The Localist: Introduction to Home Recording (Commercial Standards)
When listeners and reviewers take in a new piece of music, there are a variety of unconscious standards relating to the general sound and production that inform their opinions of the music within the first few seconds of listening. I’ll refer to these standards as “commercial standards”.
If you put music out for commercial consumption (read: intended for consumption by strangers and music journalists) it’s important to ensure that the music satisfies these standards, otherwise listeners are prone to conclude that your music is amateurish, regardless of whether this conclusion is justified. These conclusions can color their impression of all of your future work, so it’s good to get a handle on commercial standards before you put music out on major platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music. The last thing you want to do with a release is to leave a poor impression, especially if it’s the first thing listeners will hear when they look your music up online.
Commercial standards are hard to define, and are highly dependent on genre and context, which makes a usable account of them nearly impossible to provide in a blog post. This is one of the reasons why it can make sense to go to a professional recording studio if you want to release music commercially. Though even using a music studio is no guarantee that the product will pass muster in terms of meeting commercial standards.
Say, though, that you don’t have enough money to go to a professional recording studio and opt to record at home. What is a home recording musician to do? A solution is to market test your music and elicit feedback on production issues.
A few guidelines:
- Seek guidance on specifically production issues. You are looking for guidance on commercial standards as opposed to criticism on composition or lyrics. Give people an idea of what the music is intended for. (I.e., are you intending this as a radio single, or trying to get press? Are you just releasing for fun?). Provide examples of target songs as a comparison for the kind of sound you’re looking for. If there are certain production aspects you’re unsure about, let them know what to listen for in providing feedback.
- Seek feedback from a variety of sources, including fellow musicians and especially musicians who have prior recording and music engineering experience. These are people that tend to have a keener ear for production issues. But also include non-musician friends, as regular listeners are ultimately your target demographic if you’re intending the music for commercial release.
- Give the music to people who you trust to give you honest feedback. Avoid giving music to friends who are cheerleaders. If you can, post the music in an anonymous forum for feedback. Strangers are oftentimes the most willing to give honest feedback, as they don’t have to navigate relationships in determining what to say to you. You can find anonymous forums for music submission on Reddit.
As with all feedback, you need to screen it to make it useful. Some of the feedback will be great, but some of it will be unhelpful. Getting feedback from multiple sources is good for this, because if you get the same feedback from multiple sources, it’s a better indication of a needed adjustment than if the feedback comes from only one source. Of course, your own artistic decisions are important here, so if there are artistic reasons you have for disagreeing with the feedback you’re getting, then that can be a reason for filtering feedback out.
If you incorporate useful feedback into your recording, you can improve the quality of your recordings as well as increase positive responses from the public when you put your music out for commercial consumption. The practice of market testing has continuous benefits especially if it helps you in developing good recording practices because those practices will additionally help to ensure that future recordings meet commercial standards.
The Localist is a column focusing on issues relating to aspiring local musicians in New York City. In his free time, the author performs as St. Lenox. St. Lenox’s most recent record, “Ten Fables of Young Ambition and Passionate Love” was placed on Best Albums lists at Pop Matters and AllMusic. AllMusic credits St. Lenox with “some of the most unique and unconventionally thrilling pop music in the late 2010s.”