Your song is written, recorded, mixed, and you have approved the final master. You are done, right? Wrong! Do not leave the studio without completing a mastered instrumental mix! Whether you are a beginning songwriter or an industry veteran this is advice you need to follow!
Why you need an instrumental mix!
I know, I know. Your song is poetry, it is high art, the words and the melody drive the song to moments of creative brilliance. They conjure the ultimate emotional listening experience, without them the song is nothing. Ok, enough of that. I know I say this a lot but – music is a business. It is standard industry practice to have instrumental versions of your songs. First and foremost they come in handy for securing licensing opportunities whether it be movies, television, video games, etc. As someone who has edited thousands of songs into commercials of all kinds it comes in very handy, if not necessary, for me to have an instrumental mix. The A-listers, big hit makers, major labels, mega publishers; they all provide them when needed. Whatever career level you are at as a songwriter or band, have instrumental versions mixed and ready to go. Beyond licensing opportunities you may also need the mixes for a variety of other reasons. For example, you may need it as a backing track when you do a showcase gig where a band isn’t available. It is simply just good business to have an instrumental mix. I guarantee any label, music supervisor, publisher, manager, etc, will demand it.
Better to do it now than later.
Do it while you are in the studio mixing and mastering the full vocal version. You don’t want to come back to the studio four months down the line and find they didn’t back up all the necessary files or one of the guitar parts got corrupted in ProTools. I have seen major up-and-comers get their new tracks dropped from campaigns, that would have provided them with some major national exposure, simply because they weren’t able to get the instrumental mix sent over from the recording studio quick enough. Plus, it is better to do all the mixes at once while your mind and your ears are focused on the intricacies of the song. Walk out of the studio with all the final masters in your hand!
You may even want to break the song down further into sections or, as they are often called, ‘stems’ or ‘splits’. As a basic rule I would recommend getting the following mastered mixes!
- A full mix with vocals
- An instrumental track with just backing vocals
- An instrumental track with no vocals
- A vocal only mix
- Rhythm section only mix (no leads)
If your song is more complicated and has multiple layers like strings and horns, for example, you may even want to break the songs stems into a larger variety of versions to mix and master.
The motto is be prepared.
As a composer and songwriter I am not always a fan of providing stems and putting the power of mixing into someone else’s hands. However, because I want to make money I do it – it is what the industry currently demands. On the other side of the coin as an audio producer and editor – I always want the instrumental mix on hand in case I need it!!! If you are already working with a label or a publisher I am quite certain they will tell you exactly what to provide them with but if you aren’t then be proactive. Not only will you be prepared when the big break comes but you will look more professional as you navigate the strange and bewildering world of the music business!
(Photo courtesy of stockimages / freedigitalphotos.net)