The world of music distribution can seem like a complex one, especially for new artists…
Why do music distributors exist? What is their purpose? Why do you need them?
There are countless questions that can lead to decision paralysis and stop you from taking the next steps in your music career.
Which is why we put together this guide.
Here we will help you navigate the music distribution minefield.
What to Expect
Music distribution services get your music out to all the major destinations.
Music distributors charge a fee to get your music out to their distribution partners, which usually include a few dozen platforms, like Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon, Pandora, Deezer, TIDAL, Napster, and others, which are typically lesser known.
The exact fee structure varies from company to company.
Some services will charge you once and keep your music online perpetually. Others will charge you monthly or yearly and will take your music down if you don’t settle with them ongoingly.
Choosing a service that’s matched to your needs is important. I prefer services that charge me once to keep my music up forever but depending on your release schedule and marketing efforts, you might choose other routes.
Digital partners also vary from one company to the next. Some will get your music out to more. Some have fewer partners. That said, most if not all music distributors will get your music out to all the major platforms, and there usually isn’t a significant difference in the number of partners between services.
Do Music Distributors Care About Me?
I wish I could offer a simple “yes” or “no” answer here, but I can’t. There are just too many factors.
Understand – Alan Cross says 24,000 songs are added to streaming platforms daily. That means one million tracks per week! Translation: Music distributors have their work cut out for them.
Small, independent, up-and-coming, boutique music distributors might be able to give you a little more personalized attention compared to more established services.
But a major player like CD Baby engages in ongoing promotion and marketing activity, maintains a website and warehouse, publishes blog, podcast, and video content, hosts a conference each year, and more. Even with a staff of nearly 150, I’m sure they keep busy serving their customers.
And that makes it sound like independent music distributors are going to give you more of a reason to stick around. But you still need to ask yourself whether you trust them. They’re not likely to have the credibility or clout of a major service provider, and they may not distribute as widely as a major player either.
As it stands today, your music career is in your own hands, period.
Do Music Distributors Provide Promotion for My Music?
JTV Digital may be one of the “smaller” players, but they’ve been around for a long time now.
Generally, no. I’ve covered the difference between music distribution and music marketing before.
And this is one of the reasons independent artists wonder whether their distributor even cares about them. Because music distributors are not music marketing agencies.
Music distribution, for the most part, is a self-serve operation. You upload your music and artwork, provide release information, make your payment, and the distributor takes over from there.
Some new distributors like TuneGO are branching out by adding promotional services. But in most cases, you should not expect such services to be free, and like PR, results are going to vary. A lot.
Music is a subjective experience, and while there is a fan base for everything, building your tribe often takes many years – sometimes a decade or more.
It helps to think of distribution and promotion as separate, and to plan for both.
Why is the Music Industry so Disconnected & Siloed?
Analyst and editor Dmitry Pastukhov wrote an article on Soundcharts covering the 10 parts of the music industry, which he defines as:
- Music distribution
- Live and touring
- Licensing and sync
- Artist management
- Music publishing
- Audience and fans
Although there are many subsets to each, and there are some sectors that aren’t even represented here (Performance Rights Organizations, for example), it’s a good starting point.
The main reason the music industry is so siloed and disconnected is because it’s slow to adapt. The major labels are beholden to tradition, and they’re not in a hurry to change, likely because they like control.
The Problem with “Just Go with XYZ Company”
Like most, you’ll probably talk to other artists, maybe even musician coaches like me, and hear someone say, “just go with XYZ company – they’re great.”
This is how many artists make critical career related decisions, including the courses they take, the coaches they listen to, the marketing agency they pick, the contracts they sign, and more.
If you’re lucky, you’ll end up with great partnerships. But just because someone says “TuneCore is best,” for example, doesn’t necessarily make it the right choice for you.
I know people that love TuneCore, and I know people that couldn’t get away from them fast enough.
TuneCore was established in 2005 and is trusted by many.
I would urge you to do your homework before committing, because “music distributors are all the same” couldn’t be further from the truth, just as “all musician consultants are the same” is categorically false. We all have different strengths and specialize in specific areas.
You’re not stuck with music distribution services. There are other ways of getting your music out there, and there are other ways of monetizing your music too. That said, the only way to get your music on major platforms (that’s practical) is to utilize a distribution service.
And more to the point, each distribution company brings something different to the table and specializes in specific areas.
How to Choose a Music Distribution Partner
If you’re looking for the right music distribution partner, here are the key questions you must ask yourself:
What Are Your Goals?
It seems like a “duh” question, but you should only ignore it at your own peril.
Do you take your music career seriously? Then shouldn’t you work with a serious music distribution partner?
If you’re a hobbyist, don’t really care where your music ends up, or don’t mind your music being taken down (for no reason), go ahead, risk it with a “free” music distribution service or a company that doesn’t specialize in the field.
If you take your independent music career seriously, though, trying to save money on everything is the wrong way to go. Music distributors like CD Baby, TuneCore, and Ditto Music are well-established and for the most part, trustworthy.
How Do You Want to Monetize?
Monetizing your music through streaming alone can be a big challenge…
This is a huge consideration many artists don’t even think about. If income is important to you, then you can’t possibly ask a more critical question.
Artists often love the idea of their music being on Spotify, Apple Music, TIDAL, etc. (because it gives them credibility) and don’t even stop to think about how they’re going to generate an income from their hard work.
The payout on a platform like Spotify is $0.0033 per stream. I’ve often called that “pretend money” because you can’t divide a penny.
But the point is – you need 1,000 streams just to earn $00.33, 10,000 streams just to earn $33.00, 100,000 streams just to earn $330, and so on.
If music is just a hobby to you, or if you have no intention of monetizing your career, more power to you. Otherwise, betting on streaming royalties alone to make a living in music is financial suicide. Let me know how it goes.
There are two key solutions to this problem, which are as follows:
- eCommerce. Whether it’s Sellfy, Shopify, Bandcamp, or another solution, the eCommerce route allows you to dictate the pricing of your products, sell digital and physical merch, set up memberships, and more.
- Direct response marketing. This is the more trendy but convoluted route espoused by the likes of Indepreneur. Creating and marketing sales funnels does work, but it also requires you become a fully-fledged digital marketer. Still, as with the eCommerce route, you have complete control over the pricing of your music. Plus, you can sell order bumps, digital and physical products, courses, memberships, and more. ClickFunnels is fine, but our recommend campaign builder is KLEQ.
10XPro (now KLEQ) is the ideal solution for direct response marketing online.
How Much Music Will You be Releasing?
Many artists go on a yearly subscription with a partner that gives them the privilege of unlimited releases, forgetting that it can take three to 12 months just to record, mix, and master a great album, never mind release, and promote it properly.
If you truly are a prolific producer, and you’re constantly making new beats and other works from your home or project studio, unlimited distribution is a sweet deal. But it’s not that great if your release schedule is more like that of a conventional artist who has one release every one to two years.
Plus, most distributors like this will not keep your music up if you do not pay the yearly fee. It may be a small fee, but it’s a fee nonetheless.
If you’re going to be releasing 30+ tracks each year, there’s a good reason to opt for an unlimited plan. Otherwise, a one-time fee to have your music up perpetually is a better deal, period.
Examples of Music Distribution Services – Our Top 4 Picks
We could endlessly contrast and compare different music distributors and talk about what they offer (there are other articles for that), but at the end of the day, that may only lead to more decision paralysis.
Based on our experimentation, experience, and research (and we do love experimenting), the following four picks are the best:
After all these years, CD Baby remains one of our favorites.
CD Baby is the largest online music distributor, and still one of the best.
Pay a one-time fee to have a release distributed everywhere (along with a YouTube Content ID) and never worry about it again. Upgrade (for an added fee) to CD Baby Pro to have them collect your music publishing royalties (which are always separate from music distribution). Set up multiple artist pseudonyms under one account. These are some of the things we love most about CD Baby.
Ditto Music offers a free 30-day trial.
UK-based distributor Ditto Music was established in 2005. Their distribution service is very similar to DistroKid’s in that you can release unlimited music for one, low, annual fee. They also submit your music to playlists, help you protect your music copyrights, and can collect your publishing royalties with Ditto Music Publishing.
We also like that they have a 30-day unlimited trial.
DistroKid is a brand that’s full of personality.
Every YouTuber and their dog will tell you that DistroKid is bar none the best option, but it depends a lot on how often you release as well as what features you need.
Here’s what I like about DistroKid. It’s simple. It’s very musician friendly. When you go to the Bank section from the dashboard, you can see exactly how many streams each of your songs has gotten as well as how much money they’ve made (many distributors have more complex accounting dashboards).
The one-time yearly fee for unlimited releases is also attractive.
But there are a lot of extras you need to pay for that sometimes come included with other distributors. A YouTube Content ID, with DistroKid, for example, costs $4.95 per year plus 20% of your YouTube ad revenue.
It’s a great distributor and it’s full of humanity and personality, but seriously, it’s not for everyone.
TuneGO is looking to become your all-in-one solution.
This one falls under the category of “one to watch.” We had the opportunity to interview founder John Kohl on the podcast, and like many artists, he’s aware of the fact that the music industry is very disconnected and isn’t integrated all that well.
Which is why, in addition to music distribution, TuneGO allows you to create NFTs and pay for promotion (honestly, their rates aren’t too bad). Basically, they’re out to help you create as many streams of revenue as possible. And it’s hard to find a partner like that.
We don’t love that there’s a yearly fee associated with each release at TuneGO, but we do love what they’re trying to do.
We’re about ready to wrap this sucker up but let me answer a few quick questions before getting back to my own music creation efforts!
Should I Use a Music Distributor at all?
There are better ways to monetize your music, and we recommend exploring our training if you wish to learn more. But understand one thing – you can utilize both streaming and eCommerce solutions!
Music distribution is an excellent solution for promoting your music, getting playlisted, building your monthly listener count, and so on. But that doesn’t mean you need to distribute every track you ever make (e.g., “Hey, if you enjoyed our track on Spotify and want to hear what the whole album sounds like, head on over to Bandcamp and buy our album…”).
Is My Monthly Listener Count Important?
Which is why we don’t fault anyone for trying to build their streaming numbers. For better or for worse, people do pay attention to monthly listener count, and it can be very difficult to attract more followers, book better shows, develop PR contacts, and so forth, without first building your listener count.
That said, you don’t necessarily need tens of thousands of listeners. 1,000+ can help you get to where you need to go.
What About Free Music Distribution Tools?
We don’t recommend them as we cannot vouch for their effectiveness. Plus, their distribution partners are often few.
Ditto Music has a 30-day trial. Give that a go.
What Are the Best Music Distribution Services for Independent Artists?
As noted above, our favorite solutions are CD Baby, Ditto Music, DistroKid, and TuneGO, in that order.
If we change our mind, you will be in the know!
There are countless music distributors out there with new ones popping up all the time. As with any business model in the music industry and creator economy at large, there’s more and more attention being directed to new horizons in music distribution.
That said, some of the best options are still the old standbys – the players who are well-established and have served artists for 10 to 20 years plus.
There are many new developing technologies and opportunities that make this field an exciting one to watch, but if you’re an artist, I’d rather see you dedicate time and effort to building out your strategy than endlessly scoping out music distribution partners. Rest assured, your time would be better spent on your branding and marketing.
So, with that, I close this guide on music distributors. I hope you enjoyed it!
Trying to figure out how to start a record label with no money?
Kind of a tall order, don’t you think?
But the universe listened, because here we are.
Let’s approach this from a couple of angles, because not all methods will be right for you. But hopefully you can find one that makes sense based on your goals.
Using Other People’s Money
When starting a business, there is ALWAYS the opportunity to use other people’s money.
But as you may have guessed, unless you’re a slick pitchman with a killer slide deck (and a team of Zuckerbergs), you’re not going to tease any money out of venture capitalists or investors. They’re going to laugh you right out of the room!
And unless your bank statements are looking mighty good (and I mean GOOD – know what I’m saying?), no bank in their right mind is going to lend you any money.
I’ll be perfectly honest – if you’re coming from the angle that you’re poor, desperate, or cheap, you’re not going to be able to reach into anyone’s pockets and liberate them from that excess surplus in their wallets, okay?
With that in mind, if you ditch the desperate, starving B.S. and begin looking for win-win propositions, you’ve got a real chance at this. Let’s look at your options.
Crowdfund Your Way to a Label
Since you can create incentives for your backers (win-win), crowdfunding is a great way to leverage other people’s money to establish your record label.
Indiegogo is my platform of choice (because you keep whatever money you raise), though you could always check out Kickstarter and others. There are plenty of them out there.
Just remember to review the terms of the platform. If you do something you’re not supposed to do and get banned, don’t come and tell me I didn’t warn you.
Now, I make absolutely NO promises about any of this being easy. I successfully raised $15,000 for a local jazz artist a few years ago using Indiegogo, but I was partnered with another marketer, and we used every digital marketing trick we knew. We worked almost every day leading up to the campaign, and we even had backup plans just in case we couldn’t raise the full amount on Indiegogo.
And once your campaign is done, you’ve still got to deliver on the incentives you promised your audience, which is naturally going to come out of the money you raised.
Look, you can’t get something for nothing.
As you’re surely starting to see, crowdfunding is NOT a money-making scheme, contrary to what some bloggers out there are saying. It’s a way to build a relationship with the people who are willing to support you and make your dreams a reality.
Borrow from Your Rich Uncle
Before you call B.S. on this, know that I’m not necessarily referring to your literal uncle. We don’t all have rich uncles, right?
But if we’re willing to look, we’ll typically find there’s at least one person in our lives who believes in us and wants to see us succeed.
By no means am I saying go and take advantage of them. PLEASE.
But maybe you could get into conversation with them. Share your vision. Discuss a partnership (again, a win-win proposition).
I have someone in my life like this. I DO NOT take advantage of them. I couldn’t possibly express more gratitude for them, and one day, I plan to bless them abundantly.
But can you see how that might make me endorsable? Can you see how it would be easy for someone to trust me with their resources?
That’s the kind of person YOU want to become, if you want to borrow from your “rich uncle.”
Leverage to the Hilt
This is the WORST idea. No, I’m serious.
Going into debt to start a business? I mean, sure, it’s still other people’s money if you put it all on your credit cards, but at some point you’re going to need to pay it back, and lenders usually want it back sooner (MUCH sooner) than later.
The only reason I even bring up this option is because you might be able to use it as a supplement to other sources of funding.
But here’s an important point – no matter what path you choose, some (or all) of the funding you get won’t be yours to own. You’ll need to pay it back, in installments, or in lump sums, faster than you would probably like to.
Use credit cards if you must. But as much as possible, be calculated and sensible in your approach.
Take the DIY Approach
The DIY approach is this. Are you ready to be shocked?
Today, as of this moment, you ARE a record label.
Forget about websites. Forget about business cards and logos. You don’t need contracts. You can even register your business name later.
Cut to the core of the matter. What does a record label do?
It works with artists. It promotes their music and plans tours and publicity. Usually, it identifies as many revenue streams as possible and exploits them. Sometimes, it goes to bat for artists in legal disputes.
Some of this is technical and you might not be able to do it until later.
But can you begin making connections and working with artists TODAY? Yes.
Can you promote the works of the musicians you begin working with TODAY? Yes.
So, what exactly are you waiting for? Are you waiting to be given permission to do the work you were put here to do?
You don’t need permission! You just need to start doing it.
We need people like you to move from inaction to action, because there’s so much great talent out there that’s not being represented! You not living your mission is impacting others. Heavily.
Self-identifying as a label, as I’ve explained here, is exactly what CD Baby founder Derek Sivers would tell you to do (have you read his book Anything You Want? It’s killer!).
You don’t need to spend a dime on anything right now. Reach out to your social network, find artists you like, build a relationship with them, and offer to promote their music for pennies on the dollar. What artist in their right mind could resist such an offer?
You get to build your empire while you’re supporting other artists. Win-win!
If you think you need legitimacy, street cred, or some fancy website to get started, you’ve got it all backwards.
GO AND DO THE WORK. Then you can build the infrastructure.
Bite the Bullet
If the above answers aren’t enough for you, or if you’re still balking at the idea of getting to work (hint: starting a record label might not be for you), then I have one last suggestion.
Bite the bullet.
You can start a record label for a few hundred dollars. And most of the work is already done for you, especially if you take advantage of a product like Record Label in a Box.
I get this may not be want you want to hear, but even artists put good money into their careers. There’s a reason most are working a day job.
Maybe changing your mindset would change your approach. And maybe changing your approach would lead to more opportunities.
If artists are willing to put money into their careers, ultimately, you should be willing too.
Before You Go…
Do you feel like you have a better idea of how to start a record label with no money now?
I sure hope so.
But just so you know, I just launched a new book called The Music Entrepreneur Code that gives you everything you need to get up and running fast as a music entrepreneur. You can click on the image to learn more.
Either way, be sure to join our email list for more updates on how to start a record label with no money.
How to Start a Record Label with No Money, Conclusion
If you’re serious about starting a record label with no money, there’s a way to do it.
The keyword there is “serious” in case you missed it.
If you think money isn’t going to come into the picture at some point, you’re deluded. Sooner or later, your business will require your full commitment.
But if you want to start working with artists today (literally today), there is a way.
Did you find this helpful? Any other questions?
Let us know in the comments below!
Most of us spend a good chunk of our lives dreaming about pursuing a creative endeavor but never actually pull the trigger.
We find excuses, we’re embarrassed, lazy, and a lot of times don’t even know where to start.
Well today, we’ll be tackling some of the obstacles outlined above. We’ll show that you can start learning music production without leaving your house and with just a few hours per week. We’ll also show you exactly where to look for information regarding music production.
If you’ve ever looked up to electronic or hip-hop music producers and aspired to be just like them, then this is your lucky day. Stick to any of the courses below and you’ll be one step closer to that dream.
Online Music Courses
As you might have guessed, our preferred method of learning is through online courses.
There are two types of courses you can try: Free and paid.
Free courses are the easiest solution. They don’t require any investment, are widely available, and usually don’t require the creation of an account.
However, we will make the case that paid courses are the way to go.
Because paid courses keep you accountable. By having to spend a few dollars in a course, you have skin in the game, and that keeps you committed.
We’ve talked to hundreds of self-taught music students who have attempted to master music production on their own. Time and time again, we encountered the same issue: lack of commitment.
Enrolling in a free course is easy, but so is giving up on it.
Additionally, despite the high level of quality available in free courses, we have found that the very best courses are paid.
The good news is that these courses don’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Coursera, Masterclass, Berklee Music School, and many others offer great courses at affordable prices. Berklee even offers student financing for their online program. For a complete list of music courses online, check out this article.
And finally, the other major benefit to taking certain paid courses is that they will give you some credibility.
We are lucky enough to live in the age where even the most reputable universities and colleges offer online courses, so if you’re looking into a career as a sound engineer or similar, you can look at programs offered by esteemed institutions in the industry such as Point Blank and HOFA College.
If we still haven’t convinced you to invest in a paid course, here are a few recommendations of good free music production courses:
How to EDM – YouTube
How to EDM is a reference in the EDM production community. It has tutorials on a lot of topics, some more advanced than others, but has a lot of beginner friendly videos too.
As the name suggests, this channel focuses on electronic music, though some tips are applicable to any musical genre.
Produce Like A Pro – YouTube
Despite not having a course structure, this YouTube channel has loads of content that you can peruse at your own pace. It covers a lot of ground and will set you up with all the basic and intermediate skills necessary to produce music
SoundGym – Online Course
With close to 100 hours of videos on audio engineering, electronic music production, mix & mastering, synthesizers, and live sound, SoundGym is a great solution for someone looking for a structured and all-encompassing approach.
If you’re ready to commit a few months of consistent effort and don’t have a budget to spend on your music education, this is the program for you.
SeamlessR – YouTube
YouTube really is the place to look for tutorials. The amount of information available in this platform is simply mind blowing. A great example of this is SeamlessR’s YouTube channel. From beginner to advanced tutorials, he delivers high quality content for free.
His sound design knowledge is simply impressive and music producers of any level and genre will benefit from browsing his channel for a few hours.
SadwoickProduction – YouTube
Finally, we highly recommend looking at SadowickProduction’s channel if you are a complete beginner. The videos focus on learning the ableton DAW for people who have no background in music production.
We hope that this article has helped you start your journey in music production.
It is not an easy road. It requires significant time investment and some financial investment. However, anybody can do it. You don’t need to be born a musical genius to become a good music producer or engineer, all it takes is hard work.
Stick to any of the above outlined courses for a few months and you’ll have a great foundation from which to build your own career in the music industry. So now it’s your turn: Roll up your sleeve and let’s get working!
The growing popularity of vinyl isn’t just associated with vintage fashion, but with high-quality sound.
The fall of lossless audio formats has brought vinyl records back into focus, so many musicians have started releasing their albums in digital and analog formats to capitalize on this trend.
Is this something all musicians should consider doing? Here are five reasons you should release your music on vinyl.
Vinyl Records Have Unique Sound Qualities
The combination of a high-grade player and the best budget receiver can improve the already amazing quality of vinyl and deliver an even warmer sound, the kind vinyl fans have come to love.
But where do these qualities come from?
First, vinyl produces an analog sound.
Second, the mechanics. The needle height fluctuations and impacts from a running motor create additional vibrations.
Vinyl lovers say that this effect “animates” the player, making the sound unique. It is important to realize that the transition to vinyl in terms of sound is not a step backward, but rather a new path.
Analog sound has its inherent characteristics, which some people love.
Listening to Vinyl is an Immersive Experience
People who are passionate about vinyl collect everything from players and components to records. They keep their devices in good working order by wiping them from dust, washing the phonograph disks, changing the needles, performing upgrades and even preventive maintenance.
It seems the process of caring for their players and music library brings them pleasure and emotional satisfaction.
Listening to the music itself also turns into a ritual. Unpacking the envelope and observing the circular motion of the faceplate with the disk is much more fascinating than a couple of clicks or taps on the screen.
Today, when people listen to music, they do not listen to whole albums, only a few selected tracks. That’s fine for most modern music.
But what about concept albums? What about albums that are cohesive from top to bottom? What about albums where every track matters?
Here the vinyl manifests its magic. Listening to records is an immersive experience you can’t duplicate with lossless audio formats on high-quality modern devices.
Additionally, with records, the listener can’t change the track. Listening to a record is a commitment
You Can Include Exclusive Bonuses with Vinyl Releases
Thousands of musicians release their albums on vinyl.
In addition, vinyl versions of their releases often contain extras.
The Stars Wars: The Force Awakens vinyl, for example, comes with a multi-page booklet and hologram.
To further illustrate the growing popularity of vinyl, about a decade ago, The White Stripes’ lead singer Jack White founded the label Third Man Records, which specializes in vinyl music. The studio is experimental: it makes scented records, disks with liquids or dried rose petals inside.
In the same building, there is a concert hall where you can record a performance and stamp the first edition of it on the same day. All these things mean that the culture of vinyl is not in stagnation.
Physical Media Brings in More Revenue Than Digital Media
According to the RIAA, the revenue from sales of physical media exceeds revenue from music purchases on the Internet. CDs and records bring more money to publishers than purchases on iTunes, Google Play and other digital platforms.
This data speaks of one thing: vinyl remains on an upwards trend, and the most progressive way to listen to music today is to listen to records.
The Growth of Quality Record Players & Parts
Record players are available in abundance. Some are cheap. Some cost more. Whether you’re a casual listener or a serious connoisseur, you can find a player that’s right for you.
The same goes for accessories. You can find just about anything you’re looking for, should you need to replace parts or upgrade them.
Higher-priced items are made of sturdy materials and since there are plenty of tutorials and how-to guides out there, you can easily care for your records, record player and accessories with no additional hassle.
What this means for you as a musician is that you can sell records without worrying about whether your fans have the right equipment to play them. They can get set up easily without spending a pretty penny and enjoy your record on their own time.
There are plenty of great reasons to release your music on vinyl.
At the end of the day, however, it depends entirely on your fan base. Do they want your music on vinyl? If you released your music on vinyl, would they listen to it?
If you find that most of your fans listen on streaming sites and they’re not interested in owning physical media, then there might not be much point releasing your music on vinyl.
So, be sure it’s something your fans want before you rush into pressing your music on vinyl.
Hey, musicpreneur! We’ve got another great guest post for you by occasional contributor Nick Rubright.
This post explains how to find a great recording, mixing and mastering engineer for your album. You want to make the best impression possible with your release, so having the right personnel in place makes all the difference.
Here’s Nick to tell us how we can find the right people for our forthcoming release.
Similar to the process of creating music, there’s not necessarily a right or wrong way to approach the hiring process for your next album. But the importance of this process should not be downplayed.
Unfortunately, it’s too easy to make bad hiring decisions. Oftentimes, this is a result of shopping price-first or a lack of previous hiring experience that leads to poor decision making.
In my band, we made these mistakes as a result of impatience. The engineer we wanted was booked two months out and was relatively expensive, so instead of waiting it out and spending the money on the optimal choice, we decided to work with an engineer who was more available.
We ended up making two attempts at our EP because of this. The first engineer we went with produced amateur-level work. I should’ve realized this when we were recording in someone’s bedroom.
Eventually, we went with the guy we originally wanted, and now our EP sounds great.
To help you avoid costly and time-consuming mistakes, I’ll go over what’s involved in making an album, then how to hire great people for each of the involved tasks.
Let’s dive in.
What (and Who) is Involved in Creating an Album?
There’s no right or wrong way to create an album, but the typical process goes something like this.
With lots of pop and hip-hop artists, record labels and managers have songs written by someone other than the performing artist.
For independent musicians and bands, however, the songwriting is typically done internally, and involves an infinite number of songwriting techniques.
Oftentimes, this involves making demo recordings of different parts of songs, jamming along with your band, or sitting at home with your acoustic guitar.
2. Putting Together the Team
There are a lot of skills involved in the process of creating a professional-quality album. Sometimes, one person holds all of the skills necessary for an album’s production, but it’s not uncommon for each skill to be separately delegated.
For a typical album, you’ll see the following people involved:
- A music producer – A bit like the director of a film, the job of a producer is to oversee the entire recording process. This can involve things like the selection of the songs that will be on the album, choosing the right studio to work in, and making sure the musicians perform at their best during the recording process. Smaller bands typically do this stuff themselves.
- A recording engineer – This person is responsible for capturing the best performances possible. They handle microphone choice/placement, operate the recording software, and edit tracks for perfect timing alignment.
- A mixing engineer – This person is responsible for combining the different tracks of a song into a final version. They adjust levels, add effects and auto-tune if necessary.
- A mastering engineer – This person has a similar job to the mixing engineer, but for the song as a whole. Once the mixing engineer is finished, the mastering engineer will add things like reverb or compression that will apply to the song as a whole rather than the individual tracks.
Oftentimes, the recording engineer, mixing engineer, and mastering engineer are the same person (especially with independent projects), but there are lots of cases where this doesn’t apply. It depends on the individual’s skill set.
Pre-production is basically the process of making song demos to get the layers right. How many times should you layer the guitar? Do you need vocal harmonies on the chorus? These kinds of questions should be answered during the pre-production process.
Additionally, this stage involves detailed discussions of what you want the project to sound like. In pre-production, you want to get yourself fully prepared for your studio sessions.
Once you’re in the studio with the recording engineer, that’s when tracking begins. This involves capturing a recording of all instruments involved in the creation of your album, from guitar to vocals.
As previously mentioned, mixing involves adjusting levels, adding effects, and combining the tracks captured in the tracking process so they sound like a cohesive, complete product.
Once mixing is finished, the mastering engineer gets a hold of the song and starts adding EQ and effects that apply to the overall song. The goal in the mastering process is to make sure the song sounds good on all platforms – streaming services, iPhone speakers, CD players, etc.
Now that you understand more about the recording process, let’s go into the details about hiring engineers.
How to Hire Recording, Mixing & Mastering Engineers for Your Album
Originally, I was going to break this section up to be specific to each skill, but the steps I take when hiring are so similar that this would be unnecessary.
Even if you follow a perfect hiring process, it’s possible that you’ll still run into some issues. There are just some things you can’t know until you start working with someone, like how efficient they are with their time, or how unforeseen events might get in the way.
And, it’s also good to know that while the recording and mixing engineer might be the same person, it’s always good to get a second pair of ears on your recording. That’s why mastering engineers exist.
With that in mind, here’s what you can do to avoid some of the mistakes my band made.
1. Understand the Recording Process
Before you make any hiring decisions for your album, it’s important that you have a solid understanding of what will be involved. This is why I wrote the section above – it gives you a good idea of what the process of creating your album will look like.
When you have a good idea of what to expect and where things might go wrong, it helps you know what to look for in the engineers you need to hire.
2. Don’t Shop on Price Alone
Many musicians don’t have lots of money and often end up going with the cheapest option.
This is a mistake. It’s important to consider price, but it should be low on the list of priorities. Things that should be considered before price include the person’s level of experience, other projects they’ve worked on, and how much knowledge they have in the space relative to the alternatives.
Instead of trying to save money by going with a cheaper option, consider taking the time to save up so that you can afford the better option.
3. Consider Multiple Options
I find that a good rule of thumb when hiring is to find at least three very good options to compare alongside each other. Don’t just look inside your city either; explore options that might require a bit of travel as well.
A good way to find a large number of options for consideration is to look at the credits for your favorite artists on AllMusic. See who they worked with and consider working with them for your project.
You want to do whatever it takes to make sure the people you’re working with have experience in your genre.
If you’re in a black metal band, for example, and your hometown doesn’t have any recording engineers experienced in that genre, look elsewhere.
We traveled from Jacksonville (our hometown) to Valdosta to record our EP because that’s where the best person for the job was.
4. Look for Samples of Work
For each type of engineer, you want to look for different types of samples of work.
If you’re looking for someone who can handle the tracking, mixing, and mastering, these will all apply to that individual.
For a recording engineer, you can usually hear some samples of their work on their site, but this is often mixed and mastered. Ask if you can hear samples of their work that are completely unmixed. This will give you an idea of the quality that you’ll get pre-mixing, which is important if the final song is going to sound good.
An unmixed recording should sound very clean, but will likely not have the appropriate levels or effects that gives it a polished sound.
For a mixing engineer, see if you can get a hold of some samples of their work before and after a mix session. Hearing both of these will also help you determine whether the mixing engineer is good at what they do. Additionally, you’ll be able to compare the unmixed recordings to the ones your recording engineer sent you.
For a mastering engineer, get a hold of their unmastered (but mixed) and mastered tracks. You want to hear what they specifically did to the track during the mastering stage. These samples are the ones you should compare to what you hear from your favorite artists.
If you’re considering an online mixing and mastering engineer, you should be able to find what you need on their website.
5. Get Outside Opinions
Sometimes, the fact that we’re involved in the project can blind us to what’s good relative to our demos verses what would be considered good to the public based on what else is out there.
When making an album, you want your music to be good relative to what else is out there.
To do this, it’s important to get outside opinions before you move forward with an engineer. Find some musicians in your area that have had good results in their recording experiences, and ask them to take a listen to the samples you’ve gathered from your recording, mixing, and mastering engineer.
Most importantly, consider where the feedback is coming from. For example, do they have similar goals to you as a musician? Are they obsessed with quality (like they should be)? How experienced are they in recording? It’s important to consider these factors when seeking feedback.
Hopefully, this was helpful in how to approach the process of hiring the right recording, mixing, and mastering engineers for your upcoming album.
After making a number of mistakes, this has become the process my band follows with almost any hiring decision, and it has been working well for us.
Today, we can listen to as much music as we like (i.e. with the use of streaming platforms), hear important speeches and events on the news, and even mix and edit audio using advanced audio software. But just 200 years ago, none of this was possible. People could only listen to music live and were limited to written records of speech. The simple reason for this is that there was no way to record sound.
In fact, it was only in the late 19th century that the first developments in this field were made, with Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville’s phonautograph in 1859, and Thomas Edison’s phonograph in 1877.
By modern day standards, these were very basic; the former could record soundwaves but not play them back. The phonograph could reproduce sound, but it was very low quality and took a lot of effort to produce multiple copies – to make 500 phonograph cylinders, musical performers would have to perform 25 times in front of 20 phonographs!
The next innovation – the gramophone – was more of a success, accelerating the emergence of the modern day music industry and introducing the disc format for the very first time.
So how did we go from these primitive instruments to today’s audio technology in just 160 years? There have been rapid developments across many fields in this time, and sound recording technology was swept up in these tides of change. Inventions and discoveries throughout the 20th century – in electricity, magnetism, and digital storage and encoding – directly influenced music and sound technology. The result of this was that the pace of innovation was unprecedented, and huge steps were made in very little time.
To help you learn more about the history of audio recording, McGowan Transcriptions have designed the following infographic. It’ll take you through all the major technologies that have each in their own right revolutionized audio recording and production. Take a look below!