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The Focusrite Guide To Releasing Music: Part 1

02/07/2020

Words: Chuck Fishman

You've recorded a song. Or a few songs. Maybe it's a collection of songs - an album - now you're thinking about how to release it.

The good news is that releasing your music is easier than it ever was. When I started my music career I was touring with George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic (P-Funk). My family helped me finance the recording of my first album in 1996, which took place at expensive and beautiful analog recording studios, replete with giant two-inch tape recording machines and a huge Soundcraft 48-channel mixing board. I needed to hire an entertainment attorney as I had to draft contracts for all the special music guests appearing on the album, including members of P-Funk. Then I was dropped from my recording contract by a major label and had to figure out how to self-release the work, which included manufacturing CDs. Once I had the CDs, there was learning how to get the music heard by sending out promo packs to press and college radio. Yes, physical mail!

In this four-part series, I'll lean on my experience to provide some simple steps that will help you get your music heard. And there are great opportunities to get paid by selling your music, by offering it on streaming platforms, and of course, sometimes lucrative opportunities to license your music outright to be used in advertisements, TV shows and films. Since my career began in the '90s, so much of the music-release process has been digitised and simplified, even legal contracts can be generated on tech platforms. Unfortunately, there are too many steps you can miss along the way that will wind up hurting these opportunities to get your music streamed, sold and licensed. So, throughout all of this process, remember to take a thoughtful and sensible approach.

The Music Release Checklist

My checklist is almost like a flow chart, a choose your own adventure' game, if you will. You may skip over some steps if they don't apply to you.

STEP 1: Preparing Your Final Mixes

This might sound obvious, but it's important that you actually check then double- and triple-check your final mixes to make sure everything sounds right. Compare your mixes to already released songs you like; specifically songs that are of the same genre that you produce. Do they sound close? What's different about songs you made and songs you like? These are important questions to ask.

As an example, my group FSQ makes very thick disco and funk music that includes lots of analogue instrumentation. One of the things we do when listening back to the final mix is to make sure that all the instruments can be heard, and that there is space in the mix for each one. What I mean by space in the mix is that each instrument should occupy its own range of the frequency spectrum, so that no two instruments are sonically stepping on each other.

Sometimes, it's possible to use EQ to carve out space, but with a lot of instruments in the arrangement, it's common for the mix to become overcrowded. In this case, we will take a more aggressive approach by muting parts that are conflicting, then introducing them into the song as it progresses. We call this stacking' the mix over the course of the song, and it has the effect of building the overall energy and giving the track more breathing room on the whole.

Tip: It might sound obvious, but make sure you are 100% happy with your mix. If you are still struggling with your mixes, find an audio engineer to help you mix down the songs to your liking. Hopefully you know local audio engineering talent, but can also search on music professional networking sites like Soundbetter, which is owned by Spotify. The issue with finding remote talent is that you may have to do a lot of back and forth over email to get to the final mixes you want. This all may seem like common sense, but I have let too many songs out the door before really spending time with them and listening to make sure they sound right. Don't skip this step.

STEP 2: Get Organised!

Regardless of how you make your final mix, there is one extra prep step that is important for the future of your release. Bounce out all of the individual instrumental and vocal tracks, also known as stems, from your individual song sessions. Make sure to export them from your DAW as uncompressed audio WAV of AIFF files, with each one timed to start at zero, so that they all line up when reassembled on a timeline. Make sure to print any plugins and effects you are using into the bounced stems, as it's possible the audio engineer dialing up your songs does not use the same DAW and may not have access to the same software tools.

Once you have your stems, name each individual song's session folder with the song title and the beats per minute of the song, and in the folder place the bounced files. Make sure to put all of your mixdowns and session folders for your songs in a password-secure online storage site, like Dropbox. If you are really worried about security, enable two-factor authentication on your cloud storage. I have seen too many people lose hard drives with their music and have no access to back ups.

Bouncing out your stems and organising them to this extent may not seem important now, especially if you're not getting any additional help in making final mixes. But it's important for the future. Think of it this way, in the days of analogue recording, you left the recording session with a master tape of your music. Organising your sessions now means you have the master tapes, in digital form, and this can make or break deals in the future. For instance, sync agents might want to place your music in film or TV, but may need to go back and make a mix or arrangement change that suits their video programming. In the world of dance music, a record label might want to get another a
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