Post-production is one of the most underrated steps of the entire music recording process. Many engineers and producers segment the steps of a session into three distinct phases: recording, mixing & mastering. With post-production, there’s actually a fourth phase that should fall right between recording and mixing (sometimes even spilling over into the other two).
Post-production is special in the sense that it can be highly technical depending on the genre you’re working with. Different genres require different levels of post-processing. For example, a loose jazz or funk song won’t require the same level of processing as a pop or metal track where everything needs to feel a bit tighter.
To get started, let’s look at what some of the most common post-production steps are and how you can begin implementing them in your music.
Comping takes is nothing new, but it’s something that engineers often misclassify as a task that either belongs at the end of a recording session or saved for the mixing session. The truth is, if you’re waiting to comp your tracks until you’re in the middle of mixing, you’ve already lost your ability to do an effective job.
Comping on the fly is a terrible way to find the right performances for your song. Takes are potentially going to have inconsistencies in level, timing & tone that you’re going to have a hard time being objective with if you’ve already got some plugins changing the sound of the track, especially if you dialed in those settings for a particular take.
Instead, mixers and engineers need to break comping out into a pre-mix task. By comping tracks from the source files of the tracking session, you’re better equipped to determine what takes sound best without any adjustments. You’ll be able to pull together the best takes, smooth out their levels, and apply fades to get a consistent comped track for your mix – and you’ll never have to backtrack again later in the session.
Pocketing & Quantization
The timing of your song is one of the hardest things to get right, especially if there’s a groove involved. Some elements of a song need to be locked to the grid, especially in modern pop music. But other elements are expected to be “pocketed” around the grid – sometimes in front of the beat and sometimes just behind.
Generally, it’s a good idea to start your pocketing edits by quantizing your drums if that makes sense for the song you’re working on. From there, you can move track-by-track to pocket things like bass and vocals around the drums.
This is also the perfect time to align your guitars and vocal layers for laser accuracy. Tools like VocALign work to get your timing just right so that everything locks in with each other, or you can do it the good old-fashioned way to stretching the waveforms to line up with one another.
When you’re done, everything should be timed just right so that you don’t have to keep jumping back to editing tracks during your mix session – pulling yourself out of a creative headspace in the process. If you’re working with multiple layers of similar instruments, time aligning them will make tools like bus compressors that much more effective in the later stages of mixing.
Pitch correction is another step that far too many use as part of their mix that should be getting done before you ever hit a compressor or EQ. Just because pitch correction software comes in a plugin format doesn’t mean it belongs in your chain with the rest of your signal processing.
The best approach to pitch correction is to do it during post-production. Load up your plugin after comping & pocketing, make your corrections, then print down the audio to a final track that’ll be easy to work with in the mix.
By taking this approach, you’re able to focus in on the pitch exclusively while you work. At this point, it’s okay to work in solo or raise the volume of the track you’re tuning so that it stands out from the rest of the session. You’re free to do what you need to in your post-production session because you’re working to fix issues on an individual level, not mix them all together.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Once you’ve got your audio cleaned up, you’re ready to move on to mixing it all together. By getting these post-production tasks out of the way first, you’re truly maintaining a creative environment where you can craft your mixes without the distraction of common issues that are easily fixed.
If you’re ready to take the next step in your music production career, come check out the JST VIP section of the site where we’ve got tons of resources focused on making you a better producer. We’ve got guides like The Ultimate Vocal Producer’s Handbook and The Producer’s Guide to Synthesizers & Sweeteners ready to help you take your productions to the next level.