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  • Writer's pictureRandy McGravey

Composing Production Music: My Process

Updated: May 10, 2021

This is similar to my recent post on my songwriting process. I am here to share with you my process on how I write music for sync!

I usually start with a template, especially if I am doing a full album of one style. The template includes color coded instrument tracks for each instrument, buses, sends and go-to FX for each track, common BPM for the style, panning laid out, etc. Save your favorite EQ's, compression and reverbs for certain instruments, it saves a lot of time!

Next I will start writing the track using the main instrument (often guitar or uke because those are my specialties). I create A and B sections (sometimes C), and practice them a bit until I can play the whole track. If the track ends up being too short (less than 90 seconds) I will find a way to extend it.

Next I add other instruments in a similar fashion, doing any additional tracks needed for the same instrument or microphone setup (more guitar or uke, followed by bass). If the track has drums, I record the drums 2nd, after the first rough take is recorded on the main instrument. The reason for this is that I often need to re-do the main instrument to line up with the quantized drums. Gotta have tight rhythm!

For a typical rock song I would record in this order:

1. Rough guitar part

2. Programmed drums, quantized

3. Bass

4. Re-do guitars and add additional guitars

5. Percussion

6. Vocals (if applicable)

For a commercial-style ukulele track I would do this order:

  1. Ukulele rhythm part(s)

  2. Drums/Claps (samples)

  3. Bass

  4. Lead part(s)

  5. Percussion (real claps if doing them)

  6. Other FX

After recording everything, the template should have provided a workable mix! I listen to everything, adjust levels, change effects when needed, and do a potential full mix. I'll often give it a day or a few days and re-check the mix to make sure it still sounds good.

Next, we master. Yes, I almost always master my own tracks, unless a library does it, which is common for compilation albums. I use Izotope Ozone for mastering, and after I get a good sounding master, I save the effects as a template (surprise!). The template makes it easy to work with the alternate edits.

Alternate Edits

Different libraries and clients usually request specific edits.

Here are some common edits:

- Full track

- Instrumental

- Narrative version (no lead instrument)

- Bed (simplified track with no lead instruments, no intrusive elements)

- Bass and Drums (for rock, pop, country, etc.)

- 60 second edit

- 30 second

- 15 second

- Bumper (8-15ish seconds)

- Stinger (5-8ish seconds)

- Loop

Whichever edits are needed, I will do. If I am using the track for non-exclusive purposes, I will create all or most of these edits. For 60, 30 and 15 second edits, I like to use the mastered track as a whole and just cut it up into a cohesive shorter version of the track. For narrative versions, beds and DnB mixes I merely export the full track with certain instruments muted, then master using the template. Stingers and bumpers can be created using the end of the track, or the end of a section. Loops are easy, just loop the A and B sections (or whatever you want to do).

Some libraries also request stems, which are the individual instrument tracks. It often makes sense to export these as full units (guitar bus, drum bus, backing vocal bus). I don't master these, just export them all from the beginning of the song, even if there is a lot of empty space in the track. The goal is for the client to be able to line everything up and mute what they don't want.

And that is basically it! This is my streamlined process. Knocking out full albums is a lot easier with templates. And don't waste time making edits before you know what to give.

One final note: I'm glad so many of you have been reading and enjoying my sync-related posts! This is free information that I'm happy to share with you, but please don't message me asking me to send you contact info for libraries or anything like that. Valuable contacts aren't established overnight, and I have gone through a lot of trial and error to get where I am. Contacting libraries is as easy as looking on their site and viewing their submission guidelines, or using their contact form. Please join my mailing list on my home page for more updates and posts!

- Randy

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