Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Pre-production for recording projects

A studio recording project is accomplished with better quality and more financial economy if time and effort is allowed for pre-production.

Here is my list for pre-production goals:
  • To find out who the artist is (what songs fit their voices and their hearts best) and what impact they want to make with this project (what kind of emotional messages within lyric and music do they want to deliver).
This "discovery" part of pre-production is necessary for new artists and also for established artists with each new project. The process can go quickly (one meeting) or take months of experimentation, with the timeframe agreed upon between producer and artist on the front end.
  • To discover what the artist wants to accomplish with the resulting CD...
  1. Should it be an inexpensive demo to learn studio technique, to put on websites or use to network with other singers/songwriters or to try and get live gigs)
  2. Should it be a full demo to use for serious song plugging to majors?
  3. Should it be a limited press or limited budget master with great quality for limited sales as they build their fan bases?
  4. Should it be a full master (absolutely radio-ready with commercial quality "sonic envelope" mix?)
  5. Do they need information about photo sessions, graphics and CD replication?
  • To discover how committed the artist is to the work required for the resulting quality desired. This should include an assessment of where the artist is vocally and if they write, the quality of songs they are writing.
Here I must ask myself as producer: what kind of project does this artist want me to help them attain? What can I suggest within their abilities that will leave them completely satisfied and even surprised with the quality of the end result?
  • To find out the artist's or their label's available budget for the project.
Then I can work up a cost estimate of the project, keeping within their budget constraints. This will determine, among other things, the number of musicians, the choice of studio and engineer.
  • To decide where the songs will come from... will the artist write or co-write some or all of them?
Will I write or co-write on the project? Will I need to collect, listen to and suggest songs from other sources? My criteria for song choice is simple: WHAT IS THE BEST SONG FOR THIS PROJECT... not who wrote it. If it's a tie, I'd go for one written or co-written by the artist.

At first pre-production meeting with artist:
I talk to artist and the artist's team (management, label, etc.) about the above concerns, including the budget they have available, the type of project they want to record and their expectations about time frame for completion. I try to ascertain what commercial success the artist would consider to be worth the money they want to spend on the project, and then make recommendations based on how realistic I think their aspirations are.

Even though sometimes I can help the artist network or suggest marketing plans, I never promise to pitch projects to labels or promise commercial success.

At pre-production meeting with team:
After making the choice of studio and band leader, I like to have myself (producer), artist and band leader meet together to brainstorm overall production values (the acoustic and/ or electronic feel and grooves and instrument choices wanted for chosen sub-genre), musician choices, track, vocal and mix recording dates. I like to include studio engineer if possible at this meeting.

Then I finalize song choices, pick keys and lay down piano or guitar worktape tracks for the artist to practice to. I also schedule vocal lessons with the artist to get them completely ready for the studio, which limits the studio time needed for their leads and gives them more confidence for the best vocal possible.

When song choices and keys are final, I book the studio and players. We cut the tracks usually having artist do "scratch vocals", have the artist live and work with the tracks at home and in vocal lessons until ready, then we book the lead vocals, background vocals and mix.

Bottom line: Don't skip pre-production. It makes much better use of your money and when you listen to the final mix, you will be ever so grateful you took the time!



  • At January 8, 2009 at 11:24 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...


    Thanks for an amazing post on Pre-production. Even though I come from a "radio" background, this post really gives me an "insider look" to what goes into a recording. Obviously in radio, I produced commercials, psa's, promos and more. Even though it's different than what singers do in a studio, it's still a great read!
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on your blog of something that I find of great interest!

    All the best,


  • At January 14, 2009 at 3:03 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Randy... thanks so much for your comment, that's high praise coming from an industry vet! Glad you liked the post.


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