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What are the steps/phases of a CD/Album production? From the moment of recording to when it's out?

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There are 5 stages/phases in a Album production: Recording > Editing > Mixing > Mastering > Printing.

It's worth naming "Pre-production", which is before the 5 steps and can be very important to make things go better. Pre-production can be a wide variety of things. All from making the music arrangements, defining artist identity, vision, and intention; to prepare files with tempo/midi or just creating the right files with track names; it can be taking photos, choosing microphones, asking for funding, decide the song list, etc.

Recording phase is when you capture the sound of the instruments to a physical/digital media. This phase is very important. What does not go good here can be a nightmare to fix in the other phases, if even possible. So it has to have good quality musically but also in the sound to be captured. Spending time to find the right tone/balance between instrument and microphone is a good idea.

Here all the instruments are, often, recorded to separate channels/tracks. Often more than one track per instrument in a attempt to capture the most of the "moment", ie to get all the sound, all the juice from that instruments.

Try to avoid leaking between different instruments. If you have sound from other instruments in a track it will be difficult to mix and give them space in the mix. If there is mixed instrument sound in a track one cannot afterwords add effects(reverb, echo, eq, distortion, etc) to one instrument without it affecting others.

The recording device should be in as high resolution as possible. If digital we are talking about between 24~32 bits and 44~192 Khz.

Editing phase is when one can for example: correct tuning issues, correct timing issues, choose takes, clear talking before after the takes in the recording, remove undesired breathing sounds. Digital editing is very powerful, it is possible even to change a wrong word or letter in a song, or correct strange noises in the room like a door sound or other. In some cases this phase can take long time. Here you can spend a lot of time and "pay expensive" for recording music that was not rehearsed and tight yet.

Nowadays editing is not done with scissors & cutting tape anymore, it's so intertwined with mixing that sometimes they are the same things. Just for a matter of order of things/what comes first can be good to keep them separated by name, but in practical terms they happen sometimes at same time.

Mixing phase is when you choose: the volume of each instrument, if they should be listened more to the left or right in the speakers (panorate), add effects to try to create a room/place feeling or add effects like distortion, reversed sounds, compression or other.

During mixing, effects/plugins and other terms are common. Like: compressor (limit the dynamic range of the sound), eq (changing the frequency spectrum/balance), side-chain compressing (compress a instrument based on another volume), bus channels, reverb (create the sound of a room/place), delay, multiband-compressor (compress different frequencies separately), de-esser(removing "s" and "shh" sounds in singing).

Here also you will have a bad time if during the recording phase the instruments are not properly separated in different tracks. Mixing one instrument track that have sound from other instruments can work in acoustic recordings when all is well played. If not, big problems might come up.

So, when mixing one controls many channels (can be hundreds) at the same time. Mixing also involves several final mix & trial mastering exercises and "listening" different versions to recognize weakness and remixing to obtain a better sound before a proper mastering job is done.

Mastering phase (also very well described here) is the audio last polish. Here the mixing should be done and exported from the many tracks in the mixing phase to the number of tracks that will be in the final product. Stereo (left/right) if it's a "normal" music production to be listened in a stereo, car or headphones; or 5.1 if it's a surround production. Anyway, the mixing files should be exported in the same audio definition (not downsampling bits and Khz) and just reduced to the tracks of the final product.

In Mastering the main point is to make the sound tolerate different speakers. Making it sound as much "the same" as possible, in different speakers. During this phase some EQ comes in (if a frequency is added its often analogic eq, if removed its often digital eq), compressor comes in, volume (to remove undesired volume differences between songs that during mixing are not detected because often different songs are not compared at that stage), silence time between songs is adjusted, and ISRC (a unique international number to each track to identify the song) and text for the track titles are added.

Mastering is often done by a professional other than the one mixing to avoid problems in the sound that come up when the same ears listen to the same thing many times; and to gather/add another opinion.

From the Master session a "glass master" (physical CD to go to the factory), DDP master (digital file to send to factory), or another file will be produced to take to the next phase.

Printing phase can be physically printing a CD in the factory, making a file for including in a film or making the files to sell in the internet. If you are making the final product for the consumer, only now you should downsample the audio to a consumer format. For a normal CD it should be 16bit/44.1 kHz. If you are printing a CD/DVD you will now need EAN code, a support for your product (plastic box, paper box, or other) and a book/page with cover photo and lyrics. Often you will need also to provide proof that you paid due copyrights to get your product out of the factory.

After these production steps what is left is everything you need before the release date, and the follow up after the release. This includes promoting, contacting journalists, finding distributors/making it available so people can buy it.

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+1 for detail and I would add that mixing also involves several trial mastering exercises and "listening" then recognizing weakness and remixing to obtain a better sound before a proper mastering job is done. I would also say that the "editing phase" is so intertwined with mixing these days it's almost pointless to try and seperate it from "Mixing". –  Andy aka Aug 5 '13 at 21:26
Thank you @Andyaka. Thank you also for good comments that I now added in the answer. –  Sergio Aug 5 '13 at 21:40

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