How to succeed in recording in FIVE easy steps!

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of

Monday December 17, 2012

Firstly, you need a dream ("If you don't have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?" - So sings Bloody Mary in South Pacific). More than a dream, an ambition.

Your ambition is where you are going to be when you are successful.

So how do you define success...

Well, having a lucrative and ongoing career as a record producer might be one definition of success. I'd say that when you have achieved six major label credits and have a manager successfully hustling for more work for you, that indeed would be a good criterion of success.

Or you might be more of an artist than a producer, and recording in your own home recording studio is simply a means to an end. Success to you would be getting signed by a major label. OK, many artists get signed, release one record that flops, and then that's it for their career. But we'll take getting signed as the initial criterion for success because really everything changes after that and you can't have much influence on that part of your future from where you are now.

I'm taking a guess that most visitors to Audio Masterclass want to produce themselves as an artist, so that's the route I'll describe.

So where do you start?


Firstly you have to be mind-bogglingy brilliant at music. Forget about the recording for the moment. If you can't create music that catches people's attention, you might as well forget it right now.

But let's be real. You're just starting out and it's not reasonable to expect such great things at this point.

So Step 1 is all about realization. You have to understand this - You have to acquire the skills to produce amazing music, in the face of massive competition.

You can do this in the fields of songwriting, singing or instrumental performance. Or you can sidestep the issue slightly by being interesting in some other way - you're great looking, a great dancer, have a knack for getting yourself into the tabloid newspapers. That kind of thing.

But if you don't start working towards having something astounding to offer the pubic, Steps 2, 3, 4 and 5 will be pointless.


Get a reliable rock-solid studio set up.

Many people fail at Step 2. They could have become great musicians if they had worked hard enough and long enough at it.

But instead, they squander all their energy continuously upgrading their studio. They are never satisfied. They always want something new.

And with software-based studios, often adding something new involves changing something that was working fine already. And suddenly you have a cycle of problems that is hard to break out of.

So you need a studio setup that consists of a good vocal mic, a decent preamp or audio interface, versatile recording and mixing software (or standalone DAW), equalizers, compressors and reverb units or plug-ins. Software to burn CDs. And of course instruments

Get all of that, get it set up, get it working. And then forget about upgrading. Upgrading will not make anywhere near as much difference as working hard on your musical and production skills.

When you have achieved Step 2, you might even consider canceling your subscription to Audio Masterclass! You could spend the time more usefully on your music.

(Just kidding!)


Step 3 is your growth phase. This is where you are going to learn how to create music and recordings that will stand comparison with the best.

The way you will do this is to listen to and analyze every detail of the music and recordings you like; that you wish to emulate and use as the basis of further progression.

Many successful musicians got started this way. Even the classical guys like Bach and Mozart have been reported in history as copying out the music of other composers they admired.

I can't say to strongly that this IS NOT EASY. Yes it's easy to listen to a record and hear what you can hear. Maybe even write it down as a list of features.

But there is so much more THAT YOU CAN'T HEAR. Well, you can hear it, but you don't appreciate it yet. As you develop in your musical skills you will hear more and more in even apparently simple songs and recordings. And you'll wonder why you couldn't hear it before.

The essence of a good song, well recorded, is that it should sound so simple and easy. Crafting it to sound like that is one of the hardest jobs in the world.

Eventually you will reach a point where your understanding of music and recording is acute. You will start to branch out in your own original direction. You have to do this - the world is saturated with stuff people have heard already. They don't want more of the same. They want something interesting and new.


Step 4 is where you take your goods to the market. I could say that there is no point in this before Step 3 has been fully achieved, but that's not quite right.

You need industry professionals to hear your work, and comment on it, so you can improve.

You will improve only very slowly if your work stays within the four walls of your studio. If you can get people in the business to give you their insights, you can progress so much faster.

This isn't easy though. Most people in the industry work on more of a 'gut feel' than objective analysis. Often they can't put into words what they feel about a track. They just know whether or not they see sales potential in it.

Even so, you should try to get the honest opinion of as many people as you can, preferably experienced and knowledgeable people, but everyone knows what they like in music, so anyone's opinion is better that living in a vacuum.

So let's suppose that you have reached the stage where your music is comparable with music that is commercially released.

You need to get it out there.

You need to get on stage and perform it. Get DJs to play it. Get radio stations - including college radio stations - to play it. Get people talking about you. Get some CDs made and sell them at gigs. Make more and more contacts with people on the fringes of the industry, like club promoters. Use them to get more deeply connected. Eventually you will meet someone who is able to open the door for you.


Step 5 is of course SUCCESS! Err. no, success is great. It feels great... everything that you worked so hard for has now been achieved. You got signed.

That's how the caterpillar feels when in turns into a butterfly; how a tadpole feels when it turns into a frog. And then they find that it isn't quite the fulfilled, nirvana-like state they imagined. There is a lot of flitting from flower to flower to do, a lot of hopping. A lot of battling against the competition for resources. A lot of trying to keep alive for as long as possible...

So all your work so far has got you to the point of metamorphosis. You are now a signed artist.

But now you are going to have to work REALLY hard. Look at that contract you just signed. It commits you to the label for six albums. But they are only committed to releasing one. And if it doesn't succeed, they'll drop you.

And they signed you on the basis of songs you have written over a period of years. For your second album you'll have to write a whole set of new songs in a matter of weeks or months.

You're going to have to tour, tour, tour and tour. You're going to have to go on promotion after promotion after promotion after promotion. You'll see so many hotel rooms that you won't know which country you're in, let along which city.

There is no possibility that you can slacken the pace. You have to keep going for album after album, all the way until your obligation to the label is satisfied. And your fans are still crying out for more.

At this stage you ARE successful. You can negotiate a new contract, perhaps with a different label, for a MASSIVE amount of money. With good management you will never be short of cash again, ever in your life, and your fan-base will continue buying your records and merchandise for the rest of your career.


See, there are just five steps between starting out and true - not temporary - success. But they are not easy steps - they are GIANT steps.

We'd love to hear about which step you are on in the path to success, how you got there and where you're going next...

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