeeze an entire rock band into your soundproofed closet.) Inevitably, how you record a song will involve compromises one on or more of these variables. Let’s dive a little deeper with a few examples.
Johnny’s in the basement, mixing up his EDM (apologies to Bob Dylan.) He’s got his loop and is looking to turn it into a full blown song. He’s got a lot of creative work ahead of him. His first decision will be where and how does he plan on using the loop in the song. It could be the drop, the intro, the buildup or the breakdown. Once Johnny has made this decision, he needs to create the remaining three elements of his song, arrange them and mix them. Since Johnny is recording this song with his DAW, he’s all the personnel needed. If he’s just looking to share his track with his friends, he’s probably done with recording his song at this point. If he’s looking to distribute his song via SoundCloud or play it in a club as a DJ, he will want to master his song as well. He can attempt to do this himself (no additional costs), hire a professional (expensive) or use one of the online mastering services (for a nominal fee.) Assuming Johnny already owns a computer and a DAW, he can record his song for free.
Friends Who Are a Band
The band is an alternative rock band consisting of drums, rhythm and lead guitars, bass, keyboard, lead vocal and backup vocals. They want to record an original composition. There are two approaches they can take. They can record a live performance of the song (done in a “studio” setting) with all band members playing and singing in real time. Or, they can record the song a track or two at a time. Both alternatives require personnel, space, and lots of equipment.
Additionally, if the band has never recorded before, they might lose a lot of spontaneity by recording a track or two at a time. For either of these instances, it might make a lot of sense to spend the money for a few hours of recording studio time—it will almost certainly end up costing less than buying all the equipment (or even renting it), and there will be no learning curve and plenty of space to record in. Another alternative, which likely will not be satisfactory for many end uses, but will still provide a step in the right direction is to record their next live performance at a club. Essentially, they can take the PA feed and record it. It really comes down to the end use of the recording. A studio recording, well-mastered will be of high enough quality for downloads. A PA feed might be able to serve as a rough demo, something to share with friends, or become the sound bed for a music video.
Alexis, Singer who Wants to Demo her Chops
Truth to tell, she’s got an amazing voice but she doesn’t have an original song to record, nor does she know any musicians. What she does have is a friend who works in A&R at an indie label who’s been bugging her to get him a demo of her singing. Our advice to here would be to find a karaoke version of a song she loves that also displays her vocal range and buy the download. Then, she should hire a recording studio for an hour or two so she can use mega-expensive microphones, a sound friendly vocal booth, and all the bells and whistles that can enhance her already amazing voice to another level. All-in, this would come to around $100. Alexis just has to make sure that the song isn’t placed on any public streaming service as musical rights would come into play, but for demo purposes for the label A&R department, this approach will work fine.
As you can see, there is no one-size-fits-all solution on how to record a song. Each situation is different and reality-wise will require some compromises to be made. Your takeaway should be to carefully consider what you’ve got to work with and what you’re trying to accomplish and proceed accordingly. And don’t forget to be very sure in your mind about every step you need to take, and in which order, once you’ve made your decision on how to record your song.